ITALY TOUR 2013

Sorry about the last blog, hadn’t realised a week had gone by.
Tuesday 29/10/2013
Steve decided overnight that it would be better to use bikes as we had to get to a particular street in Florence by 9am tomorrow for Judy’s special 70th Birthday treat from Nikki  and Kerry. And we’re not too sure of the buses and the long walk down the drive to the road so a test run was necessary. So spent a bit of time getting the bikes out and set up and with TomTom round Steve’s neck we set off at about 9am. We took the walking route which turned out to be a bit of a trial as we (Steve) had to carry the bikes over a very high  foot bridge over the railway. There were also a lot of one way Streets going the wrong way and we were not yet as confident as the Florentines riding against the traffic. So it took about an hour. Steve left Judy talking in Palazzo Vecchio to some Australians and looking at  the statues while he went and checked on the booking and whether we could leave our bikes tomorrow. All the planning via email and text with Nikki while at the beach parking where we could get wifi had paid off and all was fine so we walked about getting the feel of the city after chaining our bikes to some very strong bike racks. First mistake is that we bought the nice removable basket which clips on to the front of Steve’s bike so we had to carry that all day. So just back packs tomorrow. We looked around the squares and checked the entrance of the Ufizzi Gallery then walked to the medievil Ponte Vechio, the bridge with shops (expensive jewellery) on it and later we found that also there is a secret covered walkway where the early leaders could walk without encountering the peasants.
Couldn’t resist the Ice Cream shop as we finished so had a small one each which was enormous with two gigantic scoops of  whichever flavour we wanted and she let us try a spoonfull of a few to get the right ones. Can’t imagine having a large one. Absolutely delicious and just €2.50 each. (See our photo gallery in a day or so for a photo).
We wandered the streets until about 4pm and made our way back to the site this time taking TomTom’s cycle route which got us back in half the time.
Wednesday 30/10/2013
Judy’s Birthday, we got up early and left in plenty of time arriving  at 8:30 so looked at a few statues for a while then walked to the offices of WalkAbout Tours which was a garage full of Vespa scooters and little Fiat 500’s on little rostrums.  A nice guy introduced  himself as Angel and showed us where to park our bikes then asked us to read and sign a disclaimer form, but all the form mentioned was a “Vespa” tour, so Judy freaked a bit thinking she was going to be riding a Vespa round Florence but then Steve explained that it was one of the lovely little vintage Fiat 500’s we would be driving, exactly like the one she owned while pregnant with Nikki. She preferred that Steve did the driving so she could enjoy the ride, so a quick rundown on the car and off we go through the narrow streets of  Florence. The clutch was a hair trigger and the gearbox was a crash box so after a few kangaroo jumps and loud complaints from the gearbox Steve got into the groove and remembered how to double de-clutch. So following Angel in the lead car, we were very lucky as usually they would have five cars in convoy, most of them Americans who had never even seen a stick shift! But it was just us with Angel in the lead. Through the tiny streets then out across the river with Angel shouting over the Walkie-Talkie to look at the Punto Veccio on the right etc. then up the hill to the place we had tried to park on Monday night. Left the cars and climbed the steps to a beautiful church which we had not seen when visiting before. The facade was covered in green and white marble. Then Angel told us to turn round to see the wonderful view of the whole of Florence and a full explanation of all the sights by Angel. Into the church which had then just opened for a further explanation of the wonderful craftsmanship in the building. Back to the cars for more hair raising driving through tiny roads one was either 1.5 or 1.8 meters wide the sign flashed by so fast but it was narrow even for a Fiat 500.  Another road was covered with grass I am sure it was through somebody’s garden. Another stop to look at olive groves and an explanation on the best time to harvest for maximum oil. Then Galaeleo’s (spelling?) old house then the old residence of one of Camila’s old relatives who had got into trouble for having an affair with a King, sort of runs in the family! So then we started going down hill and realised just how much better brakes had become.  Finally after a few more tiny streets we stopped outside a restraunt where Angel ordered a lovely lunch for us typical of the region then back to the office at 1pm to say our goodbyes and our thanks to Angel who had made the morning so special. Judy still had the Cheshire Cat grin that had started from the minute we sat in the awful seats bumping across the cobbles till the time we finished. Three hours of manic driving a wonderful old car that brought back many memories. Thanks boys a fantastic present for Mum that she will certainly not forget in a hurry (hopefully the bruises will fade before the memories).
From there we made our way to the Uffizi gallery where because it was lunch time the queues were not too long. When we got in we then spent another three hours looking at mainly religious art and sculpture through the ages by many of the renouned artists which Judy was very interested in. We had a RickSteve’s guide which helped a lot to explain the changes in the art from flat two dimension to the development of perspective. 
We cycled back through the rush hour in the dark with no problems for a quick meal then bed and I am sure Judy was still grinning while asleep.
Thursday 31/10/2013
Up early and cycle in to get to the Acadamia to see the original sculpture of David by Michelangelo,  we had heard so much about it, surely it could not live up to all the praise. The line was short and we were in in about half an hour again with one of RickSteve’s guides. The sculpture of David was breathtaking, unbelievable and every adjective you could find to describe it, the craftsmanship really is amazing especially considering that he only had a hammer and chisel, no diamond cutters etc, and then we heard that he worked entirely freehand without a previously constructed model to use as a scale pattern as other sculptors did. Once again amazing. The rest of the gallery although fantastic art, just paled in comparison. A great part of the room with David in, was all the unfinished works called the prisoners which Michelangelo had not fully set free from their marble prisons.
Stunned and tired from the gallery we cycled back to break camp and set off for Lucca which Angel said yesterday is a must to see.
We didn’t get away till about 4pm and got caught up in the Florence rush hour with buses, coaches, cars, scooters and bikes all fighting for a bit of road, we really needed sensors all round the vehicle because they came from everywhere and the only way was to be as brave (foolhardy) as them and aim for a spot and get it before them. It was getting late when we saw a petrol station with GPL (gas), as we hadn’t filled up since before Pompeii we thought we must be low, but all it took was €4.50 worth. Steve found a Camping Car  parking area in nearby Pistoia so we headed there, it was free held about 30 vans with dumping and fresh water as well. N-43.94360,E-10.91591.
Friday 01/11/2013
As the town had provided such a nice free facility we walked in to see the town, everything was very quiet and we realised it must be a public holiday of some kind but we found a very nice walled town with many beautiful buildings including the second biggest Domed church in Italy after Florence excepting the Vatican the man in the tourist office said because that was a  different country. So a good couple of hours spent but off to Lucca because Angel had said it was a Medievil,town with a massive exterior wall which you could cycle all the way round. The guide book said, cars were in the minority, a time warp with mainly old ladies on their ancient bikes squeaking along to buy their groceries. When we arrived at the Camping Car parking instead of three or four there were about three hundred. Everywhere we went there were Camping Cars it seemed every Camping Car in Italy was there and most of the cars, every parking place was full as well as the verges. The last car park we toured around some guys from the other end becond to us and directed us to a nice parking spot, then we noticed that we were in the middle of a Gypsy camp with half dismantled cars all around. The guys were indicating that for a few euros they would keep their eyes on it but we had visions of returning to a partly dismantled camper on bricks, so beat a hasty retreat, a couple of kilometers outside town the cars had thinned down and we found a spot next to an allotment and an old boy tending his vegetables said it was ok to park.
We decided it would be best to walk instead of taking the bikes so we walked in and up on to the wall. All around us were people in fancy dress but not a Medievil fayre as we had thought they were all dressed in fantastic futuristic costumes. We had stumbled upon the 2013 International Comic and Games festival. So a very interesting and enjoyable few hours mingling with strange monsters, Bat Men, and Star Wars creatures and many more whose origins we had no idea of. It looks as if we will have to put Lucca down for another visit, so back to the van for a nice meal drink and bed.
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