Posts tagged ‘Italy’

Pisa de Résistance

The morn when first it thunders in March,
The eel in the pond gives a leap, they say;
As I leaned and looked over the aloed arch
Of the villa-gate this warm March day,
No flash snapped, no dumb thunder rolled
In the valley beneath where, white and wide
And washed by the morning water-gold,
Florence lay out on the mountain-side.
Old Pictures In Florence — Robert Browning

A Leaning Tower in Pisa Florence: the birthplace of the Renaissance, once one of the richest places on earth back when it was a trading and financial centre, now considered to be a World Heritage Site… with crumbling streets and, annoyingly for myself and Vicky, a hotel which was now a building site – the very hotel we’d booked for the night of our next stop. Ooops!

But first…

Setting off from Venice in the pouring rain our intention was to drive to Florence and spend the afternoon walking around taking in some of its history. Sticking to the fast roads, as we have mostly done since leaving Split, we spent much of the journey on Autostrada del Sole (literally “Motorway of the Sun”). Obviously this piece of trivia is of little interest in and of itself and I wouldn’t have bothered but for the new stretch of the route, the Variante Di Valico.

Built with the aim of reducing to travel time through the Apennine Mountains (and thus fuel consumption and pollution) this ‘bypass’ only opened fully on 23rd December 2015. It is 66.6km in length, of which 49% runs through tunnels, 18% on viaducts with the remaining third not needing any assistance. The longest tunnel on the route is approximately 8.6km long, had a working face of 180m² and required 10.2 million m³ of material to be removed.

That’s not a bad feat of engineering.

Pisa Cathedral at night Arriving in Florence we couldn’t find our chosen hotel until one of us (me) got out and went looking for it on foot. What I found was a sign on a wall outside of what was more of an apartment block undergoing renovation than a hotel and certainly no sign of a reception desk. Upon communicating this to my driver it was decided that it would be a good idea to cancel the booking and look elsewhere… an approach which lasted until we were reunited in the car and I threw out the suggestion of trying Pisa instead.

The driver considered this, decided it was acceptable, and so we found ourselves, less than a couple of hours later (including time taken to book a new hotel), standing outside of a campanile with a rather bad list. However as nice as the tower is, we were both of the opinion that two of the other items in the complex, namely the cathedral and the baptistery, are much better.

Breakfast at Slovenia

The plan we decided upon as we weathered the storm on Saturday night was to find somewhere in stop in Slovenia to break our fast and post the blogs about the previous day (our overnight accommodation being somewhat deficient in the wi-fi department) before continuing to Venizia and staying the night there (instead of our original destination of Isola Albarella).

A view of Venice's Grand Canal Since the underlying theme of this trip is contrariness things didn’t entirely happen like that. Breakfast in Slovenia became stopping for coffee which became leaching off the wi-fi of a closed cafe because we couldn’t find anywhere in the country that was open along the route of our brief traversal of it. Add in it being wet and it is safe to say that our first impressions of the country were not positive. On the plus side, crossing the border from Croatia (which is not yet in the Schengen Area) was pretty much a matter of waving our UK passports under the noses of the, as usual, humourless officials. Freedom of movement is great, shame about the political crap which is layered on top.

With Vicky insisting on doing all of the driving today, I was reduced to just watching the road go by until we fetched up in Venice. Whilst we didn’t see many other nationalities on the road in either Croatia or Slovenia, once we hit our third country of the day (Italy) this did start to change with vehicles from UK, Austria, Hungary, Bulgaria, Croatia, Slovenia and Ukraine spotted as we drove along.

A view of Venice's Grand Canal Venice, even at the beginning of March, is not short of tourists so I shudder to think what it would be like at the height of summer. With its narrow streets it is perhaps how I imagine London was before the Great Fire swept through and Wren’s rebuild ensured that wider streets became the norm. Our stroll around part of the city allowed us to take in some of the sights, including a Vivaldi museum. There are certainly no shortage of tat shops, with the occasional high-end one for the discerning collector of junk but, beyond a postcard, I declined to enter, let alone spend money, in them. Given their number we did wonder how any of them manage to make any money.

Dinner was in a perfectly acceptable restaurant on the other side of the canal our hotel overlooked but, when looking for a bar after dinner, we discovered that at high tide some of the streets becoming a touch wet underfoot. Luckily for me the heels I was wearing were platformed and this saved me from the worst but others weren’t so lucky.