(18-25 April 2009)

i have had my doubts about going to florence. even though a lot of people are raving about it, i had a lot of trouble filling our itinerary.

but we needed a holiday. and with plenty of empty days (read: i didn’t have much time to plan), this looks like somewhere where we can relax.

we flew out via easyJet from Gatwick airport to Galilei airport in Pisa. Then took the Terravision shuttle from Pisa to Firenze. And the shuttle dropped us off in front of the Firenze Sta. Maria Novella station.

We’re booked at the B&H Diplomat. Just a few steps from the Firenze SMN station. A 4-star hotel (but seems only slightly better than a Travelodge, a no-star hotel here). But it was in a great location, clean and quite comfortable (and cheaper than most Florence hotels). No it wasn’t noisy, in spite of being right next to the station. There were works in front on the hotel, which did made the traffic less busy. I only get waken up by the Church bells ringing at 7am and the luggages being wheeled out outside the room. Breakfast was included but it really wasn’t that great. I thought it was a disgrace that they’re serving instant coffee (it’s Italy!).

After our first meal in Florence (from a restaurant a few steps outside the hotel), and our holiday looked promising. After all, a holiday in Tuscany is half about the food and wine and coffee.

Having left home at around 5:30am and checked in at 2pm, we were dead tired. So no plans for the day except to rest and eat.

Florence is about the Renaissance period. The works of the masters are all here – Da Vinci, Michaelangelo, Donatello. I guess there is no getting away from the museums. The most well known works are scattered across the Uffizi and Accademia. But the smaller museums have their fair share of treasures as well.

There are plenty of gardens as well to relax in and in some, you can take in the panorama of the city. But with our hayfever kicking in, we can’t really stay for too long in the gardens.

Of course, shopping also abounds. But we were not here for that (like i will ever have a budget for the Louis Vuittons, Ferragamos and the Pradas).

We’ve spent the weekend at Florence, just walking around the city, sitting in cafes, watching the tourists and the world go by.

Monday, we’ve taken the bus to Greve, Chianti. and walked to Montefioralle which was a bit of a disaster. it’s half an hour walk through semi-treacherous and steep roads. and i wanted to go because of a recommended restaurant only to find the town dead quiet and everything’s closed (after talking through hand signals and some spanish words with a local). So we settled at the restaurant back in Greve, drinking variations of red chianti wine in Chianti to drown out the disappointments. Food wasn’t that great. And chianti wine is really nothing special. but we drank anyway and walked around town – sitting in the parks, window shopping, and more wine tasting at the enoteca.

Wednesday was a visit to Cinque Terre. Not really part of Tuscany, but it was well worth the trek. 5 towns nestled in the valleys and carved terraces of the mountains overlooking the Italian riviera. You can walk through the 5 villages through the paths overlooking the mesmerisingly blue ocean. We’ve walked through 3 towns and took the train for the rest (You had to buy tickets to use the paths which includes use of the train and buses as well). I can remember delicious stuffed mussels for lunch in Manarola. and risked food poisoning with bad seafood in Monterosso. I complained and was not charged. We should have complained that Al’s meal is not as tasty as in other restaurants 🙂 A word of advice, don’t trust restaurants that serve food out of their usual hours (lunch is from 12, dinner is from 7).

Thursday was a leisurely day in the hot springs of Grotta Giusti in Monsummano terme (their train station does not have any sign at all, so it helped to know which stop precedes it). I thought it was a bit relaxing but I wouldn’t go again. I was half expecting natural pools, which it wasn’t. There was a natural sauna inside the caves which they’ve divided to paradiso, purgatorio and inferno. But it wasn’t really that hot inside.

Friday, we’ve finally had a chance to visit the Uffizi gallery. The lines were usually snaking around the courtyard, and we have already stood there for an hour before and gave up. So maybe it was meant to be, as this day, the lines were unusaully short. The museum was huge but there were a number of salas closed and some famous pieces were undergoing restoration. But it was a great feeling to be right in front of works i’ve only appreciated through pictures in school before. Makes me want to go back to the Louvre in Paris again and properly go through its halls without having to hurry.

Saturday was the day to go home. but with the flight at 9:30pm, we still have some time. We checked out early and took the shuttle back to Pisa airport. deposited our baggage there and left for the centre. tough luck, it was a holiday that day and most shops were closed including the tourist info. without a map, we had a hard time finding where the Leaning tower of Pisa is. After asking a local and following the tourists, we finally got there. didn’t get the chance to go up the leaning tower as the next schedule was at 18:20 (it was only noon!). it wasn’t exactly awe-inspiring for me, but still, i’ve only seen it in pictures before and it was great to be finally there.


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