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About Me

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  1. We've got a flight home from Pisa at 17.50 today, but that meant we had almost another full day to spend in Italy. We needed to travel back in the general direction of Pisa to be in the right location for the flight in the evening, so we decided to visit the coastal city of Livorno, which is around 15 miles southwest of Pisa. We had another fairly early trip to the train station, catching a train at 09.28. Everything went smoothly this morning and we were soon on our way towards Livorno The journey was straightforward; about 90 minutes on a direct train. When we arrived in Livorno around 11am we found that the train station is located on the outskirts of the town, so we had a walk of a couple of miles ahead of us to get to the centre of town and the sea. The first sign that we were getting close to the centre was when we chanced upon this large square. Not far from the square we found Livorno's cathedral. It wasn't quite as impressive as the cathedrals we've seen in Florence and Siena this week! Shortly after that we got our first glimpse of the sea. Livorno is a port city and we could see there was a big cruise ship in town. We walked along the coast for a while, towards a lungomare footpath. The area around the port was a bit industrial in places, but other parts were pretty. We could see there were ferries coming in and out of the port as well as cruise ships. When we got to the end of the lungomare there was a large square with a chequered floor. The views of the coast from here were really lovely The best views in Livorno may be when you're looking away from it Once we'd finished enjoying the views we walked back towards the town and found a restaurant for one final meal in Italy. I had a lasagne which was really good Then it was back through the town to the station, for the short train ride back to Pisa and the flight home. We've had a lovely weekend away and really enjoyed the Italian sunshine This is a part of Italy well worth visiting!
  2. We had planned to make a day trip to the town of Siena today and that meant an early start. Although it seems like there is normally one train per hour between Florence and Siena, on Sundays the timetable is less frequent with the result that there is a gap in trains between half 8 and half 11. We decided our best bet was to get the 08.28 train and set off towards Florence's main train station well in advance of 8am to give ourselves time to buy tickets and find the correct platform. It was lucky that we did because when we got to the station and attempted to buy tickets for the 08.28 from the ticket machine, we were greeted with a message saying that the train we wanted had sold out I'm quite baffled by this as I didn't think it was possible for regional trains to sell out in Italy! It could have been a disaster, but it seemed like tickets were still available for a slightly earlier train, departing at 08.10. We hadn't expected to be at the station early enough to catch this one but we were - just about - because it was approximately 08.04. We faced a battle against time to get the slow Trenitalia ticket machine to sell us tickets, then locate the correct platform for the train. It turned into a bit of a sprint across the station, weaving in and out of the hordes of people with suitcases who filled the concourse, but we made it in the end with about 60 seconds to spare. Phew! What we hadn't had time to do was to validate our train tickets. That's quite important in Italy so could have presented us with a problem. Fortunately, Tim had a pen in his bag and was able to write the time of the train we'd boarded on the back of the tickets. When the inspector came around to check them, that turned out to be sufficient The journey from Florence to Siena took around 90 minutes. When we arrived and exited the station in Siena we were initially a bit unclear about where to go but everyone else who'd got off the train seemed to be crossing the road and entering a large shopping centre, so we opted to follow them. That turned out to be a good decision. The town centre of Siena is situated significantly uphill from where the train station is and by entering the shopping centre we were able to travel on a series of escalators and travelators which took us up the hill with little effort. I think there were at least six escalators in total, so it was quite a hill! Once we eventually emerged into the daylight again, we had a beautiful view of the countryside surrounding Siena. We passed through what looked like a large gate into the old town. Once we were through the gate we found ourselves walking down the narrow streets of Siena. We passed little squares... ...tiny churches... ...and the odd statue. It was all really beautiful. As we walked we noticed there were lots of green and red flags adorning the streets. We assume this is the local city flag. Some of the street lights were painted in matching colours too! At this point we heard what sounded like a loud drumming noise, so we decided to follow it and investigate. Following the drumming took us towards Siena's main square. A procession was passing along the far side of the square and that's where the drumming noise had been coming from. We've got no idea what it was about, but it involved a lot of waving of flags! The main square itself is enormous. The huge building at the centre of it is the town hall. Amazingly, the tower was built in the fourteenth century. It was designed to be the same height as Siena's cathedral, to show that the state and the church were equally powerful. We hadn't seen the cathedral yet, so we continued our explorations. Eventually we got our first glimpse of it at the end of a narrow street. It's hard to be impressed by a cathedral having just seen the enormous Duomo in Florence the day before, but this one is pretty amazing too. It has a really beautiful facade... ...and we could see some gorgeous stained glass inside too. The baptistry on the other side of the cathedral was worth seeing too. We walked around the town a bit further, passing a more modern brick church. The church itself wasn't that exciting compared to the others we've seen so far, but just around the corner from it we had a fantastic view. Not only did we have a spectacular view of the cathedral, but we could also see the tall tower of the town hall. The heat of the day was building up by this point so we found a nearby cafe to relax with a drink followed by a restaurant for a nice meal. I had pappardelle with wild boar ragu, which was amazing! After lunch we had a hot and sticky train ride back to Florence, where we arrived just on time to track down a sports bar to watch Leicester's final game of the season. Unfortunately, things didn't work out for them and they ended up getting relegated. We ate at the bar and then had a final walk through Florence, with some more beautiful views of the Duomo
  3. It was a lovely sunny day when we woke up in Florence this morning. After yesterday's very early wake-up we had a more relaxed start to this morning, having a bit of a lie in before heading out to explore the city. From where we were staying we walked through narrow side streets until we got down to the river Arno. We walked alongside the river for a while because we wanted to see the Ponto Vecchio, a medieval bridge across the river. It looks great when you see it from a distance, though from memory it is quite claustrophobic to walk across because it's lined with small shops! There were plenty of colourful buildings on the opposite river bank. We crossed the river by a less historic bridge and started to climb uphill. We were heading towards a square called Piazzale Michelangelo and the route there was rather steep. As we climbed, we started to get glimpses of the view through the trees. It was hard work climbing uphill in the sunshine, so we stopped partway up for a drink at a little outdoor cafe with a view. From there it wasn't too far up to the square and once we got there it was well worth the climb. The views of Florence from up here are incredible. While it's the huge dome of the Duomo which dominates the skyline, you can see lots of other churches and buildings too... ...and if you look in the opposite direction you can see the countryside outside of Florence as well. We stood there for ages admiring how beautiful it was. Then we climbed back down through the trees and found a restaurant in the old town where we had some amazing pasta for lunch. After lunch we set off to explore the main centre of town. We quickly found ourselves in a large square, outside the Palazzo Vecchio, which is Florence's town hall. As you can doubtless tell from the photos, this was a pretty busy part of town! We walked a little further through crowded streets and reached the cathedral itself. It looks just as impressive from this level as it does when you're up on the hill. And it's so large it's hard to fit it all in one photo! There was one more church I wanted to see and that was Santa Maria Novella, which is not far from the train station. It's an unusual church because it has an extremely ornate facade on this side, but then it's just plain brown bricks from all other angles. The heat has been scorching all day, so at this point we decided to head back to the apartment and cool off in the air conditioning for a while. It's been a lovely day in a lovely city
  4. Another bank holiday means it's time for another trip! This time we've headed to the Tuscany region of Italy, accompanied by Tim's cousin Baden, who has had Italy on his bucket list for quite some time. We had an early start to the weekend this morning with alarms set for 3am to enable us to get down to Stansted on time for our 07.45 flight to Pisa. Stansted was pretty busy - not unexpectedly, as this bank holiday corresponds to school holidays too - but we weren't checking in bags so we made it through the airport with time to spare for a breakfast in Wetherspoons. The flight was on time and before we knew it, we were touching down in a warm and sunny Pisa Pisa is one of the most unusual places I've ever flown to, in that you can walk straight from the airport into the town without needing to take any form of transportation. Admittedly it takes half an hour or so until you get to the part of town with the famous leaning tower, but it definitely makes a change from squeezing on to overpriced airport buses. After a bit of walking the streets began to look more scenic... ...and we soon found our first pretty square. We crossed over the river Arno, which runs through the centre of Pisa... ,,,and found our second pretty square. From there it wasn't far until we got our first glimpse of the famous leaning tower of Pisa It leans an incredible amount in real life, so much so that it's hard to understand how it's still standing. I struggled to capture it in photos, but Tim got some good ones. This is the second time I've been to Pisa. I remember being surprised the first time I came how many other beautiful buildings there are surrounding the leaning tower. We did a circuit around the vicinity of the tower, admiring it from different angles. Before we came I'd been debating whether I should buy tickets to climb to the top. I didn't in the end and when I got here, I was glad I think if you're on the top you must feel like you're standing at a really funny angle! The area around the tower was obviously very busy and there were lots of people trying to get the perfect shot. We were hungry after our early start to the day, so soon headed off to a quieter part of the town centre where we sat outside in the sunshine with some drinks... ...and the most enormous pizzas! The intention was only ever to make a flying visit to Pisa and so after lunch we set off towards the main train station, Pisa Centrale. For the bargain price of €8.90 each we were able to catch a regional train to Florence, which only took around an hour. The apartment we're staying in in Florence is around a kilometre from the main train station, so it didn't take us long to find it. It's nice and spacious We've got a big living/dining area... ...as well as two large bedrooms and two bathrooms. The one thing which is not great about the apartment is the WiFi; it seems inexplicably slow this evening, hence only a brief blog. Hopefully it will be a bit faster tomorrow and I'll be able to upload some more photos from Florence!
  5. Well, today was a bonus, and a beautiful one at that. We prepared our itinerary back in England and so knew what towns we'd be visiting and how we'd be getting to them. And then we arrived in Bologna and jumbled everything up. You see, we were going to follow the approach that we took last year of trying out a new place every day. I think we ended up visiting 15 towns in 14 days back then and we had set ourselves a similar agenda for this visit to Emilia Romagna. But a fortnight before coming here I went to Trieste with my Dad for a long weekend and sandwiched in, I think, 10 different places in our few days, and so Clare and I wondered whether, given the proximity of the towns on our to-do list and the temptingly low same-region train fares, we should squash more than one town per day into this holiday. And so the day that should've been Modena became Modena, Reggio Emilia and Parma, granting us two bonus places. We'd done something similar the day before, heading to Ferrara in the afternoon after having spent the morning in Bologna. Now, Ferrara was going to be its own day out, meaning that we'd gained a spare day, and a pot-luck check of train prices gave a surprising result - we were going to head outside the region to the town considered to be the most beautiful in Italy. Radio has wanted to go to Florence for years and, having accepted my claims that I could find us a train to one its peripheral stations for 11.50€ plus a further 1.50€ to get a local train into the main station, spent the days leading up to the big day eagerly looking forward to the adventure. I have a slightly different way of thinking and was determined to get value for money by adding in more destinations. "You see, going to Pisa would normally cost us a fortune because it's in Tuscany so the train fares are high for crossing the regional border. But since we're going to Florence and that's in Tuscany, then Pisa becomes dead affordable. And so does Siena. And Lucce." And so I spent time trying to convince Radio that we could do a repeat of our Modena-Reggio Emilia-Parma day by spending a couple of hours in various places and then jumping aboard a train, whilst she tried to convey that Florence really couldn't be done justice in less than a day. She won the argument and so a day trip to Florence - and only Florence - was agreed and I set about memorising the time of the only train that we would be able to catch at that one-off low price. The day started as every other one has, with me boiling next to the radioactive Radio and having to switch on the aircon at about 5am, the powering-on of which did a reasonable job of dampening somewhat the roar of the fridge. I have a theory on why the damned thing wasn't working on our first few days - I bet some previous occupant got so irritated at the sound of a Grand Prix ten feet from their bed that they broke it. I'm typing this blog now perhaps somewhat pointlessly, because the laptop's about to get hurled at that fridge if it doesn't shut up soon. By the time the alarm went off and Radio awoke I was already awake because of the heat in the room and that stupid fridge so catching up on some work. We got showered and headed off for breakfast along the customary route, Radio a bit concerned that we might not have time to make it to our train, which was scheduled to leave at 08:39. I, on the other hand, had every confidence that we'd be fine because I was under no illusion that breakfast would be what it has been on the previous days. Sure enough, there was little to hold our attention and so we came, we saw, we left, the grand total of ten minutes spent on site eating our stale bread, pastry (which was fine, in fairness) and drinking our orange juice from a throwaway child's-sized beaker. Back to the appartment, books packed, money added to the purse and we were on the road with plenty of time to spare. Easy. And then things became confusing. I ordered the tickets as we have done every other but this time we were expected to reserve a seat. No problem. A schematic of a carriage appears and you have to indicate the seats you would like, which I duly did. One button away from confirming and paying Radio noted that one of the reservations was in carriage four and the other in five. We would've had one ticket but been in separate carriages - I bet that would've been fun for Radio (who is multilingual but not in Italian) to explain to the ticket inspector: "The machine put me and my handsome better half in separate carriages and the ticket's in his lovely hand." We tried again. Same result. There's an option to pick "sit next to another passenger" so we had go with that. "What carriage is the other person in? What seat?" WE DON'T KNOW BECAUSE WE HAVEN'T GOT THE OTHER PERSON'S TICKET YET, IDIOT. Suddenly the relaxed start to the day was taut. The train was due within minutes, we were still ticketless and there was too long a queue for us to purchase a pair of tickets from the staff behind the desks. So I said to Radio that we'd have to gamble, purchasing one ticket and accepting whatever seat it generated, then making a separate transaction for a second ticket and entering the seat details from the first, keeping our fingers crossed that we would fluke upon a designation that had another seat nearby rather than in a separate carriage. Our luck was in - we were in the same carriage and sitting opposite each other. So what was that nonsense about it putting the two people purchasing the same ticket in different carriages in the first place? Who knows. This being Wimbledon fortnight, I'd be happy to be topical and give whoever scripted that ticketing program a backhand. The train was duly late to cater for all the stragglers and we tracked down our seats, which, to our surprise, were in six-seated booths. What we noticed whilst tracking down ours was a plethora of empty seats ... indeed, we were the only two people in our six-person carriage. See? Could it be that we had a four-seat booth to ourselves after the ticket machine had tried to put us in separate carriages? No - we had a flipping six-booth one! And yet we'd been fighting with that machine for ten minutes because it insisted on putting us in separate carriages! Mind you, my misanthropy was quelled somewhat by a most unexpectedly pleasant journey, as we travelled with the beautifully wooded Appenine mountain range accompanying us. We ended up at Firenze Rifredi ahead of schedule, caught the next train to the main station Firenze Santa Maria Novella and promptly arrived in reputedly Italy's most beautiful city. We picked up a map for 2.50€ (since our pop-out Florence map was back at home because we weren't expecting to come here) and had a look at what to do. That was actually a very easy decision to make - the tourist masses went straight on or right, so we headed to the left. It didn't take long to see our first monument. The Fortressa da Basso is massive. It also cost money to enter so we didn't venture inside and instead decided that we'd make a point of seeing everything else on the map. And so we did, heading straight off to a Russian church on the Giovanni Milton street. (I love the unusual look of that name. He's the author of Paradise Lost in case you haven't made the link.) A trip to a park or two followed, in which we pleased to find some ducks and turtles. And we were on our own too. We weren't expecting to be for much longer, since it was time to leave the periphery and head within the ring road and enter the traditionally touristy areas, starting with the Piazza della Libertà, the northernmost point of the historic city. It was beautiful, the triumphal arch standing tall and proud. Even better - there were no tourists! We'd been in Florence for about an hour and a half at this point under the sweltering heat and so decided to refresh ourselves. The first pint on a hot day is always the best. With the aid of our new map we set out a battle plan, coming to the realisation that Florence had so much to see that though we could probably squeeze in everything within the main city without straining ourselves, there was a large area to explore on the south of the Arno. I shan't bore with details about what we saw. We marched and visited everything on the map, a task made easier by the fact that we couldn't gain access to quite a few of the sights, my favourite such example being an attempt to walk into the Orto Botanico only to see a handwritten sign across the entrance announcing "NO ENTER. NO TOURIST." I had to laugh - whoever wrote that likes tourists even less than I do! Lunch was merited when we finally took it. I'm not a pizza person but after several days of bolognese and lasagna I fancied a change and came up a winner. The Vulcano was extremely spicy but beautiful, and Radio declared her Quattro Formaggi to be the finest such pizza she'd ever had. Crucially there was a cheap beer on offer, a 66cl bottle of Moretti for 3.50€. The friendly waiter chap thought me rather more classy than I am and accompanied the bottle with a glass. In the event this was handy, since he clearly thought that the half litre of wine that we'd ordered was for Radio only and so brought just a single beaker with it. I therefore made use of the pint glass, just not with the material he thought I would. One excellent meal later and half a map still to follow, off we trekked. Again, I'll spare details (since the photos tell the story better) except to say that we hit on a beautiful square with the Duomo backing on to it. The narrow streets are dominated by what appears to be a rocketship launching in the background. Florence is a magesterial city anyway, but one thing dominates the skyline - the Duomo: We turned a corner having walked around the edge of the town after lunch and bumped into a church ... ... and a round building, which I'm assuming is the baptistry: Those are just two of the elements in this single square: It makes for an impressive whole: Yes, we were among the tourists, but it was a price worth paying. And so was visiting Florence, which is full of beautiful sites. We immediately moved away from the main tourist route and tracked down a Russian church on "Giovanni Milton" street: Instead of heading east into the city we moved westward into a park in which was something reminiscent of our Victorian bandstands: I think that this structure in the park was a cafe but I suspect it might once have been a colossal greenhouse: Having visited the non-tourist areas it was time to see the conventional sights. We entered via the north-west and quickly came across the Roman gate ... ... which featured some intricately crafted statues on its top: Behind the Roman gate was a second, though less spectacular: There are, of course, many beautiful churches. Ignore the six-pointed star on this one - it's not a synagogue ... ... but this is. It's big! Palazzi too abound.: The Arno flows through Florence. Here';s Radio at riverside: Having seen everything that we'd set out to view we were in a bit of a quandary. As there was only one train in the morning at the irresistibly low price, so there was only one going home and we had a couple of hours to kill in sweltering heat. The solution soon presented itself when we found a bar. Radio wanted water and as usual I was happy with a pint. Having confirmed that there was draft beer on offer I requested a large Bulldog. The proprietor confirmed with me that I meant large, which I corroborated - if you don't specify large in Italy you end up with a 20cl. He brought our drinks over. There was a pleasant surprise for me: That's a large drink. A welcome bonus on our bonus day. We spent time in the shadier part of the pub, Radio quickly needing a top-up and me resisting the temptation to ask for one more for me too. The TV was playing hits from the 70s and 80s, Radio asking me to confirm whether the singers were men or women. I grew up in the 80s so don't find 80s-looking women unattractive as she does. I can't say the same about the 70s though. How come people wanted to look so much older than they were back then? Anyway, the pint empty and clock running down, I settled the bill. Ouch. My extra-large beer was going to set me back 13€. I was glad I hadn't ordered a second one after all! You know the dispute between me and Radio earlier? The one where I wanted to travel all around Tuscany today whilst Radio was adamant that Florence would need at least a day? She was right - we'll be heading back on Friday using another of the days that our sandwiching approach has freed up to see the bits that we weren't able to fit in today. No more king-size beers for me though.
  6. We had a whole day to spend in Florence today, but we knew that that wouldn't actually be a lot of time because there is just so much to see and do in Florence. Our apartment was located on the southern side of the Arno, so we decided to spend the morning exploring that side of the river and head to the main town centre in the afternoon. We starting strolling along the banks of the river. The apartment is very near the Ponte Vecchio, a medieval bridge which is filled with (mainly expensive jewellery) shops. It had been difficult to walk across last night because it was so busy with people, but this morning we had a beautiful view back towards it. The view along the river in the opposite direction was equally impressive, with wonderful views of the hills beyond Florence. Our aim was to climb uphill to the Piazzale Michelangelo, a large square in a scenic location above the city. Last time Tim and I came to Florence it was an exceptionally hot day and we really struggled to make it up the hill, but today it seemed a lot more manageable, though still a bit frustrating to get to the top and find busloads of tourists who had been driven there. The view of Florence from the square is incredible. From this distance you can really appreciate quite how massive the Duomo is. And because it was a Sunday morning, we could even hear the bells from where we were. The view of the Tuscan countryside from the other side of the square was equally beautiful. Once we'd spent some time enjoying the view, we decided to climb a little higher to the church of San Miniato al Monte. The facade was really striking with its geometrical patterns. There were some spectacular views of Florence from here too. We walked downhill and found ourselves at the gate to Florence's historic old town. There are fewer tourists here than in the new town on the opposite side of the river and so we were able to wander through narrow streets that were almost deserted. Not everyone was walking though. As we got lower down we found that for the bargain price of €36(!) you could pay to be driven around the sights of Florence in something which resembled a golf buggy!! As we got deeper into the old town we kept seeing the domes of churches appearing tantalisingly on the horizon. It looked like it ought to be easy to locate the churches but some of the squares were extremely busy with markets of varying quality so in places it was difficult to push our way through. We did find a few that were very pretty. We crossed the river to find somewhere to get a pizza for lunch and then set off to explore the more famous bits of Florence. Before long we were standing outside the basilica of Santa Maria Novella. It's a very unusual church because the majority of it appears to be built from quite plain brown bricks... ...but the front of the church is really stunning. From the basilica it didn't take us long to find our way to the most impressive sight in Florence, the cathedral of Santa Maria del Fiore. Both the main cathedral building and the bell tower next to it are extremely beautiful. And, of course, the domed roof of the cathedral is fantastic. Being the centre of Florence the cathedral square was also incredibly busy, full of tourists who looked like they would be queuing for hours to get inside the historic buildings and Africans trying to sell selfie sticks and knock-off handbags! We did a circuit of the cathedral to appreciate quite how enormous it is and then set off down some of the quieter side streets to get away from the hordes. When we had been walking along the river earlier in the day we had caught sight of what appeared to be a large church with a striking green domed roof. We caught sight of it again on one of the side streets note far from the Duomo and so decided to walk towards it in the hope of tracking it down. The closer we got to where we thought it ought to be the more problems we had finding it, but after overshooting it and retracing our steps we eventually found what we had been looking for... ...and discovered that it wasn't a church at all but Florence's synagogue. That explained why there had been so many Jewish restaurants and food shops on the street we'd been walking down! Mystery solved, we turned back into the better known parts of the city. Soon we were standing outside the enormous Palazzo Vecchio, the town hall of Florence. There are seveal large statues outside the town hall, including a replica of Michelangelo's David (the real one is kept safely inside one of the galleries) and this slightly scary one which apparently shows Hercules and Cacus. A number of the statues in the square seemed quite disturbing. This one was Perseus with the head of Medusa. As we walked further through the Uffizi complex there were also some less frightening statues though, like this one of Galileo We unexpectedly found ourselves walking out into another square with a church that looked somehow familiar. For a confusing moment we thought that we had got our geography of Florence all wrong and ended up outside the basilica of Santa Maria Novella again! We soon realised that this was actually the basilica of Santa Croce though and it just looks a little similar at first glance, being brick at the back but with an ornate white and green facade. From Santa Croce we walked north again, eventually coming to the old gates into the city. It was after 4pm by now and although we were still happily walking round without jumpers, it was clear that the remaining daylight was going to be limited. There was just about time to cram in one more sight which I was keen to see; the beautiful Russian Orthodox church. As darkness began to fall we started on the trek back across the city to our apartment. Through a park with a rather crazy fountain... ...past the old fortress... ...and a rather strange modern art installation... ...until we eventually found ourselves outside Santa Maria Novella again. It looked wonderful illuminated in the darkness. Even though it was dark now, the lighting on the main streets was good enough to enable us to enjoy a few more of the buildings. We walked past the Palazzo Strozzi... ...and into the Piazza Santa Trinita, complete with a large column representing justice. From there we were able to make our way back towards the river and the Ponte Vecchio. We had an amazing day and saw as much of Florence as it was possible to cram into the available hours, but it's definitely a city where it would be possible to stay a lot longer
