Ciao, my dear strangers!
As some of you may already know, I’ve spent the first week of May in Tuscany. As I’m writing this, I am trying my darn hardest to be as objective as possible and mustering all of my strength to keep the word hellish out of this text.
Therefore, I will spare you the family drama and describe only the travelling part of my trip. At least, I’ll try to. No promises.
So, anyhow, our time in Florence was short, but sweet. Billions of tourists everywhere, queues that go on forever, lots of pushing, shoving and squeezing. Luckily, the weather was on our side. The days were warm and sunny, with temperatures never above 22°C, a nice cool breeze keeping you fresh all day long.
There’s a saying that all roads lead to Rome. Well, I’ve never been to Rome (yet), but I’d be pretty confident in saying that all roads lead to Florence. There’s something magical about it. My favourite parts were Ponte Vecchio and Piazza Pitti.
Ponte Vecchio is a vibrant bridge, full of little medieval details, trade shops and spectacular views of the river Arno. The surrounding buildings are colourful and add greatly to the overall feeling of class and freedom.
Piazza Pitti along with the palace of the same name is a vivid place full of backpackers lying in the Sun, having a nap or a snack, talking among themselves and relaxing. It is a wonderful place with a special sort of youthful energy and positive vibes that immediately take you in.
Another special place that deserves mentioning are the Boboli Gardens. This stunning park is filled with gigantic statues, fountains, secluded pathways and tropical fruits. It’s no more than ten minutes away from the bridge and other major sights, yet provides an oasis of peace and tranquility not that many tourists get to see. There are lots of benches and rest areas where you can sit down, unwind and recharge your batteries before continuing your journey.
Exploring museums and cathedrals is certainly never a waste of time and, if you have enough of it, I highly recommend visiting these, regardless of the city you’re in. However, due to the limited amount of time we had in Florence + other reasons (*cough* family drama *cough*), we decided to skip these and immerse ourselves in the city. And really, when I think about it, sightseeing is great, but nothing quite beats that time spent in aimless wandering through the streets of a particular city, just soaking in the atmosphere, people-watching, listening to different languages being spoken all around you and witnessing a heated argument between two hotheaded Italian grandmas.
That being said, we didn’t enter Uffizi or climbed the Duomo or explored the Accademia, though I plan on doing all those things the next time I visit Florence (which may just be this very summer).
One of the highlights of our trip were definitely the Piazzas, small or large squares that dominate the city centre and breathe a special kind of life into things and people. When you find yourself in the street, you walk. But, when you find yourself on one of these magnificent piazzas, you stop for a moment, look, breathe, soak in and generally try to memorise everything that goes on. My favourite ones were Piazza della Repubblica, Piazza della Signoria, San Marco, del Duomo, Pitti and Santa Croce.
Moving on. Next on our schedule was San Gimignano, an adorable medieval village, complete with high towers, cobblestone streets and a busy morning market. Everyone in Italy claims that exactly their gelato is the best one, the original one, the yummiest one… You get the idea. It is highly unlikely that you’ll end up disappointed, regardless what gelateria you choose to enter and leave your money in. But, if you want some guarantees, then head over to San Gimignano’s Dondoli Gelateria, home of Sergio Dondoli, the man who won the coveted Gelato World Champion title for his shop twice. It was quite crowded inside and we didn’t have a lot of time (or space) to explore the different tastes and aromas, so like a good girl, I chose the one recommended by our guide – a vernaccia flavoured gelato. For those of you who are not acquainted with the subject, Vernaccia is a prestigious Italian white wine (which we later bought a bottle of + a nice Chianti).
Ok, enough with dark humour.
Anyway, San Gimignano’s got a lot more to offer than just delicious desserts. Its Cathedral, main square and numerous towers are widely famous images (Tea with Mussolini, anyone?). The frescoes in the Cathedral are beautiful, though taking pictures and filming is prohibited. The bustle of the main market is an unforgettable sight, with elderly ladies dragging bags of groceries and chatting with their neighbours, fishmongers yelling at each other and butchers shoving their (best?) pieces of meat in your face.
Still, one of the most scenic parts of our short visit to San Gimignano happened way up in the hills. You take a cobblestoned route behind the market up, up, up, all the way to the lookout fortress. You won’t be disappointed, either by the view of Tuscan scenery or the numerous things you’ll see on your hike up. The one that immediately stood out for me was a peaceful, uncrowded garden abundant in olive trees where a Celtic-looking lady clad in a long white dress was sitting and playing the harp. With every string she pulled, the air would immediately fill with peaceful tones which had a calming effect even on kids throwing temper tantrums nearby.
