Tag Archives: travel

Eurotrip 2012: Day two in Paris, France

23 – 27 April: Paris, France

Continued from part 11: Day one in Paris

24 April – Of plans and schemes comes naught

Our plan for the day is to visit a rather vast area riddled with tourist attractions in the 7th and 17th arrondissements of Paris. These include the École Militaire, the Champs-Élysées, the Champ de Mars and a trip up the Eiffel Tower. I’ve found Tripomatic an invaluable asset in planning what to see in our unknown destinations, and would highly recommend it!

The first stop on our tour (no matter what that plan may say) is the House of the Invalids. We chose a Metro stop on the far end of the Ponte Alexander bridge and the view is stunning walking over it. The bridge is one of the oldest in Paris and is adorned with quite a few wonderful details.

It seems as soon as we arrive at Les Invalides it starts pouring down with rain again. We meander around the courtyard looking at the displays of canons and the like whilst keeping out of the rain as best we can, though after three weeks of constant rain I have to admit that I’m no longer feeling the love.

Together with a gaggle of other tourists, we spend the next 40 minutes or so hiding our in an alcove. At this stage it seems abundantly clear that the skies won’t be relenting their watery assault any time soon, so we make the tough decision to go back to the hotel and have lunch. The rain has been somewhat like a toddler with a light switch, and the constant on-off on-off of the torrential downpour has at least been constant in its unpredictability. It has now become clear that our already short-listed version of the sights we want to see in Paris, will have to be cut again and again in order to fit in with the weather’s schedule.

During another dry spell we grab the opportunity to visit the Eiffel Tower. Instead of leisurely strolling through the surrounds, we act like true tourists and take the Metro to the closest stop to the tower and get in line straight away. Through some fluke we end up buying 2/3 tickets, meaning we have to climb the first two levels of stairs before we can take the elevator to the third level. Though the views are amazing and it’s a rather nice experience, the wind is biting and horrible as one ascends.

The view from the top is amazing. The only hill in Paris proudly boasts the Sacré-Coeur and the Louvre is clearly visible. Having studied the lay-out religiously in preparation of our visit tomorrow, this offers an amazing bird’s eye view. In the distance the Arc de Triomphe is visible with its adornment of crazy traffic, but over it all lies a bank of cloud threatening everyone with its seemingly ever-present gloom.

Esplanade du Trocadero, with Paris CBD in the background

La Basilique du Sacré Coeur de Montmartre

Les Invalides

After descending the steps and reaching ground level, Francois requests that we take a stroll down the Champs-Élysée, at least for a while before we get wet again. The gardens are beautifully kept and it’s a great experience walking down these well-worn stones, but in the light of wanting to save some time we find the next Metro stop and head to the Arc de Triomphe, as the rain is holding out on us for the moment.

Knowing that I may be judged severely for this, I have to admit that the arch itself is not all I expected it to be. The symbolism is great and the detail on the structure itself fascinating, but as a whole I felt rather underwhelmed. As far as unique experiences go, the arch itself doesn’t make it to my list of top 10s. However, while we were standing around looking at the traffic and being told to stay away from the arch, it seems that some military procession was taking place and we were caught up in the middle of it. This did make up for the lack of great weather a bit!

After our long day of (mis-)adventure, our final stop for the day is meant to be the restaurant we found in Montmartre last night. We get dressed in our finest, non-tourist garb and settle in for a wonderful meal of foie gras, duck and chocolate fondant. The service is impeccable and the wine lovely, perhaps all the more so because of the beautiful setting.

After dinner we realize that we may still catch the 23:00 light show on the Tour de Eiffel is we hurry, and as the weather is behaving we take the longer route across the Champ de Mars towards the tower. The lights start twinkling as we walk hand-in-hand towards the tower and I have to admit, that it is every bit as wonderful, romantic and clichéd as one could ever imagine. The perfect ending to a less-than-perfect day.

Next: a day at the Louvre.

Header photo by Deon Joubert.
All other images by the author: © catterflyworx 2012.

