Click here for Italy - Part 2 - Tuscan Hill Towns
Click here for Italy - Part 4 - Cinque Terre
The next day we set off for Florence (Firenze) - the most populous city in Tuscany. Florence was a centre of medieval European trade and finance, and was one of the wealthiest cities of that time. It is considered the birthplace of the Renaissance and is also widely considered to be one of the most beautiful cities in the world. Travel magazines' readers polls such as Conde' Nast Traveler have consistently ranked Florence as the top 1 or 2 favorite places to visit in the world (Charleston SC has also consistently been in that top 1 or 2 in recent years).
Florence is another city where if you're driving in from out of town, its best to park outside the city center. Lesson learned - next time do Florence parking research ahead of time because we ended up driving around trying to find a place to park. We did find a spot but couldn't get the pay parking machine to work with our credit cards. So I ended up throwing caution to the wind and parked in a residential parking lot. If I was going to be towed, it would have been an impressive tow job because I was parked tightly in between many cars in the middle of the lot. Thankfully our car was still there after our walking tour.
We had a reserved private guided walking tour which was a great intro to the city. You could spend a week here and still not get to everything. There are so many museums and places of historic importance that you can visit.
We met our private walking tour guide in the Piazza Del Republicca, then proceeded first to Cupola del Brunelleschi. From the Visit Florence web site:
"Built by who won the competition for its commission in 1418, the dome is egg-shaped and was made without scaffolding. The raising of this dome, the largest in the world in its time, was no easy architectural feat. At the base of the dome, just above the drum, began adding a balcony in 1507. One of the eight sides was finished by 1515, when someone asked - whose artistic opinion was by this time taken as cardinal law - what he thought of it. The master reportedly scoffed, "It looks like a cricket cage." Work was immediately halted, and to this day the other seven sides remain rough brick!"
Florence is also known for fashion...and leather. Lots of leather handbags and clothing were on display and for sale.
Scooters and bicycles - the most efficient mode of transportation for the towns & cities where most car parking is outside the city.
Santi Apostoli Church - one of the oldest churches in Florence. The next 4 photos are from this beautiful church.
Note the 3 small stones on the tool at the bottom of this display. From Wikipedia:
"The church houses three flints (Pietre del Santo Sepolcro) putatively from the Holy Sepulchre in Jerusalem. These were putatively used to light the lamps of the tomb when Jesus was buried. Tradition holds that they were acquired in 1101 by Pazzino dei Pazzi, who was among the first Christians to scale the walls and lead to the capture of Jerusalem during the First Crusade. From then on, the Pazzi included a flaming cup in their coat of arms. The flints are linked to the ceremony of Lo Scoppio del Carro and the lighting of fireworks from the Portafuoco after a celebratory mass."
Piazza della Signoria (Duomo Square)
The Palazzo Vecchio (The Old Palace) is the town hall of Florence overlooking the Piazza della Signoria.
This is a copy of the statue of David in the Piazza del Signoria. The original Michelangelo marble sculpture of David is in the Accademia Gallery in Florence.
Rowing Club of Florence along the Arno River that runs through Florence.
the Ponte Vecchio Bridge in Florence over the Arno River - built sometime before 996 AD and noted for having shops built inside the archway. As with everything else in Italy, there is a lot of history with this bridge, including the fact that the Renaissance-era wealthy had a private walkway through the upper level of the bridge where they could walk from one part of Florence to another without having to interact with the "commoners".
The archway along the Ponte Vecchio Bridge
Palazzo Pitti - was the chief residence of Renaissance-era ruling families and once used by Napolean. ..and now the largest museum complex in Florence. You could spend a whole day inside this place.
There are so many beautiful churches in Italy, much less just in Florence.
The artistic detail in each church is incredible - blows my mind
After our Florence walking tour, we set off for a scheduled winery tour and tasting at Castello di Nipozzano, one of the wineries that Greg had suggested we visit. It is about 45 minutes drive east of Florence.
There is a castle on the premises dating back to 1000 AD, and overlooks the Arno River Valley.
This is a beautiful estate owned by a large Italian family and I would consider it to be a medium size Italian winery. The tour was a lot of fun and the tasting was very good.
Check out the ages of this collection in the basement. Note the bottles below from 1864. They told us on the tour that they opened 2 of these 1864 bottles for Prince Charles when he visited many years ago. One of the bottles was bad after opening, but the other one was good.
This old Italian "Landini" tractor was still in working condition and still used today in the vineyards there.
Olive trees - we saw these everywhere in Tuscany
the local garden at Castello Di Nipozzano
We returned to Siena for our last night there and walked to dinner taking in the Friday night art displays.
The next morning, we set off for Cinque Terre and stopped along the way to visit the town of Lucca, famous for outdo Renaissance-era city walls. They had a small "moat" surrounding the city.
This is the view from atop Guinigi Tower in Lucca. It was about 6 euros per person to walk to the top, totally worth it.
I was fascinated by the terra cotta tile rooftops in Tuscany.
typical Italian apartment building with clothes hanging out to dry in the sun.
Italian "craft" beer - it was pretty good.
an Italian sports magazine - it was all soccer, rugby, some tennis, and some snow skiing coverage.
a small blurb about Michael Jordan inside the magazine.