London (sans bags)

Italy has been really wonderful, a new country crossed off my list, wonderful food, lots of culture… and the only sticking point was leaving it. That is, Florence airport sucked, from not being able to online checkin (thanks BA), to the checkin agent who appeared to have never operated the system before and couldn’t even spell my name right when copying it from the passport, to the ground handlers who decided it’d be funny to leave 33 bags behind… citing weight restrictions, despite some real hefty bags appearing in the baggage hall at London City Airport. It’s amazing how one issue can completely discolour an experience.

British Airways now has a challenge. We have 2 nights in London before we fly out to Santorini, where there are only 2 flights a week, should they not get our bags back to us before we fly out, they might single handedly wreck a holiday. I’m sure that’s what “To Fly, To Serve” really stands for… so it’s time for them to step up and redeem themselves.

To top the bad experiences off, having finally got through arrivals and to the DLR station (Tube light rail), the lady at the ticket counter misheard what we asked her to do and instead of adding £15 each to our Oyster cards, in fact added £50, resulting in a long process to refund the money and more dramas than we needed.

Mum went straight to the hotel after that, the Royal Over-Seas League, while I headed to Victoria Station to meet Mal and Daniel, AFFers who are now based in London. Had a few pints there before picking mum up to head out for dinner nearby at a pub serving gourmet pies.

On Tuesday mum picked Sze Sze up from Heathrow, and we met Del and Max for lunch at Piccalilli Caff. Food was really good, but I was too hungry for my portion size, could have done with a bit more. The “caff” has an adjoining farm, popular with school groups, and a vegetable/flower garden, so Sze Sze and  took some pics there before heading off. We also met Max’s son, Sebastian.

We flew out of LHR T5 on Wednesday, a nice lounge.

Florence

As alluded to in the first post about the 2014 European adventure, our first day in Florence  consisted of a lot of walking around with luggage, and eventually, a lot of exploring, with a great deal accomplished on the first day. However this was after about 48 hours of travelling from the other side of the world.

We arrived at just after 0800 in the morning, and weren’t meant to checkin till 1500 in the afternoon. With a rolling bag and 2 smaller bags each, and cobbled streets, we didn’t want to keep our bags with us for too long, but couldn’t checkin early as we were staying in an apartment, not a hotel.

First up was a coffee, and thankfully, we picked a place with free wifi. Next we headed into the centre of town to find a SIM card, as data is always useful to power maps and what not on a phone. Ultimately, we wandered as far as the river before catching a taxi to near our apartment, but still 4 hours early, and had some beers at a craftsman’s restaurant (many men), followed by lunch, and finally got into the apartment at 1300.

Lunch at Trattoria dell'Orto

With the sun setting by 2200, there was still plenty of daylight, so we headed out, intending to book tickets to the Uffizi Gallery for the next day, but ended up going straight in and wandering the halls for a couple hours. We also managed to fit in the Ponte Vecchio and Palazzo Pitti. My new fisheye lens came in very handy, and proved its usefulness with many photos of painted ceilings and large art-filled rooms that I wouldn’t have been able to capture quite so well otherwise.

Uffuzi Gallery

 

After our trip to Pisa on the Saturday, we briefly rested at home till the early evening, and then headed out to Piazzale Michelangelo for some evening photos (in full daylight though) of the whole of Florence, followed by dinner at Osteria Antica Mescita San Niccolò, where we dined in the former crypt of a church dating back to the year 1000. You don’t do that every day!

 

Panorama at Piazzale Michelangelo
Panorama at Piazzale Michelangelo

The food was delicious, from the outside you’d think it was just another restaurant, but I’d highly recommend it. I’m sure every restaurant is authentic in its own way, but we really enjoyed our meal here. It was also my third day in a row having carpaccio, haha.

