Two Dutch Girls on a Road Trip to Wiltshire

Road Trip 2017 (2) - Richmond to Chawton to Salisbury.

Good afternoon! Would you like to join me for the second part of my road trip in the South-West of England? A long time wish of my daughter...

Friday, 13 May 2016

The Hike 7: Florence (Northern Italy)

Urban hiking has its own merits and disadvantages...And when you are a delta dweller, like myself, used to flat surfaces and gras/earth, walking across cobbles and uneven marble pavements taking in the many steps and hills is quite a challenge.

We took the slow train from Bologna to Florence, taking in lots of tunnels on the way. I had looked forward to seeing something of the landscape, but most of the time I just saw darkness.
Florence main station was large and crowded, and walking outside into the overcast old city centre it stayed that way, crowded.
The first thing that hit me was the smell: Firenze has a smog problem.
The second observation was that it also has a tourist problem. And here I was...adding to that with my small backpack, Aesics and raincoat.

We had booked a B&B well outside of the city centre for monetary reasons, which meant that we had to walk over 3 kms from the station to get there and the map wasn't very accurate.The difference in walking Bologna vs Firenze is that here instead of spacey relaxed arcades there are narrow pavements, but they are taken over by restaurants, market stalls and parked mopeds. Moreover, the road we had to take to the B&B happened to be the main bus route out of the inner city. Those buses were lined up like wagons on a train, honestly. Belching out exhaust fumes so toxic that I was gasping for breath.

So: did we turn on our heel and march back to the station? No. I was there,right, so I braved the traffic and determined I was going to see the Duomo even if it meant getting a headache (and it did).

Should you visit Florence? Hm. The Uffizi and the many gorgeous monuments mean that your eyes are feasted. But it does take some stamina to battle your way through the hordes. For example, I hardly saw anything of the lovely old shops lining the Ponte Vecchio, there simply were too many people like me. So we walked along the river instead and watched the built up bridge from the next bridge over.
This photo is one I took just before we threw ourselves into the crowd crossing the Ponte.

But even there on the other side, traffic and tourists everywhere.
Still, the palazzos and piazzas are charming, and the people we met in the trattorias were friendly, and the food was more than good.

As is my habit, I try to eat the local speciality where-ever I visit, and this is the famous Florentine T-Bone with roast potatoes.
And (no fibbing here!) it was the best T-Bone I have ever tasted. It melted in my mouth. I voiced my appreciation, and I don't know if that was what did it, but the waiters promptly forgot our existence and we had to wait for over an hour for the bill. I joked that they probably loved having two damp middle-aged Dutch hikers sitting at their prime position terrace table; we sat there for 3 1/2 hours! Still, never a dull moment. We watched the people milling on the piazza, very entertaining.

The next day we planned to visit Siena, so we walked back to the station and tried to find out where to buy our bus tickets and find the right bus stop. Again, this took stamina. Florentine professional travel people are very friendly but very vague at the same time. They either give you the wrong information, or they give you the right information using the wrong English words, anyway, to cut a very long story short, we spent more than 2 hours finding those tickets and bus stop. (Skip the next paragraph if you are not interested in our bus story)

If you plan to travel by local bus, take note: the local bus station is hidden away in a courtyard opposite the main line train station, and there is NO signposting there. There is a sign at the station telling you to go left to get your bus tickets, but when you do you find a Tobacconist which only sells bus tickets to The Mall (a huge outlet centre where enormous chrome and gleaming aubergine colored luxury buses full of Chinese tourists are herded towards).He then tells you to go 600 m. right instead. If you do, you end up at another Tobacconist selling tickets to...The Mall.
After 2 hours of searching (and by then swearing in Dutch and English simultaneously - always handy to be bi-lingual)we ended up desperately throwing ourselves at a suave local businessman who looked as if he knew his way around. He did. He even stopped talking into his mobile for three seconds.In the shady concrete courtyard which he pointed out (we were standing directly opposite it and we had passed it at least 10 times already) they sold bus tickets to every city around Firenze, including Siena.

Right: the nitty-gritty:
This day in Firenze we hiked 20.507 steps, which boils down to approx. 27 kms (of which at least 5 up & down along the same street searching for that bus terminal).
We stayed at B&B Casa Toselli, 3 km out of the old city centre, with clean comfortable rooms and bathrooms and a basic breakfast of weak cafe Americano, toast,cakes and jam. Added bonus: the next door neighbors keep a parrot in their garden, which keeps up a friendly Italian banter.
Temp. 18 to 20 degrees, overcast.
Road surfaces: uneven ancient marble and uneven modern cement.Most Firenze dog owners carry a pooper scooper, but beware all the same.
The link to an honest tourist board video about Florence: Firenze
We were advised not to drink the water from the fountains, but to buy bottled water instead, so we did.In most small shops a bottle will cost you 50 Eurocent.