Tuesday, March 11, 2008

Firenze (Florence) and Fiesole

We’re all tired but of course still manage to get breakfast in before leaving Venice (it’s free!). It’s raining today, so just as well we’re off to Florence. All of us have been munched by mozzies in the night, how do they survive the cold?

Down at the station, we’re on the 8:43am direct to Florence, arriving at 11:23. Car 4, and we’ve been given non-adjacent seats 91, 93,95 and 96, perhaps because the train is quite busy. First class tickets are about 50 euros per head. How much would that work out to in the UK? A morning rush hour train into London, first class. 300 pounds?

The Italian high-speed trains are excellent, and are of a high-standard even in second class. I watch King of the Hill with my laptop plugged in. It’s interesting how I find I have more Italian language troubles now that I know a little Spanish, it’s almost like I’ve been corrupted. They are similar, but sufficiently different that I now always have Spanish (or even Portuguese) words popping into my head when I’m searching for what to say.

Our train stops at Bologna, but no alighting for what Farah says is the best ice-cream in Italy (I’ve been there too, heh). At Florence, we hop on Bus number 7 straight up to Fiesole where our hotel is, with tickets costing 5 euros for a 24hr bus pass each. Fiesole is an Etruscan village above Florence, and a great place to escape the noise and bustle of Florence. I stayed here with Huey-mien many years ago, and am glad to be going back.

The bus first winds through the city centre, passing the cathedral, Santa Maria del Fiore, with famous dome (Duomo) atop, before heading up the hill. It’s cold up in Fiesole. The tourist information office (I’m quite impressed there is one!) gives us maps and points us to our hotel. I ask the girl whether any exciting things are happening in Fiesole, perhaps exhibitions or concerts? She raises her eyebrows with amusement, as if to question whether I’ve been to Fiesole before. Don’t worry, that’s why we’re here.

Fiesole’s main square

It’s five minutes up to Villa Bonelli, which is a simple but nice hotel. We head straight back out and down to the bus stop, where the 7 leaves about every 20 minutes back down to the main station. I am blamed for us watching the bus pull out after insisting on picking up some food – take away pizza slices, from a friendly snack bar just up the road. 6 euros for four decent-sized square slices, good value.

Ah well, the next bus will be soon – 20 minutes in fact. Down into town, we jump off just before the cathedral.

It’s free to head inside, but is relatively bare inside apart from the beautiful fresco on the inside of the dome (Duomo).

Outside, we planned to climb the Duomo, but can’t work out where the entrance is,

so instead climb the adjacent tower, 414 stone steps to the top,

Only half way up!

where there’s a great view of the Duomo and the rest of Florence. It’s quite windy at the top.

Back at street level,


it starts to rain as we walk down to Palazzo Vecchio, passing the famous copy of the statue of David, and then the Ponte Vecchio (Old Bridge), the pedestrian bridge with shops (mostly gold and jewelry) across it, spanning the Arno river. Apparently in the Second World War, the Germans blew up all bridges across the river except this one.

Right, that’s Florence done. There doesn’t seem to be any appetite for the Uffizi (the Offices) – Lewis and I have done it, have seen all fifty thousand renaissance paintings of Madonna con Bambini and so would refuse point blank to go in. Perhaps we didn’t sell it enough to Dad and Pippi.

Across the bridge, on the slightly less touristy south side, we walk along to Palazio Pitta, Lewis’ recommendation. Before heading in, we find tea and something to eat at a nearby café. I try orzo, which LP describes as a non-caffinated barley coffee drink. It tastes like bad coffee. We check out some restaurants for later then head back to Pitti.

Pitti Palace

Palazio Pitti is a large old palace, built by one of the rival families to the controlling Medici (though later used by them) and is packed with room after room of decked out state rooms, mostly as an art gallery, but several are filled with the furniture too. The ceilings are also incredible, carved, painted and with fantastic frescos.

Having completed the floor, we go upstairs again to the “Modern” art gallery, but with modern here meaning 18th and even some 19th century paintings! Modern by renaissance standards. As Lewis points out, this is plenty of classical art for most appetites, so we’re happy to leave and head down for dinner at Borgo Antico.

Lewis thinks he ate here before at this restaurant one of side of Santo Spirito square, where locals and tourists apparently enjoy good and innovative food (LP). First observation – we’re served by a very attractive waitress who speaks excellent English and dances at the bar when not busy. Nice! I order wild boar salami then seafood linguine.

Lewis has a 700g steak! There is though a bit hunk of bone running along one side, so it’s not quite as bad as it initially seems (bad in a good way!).

Pippi has a salad. I realise over the course of the holiday that she is an anchovy maniac. This girl can eat anchovies without even noticing them!


Pubs weren’t bad either, but still no panna cotta.

With the beer and wine consumed too, I end up a bit tipsy, which of course means a McD stop for fries on the way home. Apparently I bought a random girl some food. Cough. Then the bus back terminates opposite the Irish bar. Almost seemed like one stepped off straight into the place! All good fun!

It’s so dark in the morning that we oversleep – this was apparently Lewis’s plan – he closed all the window shutters before going to bed. On opening them, we find it’s snowing outside, as predicted by the weather forecast, but still surprising. Snow!!! It won’t settle though, as it’s coming down with rain too and is not cold enough (still fairly nippy though!). Breakfast downstairs is continental, then I leave the others to go to the Fiesole viewpoint for a marvellous view over Florence,

Looking down to the Duomo

whilst I have a nice shower and shave, before meeting them at the bus stop at 11:15am. Our travelcards expire at 11:45am, so I’m hoping to get to town before this happens. It takes us over half an hour to get down though, with the bus crawling along in the traffic in downtown Florence, but no inspector catches us out. Phew!

At the station, with Dad’s back aching, we pick up four return train tickets to Siena, and a train leaves in a couple of minutes from a platform right the other side of the station. You can also take the bus, which is marginally faster, but of course less pleasant.

We just catch the train, which runs through the Tuscan countryside direct to Siena. The scenery isn’t bad, but you really need sunshine to bring out the best from the rolling hills, whereas we have cold windy and overcast conditions, not fun. Useful tip – when you have return tickets, you have to validate them before the return journey too!

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