Thursday, May 5, 2011

Italy Part IV - Florence, La Spezia & bye bye bike_

So I had planned to stop in Siena on the way to Florence but um, missed the turn off! Oops... no need to turn back, must not have been worth it anyway I guess - I love that I can chop and change as I like with this trip, and when things like that happen I just take it as a sign, and move on accordingly!

Florence is gorgeous though. A pain to ride in, as with all Italian cities (!) but absolutely stunning when you finally get to settle and see it. The first night I arrived was freezing (mental note: buy scarf, gloves and beanie to prepare for the cold that will be Holland!), but I was starving and it was getting late so went for a walk to try and find some food... the only place I found was an awesome little restaurant right on the Duomo which stayed open a little later for me than normal so I could enjoy a massive bowl of pasta and half litre of vino rossi! The locals in Florence are much much nicer than I experienced in Italy so far - I can't help but think the beautiful surroundings and being forever under the Tuscan sun have something to do with their moods...

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The Tuscans really do seem to do it right... their attention to detail in everything they do is very obvious, not more so than the brass doorbell panels on each building... I found them so beautiful and made me just want to press them all! The south side of the water across Ponte Vecchio ("Old Bridge") is an absolutely beautiful area filled with dark and moody restaurants and wine bars and shops and galleries and more... I spent a load of time just bouncing between each of them, staying in some (*ahem* wine bar *ahem*) for longer than others... This side of the bridge to me feels like the "real" Florence (or "Firenze" in Italian) where the locals come to play. It reminded me a lot of the great places I love at home.

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I'd have to say, and it's a tough call, but I think Florence is my favourite Italian city. The food, the landscape, the people... it really is for me - I could totally see myself living here!

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I loved it so much actually, that after a horribly rained out attempted visit to the Cinque Terre, I decided to go back. Not before spending a good few days in La Spezia (the main town near Cinque Terre) just relaxing, cooking, eating, drinking red, and reading! A good way to recharge the batteries in preparation for my next leg of travel off the bike, as well as make some more plans...

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I had already decided I wanted to head home for Christmas and surprise the family, but had to make all the arrangements with the airline etc. So after a bunch of phone calls with British Airways - who were very very helpful by the way - it worked out that it was cheapest and most convenient to fly home on and arrive on Christmas day!! So for just 70 Euros, I changed my flight and planned exactly that! It was incredibly comforting to discover later as I was writing in my journal that the day I confirmed by return to Australia, was exactly one year on from the day I decided to take this trip in the first place!!

Next stop, Pieve di Cento... "where?" I hear you say.... allow me to explain..

I knew all along that the bike would be tough to travel on in winter, and when I realised I wouldn't actually be able to stay anywhere even close to warm in Europe, I knew I had to do something. Plus, knowing I would be going home, I needed to find somewhere to store my bike for a few months whilst I travelled in the cold, and before I finally headed to Sydney summer in late December! That somewhere came in the form of Eugenio, a 50-ish year old biker who I found online via Couchsurfing ("a worldwide network for making connections between travelers and the local communities they visit"). A few broken English/Italian messages back and forth and it had been arranged that I would arrive in his tiny town of Pieve di Cento about 40kms out of Bologna, stay with him, and when it was time to leave, put my bike in his elderly parents garage for "as long as I like"!!

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Aside from the fact that I didn't have much time to stay with him, it couldn't have worked out better and he was so so so helpful!! We took my bike to his parents and prepared it for storing, then after introducing me to his very Italian parents (think Italian Mumma in the kitchen wearing an apron, with beautiful weathered skin and a beautiful smile, pinching your cheeks... you might get an idea of it!), Eugenio took me out with two of his three kids, Martina and Luca for awesome pizza - and paid for it! On top of all of this, then allowing me to leave all my biking gear in his unit, he got up with me at 4am and drove me to Bologna airport (40 minutes away!!) for my flight to Morocco...

I was really bummed to not be able to spend more time with Eugenio and his family, especially given how good he was to me in such a short period of time - not to mention the fact he didn't know me from a bar of soap! - but took solace in knowing I would be returning eventually to get my bike... plus, I was kind of excited to be off to Morocco!! I had been in Italy for more than 3 weeks, until November 8th, so it was time to move on...

1 comment:

snjavister said...

I simply adore your photos.