LIVORNO – Florence, Pisa and Tuscany!

Sunday, June 1st, 2008


Jean and Kathleen set out, once again, early in the morning. Today on their agenda was Florence and Pisa. We all set out from the Port of Livorno, a very, very large port the size of any major port in the USA (Newark and Long Beach, for example). It is a stopping point, not a destination by any means. The girls had a long day ahead of them as the coach ride to Florence as it was a good hour and a half drive to get there. Their excursion plan was to go directly to Florence and them head back west towards Pisa to see The Leaning Tower, and then head back to the ship.


John and I chose our own route again and had rented a car for a day trip in Tuscany. After our “experience” in Sicily, we had a definite plan in place… we were to drive directly to San Gimignano, near Siena, have a look around and then take the “scenic” route back to Livorno… essentially going in one big circle throughout the northern part of Tuscan region.


In each stop on the cruise, OCEANIA had provided a local guide that would come onto the ship early in the morning and provide onboard guests with local area information for those “going at it on their own”. On many occasions the local guide would give us great suggestions and sometimes provide us with even better maps than we had gotten on our own. They saved us a lot of time and headaches. The guide in Livorno was no exception… as she provided us with a quicker, more efficient route to get us to San Gimignano and it paid off in the end.


Months before while doing my research, I came across a car rental agency at the Port of Livorno called MAXIRENT. A car rental agency I had never heard off… but I had read a posting online where someone had rented a car from them in this location and they had opened the office on a Sunday for them. I went ahead and emailed back and forth with Claudio at the office and he assured me that someone would be there. I never got that kind of commitment from Hertz or Avis, so we crossed our fingers and hoped someone from the office would be there. And, true to his word, Claudio was there waiting for us on Sunday morning when we arrived at the car rental office. Thank you Claudio!


The trip to San Gimignano was a piece of cake there and back… our only trouble was getting out of the Port of Livorno. The GPS system that Claudio gave us for our LANCIA was a bit difficult to set up, but it did track our progress so we knew that we were on the correct road the entire time. The Lancia, on the other hand, was nothing like the Alfa Romero that we had in Sicily. It was not the greatest car, but well, it worked and I managed to only stall once the entire day… so mission accomplished!


Most importantly, the ride through Tuscany was again, such a picture postcard. The weather was ideal, again, and the roads were dry and well marked. Once off of the main highway: LI-PI-FI (Livorno to Pisa to Firenze – aka Florence) we had a beautiful drive. The 2-lane roads were flanked on each side of the road by tall trees…some naturally growing and others planned many years ago. On several occasions we passed several peloton of cyclists out for their Sunday ride… or prepping for the upcoming Tour of Italy.


Much of the area reminded me of the Napa Valley… as the road began to lazily wind up the hillside as we climbed towards San Gimignano. We came across vineyard after vineyard with beautiful villas setback from the road – their entrances marked much as they are in Napa and Sonoma with grand stone porticos with custom signage in natural materials.


We arrived at the outskirts of San Gimignano around Noon… you could see the approach to the city with the tall towers that dotted the landscape. Back in the Renaissance, competing noble families would build towers proclaiming their wealth and high standing… each trying to outdo each other by building the higher tower. Only 14 towers remain in the city today, but at one time I read that there were about 65.


San Gimignano is also a walled city… so no driving in the city. We drove around for a while and ended up coming back to a parking lot that we passed while coming into town. Due to the time of day the parking was scarce… so remembering what we went through in Taormina, we dived into a parking area and made our own spot. Jbom and I were both confident that we would not get towed… fingers crossed.


So the city itself is vastly different to what we have seen previously. The entire place is built of stone… in a brownish-red color. It is very monochromatic. The only color is from the shopkeepers signs, but they are in the shop windows and nothing juts out into the “street”. There is one cathedral in San Gimignano, the Collegiate Cathedral… so we went in and had a look. BUT, I was wearing shorts… ugh… they gave me what amounted to surgical draping that I had to put around my waist to cover my knees. I had forgotten the covered knees, covered shoulders policy!


The cathedral was pretty incredible (again, yes, getting boring… there are no ugly churches in Italy!)… the walls were completely covered in frescos depicting the main stories in the bible. They were militant about taking pictures… so sorry that I don’t have any to share. We did buy a book when we first got into town to get a map of the area and it has some really good images of the frescos in the cathedral. In retrospect, the church reminded me a lot of the Sistine Chapel in Rome.


Lunch was a quick pizza and frankly, killer gelato. We hadn’t had gelato yet… and this was really, really good. Jbom and I both had a combo of strawberry and chocolate… not something that I would choose, but the two together was worth all the wait!


So, after a bit of a further mooch around town, we climbed back in the car and continued on. We took the scenic route back passing Cole Val d’Elsa and VOLTERRA. We didn’t stop… but the day was getting on and we needed to get back to the Port of Livorno comfortably by 5 p.m. We were not under the gun driving-wise, but we figured, better safe than sorry. We arrived back to the car rental agency just as planned. It was a lot of driving, but well worth the experience… and we didn’t get lost! Yeah!


Okay, there was one corny thing that I have to report regarding OCEANIA. Mid-cruise I guess that it is custom for members of the crew to welcome back guests at the end of the day. There were a number of busses that did the Florence excursion so when they came back, guests were welcomed back to the ship with a red carpet, the jazz band and the crew clapping them in. Drinks were passed out as they got off the busses. Mum and Kathleen loved it… at first they didn’t know what was going on, but admitted later that they thought it was a nice touch.


Speaking of the girls, well they had a long day in Florence. They saw The Duomo,
The Cathedral, and all the major monuments. Jean wasn’t too impressed with Pisa and they stayed near the motorcoach instead of getting closer to it for a look. They did a tremendous amount of walking that day and they were “pooped” when we saw them later in the evening. They had a really nice time, but it was 11 hours long overall… a very long day for them.