(Translation: Feeling like I’m going with the Flo(rence) ).
It was bittersweet bidding farewell to Rome. While Budapest and Berlin still rate extremely sky-scrap-ingly, I feel Rome has somewhat superseded them to take out my number one so far.
On route to Florence we had two stops, the first being the obligatory stop at services. European law is super strict on bus drivers stating that every certain number of hours they must rest for 45 minutes, absolutely no less. Like not even 44:58 minutes. It has to be more than the literal 45.
I was meandering around the convenience sort-of store when a random guy beside me saw a pile of half-priced Oreo’s. “Yeah boy!” he yahooed and I launched into laughter. “Mate, where are you from?” I asked. And of course, he was a Kiwi – from Wellington NZ, no less. (Funnily enough, also on a Contiki tour that was headed the opposite way to us).
And the second stop? None other than the Leaning Tower of Pisa! We parked up (in the 200 euro a stationary area, like what robbery! And still a ten-minute trot to the actual site itself) with TGTaz playing none other than Bill Withers’ Lean on Me, and had an hour to scurry on down and do the almost law-abiding shots with the tilting turret.
So the Leaning Tower of Pisa (hereafter, LTP): Why the lean?
Well first off, the tilt is totally unintentional. It is actually the bell tower of the next door church, with its construction starting in 1173. You see, the city of Pisa was a seriously significant seaport. Italy has only been the boot as we know it since 1861, beforehand being a land of un-unified strong city states of which Pisa was one. As Pisa’s trade grew, so did its fame and power and after the Pisans conquered Palermo in Sicily in 1063, they returned home with troves of treasure and riches.
It was decided that to cement their status to the world, a great cathedral complex would be built. Titled “The Field of Miracles”, this multiplex would include a cathedral, a baptistery, a cemetery and the infamous bell tower. And so construction begun.
However the soils buried beneath the site proved to be insanely soft, made up of clay, fine sand and shells. (Probably should have been evident from the town’s name, “Pisa” translating as “marshy land”). By the time the builders worked their way up to the third level of the bell tower, it had gotten its lean on; shifting soil had destabilised the foundations.
In an effort to stand up and rectify the slant, the following few storeys were erected slightly taller on the short side to compensate. But – alas! – the weight of the further floors prompted the edifice to sink deeper and get its gradient on even more.
However, blessings in disguise came in the way of civil wars and what not; the giant pause buttons pushed on the building process allowed the soil under the tower to compress. This somewhat stabilised the ground some more, so by the time it was completed in 1372 – more than 200 years later – it was more structurally sound.
Originally 60 metres in stature, the LTP now stands at 56.67m on the higher side and 55.86m on the shorter. It weighs a good 14,500 tones, and work to remedy its slant have taken its tilt from being 5.5 degrees to 3.99 degrees. But it will forever lean, with the 296 steps on one side and the 294 on the other always being the (stair) case.
So we had a delightful stop off cavorting about taking pics with some stellar shots being captured, including a splits on the ground and hold, a few karate kicks, a push and pull and a good old licking. (Only bastard was that the grass is now roped off with signs stating you are not allowed to roam across it, so photo loco’s are much harder to position in the right angles and what not).
My favourite part of the Pisa experience was Nic, in him waiting for strangers around to be perfectly posed “holding” the tower up with a flat hand, whereupon he would launch in and high five them. It was bloody hilarious, with most taking it well – though a few were not quite so as tickled as we were.
So LTP? I don’t really rate it. Don’t get me wrong; glad I’ve seen it, got the t-shirt so to speak (well, the photos) but if I do not return I’m not overly fussed.
We arrived much later to the Tuscan capital than our initial ETA, unboarding at 7.33pm. The others were all headed off to Red Garta (a club) for some tequila and karaoke, but I went on my way to meet up with PMS.
