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Florence has a population of 400 000, yet hosts 7 million tourists annually. I wonder how that makes a local feel, especially pulling a grocery trolley along the cobbled, narrow sidewalks wrestling hordes of foreigners? Nevertheless, we pulled our cases along the same narrow sidewalks between the station and our hotel, mindful that this is a bustling place, with a fast pace. The history, architecture and magnificence beggars belief. As does the lack of litter, multitudes of cyclists, pedestrians and scooters. The Vecchio Bridge over the Arno River survived bombings and floods, now hosting top-end brand stores and their clientele. Sitting at a side-walk cafe’ enjoying a Florentine T-bone steak, watching the world go by filled us both with a special sense of well-being.

Getting accustomed to local times and habits has taken some getting used to. Searching for coffee before 10am can be challenging, especially when hotels don’t provide a kettle, etc. Italians appear to love their dogs and children in equal measure, cleaning up after their dogs less so.
Europcar very kindly provided a new white VW polo, having booked a Fiat 500 or similar. The oil was hardly showing on the dip stick, so I asked for it to be seen to. The technician thought I was crazy, but I would rather spare the costs of a damaged motor. Perhaps he feels everyone drives a rental like it is stolen?
Karen still walks to the driver’s door, and maintains that I am far too close to everything on her side of the car.. Thankfully car and ourselves are still intact. Why Napoleon wanted folks to drive on wrong side of the road with their master eye watching the verge, and their master hand on the stick shift instead of the steering wheel remains one of Life’s great enigmas. Good for lefties, I guess.

My brother-in-law gamely suggested driving like taxis drive back home whilst in Italy. We have found driving instead very easy and pleasant, no hooting and drivers very accommodating of tourists in their land. The open roads and little traffic make for a thoroughly pleasant experience. We could NOT find parking in Sienna, however, and gave up after numerous attempts, almost dizzy from going round and round.

From Florence we drove out to Pisa, another of Karen’s dreams. From some way out she identified the famous Leaning Tower, excitement levels well in the red. The immediate area surrounding the tower and cathedral is beautifully manicured and uncluttered. Thankfully the crowds were thin, and we climbed the Leaning Tower – adrenaline taking Karen to the top like a dassie! On the narrow, worn marble stairs, one can clearly feel the incline. It was a magnificent experience, as was visiting the cathedral.
For those who have not been, we recommend believing everything you read about Tuscany and then some. The mix of ochre walls, olives, vineyards, narrow roads and hillsides make for an intoxicating visual mix. The tall, thin Italian conifers in abundance.
Much of the ground is very steep, with heavy soils, so small caterpillars are the tractor of choice. ‘Under a Tuscan sky’ does not do this gorgeous region justice. The walled towns of Volterra and San Gimignano achingly beautiful. Sienna is THE most visited city in Italy, and unsurprisingly we were unable to find a parking spot. Not wanting to miss anything I chose a scenic route southwards, which turned out to be a slow, windy route through forests and national park. It was stunning, but took us away from Tuscany, and home very late. Thank goodness I had checked the oil level…