Jamie – 11 October 2011
Yesterday we finished up five lovely days in Florence. It gave us a very different take on the Florence we saw on our day trip from Belforte a few weeks back. This time around we explored the city at our leisure with a focus on family, fun and food. We walked in a different direction each day (the children on their scooters) and just followed our noses really – window shopped, enjoyed the buskers, rode the carousel, eat gelato, talked to the locals and took up all their suggestions on things to do and places to eat. We also had a lucky break with our accommodation in that we were moved from the hotel we had booked online to a nearby apartment they had recently acquired which was literally one block from the Duomo. The apartment had two large bedrooms, a living room, kitchen and 2 bathrooms. Perfect for a family of five!
Its only negative was the noise off the street, which was a 24 hour affair – not surprising given our location and more than offset by the benefits the location provided. I learnt to sleep with ear plugs.
Foster and I explored the Leonardo Da Vinci Museum which included fully working wooden models of many of his inventions including a tank, helicopter and machine gun. Not bad for a man who died in 1519! He wasn’t just an inventor – his CV showed that he was also a painter (think Mona Lisa / The Last Supper), sculptor, architect, musician, scientist, mathematician, engineer, anatomist, geologist, cartographer, botanist and writer. He was without doubt the greatest polymath (look it up!) who ever lived.
We went to a restaurant that we will long remember and which we wholeheartedly recommend to anyone visiting. Il Latini serves traditional Florentine fare under hundreds of hanging prosciutto ham hocks, which makes for a wonderful ambience. You have to book (there were queues a mile long of those who hadn’t) and the highly entertaining waiters won’t let you anywhere near a menu – instead they just suggest dishes, and none disappoint. It was not expensive for a good restaurant and it was one of those rare meals where all five of us came away very excited about what we had just eaten. Usually Bec and I are at polar opposites to the children on what constitutes an exciting meal.
We are currently in Verona – home of Romeo and Juliet (and the Adamsons for two days). Apart from the fame afforded it by Mr Shakespeare, Verona is worthy of a visit for its beautifully preserved amphitheatre (which hosts opera and numerous other concerts every year), its striking main square, bell tower and shop-filled network of pedestrian-only streets.
It is however a nightmare to drive around if you are staying in the old part of town, as we are. Within minutes of hitting Verona we were less than 50 metres of our hotel but we might as well have been 50 kilometres away for all the good it did us. We had to track randomly through 50 narrow one-way streets and pedestrian-only zones. After coming to blows with GPS-Jane who seemed oblivious to these features we spoke to three separate policemen each of whom gave us a different set of instructions for cracking the maze. Erno Rubik himself would have had a meltdown, and I’m still not convinced the hotel itself can be reached if you follow the street rules strictly. We ultimately ignored a few one-way signs and got there.
It was worth it however. Within a few steps of our hotel we have the amphitheatre, dozens of quality restaurants and clothes shops. After three warm months of travel we can feel the cooler weather approaching and have started to invest in warmer clothes – coats, etc. Today we mailed a box home – full of most of our summer clothes and a few other non-essentials.
Foster and I climbed the bell tower – about our fifth bell tower of the trip. At 84 metres it was not as high as others we have climbed but the view from the top was again well worth it. As I was admiring the enormous bell and pondering its ringing mechanism Foster pointed out that it was 3 minutes to midday.
That explained why there had been two coach-loads of people heading down the steps at considerable pace as we were heading up, and why the other three people up there were inserting ear plugs. I seemed to have missed the sign that everyone else had read.
MAN, WAS IT LOUD – fingers in the ears did nothing and we both nearly needed a change of underpants. Foster proudly refused to block his ears (and was accordingly unresponsive to most questions put to him for the rest of the day). Talk about bad timing – if only we had waited an hour we would have been saved eleven of those blows to our heads.
Earlier in the day we had given Foster and Mylo the task of navigating us to Juliette’s balcony. They had the hotel-supplied map and actually came up with a reasonably direct route all by themselves which took about 10 minutes to walk. The house and balcony are contained in a lovely small cobblestoned courtyard, which also houses a bronze statue of Juliette.
Legend has it that if you rub her breasts you get good luck – as a result she has the shiniest boobs of any statue I have ever seen. Not surprisingly, of those seeking good luck, men outnumbered women by about twenty to one.
Off to Venice tomorrow for five nights.