Perpetual Plan B

Monday, November 30, 2009

Our Fantastic Trip, Part Five: Pisa and Florence

This day did not turn out to be anything at all like I expected it to be. It was a whole lot better. This was even in spite of the fact that I felt so lousy most, if not all, of the day.

I was a terrible traveling companion this day because of the fact that I was coughing so much. My cold had finally caught up to me. I was really trying to contain it but Sabrina, being a schoolteacher, helped me out and gave me a Zicam. I'm sure they were still not thrilled to be locked in a van with me coughing and sneezing away. Part of the problem was that my throat was so dry the whole trip that I needed to keep sipping water to keep from coughing.

Anyway, back to the Zicam, if you don't know what it is, which I really didn't, it is a miraculous little ampoule that you snap open and then swab the contents into your nose. Be sure and read the directions and don't do what I did, which is sniff it in. Vickie and Sabrina quickly corrected me so I didn't repeat the mistake on the other nostril. I still can't smell out of my right nostril very well because of my mistake. I'm hoping that it will eventually correct itself.

Back to the trip.

We had planned on taking the train into Florence with Jim and Sabrina since Vickie and David had other plans to go on a private tour with another couple. I was a little sad because I really wanted to stop into Pisa and see the leaning tower and try to get a little Pinocchio puppet for Austin because I had read that Pinocchio had originated in Pisa. (The name means "pine nut".) It was going to be too complicated to try and figure out the train system to stop into both Pisa and Florence and since Florence was the main city, that's where we needed to go. If it were France I probably would have tried to figure it out myself since I still remember some French, but I am worthless when it comes to Italian. Plus the train systems are notoriously irregular so you can easily get stranded. So, I had resigned myself to skipping Pisa.

Anyway, the night before, Vickie called and told us that the wife of other couple they were supposed to go with was sick and couldn't travel. I felt sorry for the sick lady but I started to feel happy for us because I had grown rather fond of Vickie and David, as well as Jim and Sabrina the last couple of days. They went ahead and cancelled their tour and were going to brave the train with us.

Well, lucky for us, the next day Jim rounded us all up another driver and because there were six of us for all the tours, we saved enough money that we were able to afford to have another private tour. (And we got to go to both Florence AND Pisa.)

So, once again, THANK YOU Jim and Sabrina and Vickie and David.

Honestly, before the trip when I was calculating how much it would cost us to do the private tours I wasn't sure if we should do it, but it saved us so much stress and time because the drivers just took us all around and we didn't need to think or figure out what to do next or how to get there. We had spent so much money to get to Italy that it just didn't make sense to get almost all the way there and then not know how to actually get to anything worth seeing. We would have wasted a lot of time and not seen nearly as much.

Saving time, plus convenience, plus a nice private van (and some cute Italian drivers): Priceless.

Ok, on with the tour.

So our first stop was Pisa. Everyone says you can see all there is to see in about a half hour and I'd say that is probably true. What they don't tell you is how absolutely beautiful it is, with all the important buildings that are clustered together, made out of the white (Carrera?) marble.

Here, I started my search for Pinocchio. I had seen one puppet in Barcelona that I really loved, but I didn't want to start spending all my euros the first day and I figured I'd see the same thing, probably for a better price, in Pisa. Well, not so. I never did find the exact one, but I was able to find a really inexpensive one in Pisa, which I bought, figuring that even if I found the other one later, at least I'd have something to bring back for Austin that he might like. (And I knew that he'd probably break at least one of the puppets anyway so it wasn't a bad idea to have a spare.)

As we turned around and headed back toward the van, we started taking the required shots of us trying to hold up the Leaning Tower. It was hard to get a shot without a lot of other people in it. We had to laugh when we looked down the road, trying to figure out the best place to take a photo, and saw a whole line of people, each one of them just standing there with their arm up as if flagging down a taxi. (We tried to get a shot of that but it didn't turn out very well.)
So, here are our different results:

Are you getting tired of seeing my purse in every shot? Quite frankly, I am. It's actually my "decoy purse". All our money was really in a little pouch under my shirt. They say pickpockets are rampant in a lot of these tourist areas so I wasn't taking any chances.

