A Day in Florence, Italy

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


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Montepulciano, Siena, and Cinque Terre!

Oh what a busy day! We had to wave good-bye to our fantastic host Gianluca and his family as we prepared to go from being 100% spoiled in Tuscany to self-sufficient in Cinque Terre. We left the four house complex that was built in the 1400’s and restored by Gianluca between 1999 and 2007 to take a round-about way to Cinque Terre. First, we stopped in Montepulciano, only 10 miles away and later Siena, a bit further.

As with every Tuscan town it seems, Montepulciano sat up on a hill, was home to many churches, a palazzo, restaurants, and a variety of stores including a famous copper store. Each town, including Montepulciano is laid out with a parking area upon arrival with a posted map and a water closet nearby, all very convenient when we were otherwise feeling constantly lost.

We started our walking tour strolling up a hill, enjoying the view and eventually making it into our first church, Chiesa del Gesu. It began construction in 1691 in the baroque style, was changed shortly after, and finished construction in 1730 under the supervision of three different architects.

From the church, we continued up the hill to the palazzo. Aside from the surrounding park, which didn’t allow futbol, the site wasn’t open so we continued up the hill.

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We passed by the torture museum which was advertised on billboards in all the small towns, as we got enough of a taste in the entry before we visited the cattedrale constructed in the 14th century on the Piazza Grande. It was adorned with flowers as it was being prepared for a wedding. No pictures were allowed inside.

Across from the cattedrale stood the Griffin and Lion well built in 1520. We have seen several throughout the region along with cool old water fountains. As we continued strolling around the streets, we stumbled upon an historic winery, De Ricci. It was free to tour, so we wandered through the dark tunnels storing giant barrels of wine. By now, it was time for lunch, so we ventured back toward the parking and found a trattoria. I tried Pici with pepper and Parmesan, one of Montepulciano’s famous dishes, and it was spectacular. Heidi had the gnocchi.

With a three hour drive to Cinque Terre and a one hour drive to Sienna, we were a feeling a bit pressed for time as we needed to meet Lorella, the lady from whom we rented our apartment. So off we went. As we weaved down the hill through the countryside, we noticed a few bystanders on the roadside. Shortly thereafter, we were waved to the side of the road and a bike race of fifty cyclists came storming through with support vehicles and all! How cool was that!?! Those boys were breathing heavy as they climbed that hill. It turned out it was the Italian National Road Race Championship. Of the 124 riders that started, only 49 finished. Vincenzo Nibali won. The race has been run since 1905 with the exception of the years during WWI. I found it kind of funny that such a big race didn’t even have the roads blocked. Here is the link in cycling news: http://www.cyclingnews.com/races/italian-road-championships-2014/road-race/results

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After a few interesting turns, we finally made it to Siena and parked by the stadio (this is the best place to leave the car and walk). We enjoyed the nearby fountain, passed by tourist stands, popped our heads in a few leather stores, took a look at St. Catherine’s head in St. Domenico Catherine Basilica, and followed the signs to the Duomo, as this cathedral was supposedly the one to see compared to all others. We only went to the cathedral and library as we didn’t have time for the crypts and baptista, but it was beautiful.

The black and white exterior was magnificent, both near and far. The marble murals on the floor, the carvings beneath the windows, and the paintings that covered every ounce of the church were lovely. Even the wooden chairs were ornate. I’m certain every nook, color and image had a meaning, but we were just there to take in the grandeur before we moved on to Cinque Terre. Sienna deserved more than 1.5 hours, but at least we made it.

In Cinque Terre, we parked on the outskirts because cars aren’t allowed on the interior and rolled our bags through the parking lot and down the street until we reached the stairs. We climbed a few until we reached a sidewalk and found the address, 85. More stairs…ok…to a courtyard, where a couple questioned, “Are you looking for Lorella (in Italian)?”

Si, we replied.

They pointed to a narrow, stone staircase that curved up the hillside and said, “La Scala”. Ok, we could barely fit…but up we went. Lorella met us and commented, “Just a few more steps”. Really!?! We climbed four stories of stairs from their basement to our “penthouse suite.”

And we were blessed with a penthouse view. Our patio looks out over the whole town as the sun sets on the harbor! The two bedroom apartment was quaint with a small kitchen and bath. Another building included a separate kitchen that we will never be using!

We opened the windows, enjoyed the sunset, and set out for 9:30 dinner reservations at the most popular restaurant in town, Billy’s. We had a fantastic waitress who would not tell us her name and joked with us despite not knowing much English (though it was more than our Italian). We had the antipasto seafood sampler which included octopus, cuttlefish, shrimp fritters, a crab cake, two types of anchovies, two types of tuna, and some things we didn’t know what they were at all…12 things in total.

We also opted for the fish of the day, sea bass, and to our surprise she brought over a plate of three dead fish for us to choose from. We pointed to the one in the middle. It was the smallest. Thirty minutes later, the whole thing was presented on a platter. After she watched us attempt to filet it, she came over and helped!

Suddenly, we started making friends. A couple from California asked where we were from and gave us tips about hiking from town to town, and a table full of fun Italian ladies called us over once the free Limoncello and bitters were served. What a fun night until we couldn’t get the gate open to our apartment, “Oh, just force it,” Lorella said. We kind of felt bad to call her after midnight…but what a fun day and night! We’re ready to tackle a hike tomorrow…ETB


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