Pisa and Florence

Italy

We gave ourselves four hours to see Pisa on the way to Florence, doing the left luggage thing at the train station.

It started raining as we arrived, meaning business picked up for the gents selling umbrellas to tourists (illegally). They literally lined the streets. We saw a few tourists giving in (either to the rain, or the sales pitch) to buy them. Guess they didn’t know about the hefty fines that can be imposed on tourists for buying from unlicensed street sellers? It’s true – up to 7,000 euros!

First stop of course was the crooked Tower. It’s one of those things – you’ve seen it thousands of times in pictures, but when you see it in the flesh it’s fairly impressive. Em wouldn’t let me get creative with any poses. Everyone does the holding the tower up thing – is this the most posed at site anywhere in the world?! We decided to bypass a trip to the top of the Tower, saving the admission fee and the time in the queue.

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We unexpectedly found the whole area (the Piazza del Duomo) quite cool, with the Duomo and Baptistry next to the Tower. That Duomo would be in my ‘top five churches’ (behind St Pauls in Malta and St Marks Basilica in Venice), as the sparse interior suited my acute taste for church design. The Baptistry was also worth the visit, even just to hear the crazy acoustics (the ticket guy sings a few notes every half hour).

Cheap lunch in Pisa, then back on the train to Florence. Arrived at Santa Maria Novella chaos station in the torrential rain – not so much fun. Welcoming party was an army of more incredibly excited umbrella dudes.

We arrived soaking at our nicest apartment yet – we struck it lucky and got a last minute big discount on a fancy duplex close to the center of town. Owner Barbara gave us the run down on everything to do. That evening, Em went gaga over the asparagus truffle oil pasta at the excellent La Cucina del Garga across the road from our apartment.

Next day we hit up Florence’s indoor market for pici, parmesan, prosciutto and other ingredients. The parmesan guy took a shine to Em and hacked off a large piece for her, insisting she would want that much after trying it.

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Florence’s grand Duomo was free to visit, with its impressive dome (remembering they couldn’t stress-test the materials back then, and it hasn’t collapsed) and facade built over hundreds of years and improved over many more hundred.

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We had a time-slot to visit the the mammoth Uffizi Gallery and its mass of Renaissance works, courtesy of the Medici banking boys who turned their usurious dollars into art. We added to our growing repertoire of viewed Caravaggio and Ninja Turtle works.

We squeezed through the crowd on the famous Ponte Vecchio bridge, and watched rowers cruising up and down a little stretch of Arno River.

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The next day we did the Accademia di Belle Arti Firenze, housing Michelangelo’s David, and hypothesised as to why Micky didn’t endow Dave with a bit more marble in the nether region. Seriously, Dave’s hands and head are abnormally large, which is thought to be because the statue was originally intended to go on the roof of the Cathedral (angles etc). So why not the other bits? That small issue aside, Micky did a stellar job.

In the evening we wandered up to the Piazzale Michelangelo, with views right across Florence.

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Being our last night in Florence (yes sadly only three) and still using engagement as an excuse to celebrate once we saw the awesome menu, we found Trattoria Baldovino where we had one of our best food experiences in Italy. The food buffs can see the menu here. I had the Galletto ruspante al mattone – free-range chicken marinated in oil, lemon, herbs and spices, grilled with a brick on top. Hard to believe a whole chicken, incredibly delicious, for €12.50. Em had the Tuscan bangers and mash – trio of little artisanal Tuscan sausages served with a truffle mash – also excellent.

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Two days in Florence isn’t really enough, but we were happy with the bits we saw. Probably on the ‘come back to’ list if ever a chance.

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