I’ve got to admit, the days are starting to run together a bit at this point and I’m getting some of the details confused… but I think we left around 8am yesterday to make the 5 and a bit hours drive from Florence, Italy to Nice, France. I’m sure about leaving Florence but might be out on the departure time…
Our first stop was at Pisa to see the famous leaning tower. The drive took about 2 hours and was pretty uneventful – the highlight was the terrain in the area near Cinque Terra (we didn’t stop unfortunately as buses aren’t allowed there… and actually we weren’t really that close at all but the scenery was enough to suggest what Cinque Terra might be like (steep hills, picturesque hilltop villages, etc.). Once at Pisa we followed our fearless leader Frank (our EF tour director who has been with us since we landed in Zurich) into the baptistry (in the old days churches didn’t have their own baptismal fonts so they usually built a building near the cathedral to do baptisms in). Galileo (yes… that Galileo) was baptized in this one and it’s quite a beautiful building. What’s really cool though, is the echo that can be produced by a singer hitting the right notes from the centre of the baptistry – it’s really quite haunting and would have been amazing to hear more than one singer creating a full range of echoes.
After the baptistry we made our way into the duomo (cathedral). Pisa was one of the most important cities of renaissance Italy and it shows in the magnificence of their cathedral. It’s quite different looking than most of the typical churches of the time and is constructed of very fine materials and has some really beautiful artwork and decorative stonework throughout.
After the duomo we gave the kids about an hour to wander around and take pictures of the leaning tower (leaning because the people of Pisa built their magnificent bell tower on an ancient harbour… which started to shift under the tower before they’d built even half of the planned 100m height… oops!) and to explore the old town area. Everybody seemed to enjoy Pisa… partly because the sun was shining… partly because there wasn’t a lot of walking… and for at least one of our boys, because his “ciao bella” was rewarded with kisses from not one, but two lovely young Italian ladies. Unfortunately, he also got to meet their boyfriends!
While the kids were shopping and kissing girls, Marie and I headed over to an old cemetery alongside the duomo – it cost us 5 euros each to get in but was totally worth it. It’s not really a cemetery in the sense that we picture them but more a crypt or something along those lines… Whatever it was, it was really cool – lots of graves from the late middle ages through the Renaissance and up to the present day. The grave markers were fascinating and many were works of art in their own right.
After Pisa, we made a quick pitstop at one of the AutoGrill truckstops along the way to eat lunch and use the bathrooms (cheaper than eating in Pisa) and then piled back on the bus for the 3 or so hours left to get to Nice. Along the way we passed through Genova (we know it as Genoa – home of Christopher Columbus) and a couple of very pretty villages/towns.
Once in Nice, we made our way through the maze of narrow streets to eventually find our hotel (we’re 2 minutes away from the train station which will be handy on Friday when we take the train from Nice to Paris). The hotel is a pretty typical European two star hotel – decently clean with fairly small rooms and minimal amenities. A few of the kids have skylights (always a treat when the sun is shining) and the quad rooms are pretty decent sized… Although it’s a non-smoking property, some of the rooms are in a wing that reeks pretty badly but the kids say they don’t really notice it… Marie says it smelled like someone died…
After settling in our rooms (i.e., dumping our bags on the bed) we met up in the lobby and followed Frank out to do a bit of exploring before dinner. We spent a bit of time on the beach near the English Promenade (the water was a balmy 15°C but no one went in – although some made plans to go swimming the next morning). After the promenade we headed over to the old town area to find our restaurant – Cafe Malone – remember that name if you’re ever in Nice because the food was fabulous – salmon or bacon quiche and green salad to start, potatoes and turkey stew (although that doesn’t quite do it justice) and delicious cake with chocolate topping for dessert. Definitely the food highlight of the trip thus far (and a highlight for Frank in Nice – usually the food here is lousy he says).
After dinner we explored a little bit of old town to give the kids some orientation for their free time tomorrow afternoon and then headed back to the hotel to turn in.