This painting portrays the...

Trip Start Dec 27, 2006
Trip End Jan 23, 2007

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Sunday, January 7, 2007

Today was a free day in Florence, although there were a few things that were included. For lack of a better plan, we all headed to the included activities.
First up was a leather demonstration, specifically on how to tell the difference between real and fake leather. Turns out that the four main methods commonly used are pretty useless these days. For instance you can no longer rely on the 'smell test' as that can be beaten by a leather 'perfume'. Nor can you rely the 'flame test' or the label. The only way to tell is by the back of the fabric, and that's only possible if the article isn't lined. So after hour of listening to the ways which we couldn't tell the difference between real and fake leather, we discovered that virtually the only way to tell was the price itself. It was at this point, that we decided that if it was that hard to tell the difference we could get away with 'fake' leather; no-one would question us if we said it came from Florence.
After wandering through the leather and fold shop we headed off towards the main square. On the way to the square, we (being Andi, Craig, myself and a couple of others) decided to pre-purchase our David tickets before our walking tour began.
After threading our way through the streets of Florence, we made it to the home of David... and proceeded to walk straight passed it. The entrance was so non-descript. When we finally figured out where the entrance was we went in only to discover that it cost extra to pre-purchase the tickets. We had 45 minutes to spare, and a 15 minute walk back to the square.
Whilst we were deliberating over whether we should risk not pre-paying the tickets, I mentioned to Travis that we probably had enough time to see David then. He relayed this message to the group, and we decided to head straight in.
We wandered around the gallery looking at the art then found David. It or rather he was massive. Much bigger than I thought. It was at this point that I realised that he was David from David and Goliath which is probably a well known fact that I should have known too, but oh well.  

He was behind all this glass and you weren't supposed to take photos, which I didn't realise till afterwards. I managed to get a really clear photo, just as I overheard some staff telling people not to take photos. Oops. After visiting David, we wandered through the rest of the museum/gallery before realising we had very little time to get back to the square for the start of the walking tour. 
With this in mind we headed back at a fair pace to the square, with Andi, Trevor and Jo leading the charge. Luckily we made it with thirty seconds to spare, although truth be told, the first stop was twenty meters away, so we would have been ok.
The tour started in a small outdoor gallery of statues where we saw all sorts of little things that we wouldn't have otherwise have seen, such as the fact that one of the statues had a self portrait of the artist on the back of the statues head. It was pretty cool.  
Our starting point had been the Piazza Della Signora; the tour then took us past the infamous Uffizi gallery, where there were stone statues of notable Italians. The guide continued to talk at us, but it was rather hard to hear him and the street performers were extremely distracting. After the guide had discussed the statues we moved on to the edge of the Arno River. From our vantage point we could see the Ponte Vecchio.

The Ponte Vecchio is the oldest bridge in Florence, and is also the home of many of the silver and gold-smiths of the city. The shops were housed in the original buildings that have been in place since the butchers were replaced.
From the bridge we headed towards the geographical centre of the city, where all the markets and shops were. After a brief stop we headed to the final stage of our brief tour of Florence. We finished our tour in the shadows of the Duomo.  
I can safely say that the exterior of the church was the most intricate I had ever seen. There wasn't a plain surface in sight. The walls were only outdone by the huge bronze doors depicting stories from the life of Madonna. After admiring Europe's fourth largest church from the outside, the group split. A few of us ended up heading into the Duomo. Which is just as beautiful on the inside as it is on the outside, though the decorations are not quite so overwhelming.  The inside of the dome depicts the last judgment fantastically.
After exploring the church, some of us decided it was time for lunch. Once again the new groups were created some headed off to see David, the rest of us headed of for lunch. We didn't make it out of the square which houses the Duomo. We found a lovely restaurant that had all of the traditional foods one expects of Italy. Between us all, I think we tried everything. We had pizza and pasta that puts shame to pretty much any pizza I've ever tried. It was fantastic.
With lunch behind us, we once again split into smaller groups as more people went in search of David. In the end, only Andi, Craig and myself remained we headed of in the general direction of the Uffizi gallery, and were going to head in to explore, we got slightly sidetracked by all the street performers, and ended up finding a small gallery that held a few of the excess pieces owned by the Uffizi. With neither of us being greatly knowledgeable about art, specifically by the lesser known artists, we wandered around randomly without a purpose. Until that is we came across a tour being conducted in Italian. Shortly after that, Andi and I decided to conduct our own impromptu tour of the remaining paintings. We enjoyed ourselves tremendously safe in the knowledge that no one near us could understand what we were saying.
As they say, a painting (or rather picture) says a thousand words, and we merely vocalised some of those words. Everything was going fine, until we heard the unmistakable sound of the English language close to us. We suddenly realised that a couple of middle aged tourists had been listening to us rambling on for a good while, and thought that we actually knew what we were talking about.
I don't think either of us has laughed that hard in a while, and I don't think any 'tour' has been ended quite as abruptly as ours was. As you can imagine, we escaped fairly quickly after that.  From the gallery we headed back to the geographical centre of the town to explore the markets.  
They were fantastic. Full of Italian wool garments, bags, wallets, trinkets. They were great. I ended up getting more presents for friends and family, specifically some luxurious Italian wool scarves that were hand knitted. Luckily for me, Andi was there, and was willing to argue the price, so I ended up getting them for quite a reasonable price.
Once we had quenched our curiosity of the markets, we headed to the Ponte Vecchio. With no specific destination in mind, we just wandered eventually arriving at the bridge to explore and to look at all the gorgeous jewels on display. We ended up crossing the bridge and walking towards the Palazzo Pitti. The museum looked impressive but we decided against going in. From there we wandered aimlessly through Florence back over the bridge heading towards our meeting point outside Sante Croce.
Amazingly enough, we managed to be way laid by the shops and I ended up buying to charms for my bracelet. An Eiffel tower and a Venetian mask. My plan was to buy a charm for each of the main countries we visited.
After we all met up and headed back to the hotel, there was a brief break before we headed out to the Tuscan hills for what our tour leader Renee affectionately called 'the big Italian wedding'. We all got dressed up and drove through some beautiful areas. Upon arrival we were all handed drinks and directed towards a group of tables. Shortly after we arrived, another bus load of contiki-ites joined us.  
The night was fantastic, the wine flowed, the food got eaten (and wow was the food good) and the music played. We were entertained by an operatic singer and an accordion player both of whom displayed exceptional talent. 

As the night went on, people started dancing away and having a good time, then the Macarena came on. Yes even in Italy. It was one of those classic moments that you just have to go with. We even got our bus driver onto the dance floor. It was great. The dancing continued until it was time to go.
Another beautiful bus ride and we had reached our next destination. We had arrived at the much talked about electronic discotechque. It was fantastic in its tackiness. There were mirrored walls and ceilings, smoke machines and a massive karaoke set up. Every one joined in and had a fantastic time dancing away to the early hours of the night. 

Eventually I decided to call it a night, and jumped in a taxi with Craig and two of the other girls from our tour. Everything was great, and I was ready for bed, only to realise that I didn't have my room key. Tallulah did. Oops. Ended up being an even later night than I'd anticipated, but it was all good, and at least I had Craig to talk to, and wasn't left in the corridor on my own to wait. All in all, it had been a good day and a fantastic night, and I'd decided that I was well and truly over the contiki cough.   
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