Monday, June 13, 2011

Our European trip part 2 - Pisa & Florence

Arriving in Pisa shortly after lunch, we took our luggage to the train station. They have a “left luggage” service and I believe for only 5 euro you can leave your bag for the day. That was really convenient. We then walked through the tiny town of Pisa (it’s mainly shops and a university), until we were suddenly in the large area that encompassed the famous leaning tower and a few other buildings. We had advance tickets to actually climb up the tower – which was a trip! It’s hard not to “lean” as you walk up the spiral steps all the way to the top. It’s a fantastic view from the top, where you can go outside on a balcony and enjoy it.

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First stop in Pisa- gelato! This one is nutella flavor, oh mama.

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The bridge in Pisa.

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Walking to the leaning tower of Pisa through town

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Narrow alleyways were off the main street


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Rich and Stephanie trying on some of the street vendors' merchandise and doing some akward dance...

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Here's the view from the top of the tower -beautiful Tuscany....

There’s not much else to do in Pisa, so we returned to the train station, rounded up our luggage, and hopped a train to Florence (Firenze as they call it there). It was so exciting to pull up to our unique hotel which was located in the well known Piazza della Santissima Annuziata, an ancient religious and charity site. I chose this place, Hotel Loggiato dei Serviti, from our Rick Steves book, and it was actually a former monastery. We just fell in love with the place! Our room was spectacular, with a large first floor and a loft upstairs that had to have been at least 500 sq. ft with lots of pretty furniture and its own bath. The European furnishings were delightful, they reminded me of my Laura Ashley shop days, and I just loved the large living room windows that swung open, affording us a view of the piazza below. Even our key was beautiful with a large maroon tassel hanging from it. Funny thing was, you turned your key in every time you left the hotel – different from what we do here in America with our credit card size hotel keys.

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In the piazza of our hotel

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The hallway of the hotel

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The living room

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Drew in the girls' loft bedroom - not sure why he's up there alone?

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The upstairs bathroom - bidet included but no shower enclosure or curtain...

The daily breakfast that was included was lovely and quite formal. We dined in a charming room with large windows, at small tables complete with white linen and silver, and there was even a butler-type individual that brought us the most wonderful cappuccinos on earth. I can still taste the unbelievable croissants that they had in a neat little warmer compartment. The breakfast we had in Florence was a typical European morning meal, and consisted of yogurt, fresh fruit, stewed fruit, thin slices of ham and cheese, hardboiled eggs, a roll that is similar to a dinner roll, croissants, and mini packets of nutella which somehow made their way back to the room. :-) I was always quite happy with my cappuccino and croissant each morning. It was simply delightful. I guess it’s just plain nice to be served breakfast – so luxurious.

Our time in Florence was spent mostly on foot, exploring the town, market places, piazzas, and eating lots of gelato. They do not have a subway system and we took a cab only once to see a panoramic view of the city up high. We especially enjoyed the San Lorenzo marketplace (leather goods, scarves, etc) and the Mercato Centrale, a large indoor food market full of vendors where we purchased a beautiful lunch one day. Of course one of the major attractions of Florence is Michaelangelo’s David, which we didn’t actually visit, as you can see an exact replica in front of the Uffizi gallery. And, frankly, we just didn’t want to spend about $20/person to just go see a –well let’s be honest – a large naked man. There are plenty of free examples of that all over the city if that’s your thing. And, plenty of crass souvenirs too. I’ll spare you the details.

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The view from Piazzale Michaelangelo above Florence.

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San Lorenzo Marketplace - fun place to bargain!

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Emma and the leather jacket she bargained for!

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The Ponte Vecchio - a bridge over the Arno river that has shops built in.

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I love the lone boat in the water. How peaceful.

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Each gelateria had their own creative way of displaying their goods.

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Best lunch in Italy - culinary delights from the Mercato centrale: prosciutto di Parma, salami, gorgonzola, Parmigiano, freshly baked artisan breads, and antipasti all eaten al fresco.

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The outside cafe table settings were so inviting.

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And they had so much charm. Just look at the building this one is housed in.

Florence was a really neat place to visit, and I’m glad we chose to spend the majority of our time in Italy concentrated there. We initially had trouble deciding where to spend our 4 days – we considered Venice as well, but after talking to friends decided on a brief visit to Pisa, 3 nights in Florence and 1 night in Rome. I think we made a good choice.

So, after our three wonderful days in Florence, we took the train to Rome, where we would stay one night before flying out to Israel. Part 3 on Rome coming soon!

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