Camilla's second stroke of genius (following the bag at the station concept) was to catch the bus from Florence Centrale to the campsite. This idea came straight after her concerns that Steve had no idea where the camping actually was, and that it was likely to be overrun by shady characters if it exists at all.
One stop too far is usually a bad thing when lugging around one's home on your back. Like little turtles we stuck our heads out from within the map and realised the campsite stop is only 10 metres from the lookout where we were standing, Piazzale Michelangelo.
Florence - 10 May
With a famous skyline such as Florence we awoke keen to get into the thick of it. Walking down through the communal rose gardens, lined with ripe (and as we found out later very delicious) lemons we reached the Ponte Vecchio. This bridge is the only one to survive the bombings of WWII and has since housed jewellery shops. Happy to spend an entire days budget on some stand-in wedding rings we realised that we where a weeks budget short. Given our hunger for red meat it is a shame that the butcher shops that originally used the bridge where nowhere to be found.
We have found that the tourist information centres often give out 'One Day in...' guides for those that have jumped off a tourbus with limited time. It is a great starting point to get to know a city based on a walking tour of the highlights so for today our objective was to walk the 5 km circuit to orientate ourselves.
Into the first small church (it usually only takes a few moments to find a historic church worth looking at) and we were accosted by a couple of very friendly Americans asking for money. Ordinarily the reply would have been less than polite but given that we were in a house of God it seemed fitting to help them PAY (God isn't cheap on the tourist strip) to light up the famous fresco on the wall. It was a unique experience so we put the expenditure down to helping others to enjoy their experience.
Like the advertising junkies that we are a poster caught our eye (please note this is very tongue in cheek). Spiderman 3 has been released in English at the Cinema Teatro Odeon, with original 1930s decor. Walking on we came into the Piazza de la Repubbblica with the most beautiful carosel yet complete with pink feathers on the horses heads.
The highlight of the walk, and infact the centrepiece of the Florence skyline is the amazing Cathedral of Santa Maria del Fiore. It is unmistakable with intricate marble carvings, coppertone tiled dome and 80 metre bell tower. Standing near this incredible piece of architectural art it is clear why it took 150 years to complete and now stands in almost perfect condition (slightly dirty on one side)
Lunch was as gourmet as you can possible expect of two impoverished backpackers, milk and bread. No we didn't forget to include anything in that sentence! Sitting directly under the dome watching the passing parade of African street sellers, young Contiki tourers and elderly locals added sufficient flavour to make lunch a treat.
Gelato was in order en route to the Piazza della Signoria housing a replica of the statue of David and the palazzo Vecchio with an outdoor display of original marble statues. It did not become apparent until now how many magnificent original sculptures there are in Europe. Regardless of the quantity we are still thoroughly enjoying them, in particular those displayed outside where they seem to best capture your imagination.
Dinner was shortly to follow from a boutique supermarket similar to that found in DJs, Sydney only noone spoke Australian except us. We refrained from buying everything and instead armed ourselves with foccacia, cous cous, rissotto salad, ricotta, olives and the lemon (Steve borrowed). Outside the Odeon we again watched as children played in the square and American teenagers spilled out of the cinema threatening to give away the ending.
Unfortunately, Spiderman 3 is not the classic we were expecting but entertaining nonetheless, particularly when the crowd giggled with amusement as Spiderman leaps in front of the flying American flag before saving the day.
Day 2 - May 11
Steve woke to find that his mattress has been slowly leaking air and was therefore lying on the ground. This will need to be addressed as we cannot afford the number of teas required to subdue this situation otherwise.
With one objective for the day in mind we headed off to the Galeria Degli Uffizi complete with packed lunch and open mind. At the point were we had been standing in the queue for over 1 hour and we decided it was time to make friends with the 80 year old America couple in front of us, and tease everyone by bringing out a fully packed lunch. 30 minutes later and we were finally throwing ourselves into the greatest collection of Renaissance art in the local vacinity.
