The Italian Job – Day 8

Far from the madding crowd

As I said in an earlier post, the ideal time to see Florence was 30 years ago.

Today, we went back into Florence, beginning our day by climbing Giotto’s tower, the magnificent tower at the side of the cathedral, affording magnificent views across of the duomo itself and the city and its surrounds. We had to ascend 414 steps to reach the top, but it was worth the breathlessness of the climb to have one’s breath taken away by the view.

We had pre-booked the ticket, and only had to queue for 10 minutes to reach the base of the tower, but the rest of the main square, the Pont Vecchio and all the streets in the vicinity were absolutely packed. Florence is lovely, but it is over crowded (and I accept that we, too, are a part of the problem.) So after we descended from the tower, we headed south, across the Arno river to the Rose garden, an oasis of peace and tranquillity. Having bought some filled foccacia sandwiches to take with us, we sat amongst the greenery and beautiful flowers (Italy in April is a couple of months on from England, it feels, looks and smells like early summer) for a couple of hours. Heaven on earth, I rather imagined that I was the gentleman in the statue, head tilted skywards, eyes closed, enjoying the kiss of the Italian sun on my cheek.

In the afternoon we bade “arrivederci” to Florence and took a train back to Pisa, our base for our last two nights. This evening, after a delicious pizza meal, we ambled back to see the leaning tower, where our trip began a week ago. At 8pm, unlike midday when we were here before, the space, whilst not quite deserted, was certainly empty and we got to view the tower, and surrounding buildings, in almost splendid isolation.

It was a very different experience seeing the iconic tower in the fading light; with no crowds it was a far more enjoyable and peaceful experience and I was surprised in the difference a few hours can make. I am loving the “Italian Job” and our journeys across Tuscany, but I have been surprised at how busy some places have been (this is mid-April, not high summer) and the positive difference it can make when you escape the throng, and enjoy the landscape far from the madding crowd.

The old buildings and architecture have been a joy to behold, but I do also have a soft spot for an old car. And not just expensive, flashy sports cars, I like the old workhorses of the day. Two years ago, in a mid-life crisis moment, I bought myself a 30 year old Peugeot 205 (sadly, a diesel, not the hot-hatch GTi) off eBay that I have got back on the road. On this trip, I have enjoyed seeing some boxy old Fiat Pandas from the early ’90s, and then this evening, parked up all on its own, I saw an original Fiat 500:

A wonderfully stylish, tiny little car, with a small air cooled engine that was the height of Italian chic in the sixties. You can see its lineage in the modern Fiat 500 that is so popular on the roads today, but I would trade ten of the modern version for an original like this.

They are tiny, so to give a bit of scale, I had to have my photo taken next to the car:

I’m not sure I would actually fit in it, but as stylish and delightful to my eye as any fresco or facade we have seen on our trip!