Shifting Plans, Shifty Florence
Today we got up early and ate breakfast at the agriturismo's little cafe. A flat egg fritatta, some pastries including chocolate cornettos (picture a crunchy croissant), cioccolatta caldo (hot chocolate) for Lucas, cappuccino for Mom and blood orange juice for Babbo.
The plan was to go early to Fiesole, a beautiful hillltop village that over looks Florence. On the way trough Florence we found ourselves at Piazzelle Michaelangelo, a broad piazza with parking and a replica of the David. I planned heading up there anyway, so we stopped for our first look at Firenze.
As I pull toward a spot, this shifty looking guy starts directing me toward the parking spot. I had read about guys like this in both Rome and Florence. They act as if they are a parking attendant and shake you down for helping. Some will even ask for cash payment for parking. As I got out, sure enough he confronts me jingling some loose Euro coins in his hand, looking for a tip. I asked him where the ticket machine was (usually there is a kiosk to get your parking ticked for your dashboard.) He said the parking was free but still outstretched hand looking for a payout. I told him he was crazy and gave a stern look and he magically disappeared.
Lucas was the one who first noticed the sign saying that parking was indeed free. So, the city gives tourists this one and only lot to enjoy a great view overlooking Florence and the low-lifes come out of the woodwork to scam us.
Anyway, we took our first pics of the broad view of the River Arno and the huge terracotta Duomo dome... pretty breathtaking. The piazza is also home to many kitchy caravan vendors selling their useless nonsense to tourists.
We then drove up toward Fiesole after a ride through insane Florentine traffic. When we got to the very narrow one lane curvy road heading up to Fiesole's heights, we were met head-on with car after car racing down around every bend! Parts were so narrow I was forced to back up until it was barely wide enough for the oncoming car to squeeze past us... literally with inches between us and the wall on one side and our cars on the other. Now I know why Italians are in the habit of parking or even driving with their mirrors pulled in! After one guy passing shouted something to me I realized their is some sort of odd pecking order on who has to back up and who gets to stand his ground. God! (Note the photo below... the arrows show who has the right of way). In hindsight, Tommy took us us the wrong road. It turned out there was a much wider road going up to Fiesole that would have been a lot easier on my blood pressure.
We made it up to the town but first had to park the car in a handicapped spot... I have my U.S. handicapped tag with me which is recognized by European countries by international treaty. Lisa was nervous about this working so (sigh) I reluctantly changed to another pay spot on the same block. After asking a policia if my handicapped placard was OK, I went back to the hilly spot where I was wedged between two cars on a street so narrow the mirror had to be tucked in... and waited and waited for no cars on the street so I could handbrake and first gear out of the spot and immediately put it in reverse to get back into the handicapped spot that I was parked in originally!
Applause and respect from Lucas and Lisa on my stick-shifting prowess and we were finally off to see the Roman and Etruscan ruins on the side of town... Roman baths, temples, alters and a huge amphitheater. Afterwards we had lunch in a ten seat little trattoria... beef stew for me, pumpkin soup for Lisa and saffron risotto for Lucas. He got in a little trouble by saying it was better than Dad's risotto. This was the best meal so far in Italy.
Then we trekked up a very steep hill that challenges my poor knees to see the promenade overlooking Florence. We were all so winded and hot from the effort that the view was anti-climatic. The villas and gardens up in this section were obviously for the wealthiest citizens of town. Amazing.
A big change to our plans after a family meeting: Believe it or not, we decided not to go into Florence afterwards. Here's the reasons... We heard from a family at lunch that Florence was elbow to elbow thick with tourists; the lines for seeing Michaelangelo's David were an hour or more long (we weren't able to book tickets ahead); parking and bus to the historic center was going to be a real hassle; we didn't want to torture Lucas with long lines, heat (it's been pretty warm here) and hours stuck in museums.
Besides, we've been having a great time off the tourist beaten path in the smaller hilltowns. So I don't fulfill a life long dream of seeing David, but my sweet boy will be happier and having fun....
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