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Europe, Day 8: Pisa and Florence

Posted May 21 2013 11:38am

Previous recaps:

On our eighth morning in Europe, we checked out of Hotel Napoleon in Rome and made our way back into our friendly Fiat for the next driving leg of the trip. Before we left the city completely, though, we decided to visit one of the catacombs just outside of the town center.

Originally we were going to visit San Callisto , but passed it while driving one way down the Appian Way (one of the earliest Roman roads). We decided that instead of attempting to circle back (still a little sensitive to that whole getting lost thing) we’d check out San Sebastian instead.

I’m so glad we did! San Sebastian is a great deal smaller than San Callisto, but that made the entire tour experience more intimate. Although we weren’t able to take pictures down in the catacombs themselves, I snapped one just outside in a hall filled with pieces from the tombs.

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The catacombs were created because Christian citizens of Rome were not allowed to bury their dead inside the city walls. Unlike the pagans who preferred cremation, they decided to head just outside the city to dig miles and miles of tomb-lined tunnels underground. The bodies were wrapped in linen and put into these tombs – you can imagine how great it must have smelled down there. Still, it’s pretty amazing that with such a dizzying maze of nearly dark tombs, people were able to find their specific family member’s plot and bring relics, gifts and more to those laid to rest.

Once we had finished our tour, we hopped back in the car and made our way further down the Appian Way to get back to the main road and the highway to Pisa. And then…

Appian Way

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Do you see above how the nice paved road at the back of the photo suddenly changes to what can only be described as a disaster for car wheels? Yeah. We did, too. We weren’t sure what to do when we came to this new, uh, pavement, but since we saw a car parked on it in the distance we figured it must be safe to drive on. I can now say with certainty that it wasn’t. Our poor little Fiat was bumping around like an ancient chariot, and we thought for sure that a wheel was going to pop on us any minute. I guess there’s a reason why so many axles used to break back then!

Although in the moment it was terrifying, we can now look back and laugh. We can officially say that we drove on the original stones of the Appian Way and thanks to Bobby’s careful driving, we were able to turn around relatively quickly and make it back to the nicely paved road. As a bonus, there was a small tour group standing in the road and pointing at us as we passed them by again. I didn’t really appreciate it as it was happening, but thank you, sirs, for laughing at our expense!

Once we could breathe again, we followed our directions and were able to get on the right highway toward Pisa. The drive was roughly three and a half hours, so we passed the time by listening to Italian radio stations and playing road games. It began to rain just as we reached the Tuscany region, but that didn’t stop us from checking out the Piazza dei Miracoli (Square of Miracles), home of the Baptistry of St. John , the Duomo (cathedral) and, of course, the Leaning Tower of Pisa !

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The other buildings were great, but the main draw was that crazy bell tower. Look at that lean!

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The Leaning Tower of Pisa was built in three stages starting in 1173. It first began to lean during the construction process, when it was discovered to be built on a weak foundation.

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We couldn’t leave without doing what we could to hold the tower up. Did you know there is a continuous line of people there every hour of the day to make sure it stays standing? Here’s Bobby using all his strength at the base of the tower.

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I went for a more mid-level support. It was a Pisa cake.

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OK, so the whole “holding up the tower” thing is a lame joke. But I’m not kidding about the continuous line of people taking pictures just like ours. It’s a must-do when in Pisa.

After our brief detour, we got back in the car to make the one-hour drive from Pisa to Florence. Well, at least it should have been a one-hour drive. The driving powers that be had it in for us again once we arrived in the city. Although we had printed and digital maps on our side, there was just no finding Via San Antonino. I could see it on the map but it refused to show itself on the street. We must have circled the same area at least five or six times. It was starting to get dark and there were people walking everywhere, making it difficult to navigate some of the narrower streets.

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Finally Bobby and I decided that I should get out of the car and ask a different hotel if they could point us in the right direction. Fortunately, the lady at the front desk was super nice and helpful. When I asked her where the Hotel Globus was, she said it was “one block down.”

Great! I asked her how we could get there by driving, and she looked at me like I was crazy.

“Hotel Globus is on a pedestrian-only street,” she said.

Oh. Turns out, the reason we couldn’t find the street to turn on was because there was no street to turn on – for a car, at least. I quickly ran down the pedestrian-only block and turned the corner onto Via San Antonino. Victory!!

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The staff at Hotel Globus laughed (with me, not at me) as I retold the tale. They quickly checked me in and told me where we could park nearby. I sprinted back to Bobby, who by this time was looking ready to leap from the car, and we made a few quick turns to arrive at a parking garage we had already passed several times that evening. What a trip.

We were so grateful to finally make it to our hotel room that we could even overlook the fact that it was two twin beds. It was fine for the one night we stayed at Hotel Globus, but we would clarify that if we were to stay there again.

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We quickly threw down our things and made our way toward the dinner reservations that we were running late for. Fortunately, the staff at Acqua al 2 (another tip from Hannah and also from Sammy – thanks ladies!) were very accommodating and still had room for us when we arrived.

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Good thing, too, since this place was FANTASTIC! We started out with bread served with bean dip and fresh tomatoes, realizing early on that we’d need a bread refill.

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We also ordered the – what else? – house wine, which was yet another winner.

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For my entrée I chose the blueberry steak, which I had heard so much about. You need only look at the sauce in the picture below to get an idea for how amazing this was. I had no idea that blueberry and steak went together so well, but they are definitely a new favorite pairing.

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Bobby chose the chicken with porcini mushrooms, which came with another amazing gravy sauce. We each took plenty of bites from both plates. It was a wonderful first meal in Florence.

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After dinner, we appreciated our first night in Florence all the more with a walk by the candy-colored Duomo , which was right near our hotel. From the moment I saw it, I could appreciate the huge red dome of the cathedral and the pink and green marble design throughout the cathedral, bell tower and baptistry. It became and remains one of my top sights from the whole trip.

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I also loved how quiet it was in this area. Even with a lot of tourists still out and about, the fact that most of the roads near the Duomo are pedestrian-only make it that much more peaceful. Perhaps there is something to that whole “no car” thing. When you aren’t driving in one, that is!

We went to bed with the true glamor and awe of Florence awaiting us in the morning.

Abrazos,

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