Wednesday, 18 June 2014

We Are In Italy ...... Next Stop, Florence and Pisa

 Ponte Vecchio
Leaning Tower












I was thinking that rather than just sharing with you what we're doing, I'd up the ante and become a travel-blogger for the next few days - maybe there's something we see or do, some where we eat or sleep that might be helpful to you when you visit these cities.

So, here's my first ms-havachat TRAVEL blog - see how I go.

Next stop was Florence for 3 nights.

The 3* hotel we booked was close to the main train station and was central for everything we wanted to do. The room at the Best Western Hotel Palazzo Ognistanni was simple and comfortable, with a good size bathroom. Breakfast was served in light surroundings with a good basic selection of cold meats, breads, cheese and cereals. There was also bacon and eggs.

The concierge staff were very helpful and friendly, making recommendations and wishing us well each morning as we ventured out. We had to change our plans a wee bit as most galleries are closed on Mondays - so if you are in Florence over a Monday, check what's opened before venturing out and possibly wasting a trip.

MrsH had kindly emailed us suggestions for Florence as they have been a few times, and we had done our own research so felt comfortable with what we would see'n'do. Three nights isn't enough to do justice to such a city like Florence, so we didn't try to do too much.

With the map app open on his phone, G lead the way down small lanes, across Piazza's, thru markets and past amazing buildings before we came to Uffizi Gallery.  On our way, we heard music and saw people in costume, so we went to investigate.




This annual pageantry event is focused on a football match played between the 4 old areas of Florence, each represented by a different coloured parade. Amongst the crowd there were musicians, monks, Priests, and treasurers, noblemen and scholars. There were men and boys of all ages, but no women.

Had we continued with the crowd, we would have ended up at a stadium filled with another couple of thousand of these costumed folk for the football match, but we declined the invitation and continued on our way. If we'd had one more day in Florence, we might have taken the opportunity, but with limited time and much to see we decided THIS was more than enough.

Once at Uffizi,  we started the long climb up several wide stair cases to the top floor and began our education with what this incredible gallery has to offer.

Housing the worlds largest collection of statues, it's incredible to think that while so much of this history has been saved, so much has gone. Like other situations I've commented on before, one wonders what pieces from our time will future generations look at with the same amazement and respect?

Please take time to click on the above link to see for yourself .... or better still, make sure it's on your list when you vist.

G and MissM were great sports allowing me a few hours in the hot, stuffy galleries, with some of the rudest gallery crowds I've ever come across. There really wasn't much to keep either of them occupied, and I did my best to encourage MissM in particular to LOOK at some of the worlds most famous pieces of art .... G's a lost cause.

It's hard to enjoy something when the people you are with aren't, but there was no way I was going to let their (at times) sulky faces get to me.

We had dinner at the Hard Rock cafe, which might sound odd, but we were craving for red meat, and already were a tad bored with pizza and pasta, regardless of how delicious the meals have been (will have a chat about the food in a few weeks when we are finished travelling)

Next day, we took the train to Pisa. We considered staying in Pisa but couldn't be bothered doing another hotel move, and based on friends comments chose to get there independently rather than a tour from Florence.

We were right on both accounts.

The train was less than an hour and cost €19.80 from one of the self-help ticket machines. You nominate to have the machine instruct you in English and there are unformed train staff to help you if you get confused. Take nosh and a cold drink as none were available on the train.

From the train station at Pisa, you literally follow the crowd. We walked down the main street with more stunning shops. It dawned on me that unlike the UK High Streets, or Dublin shopping centres, here there are mainly boutiques, selling independently of one another ...... sure, there's H&M and Next but also unique shopping opportunities too.

We ate lunch at La Toscana, on the right hand side, towards the end of the main street.


Lovely lunch. Main street, on right hand side,
just before you get to Leaning Tower


From here it was a 5 minute walk to Leaning Tower. G gently said, look there it is, and I gasped as I looked up and there it was! Truth be known I cried a little, yes, AGAIN.

You see these things in books and on TV, you hear everyone else's travel stories and you hope that one day ONE DAY it'll be you .... and a few days ago it was me.

We'd pre-booked our tickets to climb the Tower with Tickitaly. €75 for the 3 of us, which included entry to the Piazza dei Miracoli. There's a lot more to see here, but that's all we chose to do.

You buy a 'timed ticket' for entry at a specific time - either online or at the site (doing it online saves you time, especially in high tourist season). Remember to print off the ticket vouchers and take them with you!

After leaving your bags, coats etc in the secure lockers provided before joining the line or you'll be made to do it anyways.  It's not an easy climb, so be warned! MissM managed well enough, but G and I stopped a few times up (and on the way down) as did others. The view from the top makes it so worth the huffy-puffy. 

The train we caught back to Florence was nearly 2 hours .... but we went thru some of the prettiest countryside. 

As it was my birthday, G and MissM wanted to take me somewhere special for dinner and asked the concierge for recommendations close to the hotel as we were all pretty tired. Dinner was delicious. G had pork chops, MissM had plain pasta with tomato sauce and I had prawns in tomato and basil. 

We all slept vey well that night!

Day 3 in Florence, was our day to experience Duomo and other sights, but first a quick peek into Orsanmichele. MissM and G walked to the top viewing platform while I waited on street level. 

A friend recommended we have a cool drink at Cafe la Terrazza atop La Rinascente. WHAT A VIEW! 

If only I enjoyed shopping and had oodles of money LOL - no wonder people come to these cities often. 

DUOMO is another 'WOW' experience. This whole trip has been full of them, right? I wasn't sure what to expect but it's as breathtaking on the outside as in. Fortunately we didn't have to line up for long, tho I'm sure in high season this place would be heaving with people, and pick pockets.

Have to say here, that I'm feeling super safe with my PacSafe bag. MsB invested in one for her Europe trip a couple of years ago and when I saw how it worked, I knew I had to have one. It took me a while to find my chosen bag (not available online, or not in stock) and was extremely happy when I found the exact model bag on our last trip to Sydney. It's light to carry, even when full; holds LOTS of stuff; looks great and with all it's locks'n'clips ensures all our stuff is safe.


Back to Duomo.

If you love your cathedrals, you'll love this one and will need to allow at least an hour, if not more to ensure you see everything well. There are tours, tho we didn't do one as we knew it wouldn't keep MissM engaged for long. 




Think I've said it before, but just in case, the Hop On Hop Off bus is the best way to see a city in you've limited time, and the best way to get your bearings if you are in a city for several days. We love them! The audio's are usually pretty good, and if you get a seat at the top, there's always good photo opportunities. 

Florence has 3 routes; we did the blue one. We'll be using our tickets to get a discount on the Hop On Hop Off in Rome when we are there tomorrow.

We were at Ponte Vecchio and decided to have a late lunch. We ended up choosing the wrong restaurant for so many reasons. When you are here, do not, whatever you do eat or drink at Bar Due Ponti (right hand side of river, facing Ponte Vecchio, just before you get to the bridge). Every comment on TripAdvisor is the same! We were well and truly ripped off.

What's done is done ....... we walked around Ponte Vecchio and were stunned by the shops! Back on the bus and eventually to the hotel BUT stopped into Santa Maria Novella - beautiful.

Dinner at a trattoria down the road from the hotel was fun. G ordered a Piato Ricco (meat platter) to start and it was overflowing with slithers of meats and delicious little puffs of bread; we each had a pizza and drinks €64. After dinner, MissM was given a lesson in pizza making and an explanation about how pizza ovens work. It was a great way to finish our time in Florence.

Dinner, bath and bed - we're up early to catch the train to ROME tomorrow,

With friendship
x








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