Day 3 - Leaving Roma for Firenza and the Tuscan Valley

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June 23rd 2019
Published: June 23rd 2019
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Today was another early start day as we left the chaos of Rome for the more peaceful Florence, called Firenza by the locals. After a quick breakfast at the hotel, we were ready to board the bus by 7:45. Today we began the seating chart rotation, where everyone gets a chance at various seating locations on the bus. We ended up at what the driver called the "pole position", right behind him which gave us a great view out the front window. It didn't take long before the craziness of Rome was behind us. We could visibly see the signs of stress disappear from Anna, our Tour Director. She admitted that she really does breath a sigh of relief when leaving Rome, because as she said, "If anything is going to go wrong on a tour, it will go wrong in Rome". We didn't see any signs of problems in Rome, but evidently that is because Anna is doing a fantastic job!

It's about a 3 hour trip to Florence, which is a bit much just after breakfast coffee without a stop, so about halfway through, we stopped at a gas station rest stop along the highway. It's similar to gas station rest stops in the US in that it has rest rooms, a convenience store, and a sandwich shop with a few seats. Jody and I had just finished breakfast, so a couple of Diet Cokes was all we needed. Back on the road, the scenery really picked up as we came closer to Florence. The urban stone of Rome was replaced with mountains and hills along with fields of grass, crops, and vineyards. Along the way, Anna explained that Florence is mostly known for leather and gold jewelry. And we would be given a few hours to wander around to do some shopping before a walking guided tour at 3:00. But, before we were turned loose, we visited The Gold Corner, and were given a lecture by the jeweler about what were some of the specialties about Firenza Gold. He passed around several pieces of jewelry, earrings, bracelets, and necklaces and Jody had a chance to look at them up close. He explained that as part of Insight Tours we would get a 20% discount along with a refund of the 12% VAT tax that they would submit the forms online to process our VAT refund back to our credit card in a few days. Jody really liked a pair of gold earrings with some diamond cut white gold that made them sparkle. They were less than E200 with the discounts, so I knew I was going to be in trouble.

After the Gold Corner we moved over to the leather shop, Peruzzi. and watched a demo of applying gold leaf to a leather wastebasket, and then had a little fashion show and demonstration of the various leather jackets using one of our tour members as a model. These were easily some of the nicest leather coats and jackets I had ever seen, mostly made of lambskin, with one really outstanding antelope skin lightweight ladies reversible coat. The colors were great, and the leather was smooth and soft. The prices were reasonable, with a typical jacket or coat going in the E400 to E600 range before a 5% discount and 12% VAT refund, which is great for a high quality cost. The reversible antelope skin was a little pricey though at E1080. They also had a huge selection of leather handbags and purses for almost any price.Jody was especially happy to find a leather covered sketchbook for her mother, so much that she also bought one for herself.

After the shopping demonstrations, Anna also recommended where to get the "best gelato in Firenza", so we could sample it and compare it to tomorrows "best gelato in Italy" when we visit San Gimignano. She also recommended a visit to the Ponte Vecchio bridge as a great picture opportunity. We were let loose with 3 hours of free time to shop to our hearts content, and when let loose, Jody made a beeline directly back to The Gold Corner to check out the earrings. She found a beautiful pair just like she had seen except in rose gold, and at E169 after discounts and VAT return, I had to buy them for her. We visited a bunch of other shops and found that some were good quality and some were cheaper and lesser quality, but that both the gold and leather shops pointed out by Anna were best.

We also made a few stops at souvenir shops, and picked up a couple of t-shirts, of course. By 2:00 we were shopped out and ready to search for the gelato shop for a quick break. It didn't take long to find the shop with the crowd of people outside eating gelato, and the line of people standing in line to buy some. The line moved quickly and soon we were both tasting some of the most delicious gelato yet. Jody had the Chocolate Mouse, and I had a mixture of Caramello and Rum Nut. All were awesome! After the gelato, we headed over beyond the center of town to the river to a spot below Ponte Vecchio bridge. Walking on the actual bridge doesn't really show the uniqueness of the bridge that can be seen with a picture from downstream. Ponte Vecchio is a bridge with some sort of houses built on the structure that really make the bridge look unique. By now it was getting close to 3:00 and we needed to get to the rendezvous spot to begin the walking tour.

