Saturday September 9, 2017

It was sad saying goodbye to the Italian Riviera yesterday. We’d got to like strolling the narrow streets and wandering the stony beaches and admiring the colourful house-fronts and lying around the pool. But, as I keep reminding our group: we’re not on holiday, for goodness sake. This is a LEARNING experience … it’s ADULT EDUCATION … and we’ve got WORK to do!

So, despite threats of tears and even violence, our Mad Midlife Kiwis vacated their rooms, handed in their keys, and climbed, reluctantly, aboard our coach.

However, it wasn’t long before new highlights were tickling their travel taste-buds!

First stop was Pisa ­– which draws its fame today from an architectural project gone horribly wrong, but was once a maritime power to rival Genoa and Venice. We began our tour in a wide walled area known as the Piazza dei Miracoli (the Square of Miracles). And, believe it or not, the real masterpieces here were the impressive Duomo di Pisa (Pisa Cathedral) dating from 1093, and the ornately beautiful Baptistry (completed in the 1300s) – not the smaller, eye-catching bell tower, which was built later and decided soon after to tilt in a rather alarming fashion.

You can’t help noticing the Leaning Tower of Pisa, of course, because it really does lean – ominously – despite the endless, ongoing attempts to straighten it up. But, lucky Kiwis that we are, we didn’t just notice it – we got to CLIMB it (well, the fitter amongst us did), and enjoy the spectacular views from the top!

Next stop, less than an hour down the road, was Lucca, a lovely pearl of a city that visitors go gaga over. Hidden behind imposing Renaissance walls (the only town in Italy entirely surrounded like this), its cobbled streets, handsome piazzas and shady promenades make it a perfect destination to explore by foot – which is exactly what we did. And the gelatos (ice-creams) are to die for.

Final stop on yesterday’s agenda was the regional capital, Florence – a bustling cultural centre much-loved by Florentines and much-envied by the rest of Europe. And we got the feel of the place last night when we walked through the crowded streets to dinner at La Cantinetta del Boccanegra.

With a name like that the food’s gotta be good, eh – and it was superb!

Florence is home to the greatest collections of Renaissance art and sculpture in the world – and, this morning, we explored its highlights on foot and on horseback. (Okay, I’m lying about the horses – although that would’ve been fun! Maybe next time?)

This city of over 300,000 people is sliced by the gleaming River Arno and dominated by the vast Duomo of the Cathedral – still (600 years on) the largest brick-and-mortar dome in the world. The Galleria dell’Accademia has wall-to-wall paintings by the greats, and the city’s many piazzas feature stunning marble creations – including Michelangelo’s massive naked David. Around every corner are churches, markets, shops … and, on every street, throngs of tourists.

Florence (according to the travel-books) is the “beating heart of Tuscany” … a “medieval jewel worshipped by writers and artists throughout history as an escape for the soul”.

Escape for the soul? Having quickly fallen in love with this lovely city, I think we’d all say “Amen!” to that …

COMING UP: We’re off to eyeball Tuscany’s best-preserved medieval city: Siena … plus a famous tower-filled hilltop-town: San Gimignano. Try your hand at pronouncing that. And don’t change channels, whatever you do …

PEOPLE-NEWS: Our internationally renowned Quacky Yellow Ducks are already finding new homes as people get caught doing silly, embarrassing or hilarious things …

  • TRISHA ran away with our ‘Kiwi Ingenuity’ Award by using her bidet to take the swelling out of her feet. (I’ll leave you to picture the scene …)
  • WAYNE M took home our ‘Pole-Dancing’ Award following a head-on altercation with a rather solid pole in the Cinque Terre. Both Wayne and the pole are recovering nicely.
  • ROSS earned himself our ‘Don Juan’ Award ­while eating pizza tonight in a local Trattoria (restaurant). Someone was going around the tables selling red roses, and Ross (romantic to the core) bought one, much to the surprise and delight of his wife. But instead of giving it to her, Ross gave the rose to the waitress. Whoops! (Watch this space …)

Yours bloggedly – JOHN

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