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Report 1247: A Not-So-Slow First Trip to Italy and Budapest

By andasamo from Nova Scotia, Canada, Spring 2006

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Page 10 of 14: Florence and Pisa - Lots of Stairs and a Golden Opportunity

photo by Andasamo

Me atop the tower in Pisa

After a quick pastry and espresso in the Naples station, we boarded the Eurostar for Florence. The journey was not quite as scenic as one might think because of the long dark tunnels through the mountains, but still many views of hilltop towns and rolling countryside through Tuscany. No sunflowers though, being only March. We made our way, dragging suitcases along the incredibly narrow and crowded Florence sidewalks, to the Hotel Carravagio on Via Nazionalle across from Piazza della Indipenza. Our room was clean and complete with complimentary bottle of liquor. Eager to see more of Florence, having tasted it briefly during our one day tour, we dropped our bags and left the hotel for a stroll around. Magical. We had supper at La Dantesca – I had an exquisite pizza with arugula, parma ham and Parmesan on a margherita base, and insalata campagnota, a salad of arugula, Gorgonzola, green apples, walnuts, oil and vinegar.

We rose early the next morning (around 7am), had a decent breakfast and headed off for the day’s adventure. Pisa called today, so on the train we hopped and were soon at our destination. We walked from the station to the Campo dei Miracoli. I’d read that Pisa itself isn’t much to see, so we were pleasantly surprised to find it quite lovely. A photo of the Arno, very calm with the buildings reflected in it, taken by Mom from the Ponte di Mezzo is one of the loveliest photos of our entire trip. The woman at the tourist office was very helpful and drew out the route to the tower on our map for us. As for the “main event,” I know many travelers consider the Tower a mere tourist trap, but for us, climbing it was incredible! You can tell when you are on the “up” side and when on the “down” side as you climb, and the stairs are worn down to bowl shapes. The view of Pisa from the top was amazing.

Once out, we strolled around and admired the tower and the cathedral from all angles. And yes, I did the clichéd leaning-with-the-tower pose when having my picture taken! (My younger daughter was so excited that I was going to see the Tower that I tried to capture all of its glory, both historical and touristy.) We had no trouble getting back to the train station, and even managed to board an earlier train than planned. The train was running late and just rocketed back to Florence, taking only 50 minutes instead of the scheduled 70.

Our afternoon and evening plans were low key, consisting mostly of wandering around the streets and then along to the Ponte Vecchio to check out at the wares in the gold shops. Neither of us was interested in making our trip about shopping, but Mom thought a piece of Florentine gold would be the perfect souvenir – it would make a good conversation piece and be a lasting reminder of our time in Florence. After much searching, and many rings looking not dissimilar to what the jewelry shops at home stock, we found a gorgeous ring that we were told was handcrafted in an intricate pattern, raised with tiny white gold flowers. Mom is thrilled with it to this day! We also bought a few small ceramic pieces, for ourselves and as gifts.

After our shopping success, we went in search of food. Not up for anything fancy, we ate at Osteria Vineria ‘l Brindici on Via Nationale, just a couple blocks from the hotel. The waiter, a young man with tattoos and rhythm, was very friendly. I had a simple pici (thick round long fresh pasta) with tomato sauce and white bean salad ... and of course, wine! Back at the hotel, we sampled the limoncello we’d bought in Amalfi. Mmmm, limoncello, a little sip of sunshine. After supper, we turned in for the night.

The next day, our bus to Siena didn’t leave until mid-morning, so we thought we’d take advantage of the time and climb the Duomo ... all 463 steps (I think that’s how many there are). How fortunate we were to visit when there were only a handful of other people around. At the top we experienced the spectacular view and a great feeling of accomplishment! We could see so much of Florence and surroundings, although it was fairly hazy (is there smog in Italy?) The painting of the Last Judgement inside the dome was most impressive, if rather gruesome in spots. These painters pulled no punches when depicting their vision of the horrors of Hell. I loved walking around up there, looking down into the church and listening to the intonations and singing of the service below.

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