How to describe our trip so far? Sunny Florence full of gelato, pizza, pasta, cakes, shopping, crazy taxi drivers/motorists and tired feet! 26 Aussies had a lovely welcome dinner (but missed Judy and Kerry who were stuck in Hong Kong due to plane difficulties). Popular outings have been: the Accademia with the original David; opera performances in St Mark’s church at night, the Boboli Gardens/Pitti Palace and climbing to the top of the duomo (463 stairs). Susie & Josie couldn’t wait to climb the Campanile as well (an extra 400 stairs), and weren’t even sore the next day….. Piazzale Michelangelo, with its stunning views of all of Florence, was the scene of many photos and then we climbed up the hill to the Church of San Miniato, for views from a different vantage point. Strolling through little alleys, we detoured to a beautiful rose garden; went through the city walls and ended up at the Pitti Palace for a well earned coffee break and many hours of enjoyment in the gardens, galleries and museums. A lucky few managed to find the gate linking the Boboli with the Bardini gardens and discovered the coffee shop with the best view in Florence at the top of the Bardini.
On Thursday, we also had the opportunity to visit one of Florence’s bridge clubs – a real experience! After a brisk half hour march via Santa Maria Novella, we gratefully sat down to compete against local players. Congratulations to Noelene & Felicity, John & Helen and Sally & David for winning prizes! Then it was off to pizza in a nearby pizzeria – squisita!
We all had dinner together in an Osteria right next to Piazza della Signoria on Friday night and were able to fill each other in on our ‘free’ day. A group of 8 went up to the hills of Fiesole (20 minutes from Florence) and walked down little lanes and above olive groves, culminating in lunch with a perfect view. The rest of the group did more shopping (fashionable leather handbags & jackets) and visited sites such as Santa Croce (yes, another church), Uffizi Gallery and just wandered around, soaking up the atmosphere in Florence.
Saturday was spent in Lucca. We had perfect weather again (in fact, it was hot!). After our train trip, we spent the day exploring this medieval town. Some hired bicycles/pedal carts and rode around the wide walls, while others walked them or strolled the myriad of streets with delicious buccellato (semi-sweet bread with raisins) and interesting piazze at every turn. Then, it was onto our bridge game at the Lucca bridge club. We were amazed that we were playing bridge in one of the original gatehouses, where sections of transparent glass on the floor were used to throw boiling oil on invaders! Felicity & Noelene were pipped at the post by Greg & Sharon – a very close competition.
Our next excursion included Siena and San Gimignano with a guide – rival hill towns with winding streets and a long history. The duomo in Siena was very impressive but Kit and David preferred climbing to the top of the Torre del Mangia for great views. We were lucky enough to see a parade in medieval costume around the main square as well.
Monday was a real change of pace – cooking school in the Tuscan countryside at an agriturismo. Who can argue with spending the day cooking, eating and drinking in beautiful surroundings? We learnt how to make homemade pasta in a vegetable and wine sauce, plus chicken involtini (stuffed with prosciutto)! We had a tour of the working winery and sipped our wine, before sitting down to a surprisingly excellent meal that we had cooked ourselves! Fears that our cooking would be inedible were unsubstantiated – it was outstanding!
Read about our schedules in the bulletins below PLUS some interesting bridge problems/discussions.