San Gimignano, Florence, Lucca, Pisa, Vesima
152 days away
231 miles / 372 km since last post
7,934 miles / 12,769 km total
There was some heavy rain in the night, but by the next morning (Saturday) this had cleared completely and the sun was out. We took the free shuttle bus provided at our camper stop into San Gimignano. It was another lovely Italian town. We were again thankful to be arriving outside of the main season as there were no crowds. There were some great local shops, and it was a pleasant stroll around.
We took a break in a cafe for a quick drink and took advantage of their free internet. We hadn't had internet for a few days now and we needed to get our last blog uploaded. It seemed a good idea to get a couple of spritz as well! Then we headed over to the main square for some lunch at a restaurant. The weather was still pleasant enough to sit outside, I played it safe with a tomato based pasta dish but Stu opted for a Tuscan wild boar stew. I tasted it too and it was delicious.
Also on the main square was a gelateria which billed itself as once being the world's best. We would have been stupid going elsewhere, so opted to taste their ice cream. It was really nice actually, and the pictures of famous people on the walls inside eating the ice cream here seemed quite justified. Even the war mongerer Tony Blair had his picture on the wall.
We took a gentle walk back through the town, to the pick up location for our shuttle bus, arriving in perfect time. Then once back at the camper stop, we headed off to Florence.
The drive to Florence was quite stressful. We had planned on finding a camper stop which was just a couple of kilometres out of the centre of the city, but I don't think we realised how big Florence was, and we found ourselves driving in the city a lot earlier than we expected. Added to this, we took a turning into a road which turned out to be very narrow. Not so much of a problem if during the day and with not much traffic, but at night with rush hour traffic it was absolutely no fun at all. At one point I just had to stop to allow cars coming the other way to get past. With all of the arrogant and aggressive Italian drivers behind me sounding their horns, it made for quite an unpleasant few minutes. Thankfully, just past this awkward part, the road started to widen out and the driving was less of a problem. The next problem however, was finding our camper stop. We found ourselves driving along the road where it was located, looking out for the entrance, but it never seemed to materialise. We can only assume that it must have closed down or something since our camper stop book was published. This left us with the issue, at around 7pm, of having to pull over and search for another place to stay. Stu found a free camper stop in our book, which wasn't too far away in Sesto Fiorentino. Upon arrival, it didn't look the nicest of places. It was right next to a main road in a Lidl car park! In the daylight it might well have been fine, but in the dark it was difficult to tell, and neither of us had a great feeling about it. After a few minutes thinking about it, we decided instead to head off again to a camper stop, only a little further down the road. It wasn't a free stop, but the book told us it had toilets, showers and electric at least.
We arrived at our final camper stop for the evening at around 8pm. It seemed to be OK, and the owner was very friendly. It had the added security of a locked gate, which made us feel a lot more comfortable than the last place. We discovered soon after our arrival that there was a train line going right along the side of the camper stop, but we were feeling tired by this point and didn't seem too bothered.
On Sunday we took the bus into Florence, which took around 30 minutes. The weather wasn't particularly pleasant, raining really heavy at times, so we decided to make today a museum day. After grabbing some quick lunch at a nice little cafe, we walked to the cathedral. Whilst it wasn't easy to get nice photos of the outside in the rain, it was a good opportunity to see the inside. Despite it being an amazing sight from the outside, the inside was relatively plain in comparison. We mainly took it as an opportunity to keep dry for ten minutes, if nothing else.
After the cathedral we headed to the Galleria della Accademia. Whilst there was a lot of artwork on display, the main reason for the visit here is to see Michaelangelo's David. We had been warned from our guide books that the queue can sometimes be huge to get inside, but I think we were only waiting around 10 minutes. Inside, they had some old books on display which were quite interesting, but the rooms full of religious painting on panels became a bit much. The best thing was "The David". Whilst I knew it was big, the size took me by surprise a little. It is hard not to be blown away by it really, such an impressive piece of art. Amazing to think it was carved out of marble some 500 years ago - truly amazing.
The rain had still not let up while we were in the Galleria della Accademia, so we headed over to the Galleria degli Uffizi. This was another place where the queues were likely to be insane. Whilst the sign indicated a 45-60 minute wait, we made it inside in around 40 minutes - not too bad. The Uffizi houses a huge collection of renaissance art ranging from ancient Greek sculpture to 18th century Venetian paintings. It really was an impressive collection containing lots of masterpieces. However, a whole day of strolling around looking at art can get quite tiring, and by the time we left the Uffizi around 6pm, we were ready to head back to the motorhome.
