Sunday, 4 September 2016

A Villa in Tuscany - Part 1

We weren't planning a holiday this year - apart from the annual jaunt to EGX (the UK's biggest gaming expo)  in September. However, just a few short weeks ago Nathan got a message from our friend Dan in Edinburgh asking if we fancied going with him to Tuscany - as he had chance to rent a villa for a week or so. Didn't take us long to say "Yes, why not?"

This is how we came to be jetting off from a cool and damp Edinburgh airport a few days ago and landing in sunny Pisa. This was part one of our journey. We had a night in Pisa before picking up a hire car the next day and heading off into the Tuscan countryside to find our villa hideaway in Castello.

Unfortunate phone
The holiday didn't get off to the best of starts on the way to Edinburgh though!  We'd only got as far as Stoke station when Nathan's phone was completely trashed by the taxi! It was run over - from the inside.

It had fallen out of his pocket - but by the time he realised, the taxi was down the road. Although he ran after it but couldn't catch it so I had to call the company and ask for him to come back. He reported that he couldn't find it - but when he got back and we called the phone - we could hear it ringing! The driver said it must be between the seats - and pushed the seat back to get at it. When Nathan reached in he pulled out a phone that was buckled with a smashed screen. It was still ringing though :-) The seat must have run over it - with some force!

Nathan then spent the journey up to Edinburgh trying to find a shop there, that had the same phone. There was a Carphone Warehouse not far from the station - so he sprinted up there while I waited with the cases in Platform 5 - a pub opposite Waverley Station.

Dan and Nathan on the Edinburgh tram
He made it back - complete with new white phone - before Dan arrived to meet us. We shared a bottle of Rose to celebrate the beginning of our holiday! Time to relax!

Drizzly Edinburgh Airport
The next morning we loaded our luggage and ourselves onto one of Edinburgh's new trams to the airport. It was a dark, damp and drizzly morning. Nathan fuelled up on a substantial Scottish Breakfast, including square sausage and haggis, I tried the French toast - which was delicious -  before embarking on our Ryan Air 747 flight to Galileo Galilei airport in Pisa.

We got seats together - despite refusing to cough up an extra £8 each to ensure we got seats together :-)

Arrival at sunny Pisa
It was a three hour flight into Pisa - and the first thing Nathan said as we came into land over the sea "Oh look, there's Ikea!" Very Italian! :-)

The weather was sunny and hot and we soon found the road where our first hotel was. Pisa airport is close to the city - so we could walk to our B&B quite quickly. It was No. 52 - but the man in charge took us to a floor in the building next door at 50. It was a suite of four rooms with two bathrooms and a mini kitchen and sofa area. We had two of the rooms which had celling fans and a balcony too.

Pizza in Pisa
We set off then to explore Pisa. It was a nice walk past the railway station, into the centre. It was hot so we stopped off in  the shady Victor Emmanuel III Square to have some lunch and our first taste of the local wine. it was just 4 Euros for a half litre carafe. The food was lovely too - I had pizza in Pisa! Dan informed us that Victor Emmanuel was the last king of Italy. He was only 5 feet tall and the only advice his father gave him was "Remember: to be a king, all you need to know is how to sign your name, read a newspaper, and mount a horse"

The beautiful River Arno in Pisa
The dazzling Leaning Tower

After lunch we braved the sun again and walked over the River Arno to the famous Leaning Tower of Pisa.

It was pretty busy in this area - everyone wanting to take a photo of themselves with the tower in the background. it was a gorgeous square and the tower itself was dazzling white in the bright sun. it's made of limestone and the angle of lean is quite alarming close-up! It is the bell tower for the cathedral next door. You can climb up to the top of the tower inside - but the was a long queue with everyone being frisked by machine-gun toting army bods. We decided not to join the queue in the stifling heat.

Icarus grounded
The tower was built over 199 years - starting in 1178 with only 3 metres of foundations in the soft subsoil - which explains its famous tilt. In fact it began leaning almost immediately!

We walked around and admired the statue of Romulus and Remus as well as the stunning fragment of a statue of Icarus.

We needed refreshment by then - so found a shady café umbrella and had lemon granitas. We decided we wanted to find Galileo's birthplace - so consulted our map and headed off.

Galileo's pink house
We found another square filled with fantastic buildings, then followed a side street until we found the place where Galileo was born. There's a plaque - but it's rather disappointing to find that its been turned into an estate agents. Peering through the grill - as it was closed - we could see some information boards on the wall - but there doesn't seem to be any museum or shrine to the inspirational astronomer.

Information Outside

Me and Nathan at the tower
We wandered around a bit more and as the sun started to set over the city we made our way back to Victor Emmanuel and found another café serving dinner.

Another beautiful Pisa square
We tried some different local wine and plates of Tuscan cured meats and cheeses, with rustic bread.
To finish off the evening - and fortify us for the walk back to our B&B we tried the Grappa. The waitress was lovely and brought us a shot each - and complimentary shots of the honey variety too. 

Dan didn't seem keen - but he did have to drive the next day - so Nathan and I finished it off. I didn't like the plain one - but the honey one as delicious - but very strong!
So, we went back to our lodgings and sat chatting on the balcony, planning our next few days in Tuscany and watching the planes take off overhead.

Tomorrow we were picking up a car from the airport and heading off to Castello!

Visiting Galileo
Dinner in Victor Emmanuel Square

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