At the meeting point, Anna introduced us to Rosa, our local guide. Rosa took us through the narrow streets of Firenza pointing out the homes of Michelangelo and Leonardo Da Vinci before stopping in the Piazza Della Signoria where huge statues have stood outside in public for hundreds of years. There is also a copy of the statue of David, where the original stood for 400 years until it was moved inside the Accademia Gallery around WWII to protect it from damage. From the Piazza, we walked on to the Cattedrale di Santa Maria del Fiore, a really huge and magnificent church dating back to the 13th century. From the Cattedrale di Santa Maria del Fiore we continued our walking tour past the high end shopping district and on to the Accademia Gallery where Anna was waiting with the tickets to see the real Michelangelo's David. Our 32 person group was too large for the museum rules, so we met an additional local guide Consuello who became our new local guide. Consuello was obviously extremely impressed with the David and knew about everything worth knowing. She gave us a great explanation of both the history of how the David came about, but also its symbolism and place in history. All of the local guides on our tour have been awesome!

It was about 5:00 when our tour of Florence was wound up, so it was time to get back on the bus to head to Monteriggioni and our hotel for the next 2 nights called the Borgo San Luigi. About an hour later, we pulled up in front of a place that looked like it just appeared out of a fairy tale. It's a real Tuscan villa, complete with tree lined drive to the multiple buildings to the smell of jasmine as we walked up the drive. Our second floor room is one of four in our building, with a king bed and a loft accessible only by ladder with a couch overlooking the room. There is also a private veranda with a marvelous view of the gardens below. This place is really impressive! We had an hour and a half before dinner and spent some time exploring the grounds before heading over to the bar and restaurant by the swimming pool to get a couple of Diet Cokes. Too soon, it was time to head back to the room to get dressed for dinner.

Dinner tonight is a special treat as we are headed over to an authentic Tuscan restaurant called Locanda Del Molino17. It is used mostly by the locals as the place was full and we were the only tour group there. Tuscan food is evidently very meat based not so much pasta and tomato sauce. This was a multiple course meal with cold cuts and salami, tomatoes and mozzarella, some kind of local grain soup that we'd never heard of, and a thick spaghetti and meat sauce, just for the appetizers. The main course was a plate with multiple kinds of meat, actual beef steak strips, sausage, chicken, ribs, rabbit, and several others that we could not identify. I tried most of the ones that didn't look to scary. There was also potatoes and salad. For dessert we had a fruit and cream cup and biscotti. This was served along with mineral water and Coke Zero for us and authentic Tuscan red and white wine for everyone else. The food was delicious and the atmosphere was awesome! The only difficulty Jody and I had with dinner is that the couples were randomly seated at tables, and somehow Jody and I ended up at a table for 8 with 6 Australians who were all lovely people, but when I watch Australian television shows, I always turn on the closed captions so that I can easily understand the accent. Unfortunately, actual Australians do not come with closed captioning. and it was really tough understanding what everyone was saying! But even with the communication difficulty it was an awesome evening!

Dinner finished up at around 10:00 and all that was left was the ride home on the bus. Everyone was still excited from such a great evening, and Anna thought we needed a little music. So it was sing-a-long time on the bus to songs like "That's Amore", "Sweet Caroline" and "Downtown", with most everyone singing along as the bus made its way along the narrow dirt road in the Tuscan hills on the way back to Borgo San Luigi. Tomorrow is a "relaxed start" day, so we don't head out until 8:30 and we plan to be back to the hotel by 4:30 so we can all relax with a dip in the pool before dinner.

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