Tuesday, June 12, 2012

Under the Tuscan Sun

Monday was another day of mostly driving, as we made our way from Varese to Florence. The region of Luguria, which we drove through, looks absolutely beautiful – we drove past Genova and a really sweet-looking town called Santa Margherita Ligure – I think it’s going on the list of places to visit next time I’m in Italy. We also drove past huge mountains in Tuscany that look like they’re covered in snow, but actually they are the white marble quarries. It’s quite amazing to see, but it seems like more evidence of the destructiveness of human beings – whole mountains being eaten away!


Views of the Ligurian coastline - that's the Mediterranean again!

White marble quarries in the Tuscan mountains.

We stopped for lunch and sightseeing at Pisa, to see the famous Leaning Tower of course! A few things took me by surprise regarding the Tower: first, I thought it would be taller; second it is waaay more crooked and leany than I’d imagined; and finally it is absolutely beautiful!! I also hadn’t realised that the Tower is simply one of a complex of three buildings, as the bell tower for a Cathedral, and the baptistry at the front of the Cathedral is there as well – all three buildings look lovely. It was pretty funny seeing all the tourists taking their photos pushing the tower up/over as well, very entertaining!

One of those little train/tractor things to take us from the carpark to the famous sights of Pisa. So weird and so uncomfortable riding in these things on the road.

Piazza dei Miracole: the baptistry, the cathedral and the (leaning) belltower

It's such a beautiful building!!

We had lunch at Pisa, in a cafe with this adorable lady waiting on our table, before having a wander through the streets of the old town. Finally it came time to meet the group to head back to the bus, but two members had gone missing. We waited for about twenty minutes, being swarmed by street-sellers trying to get us to buy watches, sunglasses and umbrellas. Finally, just as Marisa and a couple of others were preparing to send us back to the bus and stay on to look for the ladies further, they turned up. I don’t know what happened to them...

Anyway, back on the bus and we received some of the best news of the whole trip: there was a pool at the hotel in Florence! And when we checked in, our room looked out on it and it was so pretty and blue! Most of the group was going for dinner in the Tuscan hills, but Mads and I decided to stay back at the hotel. We got some ingredients for ham sandwiches, as well as some fruit and choccy from the giant supermarket next door, before heading back to the hotel, where Mads headed back up to the room while I got a password for the wi-fi. Disaster strikes! I knock on the door of our room and someone else in the group answers! I had forgotten which room we were in, and couldn’t call Mads because I didn’t have my phone! The reception desk didn’t have the list of names and rooms, so I had to wait for Marisa to come downstairs to ask her where I was staying. Honestly, what a ridiculous person I am! Finally getting upstairs (and Mads rather unconcerned that I had been missing for such a long time), we changed straight away for an absolutely delightful swim in the pool! Ah it was blissful... I actually don’t think there is anything that feels better than simply floating in a pool.

Such a glorious swimming pool! Hooray!

Today was a big day, as we headed into the middle of Florence for more sightseeing! The home of the Renaissance and the powerful Medici family. It was pouring when we got on the bus, so we were a bit worried about the weather. But by the time we got in to Florence it had cleared up into a beautiful day! We met up with our local guide, who started by warning us about all the gypsies in Florence. And she was right, there were rather a lot of them. Then off we went for our walking tour to get ourselves orientated around the city. Nicely, Florence is quite compact so it’s very easy to find your way around and walk from place to place.

I’d starting watching a documentary series on the Medici a while ago (I didn’t see many episodes because it was a really boring doco with really bad reenactments. Including the dude who designed the Duomo sitting on the floor drawing circles on bits of paper with his tongue sticking out like a brainless idiot), so it was pretty cool seeing the Duomo for the first time. Apart from this fact it looks absolutely massive and impressive on its own, and it is incredibly beautiful - covered in green, red and white marble in different shapes on the walls, as well as amazing sculptures of Mary and the twelve apostles adorning the facade. A very impressive building! Then of course you have the huge cupola!

The beautiful facade of the Duomo

Mary with baby Jesus above the main entrance.

The golden doors of the baptistry outside the Duomo.

The famous Cupola of the Duomo

Next up we headed to the Piazza della Signoria, dominated by the huge, medieval looking Palazzo Vecchio (13th century) and the Loggia dei Lanzi. This is where Michelangelo’s David originally stood before being moved to the Galleria dell’Accademia, so now there is a replica of David in his spot. But there are a lot of other sculptures in the square, including a huge one of Neptune, who seems to be looking right at the David and glaring at him: David was a symbol of the government’s power, I believe, while Neptune was the Medici’s way of reminding everyone who really held power in Florence. Observation: there are A LOT of doodies in Piazza di Signoria.

