Day 5 Monterosso to Florence, Italy - Tuscany

6:04 AM AirplaneFoodCritic 0 Comments

Breakfast was even more beautiful than yesterday. The sun was already out in full force. We could tell it was going to be another super hot day but it is difficult not to enjoy such gorgeous views of the Mediterranean Sea from atop the hotel terrace. We packed up, paid Gabriel and walked out of the old town, through the tunnel, across the new town of Monterosso and to our gravelly parking lot. Before we got in the car we walked a but further along the beach to see El Gigante. El Gigante is a statue of Atlas holding up some of the mountainside. He once was a bit mightier but during some storms he lost and arm here and a leg there. He still was very impressive. He is about two stories tall and set into the cliff side. On his shoulders he is holding up at cactus garden. 500 photos later and we were back in the car.
El Gigante in Monterosso, Cinque Terre, Italy

We triple checked the map so that we didn't end up on another crazy, barely paved, one lane road. We got on the highway with little to ruble and headed for Pisa. We had another pretty long drive ahead of us and it went relatively smoothly. We didn't get lost and ended up in Pisa in a couple hours. We found some street parking that took only a 25 point turn to get into the spot. I think I may have hit the car behind me only twice to fit in the space. I was pretty proud. It was pay parking so I got out a one Euro coin and dropped it in the machine. It read 30 minutes. So I dropped another one Euro coin in and assumed it added another 30 minutes. We printed out the ticket, placed it on our dash and headed towards the Leaning Tower of Pisa. It was an easy walk. The weather was a little bit more bearable than the day before. There was a strong wind. The air was still very warm. Our car read 30C which translates to the mid 90's in F, I think. We passed loads of street vendors selling all sorts of weird crap. Two things stuck out as extra useless. There were these blankets spread out here and there and on them lay piles of wooden trains. They looked super simple, plain, unpainted wood. Each piece was about two inches high and long. Who is buying these? It is like selling building blocks on the streets of San Francisco. What is this market that they are targeting?? The other things I saw were these prints of stuff on canvas. It was obviously not a painting but tried to look like one. The images were of Thomas Kincaid paintings, various generic Italian sceneries like of Venice (remember this is in Pisa, nowhere near Venice) and then the most confusing of the images, Heath Ledger as the Joker. Why? Why do these vendors think anyone would come to Italy to have an image of the Joker's face? It baffled me so much I was almost angry.
Leaning Tower of Silly Me

When we approached the tower all my vendor-based disdain melted away. The tower and the church next to it were massive, clean and bright white. It was just beautiful. It has been 30 years since I had been here last and it is even more majestic than I remembered. I think in the last 30 years the tower had tipped even more and they had to upright it a little. I guess it had been refurbished or something. It was just pristine. I, again, took 50, 000 photos every which way. We tried to think of a unique way to interact with the tower but everything we came up with we saw someone already doing. The grassy field area that surrounded the tower and church looked like someone dropped a massive water balloon full of people on it. Just people people people everywhere. People of all types. Most of them were doing the "holding up the tower" bit but there were some goofier looking ones as well. One guy was laying on the grass with his legs spread and up in the air. His girlfriend was taking photos through his legs. I have no CLUE what that was supposed to be achieving. I tried to look like I was casually leaning on it. I think I rested my elbow on it. Then I leaned into it and kissed it. I wanted to go to the top but it was a 30 minute tour and that was after you waited in the line to get the tickets. I know I could have gotten tickets online in advance but it was for time slots. I was afraid we might miss our time slot and then we would have useless tickets and be out the cash it cost. So we opted to just enjoy the tower from the base. I really enjoyed it.

We had about 20 minutes to get back to the car so we began walking back to the car. I bought a magnet and an ornament. I wanted a little leaning tower statue but the hubs talked me out of it. I told him there was now a hole on our bookshelf between the Big Ben statue and the little Eiffel Tower statue and I was forever going to blame him for it. I was joking of course...sort of. We got to the car with what turned out to be plenty of time. I guess if you put one Euro in, you get 30 minutes but the second one gives you a whole hour extra. I didn't realize so I worried the whole time because that is what I do. It all worked out and I only hit the car behind me once getting out of the parking spot. We blasted the air conditioning and headed for Florence.

It took us another couple hours or so to hit the city. Driving in Florence is NOT fun. Driving in all of Italy is not fun in fact. Not for me anyways. The streets are too narrow. They are too crowded with people all not looking where they are going. There are way too many one way streets and all the other cars honk at you a lot. By the time we reached Florence the car told us it was 34C which is getting up to the upper 90's lower 100's. It was super humid as well. We followed the GPS pretty well until we came upon a road block. In the road were these stumps that can go up or down. These are my nightmare. I am always terrified that I will go over these while they are down and then they will rise and ruin the back of the car before I can get all the way across them. These stumps were extra ominous. They had red lights circling them and there was a red stop light next to them that never turned anything but red. I got scared and at the stumps, which were only like half a block from what the GPS was calling our destination, I made a right turn. I found a place to stop the car and send the husband on foot to find the hotel. I parked the car on a square behind some construction stuff. I waited and waited there. A lady came up to me and said something in Italian. I didn't understand so I just said "Tourist" and she left. A bit later another lady came up to me and she spoke English. She explain that she was the police and I had to move the car. I didn't want to move the car because then I risked losing my husband so I told her that I had to wait there. She said I could stay for 5 more minutes then I had to move. I got all stressed out again. I willed my husband to come back to the car. About 10 minutes later he came back. He said I had to go BACK to the stumps and some guy would take my car and park it.

