Booking a car turned out to be a hassle. I tried doing it on my phone during the long ride back from Lucca the day before. A lot of places had no cars available, or were very overpriced. I booked one from Europcar, only to get an email an hour later (while still on the train from Lucca) to say it wasn’t available. I then tried calling them, but was given a daisy chain of call forwards before being hung up on each time. So I emailed, but no response. Finally I managed to book a different car. Then the next morning there was an email from the first booking to say they have given me a different car – so now I had 2 cars booked. I tried cancelling, but the website went blank on the cancel page. Eventually I figured it was probably cancelled, but I wasn’t 100% sure. I vowed never to use Europcar again (though after more bad experiences with other companies I did).
We caught a taxi to the airport to pick up the car (hiring one from the centre of Florence is not advisable due to traffic restrictions). Taxi drivers in Florence are much more aggressive than the ones in Rome or Naples. We arrived at the hire place, and had to wait half an hour in a 2 person queue. Then their ticket system called up someone who had arrived after me! When it was eventually my turn it took only 10 minutes and we finally had the keys for the car. It was not the one I ordered in any way, shape or form, however it was diesel and an automatic, which would at the very least make it cheaper and easier to drive.
Driving out of Florence was somewhat nerve-wracking since road markings are sparse and road routes are erratic. Google maps was mostly ok, but set us wrong a couple of times. Eventually we made it out to the countryside and it was much easier. As we drove on and discovered that the car had Android Auto and adaptive cruise control things became even easier.
We drove through the Chianti countryside, stopping every now and then to admire the view. Google maps sent us down some wrong turns and some obscure narrow gravel and windy roads, but that just added to the charm.
Around lunchtime we arrived at the bottom of San Gimignano, a charming town famed for its towers. We had to park way down the bottom, so stopped for lunch on the walk up at Fuori Porta. We sat outside to admire the view.
After eating we wandered through the town, stopped at some of the tourist shops, and tried in vain to find the sole tower you can still climb.
We then drove down to Volterra, which had an interesting castle, though zero parking anywhere (a common theme in Italy), so we didn’t really stop here.
We back-tracked up the road and headed to Siena. Parking here wasn’t too bad – though by the time we arrived it was about 5pm on a Sunday. As we walked into the town a parade of flags were taken between kids dressed in their traditional outfits drumming very loudly. It was perhaps the most Italian thing I’ve ever seen.
It turns out this was Contrade Onda, one of 17 wards of the town. We were obviously in their region of the town as we noticed their symbol and colours everywhere.
We ventured on to the Piazza del Campo, and bought some gelato. We admired the square then, because it was quite late by now, decided to head back to Florence. However, like the Pied Piper of Hamlin, we’d been led astray by the drummers we’d encountered as we entered the town, and after accidentally looping back to Piazza del Campo we realised we had no idea where we had parked. Mina hit upon the idea of checking the parking ticket for a location, and although sparse did have enough information on it that we could match it with a location on Google Maps. We were very happy to get back to the car after half an hour of random wandering.
The trip back to Florence was quick and painless, although back in Florence itself was as tricky as before. We needed to fill up before returning the car, and of course all the gas stations had disappeared. Finally we found one. It was self service, which meant trying to work out how to use an automated system, that asked you to select a language, but reverted to Italian immediately after the first step. Then there was the issue of how to open the cap. Finally though we filled up, and navigated by Google Maps a very round-about way back, and through a pay-for carpark. Google Maps is essential and it’d be almost impossible to navigate the same way with paper maps, but sometimes its instructions are just plain misleading.
We dropped the keys off and found a taxi who, like the the driver earlier in the day, drove like a madman. At one point during heavy braking my green bag slid forward onto the floor. We got dropped off in the area around Ponte Vechio, as I had explained to the driver we wanted to get dropped off for a walk up to Piazzale Michelangelo. I paid the driver and grabbed my bag from the floor, and we headed along the river. I had the thought that I should be carrying my “man-bag” in the backpack, when Jess commented that the backpack wasn’t mine. And indeed it wasn’t! It was green, and around the same size, but otherwise completely different. Maybe I was tired after a long day, but I had completely not noticed I had picked up the wrong bag. All we had inside our bag was bottles of drink and our good charger, so it was a small loss. As we walked back to the point the taxi dropped us off I began to think what I should do with the taxi driver’s bag. I had no idea what taxi company it was or anything, and I probably should hand the bag in to the police. We got back to the point where we’d been dropped off, but there was no sign of the taxi. Just then he pulled up (with 2 new passengers in the back), and we swapped bags and went our separate ways just like that.
By now the sun was low in the sky, so we raced up to Piazzale Michelangelo. On the way was some sort of “purple” presentation about to commence.
At the top vast crowds had gathered for the sunset over Florence. There was even a cheer that went up when the sun actually disappeared.
Down again we walked along the river for a while.
We walked over a bridge and into the maze of streets, and by now it was after 10pm – so late and on a Sunday that most places to eat had already close. However we found a place and had a plate of pasta and some desserts, before finally arriving home around 11pm. Another very long day.