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Eurotrip 2012: Day one in Paris, France

23 – 27 April: Paris, France

Continued from part 10: Lyon, France

23 April – Arriving in a wet (and somewhat dodgy) Paris
We’ve been packing and unpacking so much lately that I feel we could be awarded some kind of medal by the ‘Efficient Packers ‘r’ Us Brigade’. After bidding farewell to the lovely Lyon, we’re on the train speeding through the picturesque countryside of France. We’re headed towards Paris and, though it’s sure to be just as wet and rainy as everywhere else on our trip I can’t help but feel super excited about what awaits.

Our train arrives at the Gare de Lyon in the 12th arrondissement in Paris. It’s one of the bigger train stations we’ve been to in the last few days and even from the inside, the characteristic Parisian architecture is clearly visible. I’d booked tickets for us to visit the Musee du Louvre from South Africa and indicated that we’ll collect the tickets from the FNAC counter in the train station. Picking them up is easy and after tucking them away safely, we set off in search of our hotel.

Gare de Lyon, Paris, France

Gare de Lyon, Paris, France (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

In our bid to stay within budget and have a hotel that’s conveniently close to the Paris Metro system, we seem to perhaps have overplayed our hand. Though the hotel’s site showed charming photos of a newly renovated older building, the reality is far from it and we arrive to one of the dodgiest hotels I have ever had to stay in. Oh. So. RIDICULOUSLY. Dodgy. If they didn’t have my credit card details, I’d just have turned around and left. The up-side of this is the fact that this will force us to spend as much time away from the hotel, and thus on the streets of the city, as possible.

The Sacre Coeur! This seems like a great starting point for places to see in Paris. I also really want to spend some time in Montmartre in the early evening visiting shops and walking these tiny artistic streets. Though it looks like a complete shambles on first inspection, the Paris metro is incredibly convenient. We pop out right at the bottom of the hill, only to find it windy and rainy. Hoping it will pass, we stop to have some coffee and strategize a plan of action for the next few days.

Our first attempt for the day to view the Sacre Coeur, Montmartre and the Moulin Rouge all fail miserably as the weather is terrible. The wind gusts raindrops into any small opening it finds from all directions and overall, the morning is a complete waste.

Sacre Coeur Montmartre Paris

A view on the Sacre Coeur from the streets of Montmartre

In a last ditch attempt to see some of the city while keeping dry, we head to the Galeries Lafayette centre. It is an insanely large, multi-level department store with anything and everything under the sun. The food court is an amazing assault on the senses with flavoured candies, coloured sugars, exotic spices and a plethora of exquisitely prepared foods from across the globe on sale. One could spend a week here and not find everything it has to offer.

After getting something to eat it seems the torrential downpour has slightly abated and we head back to the Sacre Coeur. The view from the hilltop is amazing and a must-see for a visit to Paris. The basilica’s interior is astoundingly beautiful and well preserved, and the exterior offers many intricate details.

Sacre Couer Paris

We stroll through Montmartre hand-in-hand, as if the inconvenience of the rain and dreadful events unfolding the morning are completely forgotten. In a little side-street, we find a pub with pints of beer for a decent price and decide to enjoy some drinks as a reward at the end of the day.

Montmartre Paris

Montmartre Paris

On the way to the metro station, we find a French bistro that looks promising, and earmark it as The Place to have our one eat-out in Paris tomorrow evening.

Montmartre Paris

Montmartre Paris

Enjoying the amazingly well-behaved weather and wanting to take advantage of it, we decide to visit the Moulin Rouge again and are rewarded with a beautiful light show, though the prices for getting in are laughable.

Moulin Rouge Paris

Moulin Rouge prices April 2012 Paris

Still not sated with our first night in Paris, we arrive at a beautiful view of the Eiffel tower at 21:50 just in time to enjoy the 22:00 show.

Eiffel Tower, Paris

We finally call it a day and head back to Dodge central for a night of rest, feeling well rewarded at the end of the night.

[Tip of the day for Paris: Download a map or mobile app of the metro for easy reference]

Followed by day two in Paris.

Header photo by Deon Joubert.
All other images by the author: © catterflyworx 2012.