Sounded pretty simple. Of course it wasn't. The crazy streets in that town sent me literally an hour around Florence. The GPS sent me through all sorts of streets. Some of the places it told me to go were the wrong way on one way streets. Then you add to it the construction that was going on and you get a very confused Airplane Food Critic. The husband waited for me at the stumps with the car parking guy. it took about an hour until we were reunited but it finally happened. It would have saved so much time if I had just parked at the stumps but they are so ominous and scary! We walked the last few meters to our nondescript hotel. I don't know how the hubs found it. There were no markings anywhere and the sign was inside a doorway and even that was difficult to read. No matter. We had arrived at the Hotel Le Stanze del Duomo. You can see the oddly geometric shaped Baptistery from the doorway. We went up a couple stories on the stairs because the elevator was broken and found our room.
Florence, Italy

We were so hot and frustrated and tired by the time we got to our room. We tried to relax and cool off but the room was situated so that you had to use your key card to turn on the electricity. So there is no way to have air conditioning on when you are not in the room. This made the room as hot as it was outside. We were this close to asking for a new room when we finally got the air to work. It was much later in the day than I had planned on my itinerary so we had to rethink what we were going to do the rest of the day. I wanted to see the Boboli Gardens, walk across the Ponte Vecchio and watch the sun set from Piazza Michelangelo. We decided to fan all that and check out the Museo d'Academeia and see how long the lines were to see the statue of David. The lines were long. Way too long for us to make it in before closing time. We wandered the outdoor leather markets instead. People were all hollering at us trying to get us to stop at their booth. Many were rude and pushy so I just tried to ignore them. Then some of them would get mad that I ignored them and would say more rude things to me. It was like walking through the streets of downtown San Francisco.

We decided we didn't have time for any museum or anything so we walked down to watch the sun set over the Ponte Vecchio. The streets were so crowded with people. There were dogs, children, taxis, pedestrians and bikes all rallying for space on the street. We crossed the bridge, turned around, took some photos and headed back towards the hotel. We figured we should just get food and go to bed. Maybe tomorrow will be better. My phone told me that it is supposed to be 7 degrees F cooler tomorrow. Since we couldn't get any sightseeing in today I knew we would have a massive day tomorrow. We sat down at the first restaurant we saw. It was a very good meal. That made us much happier to be there. I had Gnocchi in Gorgonzola sauce, he had mushroom and ricotta ravioli in truffle cream sauce. We split a caprese salad. I ordered a Campari and soda. The husband got a HUGE glass of lemonade that needed two hands just to lift. It all hit the spot so well. We were in such a better mood after that. The night had cooled the air a bit so we took the long way back to the hotel. I got a gelato. I recall from 30 years ago that the best gelato I had ever had in my life was in this city so I was excited. The smallest cone I could get at the store we chose was as big as my head. I got a scoop of nut flavor and a scoop of cream and we split it. But really I ate the whole thing. It had to be eaten quickly because of the heat, it melted immediately. Before too long I was drinking ice cream soup out of the cone. It wasn't as good as I recall from when I was younger.

The streets were lined with all sorts of clothing and shoe shops. I think Florence is some sort of fashion place. The shops were open all day but at night they act like they are night clubs. Some of the stores even had lines of people going out the door and around the block. Most stores had a DJ standing either outside or in the window display. It was a bit comical. What is so interesting that there are lines out the store? A new release of a scarf? Some DJ's were rocking out to their music and we laughed at them. I mean, they are at a clothing shop. But then we saw other DJs who were totally bored. I think we laughed at them even more. Poor things.
Sun setting as seen from the Ponte Vecchio

We happened upon a piazza that was full of vendors in the middle and along the outside were all these statues. The statues were free to look at. You could walk right up close to them. The vendors were selling crazy light up things. I still don't know who would buy this stuff but at least these made the square look really cool. Some of the lights were these laser things that lit up the ground  like a nightclub. The others were these little ball things that they slingshot 8 stories into the air and they spin back to the ground. There is no practical use for them in one's daily life but it looked really cool to walk by. There is a statue of Perseus holding the head of Medusa. It was a statue I had really wanted to see. We got to walk around the whole thing, enjoying it. There were about 10 more to look at as well. They all had flood lights on them so we could really study them. They were so so well done. After wandering around all those, we found the Baptistery and thereby our way back to the hidden hotel. I wanted to buy some Grappa for the room but the store near our hotel was too expensive. I will try harder tomorrow to get some.

The room, once the air conditioner has been on for a couple hours, is very nice. It is super spacious. We had a large, four poster bed. There were curtains draped across the top and down the sides. The room had an extra, twin bed which we used to spread out our bags and souvenirs. There was also a plush, red chair in front of a little table. On the table was a massive basket of all sorts of fruits like apricots, apples, plums, pears, kiwis and more. There were also two coffee cups, a kettle and plenty of coffee. We took cold showers and felt super refreshed. We watched some TV on the tablet until we fell asleep. Good thing we got some good sleep because we have a big day tomorrow.

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