24 March 2013

marching around Florence, Italy

March 2013 has been my travel month.  It's the final travels fo my UK adventure.  Though technically it all started on Thursday 28th February.

Before the sun had stretched its beams and yawned its awakening over London, England, I was already riding the underground taking my 'Gelert' backpack on its first adventure.  I landed in Florence, Italy in the early afternoon to sunshine and 13ºC.  It felt like summer.  A welcome change from London's February weather of 2-5ºC.  I was buzzing with nerves and excitement having left my visa behind in England--figuratively speaking--and a month of exploring adventure ahead of me.

My first impression of Florence was unimpressive.  I was to amuse myself for the afternoon until my couchsurfing host had finished work.  I basically just roamed the streets, though the random ones I chose happened to be dirty and smelly.  Turns out I never went near the city centre.  I stayed with a wonderful lady in Pistoia which is actually a 45-50min train ride out of Florence.  She was a great host.  She provided nice accommodation, rides to and from the train station and meals.  The fist night she cooked me roast rabbit.

On Friday I had a  day tour booked and spent the day being shown around Tuscany.  We visited Siena and saw Piazza del Compo where they have the crazy palio horse race twice a year that they are fanatic about.  Siena built its wealth in business, particularly money loans and exchange, and did very well being a major stop along the route to Rome.  We saw there the oldest, still-in-use bank in the world there.  We also visited the Duomo of Siena which is a church that was interestingly designed with a mix of different architectural influences.  The typical gothic style of Europe  definitely some turkish or middle eastern and I can't remember the others.  Aside from the Segrada Familia in Barcelona, Spain, this is the most different cathedral I've seen in my time traipsing around this patch of Earth.  Atypically, the floor is the highlight of this place with its amazing pictures and designs created with marble.  There was also a room that houses ancient scripts which for hundreds of years was sealed up.  Now at certain times of the year it is opened for viewing.  These books, their pages and the artwork of text and pictures that fill them have been very well preserved from the effects of oxygen meaning the colours are still vibrant.  Even the room itself was a work of art.  We stopped at a winery for lunch where we had a four course typical Italian meal, each course accompanied by a different wine.  It was delicious.  After lunch we visited nearby San Gimignano which is one of Tuscany's best preserved medieval towns.  There was beautiful views of the village and surrounding countryside from the park atop the hill.  It was here that I visited Gelateria di Piazza to try some award winning icecream.  The final stop for the day was one of the have-to's of visiting Italy--Pisa!  Here, of course, the highlight was the famous leaning tower.  We hung out in the Field of Miracles--where the leaning tower along with a basillica and baptistry reside--for the whole time we were there really.  I wandered and shot stuff, including myself numerous times.

On Saturday I wandered around Pistoia town centre squeezing through all the markets and taking photos of eye-catching buildings.  I made my way to Florence to join an afternoon tour that I'd booked but never found at the time and location mentioned.  After a little grump I set off to do my own thing climbing the hill to get to Piazzale Michelangelo for a view over Florence.  I also found Ponte Vecchio, lined with shops, which is the oldest surviving bridge in Florence.  I had planned to visit Uffizi Gallery but the massive line up deterred me and I went and had some thing to eat and drink instead.  Feeling almost done for the day I decided to quickly check the gallery again and the line was gone so I went in.  I wandered round the halls rather quickly as I'm not really into renaissance art and get bored after a short while.  There was one painting, however, that caught my attention, perhaps due to my line of work.  It was, again, of Mary with baby Jesus but this one had a toddler John the Baptist leaning over his sleeping cousin to kiss his cheek.  It was such a natural child-like pose rather than the deified look the others all seem to have which I appreciated.  I also noticed a number of paintings with Mary breastfeeding which I'd not seen the likes of before.  Finally catching the train back, I went out for tea with my host and her friend for some delicious pizza.

On Sunday we went road tripping to Cinque Terre.  I had expressed my thoughts of going there myself by train but upon checking routes and times and costs I'd decided I wouldn't put that idea into action. However, over tea the night before I realised that my host and her friend were making plans.  In the end they decided to drive.  I never really knew what we were doing and just tagged along and they paid for almost everything. I just went along with it.  I didn't have a lot of say in it as they did all the planning and decision making in Italian.  I was happy to do so though.  It was a cruisy, pleasant day.  We drove about 1.5-2hrs and then caught trains through the mountains to the little seaside towns built on the cliffs.  We visited Riomaggiore and Vernazza and both were picturesque piles of colourful houses.  I really enjoyed soaking in some sunshine, observing the various rocks on the shore and eating more gelati.  It was a really pleasant day and so nice of my host organise.  When we got back to Pistoia we ordered and ate the largest pizzas I've ever seen. Her neighbour, who is quite a character, and his girlfriend joined us.

Monday was my favourite experience in Florence.  Since Italy is so much about the food I had booked myself in for a cooking class and it was fabulous.  There was just two of us which made it more personalised.  It began with a tour through the markets which was informative and delicious.  We stopped at a couple of places for taste testing.  Saw some interesting butcher displays.  Things I would not think of eating--like cow's hooves.  There was also a horse meat shop.  At the cooking school my highlight was making fresh pasta.  Italy is a suitable place to do this for the first time I think.  We also made bolognese sauce and tiramisu.  We made tow types of pasta.  One to go with the bolognese sauce and one filled with cheese.  And we drank wine and ate our work afterwards.  Yum!  Our chef was great too, not just assisting but teaching.  From there I headed to the train station to farewell Florence.

No comments: