We recently returned from our week in Italy. I am an obsessive trip planned, and, as they say, the best laid plans.........well, anyway.
We had taken a train to Bolzano after a week in Germany for my spouse's conference. Bolzano was great, saw the Ice Man. Left on a Regionale train the next day to Bologna, where we would change for Florence. We booked first class as it was a long trip. Unfortunately, the air conditioning in the train was broken and it was very,very hot and humid. It was Friday and the train, even first class, was completely packed with people, luggage crammed in the aisles. It was so, so hot. Thankfully, we had brought water and food with us because there was no food or water on the train until the end, shortly before Bologna. Would in the future pay more and stick to fast trains
for a long trip. Bologna to Florence was an Intercity train, a/c working and nearly empty. Changed for Pisa at Rifredi.
Arrived in Pisa in the middle of the yearly Battle of the Bridges. No taxis to be had. We were at the head of a loong line of people waiting for taxis. Had to fight off a guy who attempted to insert himself in front of us at the head of the line. Not having that! Finally, a taxi came. Turned he was the only taxi operating because the others were stuck on the other side of the city due to the Battle? He spent the ride screaming curse words at his dispatcher. I was glad that the Italian curses I learned from my grandparents appear still to be in usage!
AC Hotel Pisa was on the outskirts of the city, but stayed free on points so can't complain. Nice hotel, good breakfast. Next day we had planned to take the train to Florence, but we were not looking forward to another train trip, so instead we took a taxi to the Leaning Tower. We bought tickets to every attraction there and spent the afternoon. Duomo there is spectacular on the inside. Our favorite site, however, was the Cemetary. Loved walking around and looking at the tombs and damaged frescoes. Visited the museum as well; best part was the shady courtyard with view of the Tower. Quiet and uncrowded, you can sit and gaze. Our taxi driver advised us to get a taxi back before the start of the Italy/Spain Euro 2012 game, or we would not find one. We did so and walked to a lovely pizzeria/bar with an outdoor garden and playground near our hotel for dinner and to watch the game. Dinner (pici for me, pizzas for spouse and son) was delicious, outcome of game was disappointing.
Next day, Monday, we took a train to Viareggio for a beach day. Had planned to go to Lerici instead, but had a rental car issue so chose Viareggio as it was a quick ride by train. It was fun as it was so different from going to the beach at home. The water was so warm it was like a bath. The bagni we chose was family friendly and nearly empty for most of the day, so we had an umbrella close to the water. Did not like the incessant stream of men selling tat that were constantly roaming through the bagni. However, it was lovely and cool at the beach, with a constant breeze, which was a welcome relief from the incessant heat. We tried some pizza at an extremely crowded pizza place on the big street in front of the beach, but it was surprisingly bad. We had a laugh, because it was just like bad beach pizza at home. Sugary sweet sauce, doughy crust. We tossed it and had dinner again outside at the pizzeria near our hotel, while our son kicked around a ball with some other kids there.
Tuesday we finally made it to Florence. Got a late start as spouse had some work issues to resolve first. Saw the SMN church after the train station, then walked to the Farmacia SMN, which was beautiful on the inside. In one hallway, you could glimpse a room where they were repairing some frescoes. More people were looking around than buying. Then walked through a number of winding streets before we arrived at Mercato Centrale. Inside, we were grateful to be out of the sun. I had expected it to be full of people doing their shopping, but instead it was full of tourists like us, wandering about and looking, buying a bit of cheese but that is it. There weren't any real shoppers there. It was disappointing, and worrying, because how can a market survive without regulars? I had heard of course of Nerbone, but the line was enormous so we lunched instead at Porky. The name was a bit odd, but the food was acceptable. Caprese salad and pasta for me and a rice stuffed tomato and tripe sandwich for spouse. Son was stll eating a prosciutto sandwich we had bought for him earlier.
After lunch, we were swept up in the crowd through San Lorenzo market and down to the Duomo. Spectacular on the outside! Huge line to enter, so continued in the absolute crush of tourists down to Piazza Signoria. The sheer mass of tourists was unbelievable. I have never seen anything like it. I had my foot run over by a lady with a rolling suitcase and nit even an apology. We spent a while viewing the lovely sculpture, decided not to enter the Palazzo Vecchio, and sadly bypassed the Uffizzi through the courtyard. We had originally planned two days in Florence with a day in Fiesole, so I had happily planned to buy the Firenze card for spouse and I and kid would be free with his EU citizenship, but when our 2 days in Florence was cut to half of one day, it did not make sense. Line at Uffizzi was huge, so we for the sake of our limited time we had to skip both it and the Accademia, heresy to some, I know.
Walked over to Santa Croce, grabbing gelato and bottled water on the way. Lovely view across the river to the hills above Florence. Area around Santa Croce was thankfully less crowded. Son and spouse visited the church while mommy hit the Leather School and bought herself a lovely handbag. The school was interesting to visit, especially watching a student working on a bag.
Retraced our steps back to the Ponte Vecchio and plunged back into the tourist throngs. Crossed as fast as we could to get out of the crush and headed to the Pitti, where we decided to get our Florentine art fix without the crowds. Just a short line to buy tix (cash only) and we were in. As it was by now late afternoon, we only had a couple hours to tour the Palatine Galleries and Royal Apartments. We took our time wandering through the rooms. There were very few people here. The rooms have cards explaining the art on the walls, and I had a good guidebook as well. One of the rooms had a gorgeous view of the Duomo. Son liked Napoleon's bathroom. We all enjoyed the rooms and had to leave as they were closing up.
Spent a while wandering in the Oltrarno, window shopping and enjoying the beautiful streets and absence of other tourists. It was still early in the evening, but the little guy was hungry, so we ate outdoors at a cafe in Santo Spirito as it was open. We all had pizzas and spouse and I shared a liter of white wine. We wandered back through the streets and over a different bridge on our way back to SMN and train to Pisa. Train had gypsy women who would put a note on an empty seat next to you and then come back and beg for money. This happened on the way to Viareggio too, but they simply left when we said no. Our son was entranced by the self cleaning toilet seat on the train that spun around in a circle after you flushed. He spent so long in the toilet we were worried, but instead he was flushing it repeatedly and filming the spinning seat with my camera. I think that is what made the greatest impression on him from the whole day!