Italian Interlude


Topsy-turvy trip to Pisa and Florence

Is Italy being squeezed out of European destinations? Spain, Portugal and France get a lot of attention. The emerging destinations in the East, notably Croatia, Hungary, the Czech Republic are constantly n the picture. But Italy seems to be suffering somewhat from news neglect.
Neither did Italy do itself any good by its non-appearance at International Confex 2009. However, I have just had a brief Italian interlude, with a trip that took in Genoa, Santa Margherita Ligure, Portofino, Pisa and Florence.

We are talking of a 2-hour flight, warm weather even before Spring has sprung, a choice of chain hotels or local establishments and so many things to see.

It is true that most of what a visiting group or delegate would want to see dates from several hundred years ago. There are very few important visitor attractions that are of recent origin.

I found that contemporary Italy is a country that differs from its neighbours considerably. It is often topsy turvy – or even contrary. Hotels were reasonable in price. In a 4-star hotel in Florence, very centrally located and sharing a building with shops such as Gucci, Tiffany and Versace, two nights for two people averaged at under £40 per head – including a nicely presented buffet breakfast.

A train journey from Pisa to Florence, almost exactly an hour, gave us change out of 6 Euros each. And it ran exactly to time.

But Italy seems to be below par in ensuring that foreign visitors are properly guided. Unique to Italy (unless I’m mistaken) is the need to ‘validate’ your railway ticket on the platform before you board your train. The reason is that rail tickets are issued to be usable for one day only but on any day over a period of several weeks. ‘Validation’ is a form of date stamping. American visitors on the train were asked to pay extra by the conductor because they were unaware of this regulation.

Similarly, we made a fairly simple overall plan for our journey, leaving the whole of Monday to visit Florence’s world famous ‘must see’ museums. Who would go to Florence and not see Michelangelo’s sculpture of David, or the Titians, Leonardos, Rubens in the Uffizi Galleria – or particularly Botticelli’s Birth of Venus? Well, we nearly did just that, because the museums are closed all day on Mondays. Fortunately we were able to make time on Tuesday morning by leaving a little later than planned.

This is what happens when the editor of a travel magazine moves around without having a DMC to hold his hand!

Hotels and train journeys were very reasonable, but food prices were an unpleasant surprise. Coffee lattes outdoors in a sunny piazza in Florence were more than 6 euros a glass – dearer than an hour’s train journey!