Florence and Pisa ItalySunday, April 13, 2014. The first real day of our cruise! And right away we were launching off on an important tour. After that experience of nearly missing the Rome tour, I wasn't taking any chances here. We were sure we were the first ones off the boat. The port wasn't even "open" yet - there was nobody at any of the various stations. The NCL tour busses sat in a row, but as we were on a non-NCL tour, we had to take a shuttle over to another bus area. However, there was no shuttle in sight.
Jenn hung out by the empty shuttle desk while I went and asked the NCL drivers. Apparently since we were on a tour we'd get a free ticket onto this shuttle, for a quick 5-minute ride over to the place the "other" busses were allowed to wait. Soon enough a shuttle bus showed up and we got on. It was really just around the corner to where the non-NCL busses were allowed to hang out - a run-down parking lot. The tour guide seemed like she might take off on the stroke of departure time, but she waited for one more shuttle run (which didn't have any new people for us) before we headed out.
It was about an hour bus ride to get to Florence. I'll make two comments here. First, none of the tour busses we rode on had bathrooms. Second, there are pretty much no public toilets ANYWHERE. You have to go into a restaurant and buy something to get access to their toilets. So, for example, on this tour she deliberately stopped at a gas station half-way there that she knew had toilets we could use, so we'd be safe at least that far. The photo is of that stop. Once we got to Florence, we wouldn't be able to go again until we split up for lunch and went to restaurants. If you're currently used to easier access to toilets, this is something to be well aware of.
So we stopped at the gas station where Jenn was thrilled to get Kinder Surprise Eggs. These are illegal in the US. They are chocolate eggs with toys inside. Since a kid could choke on the toy, our US laws don't allow it. In Europe they assume the kids won't stuff the entire egg down their throat and swallow the toy by accident.
On to Florence. I took 937 photos between my two cameras, just today, so it definitely is a gorgeous town. This tour guide used a radio, like the Rome guide, which was GREAT. It meant we could walk slowly, looking at things, and hear her descriptions even if we weren't right next to her. Again, with this being the Easter holiday week, it was crowded. Also, there was a marathon coming through Florence so we got to see that. Our guide warned us not to buy from the sellers "on the street" as they were illegal and should not be supported.
Billions of tourists here on every street, in every nook. Church-bells going off all the time because of the holidays. Everyone spoke English; many spoke other languages too. English was the common language. Everyone had cameras out taking photos of everything. Half of them had tablet-cameras with huge "view-finders". Interesting that in a way cameras are getting "larger". Gorgeous churches, gorgeous architecture, and statues everywhere.
She showed us how some people waited in line 2 hours to get into an exhibit while others walked right in because they'd bought in advance. We visited the various locations of the Room with a View movie / novel. We stood immediately beneath the window on the Ponte Vecchio over the Arno River :). We were EXTREMELY aware of pickpockets. They are just everywhere.
Florence was, of course, quite pretty. You go from street to street and see famous buildings and statues everywhere. It definitely helps if you study beforehand so you know what you're seeing and why it's important.
There were processions and music because of the holidays. I videoed one such procession.
We had lunch at a street-side cafe with streets so narrow that a car could barely scrape down past us. The meals are large, delicious, and they expect you to linger over them for hours. I believe mine here was duck tartare with truffles over a salad. Again, everyone speaks English. Heck, half the people you meet are tourists and the other half work in the tourist industry. The person next to us at the restaurant was from New York City.
Also, ignore what all the travel guides tell you. Don't order the house wine :). Order a named wine off the menu and get something delicious to go with your meal. It makes all the difference in the world.
They are not thinking about "handicapped friendly" at most of these places. Tons of stairs. The stairs to the bathroom in this restaurant were narrow, tiny, and spiraled up into infinity :).
When we were done with lunch, we did a bit more walking around and then headed back to the meet-up point. We saw a few more statues and fountains, and then as the rain came in we headed off to Pisa. It was about a half-hour drive and again no public bathrooms. You had to buy something at the local restaurant to gain access to the restroom. Jenn got some stuff at the local fast food place and then in we went. Yes, we did the normal "photo with the tower leaning against you" stuff :). Again, this whole thing is a tourist location. It's full of tourists all doing that exact same thing.
Rain came and went, so another point - bring a rain jacket and umbrella. Even if the weather forecast looks good. We brought rain jackets and were very glad we had them. Of course, the minute raindrops began falling every shop in sight was selling umbrellas :).
Then back on the bus and back to the ship! For dinner I had the cream of broccoli soup and then salmon with spinach (hold the potatoes). It turns out Jenn won the 500 free minutes at the internet cafe! Hurrah! :). She was quite happy. After dinner we hung out in the hot tub, then headed to the room.
I enjoyed Florence immensely. It was a giant tourist trap, but it was pretty. Jenn said this is the one place she'd really like to come back to, to spend more time there.
Canon EOS40D - 832 photos:
Florence and Pisa Italy Photos
Canon S100 - 139 photos:
Florence and Pisa Italy Photos
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