Sunday, 5 August 2018

FAMILY REVIEW: Tuscany (including Pisa and Florence)

PISA (and Livorno)

LIVORNO

After checking into our accommodation in Montopoli (between Pisa and Florence), we tackled Livorno which is south of Pisa. We had planned to explore more around Tuscany while we had a car but we were exhausted so we settled for a close, smaller city to explore. 

Livorno doesn't have it's own heading because, we could have skipped that city altogether. Granted, we only gave it a small chance but it was mainly a port city and didn't seem to have much to offer for us.

On our way out of Livorno, we did see a more beachy area of Livorno (as it's on the west coast of Italy) where it seemed a lot more crowded than where we went.

Livorno was ok but would probably never go back there.

While there, we saw this monument which was slightly disturbing... called Quattro Mori (Four Moors) depicting the victory over the Ottomans - in particular, the Moors - dark skinned Muslims from the African continent. Obviously, they are proud of the victory but the depiction of the moors with some looking clearly African in chains under this conqueror, was hard to look at. 

PISA

Pisa we decided to explore when we needed to return our rental car in Pisa city. Pisa does have a ZTL but luckily our rental car place was just on the edge of the city. 

Our first impressions of Pisa after dropping off our car was that it looked a lot like Verona but larger. It had a large river that seems to surround the city and we felt familiar yet unfamiliar when first seeing it.

Unfortunately, we didn't have much time to spend in Pisa as we were trying to time our bus return to Montopoli in the one of three buses that go through it (yes, inconvenient) so we basically went straight to the tower and back again.

LEANING TOWER OF PISA

We were fairly early to go and see the tower and.... it was still crazy busy and already blisteringly hot.

But it is a pretty sight to behold when you turn the corner and see not just the leaning tower but the area around it with the Pisa Cathedral and the Pisa Baptistery. The area is well looked after with lush green grass surrounding them with barriers around them that stops you from walking on the nicely kept grass. 

There are paths that lead you towards the Cathedral and Baptistery which you can walk around but you have to pay to go inside them. We did not go inside them.

The Torre di Pisa (Tower of Pisa) is not as tall as I had imagined it to be. It also is not leaning as much as I had thought - ok, I will rephrase that to saying that from certain angles it looks like it's not leaning as much. Certain angles and close up you could see the definite lean.

You can go to the tower and look around the area for free but again, you have to pay to go inside and up to the top. We also did not go inside or up... there are like 400+ stairs guys and I want to live.

Like I said, it was crazy busy so it is impossible to ever get a picture without people in it. You just have to do your best to squeeze into a gap to take your iconic kissing, pushing, kicking pose around the tower because you see everyone doing the same thing... so you might as well join them!


There are no seats to sit on but if you walk around the Cathedral, they have wide marble steps that everyone just uses as a place to sit and rest and a lot are in the shade.

I didn't see any public toilets around the monument but there is a McDonald's right around the corner from the Piazza where everything is and they have a toilet in there but you can only use their toilet with a receipt as proof of purchase of food or you have to pay a bit of change to use it. The toilet's are pretty bad so just get something to eat so you're not paying for the terrible toilets!

On our way home from the Tower, we were trying to navigate ourselves to a bus station. On the way, we made the mistake of not crossing at a pedestrian crossing but instead took advantage of the stopped traffic. Unfortunately, that lead to Hadrian having a run in with someone on a moped scooter! Thankfully, no one was hurt and the only injuries were scrapes to the arm. But that shook us for a little while and made us count our blessings!

MONTOPOLI (Capanne)

We chose to stay here purely because it was the cheapest for the amount of time we were staying in the area. However, the con to that was that it was basically in the middle of nowhere and you would be better off having a car to get to places like the supermarket and other necessary places. But we returned our car to be more budget conscious.

There are a few food places and other necessity places in the little town but the closest supermarket is a 30 minute walk (even though only a 5 minute drive). Luckily what we couldn't stock up on when we had a car, we were able to order from an online grocery delivery service. We ordered twice and they took two days to arrive but when you're stuck in the middle of nowhere, we thanked our stars we found this service or else we would have died.

So if you do choose to stay somewhere on a budget within the Tuscany region, budget in a car! 

The little township we stayed in though, was a nice place for us to recoup and re-energise for our next stop. We needed a big break from transits. It had a great community feel and when we ventured to the local playground, it seemed like every child in the town was there - but after 4pm because that is after everyone's afternoon sleep (not even joking).

