Touring Tuscany

Florence walking tour

Day two started around 0930. We met in the lobby and walked as a group back to the Duomo for a guided walking tour of Florence. We saw differences in architecture during the Middle Ages and the Renaissance, walked across the Ponte Vecchio during daylight hours when all the shops were open, and eventually took an old secret passage to the Uffizi Gallery, and ended up at Piazza della Signoria where we saw a replica of Michelangelo’s David (Fake David). On the tour, we saw street artists called “Madonnari” (Here is a brief history of street art from Kurt Wenner), a building with slides inside, and walked by, Il Porcellino, a boar statue which can, apparently, be seen twice in the Harry Potter films.

What I learned about European eating culture

After the tour, we stopped for pizza at a restaurant just off the square. Normally, I would recommend not eating this close to the square due to the increase in prices near tourist sites, but we were really hungry and they had shaded outside tables. This is where we first experienced European eating culture. If you sit down at a table, most places charge a small fee “pane e coperto” which includes bread. Tap water isn’t an option, but you can get still or sparkling water for 2-3 euros per bottle. Secondly, getting in and out quickly is not an option. It takes a few hours for a sit-down meal. If you’re in a hurry to go is your best bet. Lastly, the tipping culture is different in Europe. Minimum wage is much higher and tipping usually consists of a few coins, to round up to the nearest dollar, or at max 5-10%. We all brought cash and just paid our portion. Also, I still haven’t quite figured out how Europeans stay hydrated? Everyone was drinking wine and we were often given only one liter of water for five people. Yes, we carried around refillable bottles, but there weren’t many places to fill them (except in Rome). Being dehydrated did save on bathroom costs…Anyway, the food was delicious.

Dreaming of water

Free time

After lunch, we had some free time on our hands. We walked around a little more and made an attempt at seeing the real statue of David at the Galleria dell Accademia di Firenze. The line to get into the museum was about two hours long. There was a shorter wait option which included a guided tour of the museum, however, the wait was still almost an hour and doubled the entrance fee from 20 to 40 euro. A similar situation was encountered when we tried to climb the stairs at the Duomo. Check out out this site for off the beaten path towers which offer some of the best views of Florence!

We decided to continue walking around and spent the afternoon trying our bartering skills at the street market and taking in the views from La Terrazza restaurant on the top of the Rinascente Firenze store. We then headed back to the hotel to get ready for a Tuscan winery tour.

Tuscan Winery Tour

We left the hotel around 5 PM and took a bus to a wine Tuscan winery called La Tancia which specializes in amazing Chianti wine. The tour was an opportunity set up by our tour director who had met the family through agritourism. They invited us into their home, gave us a tour of their bottling operation, fed us like we were part of the family and provided plenty of wine.

We ate bread with olive oil (made?.. squeezed? there a special word for making oil?… EXTRACTED! at the winery), bruschetta, cured meats, pate, and homemade pasta with pesto. The meal ended with Vin Santo, an Italian dessert wine, which tasted less like the Moscato and Riesling we’re used to in America, and more like kerosene…unless you paired it with biscotti. As we were leaving, we were able to purchase bottles of wine to go which I snagged for our visit to Cinque Terre.

On the way back to the hotel, the bus driver was trying to squeeze the bus down a narrow street in downtown Florence. He was unable to do so and ended up smashing the mirror off a parked car. Without saying a word, he stepped off the bus, put a business card on the window, got back on and drove off.

On return to hotel, we walked to an ATM (Travel tip** this is the best way to get cash when traveling. Airport currency exchanges charge exorbitant fees) to replenish our euro stash. I, also, did some light laundry in the bathroom sink. I always carry this travel clothesline and detergent with me. While my backpack allowed me to carry it in order to avoid dragging it over bumpy streets, it did not allow unlimited space for clothing and I was only able to pack about a week’s worth.

Limoncello on the rooftop

A group of us went up to the terrace on top of the hotel. We stayed up late sipping limoncello and telling ridiculous stories with new friends. I finished the day off with another not-so-great night of sleep.

Warning: potentially NSFW images below.

PS. We saw these magnets at all of the tourist shops. Hilarious.

Next up, Cinque Terre.