And so at last I come to the final part of my cruise holiday reminiscing: if you’ve stayed with me this long well done and many thanks – it’s been a long time coming.
To be honest, I wasn’t that fussed about this particular stop. I knew precious little about Pisa, other than the fact it has a leaning tower, and even less about Florence. As it turned out though, this was one of the nicest places on the trip and certainly well worth revisiting to spend more time there.
But I get ahead of myself: for the third day on the trot, following Naples and Rome, we had an early start and a long day ahead of us; and once again the sun was shining. We had booked one of the ubiquitous coach trips and once again it was necessary as Florence is around an hour and a half’s journey from the ferry. We stopped at Pisa on route, which is about 30 minutes away.
Actually we didn’t really stop in Pisa: the only bit of the city we were there to see was the Piazza del Duomo, or Cathedral Square, which houses the leaning tower, which is actually the bell tower of the cathedral. Cathedral Square is fairly compact and contains the Cathedral, the Tower and the Baptistry.
Mostly what it contains, however, is tourists, all striking odd poses for the inevitable photograph of them appearing to either hold up, or push over, the tower. Of course, we are far too sophisticated to do anything so cheesy and obvious – or so we thought. Once you are there, though, I think there is something in the air and you can’t help yourself, so in the end we succumbed.
Having taken our fill of pictures we returned to the coach to continue the journey to Florence, which is a beautiful city and quite compact to walk around. From the bus we walked along the River Arno to our meeting point for later: Piazza di Santa Croce, with its ornate Basilica. From here we were on our own, once again having plumped for an unescorted tour, but unlike our trip to Rome, at least this time we were once again with Jan and Andy.
We decided to start by visiting Piazzale Michelangelo, which offers superb views over Florence. However, to get superb views you have to go up, and there was quite a steep climb first. On the way we passed some very inspired road sign-based graffiti.
In the square itself is a bronze replica of Michelangelo’s David, but we didn’t spend much time looking at that with such a wonderful view to see and photograph.
We descended back into the city which is very pleasant, clean and not at all chaotic like Naples. The River Arno was beautifully tranquil and still, perfectly reflecting the buildings from its banks into the water.
I took a good number of pictures of Ponte Vecchio before I even realised what it was. You don’t need to be fluent in Italian to guess that the name means ‘old bridge’: it is in fact medieval and is lined with shops, as bridges often were in those days. I was fascinated as this must be what the old Westgate Bridge in Gloucester would have been like.
Next we found our way to Palazzo Vecchio – meaning Old Palace, you may notice a theme here – this is Florence’s Town Hall, which sits in Piazza della Signoria. It is very ornate, but we didn’t have much time to venture inside. We did, however, have a wander around the adjacent Loggia dei Lanzi which contains a lot of very impressive statues.
Finally we headed off to see the Cathedral, or more properly the Basilica di Santa Maria del Fiore also known as The Duomo. This is incredibly ornate, but once again we didn’t venture inside.
And so back to our meeting point in time for a quick snack of spaghetti before heading back to the boat.
So ended our final trip ashore, although at the time we didn’t realise it was our last trip. Next day we were supposed to be visiting Marseilles and Provence, but after all of the good weather we had enjoyed in Italy our luck now came to an end and high winds and rough seas meant a change of port. We didn’t have any excursions booked for the day anyway and a combination of the bad weather and not really knowing where we were meant that we decided to take it easy one last time on the boat.
The highlights of the day both came at the end: first Andy and I decided to indulge in Martini Flights. These were six mini-Martinis all shaken up and poured from six different cocktail shakers into six carefully lined up glasses along the bar. We had watched these several times during the cruise and been impressed – it was even more impressive with the ship rocking due to the rough sea!
The second highlight was when, under the influence of the aforementioned Martinis, we failed to spot the signs forbidding us from going outside and we went out and played basketball on the rain and wind-lashed decks. Great fun, but probably not recommended!
And so we came to the last day, Friday 4 November 2011, when we disembarked back in Barcelona, though not before picking up our bill for on-board purchases – the Cocktail Bar featured heavily and the overall bill was more than the cost of the cruise (gulp!).
Sadly the weather hadn’t improved: the rain was hammering down in stair rods, so we abandoned any plans to revisit Barcelona and headed straight to the airport for a very long and boring wait for the Easy Jet flight home.
If you enjoyed this long-awaited last instalment of my cruise reminiscences, check out the others: