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Tuscan hills

sunny 33 °C

Travel these hills on foot, by bike, scooter, bus or train and park the car.
Italian public transportation is very doable and entertaining with one warning! Learn the procedure and it changes within the regions and cities.

For Italian train travel, remember to ALWAYS validate your ticket on the yellow machine somewhere found in the station before you get aboard. We bought our train ticket to Florence at the Rome Termini Tourist Booth and they never shared this useful information. The Italian ticket police who came around on that trip leg were not amused by our lack of travel knowledge and showed little patience with ignorant tourists.
Thanks to newly made friend Aida on the train we now get it. The train tickets bought in Italy are totally open as are the Florence bus tickets , but they are not fully validated until clicked at the yellow box. Since checking is sporadic one could take a chance and re-use the same ticket over and over again and be vulnerable to potential, consequential fining, which was never our intent. We gladly pay the very reasonable bus and train fare but please make it more explainable at the onset so that angry ticket police stops waving the 50 Euro fine in tourist faces while muttering “ Stupid Americano” upon parting.
It is their temperament which makes the Italians stand out, not their patience.

For us , public transportation remains a great way of seeing a country while learning its culture and language. My take on the Italian language is that it is made up of English words with a vowel attached at the end. These vowels are anything but silent and I love repeating the words seen in passing, letting the consonants roll with a good vowel rip. Reading it sure is easier than trying to understand the fast speaking Italians but we are improving. They do appreciate our attempt and the “grazi “ sounds sincere. While the train tickets can be bought through vending machines, the Florence city bus tickets are bought at the Tobacco store. Not a good place to head for daily if one is trying to break the nicotine habit but sniffing the air around us, very few in Italy and Europe are concerned about the health hazard of smoking and continue to puff widely.

Florence is obviously not very influenced by the world’s economy since the lines(now called queues) to enter the sights, are very long, even this early in the season.
Mystifying somewhat. What is it that this city offers? The food is indeed good but the food is good anywhere in Italy. Florence claims to have been the backdrop to the birth of many men of genius whose designs and sculptures now mark the city’s small historic center as owning the largest concentration of artistic masterpieces in the world. We gathered this information of course from a Firenzi guide but are quite agreeable to the statement after spending days touring the Uffizi Gallery, Pallazo Vecchio, Santa Maria Novella etc.etc. I am slowly recognizing the sculptures by the lack of fig leaves. Florence center can easily be done on foot if one does not mind crowds, heat and noise. We crossed the Ponte Vecchio ( famous bridge) over the Arno river which separates some of the Florence sights and gratefully walked away from the crowds to climb Piazzale Michelangelo which offers a great and quiet view of the city. On the way back down I braved the crowds and once more stood in line for an inside view of an Italian Church, this time Florence Duomo, one of Italy’s most famous monuments and the world’s fourth largest cathedral. Earlier in the day we had seen a close-up of the Cathedral of Santa Maria del Fiore’s, the Battistero and bell tower. In Italy, even while sharing a name, piazza and same unique nougat façade , the entrance of one does not guarantee the entrance to the other and all ask for a separate ticket and waiting in line.
Tom had seen the inside of the Dome before and happily bailed out while I walked to the end of the line only to see a very disturbing sight. Books and fellow travelers had warned us of the number of beggars gathered around Italy’s major sights which of course are the churches, and I observed the woman in front of me very uncomfortably protecting her purse while another, obviously upset and loudly gesticulating begging woman was demanding not only her attention but something else. Emphasis was made through lifting a shirt and baring a maybe lactating breast and while not understanding the cardboard sign the beggar held or the angry, non Italian, words spoken I assumed it to be an emphasis on having to feed a child, overall a disturbing sight. It all happened within seconds and the tourist in front of me was very bewildered, especially when upon non compliance, the parting act was a generous being spat on. While assisting her in wiping down the saliva I asked her why she had been singled out and heard from a co-waiter that she had made the mistake of making eye-contact. Up and down the line, in different languages, heads were nodded. “ Never make eye-contact!” Chatting more I learned that the woman spat on was Dutch and had no clue what had been asked of her and beyond becoming very frightened mentioned that the woman had made her feel guilty. I spent 15 more minutes in the Duomo’s line while it never moved forward listening to fellow tourists, my closest ones were from New York and Amsterdam who shared how in their own cities they never visit the sights marked out for tourists. I listened to the Dutch woman who again shared how the beggar, the begging episode, had made her feel.
I wondered, can some one else make us feel guilty or do we allow others to make us feel guilty?
Who makes us feel guilty?
The yoke of guilt can be handed to us but ultimately we make the decision to hang it around our neck.
It was during those 15 minutes I made the decision to no longer remain in line to pay and see a church , or any house meant for prayer while certain limiting conditions are in place.
We have seen many churches, mosques and temples during our travels. Whether it was the Torah, Bible or Koran the recipe for spiritual contentment, for hope, love and controlling human passion remains pretty equal. Their message is always straight from God but via a different messenger.
The twistenedness comes that it was in the countries where we visited neither temples, mosques , nor churches, there where very few claim to live within the Holy books, it was there where we found God’s basic message fully lived.
Love thy neighbor!

