Friday, September 28, 2012

Palazzo Pitti & Boboli Gardens, Florence

When I first visited Florence in 2007 with my mum, my hand's down favourite sight was Palazzo Pitti and the Boboli Gardens. Perched on the 'other' side of the Arno river, with beautiful panoramic views of the city at it's feet, the palazzo houses several museums (art, silver, porcelain, etc.). The Palazzo's Boboli Gardens are arranged and up kept in such a way that it's not a stretch to imagine the Medicis wandering around them 500 years ago.

While not the ideal thing to do in the rain, we made the best of it, and it ended up being Mike's favourite thing in Florence too. Those views!

- Jess

date: september 1
weather: cloudy, rainy
entrance fee: prices vary
opening hours: hours vary

Thursday, September 27, 2012

Fickle Florence

piazza repubblica carousel florence

piazza della repubblica's carousel

florence duomo raining

florence lasagna piazza repubblica

florence lasagna pasta piazza repubblica

piazza annunziata florence
market in piazza santissima annunziata, florence

florence cathedral

florence macaroon

florence duomo palazzo vecchio lion

florence rain

rain in florence

rain in florence

rain in florence

rain in florence

rain in florence arno

fishing on arno florence
fishing on the arno

rain in florence

cloudy day florence ponte vecchio rain

An alternative post title for this is "We Got Wet". Because on our day in Florence (like the last time I visited the city) it rained poured. It's hard to love a city that is meant for walking around in the sunshine, eating gelato and admiring quaint piazzas, when you're huddled under awnings and umbrellas, dodging puddles and attempting to keep your white coat and pants mud free (impossible). But, goshdarn, we tried.

While in Florence we purchased umbrellas, wandered through the city, saw the duomo's frescoes, and ducked into the Dante & Beatrice cafe for hit-the-spot paninis and coffee (+ to avoid a downpour). We took advantage of a break in the rain to see the Palazzo Vecchio, Ponte Vecchio, and dash over to the Palazzo Pitti & Boboli Gardens.

At the end of the day we dried out while eating an average, over-priced dinner in Piazza della Repubblica and watching the carousel spin around. But before that, in the late afternoon as the rain began to let up, we found ourselves in the Piazza Santissima Annunziata, admiring the loggia of the Ospedale degli Innocenti (an art history student's dream), taking great gulps of fall-crisp air and the smoke of roasting chestnuts, and watching local farmers and vendors ply their ware to fellow Florentines. Old ladies fed flocks of pigeons and old men picked up tourists' litter. Couples snuggled along the steps of the square, furiously tapping away on their iPhones. Reggage music pumped out of a bar nearby, and church bells tolled. You could buy artisan cheese, lemon trees, olive-wood bowls, local-spun textiles, wind chimes, and fresh, crusty bread. Or you could just sit and watch Florentine life unfold in front of you.

Sitting in that square, I got the feeling Florence is more fickle than it lets on. Not in the traditional, capricious, unstable, disloyal sense of the word, but in the way that fickleness implies constant change. In a yes we have history but damnit real people live here and we're creating new history all the time way. The kind of thing that alludes to life beyond postcard photos.

It was, I suspect, a few of those perfect hours that make people fall in love with this quirky, touristy, but alluring city. Despite being soaked to the bone.

- Jess

p.s. that all white outfit? I overbleached the pants and they turned yellow. bleach users: you've been warned.

date: september 1
distance travelled: 100 km/62 mi (pisa to florence)
distance travelled to date: 110 km/68 mi
weather: cloudy, rainy
parked at: the hotel, for free

Tuesday, September 25, 2012

Road Trip Logistics: Pisa Hotel, Groceries, & Tom Tom for Western Europe

After resting up at Casa San Tommaso hotel, we hit the road in our Fiat 500 rental (I want one now!) and headed to Florence.

We would definitely recommend staying at Casa San Tommaso in Pisa. We paid €74/night, including parking and the ZTL (limited traffic zone) charge, for a double room. The hotel was a stone's throw from the Leaning Tower, restaurants, the city's main shopping area, and parking was easy peasy - right in front of the hotel's front door. As far as Italian hotels go it was fairly modern, with quaint exposed beam ceilings, and big, gorgeous shuttered windows that opened onto the street below. Bella!

During our road trip we stopped at grocery stores wherever possible to stock up on the basics - bread, olives, sun dried tomatoes, cheeses, juice, water, wine - in an effort to cut costs. Our first grocery store stop was just outside Pisa at a Co-Op, which had very little preserved or 'junk' food. The only dry thing in the store was pasta! And shoppers carried little personal barcode scanners to tally up their purchases and speed up the check-out process. How cool is that?

Before leaving Malta we attempted to cut costs by downloading and printing Google Maps directions to and from every single stop during our trip. Our stack of directions was thick and cumbersome, and I was skeptical that I could guide Mike through five countries using printed Google Maps directions alone. Although the EU recently put through caps on cellular data roaming charges (making it much more affordable to check your email while travelling throughout Europe) we also didn't want to use the data-chewing Google Maps on our phones unless absolutely necessary. So. We caved and purchased the Tom Tom for Western Europe app on our iPhones for a cringe-worthy $89.99. And it was worth every penny. We'll post about our Tom Tom experience separately, but if you're considering spending any time on the road in Europe, we would highly recommend taking Tom Tom along for the ride. Or in this case, Tim: the British-man-voice who yelled at us every time we took a wrong turn. And on this road trip, there were many wrong turns.

- Jess

date: september 1
distance travelled: 100 km/62 mi (Pisa to Florence)
weather: overcast, temperate
toll/highway charges: €0!

Monday, September 24, 2012

Silly Poses at The Leaning Tower

Let's be honest, next to no one goes to Pisa to see anything other than the Leaning Tower, get the prerequisite 'it's about to fall down!' photo, and skip off to another more traditionally Tuscan town. We were pleasantly surprised that Pisa had more to offer than just the Tower, but even that didn't disappoint. Except that it's much smaller in person than in photographs.

The end of August was the perfect time to visit the Leaning Tower. The crowds were thin, the weather warm enough to bare some skin, and the grass around the Tower, Baptistery, and Cathedral (the latter two of which are the most interesting, from what I remember of university art history classes) was still green and lush enough to lounge around on. Evidently, everyone ignores the Keep Off The Grass signs.

We lounged around the Tower grounds for an hour or so, snapping photos, giggling at fellow tourists, and snacking on bread sticks from a local corner store, before heading off to get a good night's rest in preparation for our first day of driving. 4,792 km/2978 mi to go!

- Jess

date: august 31
weather: sunny, warm
entrance fee: free to wander around the tower & grounds (which we did)
€15-€17 to climb the tower; €2 cathedral admission (free nov-feb); €5 baptistery admission; other combined site/pisa museum tickets available