I didn’t look at a map before we came here and that means we have a long day in a bus.  The ship stopped in Livorno (Italian for ‘port long way from anywhere’) and we are heading to Florence to look at the statue of David and find some good Tuscan food.  If I had done even a cursory google search I would have seen that it is a two hour bus ride.  Each way.  With a guide and 30 mostly gray haired people.1

This tour is through the cruise line and our guide this morning is Franscesca; she starts with a discussion of our plan for the day.  Two hour bus ride with a stop halfway for cappuccino.  Then into town and our first stop in the city is not at a historic place, but instead (wait for it) at a factory for a demonstration on leather and gold.  Where we can use the free bathroom and/or buy some of their really expensive leather/gold.  We have confirmed the theory that the excursions from this ship line are indeed a large extortion racket.

We make our first scheduled stop at the rest area and Franscesca tells us that the stop is for 10 Italian minutes.  Which is something between 10 and however long the longest person takes which can be up to 30 minutes.  This is almost a direct quote and a rookie mistake.  She was joking but we had a demonstration of the first law of group dynamics which dictates that in any group there will be some subset who think that 10 minutes means ‘as long as they damn well please, and to hell with the rest of the tour.’  Because, let’s face it:  The view of a rest stop on the autostrada is WAY cooler than the view of, say, Florence.   30 minutes is closer to what we actually get at the gas station because six of our little duckies thought this trip was all about them.  See?  Tempers are already flaring and it is barely 8:30.

Back on the bus and there may be some bruised feelings.  We get underway towards Florence and Franscesca gives us an overview of the history of the place.  Very nice.  We arrive at 10:15 and get our 15 minute sales pitch which is actually quite good.  Dude was selling leather and gold but he was funny as hell and had good product.  Unfortunately for him, his purses were priced above 10 Euro each (like waaaaay above), which is what I was willing to spend.  But there were other people in our group who thought that his leather and gold was the best ever and cracked open their wallets.

Then we hit the streets.  We left the air conditioned store at 10:30am and had tickets to see David with a window of 1200-1215pm.  Which meant we had just over 90 minutes to kill on a 100+ degree day.  “I’ll try to keep us in the shade” says our cruise director.  Where is was 95+ degrees.  This is going to be great.

It was not.  Great, that is.  We all had an ear piece in one of our ears to hear the buzzing of Fransesca’s voice.  The other ear was open to hear the shills and shrills of the street people trying to sell us trinkets made in China that show Italian scenes.  Our eyes were looking for the pickpockets and our hands were on our wallets and phones to keep them on our person (not in the hands of the pickpockets). We saw old buildings.  Statuaries.  Cobblestone street.  But everything had a haze around it, most likely due to the profuse sweat dripping in our eyes.  One of our party who is related to me was heard to utter at one point “I have sweat dripping down the crack of my ass.”2    TMI.  But we all felt the pain.

The streets were again packed with people from everywhere in the world all converging on this small-ish city.  And we all were trying to take pictures of the same thing.  And blocking our pictures were 17-25 year olds taking selfies.  Or checking their hair.  I’m not sure which.  It may have been fun, but it just seemed like a sick form of torture.

At 1200 we arrived at the building that housed David and because they could, the guards made us wait outside 15 more minutes to marinade some more.  At this point, it didn’t really matter.  Out of the 30 people in our group I’m pretty sure 10 were having some sort of heat related injury and two or three were having a no-shit heart attack.  At 1215 we are in and we get to see David.  The one thing we wanted to see in this town and the reason for our forced march here.  Our give a crap meter was at about zero, so this thing had better be good.

It was.  Good, that is.

Like really good.  Pretty amazing, actually.  I mean, it is only a block of marble that has a couple of chunks taken out of it, but damn if Michelangelo didn’t nail it.  And did you know that he created a cage around the block in which he worked for two years?  I’m sure he came out every once in awhile, but still.  This was totally worth it.  Though wish we had just bought our own tickets and made our way here, but what the hell.

The plan that was discussed before we came into the museum was that we would all meet up again at 3pm at our first stop in the morning.  Then we could go see a church, or if we didin’t want to do that, meet up at 3:30, again at the first stop.  Jan, AJ and I decided to stay in the museum where there was AC and find a lunch spot because who the hell wants to go outside and stand.  Our group was standing outside and waiting.  For us, it turns out.  Weird.  We took off for lunch.

Left good….right bad.

And lunch was as good, if not better, than David (apologies to Mssr. Michelangelo).  Two of the top meals in my life were from the Tuscan region (from when Jan and I visited back in the early 2000s).  Those dishes were not pastas–they were game (chicken and pork) along with some sort of veggie and a light sauce.  We were hoping to get a similar meal and we found a restaurant that met our two basic requirements:  Tuscan food and air conditioning.  We spent the next two hours in the restaurant eating a huge meal and staying out of the heat.  We started with an order of bruschetta, then Jan had a salad, AJ had pasta, I had pork with roasted potatoes, plums and apples.  All three meals were excellent.  Then dessert for 2/3 of us.  Plus a glass of wine from the region.  After lunch we had some more drinks to help with digestion: Limoncello for Jan and grappa for me.  And, should you visit Italy and want an after lunch drink, stay away from Grappa.  Tasted like turpentine.  Not good turpentine, either.  Something you left in your garage that had gone bad.

Back out into the sun to meet the group at 3:30 then a march back to the bus.  Once on the bus a couple of people had a (figurative) meltdown.  Fransesca got on the microphone to tell us what the plan was and immediately was met with shouts about too much walking, too much heat, no water provided and people were sick.  And tired.  If they were looking for sympathy or a wilting flower they picked the wrong person.  Fransesca pushed back hard and it was on.  But only one person held the microphone and eventually the insurrection was quelled.  Back at the boat and we may have been our last guided group tour ever.  But we can’t complain about the sights or the food.

1  Those that don’t have some amount of gray hair fall into two categories:  Under 25, of which there are two, including AJ.  And the other category is those that appear to have a color of hair that may or may not be natural.  But if it is natural, they have some funky gene splicing action.

2  AJ doesn’t swear.