Food at Osteria Antica Mescita San Niccolò
Food at Osteria Antica Mescita San Niccolò

Our last full day in Florence had us waking early to finally get into the Florence Cathedral and climb the 414 steps to the top of Giotto’s bell tower for a magnificent view of the area. Mum made it to the first level before sending me the rest of the way, and I then took all the photos, I’ve certainly had a workout today! The Florence Cathedral consists of several buildings, with the cathedral itself turning out to be the most boring, the Crypt of Santa Reparata being closed, Giotto’s bell tower containing all the steps – but giving some great views and exercise, the Baptistry of San Giovanni being incredibly ornate and the last piece of the jigsaw – Brunelleschi’s dome – was closed on Sunday but will be the last thing we do on Monday before heading to the airport.

From the Florence Cathedral we walked North to the Galleria dell’Accademia, where we saw Michelangelo’s David, and strangely, didn’t have any issues taking photos as I’d read would be a problem elsewhere. Heading East, we tried to visit the Basilica de Santa Croce, but an event at the Piazza Santa Croce blocked our way, so we could only view it from afar. It was a long day of exploring, needless to say.

Dinner tonight was at a pricier restaurant, Olio & Convivium. We chanced upon it on the way back to the apartment on our final afternoon, and as luck would have it we snagged the last table, with a view of the kitchen. I can’t recall all the finer points of the menu, but lime risotto with seaweed and prawns, pork cold cuts with cheese and chestnut honey, and cappuccino panna cotta to name but a selection of what we had, really completed our stay in Florence. Yes, it cost more than previous nights, but I was surprised this wasn’t Michelin starred, it was so good!

IMG_3274

 

Our final morning was busy, with a brisk walk into town to climb the Dome, all 463 steps of which mum successfully accomplished, perhaps helped by the cool air of the morning. What a view too, perhaps just a little higher than from the top of the bell tower.

Australia to Europe

I started my journey to Europe on Wednesday the 11th June, and although I got there on the 12th, I spent the next 24 hours travelling to the first actual pit stop, Florence.

Dee-Anne saw me off, driving me to the airport and then herself home. I didn’t get an upgrade, but the seat next to me was blocked and I had the First class lounge to look forward to in Sydney. The food there was well worth the 14 hours in economy I was to suffer on the way to Dubai. I think I nearly had an upgrade at the gate, but after some typing into the computer, there was no seat change for me.

First lounge delights

I ended up having 3 starters, the buffalo mozzarella with roasted red capsicum, grilled sesame tuna with red cabbage & salmon tartare. As none of the mains really interested me, I finished with the chocolate croissant bread and butter pudding, which was to die for! Along with some Champagne and a massage, I was well prepared for economy.

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The flight turned out to be fairly easy to survive, with another frequent flyer onboard, and a combination of sleep/talking to the FA’s a productive way to pass the time.

Emirates impresses

At Dubai I had another massage, and another impressive dinner, octopus carpaccio, saffron cashew chicken & umm ali (a traditional Egyptian dessert, about as local as I could find – that was amazing). Only downside was the top Champagne offered was simply Moët.

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At the gate for the final flight to the UK my boarding pass beeped though, providing some respite in the final 7 hours being in the comfort of business class. Having only travelled economy on the A380 in the past and other than on an A330 to Perth trying a skybed in the day, I’d never really had the experience of sleeping in one. Unfortunately, not a lot that’s positive, other than it being lie-flat… I found it very exposed to the aisle, very little privacy. Still, better than economy.

With the flight on time, I met mum at arrivals in Heathrow, she having arrived on an earlier flight from Hong Kong. The Tube to St Pancras took an hour… but once there we had a bite to eat, and even some Champagne, while waiting for our Eurostar connection to Paris.

In Paris, we had to change stations in just over an hour, and with the traffic it was a tight connection, but we made it from Gare du Nord to Gare de Lyon, and onto the Thello overnight sleeper to Milan, which now we’ve experienced a 4-berth, would be happy to avoid doing again! Cramped and awkward would sum it up.

Cramped 4-berth
Cramped 4-berth

Luckily the train from Milan to Florence was much nicer, higher speed (we reached 292 km/h) and we didn’t have to sit next to strangers. It did mean we arrived well before our checkin time though (to the apartment), but that’s another story.