This was a very full day. We were supposed to go ballooning this morning but it was canceled--too windy.
A quick change in plan and we headed to Vinci, the birthplace of Leonardo da Vinci... about 15 miles west of Florence. We enjoyed hilltop views along with models of Leonardo's inventions: a life size replica of his human powered flying machine, various military weapons, tanks and bridges, hydrometer, cranes, a bicycle and even his design for a wind-up car. A high point for me (besides actually being up on a very high point) was the ringing of the huge bells in the church tower during Sunday mass. I shot a video of them but recorded it at double speed without sound (duh). Those bells looked like they would shake the tower apart as they swung in and out of the tower... no, wait. This would be impossible because Leonardo invented and installed a device that neutralized the swinging effect of these bells. We saw it in the museum. Leonardo--what a brain. Imagine him walking onto the set of Shark Tank trying to get them to invest in one of his inventions... Would they bite?
All in all, it was one of the better museum experiences so far. After that a stroll to a tiny piazza for some gelato. .
The Renaissance town of Lucca was our next stop...
We drove under the arched Porta Elisa and through the fortress walls and found parking right away... but as long as I use my handicapped placard I don't have to pay for parking. Very nice of Italians to do this. Lucca is a beautiful city surrounded by very thick fortress walls. There is even a moat... dry nowadays.
A stroll up Via Elisa (I told Lisa I picked this street just for her) revealed a friendly renaissance feel... Juliet and Romeo could have been better off here. Villa after villa, balconies, a huge tree topped tower, secret gardens and very narrow passages gave us opportunities for lots of pics. Lucas loved the mailboxes mortared through the front walls and the giant Nutella bottle in a snack bar. There was the sound of water running through their canal and many beautiful fountains--all with potable drinking water. I liked the door knockers... we even found a shop selling nothing but brass knockers, mail boxes and other decorative hardware.
We saw a tiny, little pizzeria (about 4 feet wide by 8 feet deep) and bought some pizza a taglio (slices) and sat on marble church steps snacking watching all sorts of people walking by: priests, starlet wannabees, nuns in full habits, grubby-tight-pants regazze trying to look the part of successful playboys, babies with huge Bugs Bunny balloons and dogs of all sorts--fat, underfed, happy, or way to old to be walking. There is some great people-watching in this town.
This is a very touristy town (mostly Italians from what we witnessed) but it still had a relaxed pace. Everyone was in their strolling mode--their passeggiatta. We finally made it to the Piazza dell' Anfiteatro in the center of town.. an oval piazza built over the top of an ancient amphitheater (it's still under there). Although pretty, because of the curved buildings surrounding the perimeter, the place was tourist-kitchy with tourist menu cafes. We walked the long walk back to the car with my knees and feet complaining the whole way. Still, this is Italy and I've just walked back in time through the Renaissance, had a fantastic slice of pizza, took loads of pictures ... and I just discovered my new favorite town.
After driving out of town I drove to something I knew would impress Lucas and Lisa.... a huge, miles long Roman aqueduct. Heck, I Was impressed. The thing was massive, beautiful and went on for miles.
Next we drove through lots of traffic toward Pisa. The traffic was wicked, stop and and do, and made me wish I had an automatic transmission. Yikes.
The first impression was how big a city Pisa is... and how popular a tourist spot it is. The streets surrounding the Piazza Miracola were packed with cars, people and vendors hawking all sorts of tourist junk. We found parking a block away in a city pay lot... luckily the handicap rules made me save 40 Euros (about 50 bucks... For only an hour and a half!) I smell tourist trap!
We were all impressed by the amount of tilt of the Tower... it really is a lot! If you stand at the base of the side that's leaning, the top of the tower leans almost 13 feet out over your head!
We were also blow away by the Baptistry and Duomo because of the decorative sculptures on their facades. Most entertaining was watching people go into all sorts of contortions with hands, arms, legs and backs while taking the typical "I'm holding up the tower" photos. I even took one of Lucas holding the tower up.
Ok, so we hit the road, wanting to head back early because lo and behold, our hot air balloon ride was rescheduled for the next morning--at 7am! Nasty traffic from weekenders driving back from the beaches to their homes around Florence caused us to get back to Mormoraia at 10:30pm! We aren't going to get enough sleep and we have to get up at 5am to get to the take-off field in time. I was a bit nervous about arranging to send my little family up thousands of feet in a balloon basket, but the guy I booked is one of the best in the world who has trained many other balloon pilots.
This has been one long, wonderful day...