Our visit to Florence was on Monday. I’m only getting to it now because we’ve actually been very busy each day, what with sightseeing and the thrill park rides that they called tenders and such. And I felt I needed to write about the tender insanity from yesterday and today.
Our plan was the same as it was for our last cruise visit to Florence: rent a car in Livorno, the actual port, and drive the hour and a quarter to Florence for the day. I understand some people don’t especially like driving, and specifically don’t like driving in foreign countries where the signs are difficult to interpret, and where the driving customs are different than they are used to. But it’s never bothered me, even back in the dark ages before GPS, and even in countries where you drive on the left . With a GPS, right side driving and highway signs written in the Latin alphabet, Italy is pretty easy for me. So I arranged for a car, and went down to the dock at 8:00 to complete the rental.
The first problem was that our Visa card had been hacked last week (1). While Chase agreed to let us use it for the remainder of our vacation as long as we physically used the card for each transaction with a swipe or chip reader, the car rental was a manual entry transaction and so it wouldn’t work. So I pulled out my AmEx card and gave it to the guy. It was rejected. I went upstairs and got our other AmEx card from Sally. Also rejected. So I called Matteo, and he came down and we used his Visa to pay for the car (2). The rental guy was exceedingly nice and all, but this took an annoyingly long 50 minutes.
Anyway, we all finished breakfast, loaded into the car, and drove to Florence. At the last minute, Sally went back upstairs to get an umbrella, although the skies were sunny (rain was forecast for early evening).
Our first objective in Florence was the Ponte Vecchio, a famous bridge across the Arno River which is lined with jewelry stores. Zelda had in mind to buy herself an anniversary present. So we walked there from the parking garage and were met with a horde of people. Turns out this is a three-day holiday weekend, with May Day on Monday. So every Italian was traveling, touring and visiting places. Like Florence (and Rome).
On the walk over we had passed a pottery store that carried the same handmade dishes that Sally had bought years ago on the Amalfi Coast. We all (3) looked inside, and Zelda wound up buying a few pieces to carry home. Sally did not buy anything.
Zelda had less luck shopping on the Ponte Vecchio, so we all just went for lunch. By this time it was starting to drizzle, so Sally was very happy to have her umbrella. Being a tough guy, I had nothing but my hat. Since it wasn’t pouring, we decided to walk over and see the Duomo, and perhaps go inside if the line wasn’t too long.
The line was too long.
From the front of the Duomo, the line snaked all the way down the side, and I couldn’t see where it ended. So we looked, I took a picture, and we walked back to the car in the rain.
This day encapsulates what’s wrong with cruise-ship sightseeing. We drove almost three hours to spend about three hours in town, including lunch. In the rain. If we were staying in Florence for a couple of days, we could have adjusted our sightseeing plans and worked around the rain. We also could have had significantly more time to explore, or returned to our room to dress more appropriately for the light rain. Instead we got the Readers’ Digest version of Florence: so condensed it actually misses the point.
Just my opinion, of course. YMMV.
The ride home was uneventful especially as the skies cleared and the sun came out as we approached Livorno.
(1) Another hour of my life spent dealing with this and taken away from my vacation.
(2) See how I got Matteo to pay for the car? And he felt good about helping me out! Just like Huck Finn …
(3) I looked inside for a moment, then went outside and took a few pictures.