Pisa – We only ever intended driving in, seeing the leaning tower and driving out again which is pretty much what we did having parked up in the coach park a short 10 minute walk away. It really is an impressive sight especially against the beautiful blue sky with very intricate carving. If you have time read up on the full history – interestingly it has always leaned since the first few storeys were built in 1173 but they carried on building regardless.
Florence – We stayed overnight in Montelupo Fiorentino, a small town on the outskirts of Florence apparently famous for centuries of ceramic production. We were keen to save on the stress and cost of driving into Florence which has strict emission controls and astronomical car park charges. With the train station just a short walk from the car park and the train tickets a bargain at €3.30 it also gave Dave a break from driving for a day. If you have unlimited funds to spend visiting the museums, galleries and churches I am sure Florence is a fantastic place but overall we were disappointed and it had an edgy money grabbing feel to it. The Duomo is free to enter but not particularly ornate inside – our guide book describes it as having ‘the ambiance of an assembly hall’ and it certainly is more impressive from the outside with its pink, green and white marble cladding. Ponte Vecchio is the famous 13th century bridge lined each side with expensive jewellery shops which overhang the river. I don’t know when the craze to attach padlocks to metal structures became popular but even this beautiful bridge hasn’t been spared this modern day equivalent of carving your(and your loved ones) initials onto a tree.
Venice – The rain and mist couldn’t detract from the magical atmosphere of the city. I had been here as a teenager many years ago but it was the first time for Dave and Gareth. We arrived on the Fusina – Zattere ferry direct from the campsite and just walked around the city for hours. We have now set an upper limit of €3 for visiting attractions so the free Violin Museum and the Naval History Museum at €1.55 both came within budget! We thought the public toilets in Florence were expensive at €1 per person – Venice topped that at €1.50 making the Naval Museum with it’s free toilets even more of a bargain. If you stuck with the first four floors of naval and venetian history (and we did!) there was an odd but very beautiful collection of thousands of sea shells on the top floor. Venice seemed very quiet - only once, in a small busy thoroughfare, did we feel what it must be like in the height of the season.The bars and restaurants were almost deserted and the gondoliers were plying for trade. The canals, bridges, side streets, markets and piazzas are all as you imagine and even in the low light there are photo opportunities on every corner.