This arch was built for when Florence was the capital of Italy for a few years. Oh well...

The Palazzo Vecchio

Cosimo de Medici

Replica David in his proper position.

A lovely statue of Perseus (I think) with Medusa's head.

The Rape of the Sabine Women. Despite its subject matter it's actually a very beautiful sculpture, full of movement.

We moved on to Piazza San Croce next, through what used to be the poor ghetto area of the city, to see the facade of the San Croce church. This is another huge, colourful church. After our tour, we had a gold presentation and a leather presentation, which are two of the most famous products available in Florence. There really is leather everywhere. It smells very nice indeed, and is very, very tempting. I didn’t buy anything, as much as I would have liked to! Then it was free time! We decided to try the Galleria dell’Accademia to see the original David. We joined the very long line, and after nearly an hour hadn’t made much headway at all, so we cut our losses to head to our second museum of choice in the Palazzo Pitti. On the way we got some yummy gelato (I know, more gelato. I will soon be turning into gelato. But it’s just so yummy!). They didn’t have any Amarena flavour, so I had Spagnola instead, which is cherry as well and was just as delicious!

This used to be the home of the Da Vincis. 

A street in what was the poor area of Florence, where the Franciscan monks came to do their good works.

San Croce.

Sculpture of an unhappy-looking Dante in the Piazza San Croce

A Florentine street.

Palazzo Pitti has been lived in by the Medici family, Napoleon, and the House of Savoy who were the first monarchs of the unified Italy in the 19th Century. The palace is huge, and now houses a number of museums. We decided to go to the Galleria Palatina, which has A LOT of artworks displayed in the royal apartments. Serious visual overload. The walls are covered from top to bottom with paintings by various important artists, and add to this the lavish decoration of the rooms: bright walls with gold trim everywhere and painted ceilings! Too much to take in!! But it was still pretty cool. We got a drink from the cafeteria and drank them in the front courtyard, before going for a toddle around the streets of Florence. The buildings are quite amazing, they are all just so old! We also saw the famous Ponte Vecchio, which was interesting. I like Florence, but there really are too many tourists here. I think when I come back it will be in the off season, definitely.

Piazza della Signoria again.

On Ponte Vecchio

The outside of Palazzo Pitti

The courtyard in Palazzo Pitti

Possibly the best fountain statue ever! So cute!

A Florentine street

Ponte Vecchio

Just a cool building in Florence.

View of Florence and the Duomo from outside of town, in Michelangelo's Square, I think it's called. Thanks to Marisa and Luca for bringing us to see the view!

We met up with the rest of the group before getting back on the bus. A lot of the group stayed at the hotel in the afternoon, but Mads and I and the rest of us went to San Gimignano in the Tuscan Hills for an explore. It was absolutely beautiful! Most of the walled hilltop town was built in the 13th Century and it has been exceptionally well preserved. It feels like you’ve stepped back in time! The town is surrounded by vineyards, it has a lovely central square with a well, and is full of beautiful shops, including wine shops selling local wine for very good prices. That’s another awesome thing about Italy, the wine is so cheap! You can get a nice glass of wine for the same price as a coke. We had dinner sitting in the square – a slice of pizza for me and a hot dog for Mads. Then we wandered everywhere. I can’t tell you how gorgeous the town is, I just loved it. However it does have a disproportionate number of torture museums: we found three. For a small town this is a lot. I don’t really know why there are so many, I’ll have to look into it! Then of course there are the stunning views over the Tuscan countryside. Mads wants to move there, even though she can’t pronounce San Gimignano.

The Tuscan hills

San Gimignano, the place with the towers.

Brendan the bus coming to get us from our picture spot to take us up to San Gimignano

The main square

The well.

More gelato from an award-winning gelateria, which was delicious (Amarena for me, naturally!). We ran out of stuff to do, so went to meet the group at the meeting point. But seeing as it was getting cold and I was wearing shorts, we went for a walk around a park outside the town walls. Finally we caught up with everyone, Marisa had bought us all some delicious marzipan cookies which we tried even though we were stuffed. Back on the bus then back to the hotel again! 

Thanks to Mads, the hand model Ha ha ha...

A cool old door.

One of the three torture museums we spotted in San Gimignano. Interesting...

These sculptures are all over the town. This reminds me of the movie Signs. Super creepy.

The town's defensive wall. During the middle ages there were a lot of regional wars in Italy.

Yay I'm in Italy!

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