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Eurotrip 2012: Lyon, France

22 April: Lyon, France

Continued from part 9: Bourg-en-Bresse, France

Lazy Sunday markets and the roadworked steets of DOOM!
After packing up our fresh, clean clothing and saying goodbye to the small town of Bourg-en-Bresse in the south of France, we journey on to Lyon and find that the drive doesn’t take too long. We arrive a little too early to check in at the hotel, but leave our bags there and head to the fresh produce markets currently open on the riverbanks.

Olives at a market in Lyon, France

As we arrive there is a brass band playing on what seems to be the main bridge, connecting the parking area with the markets.

Brass band on bridge in Lyon, France

The brass band on a bridge in Lyon, France

There is an amazing assortment of fresh products on sale, each vendor trying to drown the next with their shouting. We recognize a few from one of the markets we visited in Turin in Italy a week ago. We stroll along the riverside tasting cheeses and meats, watching the other shoppers.

Fresh produce market Lyon, France

One of the stall owners starts a heated conversation about her wares with Francois in French, never allowing him a chance to explain that he can’t understand her. He eventually walks off and we continue our people-watching.

Fresh produce market in Lyon, France

 We get something to eat from one of the many stalls, and keep walking. The views are absolutely spectacular, made even more so by the fact that we have a few hours worth of sunshine again.

View across the river in Lyon, France

View across the river from the markets in Lyon, France

After sating our appetites and sure that we can check into the hotel now, we venture off in search of a gas station to refill the car and then the rental car agency to return our little Renault. What should take no more than 20 minutes, turns into a 90 minute ordeal as we are forced to take detours across the city due to roadworks , and are sent from one one-way street to another. When we eventually arrive at the parking area for rental returns, I am far beyond my limits for dealing with unknown areas and useless GPS’s, and we head back to the hotel on foot.

We check in and are shown to our ‘room’, though ‘apartment’ would actually be a better description. Living in luxury for one night, we take full advantage of the fact that we have a kitchen and enjoy some wine and dinner at an actual table. We’re off to bed early though, as we have another early train tomorrow to Paris. This time we double-checked that we have the right train station, as we didn’t want a repeat incident of our last train ride!

Continues in part 11 with our (rainy) visit to Paris, France.

Header photo by Deon Joubert.
All other images by the author: © catterflyworx 2012.

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Eurotrip 2012: Bourg-en-Bresse, France

21 April: Bourg-en-Bresse, France

Continued from part 8: Annecy, France

The road to clean washing
We check out of our hotel and stop at a little boulangerie (bakery) across the street to get some croissants for breakfast. They were life changing! Best. Croissants. Ever. EVER! Soft and buttery on the inside, flaky and crunchy on the outside, and absolutely divinely fresh!

We arrive in Bourg-en-Bresse just before 12:00 and check into the hotel. It seems we unwittingly booked two hotels in the same franchise and are really happy with being assured of clean rooms and decent service, though this room is even smaller than our hotel room in Annecy was (didn’t really think that was possible, but hey!). After checking in, we head out to view the only point of interest we could find in Bourg-en-Bresse: The Royal Monastery of  Brou.

The Royal Monastery of Brou, France

The Royal Monastery of Brou on a gloomy day

We arrive to find the doors closed, together with the rest of the town it would seem. We’ve forgotten about the fact that everyone packs up shop between 12:00 and 14:00; one can’t even find an open coffee shop to have something to drink in while we wait! We decide to wait in the car while we watch the weather closing in again. The wind picks up and a bride and groom arrive, with photographer and yards of white dress in tow for some pre-ceremony photos. Nothing else of interest happens, and I eventually fall asleep in the driver’s seat.

The Royal Monastery of Brou, France

Entrance to the Royal Monastery of Brou

Finally when the doors open at 14:00 we get inside. The monastery has amazing Gothic architecture and intricate carvings. Sadly, no photos are allowed inside. Overall the churches in France have been less impressive than their counterparts in Italy, though it seems that the focus is more on the architecture and design than paintings, sculptures and frescoes.

The Royal Monastery of Brou, France

An inner courtyard in the Royal Monastery of Brou

The Royal Monastery of Brou, France

The monastery is famous for it’s multicolor tiled roof.

