This was my first trip to Venice and frankly I had low expectations after I told many I was going in June. I got the “Oh it’s going to be so crowded and hot” comment over and over. Not fond of crowds, I was apprehensive. I spent 2.5 days in Venice with my friend Page, and I found myself pleasantly surprised by its rundown charm. I’m glad I visited the city before it sinks! Continue reading “Venice in a Day”→
Vicenza is an hour drive from Venice and worth touring if time permits. The city in a UNESCO World Heritage Site and features many works of Andrea Palladio, a 16th Century Renaissance architect who defined the Palladian Style. Palladio’s buildings are marked with bi-lingual signs, thus it is easy to tour the town in search of his architecture. Two places designed by Palladio that we visited were the Olympic Theater and Villa Capra (la Rotunda). Continue reading “Day Trips from Venice”→
Announcing another blog post is now available on GPSMyCity with an offline GPS guided map!
You may wonder, “What’s the big deal? I can read the travel post on your blog.”
Well, yes, assuming you have access to the internet, you can read my article on my blog.
But what if you don’t have access to the internet? Or you don’t have a good data plan in country you are visiting? How do you find those famous sites or the corner pub?
Don’t worry! Now there is an app for that!
The new travel app concept offered by GPSMyCity is quite useful. GPSMyCity produces city walk apps for 750 cities worldwide. Want to see the sites in Paris? There’s an app for that. Want to try different restaurants in Malaga, Spain? There’s an app for that. You can download each travel article for FREE and read it offline whenever you like…in the airport, on the plane or street corner, or wherever!
Should you wish to have a GPS-guided tour and map along with the article, all you have to do is upgrade for $1.99. The map will take you right to that famous site you wanted see. Or what about that restaurant you’ve been wandering in circles to find for the last 30 minutes, the map will point you in the right direction. What a time saver and game changer to navigate cities without using data or the internet!
What a lovely way to spend our last day in Tuscany…relaxing! Today we visited the award-winning Fonteverde Thermal Spa. Fonteverde was once a renaissance palace for the Grand Duke Ferdinando I de’ Medici. Now it is a resort which overlooks the Val d’Orcia. It is set atop a natural hot springs. Visitors may enjoy the main pool, pay a premium to try additional pools of different temperatures, or select from a variety of treatments.
Most of our group paid extra to pick from a variety of pools, while a few of us hung out in the lower pool. All pools had waterfalls and fountains which could be used to massage the body. We arrived early and had most of the peaceful atmosphere to ourselves.
After our visit to the hot springs, we stopped in the nearby town, San Casciano Dei Bagni which owes its existence to the hot springs. The village which offers lovely views of the countryside is also home to an excellent restaurant, Daniela. We enjoyed the wonderful weather as we dined on the patio. Our first course, a saccottino, was superb. I can’t imagine the number of calories I consumed after digging into this crispy bag filled with potatoes, cheese, and ham and placed in a bowl of cream. The presentation was fantastic! Daniela served us a large salad with chicken for the second course…this was a welcome change from the normal foods. Finally, we spooned pistachio and chocolate gelato into our mouths for dessert. A diet is coming soon!
After our decadent lunch, we wandered around the small town. A few ladies spotted some antique jewelry they liked through the window of a store that was closed, but a quick phone call summoned the owner to town within twenty minutes! While they purchased their wares, a few of us checked out the church, Oratorio di Sant’Antonio and weaved through the back streets. I love seeing the old walls, doors, windows, flower pots, and light posts. What a nice day! ETB
WANT TO VACATION SOONER? IF SO, THIS VACATION CLUB IS FOR YOU!
Today we took a roadtrip from Fabro to Florence. We were fortunate that our drivers could drop us off in Piazza della Repubblica which is centrally located between all the attractions.
The Piazza della Repubblica once served as the City’s main food market, but now is surrounded by nice cafés. There is also a fun carousel for kids to ride. We didn’t stay in the piazza long, as we had an agenda; for most people in the group it was shopping. For me, I just wanted to see the sites.
First, our group headed toward the Duomo or Santa Maria del Fiora to see the City’s tallest and most famous building. Its dome, designed by Brunelleschi and finished in 1463, was the largest of its time. Its outer shell is supported by an inner shell.
We visited the inside of the cathedral a little later in day along with a steady line of tourists. The line flowed quickly and soon, the cathedral cleared out so we could enjoy nice views of the nave and dome. On the left-hand side of the church was a line to climb up the dome. Outside the exit, was a line to climb the Campanile. Had I realized these were options, I might have entered the Cathedral earlier as the crowd was much smaller when we were wandering around the outside upon arrival.
