|The first challenge was working out how to get to Florence. The name of the city didn't seem to be on any maps anywhere. It took an American girl to point out to us that "Florence" was spelt "Firenze" in Italian! We felt very stupid!
We got to Florence about lunchtime - unfortunately the weather was still pretty shite, which did not improve moods - as did our inability to easily find reasonable accommodation in the centre of the town. The mood declined again when I stepped off a step and rolled my ankle again (having sprained it quite badly at touch four weeks ago) which prevented much more walking around on the first day. I guess these negative events coloured our perception of the city - both Korina and I agreed that it was the least favourite place that we went to on the trip.
Eventually we did find some accommodation, and after a good meal I skulled down some anti-inflammatories in preparation for the bike ride we had booked for the following day.
The next day dawned a little overcast, and it looked like we would be slogging through the countryside in another downpour - but as we got out of Florence the weather cleared into a brillant day. The day started with a couple of hours climbing - at which it was very noticable that Korina and I were quite a bit fitter than everyone else in our group. Korina even out-climbed all the other guys other than me, which I thought was a good effort.
In our group was three middle aged South Africans (cue: discussions on rugby, and an analysis of why South Africa are so shite at the moment), three Californian cheer-leader looking types, a couple from Boston and an Argentinian lady. Our guide was a reasonably amusing swede who spoke excellent English. He was telling us about a market the following day, and warning us about pick-pockets when one of the cheer leader types asked what I think must have been one of the most stupid questions I have ever heard - "What does a pick pocket look like?" - as if they have some sort of sign over their head, or all where balaclavas or something. It was a difficult question for our guide to answer without mocking the girl mercilessly - but he managed admirably.
So we had plenty of rests, which was good as it allowed us to appreciate the spectacular scenery.
After the morning's climbing we finished at a family run restaurant in the middle of no where. It was very noticable how much better the food was here than in some of those in the city aimed at the tourist market.
After lunch (more brushetta, local wine and pasta), we headed to a small winery run by the family who owned the restaurant. It was really interesting to see how much wine and olive oil seems to be produced on such a small scale - obviously in New Zealand the emphasis is on quantity for export - whereas in Italy it seems to be produced mainly for the local market, with producers being unwilling to compromise their lifestyle to get bigger.
A couple of hours of frolicking later, it was time to head back to Florence. The ride down the hill was very fast, and particularly adrenaline pumping given the amount of wine drunk at lunchtime!
Other than Cinque Terre, I think that this day trip was the best thing we did in Tuscany.
We were pretty tired after the ride, so we had a quick dinner then crashed for the night.
The following day dawned sunny, so we decided to studiously avoid every church and museum that Florence is famous for (other than the Duomo, which we climbed for the view - although the quite hellish artwork on the inside of the dome was also quite interesting up close - e.g. people being penetrated by a red hot poker before being cast into the abyss...), and headed to a local food market, picked up some produce, and then jumped on a local bus to a little village out of town. The plan had been to picnic in an Olive grove somewhere, but this did not pan out given the high walls around each property and the frequent use of barbed wire. So eventually we found a little playground and chilled out in the warm sunshine for a while.
Then it was time to grab a train back to Pisa to meet our Ryanair flight back to London.