Upon returning to the hotel at a decent hour for once (we may be getting used to this “the sun only sets at 22:30 at night” thing), I decide it’s past time we found a laundromat and get some clean clothing. This seems more trouble than I’d anticipated, as neither the guide, Google Maps or our GPS can find one (searched for in English and French). Luckily the concierge is able to help, and he points us to the only laundromat in town.

It takes us a while to figure out how to get the machines to work, and luckily we’re not the only tourists completely dumbfounded by the all-French instructions. Eventually the washer fills up with what seems to be soapy water, and after about an hour and a half we return to the hotel with semi-dry clothes. We spread them out all over the tiny room, leaving a little space to wiggle under the bed-covers and sit up reading while it rains again outside. Tomorrow we’ll pack up and spend a lazy Sunday in Lyon, before leaving for Paris on Monday.

Continues in part 10 with our stay in Lyon, France.

Header photo by Deon Joubert.
All other images by the author: © catterflyworx 2012.

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Eurotrip 2012: Annecy, France

20 April: Annecy, France

Continued from part 7: Chamonix Mont Blanc, France

Snow, snow, snow, and cold
Our little hotel and surrounds have been transformed to an area covered in a fine layer of white. The snowfall whithers to light rain and strengthens to snow again, and as we arrive in Chamonix from Passy there is a marked difference in the amount of snow and how low on the mountains it is now. We arrive at the train station and travel up the mountain at a crazy angle.

Heading down to the Mer de Glace

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But, before I go

We’ve planned a lovely weekend away at the beach. Thursday is National Women’s Day in South Africa and we’ve taken leave for Friday, looking forward to KwaZulu Natal‘s mild winters, sunny skies and city-free living. However, the Winter Queen had one last thing to say before she leaves the southern hemisphere, and she chose to send her message in white. Snow white, to be exact.

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Eurotrip 2012: Chamonix, France

19 April: Chamonix Mont Blanc, France

Continued from part 6: Genoa and Turin, Italy

Trains, taxis and “airports”
We wake up to some mighty cold weather and sadly, no hot water. After packing, checking our goodies and making sure we have easy access to our passports, we head off towards the train station. Francois has our train tickets and luckily we are both close to the station and he set it up as a destination on the GPS last night. We arrive approximately 15 minutes before our train is set to depart, but as we look at the “Departures” board, our train is not on there. In fact, there is no train to Chambéry from this station… we’re obviously at the wrong station, with 10 minutes before our train leaves the platform.

The realization sets in that we cannot afford to miss this train, and we run out of the station straight to a waiting taxi. The driver must’ve had some experience with people emulating contenders on The Amazing Race, and he has the car ready and loads our bags in record time. Without waiting to hear where we are headed, he starts the car up and heads towards the station exit. We show him our tickets and emphasize the departure time. He nods in understanding and races us to the other train station in Turin, a mere two kilometers away. We meet the train and gratefully (though panting and breathless) sit back in our reserved seats, finally on our way to France.

We wind through the amazing landscape and as the train snakes through the mountains, it is under the cover of thick fog and light snow. Francois and I are like small children, staring out the window at what can only be described as a wonderland.

Arriving on the train station in Chambéry, we start looking for a bus or metro train that connects the train station to the airport from where we need to collect our rental car, about 10 kilometers from the station. After much debate (and now having to not-understand people in yet another language), we figure out that there is no bus or train line to the airport. So, two taxis in one day it is, then.

The airport is tiny. Miniscule. Ridiculously small. It’s an airfield, with converted shipping containers for offices. The taxi driver looks at us a little dumb-founded (as there aren’t any planes), but off loads us none the less and points us in the direction of the rental car offices.

We walk in to find about eight rental car agency desks, though only one is manned by a slight French woman. We explain in a mixture of English and newly-acquired-Italian that we’re looking for a representative from Europcar, and eventually she calls their offices. She hands the phone to me and I am confronted by an angry-sounding Frenchman, accusing us of not booking a car. I assure him that we did, give him our reference number and he inquires as to why we booked a car from the airport, when we arrived by train. I tell him that their website only showed the Europcar at the airport and he changes his attitude and assures us that he is bringing our car to us.

