Florence, La Spezia & Cinque Terre

Florence is lovely.  I had no preconceived ideas of what it would be like and it’s absolutely lovely.  Everything is really close, everything being all the tourist sites and surprisingly they are actually closer than they appear on the map.  I kept thinking I still had a way to go and would fall over the place I was looking for…..works for me.
Unlike Rome where business and life in general goes on around the tourist sites, there doesn’t seem to be any ‘business’ as such in Florence.  I think there must be the historic town and outside of that, is the business part.  Obviously, there are plenty of shops and restaurants but not a lot else.  Saturday night was quite bizarre because everything seems to close down…there were a few restaurants open but not as many as the other nights.  If I’d wanted to party on Saturday night in Florence, I’d have had a hell of a time finding it.

Having done a runner from San Gimignano, I arrived in Florence a night ahead of schedule (thankfully, the place I was staying had room) and by the time I arrived it was around 7pm.  The B&B was a 10min walk from the station and I had to go past the Duomo (cathedral) and it was HUGE, I kept walking and walking and my jaw was dropping.  Totally wow.  Apparently it’s not as big as St Peter’s Cathedral but all you can see of St Peter’s is the front.  I had to walk the entire length of the thing, well actually I was only supposed to walk 3/4 of it but I missed my street so ended up walking the length.

I got my map out and planned my assault on Florence.  I divided the city in two and thought I’d do the northern part on day one and the southern part on day two.  I got most of it done on day one but damn it was cold.  In Venice and Rome I was wearing 3 layers of clothes, it became 4 in Orvieto but since San Gimignano it’s become 5 – a short sleeve shirt, a 260 long sleeve thermal, a 320 long sleeve thermal, fleece and coat.  In Florence I added cashmere blend leggings under the trousers, a neck warmer (ditched the scarf, these are warmer), a beanie and I’ve changed my gloves for cashmere lined leather gloves.  The neck warmer gets pulled up at the back so it partially covers the beanie and keeps my ear covered (my hair is so bloody fine the beanie keeps riding up) and then it gets pulled up at the front to cover my chin and sometimes my mouth.  The only bits of exposed skin are just above my sunnies, my nose and bits of my cheeks.  It’s not a good look but I really don’t give a rats arse because it’s all about keeping warm.  The day time temp has been -2 and down to -5/6 at night but it’s the wind that hurts.  It’s so cold it literally makes your eyes water.  And very surprisingly, Florence or the bit of Florence that I was in didn’t get any snow.  I’ve been so incredibly lucky with the weather, okay besides Europe having it’s coldest winter in decades but yes, it’s been cold….f’ing freezing really and yes, it’s snowed (that’s still a novelty for me) but it hasn’t rained…..yet.

So what did I see in Florence……more churches and more art galleries.
Day 1
Duomo (Santa Maria del Fiore) – again another amazing church
San Lorenzo Markets and Centrale Mercato – Iranians selling South American leather and produce markets always a novelty for me
Medici Chapels – I keep thinking I will stop being gobsmacked soon but it just doesn’t happen
San Marco Museum – got there just at it closed for lunch and unfortunately, didn’t get back to it
Accademia Gallery – okay art although the section with musical instruments was very interesting however the only real thing to see at the Accademia is the statute of David.  I would have gone to Florence and quite happily not seen it if everyone I know hadn’t ear-bashed me and said I had to see it and I pay homage and bow to them all.  David is beautiful…..he’s huge and amazing and well worth seeing.
Leonardo Museum – hands on museum showing about 30 of Leo’s inventions and experiments…..obviously not historical artifacts, given that you can play with them but interesting all the same
Uffiizi Gallery – more excellent art – Botticelli’s ‘Birth of Venus’ and ‘Spring’ were the highlights here.  Both surprised me a little in that they are very muted tones and I was expecting them to be punchier coloured like all the reproductions and most of his other work.  A whole host of big name artists…..Leo, Micky, Raphael, Caravaggio etc
Basilica of Santa Croce – another big and amazing church, this one also has the tomb of Galileo Galilei, Micky and Dante plus others
Leather School – part of the above church produces beautiful leather products that I wish I could afford

Day 2
Piazza della Republica – just a big square really
Straw Markets – more leather stalls
Ponte Vecchio – Florence’s famous bridge that is lined with shops selling gold and silver
Pitti Palace – by the time I got here I was so totally over art galleries that I almost ran through the place.  It’s wall to wall art and it’s probably really good art but given what I’ve seen in the last couple of weeks it was total overload and I couldn’t handle it.  The Royal Apartments were great though.
Galileo Science Museum – it was okay
There were other things I could have done but slacked off and had an early day…shock horror, I have to keep reminding myself I’m actually allowed to do that because I am on holidays.

The buses in Italy crack me up, they’re half buses, actually they’re almost 1/4 buses.  I first noticed them in Rome and they have them in Florence too, I guess the train is the most used transport and the trains are extremely cheap.  In Rome I could travel for 70mins for €1 not like the ridiculous prices we pay in Brisbane.

I also noticed quite a bit of confetti on the footpaths in Rome and thought, oh a wedding, how nice and then I noticed stacks of the stuff in Orvieto and was thinking that’s a hell of a lot of weddings.  Then I saw that they sell huge bags, they had to be nearly a kg bag of the stuff in the shops and the parents buy it for the kids to throw everywhere.  Italians….go figure.