The noise from the train line was least of our problems. Around 5am Sunday morning we were woken by engines revving, banging and crashing. It turned out that as well as being next to a train line, we were also located right next to a transport depot! At 5am a plethora of lorries turned up for their cargo - I can only guess as porcelain they didn't mind breaking, or pots and pans, maybe even drum kits. We both realised by about 6am that we weren't going to get any more sleep - earplugs couldn't save us. So instead, we both decided to get up and make an early start of it. We took the bus into Florence once again, only this time we were hitting some very heavy traffic - perhaps the morning rush hour? Whatever it was, it meant our journey time was best part of an hour. Thankfully though, the weather had improved on yesterday. There was the occasional light bit of rain, but nothing preventing us from strolling around the city. Before venturing off on a proper walk we decided on getting a nice breakfast from the same cafe where had lunch the previous day. We'd had some cornflakes for breakfast at around 6am so were feeling quite hungry again. They did a great breakfast of croissant, coffee, juice, toast, bacon and eggs for around €9, and it was just what we needed.
Florence was a very nice city to take a leisurely stroll around. We took a better look at the cathedral, with its stunning exterior, better viewed when not hammering down with rain! We think we took in the main sights of Florence, visiting each of the main piazzas and also crossing the river, before heading back on the bus at around 3pm. As we'd had an early start we felt like we had done as much as we wanted to, and it also meant we could leave our current camper stop and move on.
We drove further west to Lucca and found a camper stop here. At first we worried we were going to have the same nightmare as in Florence, as the road to the camper stop was shut and we couldn't see a way around it. Thankfully, Stu dashed out to check which way we needed to go and we found a dirt road leading to it. It was a bit bumpy with pot holes, but we made it in one piece.
On Tuesday we opted for a lazy day in the motorhome. The early start the previous day had left us feeling tired. We also wanted to make use of the internet, having been without proper access to it for quite a few days now.
The weather on Wednesday was a sunny 21 degrees, and we took the bikes for a ride into Lucca - a beautiful old city which has remained almost completely intact. The main attraction is probably the city walls - 12 metres high and hugging the city since the 16th century. We took a casual ride along the city wall itself, and then down into the heart of the town. The main route through the town is along Via Fillungo, which took us past numerous interesting shops, cafes and restaurants. We stopped for lunch at one such restaurant which was very pleasant. Watching some of the vehicles driving through the narrow, old streets was quite entertaining. At one point a truck attempted a turn that I wouldn't have even tried in a car - though he realised it wasn't going to work and backed out.
Resuming our ride we were soon lead to the oval shaped Piazza Anfiteatro, surrounded by houses and cafes which were raised upon the foundations of an old Roman amphitheatre. We rode on a little further, and just as it was getting dark we grabbed a quick gelato before cycling back to the motorhome. A lovely day.
On Thursday we drove towards Pisa. We found a Carrefour in Pisa along the way so we could stock up on some food. It was absolutely massive - amazing to have so much variety. Stu even managed to pick up a new hard drive here, and we both got a few bits of cheap clothing too. However, the cost of having a big place to shop meant we spent well over an hour in there, so once we left we knew we didn't want to drive much further. We had parked in an area of the car park specifically for campers, so we decided that perhaps staying here the night would be OK, and at least it would be free.
It was around 10pm when we started feeling tired and were just getting ready for bed, when we had a knock on our motorhome door. The guy at the door didn't speak any English, but Stu managed to get the gist of what he was saying - ie. we couldn't stay there the night. A bit annoyed, we looked in the camper stop book for the nearest place to stay. Fortunately, there was a stop only about ten minutes away. When we arrived, it wasn't quite what we expected. The book told us it had space for 100 motorhomes, had electricity, water etc. When we arrived, we found a massive, empty car park. There were no electric points, and there were no motorhome signs anywhere - which most stops normally have. The weirdest thing was the fact that there was not a single other motorhome or campervan there. Very strange. We couldn't see where we had to pay, so decided to go to bed and sort it in the morning.
When we woke up this morning we looked out the window and saw we were surrounded by coaches - the tourists had arrived in Pisa! When Stu enquired at the information desk it turned out this was, in fact, no longer a camper stop, and we had parked in the coaches section. We were fortunate we hadn't got a parking ticket! We decided to park over in the car park area - which also had a sign saying no motorhomes or caravans - but decided to take our chances and took a walk to the Pisa tower, only a ten minute walk away.
After we made it past all the hawkers selling their knock-off bags, belts etc. we found ourselves in front of the leaning tower - quite amazing to see. We had read in our guide books about how you needed to book your tickets in advance if you wanted to climb the tower, because it was always so busy. Stu managed to get tickets for the next available tour and we walked straight in! No waiting!
After a brief talk in the bottom of the tower we were then allowed to start the ascent. It was quite an unusual sensation climbing the tower. You could feel the steps becoming steep as you walked up one side, then it almost felt like you weren't walking up at all on the other side - strange. It was a great view at the top too, and again quite strange to feel on a slope. The Pisa tower was well worth the visit, but it really felt like the only thing worth seeing here. We went into the cathedral too, but only because it was included in the price of our ticket.
Getting back to the motorhome we were pleased to find we had not received a parking ticket, and headed off on a long drive, going through Genova and to a little place called Vesimo right by the sea. The campsite is OK, but the electricity connection is a bit frustrating. It seems we can only plug in one appliance at a time before it shorts out. Anyway, we cooked up a lovely stew this evening and relaxed after the long drive.
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