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July 23rd 2015
Published: May 24th 2017
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I wake in a cold sweat. Today I must drive.

I have always had an obsession with climbing things, particularly hills and tall buildings, and I decide that before we leave Florence, I must climb to the top of the Cathedral Dome. Issy doesn’t share my obsession so she stays at the hotel. The queue to get into the Dome is a few hundred metres long and looks like it will take at least a couple of hours to clear so I decide to climb the Bell Tower instead. This is a separate building next to the Cathedral, and has only 413 steps to get to the top compared to 462 to get to the top of the Dome. I hope that the thousands of people in the queue to climb the Dome don’t know something that I don’t and that being 49 steps lower won’t mean missing out on some unworldly panorama.

The Bell Tower staircase is very steep and narrow, and if you need to pass someone coming the other way, one of you needs to stop and turn side on, otherwise there is not enough room. This doesn't work well for the many tourists here who look like they have been overdoing the pizza and spaghetti. This is one place where Italy's obsession with making everyone go one way would have come in very handy, but I think that maybe it would be quite hard to have two staircases here, one for up and one for down. There are lots of people making the climb and my faith in the fitness of the world's tourists is slightly restored. The views over Florence and the surrounding countryside from the platforms on the way up, and from the top, are stunning.

We check out of the hotel. The bill includes $120 for a load of washing. I wonder how much it would have been if the shirts hadn't come back individually gift wrapped. In Marrakech they did two full loads of our washing for free.

We walk to the car hire company office. Its street number is 128, but the buildings on either side of it are numbered 92 and 94. I don’t think it would be a lot of fun being a postman in Florence.

We get into our car. I am shaking. Issy can't get the GPS to work inside the undercover car park, and I can't find the handbrake so we need to find someone to show us where it is so we can leave. The GPS is taking a long time to find the route and we have no idea where we're going. Eventually it kicks in. It speaks English which is handy. Issy says that the screen often shows us needing to turn left at the same time as the voice is telling us to turn right. This is a bit disconcerting.

We arrive at the very cute and well preserved Tuscan hill top village of San Gimignano. It is famous for its many towers, a lot of which date back to the 1200s. There were 72 towers here at one stage and the tallest was over 70 metres high. Fourteen remain, with the tallest being 54 metres high. Our hotel is on the village square. Cars are not usually allowed in, but there is a 20 minute exemption to let you drop off your luggage. The streets are all very narrow. To get to the hotel we need to drive through a narrow gate through the city walls. There is about a two centimetre clearance between the gates and the side of the car, and I begin to question whether we've taken out enough insurance.

Our hotel, which is called the Hotel Leon Bianco, is right on the main square, and our room has excellent views from the hilltop over the Tuscan countryside. We have lunch in the square and then go back to our room for a siesta and to check emails. Issy has an email from the hotel in Florence telling her that she has left her phone behind. This maintains our perfect record of having left something behind in every country we have visited so far. Issy tells me that her leaving her phone behind is my fault. I have no idea why, but I decide that it might be better not to argue.

I go out for a walk around the village. The whole place is stunning, and the views over the surrounding countryside in the evening light are spectacular. I try to get in to climb up one of the towers, but they are closing up for the day. I think that maybe this is a good thing and that I need to ration myself to climbing only one tower per day.

We have dinner in a small cafe in the main street. The setting is idyllic.


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