Not only did I need the break but I also felt the need for some culture and some amazing food...
I stayed with a very old friend who is currently working in the Pisa area. He doesn't know about Sue, one of the few left who doesn't, so my femme side didn't make an appearance. Never mind. I also met a colleague in Florence (it wasn't all holiday) and she took me to a great place for lunch with no tourists.
The local wine is terrific (yes, I was off my skin medication until the last day so I could enjoy some fabulous vino, not just the famous Chianti but also Bolgheri, Montepulciano, Vernaccia...
And the food... and the restaurants. I've never had pork with bitter orange before; spaghetti with fresh tuna sauce cascading like a wave from a scallop shell; duck and orange ravioli; lots of wild boar stew, platters of beautiful hams and salamis; battered rabbit; fresh sea bream in a restaurant perched on the cliffs above the sea. Fabulous. And ice cream... oh, yes.
|I love the way they decorate the fruit flavour tubs with luscious looking fresh fruit|
Here's a few illustrated features from my travels... interesting, I hope, and some amusing...
PISA: the money shot
|Pisa is a massive fraud. The tower is actually dead straight; it's all the other buildings that are leaning.|
VOLTERRA: ancient Volterrae, one of the 12 great Etruscan cities before the Romans came, perched on the crest of a steep hill with a remarkable museum of Etruscan civilization. Quite by chance, we happened to be there during a gathering of classic Italian racing cars in the town square.
|She-demon with horns (1st C BC) - this appealed to me!|
|Ancient bronze - I think it looks like Donald Trump!|
|Super Italian cars in super Italian square|
|When Italian car manufacturers came up with racing cars like this, everyone thought they were having a laugh... until they kept winning!|
FLORENCE: world capital of art and culture.
|Baptistry, Belltower, Cathedral, Dome... a beautiful complex of buildings|
LEGHORN (LIVORNO): Not a great tourist magnet (especially after being wrecked in World War II) but I was curious about the English engineers and architects who designed much of it in the late 16th and early 17th centuries, notably Sir Robert Dudley, and Inigo Jones whose portico for the cathedral (which part largely survived the bombing) is like his portico for St Paul's Church in Covent Garden, London. I was also curious to see the markets which were once thriving centres for selling WWII army surplus and black market goods - the sort of haunt of Milo Minderbinder from Catch 22.
|Livorno Cathedral, carefully rebuilt after WWII|
|New Venice, part of a series of canals round the forts.|
LIGURIAN SEA: I haven't seen this sea since I was a little kid on family holidays. It's rather fabulous in the evening light...
|16th C coastal defence tower at Calafuria, with a rather nice 21st C bar attached!|
|Beautiful sunset over the Ligurian Sea at the fabulous Astragalo restaurant at Castiglioncello. The fish ravioli and fresh sea bream were delicious, especially with a view like this.|
SAN GIMIGNANO: another postcard city, Medieval and unspoilt, perched on a hill with numerous tall towers.
|Just imagine living in the Middle Ages... with no elevators|
|Bride sharing a drink through massive straws with her guests in San Gimignano. I don't know if her impressively resonant burp is some local tradition. If so, her husband will be a proud man; if not, he may already be having second thoughts!|