Granted, many churches here in Italy are filled with historic art we have not yet seen but from now on the only art we want to see is either created by nature or in a kitchen.
We are duomo’d, battisired and pallazo’d out.
The apartment we rented in Florence is owned by Italian chef “ Massimo” who a couple of years ago moved to Dallas, Texas, together with his American wife Kristy. They kept their Florence apartment as their home, while in Italy, and rent it out when in America. We found their listing on internet and it was the opening line, mentioning Massimo as an Italian chef which made us look closer. We had just finished reading “ Kitchen Confessions” by Anthony Bourdain, another chef, and while absolutely not making propaganda for a very outlandish and potentially “offensive for some “ book with his use of very imaginative words , we checked Massimo and Kristy’s listing closer through the sheer coincidence. Thank goodness we did. We enjoyed our time in their apartment. It is very close to the center of Florence and with its two (sixth floor) balconies let us live Italian. In the morning it is the balcony facing East which gives a peek of the city while slowly drinking a whole pot of coffee with a sun, not yet too hot . This same balcony is great later in the day drinking good Chianti wine while the West balcony (off the kitchen) can bake the laundry dry. Sunrises have been missed since the sun rises way too early now for our travel clock and the late setting sun is blocked by the other high rise apartments. Kristy wins the award for preparing the tourist to her home and city with all the information left behind. Trips were taken to see the Tuscan Hills and surrounding towns with easy daily jumps on buses or trains. Fiesole was a great sight. Next to Piazzale Michelangelo, it is considered the other famous hill that surrounds the heart of Florence. We liked it because it is definitely more quiet, the Franciscan monks were very inviting and opened up their monastery without asking for money or making us change clothes . In the heart of Fiesole we learned that it was here that Leonardo da Vinci in 1501 attempted his dream of human flight. On a clear day one can probably see forever or at least have a better view of Florence but alas, a clear day we did not have.
Pisa was another stop and we are debating between two words describing our first view of the famous leaning tower of Pisa on the Campo del Miracoli ( Field of miracles).
Endearing or comical? Either way, we burst out laughing. The leaning tower of Pisa is indeed still very much doing that and we are sure that Pisa is very grateful for the architectural error since there is not much else to draw these crowds. We believe this leaning is not limited to the tower but that the cup- cake shaped baptistery and matching, dazzling white cathedral are all slightly off kilter, or maybe we are.
Pisa is a quiet city to wander through after getting away from its leaning, crowded sight and like the rest of Italy has lots of terraces so legs can be rested and sips of wine taken . That was our course of action after the decision to no longer pay for church entrance. To view the inside of the Pisa church, tower and baptistery costs 25 Euros, somewhat around US$35.00 and a tad too ridiculous.

The Tuscan country side is beautiful , green hills, blue skies and the poppies have followed us here. Now that we know the travel rules and faithfully click our tickets to validation of course no ticket police has been seen since.
At our apartment Kristy and Massimo left cards for restaurants they recommend in Florence and we totally trusted a bone fide chef to send us to the right place in Florence. For an early birthday celebration we ventured out to Accademia Ristorante on Piazza S. Marco and Tom and I both agreed that it was the best meal ever consumed. Leaving the choice of our wining and dining to chef Gianni was another good decision and this birthday dinner will be hard to top. Each wine was carefully chosen to compliment the food on our plate and palate and everything we previously heard and read about Florence cuisine came through.

For our last couple of days in Italy we decided to head up to Cinque Terre , a coastal region not far from the port of La Spezia. On Christmas 2007, we received a bitter sweet present from Cinque Terre in the form of a calendar made up of pictures taken that year by my nephew Ben who died only months after he hiked the five tiny Cinque Terre coastal villages of Riomaggiore, Manorola, Corniglia, Vernazza and Monterosso.
Ben, we do not have your eye, or talent in capturing the beauty you did with your camera, but we gave it a try and are thankful for you letting us know of Italy’s most beautiful spot. The views of the coast are spectacular as is the rich flora. Our days in Italy have been quite hot and the swim taken in the Mediterranean Sea after the hike felt great.,

Friday we head by train back to Rome for one more night in our favorite B&B Cecare Balbo before catching a May 30 plane for Dusseldorf, Germany where we plan to hook up with my dad so our birthdays can be celebrated together this year.

Ciao Italy, it has been bella!

Tom and Els

Posted by tomstrick1 13:40 Archived in Italy Tagged round_the_world

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