Tuscany (Part 1)
After circulating thunderstorms in the vicinity of Birmingham International Airport caused delays on both arrival from Edinburgh and our subsequent departure, we landed in Florence a half hour later than expected, stepping out onto the dusty tarmac and being overwhelmed by a wave of hot, hot continental air.
The hire car collection went smoothly and then we had the fun experience of engaging with the mid-afternoon traffic of Florence for a drive around the city to our hotel. I think in the end we only had to do one extra circulation of a roundabout and missed just one turn to get to the Via Michelangelo.
The hardest part of the whole affair was finding the hotel and the parking opposite, both of which had switched about in my head since looking them up on Google Maps. Eventually, after a few passes and minor excursions down side roads we spotted both the hotel and the parking area and were soon installed in our high ceilinged room in the Hotel Liberty, a cool oasis away from the much busier city which was a 20-minute walk away.
After settling in we strolled up the Via di San Miniato al Monto, admiring the cypress trees basking in the warm afternoon sunshine, and made our way up to Piazzale Michelangelo where the views over Florence and down the River Arno were breathtaking.
A hot walk into the centre took us across the Ponte Vecchio and thankfully into a coolish trattoria where bowls of delicious local pici pasta and a cold glass of Peroni hit the spot nicely.
After dinner we wandered into the Piazza della Signoria and bumped into Alex, an old friend of mine from University, on holiday in Italy. Our way home led us back up to Piazzale Michelangelo for a final view over the city as the sun set. Despite the crowds and the selfies it was magical with the sound of a Hang drifting lazily through the hot, heavy air.
After a lovely continental breakfast outside in the garden of the hotel we checked out, left our bags in the boot of the car and set off into Florence for a half day of exploration. We hadn't pre-booked anything and so thought it unlikely we could get into the Uffizi or the Accademia. This proved to be the case. Rather we spent a pleasant albeit hot morning wandering the streets of the city, taking time out to sit in shady spots and admire the beautiful architecture
We crossed the Arno and headed to the Duomo taking the time to see it from all sides, its smooth black and white appearance from a distance belying the incredible details adorning every surface and angle.
Around the corner in the Piazza della Signoria we paused by the replica of David whilst a renaissance reenactment troupe marched through the square.
We then took a quick walk down to a section of city wall and then past several other churches, including the Chiesa di Ognissanti, the Basilica di Santa Maria Novella and had a seat outside the Medici Chapel before enjoying a panini lunch and then a walk back along the river. Along here we stopped in a little cafe and had our first granite - a beautifully refreshing crushed ice with fresh lemon drink that was absolutely delicious and very cooling.
After collecting the car from by the hotel we enjoyed a drive south out of Florence on the fast but relatively quiet Raccordo Autostradale Firenze - Siena. Eventually we left the main road behind and wound our way up the hill to San Gimignano, its towers a spectacular sight, before dropping back down slightly to find the entrance to the Torre Palagetto and the Agriturismo Niccolai where we would be staying for the next two nights.
After checking in, finding our lovely room and saying hello to those who had arrived already we had a quick dip in the pool before heading up into the village for an evening meal.
The evening was beautiful; warm and sunny with a hint of a breeze. We walked up the road to the village and then followed the main street through to the Piazza della Cisterna where we found a table at the Albergo Cisterna. I had a delicious steak with rosemary. Afterwards we got gelatos and walked up to the Piazza del Duomo, eating our ice creams whilst the local kids ran around playing football, watched over by their mothers and the old men of the village arranged on chairs below a portico.
After a fantastic breakfast at the farm with plenty of fresh coffee, pastries, cheese, fruit and cold cuts of meat we headed up the road and into San Gimignano for another look around before the wedding later in the day. We were early enough to beat the majority of the tourist coaches.
We wandered around some of the narrower, quieter side streets, eventually winding our way up to the main square and the duomo.
Behind it rises the Torre Grossa, the highest tower in San Gimignano. We paid our entrance fee and made our way up the long staircase inside the tower which culminates in a narrow, near vertical set of steps to finally emerge beneath the bells at the top. The views were spectacular and we spent a good while looking out over the pan-tiled roofs of the village and off to the surrounding Tuscan countryside, the hills green and the skies a dusty blue.
After a careful descent of the tower we had a look around the small museum and then found a quieter cafe off the main street around the corner from the Torre Grossa for a refreshing and light salad lunch accompanied by a coke.
Then it was back down to the farm with Leslie stopping on the way to buy a fan in anticipation of a very hot wedding ceremony to come.