He arrives in a huff and apologizes profusely. He refunds us the cash we’d spent on the taxi to get to the airport and very deftly handles our contract. We receive the keys to a tiny Renault and are off on our way to Chamonix Mont Blanc.

Snow-covered French Alps
Driving from Chambéry, we watch as the temperature drops as we close in on the Alps. Accommodation in Chamonix itself is very expensive (due to all the skiers), so we are staying in the next village over, Passy. After checking into our rather quaint hotel rather high up the mountain, we get our “we’re seeing snow” today faces (and gear) on, and hop in the car to Chamonix. The temperature drops even further, and as we arrive in Chamonix it is 0ºC. The mountains are all covered in mist, but it only adds to the effect of having an all-white landscape surround us.

A quaint street in Passy, France

There are a number of cable-cars and -lines in Chamonix so after enquiring as to which ones are operational, we buy our tickets and head up the mountains. As soon as we depart the ground station, I have an insane feeling of trepidation and excitement build as we enter the fog and lose visibility of Chamonix and anything more than 50 meters away.

A last view on Chamonix

The first stop is at 1800m. It feels warmer than in Chamonix, but is ghastly white. Francois and I run around in the snow and make scrunching noises as we walk. The skiers look at us with dubious eyes and obvious judgment, but coming from sunny South Africa, we don’t care. Before we depart to continue our ascent, we make snow angels on one of the banks.

Francois & Catherine in the snow. Chamonix Mont Blanc, France

The cable car winds further up the mountain and the next stop is at 2500m. We get out and are immediately blasted with a freezing wind and swirling snow. When the wind isn’t blowing, it is deathly quiet and feels as if you’re inside a huge ball of cotton wool. There really isn’t much to see this high up other than snow and wind, and we head back down to our previous stop to enjoy a (VERY) expensive cappuccino.

Cafe at 1800m on Mont Blanc, France

Back in Chamonix we get something for dinner and some more medicine from the pharmacy, as we’re now both officially sick with flu. We plan on coming back tomorrow morning, to take the train du Montenvers up the mountain to the Mer de Glace glacier and ice cave.

Continues in part 8 with our visit to the glacier and our stay in Annecy, France.

Header photo by Deon Joubert.
All other images by the author: © catterflyworx 2012.

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Eurotrip 2012: Genoa and Turin, Italy

17 – 19 April: Sleeping in Genova and Torino, Italy

Continued from part 5: The sites of Florence

After completing our visit to the Uffizi gallery early on the morning of the 17th April, we get in our little rental car and take to the road. We’ve planned a road trip to the North-Western tip of Italy and from here we will be crossing the border into France.

Our destination for tonight is Genoa. We aren’t expecting much and take our time driving up the coast. There are storm clouds over the ocean and it seems that we will spend another night with rain as a constant companion, but for the moment at least the sun is shining and it’s easy driving. We stop in a few of the smaller towns along the highway towards Genoa, but most are deserted as it seems they thrive on holiday crowds in summer. The beaches are pristine and we risk setting our toes in the water, but it’s freezing!

Francois drives the last stretch into Genoa and it’s nerve-wracking. There are three ‘layers’ of roads on top of one another, as bridges cross over and run on top of one another and this thoroughly confuses our GPS. It takes a while to arrive at our hotel, where we receive the coldest “welcome” yet. The receptionist does not understand a single word of English and does not even feign interest in trying to let us know where we are going or how to get there. Obviously smiles are also foreign to her, and I’m less than impressed by her attitude. We settle in and park the car somewhere we assume is safe for parking, but spend a great deal of time throughout the evening checking up on it to make sure it’s not towed away or clamped in.

The hotel seems to be in little China/Nigeria and street vendors, loiterers and Chinese supermarkets are all we can find in the area. We get some supplies for dinner and head back to the hotel. We spend the evening watching horrible reality TV, as it’s the only English show we can find. Francois had a cold since we were in Rome and it seems I’m coming down with it as well.

