Tuscany we love you! Even if you are rather expensive; it would seem that you pay for insane levels of pretty, wherever you turn. How do the Italians do it? The whole place OOZES style – right down to the Cypress trees.
Helly & Nathan picked us up in a car filled with Verdi (for the aural Italian experience) and we immediately took off for Pisa, to take the obligatory photograph. Boy, was it hot. I mean, yes it is in NovoP too, but there was barely any shade around the tower. Still, the sights are enough to distract you from any early signs of sunstroke and dehydration, at least for a little while.
Leaping back into a now cooking car (silently thanking the inventor of air-con) we set off on our way to the final stop of the day, Hotel LISA in Viareggio. This once opulent holiday area had an air of elegance with palm tree-lined avenues and turn-of-the-century hotels along the front. According to the guidebook, only the extortionate prices are left over from bygone days when this was an exclusive resort. We can certainly vouch for that – you even had to pay to get onto the private beaches, or walk 700m to the free one.
So what did we do? We didn’t walk…we got up at 6.30 the next morning, deliberately flouted the law and leapt into the deliciously warm, private seawater; swimming, splashing and bobbing around before anybody else had thought to get out of bed. A grand way to spend the morning of my birthday: feloniously.
We went back to eat a king’s breakfast (he didn’t notice) including croissants, great coffee and some form of Bakewell Tart equivalent and got back on the road. Winding our way through glorious Tuscan countryside we passed the hilltop settlement of Volterra which was so pretty we just had to stop and explore. Wow! A thousand years old and compact enough to wander around without a map, it offered splendid views and a(nother) zillion photo opportunities.
Dragging ourselves away, we continued our way to Siena where we drove around the ring road three times before finally finding Fonte di Pescaia, our hotel bed for the night. The manager, Francesco laughed at our plight, before recommending that we pop into the seashell party. Wha…? This is when we learnt that Siena, like Hogwarts, is divided into ‘contrade’ or houses, and it just so happened that the Clams were throwing a party that evening, in the run up to the Palio.
Deciding on a ‘food crawl’ as our modus manducandi, we gorged on cold cuts and fabulous bread at Fonte Guista, washed down with local beer followed by a less impressive antipasta and chianti behind Piazza del Campo. We found the party – hurrah to Francesco! It was an extra-special evening anyway, and Prosecco was available at €8 a bottle, so it would have been rude not to join in. So we did – even dancing to Psy at one point, albeit on a dance floor heaving with people who were (by then) at least half my age.
The next morning Helly & Nathan learnt ordering ‘latte’ wasn’t quite the same as ordering ‘caffelatte’ so didn’t get the caffeine hit that they had hoped for. Still, you’re never far from fabulous coffee in Italy, so not to worry! We wandered around more of hilly Siena, stumbling over the Goose district, dipping our feet into Fonte Santa Catarina and eating a lovely big gelato for refreshment before piling back into the car ready for the final leg of the journey to Florence.
Woaahh. There doesn’t appear to be anything about Florence that isn’t utterly gorgeous. I mean there’s no rounding a corner and exclaiming, “Eugh, what a hideous sculpture/portico/fresco/tower/church/shop/bridge/painting/archway/door knob/restaurant/view,” is there? No discreet mutterings of, “Do these people have no taste?” Never. You could get a bit blasé after a while, I suppose: “Oh look! Another cherub. Whatever.”
Coming from Bulgaria, a land which doesn’t seem to cherish its art or safeguard its architectural history (they are currently rebuilding the ancient ruins in Sozopol in concrete – original architecture is sooo last millennium) we found it difficult not to be overwhelmed. Check out our apartment, for starters: Via Della Burella 4 just 5 minutes’ walk from the Ufizzi gallery and the Duomo.
We walked and walked in all directions, with all eight of our feet needing frequent rests in the heat over the three days. We caught two sunsets over the Ponte Vecchio and did another early reveille (6.15am) for more photos with great light and fewer tourists, whilst Helly was chatted up by a policeman.
Hiring bikes for a song at 8am was another adventure (saving our feet), not least as the lady we dealt with was… originally from Haskovo, Bulgaria! The whole transaction after that was in Bulgarian, and despite having been resident in Florence for 23 years, I think she was pleased to be able to chat a bit in Bulgarski. So were we!
By packing our own sarnies on the last day, savouring the view from Chiesa de San Mineata, we were able to save our appetites for Mastica Brodo, where we received a wonderfully warm from owner, Tony. One of his waiters was also kind enough to help us book a taxi the next day, a task that was ever-so-slightly beyond our holiday Italian!
So thank you Team Tuscany for great memories, and farewell Florence – until next time!
Oh, but before you go, check out our take on The Last Supper: