Thursday, 25 November 2010

Italy by Road- Part 2 ( Florence and Pisa)

Second Stop-Florence (Florenzia)

By the evening of 16th Nov, we were in Florence, after a 280 km drive. Coming from the bustling Rome, which is a through and through metro city, Florence seemed a quiet, peaceful town. When in Rome, you can’t walk on the sidewalks without bumping into people, here you can’t find people to walk on the same sidewalk. My Dad says it’s because its off-season now.
We checked into Hotel Leonardo Da Vinci, which won my brothers’ hearts with welcome drinks (My brothers’ are big time fizz addicts, you see). It was already dark, so we decided to go for a walk around the city (it’s a very small city, you can cover it walking) and have dinner from outside. Now that’s another quirk of my family, food plays an integral role in our tours, the lack or abundance of which can affect our moods. All of us are absolute foodies and nothing can motivate us more than the thought of hot food waiting for us on the table. And thus, in my blogs too, it takes up a considerable chunk of my writing. That night we had Pizzas and Spaghetti from a Moroccan Hotel. By the end of the meal we were too full and too tired to do any more sightseeing or walking, so we hit the bed.
The next day we had time only till 3pm to do our sightseeing, we had to start to Pisa then. So morning 8.00 am we all had a scrumptious meal of croissants, cakes, and fresh orange juice (Another thing about the hotels here- They all serve excellent breakfast buffets. A good kick-start for us) we checked out of the hotel, put the luggage in the car and left the car at the hotel parking lot. We were going to walk around Florence. By then Shereef and Bilal had decided that they don’t want to come with us (they consider me boring and whiny L )
Hence, we started off to the Centro ( Pronounced Chentro). And before we even reached there, we smelt it. The place smells of leather! Florence is like the Agra of India, it is the seat of the leather industry in Italy. Centro is full of small shops selling leather jackets, tunics, handbags, leather bound diaries. They have beautiful stuff, but the prices are harsh on our pockets (or my Dad’s, to be precise).
 . Our whole day was spent walking around in the markets, bargaining with the shopkeepers till they shook their heads and gave up hope. And that is when I see it. The Leather Tunic. I fell in love with it. The shopkeeper was a Palestinian fellow. After all the salams and courtesies we got down to business. He gave me his best price for the tunic -140 (He was talking in Euros, of course). I shook my head and did the mental math-  Rs.8400- WAY out of my budget. With a sigh I left The Leather tunic there and, for fear of losing my resolve, walked out without a look backward. My Dad, sensing my mood, said we’ll try again in Jan when there is a huge sale and prices hit rock-bottom.

The thing I love about Italy, and what I’ll miss the most maybe, are the open air cafes and restaurants here. Here meals are a very relaxed affair. They spend hours on their spaghettis and Lasagnas, sipping on their wine. Wine is a part of every meal. Whichever restaurant we go to, the server always asks what we’d like to drink. We always answer with ‘Natural water, Thank you’ (because Dad once made the mistake of not checking the label and buying a pack of ‘Frizzante’ water from the super market. For days we had to drink soda when we were thirsty.) Italian food, except Pizza, doesn’t agree with me. Though the cheesy pasta, dripping with tomato sauce seems appealing, it never tastes as good as it looks. Their sea food, though, is exceptional . At a restaurant, my Mom was surprised to see Kalummakayi and kaka (Clam) dishes. We ordered Clam spaghetti and were impressed with the dish, so we ordered shrimp. It was as if they just caught shrimps, boiled and served it with vegetables ( My mom was saying-what a waste of prawns, or to be precise ‘ithu nalla masala ittu porichirrinengil….’) Experiences, Experiences!

After a day of shopping we returned to the hotel at 3.00 pm. We had told Shereef and Bilal to meet us there, but found only Shereef there. Due to a minor tiff with his brother Bilal had gone his own way and now he was lost. Shereef had no clue where Bilal would be. My Dad and Shereef went out in search of him, meanwhile Mom and I stayed back at the hotel lobby incase he turned up. For an hour my Dad searched all around the places we went. Finally, he gave up and gave a ‘Missing’ report to the Police. The Police there are very efficient, they relayed this information with his description to all the Police Stations there. Another hour went by and no news from Bilal or Dad. My mom and I were really tensed, we are talking about a 12 yr old boy with no phone, no map and little money, lost in a city where few people speak English. Also, it’s Nov, so the sunset is early- at 4.30 pm. Night will just make it tougher for us to search for him. Finally, after 3 hours, Master Bilal turns up. The poor thing, he had been walking in circles for 3 hours. He tried asking people for the hotel, but no one could give him directions. It was a restaurant we had seen near the hotel the previous day that brought back to him the route. After all the questioning and consoling got over we thanked the hotel manager, and started off to Pisa.

Third Stop-Pisa

The main attraction of Pisa is, obviously, The Leaning Tower of Pisa (or Pisayile cherinja gopuram, as my parents call it).
The Leaning Tower of Pisa actually leans! It leans due to its construction on a small foundation which caused one side of the tower to sink in. Due to the tilt, the engineers of that time added the top floors with one side taller than the other. The tilt of the tower kept increasing till a few years back, when restoration works stabilized it. Wiki has some fascinating facts on the tower, do check it out.
It is rumoured that Galileo did his famous experiment, involving  heavy and a light cannon balls being thrown off the top reaching the bottom at the same time, here( Please don’t ask me to go into the intricacies, Physics never was my strong point ).
After clicking loads of pictures in front of the tower we went inside the cathedral near the tower. As all other churches in Italy, this one too was beautiful. It was huge and had lovely sculptures made of marble. The ceiling itself was spectacular with intricate carvings. The windows were made of coloured glass and entire walls were covered with huge paintings. It is the stuff you read in novels, only more beautiful. 
Here too, there were a lot of tourists, especially from Asia. We even met a Malayali family from Bangalore, need I say more?

In Pisa we restricted ourselves to the area near the tower. We bought a few souvenirs from the vendors outside and then set off to Venice.
Ah, Venice! The last destination on our tour, and the best one. More about Venice will follow on the next post.


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