Thursday the 18th of June
It was incredible to see small towns built into the mountainside as we journeyed to Italy. The highway seemed to float above the countryside giving us a spectacular view of the vineyards carved like stairs by the single houses that stood sporadically on the hill. A long nap made the drive pass faster but my exhaustion from the hectic days passed was making it harder to appreciate the beauty of our surroundings.
Our service stop was our first taste of Italy with a delicious slice of pizza and the best (two) espressos I had ever had in my life! I was surprised to find a packet of Ferrero Espresso to Go – it contained three capsules of espresso shots with a little straw for easy drinking on the go which is definitely something I will need for the upcoming exhausting days. I was pleased to already be a seasoned espresso drinker otherwise I would have been quite embarrassed ordering a sissy coffee thats not on the menu and frowned upon!
Knowing a monument and seeing a monument in reality is often surprising as the initial perception can often be modified in its portrayal – usually through disproportional post card pictures. This was what I found of the Leaning Tower of Pisa. This Italian icon was the third of three structures in the grassy square standing behind the less popular baptistry and cathedral. The baptistry was the biggest in Italy with a circumference of one-hundred and seven metres and lined with busts of important figures in triangular frames. Delicate patterns were engraved in the steeple that were repeated in the cathedral next door. The trio all dated back to the 1100s and had taken a century to complete due to the complex building materials and intricate design. The tower stood third in line of the three structures and had a unique simplicity to it due to its thin columns lining the bricked building. The Leaning Tower of Pisa was a doomed structure from the start: only three metres of foundation was laid on the soft soil so when building began it started leaning to the left. A halt in construction due to war allowed the soil to settle but the builders had learnt from the previous movement and assumed that building to the opposite side would ensure this would not happen again. But it did. The tower began to lean to the right but once again war required construction to cease for the time being and allowed the unstable ground to resettle. A final section was added hence it was built over a period of two-hundred years which is why the structure was able to remain and erect as the popular icon admired by the world today.
That evening we climbed to Piazza Michelangelo, a flat plane named after the famous artist/inventor where small stalls sold handmade soaps, leather bags, fruit and liqueur and various touristy items. From our viewpoint the city of Florence was in full sight. It was a breathtaking city with more detail than I can bear to recount; it was incredible to be able to see an overview of the city in which we were to spend the evening and following morning – even the street of the restaurant that we headed to next for dinner. Being in Tuscany, a Tuscan dinner seemed appropriate. Traditional Italian cuisine consists of many multiple courses for a filling dinner late in the evening. The first course was an antipasto plate of bruschetta with sliced salami and beans. The second course was our starter of chilli tomato spaghetti and spinach feta ravioli. The third serving was our main meal of flambéed pork and poached vegetables and delicious potatoes! I could barely even begin on this meal although having tried to save room during the previous courses – and we were only halfway through our dinner. Dessert was our fourth course of tiramisu pudding. Then we were served a digestive liqueur as fifth course – a glass of limoncello that is sour but sweet also and is intended to be sipped slowly. Sixth and finally an espresso!
Our company strolled over to the karaoke bar that had been (a combination of) both exciting and daunting during the day of anticipation. This place was amazing! The karaoke bar served its signature cocktails in two litre jugs that must have contained at least half a bottle of vodka each and on tap beers could be ordered in three and a half litre towers that were carried out with sparklers shooting from the top. This atmosphere was amazing! Everyone was dancing and singing and celebrating till their throats grew hoarse. Our contiki team squished onstage and sung the best ever rendition of horses – we ought to be rock stars.
The litres of cocktails were getting to my head so I stumbled down to the bar to rehydrate. In moments I felt the assertive grasp of a local around my waist leading me into a sensual salsa. So passionate, I was taken aback as all I had been looking for was simply a glass of water! This is by no means a situation I would have encountered was I anywhere else! Not that I was complaining… From the pizza to the piazza to the pasta to the party, it had been a very full day of cultural experience.