A short jaunt to Tuscany

I’m developing a pleasing habit of finding five-star hotels on the cheap, but my latest trip to Livorno looked like blotting the copy book slightly, until the majesty of the rest of Tuscany came in to save the day.

The hotel itself – the Grand Hotel Palazzo – is easily the fanciest place to stay in the town, but it does feel as though lack of competition is making it get lazy. While the staff are certainly friendly, they’re not as clued up as they might be and you have to book ahead to use the spa. Yeah, yeah, first world problems etc, but who wants to be on a timetable when you’re on holiday?

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Still, the hotel’s position made for some stunning views from the top floor restaurant, particularly at dusk, as the sun slipped down into the Mediterranean, bathed in a glow of pinks and oranges. Sadly, that was about the best thing to see in Livorno, which is very much a port town and the touristy stuff – such as it is – doesn’t really kick in until April or May – we went in March, so ya know…

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However, when life gives you lemons, what do you make? That’s right – you make a trip over to Florence to witness the home of the renaissance. We did have lemonade there too (well, lemon Fanta), so it all ties together nicely.

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Despite it being March, the streets were already thronging with tourists, so actually going into places wasn’t going to happen, particularly with the prices – €20-odd to get into galleries and museums and even €10 to get into Boboli Gardens. Fortunately, there are plenty of stunning buildings, tidy little squares and the Ponte Vecchio to see – all very easy to get around if you’ve got half a day or so to amble about. Good weather certainly helps the experience and gives you an excuse to people watch by the Arno.

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With Florence ticked off the list, where do you go on your final day in Tuscany? Pisa – especially if that’s where you’re flying home from.

Annoyingly, the airport is at the south of the city and the one thing everyone goes to Pisa to see is at the north. Fortunately, the easiest route to the Leaning Tower is pedestrianised and direct – useful when you’re carrying your luggage.

The Tower itself is a bit surprising, insomuch as it’s the first thing you see when you get off the street – I was expecting it to be hidden away somewhere. Still, as most people were doing the hilarious I’m-holding-up/pushing-over-the-Tower pictures, it meant that they weren’t crowding around the cathedral or duomo, which were better to look at for me. On top of that, you could chill out on the grass in relative peace between the cathedral and the city walls, far from the madding crowd.

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However, this did get me a bit riled up – as anyone who’s played Age of Empires before knows, you don’t put big fancy buildings right up against the walls of your city – anyone with a half-decent trebuchet is going to make short work of them. Fortunately, there must’ve been a dearth of half-decent trebuchets over the past half-millennium, so the buildings have escaped unscathed.

Holiday helpers

  • If you do go to Livorno, get a Livorno card for free city bus travel and discount entry to the sights (when they’re open). €3 for 1 day, €5 for 3.
  • That said, nobody seems to care if you’ve got a ticket or not on the buses. There are machines to validate them on the bus, but we never saw a ticket inspector.
  • Intercity trains are dirt cheap and again, we weren’t asked for tickets. Careful though: they’re not at all wheelchair- or buggy-friendly and don’t run all that often, so check times before you travel.
  • Most food places in Livorno (on Viale Italia, at any rate) are dirt cheap – especially at Il Delfino and Sushiking. The latter isn’t just a sushi buffet; you can get pretty much every nationality of food, except Italian, save for the tiramisu.
  • Eat lots of tiramisu – didn’t have a bad one anywhere and trust me, I tried plenty.
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