Two Dutch Girls on a Road Trip to Wiltshire

Road Trip 2017 - 1 (Harwich to Richmond)

When the possibility arose that I would be able to go on holiday  after all this year (due to my caregiver responsibilities that was very un...

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.

Monday, 9 May 2016

The Hike 6: Bologna (Northern Italy)

As promised, a new installment of my hiking efforts, this time an urban one through the ancient city of Bologna in Northern Italy.


Hi, there, this is me in one of those typical Bologna streets.

From the first time (exactly a year ago this month) I set foot in Italy, I adored this country. So, planning a new hiking trip there was no hardship. I wanted to see more of Toscana (Tuscany), as that is the region I have read a lot about, and obviously because of Shakespeare's plays (English teacher forever, right?).
Nowadays planning your own trips is easy as pie through the Internet, so my friend Rina and I booked a cheap plane ticket from Eindhoven to Bologna, not quite knowing what to expect. I had read up on the city, and learnt it has a University and a music college, so a lot of students, and also learnt of its numerous arcades, but that was it.


So did I get a pleasant surprise or what?!
The above church on the Piazza Maggiore by the way is one of the oldest and the second largest church of Italy. I was told that it came too close to being larger than St. Peter in Rome, and the then Pope stopped all building works thereafter, so it is unfinished to this day.
I thought it was interesting, marble and beauty at ground level and then austere bricks on top.
The weather was atrocious though...11 degrees and raining off and on. Not quite what us delta dwellers had expected (last year May in Rome it was a blistering 29 degrees - also not what we had expected, but great).
So one of the first things I did when in Bologna was race into OVS, a wonderful store, and buy a sweatshirt. 


We walked those arcades with pleasure, as the busy motor traffic was banned to the middle of the road, which was often congested, but us pedestrians had it easy.
My reading had told me there is a 3.8 km long 666 arches arcade leading right up the side of a 300 m high hill, which takes you to the Basilica of St. Luca, and I definitely wanted to hike up that hill, for the view of the Medeaval city . But we were told by a nice waiter that it being the week of the Madonna di San Luca, there would be a procession going up that hill that day, and it would be terribly crowded and not advisable to try it.
We stuck to the inner city arcades instead.


This tower is the Torre dell'Arengo, and on both sides of the street you have a good example of the arcades.
The tower is one of the 24 remaining (out of an original 100!)high narrow towers of the city, built to defend the palazzos.

All in all we walked for hours and hours, soaking up the relaxed atmosphere (and rain...)and ending up in a wonderful restaurant run by twin ladies, where I had aubergine-filled tortellini with gorgonzola-cream sauce (yummy!)and the best-tasting beer ever (that could have something to do with the fact that I was extremely thirsty and tired at the time). And I love the Italian habit of presenting their guests with free bread, olive oil and salt and pepper as a starter! Our Dutch Italian restaurants do the same - but at a price...


Right: down to the nitty-gritty.
We stayed at B&B Alle Torri (see the view from our window above) with clean rooms and amenities, good breakfast and (for me very important) all the free espresso and free Wi-Fi I needed.
Walking distance from the B&B to the centre of town: 10 minutes. The only downside I can mention is that the students at the corner bar right underneath our window kept up their lively shouting until 3 am.

Number of steps walked in Bologna: 15.303, which amounts to approx. 20 kms.
Temp: a chilly rainy 11 degrees to 18 degrees when it was dry.
Travelled from Bologna to Florence by slow train (1 hr and 45 mins), costing €16.
Link to official Tourist Office video:Bologna