Saturday, 18 June 2011

On the Road From Rome

Leaving the bustle of Rome behind us we travelled through to Florence. The surroundings tell you that you are in just looks that way.

Arriving in Florence we had a demonstration at a leather works and shown a handbag design made famous by Grace Kelly. It had gold leaf work on the front and at 380 Euros was this stores most popular design. They also had an adjoining gold jewellery store and some of the pieces were exquisite. The only thing that stopped me was the price and that was with a supposed 30% discount. There was a short amount of free time where some in the tour did a "power shop". I had a good look around as we were returning here after our guided walking tour and I wanted to see just what was available.

There are heaps of market type stalls selling all kinds of leather goods and of course all kinds of quality. Warning bells generally rang when there was a person of Asian origin telling you their bags, jackets etc. were genuine leather. There were just so many to choose from that it was almost overwhelming. I said almost!!

Our guided walking tour by a local guide visited Michelangelo’s celebrated David in the Academy of Fine Arts. David really is a masterpiece and they say that Michelangelo was an artist that used techniques in advance of the times. We were told how when David was first revealed, those commissioning felt that David’s nose was too sharp. Michelangelo who was well pleased with his work took some of the marble dust and a chisel and faked making changes to the nose releasing some of the marble powder at the same time to assist the "authenticity "of the modification ...and afterwards everyone was satisfied with the "reshaped" nose.

We continued on to visit the Florence Cathedral, the 4th largest in the world. It certainly stamps its mark as far as size goes. We finished up at the sculpture studded Signoria Square where we almost lost one of our tour group in the large crowds that are just everywhere you go.

Most people were keen to shop for leather and we spread out around Santa Croce Square in search of "real" Italian leather and a bargain to boot. It was fun and most people did some damage! I was able to buy myself a little bit of leather from Italy, thankful that baggage allowance limits cause a semi natural restriction. The smell of leather is a fine thing!

Florence as a city has a lovely feel to it after the bustle of Rome and I would have like to have spent a little longer exploring it but a little Tuscany town of Montecatini was beckoning us a little over an hour up the road.

Montecatini is very beautiful and in most respects something I imagined I would see in Italy somewhere. It is quaint and very pretty. We are staying in a 1920's hotel which is "comfortable". I am on the third floor and have the room in the middle at the very top of the building with its own balcony and shutters. Last night I slept with the doors and shutters open. Pure magic in Italy.  Lots of little trattoria line the streets and the food is very reasonable. We are very close to some small markets where I suspect the clothes are made somewhere close to China and then are relabelled "Made in Italy"

We had such a busy day getting out of Rome and visiting Florence and then onto Montecatini we were rewarded with a sleep in this morning with a 7.30 wakeup call and 8am breakfast. We have had a short excursion to the Leaning Tower of Pisa. Its lean is far more than I imagined it to be and souvenir shops and little market stalls line its entrance and go for a good 500metres. There are so many tourists there that I hope the tower continues to lean ( as if it has a choice) as without this landmark the town would be almost dead. We parked in the bus park with the 100 or so other buses and got on a little train that transported us to the Tower. You had to fight your way past the Sudanese hawkers selling hats, sunglasses, beads, scarfs, umbrellas and Rolex watches and all manner of tasteless souvenirs.
We got back to the hotel just after midday and have had free time this afternoon. Most of the group are off on yet another 4 course dinner (optional additional) tonight. I have no doubts they will have a wonderful time and will enjoy the tour of the olive oil factory and enjoy the food, wine and dancing but I am happy exploring this little township and finding a salad for dinner.

I was talking to the Tour Director last night who says that this tour group is one of the best he has ever had! That is quite something given his years of touring and I did get the impression he was being very genuine. He also related a couple of humorous stories  about the honeymoon couple that fought all the way around, the schizophrenic man  in the last tour before us who left the tour ( got lost in a disorientated state) and the time he unfortunately had one tour member die on tour. He told me that the tour driver Ambrogio who we have all come to love so much is one of the best.

We are just over half way now and off to Nice tomorrow. I am looking forward to the opt in tour to Monte Carlo. $$$$$$

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