Our accommodation was on the main road of Capanne and boy was it loud - all.the.frickin.time. From trucks to those horribly loud motorbikes at all hours of the day and night

Unfortunately, during this time I was unwell. It seemed like everything aligned for us to be "trapped" in a little township with no car, planning to recoup and re-energize and then my body shutting down. It knocked me out for nearly 3 weeks and even now, weeks later, I still have remnants of it. This was the first time we considered returning home as it wasn't your usual sickness that could be fixed with a spoonful of concrete. Thankfully the final days of our time there, I seemed to be strong enough to carry on and transit to the next adventure! A massive shout out to my two boys for their care and patience while I was going through this!


As much as we are grateful for the pause in our travels that Montopoli offered us, we were also glad to move on. We were ready for our next step and perhaps we were ready for a kitchen that had running hot water(!). 

FIRENZE (FLORENCE)

Before we left, we re-rented a car so we could explore Florence before we leave Italy and so we could get to the airport with our luggage easier - rather than depending on the very little public transport in Montopoli.

Ok guys, don't judge us but we tackled Florence on a Sunday - after Church - because we knew we wouldn't be in that direction ever again.

We did not park in the city but instead parked about 15 minutes away in free supermarket parking and used the tram to get into the centre of Florence.

Gotta tell you though, their ticketing system for their tram needs some work. All machines we came across to purchase tickets were out of order; the texting service that was supposed to make it easier to get a ticket was also not working. So we were rebellious and thought - screw it - let's see if we can make it to the next stop with no tickets. Then when we passed the next stop we rebelled and thought we might as well try and get into town without a ticket and sort it out there. And it worked (even though I was secretly sweating the entire time into town in case we were caught). And it happened on the way back too. No machines working, texting still not working, so we risked it again. We're such rebels, yo!

Once arriving into town, we wandered around as much as we could close to the tram station then thought we'd better actually plan where to go. But boy oh boy, was the heat intense. We looked like fools with our umbrella out for the shade but did it help? Of course. Did we look even more foolish when we brought out a small hand town and soaked it in water to get some relief? Yes, then too but did we care? Not one bit.


*WARNING* Another city packed during summer! Tourists everywhere... And did I say it was hot? Frickin hot.

But the roads in the centre were mainly closed to traffic (with the exception of taxis and hotel transfer vehicles) and they were wide for all the tourists that are expected. Shops are open until early hours of the morning or 24 hours (food places) to cater for them all. The streets are swept often and workers are making sure rubbish is collected. Florence seems like a well oiled tourist machine. You can hire a segway, bikes (from a lot of different places) and electric scooters to get around. If you have the budget, it would be a great way to explore the city - because there's a lot of walking to get to certain places dotted around the city. You can even hire a horse and carriage and be taken around like the Queen that you are!

And there are countless gelato shops so always stop at one in the heat... always... but not too much because they add up! There's also high end shopping all through the city too!

CATHEDRAL OF SANTA MARIA DEL FIORE

This Cathedral was amazingggg. It is grand and beautiful and reminded us of the Basilica San Marco in Venice. It is a central tourist area so you have to squeeze between people to get decent shots of it but if you stand in the shade outside it, you get to take in the amazing detail put into this Cathedral.

You can go in, but we did not. One, because we were sticking to our budget and two, the lines were frickin long.

Definitely worth seeing!

GALLERIA DELL'ACCADEMIA DI FIRENZE (Academy of Florence Art Gallery)

This is where the original statue of David is - the David. But, after researching getting into the gallery, I knew it was expensive and I knew the line would be long. The latter was an understatement - the line was crazy long around corners... in the sun.

I knew we wouldn't be going into the gallery but I also knew there was a replica of the statue outside somewhere so we ventured in that direction thinking it would be outside of where the original is. It was not. So we wasted our time heading in that direction only to see a long line we never intended to go into.

If you want to see the original statue, buy a ticket online before hand that should help you skip the line, print it out and bypass the suckers waiting in the sun. I had done enough research of that before deciding it was a no from us (and yes, you do have to print the tickets and cannot use your phone).

I also researched that the gallery is overcrowded and small and the only thing worth seeing is the statue.

So after reaching the gallery and not seeing the replica statue, we thought we'd better do some proper research as to where the replica is and of course, it was on the other side of the city *le sigh* (in my defense, I was still a little sick so my research skills were pretty weak).

