Sunday, November 2, 2014

Last day in Florence

Time passes much to quickly,
When we're together laughing...
(Chicago,  1969)

Well it's now the evening of our last day in Florence.
We have been here for seven days and I have loved almost every minute of it.
The weather has been marvellous, the crowds have been incredible....and this is the low season.
 I dread to think what the streets are like in the high season.
People, well the vast majority anyhow, have been very welcoming and friendly.
Food has been amazing, occasionally expensive but not too bad on the whole.
Pizzas and pasta have been to die for as has the gelato and the bruschetta.
Last evening Murray had veal in lemon sauce and I had chicken in a porcine sauce...melt in your mouth incredibility. I could never make anything like that taste so good.
Fresh pasta tastes so different to the shop bought stuff. It has a completely different texture and combined with garlic and herbs and cream and freshly cooked it has been unbelievable.
Coffee aromas abound every time you pass a shop and it's all I can do to stop myself from wanting one wherever I go. I have to give it to these Firenzians..... They know how to make great coffee.

It is now the next morning.
Our suitcases are full and we are waiting at Santa Maria Novella Train Station. 
It's just gone 10 am. and there are people everywhere in this bustling metropolis of a city.
Firenze is certainly something different to anything I have ever experienced.
We stand up at a bar to drink our coffee. You can sit inside or outside for that matter, but we prefer to mingle with the locals and have a brief respite at the bar, sip our coffee, eat a panini for breakfast and then be ready to leave.
Apparently, you only sit if you have a date or are meeting someone to talk for a long time compliments of a lovely young lady we were standing next to at the bar opposite the station this morning. 
We are catching the 11:04 train to Roma this morning and if Roma is anything like Firenze I will be happy.
What a week we've had. Come to think of it, what a three weeks we've had.
Paris and cruising up the Seine seems like a lifetime ago in a sense.
This week of walking step after step into churches, cathedrals, and museums has enveloped me in the here and now.
There is a large square tower attached to the D'uomo and for a nominal fee you can have the glory of walking up to ooh and ahhh at the view. We walked the 400 odd steps up, great for the cardiovascular system and walked them down again. My legs were like jelly for a couple of hours after but it was well worth it just to be up the top and take in the magnificent views of this city.
This camera of mine will have to give up in excess of 1000 photos when I finally download a program onto my iPad that allows me to transfer via wifi.
Be prepared dear readers for some spectacular shots of places I have only dreamt about until now.

