On Friday we flew in to Florence, after a 7-hour flight from Toronto to Frankfurt, and then a short 2 hour commuter jet brought us into the Gallileo Gallilei airport of Florence. Understandably we were slighty worried about how well our bicycles fared in the flight – or if they even followed us to Italy in the cargo hold of the plane. However, everything went smoothly and our bicycles survived undamaged – likely due to our “leave them no chances to break something” approach to packing them. It took us a little over and hour and a half to unpack the bikes again and move all our equipment from the duffel bags to our panniers, and then off we went. But very slowly, due to the narrower italian roads and zippy cars scooting about haphazardly.
Our babies – they are ok!
All packed and loaded on the way from the airport to the hotel.
Although initially scary and seemingly devoid of order, we have come to find that Florentine roads have polite and highly skilled drivers, always willing to give bicycles the right of way, if only by a smaller margin than we are used to. Our hotel took a while to find, but has been a great home base. We were allowed to store our bikes in our hotel room, and since we are only on the 2nd floor, we consider ourselves lucky in terms of bike-hauling. The compact city is easily walkable, but its tall stone buildings and narrow cobblestone roads opening into piazzas made it a metropolis for us. People fill many streets, and nearly as many mopeds and scooters buzz along the vias as well. Cycling isn’t difficult, but we had to go slowly on many roads, as people on a stroll didn’t jump out of our way as North Americans do.
Almost everywhere here we have been able to find english-speakers in stores and restaurants. The only exception to this is in the smaller churches and in the local food market, where little old nuns, priests and the local fruitvendors understand little to no English. These less “touristy” locations have a more authentic Italian feel to them, and we have made use of hand gestures and our limited Italian vocabulary to get by, and enjoy ourselves nevertheless. We did, however, see all the standard attractions Florence had to offer, and were not disapointed. It is an amazing city. The duomo and its huge dome is a spectacle that was well worth visiting. We climbed over 500ft upwards through small rock staircases in the walls to enjoy an unparalleled view of the cathedral floor from a catwalk, and then outside to see the entirety of Florence from the dome’s top.
From duomo’s roof.
We also visited the Accademia Gallery, where we saw Michelangelo’s David (which you really cannot appreciate until you have seen the original up close), and enjoyed a large collection of late medievel and renaissance paintings. Seeing how art evolved in this time period, how the artists influenced/imitated one another, and the effects this had on religious artwork was interesting. On Sunday after an all-Italian mass in the small but beautiful Basilica della Santissima Annunziata, we managed to enjoy the city simply by cycling around. We saw the street life (and bought some apricots in a local market), crossed the Arno river to ride to the hilltop San Miniato monastery outside the city for a good view, and finished off the day by grabbing a gelatto.
NOT the real David, but a David none-the-less
View from San Miniato
San Miniato monastery exterior
The food is also wonderful here, from a simple, fresh Pizza a Pomodoro as you walk the streets at lunch, to the full, 3 course meals at one of the trattori that line the many piazzas. It gives us a better appreciation of the phrase, La Dolce Vita!
Enjoying the good life.
We will leave you with a few more pictures from the trip. Ciao for Niao!
Drinking from a nasone – the properway.
Duomo roof relief, the centre ‘eye’ is the oculus.
Duomo floor and hall – view from catwalk.
Campanile or belltower, from the roof of the cathedral’s dome.
This is the [very long] packing list of all the items that we are going to be bringing with us to Italy for our trip (other than our two bicycles, of course). All the items on the list are the totals for both of us combined, unless otherwise noted as per person (p.p.). Extra heavy or bulky equipment like the chain to lock up our bikes, will be bought in Italy once we arrive.
1 pair light cotton trousers
1 pair cotton shorts
2 pairs cycling shorts
3 pairs underwear
2 cycling jerseys
3 pairs socks
1 botton-up/nice long sleeved shirt
1 waterproof riding jacket
1 cycling cap
1 pair cycling gloves – only for Dad
1 pair light pajamas
1 pair running shoes
1 pair walking shoes – Dad buying his overseas
1 tube toothpaste
Lens cases and solution
2 pairs sunglasses – and regular glasses
1 bottle sunscreen
1 small bottle shampoo
Razors and shaving cream
Facecloth and towel – will be bought overseas
1 unlocked Galaxy Nexus smartphone
1 rooted Nook tablet
1 power adaptor & plug divider
1 compact Canon camera
1 small first aid kit
Keys on keychains
1 Snow Peak butane stove
1 butane refill adaptor
2 Guyot squishy cup/bowl sets
2 GSI utensil sets
1 small Sigg Inoxal cookset – w/ two pot lids as plates
1 salt + pepper shaker
1 small cooking knife
5 650mL Filzer Stainless water bottles
2 1L Filzer Stainless water bottles
1 swiss army knife
1 camera monopod
Tools & Bike Parts
2 cable bike locks – will be buying lock-up chain in Italy
2 pad locks
2 bicycle multi-tools
2 sets flat repair kit
2 sets tire levers
1 spare chain
2 spare inner tubes + 1 extra to cover lock-up chain
In Italy, we hope to cut our costs down somewhat by cooking as many of our meals as possible. But, the availability of stove fuels is somewhat different that North America, meaning that choosing a stove is a little hard. White gas (camping fuel), and the standard EN417-threaded butane canisters so plentiful here are quite scant in most of Europe – Italy included. Across the pond, Campingaz’ dominance in the market means that its own proprietary canisters are ubiquitous throughout much of the continent, to the chagrin of many tourists, who won’t have much luck finding EN417 butane canisters for their stoves in all but the largest cities in Italy.*
*Update: We have completed our tour of Italy, and in fact did not have too much difficulty locating the EN417-threaded canisters. We purchased our refill at an odd little “Liquigas” shop in Siena, a chain which appears to be unique to Italy. There are more of these shops, and so our advice would be to start the search there. The cylindrical, hairspray-type bayonet canister were no where to be found in the country whatsoever.
I, myself, am not a fan of the Campingaz canister system nor their stoves, which are relatively heavy and seem (to me) to be of inferior fit-and-finish to many MSR, Snow Peak, and Primus stoves. While MSR offers the Superfly stove which can fit both the EN417 and Campingaz canisters, it also happens to be fairly heavy and large – not something I’d want for travelling light. So, I broke down and ordered a stove that has consistently been praised for its light wight and compactness, performance, durability + quality of build, and simmering ability: the Snow Peak GigaPower SS Stove. But, you can’t have everything: the GigaPower runs only on the EN417 canisters.
Snow Peak GigaPower butane stove
In one of my earlier posts, I talked about cutting costs by using a butane can refill tool; you can top-off a used canister with one of the spray-paint shaped bayonet cans available in most hardware/grocery stores. In Italy, these cans are also supposedly common, and so I plan on finding one GigaPower canister in the camping stores of Firenze (Florence) where we fly in, and then continuing to refill that can as we travel on through the small hill-towns of Tuscany.
Another helpful tip for tourists: if you are willing to pay a small premium, many plumbing shops/hardware stores in Italian cities sell the EN417-threaded canisters for brazing torches, which can be used in a pinch.