Leaving Cinque Terre, we drove out along those winding roads, and back onto the freeway, Michael Jackson and Queen belting out from Jen’s laptap. We drove for quite a while, passing the exit to Piza, and for a time with quite impressive mountains in the distance. Following Nigel’s directions, we eventually found ourselves driving amongst grape vine and olive tree-covered hills, punctuated with orange-roofed houses and the odd castle. It was a bit like driving through the label on an olive oil bottle — just the landscape I had envisioned for Tuscany.
We eventually found the caravan park we had flagged as an option after one false start due to Nigel’s apparent inability to process Italian addresses. Unfortunately, when we found it we realised Florence was not too accessible from there, at least 40 minutes away. We pulled over by the road, beside a vineyard with views of the surrounding hills, blue-green with olives and grapes, and had lunch while we pondered our next move: Drive towards Florence and keep an eye out for caravan parks.
Our plan worked out, and one Fawlty Towers audio episode later we pulled into the “International Camping” site, quite leafy, straddled by high tension power lines, in Bottai, a suburb of Florence. Jen and Annie cooked us some pasta, and we introduced them to our much-loved TV series, Battlestar Galactica.
The next day, we utterly failed to be up and ready by the time we decided upon the night before, and headed out to find the bus to the centre of Florence around ten-ish. The bus, absolutely packed full of people by the time we approached the city centre, took us through improbably narrow streets passing for main arterials, thronging with scooters and motorbikes, and we got off amidst a canyon of old stone buildings built over a maze of streets, many cobbled.
We found our way to the Uffizi gallery and lined up, having unsuccessfully tried to book in advance during the end of our Cinque Terre stay. Some time later, we got in and wandered through (after a mercy dash to the gallery café). The highlight for me was seeing Botticelli’s paintings, including naked-chick-riding-a-clam (The Birth of Venus), and La Primavera. That, and getting to sit down afterwards.
Our next stop was the Academia, the gallery that houses Michelangelo’s David. David was quite spectacular — the detail is incredible, down to the veins in his hand. We have been continually amused by the miniscule size of statue’s…members…Perhaps so sized to protect the ego of male viewers? Also fascinating was some unfinished works by Michelangelo, forms just visible amid raw marble — a face here, or a muscled arm, almost as if he merely uncovers shapes already in the stone. Nice.
Now late afternoon, we wandered through the streets of Florence, over the river and to the Piazza Michelangelo, where a green bronze David watched over throngs of tourists. Having bought some wine on the way from a friendly bottle shop vendor (who also helped us buy some grappa and helped Jen get her hands on some rather expensive and intimidating-looking absinthe with “DELIRIUM” written on the side), we sat on a bench just over the edge of the Piazza and drank wine while the sun went down over Florence.
Walking back to find our bus home, we came across lots of people standing on a bridge over the river holding candles; Annie asked one woman what was going on, who replied with something that sounded like ‘homophobia’, and we decided it was probably a tolerance/gay rights gathering. Sure enough, a column of people with more candles marched towards us along the river, led by a marching band and three policemen bearing banners. Cool.
Finding the bus back home was a little tricky, and made more difficult when I showed the pamphlet for our caravan park to a bus driver and he saw only the picture of one of Florence’s landmarks on it and took us there instead — d’oh. We eventually made it back to Bottai though, and called it a night.
Back on the road the next day, we drove down through Greve in Chianti and surrounds, a region apparently well-known for its wine. We stopped at a winery, Castello Vicchiomaggio, surrounded by picturesque fields of grapes, and tasted their wine, some of which we found to our liking and bought.
We wound our way through the Tuscan countryside, stopping every now and then to take in the rolling hills, then spotted a ‘Camping’ sign and followed its sparsely-placed brethren along increasingly small and unpaved roads until, with relief, we arrived after sunset at a caravan park that would do for the night. Queue an evening of heavy drinking (very uncharacteristic for us!), while we attempted to seek out the green fairy at the bottom of the bottle of absinthe. No green fairies, much to Jen’s disappointment; just a great need to sleep in for a long time the next morning.
…And so ended our visit to Tuscany. Next stop: Rome.