That’s what I love about travelling. During the day he had come across a mixed group of Aussies and Americans and the ten of them had continued to hang out throughout the afternoon and into the night. After I hustled my route with Google maps I found my way to them, where upon we all went out for Italian (I have never seen so much gnocchi, tagliatelli, Florentine steak and chargrilled vegetables in my life) and fabulous chat.
I met an American guy who was so in tune with how I see life it was insane. A Polish chap from Aussie who we figured out may very well in fact be a distant cousin (although the driving proof to this conclusion may have majorly been the litre of red wine being sunk). And I yarned to a few more that had just been in India and around the areas I am planning to go next.
One of the Aussies, PMS and myself then headed onto the most authentic Italian area we could possibly find – an Irish pub. We played Fuzball for a few hours (not going to lie, I totally took out the game), chattered to a couple of true Florentines in the bar and then headed home at about 3am.
The next morning kicked off with a trip to Leonardo’s of Florence, a leather shop where we (the Contiki crew) watched a demo of how to stitch together a leather wallet and hear the ins and outs of how to spot a fake. (You know the lighter-on-leather to prove its genuine? Totally fake. Like the dude said, if you hold a lighter under anything long enough it burns it – he procured a true leather jacket absolutely scorched to prove it – and the lightning speed at which those trying to prove it as “leather” wittle the flame along it does not verify nada. Like the man said, have you ever heard of a fireproof cow?).
Did you know leather was born in Florence, with the gladiators the first to use it as protective wear as well as a fashion accessory? That the leather smell is not actually from the leather itself, but actually from the chemicals used to treat the hide? And that the cows and other animals the garments/gadgets/gear is made of do not actually come from Italy? Nope! The skin comes from South Africa, Argentina, Australia and New Zealand – it’s the Italian technique you are buying, not the animal.
Afterwards Shotting Matt and I went hunting for a leather jacket for him. We came across a corner shop with the Cinderella of all jackets discovered on the second stab – clean cut, flawless fit and the captor of collars. And with a mark down from 560 euros to a paltry 230!
After a few hours deliberating over it during the walking tour (of which I didn’t listen to a word to, instead running off to take pics and getting lost a good four times before refinding the group) and a lunch to soak up his hangover (tomato, onion and fries on a pizza would you believe?), Matty decided to go for the garment and we shepherded back to purchase it.
On the way I googled good questions to ask and inspections to undertake to ensure the leather was real. I felt quite in-the-know as I scrutinised the jacket for foamy edges (sure sign it’s a vinyl counterfeit), examined the pores (we wanted inconsistently placed pox, as faux have a more uniform pattern) and interrogated the lady with a barrage of questions (“Where is the cow from?” – Australia or NZ – “Why such a markdown?” – business has been slow, need to shift stock – That such lark, followed with a, “You seem trustworthy… and karma always rebounds back”). The verdict was a goer, and Matty left with a (hopefully) genuine article.
After a flit home to the hostel to repack and organise my life, I re-met back up with PMS and him and I went for a wander up to the hilltop to gaze out at all of Florence. We sat and yarned for a while about nothing and everything, then headed back where I proceeded to upload yet another zillion photos to FB and coma out to sleep. (Seriously, Contiki tours take it out of your bod. While I have thoroughly enjoyed it, I must say I do prefer my own roaming around with a shorter group tour in here and there, maybe a week or two tops).
- Il Duomo, the Florence Cathedral
Wow. An absolute intricately detailed building of beauty. The main church of Florence, it was first started to be built in 1296 in Gothic style with the dome engineered in 1436. The façade is made up of polychrome marble panels in shades of gentle greens and pale pinks bordered by whites, and is simply sensational. (Though I had heard everyone droning on and on about its magnificence and upon turning a corner and someone declaring, “There’s Il Duomo!” I sneered and said, “Is that it?”. Then I realised I was totally looking at the wrong building, being a stark white and green thing, with the church towering up high behind it. Then it was all awe).
