14 April: Roadtrip through Tuscany, Italy
Continued from part 3.2: Two days in Rome
It’s another cold, wet, rainy and grey day in Rome as we pack our bags and head to Termini station to collect our rental car. We’re sleeping in Florence tonight, but we plan on making a roadtrip of it through the Tuscan countryside and are hoping that we will be escaping the weather a little further North of the city.
This is the first time that I will be driving on the “wrong side” of the road, and I have no idea what to expect. We get the car and luckily it seats five of us, plus all our luggage quite comfortably. The first stretch out of Rome is both the worst and best part of the drive, as due to traffic it moves quite slowly. After this the real test starts, as we’re on a small back-road out of Rome heading North to eventually join up with the highway. It takes a lot of concentration to stay far enough in our lane, without off-roading on the right-hand side whilst changing gears with my right hand. By the end of the day the driving won’t be as daunting as it was at the beginning, though when we arrived in Florence that evening I was absolutely dead tired.
Our first stop is the small town of Orvieto. We find parking quite close to the Orvieto cathedral and draw out our hoods and umbrellas to brave the rain. I am in no mood to bring out my camera only to then try and keep it dry in the rain, but instead grab Francois’ hand and walk around the massive zebra-striped cathedral with him. The rain is relentless and soon we opt to find some shelter in front of the cathedral from where we can view it without getting soaked. The header image to these posts were taken while we were hiding from the rain (but not the wind).
Our second point of interest is Siena. The massive Piazza del Campo is slanted to allow for drainage of storm water, and though we’re sure the tower would offer amazing views of the beautiful city, the rain serves to dissuade us from making the climb. Instead we look for a coffee shop and treat ourselves to some fresh, warm coffee in one of the dodgiest little shops we’ve come across so far. We have our packed sandwiches for lunch in a dreary concrete parking lot and decide to trek on towards Pisa.
Our last planned stop on the way to Florence is Pisa. How can one visit the area and not see the famous leaning tower? We arrive late in the afternoon, delayed by rain and the twisty, windy roads of the Tuscan countryside. We remark again that, if it were not for the rain, we would’ve loved to stop at one of the hundreds of lookout points, wine & olive farms and miscellaneous other points of interest along the way. As it happens, the rain served to keep us in the car and make me more cautious about driving too fast in unknown territory.
The tower leans out at a somewhat ridiculous angle, and though it’s still pouring with rain, the tourists (like ourselves) abound to take ‘that’ picture with the precariously balanced tower. This is literally the only reason we are in Pisa and, after having the photos taken and reading some of the informative plaques, we get back in the car to head to our destination.
As we start heading out to Florence, we receive an sms from another one of our friends’s cellphones. He had apparently lost his phone in the coffee shop in Siena, and someone kindly handed it in to the Siena police, who are sending sms’es out to the people he last contacted. Included in this list happens to be his parents, who are understandably sent into a panic back in South Africa. It takes some time to sort out the misunderstanding and unfortunately he will have to return to Siena to collect his phone from them the next day.
We arrive in Florence in peak hour traffic and it’s a nightmare driving through the rain in the dark with Italian drivers who flow like water amongst the lanes of traffic. It’s a rather harrowing experience and by the time we get to the backpackers where we will be staying, I am overjoyed at the prospect of being able to park the car outside and just forget about it for the next two days. We finally check in and are sadly advised that the parking outside is only for permit holders and that we should take the car to the Piazza Michelangelo, where parking is free and safe. It’s however approximately 2km out on the other side of the river, but we’re assured that there are buses that will bring us back into the city. We fire up the GPS again and head to the parking lot, where we spend about 40 minutes waiting for a bus that never shows. In the end we walk all the way back in the rain and by the time we get back, we’re soaked, starving and (I am) quite irritated with the whole situation. We get some kebabs from a store around the corner and get in bed, hoping that tomorrow will bring some sunshine and a brighter view on Florence.