Under the Tuscan Clouds

Trip Start Feb 18, 2004
Trip End Dec 05, 2005

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Thursday, May 13, 2004

The sun in Tuscany hasn't been shining much. Even the locals say it's unusual for it to be so cloudy/rainy and cold this time of year.

Hiking along the Cinque Terre trail was a great experience. It was nice to be outdoors and hiking again (even if I did stop in a town now and then). The hike started with about 2000 stairs to try to kill me right off...but I made it and it wasn't so bad after that. The sun was out when I started so it was kind of hot. It was overcast by the time I reached the third town. There are 5 towns along the trail (cinque is "five" in Italian), the westernmost being Monterosso. I stopped in Vernazza and had a slice of pizza then in Corniglia for a bit of foccacia bread. I just looked around the next two towns. It's 12km between Monterosso and Rosmaggio, so quite a hike. While hiking along some of the sheer cliffs, I thought it would've been a good idea to have brought a big pumpkin dressed up with a face and arms and legs (made from vegetables, of course) and I would be dressed kind of Hawaiian/tiki style with grass skirt and mask. A couple people would be along dressed similarly with flaming torches. We'd chant and sing then sacrifice the pumpkin-man to the jagged rocks below. Alas, I had no pumpkin with me. At the end of the hike, I took the train back to Monterosso from Rosmaggio.


Sunday I took the train to Pisa. I found a place to stay then went looking around. The "Piazza del Miracole" is cool with the Leaning Tower, Duomo and Belastrio. I found the other piazzas in town to be very disappointing (ranging from just a patch of grass to a park with a statue). I decided they need to come up with a piazza naming convention. For example, "Gran Piazza del Miracole" so you know it's a good one. Actually, there's not much to see in Pisa besides the area with the Leaning Tower.

Leaning Tower

Then it was off to art land - Florence. The main art museums are all closed Mondays, so I just wandered all over town. Florence has several "gran piazzas". I saw the outside of most everything and got some good views from the Piazzale Michelangelo. I was sitting hanging out at the Piazzale and a male pigeon was courting a female pigeon - his neck was puffed up, he was cooing and spinning circles. The female pigeon flew away and the male pigeon looked himself over as if thinking, "what is it? am I ugly?" Then his head sunk and walked off sheepishly. I thought that was funny. My first night here I found a cool pub with happy hour - it's kind of a grungey, Seattle-ish dive bar with an indie crowd.

Tom and Florence

The next day was spent going to various art museums - Museo Duomo, Uffizi Gallery and Galleria d'el Accademia. The Museo Duomo has lots of the statues and such from the Duomo church that were removed for preservation. Saw some sculptures by Michelangelo, Raphaelo and the like. I waited in line over an hour to get into the Uffizi and had to shell out €9.50 ($13) to get in. The main attraction is Botticelli's "Birth of Venus". Most of the remaining paintings were religious in nature. I'm kind of burnt out on religious paintings (I've seen A LOT already on this trip). The Uffizi just didn't have too much to offer so I was rather disappointed (maybe I'm spoiled 'cuz I've been to too many really good art museums). I took a short break from museums then remembered the David statue is in Florence (oh ya!). So I went and saw that at the Accademia. The statue is impressive, but there's really not that much else in the gallery. I guess it was worth it to see the real statue (I've seen several fakes). I totaled about $30 in museum entrance fees for the day. Ouch! I hung out in the "garden" area at the hostel that evening and met a couple Americans, Aussies and some Canadians. It was a cool group. One of the Americans plays the assistant coroner on CSI (David?). A girl from the Canadian group is going to Ethiopia to volunteer with AIDS patients and hopes to open a orphanage for kids who've lost their parents. I felt like a selfish jerk after she told me her plans. Here I am spending all my money and time on me while others are suffering in the world. (sigh)

I went to Siena to see the city and some of the Tuscan countryside. Siena had several bad things going for it from the start (rain, buses, people at tourist office, accomodation). I won't go into details but I wasn't too happy there. The next day things got better as I got to relax in town and took a half day tour of the Chianti area. Got to see some cool Tuscan landscapes (even if it wasn't sunny).


Thus far the Italians haven't made too great an impression on me (those in the service industry anyway). They seem to react as if you are inconveniencing them...another thought was that they react as if they're really hungover, they know it's their job to help you but don't really want to be bothered - "you want a room.?." blah, blah, blah in Italian. pulls out some papers. "fill this out. ... here your keys." None of the "Bongiorno!!!" big welcome you see on tv. Though I guess if I had to deal with tourists constantly, I wouldn't be so happy either. The food is good, of course. It is expensive though. I think I'm going to get tired of pizza and pasta all the time though (I'm not really saying that, am I?). Accomodation tends to be expensive too. The one cheap thing is train travel.

When I got to Florence, I figured two things were bound to happen while in Italy: I'd get pooped on by a bird (tons of pigeons) and I'd get hit by a car or scooter. The first happened while I was walking to Ponte Vecchio. Luckily, it just nicked me so wasn't bad. Damn birds! Still waiting on the second...

Next stop is Umbria (Assisi, Perugia) and then on to Rome. After that is Naples and possibly sailing around some of the islands down south. (oh, and weather is supposed to get better)
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