*no picture was taken, we didn't go into it and I didn't take a photo of the long line of people because I was too busy internally laughing at them (in a non-mean way)*

MUSEO LEONARDO DA VINCI

On our way to the replica statue, we finally went into something and didn't just look from the outside! And this is what we chose... and it was worth it.

Small museum, yes. No long lines, also yes. Amazing learning about this great man, definitely.

So many things Leonardo studied and created that it can really put your life achievements into perspective... hmmm.

Worth going to. Highly recommend, just to see what Leonardo created.

Opening hours are 9:30am to 7:30pm with the last people let in at 6:30pm.

Entry costs are €7 for adults and children over 5. You can get a €1 discount if show a museum brochure, which we did. 

There are no toilets there nor air con but they do have fans scattered around it. Again, it is small but if you take your time through each exhibition, it could take you near an hour to get through it. 

Side note: There are two museums dedicated to Leonardo da Vinci in Florence. We only went to one - the one that is not Le Macchine di Leonardo da Vinci. And if you are 2 minutes away from a McDonald's, then that is the museum we went to!

MUSEO GALILEO

Ok - you have permission to judge us. We, for one, forgot this was even in Florence because we're getting older and so are our memories (and I was still sick, yo... *still milking it*). We only realised it was there once we were home and didn't have time to go back to Florence. But we all really love Galileo and wanted to go and see it - even trying to find a way to squeeze it in on our final days.

But then... Nathan found out you could basically see the entire thing on Google Maps on the street view. You can see the exhibitions, all from a screen! Cheating, definitely but we just couldn't fit it in - as much as we wanted to.

If you're in Florence, fit it in! Don't be like us. Galileo is worth going to learn more about.

PIAZZA DEL SIGNORIA




This is where the replica David statue is. So this is where we went! It's so weird making an effort to see a naked statue and not just making the effort, showing our kid?! So weird but everyone does it so we're all weird together!

This Piazza has a statue gallery showing a lot of naked people as well as a fountain of Neptune - which unfortunately was being worked on.

After taking photos of the naked people and some *gasp* clothed people statues, we were able to sit around a puppet show which was just what we needed to take a break from walking around.

A lot of things happening around here and a lot of things to look at. Worth making the trip if you wanna be weirdos like us and see naked people statues! Come on, join us!

__________

FINAL REVIEWS

H: It was good! It was quite interesting to see all these things that were made a long time ago. I really enjoyed the Leonardo da Vinci Museum because there were so many cool things that he invented and painted. The Leaning Tower of Pisa didn't lean as much as I thought it would but it was still cool to see something that had been slowly sinking into the ground. I liked Florence but I got sick of seeing all the statues because they all looked similar (but especially I hated seeing the naked ones - put some pants on, man!!!). 

N: Loved being in the Tuscan country, olive trees growing wild, endless fields of sunflowers and vines. I guess it has been slightly romanticized by movies like Under the Tuscan sun. We lived in a small village town in an old Tuscan style villa, with not a lot to do and mid day siestas were a real thing. It was good to get away for awhile. Montopoli is quite central to the main centres of Pisa and Florence and is good for a short stay but better if you have a car.  Italian drivers have always had a reputation for being aggressive. But when Hadrian was hit by a scooter it had gone past the point of being funny. Learn to bloody freaking drive Italians!!! The incident could've been so much worse and we were counting our blessings but it seriously made me appreciate drivers in Australia and New Zealand - at least some of us follow the road rules. Honestly though, I was glad to see the back of this place for a little while because of it.

T: Was I glad I was unwell while I was here? Nope. But was I glad it was at a time we didn't have much planned anyway and were basically trapped in a little town with no car anyway? Yes! It was perfectly timed to hit me. Tuscany had beautiful views of those typical Tuscan landscapes but you see a lot of it from a busy highway. Unless you go off the beaten track, you won't get your Tuscan instagram-worthy photo op. If we were not as budget conscious and if I didn't unexpectedly feel unwell, I would have loved to explore more of Tuscany as I know there are many places that are worth visiting. Would I return? Yes! But I would not stay in Montopoli without a car and perhaps not on the main highway. Tuscany was louder than we ever thought it would be so be warned about that! My favourite Italian city so far (tourist-wise) has got to be Florence. I loved it there. I would love to return and explore even more in the future! Highly recommend Florence!


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