We left the campsite in Levanto with our sights set on Northern Tuscany. We hopped back on the autostrade motorway. No doubt the coastal road would have offered more beautiful scenery but the stress of the tiny roads and hairpin bends wasn’t worth it. The motorway stayed true to the coast anyway so we occasionally got a glimpse of the med and seaside towns as we whizzed passed. I had no idea that the majority of Italy’s motorways were toll based. Whilst they are less expensive than in France, they continue to add up and the quality of them is so poor, with huge potholes and cracks that rumble and shake the van as we drive. The drivers here are absolutely mental. Italians have a tendency to drift between lanes with no indication, cut corners wildly and drive directly at you with complete disregard for right of way. There is no discipline whatsoever and Gary has had to swerve and beep to avoid scrapes and clashes.
We were heading for Florence but decided to stop by Pisa for a smash and grab look at the tower. I’m sure we didn’t give the city enough time to fully impress but I’ve been here before and found Florence to be superior in beauty and interesting architecture. We found motorhome parking (sosta) about 3km out of town so parked up and walked back into the city.
The Piazza dei Miracoli was absolutely rammed with tourists and vendors selling selfie sticks. Everyone was posing for photos, trying to perfect the classic shot of holding up the leaning tower of Pisa. It’s such a cliche but we soon lost our inhibitions and joined right in, with varying degrees of success. Unsurprisingly my lack of spatial awareness and perception proved challenging in getting any photo where I looked remotely close to sustaining the weight of the tower. Gary’s efforts were better.
The 56 meter tower took over 200 years to build and was already listing when it was unveiled in 1372. Before considerable restoration efforts it was 4.47m out of plumb, which is more than 5 degrees from the vertical. Its hard not to be impressed by its wonky beauty and decoration.
The piazza is also home to Pisa’s Romanesque Duomo, or cathedral which stands out with its pink and cream marble bands and stunning dome.
The baptistry where Galileo Galilei was baptised is also here. We had a couple of hours strolling around and grabbing lunch before heading back to the van. We continued east to Florence and settled at a campsite about 6km outside of the city.
The next day we caught the local bus into Florence which was refreshingly straight forward and punctual. Despite being Tuscany’s largest city, Florence is fairly compact, so we tackled it on foot taking plenty of water breaks out of the seriously hot sun. Florence is a heavyweight when it comes to museums and art galleries, boasting world class Renaissance art. Given our short time here and the fact I’d been to the Uffizi gallery before, we decided to forgo the long lines for museums and get a flavour for the city by following our noses.
We meandered from piazza to piazza, marvelling at the incredible architecture and romantic, narrow streets. At every turn was an old building or medieval church or tower more beautiful than the one before it. A map was barely necessary because we’d stumble from sight to sight, discovering lovely little alcoves, wine bars and boutique shops along the way.
We took in the incredible Cathedral and bell tower which dominated the cityscape.
The pink, white and green marble facade is so elegant and unusual and the sheer scale of the building is breathtaking.
We then headed for the market which housed fresh produce on the ground floor and an awesome array of food stalls on the first floor.
We grabbed a table and a waitress took our drinks order but food was self service. The amount of local dishes we wanted to try was unreal but we plumped for yummy tortellini with burrata and fresh tomato sauce and beef slow cooked in Chianti.
It was so tasty and the market had a lively atmosphere. We also found a huge shop dedicated to Lindt nearby and couldn’t resist picking up a few goodies. Their chocolate balls are addictive and they had a load of limited edition flavours like mango and white chocolate.
After lunch we walked to the Piazza della Signoria which is host to a fortress palace called Palazzo Vecchio with unique crenellations and a replica sculpture of Michelangelo’s David.
Less highbrow is the Gucci museum just around the corner that tells the tale of the infamous fashion house.
We popped into the adjoining boutique for a gawp at the ostentatious loafers and insanely expensive silk dressing gowns before side stepping out hoping not to break anything. We stopped for a quick coffee and cake which was the perfect opportunity to try a cannoli which is an Italian pastry with rich ricotta filling. It was sumptuous and decadent.
Our last major stop was to take in the incredible view of the city from Piazzale Michelangelo. The vast square sits on top of a steep hill on the other side of the river.
This side of the city has a lovely feel to it with neighbourhood cafes and bars and quirky street art. Gary really liked spotting the road signs that have been altered by a French artist called Clet and I loved these designs.
We walked back to the bus stop, crossing the Arno river via the Ponte Vecchio bridge which was the only one to survive destruction during German forces retreat in 1944.
It’s lined with fancy jewellery shops on both sides and has beautiful views. We stopped by the bronze pig which supposedly delivers good luck to all those who rub its snout.
We clocked well over 15,000 steps on our Florence day out which felt like more in the sun and busy crowds but we were really taken by the city and would love to return again.