Oh yeah and I had a hot chocolate in Orvieto.  A hot chocolate in Italy is a cup of hot melted chocolate.  At 15 million calories a cup, I couldn’t believe it when the woman asked if I wanted cream on top……just another 5 millions calories…..and yes, I declined.  Even my sweet tooth couldn’t get through the whole thing.

At breakfast on the day I was leaving, I got chatting to an Italian woman who told me able the issues with the trains due to the all the snow and about the delays and cancellations.  Hmmm, I hadn’t booked my ticket to La Spezia and wasn’t even sure I’d be able to get there so a quick trip to station was in order.  All good, I could get the 10.28 train (the one after that was fully booked) only problem was, it was 9.50 by the time I found out.  I had a 10min walk back to the hotel, finish packing (thankfully I’d done the bulk of it the night before), pay my bill and get back to the station.  And I made it with 8 mins to spare…woohoo.  There just happened to be a taxi across the road from the hotel when I was leaving and for the first time in Italy, I used the word ‘pronto’.

There was no evidence of snow until we reached the outskirts of Florence but it got decidedly heavier the further out we got.  We passed a playground that had a couple of horses (as in the merry go round variety) that were very iced up.  There were areas around Pisa that didn’t seem to have had snow yet the coastal towns – La Spezia and the Cinque Terre had had snow.  I’m always surprised when it snows on the coast, it’s just the concept of sand and snow together.  It’s like saying it’s too cold to snow….what the!!!

I think I used the ‘you’re not in Kansas anymore’ line way too early because Lindy, you definitely are not in tourist town anymore.  La Spezia is real Italy, admittedly a bit of a hopping off point for the Cinque Terre at this time of year but it’s a working town.  There seem to be a lot of Arabic speakers and it appears to have a very high population of males.  I arrived on Sunday in the siesta part of the day.  Once I eventually found the place and got onto the owner to come and let me in, I went for a walk.  I knew we were on the coast and I really wanted to see the sea, so headed in that genera direction.  I came across a market that at that time of day, wasn’t very inhabited and found my way to where the water was but I couldn’t get to.  All I could find was the naval barracks that went on forever and then there was the naval museum and apparently after that I might have had a peek of the ocean but I didn’t have a map so threw in the towel and headed back.

The town is very old and there’s not much to see on any front whatsoever (that I found) however it was weird coming across very modern curved roofing for the markets, in amongst the old buildings.  These were trash and treasure / antique / art decor / second hand books etc etc markets.

I’ve finally made it to the ocean…yay.   Oh I do love to be beside the seaside….come on sing along with me…..oh I do like be beside the seaside, oh I do like be beside the sea….sorry that’s all I know and admit it, you were singing along even if just in your head.  I have no idea why I’m so happy to see the ocean, maybe it symbolises warmth and it is a lovely day in the Cinque Terra (Five Lands). It is made made up of five towns, four of which are perched on the hillside, the fifth is the only town on flat ground, at the beginning of the Italian Rivieria.  There’s not a great deal to see in any of the towns, it’s their location and that the houses are painted different colours, making for very pretty photos…..hence my interest.

In the summer season, it’s possible to hike between all the towns however landslides are common in winter and close the paths.  The two furthest towns Monterosso and Vernazza got hit by massive floods at the end of October last year and the only path open currently is between the first two towns Riomaggiore and Manarola.  This section of the path is paved and  even wheelchair accessible and is about a pleasant 20 min walk along the del la Amore (tunnel of love).  Apparently, it’s a very romantic spot, the effect was lost on me!!  The thing with all the locks is that you  and your love seal the padlock and throw the key in the river/ocean (depending on where you put the lock) and your love will be sealed forever…..yikes! 🙂

I walked from Riomaggiore to Manarola and realised that to look back and get photos of the towns I’d be shooting directly into the sun so decided to head off to the furthest town and then come back and walk back to Riomaggiore.  Montresso has an old and new section, both parts go hit badly in the floods however the old section took the brunt of it.  It walked around the point to see to the old section and it appears that people are still living there but the beach is literally dirt and there is a lot of work being done.  I walked along the ‘esplanade’ of the new section and there is still evidence of dirt everywhere in amidst the snow.

I then stopped very briefly at Vernazza which was hardest hit by the floods.  I saw footage and it was scarily similar to the Toowoomba flood with a wall of mud ripping through the town.  It seems a bit like a ghost town and smells of dirt.  I didn’t go very far because I didn’t want to get in the way of the repairs but from the little I saw there wasn’t a building that had a functioning ground floor.  I’m hoping they can get back on their feet for the upcoming tourist season but it will probably take a while.

I missed the town of Corniglia and went back to Manarola and walked down to the harbour and along the path to get a photo of the town (okay several photos of the town) and then walked the path back to Riomaggiore and caught the train back to La Spezia.  I’ve decided to give the Dolomites a miss, as much as I want to see them, getting there at the moment may be difficult and I don’t have the clothes to detail with temperatures like -17.  Okay, that’s the minimum but still.  So, Verona it is.

I’m on the train to Verona (one of 3 trains that I’ll have to catch for the 5 hour trip) and I’m having a love hate relationship with trains – do I read, blog or simply look out the window and admire the view.  The view wins most of the time but there’s only so much snow one can aimlessly stare at.  It seems like I been gone for ages and at the same time it seems like a few days.  And I hate thinking my trip is nearly over. Italy is so small compared to Australia and I’ve seen so much of it, yet so little of it.  And the thought of going back to work really sucks (no offence to anyone I work with).

Anyway, I’m sure that’s enough for one email.  Catch you later.

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