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!

The Italian Job – Day 1 and 2

Pisa and La Spetzia

At circa 9pm last night, local time, we touched down at Pisa airport after a pleasant enough two hour flight across Europe. Things got a little bumpy as we crossed the alps, but soon afterwards the tyres kissed the tarmac, we taxied in, hopped off the jet, whizzed through passport control (being the 2nd and 3rd brits to Border Control helped – I’m sure those at the back of the queue would have taken significantly longer. Blummin’ brexit) onto the Pisa Mova, a driver-less train that whisked us into the city centre, a quick check of the map, and a five minute walk to our apartment. It was dark, you couldn’t see a lot, but you knew you were in a different country – the warmth, the smell (the delightful perfume of blossoming trees); it felt good to be on our travels again.

We did little that night, but unpack our necessities, and head to bed, dreaming of the adventures to come, although those dreams were interrupted by the sound of torrential rainfall and the high pitched buzz of a couple of mozzies (that took delight in feasting on Becky’s English blood.) The rain stopped, morning came, and we headed out into the Pisa, still some clouds scudding across the blue sky, warm, but not hot (t-shirt & fleece weather) to see what we could see.

We were looking for the mural by Kieth Haring, but before we saw that, we saw this:

Galileo Galilei gazing through the skies, with the leaning tower as his telescope.

It wasn’t long, though, before we found the Haring:

Then it was time for breakfast – the first Italian coffee of the trip, and some delizosio cakes.

Refreshed, and reminded of the wonders of Italian food and drink ( a theme to be repeated throughout the day) we headed off through charming streets, in the vague direction of the famous leaning tower, pausing to admire the architecture, fruit and veg stalls, and men’s tailoring we encountered along the way.

The leaning tower was impressive, and well worth a visit, and the surrounding building equally impressive and the space able to accommodate the multitude of tourists (all trying to get the shot of them holding up the tower), although I do wonder if in height of summer tourist season the hordes might be a little overwhelming.

Then lunch – nothing fancy, simply a salad, a bruschetta and a sandwich, but those few words do not do the deliciousness justice. I love Spain, since learning the language I’ve become increasingly interested in its history and culture, but its food is – dare I say it – nothing special (tapas is really just snacks, after all) . But Italy? Italian food is delicious, a highlight of day two (today) has been the food. All vegetarian, basically bread, tomato, basil, mozzarella and olive oil – it tastes so good. A battle for number one spot is going on in my head (stomach?) – Greek food has long sat at the top of the table for me, but the Italians are making a strong case to be numero uno (although, should they lose their crown, the Greeks will have the opportunity to reclaim it come the summer when we embark on our Greek Odyssey.)

After lunch, we took a train (about 1hr 30 mins) to La Spetzia, our base for the next few days , from which we will explore the Cinque Terre. We journeyed through coastal plain to our left and mountains to our right, and, as we got closer to our destination, the clouds sunk lower across the mountains and we arrived in La Spetzia to rain. Rather than head out into the rain, we popped in to the Cinque Terre information office – a good job we did as they told us that tomorrow there was to be a train strike, and would be no trains between 9am and 1pm. We hatched various different plans, before realising, we could get a train into Cinque Terre before 9am, and our day would not be too disrupted. We’ll see how that plan works out tomorrow …

After dropping our bags in our room, we headed out into late afternoon sunshine to explore the city. I was impressed, not a particularly touristy place, it has a big harbour and is a naval base, again the buildings were stylish, the avenues broad and tree-lined and the water front provided a pretty backdrop as we ambled along the harbourside. The city is fringed by mountains, felt fresh and looked a verdant green. I would happily explore a little more, but the charm of the five villages of Cinque Terre awaits ….