Monday, September 28, 2009

And so to Florence

We manage to get away from the Hotel Domidea in Rome a little after 9 am. It has been a pleasant stay and the staff have been as friendly and helpful as any we have found!
There is one last stop we need to make before we leave the Eternal City. We are off to find the Appia Antica Regional Park and the remnants of the Acquaedotto Claudio (one of the largest viaducts in Rome) that it safeguards amongst other ancient treasures. En-route we pass through the auto wrecking and spare parts area of Roma. It is grubby and untidy - as they are all over the world. Guess that not too many tourists come down this road on their way though the city!

This water system was a wonder of early engineering and planning and stretched for 69 kms of which 15 were raised in this acquaduct. It was built over a period of just over a hundred years, and before all you council people start to make snide comments about it taking so long, please remember that the whole thing was built with bare hands and what might seem simple tools today! And the source of the water that fed this part of that system is still issuing forth today, but now just drains into a large open pond that then filters away.

The aquaduct is a part of the local landscape today, safeguarded from demolition or development thankfully. It is surrounded by a large open space where there are lots of older Italians riding, jogging, practising tai chi or just sitting, chatting in the morning sun. It does seem incogruous though that this has not always been the way and we pass under one of the once restored sections that passes right through the centre of the suburban landscape here! Still, no time to dally, we have a half day drive ahead!

Thank goodness we are close to the motorway and do not have to get into too much heavy traffic - right! Hah, motorway traffic is as thick as and we move slowly, not often getting up to the actual speed limit for the first hour of the journey. And roadworks are the order of the day here - just like in much of Europe - guess that with the harsher winters, their time to do repairs and maintenance is more limited.

Now, the speeds on the motorways in Italy range from 110 to 130 kph, depending on what is around (exits etc). But very few people seem to pay the limits any regard. In fact, there are many time when we may as well be on the German autobahn rather than the Italian Autostrade given the speeds that some motorists are doing. So we are hardly surprised when the traffic starts to pile up and there is a warning vehicle about a smash up ahead. And we are not too far from the smash - a Mercedes sitting forlornly with its entire front end sitting on the road with the engine having being sheared from its brackets. There are a couple of police berating the stunned driver - and no sign of what it is he has hit! It seemed to be a direct front on hit though. It was on us and passed before we had time to get a photo.

We are passing lots of fortified towns on our way, but it is difficult to get a good photo with the large safety barriers on the motorways obscuring the opportunities for clear photos.

We hit the turn off to Firenze (Florence) just before 1 pm and drive in towards the centre of the City where our accommodation is located, through the outer suburbs. Florence is a little cleaner than some of the large cities we have seen recently (particularly Napoli and to some degree Milano). It is better laid out here in the outer areas too. But as we get closer to the CBD the streets narrow and become much more congested with evidence that parking is again difficult. The main ring road that encompasses the inner city is a bit of a mess with work progressing on the installation of yet another tram system. I have Kate programmed for the Tourist Information Centre and as we pass the nominated point we find a lone parking space - right outside the Florence office of PriceWaterhouseCoopers - for whom Helen's sister works! Talk about a small world.

Grrr, this Tourist Office is closed - only open until 1 pm. Kate tells us that the other one that they nominate for information on their gate is right in the centre of the City, so we decide to go around to the Hotel Stella Mary, knowing that parking is close, not at the hotel itself. Now, they advertise that they are close to the train and bus stations, and they sure are - just a short side block away. So you might be able to imagine the chaos that the traffic is in this area! I have to double park (like everyone else it seems) while Michael dashes in to find out where the parking is. While he is gone, buses squeeze past until one driver is a little more beligerent and insists that I move. I go a couple of hundred feet and pull in to a bus parking area only to see Michael sprinting up behind us. Ah, the parking is about 400 m as the crow flies - a tad longer by road! It is a private garage, leave your keys, we park etc. So we haul out our gear and trudge the cobblestones around to the hotel.

There is a definite benefit to booking somewhere like this - we are literally around the corner from all the transport connections, including the open top buses. Again we have a couple of choices and decided on the Florence Open Tour service. Our, well Helen's, time to explore is limited to the rest of the today only and so we jump on the first available bus. Hels really wanted to see Michaelangelo's David, but her hopes are dashed when the guide explains that all museums are closed on Mondays.

They do two routes - one in the inner city and the other that takes a wider route and it is this one that is leaving first. As it turns out, we could not have chosen better, because once we have passed through some of the area on the river flat, we find ourselves climbing up to the Piazzale Michelangelo, high over the city with panoramic views of the city and the Arno River. And lo and behold, there is a bronze cast of the Statue of David - here where the original stood overlooking the city vista. And Helen does get the opportunity to pinch David's bum, even though she could never do this at the real statue behind plate glass panels and with no photos! The bus stops up here for 10 minutes - just enough time for us to get our first fill of the panorma that is Florence and to get our bearings!

Our ten minutes done, we are back on the bus and headed back down the hill passed luxury homes and beautiful open parks filled with mature trees of many descriptions including a huge variety of fir trees. We are headed back to the Station and stop 1 where after a half hour wait we can join route 1 through the city. This takes us passed most of Florence's most beautiful sites - the Duomo, the Basilica of Santa Maria Novella, the Palazzo Vecchio, the Baslica di Santa Croce, the Ponte Vecchio and the Palazzo Pitti. But we have not time to get off. We at least want Helen to be able to view all the main attractions. And as we finish our tour, the light is fading fast. No more of this light until 10 or 11 pm any longer as we are well into autumn! Once we have returned to the Station it is time to get some dinner so that Hels has time to pack for home a she leaves tomorrow. :-(

We decide to walk around to the Duomo about 800 metres away. This is the most stunning looking building with its exterior of white marble intersperced with coloured pieces. And that dome for which it is so famous just gleams into the night with its subtle lighting. A truly beautiful and majestic building for sure.

Down one of the side streets leading away from the Duomo we go, searching for somewhere a little nice for dinner - somewhere that has a menu that is more extensive than just pizza and pasta (the national dishes to be sure!!) We find the Giannino in San Lorenzo filled with people and with a nice atmosphere. So, no tables out on the sidewalk, we enter in and sit at one of the last free tables. Our waitress soon bustles along - a lovely young lady called Irma who spent some time in Melbourne studying law at Monash University (they have a campus in Florence!) We laboured over the menu but finally chose:
Finocchiona 'sbriciolona' e carciofini in olio (Tuscan salami and artichokes in oil) Michael
'La ribollita' (Vegetable bread soup) Michael (yes, two!)
Crostini toscani de fegatini (Chicken liver pate on toast) Helen
Pecorino de Pienza e miele al tartufo (Pienzu tuscan cheese and truffle honey) Maria
Scaloppine di vitella ai funghi porcini (Veal escalope with Porcini mushroom sauce) Michael
Crespelle alla fiorentina (Florentine savoury crepes) Helen
Scaloppine di vitella al limone (Veal escalope in lemon sauce) Maria
Zuccotto all fiorentina (Florentine Ice Cream) Michael
Panna cotta ai frutti di bosco (cream pudding with berries) shared by Helen and Maria
Topped with a nice rose from the region and finished with coffee and a lovely chat with Irma - along with invitations for her to visit should she get back to Australia sometime!

Then its back to the Hotel Stella Mary and Helen's re-packing! She bought a second small suitcase in Pompeii and spends a couple of hours shovelling things from one to the other. She plans to take the new one on the plane with her as carry on (or rather, as wheel on!) luggage and has packed her gifts for the family, not wanting them to get lost, as well as some clothes for her mammoth five-leg trip home. That done, we all settle into bed for the night - or try to!

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