  7. I woke up today to the sound of rain hammering. Much of Europe was on the receiving end of a hurricane, and Italy was no exception. I was equipped only for sunny weather and my first thought was that I was going to get soaked when I went out to buy breakfast. I did indeed. As luck would have it, the rain abated not long afterwards and we were able to head to the train station on foot, sparing us the rip-off taxi fare of 9€ that one rob-dog had charged us for the five-minute drive on our first night. We were off to Florence. Clare and I had been twice before and so I knew what to expect. I also knew that Florence is so replete with sights that we had to make a second visit previously to fit everything in. That's not good for a seven-year-old and so I made a conscious decision just to get the best things in. That meant turning a corner and seeing the Duomo spring out of nowhere: It really is a collosal structure, and it's easy to see why it's the jewel in Florence's crown: The facade is really elaborate: And so is the detail in the statures which adorn it: We saw lots of statues and other lovely buildings whilst walking around, but nothing so eminent as what beheld us at Piazza Santa Croce. There was the statue of Dante as a warm-up: But that was only minor compared to the basilica which it was beside: The square was full of statues, including this one of one of the Medici: And many others: Standing in the middle was this one after carrying out a decapitation! The inside of the basilica is beautiful: And there were even some lions for Alfie to pose in front of: We went off to try some ice cream because the sun was bearing down on us and then headed back to the apartment. On the way we passed a street flanked by twenty or thirty statues of luminaries. I didn't necessarily recognise any of them until I caught a glimpse of my humanist hero at the very end: It was fitting, really. We'd started the holiday in town of his birth and we were going to finish it in the town of the world's first university. But first there was the small matter of a boys' night in watching Star Wars and eating pizza.
  8. After Wednesday's unexpected but amazing visit to Florence, today was scheduled as a return trip to see some of the sights which we were unable to fit in first time around. Having already been there once this week, I didn't think there was anything which could conceivably go wrong with the journey, until I managed to sleep through the alarm (or "chose to go back to sleep", as Tim prefers to put it!) and didn't wake up until 07.45, leaving us without enough time to catch the 08.59 train. Whoops. Luckily there was another cheap train at 11.02, so we were able to enjoy a relaxed start to the morning. When we did head out to the train station some time after 10.30, the thermometer above the main archway proclaimed that it was already 34 degrees. Wow. We arrived in Florence some time after midday and immediately thought about getting lunch. The place were we'd had pizza on Wednesday was fantastic, and Tim managed to navigate us halfway across Florence to find it again, only needing to consult with the map once. The walk was marred only by the fact that I got my foot stuck in a hole in the cobblestones, twisting it painfully, and then accidentally touched my leg against a red hot sheet of metal. The pizza was just as nice as on our previous visit, as was the half litre of wine, and it was well after two before we motivated ourselves to move out of the shade and investigate the rest of Florence. Crossing the river Arno, we began to walk steeply uphill, along roads which probably would have been pleasant on a milder day but were punishing in temperatures of well over 30 degrees. When we eventually arrived, sweating and exhausted, at the top of the hill, we found hundreds of other tourists looking wonderfully cool, on account of just having been dropped off there by their air-conditioned coaches. Humph. There was a beautiful view out across Florence though, which was well worth the climb. We wandered a bit further, trying to stick to the shade as much as possible, but it was so hot that it was difficult to carry on for very long. We tried to stop for a drink at a cafe, but upon finding that the price of beverages increased dramatically if you sat at a table, had to down our water while loitering outside instead. Descending the hill, we unexpectedly found ourselves in Florence's old town - something which our guidebook had failed to mention the existence of - and enjoyed some time strolling around the shadier streets. Crossing the river again by most popular bridge, we found ourselves right in the middle of tourist central, and were horrified when we stopped at a small cafe for more refreshments to find that the price of a bottle of water was €3.50! All in all it was a day dominated by the heat, but fun to go back to Florence again. Perhaps next time we'll come back earlier in the year when the sun might not be so strong.
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