As I type this I am in Florence, yep Florence Italy! I arrived Thursday and I have taken lots and lots of pictures! These will appear when I get back and I won't do them all at once.
The Good - Florence is beautiful, the architecture is amazing. Eating al fresco is wonderful! The people are very friendly and being a little Englander who can't speak Italian doesn't matter
The Cons - There can be a whiff (the Arno?) it's not that bad but you occasionally notice it. The graffiti, it is very noticeable. Compared to London there are few green parks. I've not found anything like Hyde Park, St James Park or Regents Park.
The Ugly - the begging. Just shake your head and they move on.
Some thoughts. The end of July is HOT! 100f yesterday and that was the only day where it became too hot. Although given what we did yesterday.....
I flew from Stansted to Pisa. Getting to Florence from Pisa is easy. You can get a train (infrequent) from the Airport or get a bus into Pisa and then get a train. The other option is the buses that run from Pisa Aiport to Florence's Santa Maria Novella station. These are Terravision and Autostrade (Ryanair). It was 1 to 2.5 euro cheaper if you bought in advance. Terravision will offer you tickets at Stansted (whilst you waiting to get on the plane and Ryanair will sell them on the plane). We didn't bother and paid the slightly extra fair to get on the first bus. It takes about 70 minutes, I used both and they were fine.
Buy a Firenze card. 50 Euros. Gets you free public transport, free access to a pack of museums and the real important bit you get priority access and do not queue, given you can queue for a couple of hours...... at the Accademia we got curious glances from other tourists as we were waved in. It lasts for 3 days from the first time you use it.
The churches don't come under the Firenze card. Many charge for entry. Some allow photos with flash, some allow photos no flash, some don't allow photos. I assume the later is because it will affect the religious nature of the building, or perhaps to encourage you to buy souvenirs. Ladies - please note if you wear shorts or your should are not fully covered you will be refused entry or asked to buy something to cover up. Many local women have a cheap scarf to cover their shoulders.
I have to say there are some amazing churches here.
The museums are superb. The Accademia, the Uffizi, the Pitti Palace and the Palazzo Vechhio are all worth a visit. The Pitti Palace leads into the Boboli Gardens which are a mixed bag part lovely and part a bit meh. However worth visiting because we saw Lizards, a Red Squirrel and a Firecrest!!!
Eating is easy. We ate mostly on the Piazzo Della Signoria al Fresco! They are a bit touristy but the food is good and you can get a pizza and a half bottle of wine for under 20 euros (£16). Pasta and Pizza tastes much better here.
End of July is hot so I've been drinking lots of water. Prices do vary the tourist areas will charge you 1.50 euros to 2 euros. That said walking away from the tourst regions (not far!) we were charged between 50-80cents.
Soft drinks are pricey! A coke/sprite will cost 3.50 euros about the same as a glass of wine.
Ice Cream is also pricey BUT it tastes wonderful. Forget Walls!
I've been using a cash passport card. You load it with euros before you come and then draw the money out from a bank machine, safer than cash. I've not tried to pay using it. From my perspective it's great. Note the charges if you don't use it for a year.
The hotel is the Berchielli. The staff are friendly and helpful. Trish and my rooms are excellent. The breakfasts are superb. Loads of choices. Fruit, yoghurt, cereal, Italian meats and cheese, cooked stuff, rolls, croissants and toast. The Italian idea of bacon though is not as good :)
Italy has different plug sizes to other European countries. The adaptor we have didn't fit the room sockets but it does fit the shaver socket. We borrowed one from the hotel. Will have to investigate getting a permanent one.
There are lots of people and lots of cameras. I'm going to think about my travel strategy, since I think we brought too much!
Home LATE tomorrow. So hopefully we'll do a tour of Pisa. I've enjoyed Florence so where to next year? Venice, Rome, Vienna, Verona, Lucca, Milan? Paris is October! And Turquis I'll still be having plenty of holidays in England.
Photos should start to appear Tuesday.