Sunday, 18 January 2009

Italian adventure

I guess the easiest thing is to just start from the beginning...

We got into Pisa at 10:30 pm and set out to try and find our way to our hotel. We decided a taxi would be easier than trying to figure out which bus would take us there.We stood near the taxi line for a few minutes sort of in shock of being in a country where English is not the first language. This was the first time being in that situation for both of us. We felt silly trying to say things in Italian but you could tell people appreciated the effort.
The hotel was a three minute drive from the airport but ended up costing 9 euros. Most of that was a service charge that is tacked on to most things in Italy. I would recommend finding another mode of transportation if you are ever going there. Our hotel was pretty nice and right beside the train station, which is why we chose it. Once in our room we read through the Florence section in our Italy book to figure out what our plan of action would be the next day. Our room had nice shutters opening onto a little balcony. We took a few pictures opening our Italian shutters onto our Italian balcony with our gorgeous Italian view -- a palm tree, a road and some train tracks.

It was raining when we woke up, which was quite disappointing. We were hoping to see some nice Tuscan countryside on the train from Pisa to Florence but because it was rainy and overcast it was nothing spectacular. It wasn't all because of the rain though; it seemed like the train tracks went through the ghettos of Italy. We did see some nice houses on hills (Italy is a lot more hilly than I was expecting) surrounded by Cyprus trees.
Once in Florence we found our hostel, dropped our bags off and went out to explore the sights. The first thing we came across was the San Lorenzo Market which is a street market filled with stalls selling mostly stuff made from leather. There were a lot of belts, bags and wallets. They were also selling the typical tourist things like t-shirts, pictures and mini David statues (Amy wanted to buy said statue but I told her it was too tacky!). I bought three Italia t-shirts as my souvenirs. I normally wouldn't buy three t-shirts of the same place but they had a deal going on that was too good to pass up! The had a selection of shirts that were one for 8 Euros, two for 10 or three for 12. I had picked out two and Amy was going to get one but she couldn't find one that she liked. Well, I wasn't going to buy only two when I could get another for 2 Euros! So, I ended up with three t-shirts.
We had a map of the city but mostly just ended up walking around taking pictures of whatever we happened to pass. So we weren't expecting to see the Duomo when we did. We were walking along a narrow street when we turned the corner and BAM! there it was. I turned the corner first and even yelled "whoa!" right in front of an old couple because I was so shocked to see it. It's size is shocking but mostly it was the contrast in the colours of the buildings around it. Most of the buildings in Florence are done in yellows and oranges but the Duomo is white, pale pink and green. This was the only building we went inside, mostly because it was the only free one! It was quite dark inside so we couldn't get good pictures, but we did happen to get some of the paintings on the dome. Construction started on the cathedral in 1296...1296! isn't that incredible!?!?! The dome is what makes this cathedral so famous. It is self-supported and was built without scaffolding. You can climb to the top of the dome, but we both decided after the four flights of stairs we had to climb to reach our hostel, that the 450 or so steps to the top were not doable. However, we'll use the fact that it was overcast and it wouldn't have been a great view anyways as our excuse :)

After the Duomo we got our first taste of gelato. Before we left we read up on how to tell if the gelato was homemade or not. You are supposed to check out the colour of the pistachio flavour and if it is a lime green it is not homemade. Apparently, sometimes they put food colouring in it to make it a brighter green colour, but if it is made au naturale it is a darker green. With that in mind, we wandered around (there is a gelato shop around every corner) until we found a shop with the appropriate pistachio colour. We got two flavours each, Amy got pistachio and strawberry and I got coffee chocholate chip and ferraro rocher. Delicious! They all tasted exactly like the real thing. We got gelato three more times on our trip (we couldn't resist!) and the flavours were banana, coconut x2 (it was that good!), panna cotta, coffee and lemon.

The rest of the day we wandered the streets taking pictures, going into tourist shops, as well as some normal clothing stores, and window shopping at all the delicous bakeries and delis that are on every street in Florence. Around 8 we decided to have dinner and found a cute little restaurant near our hostel. Amy ordered pasta with an egg cream sauce and bacon and I got pizza with mushrooms, mozzarella, tomatoes and salad. The salad turned out to be some kind of bitter leaves and I ended up scraping most of it off. The rest of the pizza was good, though. Once back at the hostel we did some research on line about Pisa and went to bed praying for sunshine.

We woke up to a beautiful sunny day. We decided to walk around Florence for an hour to see some of the buildings in the sun. The day before Amy had seen a mask (like the ones worn at costume balls in movies) at one of the vendors in the market and decided thats what she wanted as her souvenir. Unfortunately, we couldn't find it again so instead she got some beautiful scenery pictures.

Once back in Pisa we went directly to the Piazza dei Miracoli, which has the famous tower as well as a duomo and baptistry. We were both very excited to see the leaning tower and have both said it was our favourite part of the trip. The tower is something you learn about as a child, so to be able to see it in person after all those years is amazing! A trip to the leaning tower wouldn't be complete without a few famous 'holding up the tower' poses. We felt a little silly but it had to be done. They turned out quite well, too!

Pisa is a cute little town with a lot of cafes and what looked to be some good shopping. Unfortunately, all of the shops are closed from 1-3:30 for a siesta. We definitely felt as though we didn't have enough time in Pisa. Our flight left at 4:45 which meant we only had a few hours in Pisa before we needed to get to the airport. You could easily spend an hour or two at the tower and surrounding buildings.
All in all our first major trip went smoothly, with the only problem being that it was too short. For our next trip, we are planning on going to Greece for four or five days. Before we left Canada we didn't think we would be able to go to Greece because we figured the tickets would be too expensive. Amy found some good deals though and we're thinking about heading there at the end of February. Let's hope everything works out!


Wendy said...

Great pictures! Maybe you'll be able to make a return trip before your time is up over there. And yum! Gelato! Lucky girls!

Holly said...

Girls, that is amazing! (Do you hate it that I still call you 'girls'?) You are so blessed to be able to do this. I am jealous!

Lucy Marie said...

So lucky. I think I might have to copy your mom and head to Grimsby for some gelato in your honour :D