Tuesday 8 March 2016

Taking the Pisa

It’s quite early. When I say it’s quite early what i mean is that it’s dawnish and outside I keep hearing roar-sploosh-ROAR-sploosh-RRROOOAArrrrrrr-lap-lap.


You get the picture. Through my hazy head came flash backs of soggy shoes, champagne, endless walking and being next to a canal. In Venice. In the absence of missy it was my turn to scurry to the window - though with no one to take a picture - to have a look at the world. It was rush hour and deliveries were being made throughout the soggy city.

I showered and dressed quickly before spending idle time looking out of the window at the canal below because, let’s face it, this was
VERY COOL. Given that I already live by a canal you can see just how cool it actually was. Once dressed I alternated between writing and looking out of the window to see what was going by this time.

I also saw it was starting to rain. But then this was different to what it would be doing when it would rain incessantly. Really incessantly. Never mind. I wrote until the sleepy one woke, showered and dressed then it was off to breakfast having booked the next place for the evening in Florence. Breakfast was relatively muted and not one of the highlight breakfasts of the trip, but it served to make sure we were ready to drive back across Italy without having to find somewhere awful on a motorway to stop. If it hadn’t been for the rain we might have taken the pretty route but Italian roads are bad enough when dry…

We packed, we checked, and then with coat, gloves and hat firmly attached it was out in to the rain and the walk back across Venice to the Contrary Clio. But first a stop to pick up a postcard for the littlest offspring. Unlike other places I’ve been over the last fifteen days I had actually seen postcards, clearly I’d not been doing the tourist thing properly until today. We managed to reach the Grand Canal without any effort, the upside of having wandered so much, found some suitable postcards and then marched out… In exactly the wrong direction. Oops. Retracing steps and crossing the Rialto Bridge one final time I was noticing definite sogginess in my ballet pumps. Maybe I should have worn boots the day before but then I would have been too warm. It did mean that I wasn’t in the mood for coffee at a place suggested by a Twitter friend however fab it may be.

We mostly made our way straight across the contorted streets watching the building numbers slowly descend as we headed towards Piazzale Roma. Fortunately the endless rain was keeping most tourists at bay though those that were out had clearly not been to brolly training school and ensured that there was much dodging to be done. Did they not realise that I’m a bad tempered harridan with wet shoes?

Finally we crossed the last of the bridges, passed the bus station and after paying for the car parking returned to the very miserable looking Contrary Clio who looked accusingly at me as it was supposed to be a covered car park. Stroppy car. Layers were shed, and as the car warmed I tried to work out exactly how the address of the next stop was encoded. It took a while.

But off we went, round and round and round and round and round with Tom’s mouthpiece insistently telling us to turn left, turn right, turn around when possible all the way down the 11 floors to where the exit was. Jeez. Of course coming out of the car park he sat there, blinked and decided to sulk whilst what I really needed to know was do I need to go right as I suspect. Keep in mind it’s chucking it down and my steering wheel is definitely on the wrong side for a very awkward exit. Eventually Tom’s attitude improved and we were off. Hurrah!

The first stop was at the Autogrill Po ovest. I’m sure this is lovely normally and that they were just having an off day, but goodness were they horrible in there. I wasn’t even slightly impressed. Still the miles rattled by as we crossed though endless heavy showers and danced with the busy traffic of the industrial north. It wasn’t much fun. Skirting Bologna I found another of those really unclear multiple junctions and managed to get the wrong one which lead to having to find a way to get back on the road and not leave the confines of the toll road. Fortunately the peagé we found was both quiet and broad so a swift wide arc was done and I hoped that if I was stopped a smile and that idiot english woman look would mean I’d be let off. I wasn’t. Finally we were back heading in the right direction and the traffic thankfully eased off as we entered the far prettier hills. And tunnels. After tunnels. After tunnels. Many were long and one was stupidly long at over 8km! I did have the co-pilot checking which it was but as I was driving I couldn’t make a note.

As we rolled in to Tuscany the sun briefly decided to remind us that it was there which meant hasty scrabbling for sun glasses only to be shed the moment I put them on as the sun sniggered and hid behind a massive black cloud. Very funny. The outer reaches of Florence were as you’d expect from any regional capital, dire, and coupled with the rain it made for an interesting trip deep in to the centre of town. As we approached the hotel the roads went from merely bad to oh-bugger-I-think-the-suspension-is-broken, they really do know how to build roads.

And stand on them.

Yup, for all those in London exasperated by huge groups of Italian kids blocking every pavement and road I can confirm that it’s they natural state and they do it at home. I managed not to crush any under wheel. Similarly I managed to avoid several collisions with scooter riders hell bent on meeting their maker. It was a jolly ride.

Turn right and in two hundred yards you have reached your destination.

Are you sure Tom? I mean I see a building but no hotel name. I noted some other buildings, drove on a bit, stopped and consulted the oracle. Hmm, the hotel was right after one of the hotels I noted… It was becoming clear one of us would have to go and see if they could find where we were supposed to park so at a red light Clarissa jumped out and headed back to find a hotel whilst I looked for a safer place to stop to await the verdict.

It wasn’t good.

I received a message: “Hotel Aline is a building site”. Bugger. We had a hasty exchange and agreed we would cancel the booking - for what it was worth - and find somewhere else. I left my brief safe harbour - thank goodness the Italians are used to cars being abandoned all over - and headed back through the suspension test zone to collect her. I got the full story, there were builders, there was no reception. There would be a snotty message going to booking.com.

We pulled off and went in search if a place to stop and look for a place to stay, suddenly it transpired that Clarissa had caught a nasty case of Contrary… “Shall we go to Pisa instead?”

Yep, okay, goodbye Florence, it was fun. Ish.

Tom was given new instruction and with a sigh he told us to turn around when possible. Oh for five minutes. This meant a long circuitous route that was like… Well, have you ever seen a demolition derby in real life? They are brilliant fun, loads of cars gosling for position and ramming in to each other. Got that? Good. Now imagine it when it’s the non-contact version. In the rain.

Quite how there were no accidents is a testament to the fact that Italian drivers are incredibly aware of impending devastation and take appropriate action. And not a horn was tooted by anyone to anyone. It’s quite impressive to see really in a terrifying sort of way.

Finally we were out and heading towards Pisa and a place to stop, cancel the booking and find a new place. Easy.


Fortunately where Florence was hell on earth, Pisa was dry and quiet. A bit of a win. We even found the right place with no doubling back though we couldn’t get in to the car park as the entrance was chosen as an appropriate place for a delivery lorry to park across. So we parked next door went in and, miracle of miracles, they had received the booking I’d done about thirty minutes earlier. Hurrah!

Okay so this twin room was exactly nothing like the one we’d had the night before, but it was clean and only slightly smelled of stale smoke, it would provide shelter, a shower and a bed for the night. We didn’t hang around, it was a case of sort ourselves out and then straight in to town to make like proper tourists! Except that I couldn’t brig myself to do it, I couldn’t do the hands in front of the tower thing that everyone else seemed to be doing. Similarly I couldn’t walk on the grass as the sign said I couldn’t.
But I did walk around, I took some pictures and I stared in awe at… The cathedral. My goodness it’s impressive. As is the baptistry, truly, truly impressive. I think it’s because they stand alone not swamped by lesser buildings around them. Sure the leaning tower is interesting to see and I’m sure Clare would have been more distracted by the attractive young soldiers with big guns that were guarding the place
presumably a reaction to the recent atrocities in Paris. Anyway, we wandered all around in the gathering dusk and when it really was quite dark headed back in to town in search of food.

It was probably going to be Italian.

We had noticed a curry place on the way in but it wasn’t open then and I didn't think to check the opening times so inevitably we ended at an Italian place. But which to choose? In the end we chose the last one we passed as we doubled back on finding no more, it was empty, we went in and seeing we were there slowly others followed.

The food was okay, the house red was drinkable and the decor was fresh. Presumably the place had only just opened as there was a hint of paint smell hanging on the air. The art on the walls was interesting… It served to stave off hunger and after the food was eaten and the wine drunk a final grappa was used to numb the senses to the hint of smoke back in the room.

We managed to find our way back okay, but then hit a teensy problem. All three gates to the hotel were locked. Oh. Fortunately there was a bell which Clarissa duly pushed and a man emerged looking less than amused. I smiled and drunkenly waved the key. It usually works.

So finally it was bed time but not until we finally did the tourist picture thing against the leaning tower, sadly there was no leaning tower so the wardrobe had to make do.

I’ll photoshop it later…

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