After five nights in Rome we moved up the coast to Florence. This was one of the simplest legs of the trip, just one train the whole way. We were in a compartment with four others (two small children shared a seat). It was a noisier, slower, older train than others we've been on, but the seats were more comfortable than some others. We were a little worried at first that the train wasn't airconditioned, as Rome was pretty warm and when the train was stopped the airconditioning was off. But once the train started moving the aircon came through and it was all good.
Florence was very warm too when we arrived, probably about 30 degrees. We had some trouble finding our bus, as the bus stops had changed since the instructions we had were written. It was right by the train station though, and we found a news stand nearby that sold tickets. In many Italian cities you can't buy bus tickets on the bus and need to buy them beforehand, normally from tobacconists or newsstands. This can be a pain after hours or on Sundays when such places are closed, so it's good to buy a bunch at once if you know you're going to be taking a few bus trips.
We couldn't tell from the bus map if it stopped outside our caravan park or not, so we got off a stop too early at Piazzale Michelangelo. This wasn't a bad thing though, as the view from the Piazzale is excellent - and nearly matched by the view from the deck at the campsite. We only had to walk about another 200m (if that) to reach the campsite. We were staying in a three-bed permanent tent, about half way down the campsite (which is on a hill to the south of the historical centre of the city). From the tent there wasn't much view, but at the top of the campsite at the bar/restaurant the view was excellent. We spent our first afternoon at the Piazzale taking photos of the view and watching a few dozen kites, including one enormous one that would have been a good 5m squared, with tails. We got burgers from a snack stand for dinner (cheap but pretty lousy food) then spent the evening having drinks on the deck at the campsite.
Our first full day in Florence ended up being cold and drizzly. In the morning I bought some breakfast items from the campsite minimarket - chocolate-filled and jam-filled croissants (which we had discovered in our B&B in Rome), yoghurt, juice poppers, and cereal. This was our sole day to explore the city, so we spent time walking around, seeing the Ponte Vecchio, markets, Duomo, and other impressive buildings, and visited the Accademia (to see Michelangelo's David) and a Leonardo da Vinci museum. We decided to skip the Uffizi due to time contraints - we decided we'd seen enough art museums for now and were more interested in Leonardo da Vinci and specifically wanted to see David. Florence is a very pretty city, prettier than Rome. Rome is big and imposing and impressive, but Florence is pretty.
For dinner we had pizza and salad on our campsite deck - the pizza was reaonable, a good base but the toppings were a bit average, so still not as good as the pizza we discovered on our last night in Rome. The plastic 'walls' had been fastened down around the deck though due to the cold wind that had been around all day, so the view wasn't quite as nice as it had been the night before. We got hot chocolates after dinner, and WOW, they were the best hot chocolates ever! It was like drinking hot chocolate cream! We needed them as the evening was very cold. In fact all three nights in Florence were cold, something the locals told us was very unusual, which was unlucky as we were in a tent! Andre and I squished into one bed one night (we had a bunk bed and one single) to keep warm but it was a bit uncomfortable so the next night we went back to separate beds, though half way through the night I woke up so cold even with two blankets that I considered moving into his bed again!
For our second (and last) full day in Florence, we had booked a bus tour of the Tuscan countryside. We just had croissants for breakfast as the minimart wasn't open yet and I'd bought two packets the day beforehand, so we had spares! For our tour we met outside a cafe at 8:45am and drove out of Florence a little after 9. Our first stop was Siena, a medieval walled city. We were supposed to have an hour of free time before our guided tour, but due to some elderly americans who complained very loudly about going "too fast" and "not being able to see" the guide, we took much longer to get into the town centre (as it's car-free, the buses have to park outside and we walked in). This meant we only ended up with about half an hour of free time, so we didn't go very far. We then had a local take us on a tour of the town, through the cobblestone streets and into the elaborately decorated cathedral (covered in marble, including a parquetry-type marble floor, the only one of its type in the world). After the tour was lunchtime, where we had the option of eating at a place reserved by the guide with others from the tour. It was eleven euros each and basically all you can eat pasta, cold meats & cheese, salad, bread (served with olive oil and balsamic vinegar), wine and water so we decided it was a pretty good deal. It was a good opportunity to meet some of the other travellers on the tour, and we chatted with some Indians, Americans from Oklahoma and Canadians.
After lunch we left Siena and moved on to Monteriggioni, which can't even be classified as a village - it's really just a castle on a hill surrounded by farmland. We only had an hour there, enough time to climb the wall and look at the view over the countryside and look through the shops that now inhabit the castle walls, before we moved on to a winery for some wine and olive oil taste-testing which Andre had been looking forward to all day! We met some other Canadians there, Duy and Anita, and swapped gelateria recommendations with them - they were heading to Rome so we recommended Giolitti's, and they had just left Venice so recommended a gelateria there! I didn't mind the white wine that we tasted but wasn't a fan of either of the reds, but I never like red wine. We didn't buy any of the wine or oil there, but did buy some of the lavender honey that they also produce - I'm hoping we don't have too much trouble getting it back into Australia!
Our last stop was San Gimignano, another medieval walled town on a hill, known for its towers that can be seen from all across the countryside. Again we only had an hour there - not enough to explore it really as it is much larger than Monteriggioni and could be classified as a small town, but we did taste some of the gelato there and bought some postcards.
On our return to Florence we decided to try and find a restaurant that Duy had recommended for dinner. Easier said than done. It took us more than an hour as Andre had recorded the restaurant name on his phone, and his phone battery had gone flat. So we had to find a cafe with a power point where we could plug the phone in to check the restaurant details. That took long enough, but then Google Maps pinned the wrong spot on our map (even with the correct address), and TripAdvisor flatout gave the wrong address. We ended up finding it eventually though and we ended up not being extremely impressed. Andre said his steak was excellent, but Michelle and I got lasagna which, while it tasted good, had next to no meat in it and no tomato sauce at all - not sure if that's traditional or not, but none of the other lasagna we had in Italy was like that. We did have very tasty bruschetta though. The late dinner meant we didn't have a chance to do any laundry as we'd wanted and were up late clearing photos off our SD card onto Andre's phone.
We did enjoy our time in Florence, even though it was cold we liked semi-camping as something different to the B&Bs, hotels and apartments we'd had up to that point.