Uffizi is well worth the visit, particular given that the entire ceiling of the sculpture gallery is intricately frescoed. A great view of the river, Ponte Vecchio and our campsite can be seen from the end windows.
Unplanned, and by a stroke of luck, Camilla came across the one painting she has been scouring the galleries in search of due to indepth study at school. Artemisia Gentileschi (1593) Judith beheading Holophernes (one of the goryest and most confronting husband slayings on canvas). To compliment her book 'How to kill your husband, and other useful household hints' there is no wonder Steve hasn't been sleeping well. All the same the gallery impressed us with a variety of works and sculptures and as a climax we viewed Botocelli's 'Venus'.
Gelato was enjoyed at a nearby church step followed by extensive internet time then onto the Plazza della Signoria where the replica of David is presented outdoors. Whether it was simple absentmindedness or the distraction of scupted naked males, Camilla stacked it down the stairs twisting her ankle. With all the encouragement in the world she was coaxed across the plazza (50 steps) for dinner.
Sunset was enjoyed on the banks of the river with the Ponte Vecchio silhouetted like many of the postcards we had admired. It was a long day and deserved a good nights rest.
Day 3 - 12 May
Breakfast - Internet - Called Mums for Mothers Day - Lunch - Internet - Dinner - Sleep. No joke, this was the extent of it as we needed to catch up with ourselves and do little else.
Day 4 - 13 May
With Camilla harping in Steve's ear 'I really would love to spend some time in Tuscany', and Steve politely reminding her (repeatedly) 'dear, Florence is in Tuscany' we made a brilliant decision. Our options were an 40 euro per person afternoon visit to a Villa to taste wine or a 80 euro day trip (per person) to San Gimignano we decided to go it alone. Armed with the worst possible map you have ever seen we selected two destinations (noted to have events on in the local rag) with travel coming to the grand total of 15 euros (for the two of us) we set off.
Destination 1 - Casciano val de Pesa
Small town with historic walls, great view over tuscany, nothing whatsoever open on a Sunday and 2 kms from the Wine Fair we were determined to visit. After a relatively short, hot walk along the country road and following a number of local directions we arrived at Villa de Cotti's neighbour. Politely greeted the madame of the house welcomed us into her home and said she would help with directions in just 5 minutes. Almost 30 minutes later and having heard her arguing with her last guest she finally tended to our simple question. 'Where is Villa de Cotti, they have a wine fair on today and we would like to attend - by the way thank you for letting us look through your villa it is beautiful'. Please keep in mind that this conversation commenced as we were walking down the drive away from the house, she attempted to pursued us to stay and taste her wine, make us food etc. etc. then reluctantly pointed over our shoulder at Villa de Cotti 50 metres away. Our gratitude for her assistance was brief. Villa de Cotti (against all advertised indications) was closed, the end.
Back into town we sat for a victory lunch at having found our destination despite a lack of wine trade fair. Great food at a small family run trattoria in this quite, sometimes overlooked, town of Casciano was heartely enjoyed. Our next destination was a 30 minute bus ride away, we were optimistic still.
Destination 2 - Tavernelle
In search of the local music festival (advertised in the same magazine) we held our suspicions. With glee we were met with music as we stepped off the bus and made our way dirrectly into the town square. Feeling that we were in the heart of Tuscany the romance swept over us and we got re-married. If further explanation is required let us be clear, we left our real wedding rings at home but felt (preverbally) naked without them. Camilla is now adorned with a plain silver band indicating her undying affection (crazy) for Steve. Steve has a multicoloured mood ring which has been purchased in the vain hope that Camilla will be able to decipher amorous from travel fatigue. Pizza from the local take away was enhanced by the friendly shopkeep. After our meal we sat to chew through our books listening to the local vibes in the Piazza as the sun was setting.
Engrossed in our books we caught the bus by the hair of our chinny chin chin as Camilla glance (only for a fraction of a second) across the park to see the last bus of the night returning to Florence. LUCKY!