And, away we go to Siena! Siena is another medieval Tuscan town split into various contradas – districts, each represented by a different animal. I liked Siena the best, probably because it’s more Tuscan-esque and less commercialised than Florence. It’s smaller and has a great atmosphere.
The main square, Piazza del Campo, is a breathtaking place surrounded with buildings that can only be described as giants of tasteful and vibrant architecture. Its narrow streets, complete with markings of specific contradas, tiny gelaterias squeezed between adjacent houses and rampaging students celebrating their graduation are an unforgettable sight, forever tattooed into my memory. I’m sorry we didn’t get to see the famous Palio horse race, but come July, I’ll definitely be watching it on Rai. There’s much I could say and write about Siena, but mere words pale in comparison to the real deal and it is my sincerest hope that everyone reading this will one day get to visit it. In the meanwhile, here are some photos to flare up your imagination and tickle your curiosity.
And, finally, we arrive to the last leg of my trip – Pisa. I’d like to say that there’s more to Pisa than just the Leaning Tower and I’d probably be right if I said so, but the truth is that I simply don’t know. We had less than two hours to spend in this town before heading on to the airport. That’s two hours minus two 15 minute walks from the bus parking lot to the city and back, minus endless minutes of waiting in the impossibly long queue for the loo, minus stopping every three minutes to let my Gran catch her breath, which all totals in about ~~~ half an hour? I’m not really sure, but I’d say about half an hour, give or take a few minutes. Therefore, there is no good advice for me to give on Pisa or write a list of recommended places to see in it. The best advice I can give you would be: travel on your own. Avoid tourist agencies as much as you can, since all they do is take a lot of money and rush you around without giving you enough time to properly see a place. Trust me, I’ve gone to a high school that specialises in tourism. I know how these bastards think.
There are several, quite unexpected, lessons I’ve learned on this trip.
- Family trips are overrated.
- I wasn’t made to go on organised trips, follow the guide’s yellow umbrella and be rushed around by a tight schedule.
- And most importantly: do the things you want to do as soon as you can. The sooner the better. DO NOT wait around for the “perfect” opportunity to arise. Want to learn Mandarin? Go! Do it! Today! Want to learn to swim? Start looking for a local pool NOW! Want to visit Indonesia? Book a flight RIGHT AWAY! Or, at least, as soon as you can. As soon as an opportunity arises. Not a perfect opportunity, but any opportunity. If you don’t, then you’ll quite possibly end up like my Gran.
I know I said I would try not to write about family drama, but then again, I made no promises. This is the thing: my Gran waited seven decades to visit the city of her dreams, a city that was a three-hour flight away from her home. For seven decades she waited and for seven decades she did nothing about it. She always kept waiting for someone to take her until, at last, somebody did, the year she turned 74.
When she finally arrived in Florence and breathed in that sweet Tuscan air, there were no more limits. At least not in her mind. She wanted to do everything. She wanted to visit every cathedral and explore every gallery. She wanted to try every traditional dish. I’m not kidding when I say that that woman ate four to five gelatos every day. The problem? Her body couldn’t keep up. Her asthma and overall declining health kept her from completely enjoying the trip. The shortest walks tired her out. She got a sunburn, couldn’t sleep well and suffered regular asthma/panic attacks. Soon, her frustration grew and poisoned the rest of us. Even tough we visited magnificent places and saw extraordinary things, none of us really enjoyed this trip that much. Her stress and frustration were too great for her to bear alone, so she began pointing fingers, accusing the entire world of holding her back. It got so bad, that she even began blaming my dad, her son-in-law, the very man who’d paid for her to go on this holiday.
It was both painful and difficult to watch her suddenly being confronted with all the failures of her life. She never graduated from Uni because she was too lazy to study. She never moved to Italy because my grandpa didn’t want to move and she was too scared to do it on her own. Her family suffocated her, so at the tender age of 20, she escaped into marriage and into yet another dysfunctional family that treated her even worse. And, all her life, she kept expecting for someone to rescue her and kept blaming everyone else for her misfortunes, never once pointing a finger at her expression in the mirror.
What I’m trying to say is – do the things you want to do while you’re still relatively young and have the energy to do them. Don’t wait around and don’t make a family vacation a living nightmare for your kids and grandkids by acting like a spoiled brat. Face the ugly truth – no one is coming to save you. No one is going to do the things you want to do for you. This life is 100% your responsibility.
That being said, I’ll leave you with a wise quote to ponder and, hopefully, even learn something from.
A book can teach you, a conversation can assure you, a poem can seduce you, a genius can inspire you, but only you can save yourself.
Ciao, my dear strangers. 🙂