We continued down the coast of Italy, catching the early morning train to Pisa. I must admit, we only had one goal with our short stop: see the leaning tower. We followed the swarm of camera-toting, flippy-flopping tourists to the town’s main attraction located in a large piazza. A poorly laid foundation and unstable ground has led to one of Italy’s most famous landmarks. Even after recent restoration work, the tower still tilts over 12 feet to one side. After an obligatory picture holding the thing up, we ate kebabs and made our way back to the train station, destined for Florence, birth of the Renaissance.
Once the capital of the Kingdom of Italy, Florence has a long and turbulent history. Established as a Roman settlement way back in 80 BC, the city began to really flourish in the 15th century thanks to the Medici family. The family commissioned works by Leonardo da Vinci, Michelangelo, and Botticelli, many of which are still on display in the city’s two world-famous art galleries: the Uffizi and the Galleria dell’ Accademia.
From the train station, we weaved our way through the old narrow streets, crossing the famous Ponte Vecchio and climbing the hill up to Piazza Michelangelo. The Piazza provided a wonderful view of the Duomo and Florence’s old city center.
Nearby, we checked into our hostel… rather, our tent that is. We would spend the next two nights in a permanently standing tent. After settling in, we headed back down the hill towards the Duomo. Unfortunately, the lines were ridiculous and we moved on. In a nice indoor market we bought some desserts and watched a guy cook massive pieces of Focaccia. Then we sipped on some Beers in a lovely square, watching people scamper about. Dinner in Italy doesn’t usually begin until around 7:30, a concept I was still trying to get used to. On this occasion though, the wait was well worth it. On a side street near the Duomo, we ate a three course meal of stuffed zucchini, ravioli, tripe, pasta with duck, and of course vino! If you’re ever in Florence, don’t miss Trattoria l’Oriuola. It’s seriously one of the best reasonably priced restaurants in Italy!
The next day, we skipped the overcrowded art galleries and rented some bicycles. A lovely path traced the Arno River’s every move.
We meandered down river before heading up a long, steep hill above Florence. Along the way, we took a break at a beautiful villa which sold olive oil and doubled as a resort. At the top of the hill lies Fiesole, an ancient Etruscan village even older than Florence. This small town once rivaled its sister that lay below the hill, however, the Florentines eventually conquered and sacked it. Nonetheless, it was a neat little village with several incredible ruins including a rather large Roman Amphitheater.
After a nice lunch, we flew down the hill, zipping around turns and pushing our rentals to their max speed. Near the main train station, we cruised around an impressive fortress called Fortezza da Basso. It seemed to house some exhibits and government functions nowadays. After returning our cruisers, we picnicked along the river and caught a fantastic sunset. On the way back to our tent, we wandered through an old lit up castle tower. From Piazza Michelangelo, the lights of Florence were romantic. It was Italy at its finest.