20 January 2010

Florence fever

This is our last night in Florence and I should start by apologising for the lack of blog postings from Italy; you see, as the title of this post suggests, I've come down with Florence fever. Or, rather, a fever in Florence. (Actually, it was a bad sore throat, but 'sore throat' doesn't provide the same sort of aliterative pun opportunities as 'fever'.) And, accordingly, I've been going to bed too early to post anything most nights. Our stay in Florence has been excellent and not at all diminished by our run-in with The Law (more of which later).

First, the weather has been excellent. Cear, sunny (though cool) days with only one day marred by overcast skies and a light rain. The weather has been so good, in fact, that I can't tell the differnece between my photographs and those taken by people who visit in summer when the crowds are horrendous, the prices inflated and the heat intolerable. Added to that, despite the guide books reccommending that tickets to see David and enter the Uffuzi be booked days in advance to avoid the queues, we just ambled up to the Uffuzi one afternoon and wandered in and we almost walked past the Academy housing David because the street was deserted.

I am not the only one to have discovered the cleverness of visiting Tuscany in the winter: it seems, too, that many Chinese tourists are on the same wavelength, because of those tourists we have seen so far in Italy, the majority have been tourbus loads of Chinese visitors. They make for amusing company, what with their 'let's see the entire Uffuzi Gallery in half an hour' tour or their photo-ops at Pisa. I hope their family and friends appreciate the snapshots of them holding up the Leaning Tower with their bare hands, a pose which, when viewed from afar, looks more like a tai chi move: Graceful Marble Butress in Morning Sunlight.

Speaking of Pisa, the train ride there was the setting for our encounter with Guiseppe Law, in the form of a very polite train ticket inspector. Here's the run down: we'd bought our tickets for Pisa (return, first class, 17 Euros each) and made our way to the alotted platform. As this is Italy, there were only half a dozen first class seats in the ten-carriage train; we did the gentlemanly thing and let the little old ladies sit in first class and took our chances with the plebs in the second class compartment. Just outside Florence the conductor came along and we (most impressed at our ability to use the Italian automatic ticket machine) proudly handed him our freshly-issued tickets. Our pride was quickly diminished when his blank bureaucratic stare turned into a quizzical glare at our tickets, then at us, and then transformed into one of those looks you might give a child who's just drawn a wonderful picture of you in crayon on the diningroom wall - a look that mixes disappointment, shock and weary condescention in equal measures. 'Non più turisti!' you could imagine him thinking to himself as he leaned into to us and asked, 'Tell me, why is it that you had not this tickets validated in Florence?'. Oh dear. You see, it isn't enough to buy the tickets on the platform or to get them checked by the conductor (or even to give up your first class seats to the blue rinse set); you must also hunt down the little yellow Ticket Validating Machine which sits somewhere on the platform to get your tickets 'validated'. The conductor took pity on us (possibly this was a karmic return on our renunciation of the pleasures of first class Italian train travel) and declared 'Because you do not know about this validating, I will fine you only once!' His broad smile indiacted that this was a great indulgence, an act of immence munificence, so we copped our 5 Euro fine on the chin and took special care to find the magic yellow Ticket Validation Box on the journey from Pisa.

There are more excellent stories to be told from our Florentine adventure, but for now, some pictures from our six days in Florence.

Day 1 - Evening on the day we arrived, wandering around central Florence.

Day 2 - Climbed Giotto's bell tower next to the Duomo. Dizzying.

Day 3 - Stephen's 21st Birthday, so some indulgence required; 30 Euro (!) hot chocolate and cake at Cafe Gilly (serving overpriced food since 1773 to cashed up Florentines and tourists alike).

Day 4 - Pisa and an expert display of tai chi from a superannuated Chinese tourist.

Day 5 - Siena.

No comments: