Tuesday, September 29, 2009

The colours of Florence

We all had a terrible night's sleep last night. Helen mainly because the voices in her head (reminding her of everything she must do to ensure she and her luggage gets home safely) would not shut up - bit much to ask really given that she herself is a Queen of the Gift of the Gab! Michael and I didn't sleep because our bed was the worst we have had on this trip. It kind of had two spoon shaped depressions with busted springs and a hard ridge between. Between that and keeping an eye on the alarm clock to make sure that we did not sleep in, there was not much sleep at all in the room.

Breakfast however was great - if, as Hels remarked, you felt like eating! Think she is a little excited to be going home - she has missed Greg and the girls no matter how much of a brave face she put on. Don't get me wrong, I think she has loved the holiday, but without those you love to share it with, it's a poor second!

We could have had a range of cereals including Coco Pops which you don't see very often here, cold meats and cheeses, rolls, croissants and cakes. Fresh fruit and juices. And completed with very nice coffee. We finish and return to our room to finalise our packing.

On the road in good time. We leave the Hotel Stella Mary with its lovely big room just after 9 am to walk around to the garage where the car is parked about 3 blocks away. With Helen's luggage now totalling 2 suitcases, we all haul one each over the cobbled streets (<groan> how I hate cobbled streets). The fellow we saw here last night is not working and the man in charge speaks no English. He seems to take his time and I am about to tell him to hurry (aerporto and point to my watch!) when he finally comes down the drive with our car. I wonder how they feel about the right hand drive?

Kate does not have the Florence Airport in her databank by name - how odd. But we checked with the hotel staff last night and they tell us it is Aeroporto Amerigo Vespucci. Kate however, and the Airports of the World have it listed as Peretola Airport! Go figure. All the road signs are for Vespussi too. Go figure again! Anyway, the hotel staff marked our map with the location so Helen gave me a street nearby as a starting point. We are all a little concerned however when she directs us away from what I think is the logical direction (and the road signed direction). Never fear however, Kate is on the ball. I had asked her for the fastest route and she obviously knows that the motorway is very busy on a weekday morning. We link back with the motorway about 2 kms from the Airport and despite the hotel staff telling us to allow an hour, it has taken less than half an hour! Go Kate!!

So we are there in plenty of time to get Helen all sorted. Initially we make our way upstairs to the Al Italia desk only for her to be told she is in the wrong place. I am sure that her heart is in her mouth, when the airline clerk continues that she needs to check in at the Air France desk downstairs - whew. They however don't open for another half hour. Oh well, nothing to it, we just have to wait, frustratingly.

Finally Hels is all booked through and sans much of her luggage. She has opted to take all her gifts with her in a new small suitcase. She is pretty sick of wearing the same clothes over and over during the past five weeks, and I get the feeling that if they go missing, it wouldn't be the end of the world - unlike what would happen if the pressies she has bought the girls go astray! That plus her neck pillow, a jacket and a couple of books will keep her hands full. She has to run a marathon to get home: Florence to Paris, Paris to Copenhagen, Copenhagen to Bangkok, Bangkok to Sydney, Sydney to Brisbane where Greg and the girls will give her a very warm welcome on Thursday morning. Whew. Methinks she will be very tired and sick of planes well before she gets to Brissy.

One last shared coffee, hugs and kisses and a few tears and we are waving her off through to the gates. Michael and I go back to the car. It seems so empty all of a sudden.

We turn back for Florence, having decided to stay another 2 nights. We are changing hotels though and will be a little further out. But first there are two bus tickets that we need to finish using. We take the car up to the Piazzale di Michelangelo as we noticed plenty of parking when we were here yesterday. It was created as part of major restructuring of the city walls, the terrace is typically 19th century. Giuseppe Poggi also designed a monument base dedicated to Michelangelo. The monument itself was to be composed of copies of Michelangelo's works, including a bronze copy of the famous statue of David and the Medici chapel sculptures from San Lorenzo. Renowned for its panoramic views of Florence and the Arno valley, this terrace is popular spot with locals and tourists. And today is no different - there are at least three Japanese weddings taking place here today - complete with over the top photographic choreography! Who can blame them? The views are simply stupendous.

We get a few more photos ourselves while we wait for the bus to arrive. We also buy a small watercolour from an artist who is busily sketching away. She shows us a huge array of her works - all scenes of Florence skylines, or of Tuscan landscapes. She sure knows what appeals. They are simple and neat and she has a great flair for capturing the perspective accurately. I wanted a trio of miniatures with examples of both, but she groups them as one or the other. Eventually I settle on one that shows the city skyline - it is so memorable and ever so stunning. I can see why it is one of Italy's top ten tourist drawcards up here looking down on all the domes. It is stunning to see the shades of red from up here, high above the city with the quieter yellows and whites beneath these perky caps.

Our first thought was to go and have a look at the Pont Vecchio first, but given that it is on the inner city bus tour, we decide to first go and have a look at the Duomo as that stop is before the Pont. And there went the plans. We spend the rest of the afternoon at the Duomo where Michael climbs firstly the Bell Tower's 414 steps and then realises that you can also climb the dome of the Cathedral - 308 to the first tier and a further 155 to the top of the dome (which the ticket seller didn't tell him!) So his calf muscles are shagged tonight!

This Cathedral is the 4th largest in the world. The space is huge and open and the seating that is used during services has been removed. leaving only some pews around the outer walls. Why?, do I hear you ask? Well, the floors in this church are the most amazing we have seen yet. Beautiful inlaid and mosaic marble floors, they lie testament to the remarkable skills of the local stoneworkers. And while they are fascinating, there is more. The whole of the exterior of this cathedral is a mosaic of candy cane coloured marble giving this building it's famous facade.

Once we have finally had our fill of the Cathedral, we say goodbye to Kath and Frank from New Jersey in the US, to whom we had been chatting. They are off to Rome for three days tomorrow - have a great time guys! We have spent so long in the Duomo that our tickets are will expire in the next half hour meaning that we dont have time to go around to Ponte Vecchio tonight. So we walk across the inner city to the closest stop where we can pick up the bus on the other route to return to the car up on the Piazzale di Michelangelo.

We are changing hotels and so set out for the Vivahotel Fleming Novoli on the other side of the city from where we were previously. Funnily enough it is really close to the airport! Again we are caught in a web of one way streets, at one time turning right where we should not, only to have a local gesticulate madly as he is driving towards us! As soon as he realises we are tourists - because I as the driver am on the other side of the car, he becomes more helpful straight away and points to the street we should use.

So we book in for an early night. The hotel advertises a limited restaurant both on the Booking.com website and in their in-room compendiums, so we are not impressed when the surly young girl at Reception tells us that the don't have one. Michael goes for a walk, only to return to say that there is no real options for dinner anywhere around here. So it is doner kebab takeaways. Not bad actually, just not what we expected! And then to bed.

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