Our Italian Holiday – Getting to Florence

We had a very nice time in Venice in spite of the short stay there.  It was now time to set out on the next leg of our Italian vacation. We were heading to Florence (Firenze).

It was early in the morning when we started our walk towards the location where our bus was waiting for us.  We got our last sight of the Grand Canal partially lit up by the morning sun as we crossed over a bridge on our way on foot.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAWe passed the bus stand for commuter buses from the mainland.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAWe caught the Venice People Mover train from a building close to the bus stand for a short ride to the  Tronchetto parking lot where our bus was waiting.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAOLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERASoon we were headed off the island over the bridge paralleling the bridge for the railway line. The Ponte della Libertà (or Bridge of Liberty) was built by Mussolini in the 1930s.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA On the mainland we followed the railway tracks for a short while.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA We passed a stationary Frecciargento high-speed train. This one can get you from Venice to Roma in less than four hours. (BTW, there are faster train lines in Italy!)OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThen we were in the countryside and on the highway passing Padua and Bologna.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAOLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAAfter a few hours, including a couple of “il bagno” stops along the way,OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAwe entered a stretch of highway cutting through the Apennine mountain range, crossing from the eastern side of Italy to the western side.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAOLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAOLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThere were several impressive tunnels that the highway went through while crossing this range.  This highway is also a part of the European Union highway system with a European highway designation E35.  We saw European Union license plates on trucks from different parts of the continent.

We reached our destination for the afternoon, the province of Lucca in the Tuscany region soon after.  We stopped at the Fattoria Il Pogio vineyard just outside of the town of Lucca for lunch.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAOLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA We had lunch at the restaurant after an tour of the farm led by a rather enthusiastic lady. The last picture in this set is of an olive tree.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAOLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAOLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAOLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThere were other tour groups at lunch, which was accompanied by a few different bottles of wine produced at the estate.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAOLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAWe were offered a formal meal, something typical of many of the dinners we had in Italy.  We ate and drank heartily, and people were in a great mood after all was said and done.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThe rain had started to come down heavily by the time we reached Pisa for our next stop.  At the bus  stop in Pisa, we were surrounded by a number of people of African descent selling small items, including cheap umbrellas.  We bought one. It had a minor design issue but proved to be adequate for the task. There was also a minor emergency when getting people off the bus because many of them had make use of “el bagno” in a hurry, no doubt an aftereffect of the merrymaking that had accompanied lunch.  There was also the thought that crossed the mind that the impact of the leaning tower of Pisa would be enhanced by the state of mind that people were in.

The leaning tower, called the Torre de Pisa in Italian, is the bell tower for  a cathedral called the Duomo di Pisa. There is also a baptistry next to the church. The place itself is called the Piazza dei Miracoli (which translates to Square of Miracles) or the Piazza del Duomo. OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAIt was obvious from initial observations that the tower was really leaning (apparently about 4° at this time),OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAOLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAbut I got to thinking that, without a context, one could even make an upright tower look like it was leaning, depending on how one took a picture of the structure, or one could even take the picture of a leaning tower from a direction from which it might look upright.  Here it is being pushed upright with some effort.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAWe also spent some time in the cathedral.PB094050.jpgThe area at the entrance to the piazza was  filled with little shops selling knick-knacks and food and drink.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAOLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAWe visited some of the stores and had drinks to warm us up before heading back to the  trolley that was to take us to the bus that was waiting at the bus stand.

The drive from Pisa to Florence was relatively short.  We got to our hotel with sufficient time left for us to go out to get some dinner.  We found a nice place within walking distance.  The menu at the restaurant showed that one could order three courses for dinner, but they did not object to each of us buying only a single item on the menu from any of the course selections.  We could see that the meals were being freshly cooked in the the kitchen that we had passed to get to our seating towards the back of the restaurant. We retired back to the hotel after some good food and wine.

It had been a relatively long and wet day and we were tired.  It was time to crash out.

Read the next entry in this series of blogs on our trip to Italy here.