(The scaffolding kind of ruins the effect, doesn't it?)
As we left I felt like I wanted to take just one more shot. We were on the side of the building that you couldn't see the tower lean, so I just got creative and tipped my camera a little to the side. Problem solved.

But then I realized that I had tipped it the wrong way, so I had to take another shot to correct the problem.

Much better.
We all loaded back into the van and I tried not to cough and sneeze too much on the way to Florence. Look at the beautiful scene that greeted us as we drove into the city.

Here is an old building, but I have no idea what it is. It was right by the market where we looked again for a different Pinocchio. Everyone was very kind to humor me as I spent even more time searching for the one I remembered from Barcelona.

It was actually at this market that Hal ended up being an extra in an Italian movie. I was trying to go to a certain booth and some people stopped me. Hal just kept walking across the street. I asked the man if I could follow him or keep walking in the street and he said, "Not unless you're an actress." I think they might have actually been filming when Hal was walking. So, you may see Hal in a theater near you, if you happen to live in Italy.
I finally did find another Pinocchio that was similar to the one I wanted, but it was bigger and not quite the same. I bought it anyway and I'm glad I did.
Our first stop in Florence was the Accademia to see Michaelangelo's David. No photos were allowed here. I was not real impressed one way or the other because I had seen the copy in Las Vegas enough times that it was just like seeing it again, only this one seemed a little dingier and maybe smaller. Probably because I was a little kid when I first saw the one in Vegas and it seemed HUGE.
I did enjoy the room with the sculptures there.
Next we went to the Duomo and the Baptistry. These buildings were really beautiful and unlike anything we'd seen so far on this trip. Like I said before, I was really surprised to see how different each and every city was from the others.

Here is a shot of inside the Duomo. If I remember correctly, I think we had a hard time finding an exit to get out of the Duomo.

Here is the oculus of the Duomo. I thought it was beautiful.

Here is one of the doors on the Baptistry.

This might be the outside of the Baptistry. Then again, it might not be. I can't really remember, but it looks like it probably is.

Eventually we went to the little square that used to house the original David before they decided to lock him away and charge admission. The one in the square now is just a replica.
One thing about Italy in general, and Florence specifically, is the fact that they have a lot of nude male statues. At first I tried kind of politely not to look. Then we paid a lot of money to see the David so I just kind of looked at the statue in general and didn't try to avoid looking. (Though we did have a rather interesting discussion about the look on his face and how it changed according to the angle you were looking at it.)
By the time we had finished spending time in this square, I was used to the nakedness and was snapping photos right and left.

Here's a shot when I was still wringing my hands, wondering what to do about the naked man behind me.
About ten minutes later....

"Hey, a man who killed a gorgon. Of course he's supposed to be naked. Let's take a picture to commemorate the occasion."
After we had our fill of naked statues, we walked quickly through the courtyard of the Uffizi Gallery, which was built originally for Cosimo de' Medici for offices for the Florentine magistrates.

We came out near the Ponte Vecchio, which is the only bridge out of Florence that was not bombed during World War II.

Here is a closer view of the back of the little gold shops that lined both sides of the bridge.

Here is the other side of the gold shops. It looked like a fun street to window shop but we really didn't have time.

Next we asked our driver, Danielo, to take us somewhere so we could get a photo of the view in Tuscany.

Here is Danielo with us. Boy those Italians are friendly, aren't they?

This next shot is probably my favorite of the whole trip. Even though I felt lousy, I just love this photo of us together.

Here is Austin at home, enjoying his Pinocchio puppets. First he took a polite photo with the one I looked all over Pisa and Florence to get.

Then he promptly handed it back over to me. It is now hanging on our Christmas tree.
The other Pinocchio, on the other hand, has become his new best friend. He has sneaked it to school in his backpack, taken him to friends' houses and even tried sleeping with him, except I always move the puppet after Austin is asleep because I don't want Austin to get impaled by Pinocchio's nose.

Last stop: Cannes

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