Tuesday, October 16, 2012

Art and Lots and Lots of Bicycles

Florence (from our parking lot)
On Saturday Sam and I head out to Florence without the boys as they were going to be too busy commandeering the bicycles from sweet Italian children and feeding the farm cats rice crispie treats.  As it turns out, the farmhouse was really only about 15 minutes from the south part of Florence where we needed to park to go into the older part of the city.  You may or may not already know that you can't actually drive INTO most of the older Italian cities unless you are a citizen ( in which case, I think you can actually park in the Duomo).  But you and me, nuh uh. They have these areas called "ZTL"--zona traffico limitato for which there are signs that you need to be able to recognize and if you get caught driving in a ZTL, there is a satellite picture taken and you get a fine for a gazillion dollars and it's all sorta vaguely intimidating--the point IS, even if you rent a car (or Death Van), you can get CLOSE, but not right there in the city.  Sometimes you luck out and you get a really great parking space and you don't have to walk very far, and sometimes if you're like us and you don't do a ton of research beforehand you just park at the first parking you see which may or may not be 27 UPHILL miles from your final destination. Ahem. 
A Razorback on the outside of the Palazzo Vecchio
 You should be getting the picture at this point that we parked in a piazzale sometime in the morning and then proceeded to walk and walk and walk and walk and walk til we hit the Uffizi somewhere around noon. I'm kidding. It was more like 20 minutes. But it was definitely hilly and right about midway between the car and hitting the Plaza Della Signoria I realized that there was absolutely no way we were going to be able to do this with the kids the next day.  But, we'll get to that in a bit.

Florence is a beautiful, beautiful city. There is literally art on every corner, some of it very very old and some new (mostly old though)--beautiful statues, amazing buildings. You can't throw a rock without hitting something once owned by the Medici family. It's almost overwhelming, how much there is that's just breathtaking. 
even the candy is pretty
So, we just basically strolled around and saw as much as we could see--ducking into the Duomo and yes, I had my glass of wine in the Piazza.  We spent a couple hours in the Uffizi which is probably not long enough, got lost in some back streets looking for a wine bar recommended by Lonely Planet who I no longer like because they need to work on their map skills and had dinner right off the Ponte Vecchio. It was a good day even though my feet haven't really forgiven me for the flats I was wearing.

So on Sunday we were originally planning on going back to Florence with the boys, but after we saw how much walking was involved and how big and busy the town was and realizing the only way we were going to be able to keep track of our monkey children would be to leash them or strap them to us with duct tape, we opted to just try something else. 
Sunday was rainy and a little bit cool, but someone had told us about this "nature park" not too far from where we were staying that was like a little zoo with some Russian bears and some bison and a small collection of other animals. We thought we'd give it a shot. yeah.  I won't go into the whole long saga of how we found the actual place with bear enclosure but no bears even though we walked around for an hour looking for them and I became briefly panicked at the thought that maybe they had gotten loose?  All I know is that only animals we saw in the little zoo were some oversized rabbits, a few monkeys and a collection of malodorant donkeys. It was a little bit disappointing.  But we decided to continue on our Day of Toodle and try to find Dario the Butcher in Panzano which was not too far away.   

we saw this view for miles..
You'll hear me keep saying that things weren't too far away and TECHNICALLY, this is true if you are plotting two points on a map, but in reality it doesn't matter if something is five miles away, if you are driving it in Tuscany, it's going to take you an hour, at least.  Don't get me wrong, It's going to be a beautiful hour--the scenery really is as green and lush and picturesque as you imagine.  If you can manage to ride in the passenger seat while the car whips around 87 curves in a two mile stretch straight up a mountain with zero road shoulder to speak of without barfing, it's even better.  So we were driving along all these back roads in Chianti on our way to find Panzano and then we start running into a few cyclists. And then a few more and then we go over a hill and all of a sudden we are pretty much surrounded by hundreds of people on bicycles and we're like, "oh shit, we just entered an Italian bike race."  As it turns out, we drove smack into L'Eroica.  L'Eroica is this vintage bike event/race thingie that's held every year in October with something like 4000 people riding--I'm not really sure what the rules are, but from what I understand the deal is that the bikes have to be built before the 1980's and not have modern gears and from what I could tell, you get extra points if you ride in argyle socks. It was crazy.  So, we're stuck in the middle of these cyclists going 10 mph or less and we keep thinking, "Ok, we'll just turn at the next stop sign and go on our way to Panzano and get away from the pack!" and then we'd turn and there'd be more cyclists and WHAT ARE THE ODDS THAT THEY'RE ALL GOING THE SAME PLACE WE ARE?? Turns out, pretty good odds.  The race ended right in front of Dario the Butcher's shop. I kid you not. So we didn't really get to go into the shop to buy anything because it was closed, but we saw some cool bikes and we met Dario because he was walking around in bizarre pants blowing a horn to welcome all the cyclists to the end of the race. Then we went home to go harass the farm cats some more.
Dario and his crazy pants.

tomorrow: more pretty cities and gelato.

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