Sunday, October 23, 2005

Our Hertz Nightmare

After checking out of the hotel we took a taxi to the airport (12 Euros) and went to pick up our hire car from Hertz. Easier said than done! First we went straight to the car hire office in the car park, but were told that we had to pick the car keys up from the terminal building. I stood with the cases in the sweltering hot sun while Stuart picked up the keys - easy enough.

Unfortunately when we found the right number in the Hertz parking lot, the space was empty - no car! Stuart went back to the Hertz office in the parking lot to ask the woman where the car was. She came out of her office and wandered aimlessly around the parking lot for the next 15 minutes looking for the car, without success. She then told Stuart that he would have to walk back to the terminal building again and speak to the staff there. So he did, and came back a few minutes later with some new car keys.

We had booked the car through Expedia and selected the second car size up, which had room for two adults, two children and two suitcases. Much to our dismay, the keys that Stuart had been given were for a Fiat Panda - with a boot barely big enough to fit one suitcase.

The next half hour was spent with Stuart arguing with the Hertz staff, who refused to budge and wouldn't give us a car of the size that we'd ordered, despite the fact that there were a couple of hundred other Hertz cars in the parking lot and some of them weren't due to be picked up until the following day. Hertz refused to take responsibility for the car that they had lost.

In the end we had to make do with the pile of s**t known as the Fiat Panda . The Hertz guy actually had the audacity to tell us that we should think ourselves lucky, as this car was an upgrade from what we had previously ordered. Nothing like putting the customer first!

Last Morning in Florence

We decided to make the most of our last morning in Florence and took a walk to San Miniato al Monte, perched high on a hill with fantastic views of Florence.

We started from the Ponte Vecchio and walked up a steep road, past the former home of Galileo Galilei and up to Forte Belvedere.

View of the Duomo, Florence from a distance

The walk took us up a steep hill then almost all the way down again, then up towards the church - San Miniato al Monte (below).

San Miniato al Monte, Florence

Once we reached the top we were rewarded with a magnificant view at a viewpoint just below the church, with the whole of Florence laid out before us. Yet another photo opportunity. Below you can see a photo of of the view.

View of Florence

If you are planning on spending a few days in Florence you can read independent reviews of all the Florence Hotels here.

Monday, October 10, 2005

Florence Sightseeing on a Rainy Day

I'm writing this while lying in my bed in the hotel room in Florence. It's Friday 9th September, September being the fourth least rainy time of year in Florence.

It's just after 9.30am, I've been for breakfast and I'm all ready for a day of sightseeing in Florence, but its absolutely pissing it down outside! Not only that, it's almost completely dark and the rain is bouncing off the ground, there's loud thunder and fork lightning. It's the sort of rain I've only seen in the Tropics.

I was expecting beautiful blue sky and sunshine for most of my vacation, since the average temperature in Florence in September is 79 degrees, but hopefully this will be the one and only day of bad weather!

We decided to stay in the hotel for a while in the hope that there would be a break in the rain. Finally after almost an hour the rain eased off enough for us to venture outside. Jeans, a jumper and an umbrella was not what I expected to be wearing for my Florence Sightseeing!

It's about a 20 minute walk from our hotel to the Duomo and if it hadn't been raining we would have taken the picturesque route beside the River Arno. Instead we walked through the narrow streets to get as much shelter from the rain as possible.

We arrived at the Duomo just after 11am and the queue was tiny compared to yesterday. We paid 6 Euros for entry to the Duomo's Cupola (Dome) and started the journey up the 463 steps to the top.

Duomo Belltower, Florence

This climb is definitely not recommended if you're feeling tired or in any way unfit. I felt reasonably fit and had been going to the gym and Yoga 3-4 times a week for the last couple of months, but I found the steps pretty challenging. Lots of narrow winding staircases and steps that became more and more like ladders as you climb to the top of the Dome.

Half way up we came to a long balcony like walkway that went all the round the Cupola. This is not the place to go if you suffer from Vertigo! Luckily I don't but stil felt a slight rush of fear when I glanced down and saw the tiny people below. I was glad of the plastic pane in front of my, preventing me from accidentally toppling over.

463 steps later, we reached the top of the Duomo and were rewarded for our effort with a spectacular view of Florence in all directions.

View from the top of the Duomo

As it was raining slightly when we got to the top the marble floor was a little slippy, which was quite worrying as the barrier wasn't very high. Despite this, I found it less scary than standing on the inside of the Dome.

After taking lots of photos from every possible angle and Stuart refusing the offer of a photo of us together (as he was too scared of toppling over the edge :-) we began our descent back to the bottom.

I don't think I would have liked to do this on a hot July day, as it was stuffy enough on a September day with the rain pouring down outside.

One the way down we walked round the inside of the Dome again, this time on a higher walkway than before. After a quick stop to take a photo and admire the "Last Judgement" frescoes by Vasari on the roof, we quickly continued our journey down the steps. I'm sure that everything was perfectly safe, but walking around the top of a building that was completed nearly 600 years ago made me slightly nervous!