- Café Culture
The Italian café culture is simply stunning. I mean, everyone knows the fanfare of food in the Italy of Ingestion, but it’s truly an artwork in itself. And I love it – the Italian people all stand at the coffee bar and shot back their espressos (do not ask for a “latte”; you will literally get a cup of warm milk) as they munch back some delectable morsel from the array of comestible creations on offer. A real communal consumption.
I was rather surprised; the pavements in Italy are not as quirkily cobblestoned of those in more Eastern Europe. I voiced this out loud, inciting a barrage of roading puns – you know, I wasn’t so floored with the Italian footpaths, they didn’t pave the way and it was quite guttering; maybe it needs to cemented in, really concreted, but for now I will just have to kick it to the curb; time to step on it, that sort of lark. But yeah, surprising, But I guess al the fashion conscious around need stable footing to wear their high heels. And the women too.
- Superfluous with Statues and Sculptures
Florence is rife with Renaissance regalia as a result of its standing as its birthplace. Did you know that the greats along the likes of Leonardo Da Vinci, Dante Alighieri, Michelangelo di Lodovico Buonarroti Simoni, Giovanni Boccaccio, Donatello di Niccolo di Betto Bardi and Raphael Sanzio da Urbino all reigned from Florence?
And did you pick up four names embedded in there, that being Leonardo, Michelangelo Donatello, and Raphael? AKA, that of the infamous Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles? To clear up confusion; the TMNT are not in fact an Italian innovation. No, rather they were the branchildren of two (then) struggling artists from Massachusetts in the early 80s. And both being fans of art history, they christened the four shelled super heroes as after the four great Italian artists, as listed above.
(There is a massive golden turtle in the middle of the Florentine Piazza Santa Maria Novella – square – and I delightfully made the link as to that being why the TMNT are turtles, rather than being ninja bears or cats or what not. I was pretty chuffed with my linkage, but on looking into it later realised that at best, it is an extremely tenuous tie. The turtles about the place are actually there as back in the day, (being the 16th to 19th centuries) the annual Palio dei Cocchi chariot race that took place in the area had its turning points for the track marked by tow obelisks atopped by bronze turtles. And the TMNT came about with the two American dudes a bit tipsy over a tipple and mucking around with a pad and pen, the names coming later. But I’m still holding onto my theory – Frankly(in), it’s better). (That was an awful pun to end on but I’m leaving it in there – remember Franklin the turtle? Of the early 1990s books and TV shows? That was a very poor attempt to include him in. Hare hare!). (And that ending? An alluding to the infamous race of the tortoise and the hare? Once again truly dire. I need to calm down. I mean, slow and steady wins the race and all that).
And of course, old David. The Renaissance sculpture the work of Michelangelo somewhere in the years between 1501 and 1504. David is the biblical hero of David (as in Goliath) who is favoured art subject in Florence and also the subject of many titters and made-to-be dirty pics. Case in point, below.
- Pinocchio on Point
Pinocchio is all around in Florence as well as to a degree in all of Italy; anyone nose why? (sorry). Well, the wooden lad was actually created by the Italian writer Carlo Collodi. He told of the carved character who was created by the carpenter Geppetto who lived in a small village near Florence. So thus, the profusion of Pinocchio gewgaws for purchase all about the piazzas (of which I tried hard but just could not counterattacking succumbing to).
So my “word” for Florence? I’m going with Teeming with Temptation. In the eons of food (“food” just doesn’t do the masterpieces here justice; it should be called like “fine finesse” or “edible exquisiteness” or some such), the stores and stalls of gems and garments and ornamental wonders… it’s a land of lure, an acreage of coax and coercion, the apple to everyone’s Adam. It takes a lot of willpower to turn away or shake your head in no to all on offer (my exact thoughts as I surveyed my latest key ring additions. Though I was very ardent in only getting a further two than the glut more I could’ve gotten).
Just all out Tuscan treats.