Contiki Tour in Italy – Pisa and Florence

This is the second part of my Contiki Europe tour diary.

SATURDAY, 30th August. Left camp early – 8.30 and then drove along the coast towards Italy. The countryside is very hilly with terraces for glasshouses (flowers) and some other crops. It was very foggy in the morning but still warm.

Once we had passed the border we started passing through many tunnels on our way to Genova. We had a competition to count the number of tunnels to Pisa, however this turned out to be difficult as we kept falling asleep! The day was really starting to get warm. I saw a number of houses and apartments set on the high valleys and hills along the coast. Many of the houses are a yellow ochre colour.

We finally arrived at Pisa after 152 tunnels at 3.30 pm where we had a 45 minute stop to see the leaning tower. It really is a tourist place as there is a whole street of tourist shops. However we paid our 1000 lira ($1) fee to climb up to the top. It was quite a sensation of climbing as the gradient of the steps kept changing as well as being very narrow. When I reached the top I took quite a number of photos including a view of the local countryside. The one thing that disappointed me was the amount of graffiti inside the tower itself.

From Pisa we travelled to Florence on the main motorway passing through many toll gates. This is Italy’s way of paying the maintenance on the roads, and from Pisa to Florence (Firenze) the total cost was $A20. Our stop-off point was the Piazza de Michelangelo which was extremely crowded with people, coaches and youths on mopeds. Our coach was parked there and we had to walk to the villa which is a grand place used by Contiki. We had a swim before dinner and quite a number of us had an early evening while others partied on in the bar and disco.

SUNDAY, 31st August. We started the day early with a guided walking tour of Florence. Our guide was a most enthusiastic English girl who obviously enjoyed art and was able to share her enthusiasm with us. She showed us a collection of statues by Michelangelo including the statue of David. Other statues included the “Pieta” and six statues of prisoners. There were a few oil paintings in the museum as well.

Statue of David by Michelangelo

We were shown the church which is the 3rd largest in the world. Morning service was in progress and I heard the most beautiful singing. Opposite the church is the Baptistery of San Giovanni with the “Gates of Paradise” – bronze doors sculptured by Ghiberti in the 15th Century.

Then our courier took us to Leonardo’s leather shop where I bought a small leather box and had my initials put on in gold. Others bought leather coats, wallets and shoes. We were also given a demonstration of hand tooling of leather and gilding, as well as what to look for in buying leather. For lunch, some of us went to a small restaurant and had pizza and a most beautiful gelati ice-cream. A girl in our group had her purse grabbed by a gypsy beggar and lost about $50. In the afternoon I went walking and climbed the bell tower and had a spectacular view of the city.

From there I went to the Ponte Vecchio with all its streetside stalls and then past the Forte Belvedere down a very steep road. We had to ask a shopkeeper for some directions as we seemed to have strayed from our intended route. We also went through the Petit Palace grounds and gardens on our way.

When we reached the villa I did my washing and then had a swim. As there were so many people in the pool, we organised relay races. In the evening we went to a restaurant in Florence and had pasta, salad, meat dishes and an ice-cream cake with a chianti wine throughout the meal. We had the most fantastic singing session after dinner much to the amusement of the other diners present.

Later we pranced down to the Red Garter wine-bar where we danced to two different bands – a rock group and a bluegrass trio. The local Italian men descended very quickly on some of the girls in our group. One of the Red Garter’s specialties is a long drink called a “Zombie” and at $1.50 is very potent. The whole group was singing along to a variety of songs including a Hebrew song which made the six Israeli girls in our tour very happy. I can’t remember when I last had an evening of such good fun.

MONDAY, 1st September. We packed up at the villa rather early after 4 hours of sleep. We had the morning to ourselves so I visited the bank and also queued in the post-office for 40 minutes to buy stamps. The service was terrible! [Because of the time wasted in the post office we missed visiting the Uffizi gallery because it closed at 12.00. I vowed not to waste valuable holiday time buying stamps for postcards!] .After that ordeal we visited the baptistry of the church and I was most impressed with various tombs along the floor. You could see where the floods had damaged the frescoes along the walls.

We then met back at the bus which was parked next to the very green and dirty river. There were people even swimming and fishing. The day was hot probably 26° and we had our lunch of bread rolls (again!) before departing for Rome. On the trip we were singing songs including the Australian classic ‘Come on Aussie, C’mon ON” and “Have A Go”. [I dont recall what Have A Go was. Any ideas?]. We arrived at camp about 4.15 and after dinner we went for a night tour of Rome with stops at the Piezza Navona and the Trevi fountain. There were many stalls in the Piezza including bootleg cassettes which were very cheap ($3).

Spanish Steps – Rome

The camping ground we stayed at was : (Coli septa) Camping Seven Hills Via Cassia Phone: 376 5571 (13km from the city)

Click this link to continue the journey in Rome and Venice.


3 responses to “Contiki Tour in Italy – Pisa and Florence”

  1. […] is a continuation of the post about Pisa and […]

  2. Very enjoyable reading this,lots of good description. Italy is a fun country to visit and you and your tour group had a good time too. Viva Italia! Good food and wine, fantastic art. Nicely constructed travel writing.

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