Monday, November 12th -- Florence, Pisa, and Challenges with the Tour Bus
We had determined that D'Arcy and Roger had tickets for the same 10 hour excursion to Florence and Pisa as we did... to get on the same bus, we needed to arrive at the theater together and get the same stickers. We met for a very fast (think inhaling) breakfast. We were down at the theater to get on the bus and Lisa was determined to ensure we were at the front of the bus. Indeed, today, we were bus number "1" and we scored seats up on the top of a double decked bus.
Unfortunately, it was a 90 minute drive to Pisa and the tour guide seemed to ramble in broken English. It can get pretty darned frustrating when you are driving through countryside that is pretty but not noteworthy and having nice conversations which are chronically interrupted with rambling non-sequiturs. This kept up for quite a while!!
We also had to handle the dispensing of the "walkie-talkies" which were little radios with straw like tubes to connect the sound into your ears. These apparently would be used to listen to our guide through Florence. The plastic tubes seemed really cheesy...
The first stop was the train station in Florence which our bus-lady so elegantly described as a "pee-pee stop". The train station toilet required a 70 cent entrance fee which could not be paid for by bills. You needed exact change but there was a change machine on the right that could cope with a 1 Euro or 2 Euro coin. At the entrance to the ante-room with the admission gates (requiring 70 cents) and the change machine was a short middle aged Italian lady whose mood was very foul. She was only letting one person in when another left and the mood was very chaotic as we tried to manage our "pee-pee stop"... The lady got very short with Lisa as she was trying to navigate the different approach to sing the toilet. Here is a photo of the chaos outside the not-so-friendly gatekeeper. Fortunately, no one was injured in the process.
Soon, we met up with a new tour guide and, while her English pronunciation took some work to understand, we rapidly decided she was fascinating with a LOT to teach us with a strong background in history and architecture. Soon, we were following a different lady holding up a round "1" and seeing some beautiful sights.
Florence is, indeed, very beautiful! I think our 4 hours in the city did not do it justice and the tour guide was awesome (in spite of our need to follow the big round "1" and listen to her through the challenging headsets. Unfortunately, it was time to say goodbye to the cogent and interesting lady and continue the day with the lady who kept confusing and annoying us! On to a nice lunch (it was nice), and back to the bus! We had been given cards with the address of the restaurant when we started the tour in Florence. As we gathered to migrate en-masse to lunch, it became clear that a "Mrs. Adams" was missing... after 5 minutes of chaos, we went to the restaurant. Fortunately, the lunch as the gathering place meant that Mrs. Adams was able to find us (having missed a large part of the interesting tour by allowing herself to become separated). We enjoyed lunch and then back to the bus to be annoyed by our first guide as we trekked to Pisa.
At Pisa, the tour bus had to park quite a ways away from the interesting sites in the old walled city. We all walked together and had some free time seeing the leaning tower, the cathedral, and the baptistery. These are beautiful sites but an hour is plenty to see them. The leaning tower (and to a lessor extent the cathedral) are leaning due to settlement of the softer soil. The tower's top stories are actually twisted in an attempt to balance the tower (and so it is shaped somewhat like a banana). These are beautiful buildings and we had fun walking around them with D'Arcy and Roger.
As we waited (and waited) at the gathering place outside the walls to Pisa, a large array of street vendors were trying to sell very cheap imitations of watches and other stuff we did not want. We were (of course), waiting for 15-20 minutes as everyone regrouped. One very interesting (and worrisome) event happened when this man kept pressuring an older lady from the tour and would listen to her saying "no" to making a purchase. She had made the mistake of expressing some interest in the item (I think it was a scarf). She was getting more and more stressed as he wouldn't leave her alone. D'Arcy and Lisa intervened and told him to move on and leave her alone. I, too, proceeded to verbally engage with the seller. Roger, a former cop, watched and was ready to participate but knew it was better to stand back. The seller was SO aggressive (only verbally) and kept asserting that he had been selling there for 10 years and insisted on his right to pester the lady. He moved on after some serious staring-down but we were concerned he would return with reinforcements and so we told the tour guide we were heading back to the bus. After more waiting, the group was together an off we went.
We drove back on the bus still annoyed by the same talking guide (only about 45 minutes this time). The amazing memory from this stretch of road is that we were in the middle of the countryside on a two lane highway and we started to notice young women scantily dressed standing on boxes in the middle of no where. One car stopped to pick up one lady... Apparently, there is a military base nearby and this is a popular rendezvous point for activities illegal in Italy (and most of the US). None of us were surprised at the existence of this, just that it was occurring on a country highway with the ladies standing up on boxes in the middle of no where. Also, it was COLD!!! Still, it was interesting.
That evening, it was back to the boat and, again, we hit the buffet line with Roger and D'Arcy as we were too tired to mess with waiting for the late seating for dinner. Roger and D'Arcy were at the earlier seating and we wanted to continue visiting so we went to the buffet. The next day was Rome and they had made arrangements for a private tour. We knew we were planning to be in Rome the week following the cruise so we decided to cancel our short tour scheduled for the next day and sleep in! We just couldn't see 90 minutes each way to see a 2 hour overview of Rome (and we didn't want a longer tour because we were too tired). Rome would wait for next week.
We gave away our tickets to a nice kid working at the gym. He couldn't go but he made points with a nice young lady (also working on the ship) who was able to see Rome on her day off.
Monday was fun in spite of the challenges!