Wednesday, 2 July 2014
After a busy morning in Venice, we settled in on the train for the trip to Florence. We were due to arrive in Florence at 16:30, which meant that we had a couple of hours to kill (and put our feet up). And I had to do some research on what to do and where to go for the next couple of days…
We arrived in Florence and took a taxi to our apartment, after drawing some cash for the balance of the apartment rental. This is one thing I noticed in Italy, cash is king!
Our apartment was small but very comfortable, and in the historic centre of Florence, very close to the Basilica of St Croce, the burial place of Michelangelo and Galileo. And on the table of the kitchenette, there was a complimentary bottle of vino, all set out. I felt very at home!
After a bit of a siesta and a shower, we were ready to hit the roads. The plan was to track down another recommendation for an ‘affordable, yet quality’ restaurant en route to the Piazzale de Michelangelo, which promised to have one of the most magnificent views over Florence. And I wanted to be there at sunset. Snap happy! The fact that the map books said that it was a bit of a walk up the hill (albeit worth it), was a fact that I chose to not divulge to the girls. We would deal with that when we got there…
We crossed the Arno at Ponte alle Grazie, with views of Ponte Vecchio, a medieval bridge with shops along it spanning the narrowest point of the Arno. We struggled a little to find Trattoria Bordino, which was clearly a local place, just as we love it. We had a lovely meal (which wasn’t quite budget, but it was still okay), and started making out way towards Piazzale Michelangelo. It was a bit of a walk up some steep steps, but the views were beautiful and we were clearly back in the touristy district, no need to consult google maps anymore!
At the top of the hill, we were rewarded with fantastic views over the city, and…a sunset musical concert! We had our daily gelato and were convinced to buy some prints from a street vendor who are from Africa somewhere. We settled on the steps to watch one of the most magnificent sunsets I have ever seen. Sweeping views over Florence, with the Duomo standing proud in the midst of red rooftop buildings, with the Arno snaking past in the foreground. We were listening to music, while the sky was painted all shades and colours of the rainbow.
I was trying to juggle my camera and phone to try and take pictures, and before long my phone’s batteries were flat, so I popped it into my handbag and continued to take more pictures with my Canon. The girls wandered off, and when I turned around, I had a bit of a fright because my handbag was open and my phone was missing, but soon I spotted the girls with my phone…taking selfies in front of a replica statue of David. I scolded them for leaving everything like that, but couldn’t stay angry as the mood and atmosphere was magical. As it was starting to turn dark, we decided to take a different route back home.
We walked down the hill, constantly admiring the views, laughing and watching in awe as the lights of Florence were turned on, transforming the horizon into a kaleidoscope of lights. We walked along the Arno, crossing again at Ponte alle Grazie, and by now we were dragging our sore feet along, relieved that our apartment was only a hundred metres after the bridge.
It was quite late when we arrived at our apartment and when Anya asked if she could go downstairs to get some cool drinks and water, I said yes.
“Where is your wallet?”, she asked.
“In my bag”, I replied.
But at the same time a hand of ice grabbed me. It was not there. And there was only one explanation. We have been pick pocketed.
For the next hour I was in a panic of note. I phoned South Africa on roaming to cancel my credit cards (both was in my wallet, of course). I spoke to my bank to try and see how we could arrange some urgent funds, and Owen Thumbiran from Investec was ultra helpful and said he could try and arrange a money transfer that we could pick up from a bank the next day. We went to bed, stressing a bit, but also positive that we would sort it out.
Before I turned off the lights, I posted a last picture of the sunset earlier and all of the sudden I was glad that we did not immediately discover the theft (which I am sure happened when I thought my phone was stolen), because it would have spoiled a magical evening.
Thursday, 3 July 2014
As I woke up, I had an idea and asked Bianca whether she had her savings debit card on her, which she did. She has not used it and we were unsure if it would even work, and there certainly were not much money on it. But I was able to transfer money instantly from my bank account to hers, so we decided to try it out and see.
We found a supermarket and loaded our basket with some goodies such as rolls, ham and cheese. We held our breath as Bianca offered her debit card at the till and did a little mini dance when the transaction went through.
We were still not sure if we would be able to draw cash, (and remember who the king is??) but at the very least we would be able to shop at supermarkets and feed ourselves for the next couple of days. We had a tour booked the next day and I had tickets to the Uffizi museum booked for that afternoon, so worst come to worst, we would have that…
I still had some coffee left from Rome and I googled the instructions on how to operate the little moka pot in the flat, and voila! We had an excellent breakfast of coffee, brioche with prosciutto and cheese, with yoghurts and fruit and set off towards the stations.
We went in search of a hop-on-hop-off tour on one of the very many sightseeing tour buses in the city, to save our feet a bit and which would hopefully be a bit cheaper than a city tour. On the way to the station, we passed an ATM and did the test. And lo and behold, it worked!!
We had some precious cash in our hands again. And it seemed that I did not have a limit to transfer money to Bianca’s savings account, so it appeared that we were sorted. Owen, from Investec, sent me an email and told me that he could arrange a money transfer but at a significant expense, but I told him I thought we would be okay, and thanked him for his effort.
We bought tickets for a City Sightseeing tour and were off. It was quite a relief to be able to just sit back and listen to the running commentary on the city of Florence. Buses are not allowed in the historical city centre, so we entered the circle route that surrounds the city. I was keen to go and visit the Palazzo Pitti, which featured in Dan Brown’s Inferno and where he sneaked through the Boboli gardens. We bought tickets and entered the palace, the house of the Medici family for centuries.
We visited the treasure rooms and bought take aways which we had in the gardens. Our feet were feeling the effect of constant walking for days on end, so we started making our way back to the bus stop, but not before buying our daily gelato!!
We stretched out in the bus for a while and circled the city before getting off at the stop closest to our apartment for a short rest, before our Uffizi visit at 3:30. The apartment was lovely and cool and we felt a bit more refreshed after the rest.
The Uffizi Gallery was walking distance from our apartment and we were thankful that we had bought our tickets online before we left home, as the queues were reminiscent of the queues at some of the sights in Rome! We rented audio guides and entered this museum, which houses one of the largest collections of medieval and renaissance art.
The Botticelli room was a highlight, with the Birth of Venus and the La Primavera. Another highlight was the restored Tribuna room, the 16th century parlour built for Francesco I de’ Medici as a gallery. You cannot walk through this room, but instead peer in through the doors and just savour the beauty. I could imagine spending days in the gallery, were it not for the fact that I was barely able to feel my feet anymore, they were so sore.Anya was leisurely strolling through the rooms, listening to EVERY set of commentary and I had to reign her in and call it THE END. I just could not stand on my feet anymore.
We left the gallery, searching for a reasonable priced place to sit and eat. The original plan was to get food from the Supermarket and eat at the apartment, but we needed to rest our feet and pizza for dinner sounded much better at that stage. We found a Trattoria and after about 15min I found my feet again! They were dangling at the end of legs that felt like pins and needles stumps.
But, there is nothing that a glass of vino, pizza and some rest cannot restore and afterwards, we walked towards the Duomo, or Basilica di Santa Maria del Fiore, and admired the architecture, with its marble panels. The picture really don’t do it justice!! Unfortunately, we were too late to enter the Duomo, but vowed to return later.
We were quite tired by now, not helped on by the cobbled streets of Florence, and decided to head back home. We had a tour of the Florence countryside booked for the next day and we were very excited.
But, before then it was time for some well deserved rest after a couple of crazy days…
For the last (I know, really!) post of the trip follow this link…