Under the Tuscan sun

On my first day in Florence I went straight the Duomo, or the big cathedral, following the instructions of two sites I had looked up that advised what to do in 24 hours in Florence. I queued for an hour to get in, although it didn’t feel too long. I then hiked up the 463 (ish) stairs to the dome and then up to the cupola to get a spectacular view of Florence. I observed the tall tower too, and then back in the piazza, the baptistery with its spectacular doors.

I then followed the suggested route to the Piazza della Signoria and admired the many beautiful statues, before continuing to the Piazza Indepenza to have some touristy but tasty Tagliatelle with ‘boar ragu’ for lunch. I am sure the pasta tasted freshly made. I then walked to the old bridge, first admiring the river, before walking around for a bit further. While waiting for my 4:30pm ‘skip the line’ entrance into the Uffizi gallery that I had booked the night before on my phone, I grabbed an expensive (6.50!) coffee back in the Piazza Signiora, also so I could use the bathroom.

Once I worked out that the tour guide I was trying to find was a different one from the one through which I booked (I called the company for this one: yes having a functioning phone can be helpful!), getting into the Ufizzi without queuing was easy. However, had I simply pre reserved a ticket I would have gotten in straight away at that hour anyway, as it closes at 6:45pm.

Once in the Uffizi I started to admire the statues before suddenly remembering I might have a Rick Steves audioguide for the gallery on my iphone. Sure enough, I had a 48 minute walking tour. And with only 13% battery, I managed to listen to the whole thing. Only trouble was, some of the rooms were closed due to changes for an upcoming exhibition, so I did’t get to see some of the exhibitions at the end. Nonetheless, I did enjoy listening to a chronological history of the change in styles from medieval to renaissance.

In the Uffizi
In the Uffizi

It had started to rain so I went straight back to the hostel, got ready, and found some New Zealanders and Australians in the bar/restaurant. To excape a large group of 13-or-so year old schoolchildren we headed out to some bars that a couple among our number had found the night before. The first place was rather quieter than it had been on the Thursday: we had to wait too long to get into the second place and then they let in a large group of underage schoolchildren and the whole experience was not that thrilling, so the two of us staying at our hostel headed back. I thought we should just check out the hostel bar. Lo and behold, it was a pumping club, busier than any we’d been to, and full of Florentine locals too!

The next late morning I headed up the Piazzale Michelangelo to check out the view of Florence and anothe fake statue of David. I didn’t give myself huge amounts of time so I had to just take a couple of photos, have a sneaky gelato (note: the icream in Florence is tasty, but exactly as good as any you might get in Acland Street, St Kilda, or Bondi Beach), then race back to the train station meeting point for the Taste of Tuscany tour I had been randomly booked on a couple of days prior.

I booked onto this tour because I had booked onto two others that had no other reservations, so got an email suggesting I go on this confirmed tour instead. It was a great choice. A vivacious Tuscan local guide, Irene, drove myself, an American couple and 3 Qebecan girls in a mini bus first to a very small medieval village, Monteriggioni, and then to Siena, where I ate a pastry at a famous shop, Nannini. All the while she gave us information on the bus and when she walked us into Siena and talk us quickly into the church (but not the cathedral, that cost entry and I didn’t get time to go inside). In Siena they were also setting up for the Paela, or big parade celebration thing that happens in June. Two men were practising flag waving.

We then headed to a winery on a hill where Giovanni let us taste 3 red wines, some aged balsamic vinegar with chickpeas and separately, ice cream, bread with olive oil, and cheese with honey. It was all delicious. In fact, I enjoyed the red wine, although I always thought I didn’t like red wine! I guess Tuscan red wine is a different matter!

Following stopping for a quick view and some photos of the sunset, we headed to a Tuscan farmhouse, where a table had been set up for us outside. With spectacular views of the Tuscan countryside as twilight fell we were served traditional Tuscan appetisers: bruscetta with tomatos, toast with olive oil, cold meats, cheese and lettuce. Then, the main course: spaghetti bolognese (which doesn’t have meat in it of course, tha’s ragu) with tomatoes grown on the farm. We also drank carafes of the red wine made at the farmhouse, then finished our meal the traditional Tuscan way: with an espresso, then a small glass of grappa to cleanse the palate, then a small glass of limoncello to cleanse it again! By this time we were way over time at 10pm but took some more group photos before heading back to Florence, at which point I was well and truly ready for bed! I definitely need to go on Tripadvisor and give this tour an excellent rating as Irene, who owned and ran the business herself, was so passionate about the tour it felt like a little family for the day.

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