Sunday, 4 March 2007

ITALY - Pisa & Florence


Our first trip to main-land Italy, we had picked up some cheap Ryanair flights from Bournemouth to Pisa. Our three star hotel had been over-booked and we were upgraded to a four star one, nearer to the leaning tower. What we were not to know until we checked in, was that our room had a terrace big enough to park half a dozen cars on and offered views on three sides, including the leaning tower an cathedral, but also the mountains (the photo was taken from the terrace). With a very late landing, having shared a min-bus taxi to our hotel, there was nothing for it but to hit the sack, after a few beers of course.

The day would be dedicated to the many sights of Pisa, the most famous of course being the leaning tower. Less appreciated though is the adjacent Duomo (cathedral) and Baptistery. The leaning tower is of-course the bell tower for the duomo. It was a glorious sunny day to visit the Piazza Dei Miracoli. The baptistery has amazing acoustics. One of the staff members proved the point by singing a few notes. The first note had not finished reverberating around the dome before the last had been sung, making your ears believe you could hear a chord. The masonry was fantastic light coloured stone, unlike northern Europe. The duomo was built from the same stone, next to the baptistery and again, impressed us. We toured the walled garden cemetery, known as the Monumental Church Yard where massive frescoes have been preserved. Our time slot came for the climb to the top of the leaning tower, an experience that will never be forgotten with the very apparent list leaving me with a distinct sense of vertigo. After a refreshing beer at a street cafe, we strolled the rest of the town, along the River Arno, passing the Santa Maria Della Spina, a tiny chapel on the very edge of the river bank. Further refreshments saw us then climbing the red brick built old citadel. This offered unparalleled views of the town including the famous monuments. An evening real Italian pizza finished off the day. A drink in the hotel bar provided the answer as to what to do the next day: Florence, or Firenze as it should be known.
An early check-out and stroll to the rail station to catch a train to Florence, about an hour inland but still on the River Arno. The train service was a bit grubby, but very efficient and excellent value. Well, it would have been had I have got the tickets stamped in the machine on the platform. At least the fine was only 5 euros! At the station, we promptly purchased a guide book so we would know what were looking at. The short stroll to the town centre brings you to a duomo, baptistery and tower at least as impressive as Pisa, if not more so. We strolled the town while we waited for the opening times to arrive. The squares contain magnificent sculptures, particularly in front of Palazzo del Bargello with the copy of the statue of David. The Ponte Vecchio bridge dating from 1345, spans the Arno and is lined with very shops, mostly crafting and selling gold jewellery. Back at the Piazza San Giovani, we visited the duome before choosing to climb the loggia tower instead of the dome (photo taken from near the top). The baptistery was most notable for the ornate ceiling, in contrast to the plain stone of Pisa. We could not wait for the queue to see the real Statue of David so walked the market and side streets before having to catch the train to the airport. This trip opened our eyes to the usefulness and value of trains outside of the UK!

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