Our Italian Holiday – Arrival in Venice

We returned from our wonderful Italian holiday almost two weeks ago.  I have been unable to spend time writing about it until now because of preoccupation with other things.  There was the catching up to do after the long time being away, and also the preparations needed for Thanksgiving. I also decided to post pictures of the trip to my other website first, and that is still an ongoing process.  But I think I now have some time to try to catch up on my blogs.

First of all, I would be remiss if I did not note that one of the primary reasons we enjoyed the trip immensely was because of the organization that went behind the arrangements for the trip.  This time we booked a prepackaged tour with a tour company. The tour was extremely well thought out, with good attention to so many fine details, that in the end we came away with an extraordinary experience. Overall, the tour included a large number of tourists (a busload if you will) with people from many different parts of the US, and also including a couple from Australia.  We had folks in all age groups, including many young people from the New York to Washington DC region, some older folks from the south,  and also a couple who might have been in their seventies (who seemed to be involved in some sort of late life romance (purely my guess!)).  We ourselves were three couples from the Gaithersburg area, friends from church.

In addition to providing us with an unforgettable experience, the organizers of the tour took care of all our needs, and there was really not a single thing that we needed to worry about.  Everything went smoothly. The bus rides were comfortable. The hotels were great.  The daily breakfasts were excellent.  Additionally, they provided us with a few food experiences that were unforgettable (including musical entertainment and as much wine to drink as one desired).  Their tour guides in the different cities were very knowledgeable and experienced, and excellent in their interactions with the group.  Last, but not the least, we had an outstanding tour manager, Alessandro Ricciardi, who made everything fun while throwing in a few extras to make our experience even more unforgettable.  He was the consummate professional, doing everything to make us happy, doing a lot of unseen work in the background, while making all of his efforts look so effortless.  He was extremely knowledgeable about matters related to his country, and was happy to talk about his own life experiences in this context.  Great guy!

Our trip stared at Dulles airport with red-eye flight to Munich in Germany.  We were going to take a local flight from there to Venice (Venezia) the next morning. The group was excited about the upcoming trip.
OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAOLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThis was the aircraft that took us to Munich.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAAt Munich we got some bad news that our onward flight to Venice had been cancelled.  We got ourselves booked on an alternate flight later in the day.  This meant that we were going to lose some of the time that we had wanted to spend on our own in Venice.  But there was nothing to be done about this.  Folks caught up on their loss of sleep from the previous flight while waiting for the connecting flight in the airport lounge in Munich.
OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAOLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERABy the time we got on our way to Venice the sun was beginning to set.
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We got some good views of the city while coming in to land, and it was getting dark by the time we got on the ground.
OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAOLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAOLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERATaking the boat from the Venice Marco Polo airport (which is on the mainland) to the island of Venice was a unique experience.  The small boat moved with great speed following a pathway (highway!) for boats that was marked by pillars sunk into the floor of the sea on either side of it.  Any time we passed another boat going in the opposite direction our boat would get caught in its wake and bounce around somewhat violently.  All this was happening in the dark!
OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAOLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAWe had rooms in an old hotel along the Grand Canal.  (I realized later that almost all the buildings in Venice are old!)  The street below our window seemed to be somewhat busy that time in the evening.
OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAFortunately we had reached the hotel just in time for the introductory dinner. We met Alessandro and the rest of the folks who were going to be on our tour. We were also provided with additional information for the tour.
OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERABecause of jet lag due to the time difference between the US and Italy (nighttime in Italy is still evening time in Gaithersburg), it was not too late for us to take a walk after dinner.  We wanted to get a flavor of the city before the activities of the next day.

The unique thing about Venice is that because it is crisscrossed by canals, and because all automobile traffic stops close to the place where the bridge from the mainland reaches the city, there is no motorized traffic to be be encountered in the city.  You can walk freely on the streets.

We walked past small storefronts like this one for a little pastry shop.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAWe passed many shops set up in little shacks in the middle of the street that were selling small items for tourists.  Most of the shop owners seemed to be immigrants from different parts of the world.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAOLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAWe crossed over a few canals,OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAand passed by a few eateries that were open late.  Pizza and panini seemed to be the most common items to be found for a quick bite.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThen it was time to head off to bed and get ready for the adventures of the next day.

Read the next entry in this series of blogs on our trip to Italy here.