Wednesday, 18 April
It’s my birthday! Francois wakes me up and hands me a gift that one of my friends from SA had him carry around all over Italy so that I would receive it on my birthday! It’s a pair of earrings I had been eyeing for months and I can’t believe the amount of trouble she’d gone to.

We leave the dreary city of Genoa behind and, unlike the city itself, the countryside around Genoa is absolutely stunning. We arrive in Turin just after 12:00 to find it’s an amazingly beautiful city. The weather has however closed in once again, and after dropping our bags at the AMAZING Tomato Backpackers Hotel, we head into the streets to explore the city. There is a biting wind chilling one to the core and finally we decide to get Francois a scarf to keep him from freezing to death. A very helpful lady unpacks some of her winter stock from a stack of boxes and after completing the transaction, we head off in search of a true Italian dining experience for my birthday. Unfortunately basically everything is closed at that time of day and as this is the first time we experience it, we have to come up with alternative entertainment.

A black and red bistro signboard in Torino, Italy

One of Turin’s main tourist attractions is the Molé Antonelliana. It is one of the city’s major landmarks and depicted in most of the souvenirs and features in photos of the city’s skyline most prominently. We find parking in a side-street and take a walk through the cinematic museum on the ground level. From here we drive past a few landmarks while we wait for the rental agency to open so we can return the car, but the wind dissuades us from venturing out of the car.

The Mole Antonelliana in Turin, Italy

The Mole Antonelliana in Turin, Italy

Back at the hotel after returning the car, we explore our accommodations and find a great common area in the basement. We decide this is a great place to kill some time and avoid the rain (again), and open a bottle of wine, gather our books (or Kindle, in my case) and cozy ourselves in on the couches.

Wine, books and couches in the basement of Tomato Backpackers Hotel on a rainy day in Turin, Italy

Wine, books and couches in the basement of Tomato Backpackers Hotel on a rainy day in Turin, Italy

For dinner we decide pizza is in order for a birthday in Italy, and on the owner’s recommendation we go to a restaurant whose name I can’t seem to find anywhere (not even with Google streetview) just around the corner. The food is amazing and the prices unbelievable and we thoroughly enjoy ourselves, splurging on wine, beer, pizza, coffee and dessert (all for under €30!). We are sated afterwards and decide to spend our evening in our warm accommodation like an old married couple. We also have a 7:46 train to Chambéry in France tomorrow morning, so will have to be up early.

Continues in part 7 with our mad dash for trains, arriving at ‘The Airport at the Apex of Nowhere’, driving in France and seeing snow in the Alps in France. 

Header photo by Deon Joubert.
All other images by the author: © catterflyworx 2012.

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Eurotrip 2012: Florence, Italy

15 – 16 April: The sites of Firenze, Italy

Continued from part 4: Roadtrip through Tuscany

We wake up to (yes, still) rainy weather and a cold atmosphere. In addition, there is also no hot water in our bathroom, and my dreams of a shower die a shivering death. One of our number is missing as he’s collecting his phone from the police in Siena and the remaining four of us decide to take a self-guided TripAdvisor tour, with yours truly acting as guide.

Following the Florence City Guide‘s Historic Highlights Walking tour, our first stop is the Duomo and the Campanile. Both these structures are very impressive and massive, with constructions having started in the 1200’s. The Duomo cathedral was built with the intent to shame all other churches in the Roman Catholic world – shaming everything that the Greeks and Romans built in their most powerful times, and at the time the design was put on paper, nobody had even known how the dome would be built or supported. Opposite the cathedral is a small baptistry with golden doors depicting scenes from the Old Testament.

A view on the Duomo cathedral with Campanile on the right in Florence, Italy

A view on the Duomo cathedral with Campanile on the right in Florence, Italy

We continue our “tour”, stopping momentarily in the leather markets and shops to get some gifts for people back home (and because I love the smell of leather). The next point of interest on our itinerary is the Capelle Medicee. These house some of the remains of the Medici family and is home to a lot of their amassed wealth and some interesting relics. The Medicis produced four Popes and financed a lot of the Renaissance in Italy, with staggering amounts of work being commissioned by the artists in the area. We receive an sms from our somewhat lost friend that his train is not too far from Florence, so we start heading towards the Santa Maria Novella train station.

