About Me

3 months ...................................... adventure - explore - challenge

Saturday, 31 March 2012

Falling in love with Firenze

Our morning starts are getting later and later, from 5am on Wednesday we are now rising at a more sensible time  of 7.30 but it's still not early enough to beat the crowds that flood in to Florence. Florence in the most fabulous city and Rob and I have had a perfect day.
Starting with a brisk 20 minute walk via Santa Croce, one of many stunning Cathedrals (we didn't go in as there was queuing by half 9)  we headed towards a  market in Piazza Ghiberti.  This market captured the essence of fresh Italien food brilliantly with cheeses, cured meats, crusty breads,pastas, oils and vegetables as well as weird stuffed chicken necks, tripe by the bucket load and even brain.  It was only a shame that Rob and I had just had breaky or we'd have bought some food for a picnic.  We meandered through the narrow maze of cobbled streets with the iconic dome in our sight, passing a few more cathedrals and piazzas (squares) on our way. One particular piazza had artisans working and selling at stalls.  It was great to see jewellery making, metal sculpture, painting etc going on so fruitfully.

At last with reached the Duomo Cathedral!  Wow, what a building!   Every inch has been decorated or sculpted to create an overwhelming sense of beauty and magnificence.  We queued to go in, but were disappointed with the rather plain interior in comparison to the outside.  The dome itself does have a beautiful painting inside the roof however.  Next door is the Giotto Bell tower, which we were assured was well worth the climb of 400 steps!  Rob braved his fear of heights and claustrophobia and we climbed up these steps in a narrow stairway where tourists have to squeeze past each other to pass and gasp for breath (the marathon training had some positive effect) until we reached the top ledge.  The whole of Florence could be seen and the reward was worth the effort.

By now it was getting towards lunch time and I had started to think about my gelati ice cream, promised to me the previous day.  We hunted down some ice cream and like kids in a gelati shop, we ordered medium cones with 2 flavours each. Small heart attack when the bill was 16 euros but got over it quickly when we sat in the gorgeous sunshine soaking up the atmosphere and enjoying the most delicious ice cream ever.

The rest of the afternoon was spent wandering through the streets discovering another market, this time with leather goods and jewellery and of course lots more piazzas and churches. In the heart of Florence, every building surrounding you has beautiful architecture, colour and design and so even without visiting the main tourist traps you can have a wonderful time.

Hiring bikes from the hotel this evening was a great idea for getting us to the church where we had booked to watch the opera,  La Boheme.  Whizzing along the cycle paths with the wind in our hair and dinging our bells was good fun and it saved our weary feet from a further half hour walk each way.  The opera was set in a very ornate little church, mothered with gold, little alcoves and romantic lighting and with fewer than 100 people, it was a very intimate concert.  Puccini the composer had actually been brought up in Lucca, not far from Florence, which we drove through yesterday. The opera was good but a little pricey and the pillars of the church got in the way a bit but overall we really enjoyed the cultured evening.

It's our last day in Florence tomorrow and we plan to go the Pitti Palace and Boboli gardens before heading to our helpx stay in Cortona.  Let's hope they have the internet or the blogs may stop for a while.

Friday, 30 March 2012

O'Vesuvio versus Dominos.......

The previous night's quiet romantic stroll through the streets of Pisa / views of the leaning tower seemed a distant memory this morning. TOURISTS had invaded!!!! After an interesting breakfast including cold coffee and cakes, we headed back into the Piazza Miracale to find coach loads of school kids and other tourists en-masse swarming the area. Despite the numbers we visited the Baptistry, Cathedral, tombs and of course the magnificent Leaning Tower. We love the architecture and specifically white colour of the stone used to make all the above. The pale stone contrasted beautifully with the lush green grass surrounding them. We spent the morning wondering around Pisa, (which was very pleasant, but no more time really needed), before setting off on our next leg of the journey.
Nuns on the run?!
On route to Florence we decided to take a detour to Lucca and let the SatNav drive us around the stunning Tustany countryside through numerous cute villages and towns. Despite Lucca looking very pleasant, we decided to head off fairly swiftly to Florence and our hotel, Hotel Villa Liberty, our home for 2 nights.

After a quick 'powernap', we headed off into the town center for a pizza and beer (budget night tonight!). All Sonja seemed to be interested in was the Ice Cream. I have to say, they did look amazing. "Tomorrow Sonja, I promise!" Still, an ice cream would have be a cheaper option than the jewelery she was eyeing up on Ponte Vecchio bridge. Details on Florence to come on tomorrow's blog.

We managed to find a great restaurant / fast food establishment (O'Vesuvio) for our long awaited pizza and beer and it did not disappoint. Full up we had a lovely stroll back along the riverside, where I almost got run over by a cyclist whilst staring at a few Italian ladies. Oops!!! This place is going to test our marriage as there's a lot of beautiful people!!!! Just kidding, there are millions!!!

Just booked to go and see opera for tomorrow night, can't wait!!!

PS:  the Leaning Tower of Pisa leans due to subsidence of the foundations (only 3m deep) which happened very soon after they started to build it and way before they even finished it, so it was doomed from the start.  The stone which they used also eroded and compressed to add to the problem.

Night night!!!

Thursday, 29 March 2012

Are we there yet?

Considered the 'express' breakfast this morning so to be quickly away on our next drive, however on seeing the ham, cheese croissant option, decided to pay a little more and stodge up. It was worth it - today's drive from Mulhouse to Pisa took us 9 hours!!!

Quality moment of the day took place whilst chatting to two English blokes outside our Mulhouse hotel. They were standing next to their large van with the words 'livestock' on the side. "What are you transporting?" Sonja asked. "Oh, a couple of lions" one of the blokes replied. "Oh!!" Sonja exclaimed. Turned out later that day they would be transporting two lions from Mulhouse to Dublin, as you do.

Anyway, back to us, left Mulhouse at 8.15. Fell taking the wheel to ensure we didn't get lost and completed the most amazing drive through Switzerland (Heidi type houses everywhere, snow-top mountains whilst drenched in sun, beautiful Swiss church spires, lakes, giant Lindt bunnies) AND TUNNELS. Oh the tunnels. About 20 plus tunnels carve their way through the French, Swiss, Italian mountain ranges. Delightful I'm sure, but when your tired, driving through (longest of 17 kms) of tunnels, it's not funny. Anyway Fell nailed them and then passed the driving to Holden.

She's a legend!!! Really, i had blissful countryside quiet driving, Sonja on the other hand had busy, hectic, reckless Milan traffic to deal with. It's true, Italians drive like men possessed!!! Well, as I say, Sonja handled it like a true pro and took on 3 hours of solid unpleasant driving. There's a good girl!!!

Ironically, Fell then stepped back into the driving seat to complete the final 2 1/2 hour leg with again, beautiful,  picturesque scenery and very few cars. C'est la vie as they say!!! ;-)

Arrived at Pisa, quick shower change and off into town. (Hotel perfect, clean, lovely hosts, 15 mins walk to town and free parking). Straight to the Tower (truly amazing, really, better than i'd ever expect), and then straight to a bar for a beer, followed by a three course meal at a fantastic restaurant. E40 total for three courses each and a litre of wine (as I type now, i'm suitably pissed on that very litre!).

Sonja dropping off in bed now, me very tired too. Tomorrow, more of Pisa in the morning and Florence pm.

Question to the crowd (no Googling allowed); Why is the leaning Tower of Pisa leaning so?

Wednesday, 28 March 2012

Hedgehogs and Pear Drops!!!!

With a rocky night's sleep due to Geoff snoring and a curious hedgehog setting off the motion sensor light in the garden, we arose at the ungodly hour of 5am to board our ferry to Calais.  After a smooth journey, including a lovely sunrise, we arrived to find a very foggy Calais.  After an hour of zero visibility the sun brazened through the mists and we were treated to a gloriously sunny journey, through surprisingly pleasant countryside and empty roads. VIVE LA FRANCE!!! Our spirits kept high with some cracking tunes on the ipod, a picnic lunch in the sun and a tin of pear drops until we reached Mulhouse at a respectable hour of 5pm

Our Hotel du Musee was pretty good and after check-in and a quick top and tail to freshen up, we walked into Mulhouse to see what it had to offer.  We were not disappointed with a little beer outside in a square,  watching the world and a whole bunch of yellow trams go by.  Neither were we disappointed with the town which had some typically French architecture also decorated with murals, a fountain and a striking gothic church.  For dinner we hunted out the very best in Alsacien faire but settled with a McDonalds Big Mac and fries.  And now, early to bed after a long day but only after an episode of Dexter. Tomorrow:  bring on Pisa!

Rob chatting up the local talent (look closely)

Tuesday, 27 March 2012

All packed up.

Last cup of English tea!
Lunchtime, and we have just packed up the car ready for our travels.  It is full to the brim.  The Holden-Fell's don't know how to travel light.  I just don't think we'll ever be cut out for backpacking unless we pull it around on a trailer rather than a rucky.  Anyway, we are heading off to Rob's Mum and Dad in Canterbury this afternoon as the first leg of our journey.  It gets us one tiny step closer  to Italy and a big step closer to Dover ferry port (if you put it into perspective).  So long sunny Surrey and so long the lovely Holdens.

Saturday, 24 March 2012

Planning our trip!

Only a few days away from leaving for Italy and we have a headache having spent HOURS on the internet trying to plan our routes and book accomodation.