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Thursday, 21 March 2013

A Little Piece of Italy - Tuscan Adventure!

Before we disappear into the Canadian ether, I'd like to include a few posts about trips we've made in the last few years around Europe. Since 2011 we've had some great journeys and experienced some amazing places, all of which I would definitely love to return to in the future.

I'll start from the beginning!
Our first holiday as a couple came in October 2011, the destination: Pisa, Italy.

Ian had visited before, and was pretty adamant that he wanted to show me Pisa and that I would love it. And he was right. I did!

For a start it's stunning, almost everywhere you look is picture perfect and everything is so stereotypically Italian, it's almost like walking into an advert for olive oil.

There are of course the typical tourist traps. The area directly surrounding the Leaning Tower (the piazza del tuomo) is awash with stalls selling the plastic towers and snow globes, t-shirts, hats, you name it, they sell it, and restaurants who charge twice as much as they should. The Tower itself was lovely to see, though during the day the square was heaving with visitors, and lots of people posing for the standard 'I'm holding the leaning tower up with my hands' photo. We decided to go up the tower and took some great photos from the top, we also got tickets to go into the duomo (the cathedral) and the baptistry, both stunning in their own right but with not quite the star power of the tower. We went back to the square late at night, it was floodlit and nearly empty, so we wandered slowly and got great views with less of the hustle and bustle.

Lovely as it is, step away the Cathedral Square and walk round any corner and down a side road and your suddenly in Italian heaven.

Here the vibe is very different, its relaxed, quiet, and unquestionably beautiful. The side streets are peaceful and for us the weather was perfect, it was warm but not too hot, the gentle onset of autumn was palpable in the air, the kind of weather that makes you want to twirl in a skirt and make it fan out around you and then burst into song. I'm not even kidding, I twirled.

A Pisa side street
Other things I loved about Pisa, the food. My goodness the food was good. I ate so much gelato (I'm talking once or twice daily) drank copious amounts of coffee, (and found a new friend in espresso's) and ate some delicious dishes. We tried to eat moderately during the day so we could enjoy a big meal most evenings, with my favorite being the night we had steak wrapped in pork cheek (yes, I'm a huge carnivore) on a bed of mash, and then Illy coffee creme brulee for dessert. It was the most luxurious meal I think I've ever had, and I wish I could remember the name and location of the restaurant so I can go back. If I return to Pisa I will track it down!

On our little Tuscan journey we also took in other areas, we nipped on the train (I must say I was impressed with their train service, certainly no worse than ours in the UK!) to Lucca, a little town with gorgeous architecture, and surrounded by a huge wall which we spent a large portion of the day wandering around. Here the streets are tiny and quiet, and everything seems so compact, even the cars are teeny. Lots more gelato, lots of churches and we ate outside a restaurant being serenaded by a violinist. The place screamed Tuscany.

On another day trip we took the train to Florence. I must say I was looking forward to this, but we arrived without a map and got lost very, very quickly. We ended up going back to the train station to buy one and start all over again, by which time half the day had gone. Florence is...well it's pretty, but it's very tourist orientated. The whole city feels like an invasion, I'm sure you could go a week without speaking to a real Italian there. But it is pretty. The Duomo is magnificent, we took refuge in a University library where I took photos from a balcony. The other thing about Florence is the abundance of shops! And not just any shops but very exclusive shops, you name a designer I'm pretty sure they'll have a shop there. It'd be a great place to spend a few grand, if you were that way inclined.

Florence shops + me trying to look casual.
Ponte Vecchio
My favorite thing about Florence was the Ponte Vecchio bridge. Standing in the centre and looking either up or down river gave some unforgettable views and the bridge itself was pretty, if a little overcrowded with jewellery shops!

For me Florence couldn't outshine Pisa, which was just so chilled out, but I did enjoy it. I have hopes to visit Italy again, I would like to visit Naples and see Vesuvius and Pompeii, and possibly Rome. Any other Italian recommendations?

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