After a hectic day in Venice, we were all ready to tuck in for the night at Mestre, the center and most populated urban area of the mainland of Venice, which is however, overshadowed by its more famous neighbor, the famous lagoon of Venice. But it was dinner time and that too at an Indian restaurant in Italy. We soon arrived at a red-themed beautifully decorated but quiet eatery. Personally, I was hoping for an Italian supper but had to hide my disappointment when our bus screeched to a halt in front of “Ristorante Maharani”.
Photo credit:Venice
Out of the two buses ferrying our group, our Mercedes Benz coach was the first one to arrive at Hotel Park Villa Fiorita, after dinner. The other one, a gleaming Volvo coach was nowhere to be seen at first. After about twenty odd minutes, it arrived with its full load of tired and yawning passengers who had to face the consequences of their driver taking a detour and ‘unintentionally’ jumping a traffic signal. The cop on duty had been suitably annoyed.
Photo credit: Breakfast                                                                                                                         Photo credit: Clock
An uneventful night passed over and made way for a fresh new day, and the agenda − Journey to Florence. Breakfast was early, at about 7.30 AM and by 8 ‘o’ clock, everyone had taken their respective seats in the coaches. There was a general request to the tour manager for a small tour of Mestre itself, which luckily was complied to. We drove around and took a ‘peek’ at structures, both old and new, such as the Duomo of St. Lawrence and Clock Tower at Piazza Ferretto as well as some very sleek, polished trams. We had to hit the highway, as it was about 8.45 AM and it would take about 3 hours via the A13 to reach Florence. Then it happened. Sploch − something white fell on the floor of the bus, missing my head by inches. It was a carton of yoghurt fresh from the breakfast table! Although the bus floor was splattered in white, spotless yoghurt, it was Dr. Sahay’s face that was really colorful − cherry red from that ear to ear. The yoghurt had parted company with his bag from the rack on top! His voice boomed as he rendered a very public and showy rebuke with his eight-year-old daughter at the receiving end, “How could you bring a yoghurt can on to the bus?”, the angry father enquired. And then came the masterstroke − “Should have taken care to close the lid properly”!! We could hear muffled giggles but the daughter was too young to understand and the father…
Photo credit:Padua                                                                    Photo credit:Bolgna
Our poor guide did all the mopping and cleaning while the bus sped through the Italian countryside, through areas near places like Padua and Bologna till we reached our destination. As the city tour would take about two to three hours, our guide decided to go for lunch first. It was an eatery called “Haveli” owned by a very sweet and polite Punjabi couple, who filled us not only with their warmth and hospitality, but also with very tasty North Indian food. Frankly, I was too full to walk after lunch. I was about to get up and ask for directions to our bus, when the ‘bomb’ fell! The city tour was supposed to be a walking one. I had difficulty in taking in those words. Was I going deaf? Or was the guide mad? The thought of walking after such a splendid spread made me want to scream. However, I had to either comply or get left behind at the eatery along with the elderly crowd. I therefore took the ‘strategic decision’ to get up on my legs and start moving!
Photo credit:The Duomo:PlanetWare                                          Photo credit:horsebuggy
It was first the Duomo or the Santa Maria del Fioree, along with a stop in its magnificent, bronze gates. It is important to note that this is still the largest dome built in brick and mortar in the world. It was quite fascinating to see people of different countries together, some clicking pictures and selfies, some kneeling and praying. Horse buggies ran up and down the narrow streets, bustling with tourists and happy faces. We were already alerted of the one factor, which could have easily rubbed the smiles off our faces − pickpockets. Florence is famous for a number of Eastern European illegal immigrants, who fill up the streets. They are everywhere and of all ages, shapes and sizes. We were strictly warned not to indulge in any conversation with any stranger or make an attempt to help any beggar − it would be a sheer case of “Goodbye, Wallet!”
Photo credit:Hercules:Wikimedia Commons                                                        Photo credit:Michelangelo's David:Wikimedia Commons
Neighboring this iconic building of Florence is the Baptistry of St. John. It was quite fascinating to see the intricate design and the texture of these historic buildings. We kept on walking, following a little red folder that our tour guide held high above his head. The cobbled streets brought us all to the famous Palazzo Vecchio or the town hall of Florence. This iconic structure not only attracts tourists due to its own reputation of being an integral part of “Firenze” but also for another attraction just lying by its side, the world famous Palazzo della Signoria- an open ‘gallery’ full of beautiful statues. It was quite heart-warming to catch a glimpse of Hercules wrestling Nessus, the Medici Lion, Perseus holding the severed head of the slain Medusa and of course, Michaelangelo’s ‘David’. No doubt, it is just a replica of the original master piece but no doubt, it is indeed a masterpiece by itself! Enough of emotions − it was time for some exercise again. We all started following our tour guide like Mary’s Little Lambs and this continued for another ten to fifteen minutes, till we all stopped in front another church. Why did we stop? What is so important about this was the general murmur within our tourist group. The reply sent a chill down my spine. It was the Basilica of Santa Croce, the main Franciscan church of Florence and moreover, the final resting place of names like Michelangelo, Galileo, Machiavelli and so on, thereby aptly earning the title of “Temple of the Italian Glories” (Tempio dell'Itale Glorie). It was indeed an experience of a life time.
Photo credit:Hercules:Ponte-Vecchio Bridge                Photo credit:Michelangelo's David: View from PiazzaleMichelangelo:L'Italo-Anericano
Our next stop was the Ponte Vecchio; one of the oldest bridges on the River Arno that runs through Florence. It was the point where the elderly tourists were supposed to join the walking group. They had taken a taxi from the restaurant and had come via a different road to this point. Although the quiet river was not as impressive as our Ganges, it certainly did have a charm of its own, with the colorful houses on the bridge as well as along its banks. Having seen them all, we boarded our coach, parked in an alley. Finally some rest before we reached Rome, our next destination. Who would have thought that my biggest shock of the day was yet to come! Before leaving Florence, there was one more stop − Piazzale Michaelangelo or simply, Michaelangelo Hill. This point provides a breath-taking bird’s eye view of the entire city. Apart from the same, there is a much bigger replica of ‘David’ than the one installed near the Piazza Vecchio that we had seen earlier that day. I wished to get a picture clicked with this huge statue and my mother very sportingly offered to be the photographer for the moment. I picked up a nice spot, below David’s legs and gave my best pose and grin. The camera clicked. When I checked the picture, I was left dumb-struck. My mother, with all her photography skills, had managed to take a picture of me grinning, along with David’s full well-sculpted body. It was only the head that was missing! Luckily our guide once again came to our rescue and ensured that I did not depart Florence with a snap of myself posing happily with a “headless David”!