Next to the Duomo is the Baptistry with its distinguished bronze doors, dates back to the 4th century making it one of Florence’s oldest buildings. The doors were commissioned to Ghiberti in 1401 after he won a competition against leading artists such as Donatello and Brunelleshci. The panels were so different form Florentine art at the time, that the works are regarded as the beginning of the Renaissance.
From the Duomo we headed over to the leather market at Mercato Centrale, just past San Lorenzo Basilica. Many of the ladies found purses for $25 and a variety of belts. I almost got a purse, but of course the one I liked the most cost three times the majority of the handbags on the market. I later learned, the quality of the $25 purses wasn’t great as the color began flaking off in a day!
I had enough of shopping so I talked Joy into visiting the Basilica di San Lorenzo and the connected Medici Chapels. We only poked our head inside the Basilica as we entered a side door only for worshipers. We went around the back, however, and paid the 8 euro entry fee to see the Medici Chapels.
The chapels were built in the 16th and 17th centuries as extensions to the church for the purpose of celebrating the Medicis, both parishioners of the church and Grand Dukes of Tuscany. The octagonal chapel named Cappella dei Principi (or Chapel of Princes) is a mausoleum. Tombs of six Medici Grand Dukes are spaced around the walls which are inlaid with semiprecious stone.
A corridor leads from the Cappella dei Principi to the New Sacristy which features statues carved by Michelangelo between 1520 and 1534, including the Madonna and Child. Lorenzo the Magnificent is buried here along with his murdered brother, third son, and grandson.
After visiting the chapels, we met up with the group who found more scarves to buy at a vendor on the edge of Piazza della Repubblica to walk to lunch at I’Cche’ c’e’ c’e’. The restaurant was absolutely spectacular! I highly recommend it. The chef won a competition among several others and was rewarded for recreating Renassiance food.
We began with truffles and lard on toast. I LOVE truffles, so I was in heaven eating this dish though it was very rich, so only one piece of toast was probably enough. Next came soup ribollita which was divine. I may try to recreate this dish. Our third course was pasta with radicchio. I couldn’t imagine this would be good, but I was wrong! The pasta was excellent. Our main course included meat, potatoes, and greens. The potatoes were amazing. Of course we weren’t through yet. We finished with a fig and apple tart…delicious! After this feast, we certainly didn’t need dinner!
From lunch we headed to Ponte Vecchio and the Pitti Palace. Along the way, we stopped at the Piazza della Signoria. The piazza is popular among the locals and tourists and is filled with statues that commemorate historical events that took place in the city.
Michelangelo’s famous David statue (a copy replaces the original), represents triumph over tyranny. The Rape of the Sabine Women by Giambologna was carved out of a single block of marble.
After admiring the statues, we continued to Ponte Vecchio, the oldest bridge in the city. The bridge, constructed in 1345, is the only bridge in Florence to have survived the bombings in World War II. Once home to blacksmiths, butchers, and tanners who used the river for waste, it now features jewelers and goldsmiths. I just liked the fact there were vendors in buildings on a bridge!
From the bridge, I wandered over to the Pitti Palace which was originally built for banker Luca Pitti who wanted to out do the Medicis. Ironically, the building costs bankrupted Pitti, and the Medicis purchased the palace! Now it exhibits many of the Medici collections and includes the Boboli Gardens. I had hoped to visit the gardens, but the line to purchase tickets looked about twenty to thirty minutes long which would have only left me about thirty minutes to explore. While disappointed to miss, just sitting in front of the palace is a nice place to people watch.
Soon we had to return to Piazza dei Repubblica for pick up, but not before we made a quick stop at Il Porcellino to rub its snout to ensure a return trip to Florence!
One place I would have liked to have visited, but didn’t as I ran out of time was Santa Croce where Michelangelo, Galileo and Machiavelli are buried. They actually have more meaning to me than the Medicis so I probably would have liked it better than the Medici Chapels though the chapels were beautiful. Had I cut out shopping and shortened lunch by one hour, I suspect I could have seen all the sites mentioned, but I would have been on a march rather than enjoying the company of all the girls. Florence is wonderful and leaving a few unseen sites will be an excuse to return! ETB
WANT TO VACATION SOONER? IF SO, THIS VACATION CLUB IS FOR YOU!
While staying on the Tuscany/Umbria border, we took day trips to many towns of different sizes. I think Pienza may have stuck out as my favorite, though each had its own unique qualities and specialties.