After our trip to the Duomo, we wandered to the nearby Piazza Della Signoria and stopped for a bit longer this time to take some photos of the statue of David and Neptune's Fountain. We also wandered around the outdoor Sculpture gallery, which contains statues such as the Loggia dei Lanzi (1382) and the Rape of the Sabine Women (1583), which was carved from a single block of Flawed marble.

Piazza della Signoria

By this time it was absolutely pouring with rain, so we found a restaurant with some indoor seating and had another Pasta lunch.

After lunch the rain had calmed slightly so we took a walk over the River Arno via the famous Ponte Vecchio. This bridge was built in 1345 and is the only bridge over the Arno that wasn't destroyed during the second world war. Originally the workshops overhanging the bridge were used by blacksmiths and butchers, but due to the noise and the smell they were evicted and the bridge is now filled with jewellery shops.

Once over the bridge we wandered through the winding streets and into the Palazzo Pitti. I wanted to visit the Boboli gardens as well as the Palentine gallery and the Royal Appartments, but unfortunately the Boboli Gardens were closed, perhaps due to the excessive rain. We just bought a combined ticket for the Palentine Galleries and the Royal apartments and spent an hour or so wandering through the different rooms and admiring the paintings and the ceilings which were ornately decorated with gold and frescoes. I'm definitely not educated in art, but I really enjoyed wandering around the rooms and imagining the people who once stayed there.

After our visit to the Gallery we (stupidly) bought what was probably the most expensive ice cream in Florence from a Gelateria next to the Ponte Vecchio - 6 Euros each for a small tub! If we had walked a few blocks away we would have got one for less than half the price, but never mind, I enjoyed eating it all the same, despite getting it all over my hands and face.

We crossed the River via the Ponte alla Grazie, which is the next bridge along from the Ponte Vecchio and took the opportunitity to take a few photos of the bridge.

Ponte Vecchio in Florence

That evening we had a great dinner in a place called La Bussola (58/R Via Porto Rossa). It was slightly expensive at almost 100 Euros for the two of us, but it was very nice. We both had pasta to start with and I had Languistines in a curried sauce with rice, while Stuart had Sole with a side dish of Melanzani Parmigiana, washed down with a half bottle of Ruffino of Chardonnay for me and a half bottle of Chianti for Stuart. A very nice way to finish off a busy day!

You can read more about things to do in Florence here.

Sunday, October 09, 2005

Our first evening in Florence

After spending a couple of hours chilling out in our room we took a walk alongside the River Arno and over the Ponte Vespucci, which is a few bridges up from the Ponte Vecchio, and into the area on the other side of the bridge known as Oltrarno. We stopped for a beer in a bar called Dolce Vita, which was nice, but at 6 Euros for a medium beer it would be easy to rack up a huge bill.

After that we wandered around a bit and stopped for a drink in the Santo Spirito area, then wandered back over a different bridge and into the central historical part of Florence. We had dinner at a little restaurant and ate some Steak washed down by a nice bottle of Chianti. One word of warning - if you like your steak well done, don't bother ordering one while you're in Italy! I had asked for my steak to be well done, but it was pink and still a little bloody inside. I hate to think what it would have been like if I hadn't asked for it to be well done!

Overall the restaurant was quite nice with steaks served with potatoes and veg for 15 Euros, Pasta dishes for 8-12 Euros and a large selection of other main dishes.

Saturday, October 01, 2005

Review of the Anglo American Hotel, Florence

It can be really difficult to find a good hotel in Florence for a reasonable price. Due to the popularity of Florence, it makes sense to book your hotel as far in advance as possible.

I've put together some Tips on Booking Hotels in Florence

We ended up booking the Anglo American Hotel in Florence because it looked nice in the photos and got good reviews in TripAdvisor. The cost for us was 143 Euros for a double room per night.

Overall it turned out to be a great place to stay. The Hotel is on a quiet street about 10 minutes walk from the Railway station and a 20 minute walk to the historical centre of Florence i.e. the Ponte Vecchio and the Piazza della Signoria etc. Although its a 20 minute walk away, its a very pleasant walk, by the River Arno.

When we checked in we were lucky enough to get an upgraded room that was more like a suite, with a little living room as well as a separate bedroom. You can see a couple of piccies of the room below:

Bedroom in Anglo American Hotel Florence

And here's a picture of our little living room:

Living Room in Anglo American Hotel Florence

We were very happy with our room - it was very spacious, comfortable and clean and the bathroom was pretty big.

The staff in the hotel were very friendly and helpful and the breakfast (included in the price) was quite decent and included lots of pastries, fruit juice, meats, cheeses, cerals, yoghurts and even some scrambled eggs & sausages.

Overall I'd recommend the Anglo American hotel, unless you don't fancy the 20 minute walk in and out of the centre of Florence.

You can see more reviews of the Anglo American Hotel here