After an hour-long boat journey, we took a two-hour train South to Florence. Everyone who has been to Florence says it is beautiful, and it didn't disappoint. Unfortunately, central Europe has had the opposite problem to Scotland this summer and is experiencing a near-tropical climate. It was 38 degrees there which made it nearly impossible to walk anywhere without getting really thirsty, and we slept with the windows open in the old library we stayed in, which was in a converted palazzo that also housed a design school (the excitement!). We hadn't quite gotten to grips with the mosquito spray yet so Florence will remain in my memory as a very hot and itchy place.
In spite of all that, it was very pretty... I mean look at the palazzo's entrance door (above)...
The church above was at the top of a little square with a lovely name - Piazza Santo Spirito. We wandered past it in the early evening and decided to go back there for dinner because it has this lovely neighbourhood feel that is quite hard to find. I had a delicious cheeseboard with honey in Osteria Santo Spirito which would easily have fed two. We drank entirely too much wine because we were absolutely roasting.
This is the Ponte Vecchio (or "Old Bridge"), which people still live on today. It reminded me of the Rialto bridge in Venice, except this one was lined with jewellers and felt a bit more upmarket. It was also a great place from whence to watch the sun setting over the river Arno (one of the nicest we saw all holiday).
We were in Florence (or Firenze as it's really known) on a Monday so a lot of the famous galleries were shut, including the Uffizi, so we went to the Galileo museum to cool down and learn about space and telescopes, then went for lunch in a very traditional trattoria. James ordered fried chicken which was a bit dry (entirely his own fault) and when he asked for ketchup, the waiter shouted "absoluteLY NOT, WELcome to EAT-ALY!" and stormed off. He returned with a lovely pomodoro e basilico sauce, but James was a marked man after that, and was warned that he must savour his dessert (they clearly had the measure of his Shetland Gannet ways). I on the other hand had a lovely pasta with duck ragu and zucchini flowers, because I didn't try to order like I was in KFC ;)
The train station in Florence is still beautifully Modernist, but getting a coffee there is mayhem. Imagine going to Starbucks, but the people in front of you have decided to sip their coffees at the bar, in front of where you need to pay - that sort of mayhem. We were definitely there for too short a time, but that's as good an excuse as any to go back.
We took another train, this time to Rome (may I say, Italy, that you are the only country where Interrailing was remotely pleasureable? Mainly because you had websites that worked and let us book trains? Yes, I think I may.) Look at the costumes the poor guards in the Vatican have to wear in the hideously hot weather; to think I used to feel sorry for the household cavalry with their busbies.
This is a list of all the Popes, ever... Doesn't it look surprisingly short considering it spans over two thousand years?
We only visited St Peter's Basilica because by the time we had figured out that the main entrance to the Vatican and the Sistine Chapel was round the other side, it was lunch time, and, you guessed it, 36 degrees. So we went for beer and pizza instead as recommended by our AirBNB host. We still set foot in Vatican City so that's another country we can tick off the list, but we didn't post anything from their special post office.
Speaking of our AirBNB - ohhh but Rome was our favourite one. I loved everything about the decor of the room (see below). The bathroom was gorgeous, the hallway was gorgeous, the quirky crockery that breakfast was served on was gorgeous... you get the point. If you go to Rome, it's definitely worth staying with Maura and her husband. They made us delicious toasties filled with cheese, ham, salad and lemongrass for breakfast, and bought us fresh pastries. For a very small extra charge Maura also washed and ironed all our clothes to save us finding a laundrette - amazing when it's baking hot outside.
Maura was great at recommending places to go and places to eat, and in search of something lighter, we went to Aromaticus, a veggie restaurant that made the most wonderful salads filled with fruits, flowers, seeds and herbs and soups with lovely garnishes. We felt an awful lot better having this after all the pizza and pasta we'd been eating, and there was a raw chocolate shop next door for dessert.
One of the best things we did was to go on a bike tour around Rome. It sounds like a terrifying idea because in Rome there are no traffic rules, and even when you cross at a zebra crossing it feels like you might definitely die because no-one, no-one is stopping. I found that Romans are never less patient than when they're waiting for you to cross the road, and never more patient than when busy conversing with friends on the pavement causing you to have to step into the aforementioned busy road because they just won't move.
At the top of a hill in an orangery, we saw this couple having their wedding pictures taken. I think I caught the bride at exactly the wrong moment here...
We got to explore loads of gorgeous places, including a church with several chandeliers that is often used for weddings (I've forgotten its name sadly), the Circus Maximus, and the Aventine keyhole, a fairly amazing site which encompasses three countries in one tiny view through a keyhole (and it's featured in The DaVinci Code apaprently...)
Above is the Bocca Della Verita, or the Mouth of Truth - if you stick your hand in it, and tell a lie, the legend is that it will bite you. Luckily it was late in the day so it was safely behind bars when I told James that I'd heard wrestling had been taken off TV forever for being too violent.
After a quick ice cream break (utterly essential if you ask me), we went to see the Pantheon, another place we're going to have to go back to. If you want to have your mind blown, go and learn about Roman architecture. The Pantheon has the biggest unreinforced concrete dome in the world, and would fit a perfect sphere between its dome and floor. There is a hole in the ceiling to let light in, and it aligns so that on one feast day a year the sun shines on to the (formerly golden) doors to welcome everyone in. Despite the hole in the roof, no-one ever gets wet and they have a spectacular inbuilt drainage system. I want to go back in the winter when there are fewer selfie sticks around and a higher chance of rain.
I thought the colours in the picture below were a happy coincidence where the woman's top and hair matched the door behind her really nicely.
I'd love to go back when it's cooler and there are less people around - Rome is like a living museum where you get to see ancient buildings in their original context and imagine what life must have been like then. Just along from the Colliseum is the gym where the gladiators would train and get ready before going to be mauled to death - it's now a popular area for gay bars and modern gyms, which I think is a really nice fit.
Rome had so many quirky features, like wolf-shaped water fountains that project the water upwards if you put your hand under their chin (Romans don't like to stoop, you see). I think if we went back, we'd try to visit Florence and Rome again, but skip out Venice - let's see if I can talk James into an Italian Christmas!
Next stop: Santorini