Pienza, located in the Val d’Orcia, was previously named Corsignano, and first referenced in documents from the 9th Century. Corsignano was the birthplace of Aeneas Silvius Piccolomini who later became Pope Pius II from 1458-1464. Once Pope, Piccolomini rebuilt his home village into a Renaissance town and named it after himself…Pienza.
Pienza’s piazza is bordered by four buildings…Palazzo Piccolomini, The Duomo, Palazzo Vescovile, and Palazzo Comunale (the town hall). The Palazzo Piccolomini currently operates as museum. With only two hours in the town and beautiful weather, I didn’t go in, but little did I know it was home to a rooftop garden! The 7 euro entry fee with a free audio guide might have worth the price of admission.
Instead I picked to visit The Duomo, its Baptistry called the Church of San Giovanni, and its underground labyrinth. The Duomo, also known as the Cathedral of Pienza, was built atop the old, crumbling Church of Santa Maria in Corsignano. Fragments of the church are on display in the Baptistry across from the high altar designed by Bernardo Rosellini.
fragments of old church
The labyrinth, below the Baptistry, was creepy! Narrow corridors and many, many flights of stairs led in multiple directions. Fortunately, much of the area was closed off as the long hallways weaving in different ways did give me the sense I could get lost! In the labyrinth was also a neat photography exhibition.
From the piazza, I followed the main street past a variety of shops to the end of the walled city where I turned right on the last small street which took me to a beautiful view of Val d’Orcia. A path paralleled the valley and the outer part of the town which I followed back to the Piazza.
After this, I zig-zagged around the charming side streets. I strolled past cute residences, cool doors, lovely flower pots, decorative windows, religious shrines and through small squares as I admired this quaint, Renaissance town. While I wandered around the side streets, most of the rest of the group shopped. Pienza is known for its cheese, but the seasoned shoppers in our group found deals on scarves, dish towels, jewelry, and ceramics.
We finished our scheduled itinerary early one day, so we made an extra stop to Monticchiello, an unspoiled, ancient village in the heart of Tuscany. The village is tucked behind its old towers and walls that kept enemies at bay. The town is best known for its lovely views of the Tuscan hillside and its summer theater productions performed by the townspeople themselves! The village is home to a church, charming balconies, archways and just a few shops that the avid shoppers in our group didn’t miss!
ORVIETO (an Umbrian town, not Tuscan)
Orvieto sits atop a cliff of tufo and is home to a spectacular cathedral, Duomo di Orvieto or the Cattedrale di Santa Maria Assunta. Our drivers drove us all the way to the Piazza alongside the Cathedral, though most visitors start at the bottom of the volcanic hill and take an escalator up to the medieval town.
This 14th-century, Gothic style church, commissioned by Pope Nicholas IV is absolutely magnificent. The outside of the church is carved in figurines which represent different sections of the Bible. This way illiterates of the time were still able to read. The first panel on the far left explains the Book of Genesis. The second panel displays stories from the Bible. The third panel depicts the Life of Christ, and the fourth panel shows the Final Judgment.
Book of Genesis
Stories of the Bible
The Life of Christ
The Life of Christ
Inside the church is just as spectacular and is worth the nominal entry fee. While the main part of the church is lovely, the frescoes found in the Chapel of San Brizio to the right of the nave are the most special. These frescoes were painted by Luca Signorelli whose works were an inspiration to Michelangelo.
After visiting the church, we ventured Via Duomo and Corso Cavour to shop. The shoppers in the group didn’t want to risk missing any stores as they sometimes close after lunch. The shoppers picked out scarves, jackets, and jewelry among other things. In the meantime, Joy and I window shopped, zig-zagged through side streets, stopped for lunch and walked all the way to Fortezza Albornoz to enjoy the views of the hills below.
Soon we backtracked to explore the other end of Corso Cavour as we headed to Pozzo della Cava, a well built in Etruscan caves at the behest of Pope Clement VII. The self-guided tour took us through nine caves past Estruscan artifacts and the well, but I think I would have rather taken the guided tour of Orvieto’s underground, offered at the Piazza Duomo. It seemed more extensive, approximately an hour rather than ten minutes, but the tour was only at certain times which didn’t work well for the whole group. Under a time constraint, however, we got to see the Etruscan underground!
Next to Pozza della Cava
While most of the shops were open, a particular jewelry store closed for a few hours, so we asked to stay in Orvieto a little longer than the planned 3pm departure. While we waited, we hung out at Enoteca al Duomo in the lovely weather. Orvieto is a wonderful mid-sized town, and I believe a favorite for many on the trip! ETB
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