The Campanile in Florence, Italy

The Campanile in Florence, Italy

We find a gelato store on the piazza in front of the Santa Maria Novella basilica, and decide that this is a great meeting spot. The sun also shows up for a few minutes and we lavish in the sheer awesomeness of sunshine, eating gelato on a random bench in Italy.

Ordering gelato from a colourful shop in Florence, Italy

Ordering gelato from a colourful shop in Florence, Italy

Eating Gelato on the Santa Maria Novella square in Florence, Italy

Eating Gelato in the sun on the Santa Maria Novella square in Florence, Italy

Finally reunited, we forget about following our tour and head towards some shops and other things that catch our fancy. We end up in the Piazza della Signoria and view the copy of Michelangelo’s David, together with an assortment of other amazing sculptures that are on display. Musicians play in the space outside and we find a few steps on which to sit down for a while outside the mull of the crowd. It’s a Sunday in Italy and the locals seem to take to the streets as badly as the tourists, taking advantage of the little sunshine there is.
From here we head across the river to view the Ponte Vecchio and visit either the Boboli Gardens or the Parco Bardini (I can’t remember which). It offers a nice view of the city and the gardens are immaculately kept.

It starts raining again while we are here though, so we head back to our lodgings to have some dinner and prepare for per-birthday celebration night out for me. We end up finishing four bottles of dreadful red wine and take to the streets of Florence in search of a party. We meet up with some locals who are also enjoying a Sunday night on the town, and we return home at some unholy hour the next morning.

Monday, 15 April
Our plan for today is to visit the Uffizi gallery before parting ways. Francois and I head further North into Italy tomorrow, while the other three are sleeping in Venice tonight. To our dismay, the Uffizi is closed on Mondays and only Francois and I will be able to visit it tomorrow. Instead we head up the hill towards the Piazza Michelangelo to collect the rental car and return it. The view from the piazza is amazing!

The view on Florence from the Piazza Michelangelo at sunset

The view on Florence from the Piazza Michelangelo. (Florence Sunset # 1, by Christian Krieglsteiner)

After returning the car, Francois and I are alone for the afternoon and we stroll through the shops and markets once more. Both my mom and mother in law gave me some money for my birthday and I’m in search of a gift for myself from Italy. I find a gorgeous brown leather jacket and red gloves (lined with rabbit fur) and from here we head up to check into our hostel with a room for two instead of five. We’ve also procured some more stock for our depleted grocery bags and have coffee in a quaint little shop across the street. We have dinner on our bed and find this is the first time since our arrival in Europe where the WiFi access actually works relatively well in our rooms. I chat with my mom in SA (who is very happy to find out we’re OK and enjoying it) and share some of the places we marked off as interesting in Venice with the guys there. We’re in bed fairly early and sleep rather well, considering that there is an entire school booked into the same floor as ours.

Tuesday, 16 April
Francois and I booked our tickets for the Uffizi gallery online and, after collecting our (much smaller) new rental car, we arrive early and miss most of the first crowds in the gallery. We buy a guidebook in the foyer and start strolling through the artworks, starting in Medieval and Byzantine eras, moving into the Renaissance and a little beyond. Sadly no photos are allowed, but it helps to not distract one from the art. The highlight of the visit for me is Sandro Botticelli’s The Birth of Venus, and I spend a good amount of time staring at the immense work.

Sandro Botticelli's The Birth of Venus, c. 1486. Tempera on Canvas. Uffizi Gallery, Florence.

Sandro Botticelli’s The Birth of Venus, c. 1486. Tempera on Canvas. Uffizi Gallery, Florence. (From sinoorigin).

Our tired feet let us down sooner than we were hoping on and we head back to the car and start our drive North. We are sleeping in Genoa tonight, and we’re taking a route that will lead us along the western coast of Italy.

Continues in part 6 with our drive up the coast to Genoa and Turin, Italy. 

Header photo by Deon Joubert.
Florence Sunset #1 by Christian Krieglsteiner. The Birth of Venus by sinoorigin.
All other images by the author: © catterflyworx 2012.

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