This post finds us up in the hills of Tuscany, in an olive grove, looking down into a valley, where somewhere in the distance lies Florence. It is so peaceful and quiet here. As is common in Italy, this place has it's own little trattoria and bar, which we have availed ourselves of each night. We chose this place because it was central to visiting Florence, Siena and Pisa and also because they run a shuttle bus each morning down to the local station where the trains run very frequently to the above mentioned towns. Of course they do come and pick you up again at night. This has worked out well as it is a 5 km climb up the hill to where we live then a further 5 km to Empoli where the station is, so it has saved us a lot of grief with driving and parking.
On our first day we decided to go to Florence. Down to the station we went, purchased our tickets from the machine, looked up at the departures board to see which platform we needed to be on, when suddenly the whole board went blank, then all trains to Florence were cancelled. We then discovered that there was a train strike, no trains would be running until 5 pm. Just great!
We then noticed there was one train listed as heading in the opposite direction - to Pisa. This train turned up about an hour later so we hopped on board. Knowing that 'the sights' of Pisa are all confined to one place I knew we would not require a full day there, what extra time we would have could be spent wandering the city. Which is exactly what we did. The Leaning Tower, Cathedral and Baptistery are all beautifully preserved so we spent several hours admiring them.
That afternoon it was bedlam on the station not knowing when or if a train would arrive to take us back to Empoli. It was not until about 5.45 pm before a train arrived and it was a mad scramble to get on. We were jammed in like sardines.
Now for my 'only an American' tale. Sitting further along in the carriage were two American couples. The train started on its way, when the big motor mouth jumped up and declared that the train was going the wrong way and they would all have to get off at the next station. This train was going to 'fur n zee' he declared, they wanted to get to Florence. So despite other passengers telling him he was going the right way, he insisted his group get up then and there to be ready for the next station. The next station just happened to be 40 minutes down the track, we think he thought it was like the NYC underground and the next stop was a few minutes away. As it so happened we got off at the next stop and they were last seen trying to figure out how to get to Florence!!!
Next day the trains were running so we made our way to Florence and spent all day wandering the magnificent city. The city was crowded, but not like Rome. Here we did get into the Duomo, Giotto's Tower stood in all its splendour, but the Baptistery is under wraps, and the crowds admiring it's door was about 20 deep. We crossed the Ponte Vecchio and even did the hike up the hill to Piazzale Michelangelo lookout and ate an apple whilst gazing out over the beautiful city.
Finally yesterday we visited Siena. Due to mismanagement on our behalf we ended up walking to the city from the station and back again that night. Wow what a place Siena is, just buildings all jumbled on top of each other, narrow streets and lane ways. Piazza del Campo is the centre of the city, where the twice yearly Palio is held, overlooked by the Palazzo Pubblico, the stunning 800 year old building with its towering clock tower. The Duomo was what blew us away though. This Romanesque cathedral is black and white striped, so different to the browns of all the other buildings. And what was inside has a definite wow factor. The black and white stripes are continued inside but these just provide the canvas for all the incredible art works that adorn the walls and the inlaid marble of the floors. Just beautiful.
Tomorrow morning we are up and off yet again, having spent 5 beautiful days in this area of Italy, and head south, down to Pompeii for 5 days where we plan to visit Pompeii, Naples Sorrento, The Isle of Capri. The weather here has been just right – about 32 but down south it should be a lot hotter.