The day before yesterday (Friday I think)... we purchased two tickets for a half day bus trip to Pisa.
The shop we purchased them from was a shabby little place a few doors down from our sumptuous apartment. This chap is a money exchanger of sorts as well as a tourista ticket seller too.
He was eating as we walked in there and the place had the appearance of a very grubby motor mechanics office instead of a shop-like experience we are used to.
He initially 'no comprende' our request for a ticket each to Pisa for the half day tour but after repeatedly showing him the page, written in Italian I might add, he finally got the gist.
After much debate about how I spell my name, a new version was created...Jennifa Ballnaghes written on the tickets to prove to all mankind....and we were prepared for the trip.
He did go to great pains to ensure we knew to be under the black clock at the station at 8:45am. for the 9am. departure time.
We were there with 15 minutes to spare yesterday fortunately. We approached someone who looked like they were part of our tour and he spoke to us in Italian initially. Once we explained our lack of comprehension, he then said follow me and took us on along walk into the station itself, down a platform to a group of innocuous people all standing around looking a little lost like us.
Eventually someone with an important jacket on that said 'My Tours' came up and gave us a sticker for our clothes that said 'Pisa and Lucca tour'.
We waited some more at this spot then were ushered outside the station again to where we were in the first place and shown our bus which we then boarded.
A young woman boarded the bus and after yet another 15 minutes (it was now 9:15) told us we were waiting for some others who eventually strolled up at 9:30 hrs.
She intoduced herself as Luka our tour guide, called the bus driver who was standing outside the bus, smoking, then as soon as he started his engine we were on our way to Pisa.
The initial drive to the outskirts of Florence was fine. I am amazed at the skilfulness of the drivers with these almighty big buses as they weave in and out of traffic, all on the wrong side of the road.
After passing a couple of towns we are told there is an accident up ahead so we are going off the highway as there is a traffic jam preceding it. We went through a couple of agricultural settlements, one of which grows and sells trees...Italian Bonsai trees no less, then proceeded to return to the highway.
We had not gone 5 kms. when up ahead in the distance, I saw a shimmering light (thanks Eagles!).
Bumper to bumper we embraced yet another traffic jam for a good 45 minutes. Our tour guide and I might add, bus driver, make numerous phone calls, all the while speaking in their native language. There are a few exclamations from them (even I understand profanity in another language) as they are on a tight schedule and this delay puts them behind in some way for this trip.
This at least gives us opportunity to gaze out at Tuscany beauty...lovely villages perched atop green hills. 
Luka tells us about the different villages from time to time, when not engaged in conversation on her phone or chatting and laughing with our bus driver.
We are eventually fitted out with walky talky things so the local tour guide at Pisa can speak to us and explain about the local history of Pisa. We drive ever so slowly past the entrance of a town on our right where it is bumper to bumper traffic once again in all exits off our highway and then we are off.
The bus driver proceeds to drive liked a man possessed as the road is now clear and we weave in and out of traffic like this is a little electric car one sees so much of over here.
Going round bends and turning corners we hold our breath as this is done with a speed we have not experienced before.
Before we know it we have arrived in Pisa as have countless others. We walk a distance from our bus to the entrance of the Blessed Square which houses the cathedral and tower and are then informed that because we have arrived so late, we all have to choose to not experience the cathedral or the leaning tower.
As our primary wanted experience was the tower we forgo the cathedral which I am a bit peeved about but, what choice as a temporary tourist do you have.
We gaze at the tower which leans to one side as depicted and my amusement is watching so many people take visual photographs of the tower pretending to push it up or knock it down.
We are told we are not allowed to take bags up into the tower so we have to queue up to place our bags in a locker room.
Once that is accomplished, we then queue up to enjoy the experience of climbing the tower and once again gaze out at the view from utop.
Very quickly we are in the tower.
The initial climb is easy as the tower is sloping downwards, up marble steps that are well worn, we follow the pathway of so many others. Once we get to the other side of the tower though the going is harder as we climb uphill. This is all to be repeated numerous times as we make our way up to the bell tower top.
Whilst we are here the bells chime. The noise is deafening and fortunately the chimes only occur for six repetions which is more than enough for our ears.
The experience of climbing around and up up this tower makes me feel a little giddy and its a good feeling once we get to the top of the tower and walk out onto the balcony. This too is sloped similar to the tower trajectory so on one side you walk uphill a little the other side of the balcony you walk downhill.
I am fine as my trusty sketchers grip the surface well but Murray finds the going a little slippery wearing his running shoes. We are only given a short time up on the balcony-one circumference to be precise then it is time to return downwards again. 
I have to place my hands on the walls as we walk down as the giddiness has returned and the last thing I need is to take a tumble here.
I count the steps as we return to the earth and get up to 235 (from memory).
It is then bag collection time, toilet stop time, then just enough time for an ice-cream-gelati of course and a bottle of water before we return to our designated meeting place with our Florence tour guide to return to the bus.
I had thought that perhaps driving back, if no traffic, would be a calm relaxed ride through the country side, but, alas, no, it's a madcap crazy drive yet again, with our driver talking on his phone most of the time, when not dialling numbers...all this probably to secure his next job, who knows!
We return to Firenze at 2:30 precisely, and that's it for the tour.
We alight off the bus and wander back to our apartment and begin to pack for our trip to Rome the next day.

Last evening we go out to dinner for the very last time (this trip) in Firenze. We have pizza and pasta and it tastes wonderful as always. We go for another stroll along the busy streets and I pay my final homage to Florence by falling over in the street yet again. People around are wonderful and with Murray help me up and make sure I can walk ok.
(Don't tell my doc but that's three falls in as many weeks!)
Skinned knees will remind me of Florence for a while, as much as grazed elbows and bruises on my bottom remind me of France!
Carpe diem!!!

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