Florence & Tuscany

After a short detour to San Marino, we headed inland towards Florence. I had always wanted to visit Florence and see what the great artists of the Renaissance have left behind as well as enjoy a bit of that famous gelato I had heard so much about.

While planning the trip we decided to stay in the Fiesole area, a wonderful neighborhood stretched on a hilly setting and overlooking Florence. It was a beautiful view to take in both in the morning, while enjoying a delicious breakfast on the sunny hotel terrace, as well as in the evening.

During the time we spent wandering through the city we managed to see the historic center, cross the Ponte Vecchio with its memorable river views, as well as visit Boticelli’s masterpieces at Uffizi Gallery among other things. It was a lot to take in and the warm and humid summer weather didn’t make things easy at all. At one point, we found an amazing little ice cream shop in a small and cozy square and ended up spending hours sitting on a bench and going in and out of the ice cream store while trying every single delicious gelato flavor they had. We found the place by accident and this turned out to be best gelato we ever ate! 🙂

Even though Florence has more than enough attractions to keep tourists interested for as long as their budget holds, we decided to book a day bus tour to other beautiful places in Tuscany.

We started with visiting the dreamy town of Siena early in the morning.

The town buildings reflected its rich history and we spent about an hour walking around its narrow winding streets in the company of a guide that made it all even more interesting.

The historical central square was impressive, especially because of its inclined position, which makes for a spectacular panorama if you just sit yourself down for a few minutes at any point in the square and just have a look around (the higher the better though). The square is also the location for an annual horse race and festival – Palio di Siena– which engages the whole town as well as the surrounding region.

But the best part of the Siena stop was the visit to its beautiful cathedral. On the way towards it, the buildings are quite packed together and the narrow streets make it quite difficult to see from a distance what is waiting for you when you reach the cathedral square. But the beautiful exterior is almost nothing compared to the richness of pattern, symbolism and overall beauty that awaits inside. A large extent of the the floor area inside the cathedral was uncovered, which we were told was a recent development, and we were able to have a look and photograph the amazing mosaics which are amazingly preserved due to being covered for so long. We also got to see a room with frescoes from the 16th century (if I remember correctly) which were so well preserved that they looked like they had been painted last year. We were told we were among the first set of tourists to see this room, since it had been sealed for centuries, but that also the frescoes were being damaged by the exposure to oxigen and CO2 generated by the tourists. I had hoped they had a plan to tackle this threat, but they didn’t have anything ready to go yet. I really hope they manage to find a solution soon, because it would be such a pity for those invaluable  frescoes to fade off. And this is only part of what the cathedral hosts under its roof; it’s definitely worth a dedicated visit.

Next we headed to a wine & oil making and cattle farm. It gave us a chance to see a piece of rural Tuscany and have a taste of its wonderful cuisine on a shadowed terrace overlooking the vineyard; just what we needed on a hot summer day 🙂

Then we headed to the ‘Manhattan of the middle ages’, as our tour guide put it, a small medieval town called San Gimignano. It is well known for its tower dwellings which are quite narrow but also quite tall for medieval standards. It’s a charming place to visit, with narrow stone walk paths lined with small stores and restaurants well adjusted into the historical stone buildings. It’s also a place where one can supposedly taste ¨the best gelato in the world¨, a delicious selection of flavors though it did not beat the gelato we had in that small square in Florence 🙂 .

The last stop of our day trip was a visit to the Piazza dei Miracoli in Pisa, where we climbed the beautiful Tower of Pisa. It was a strange experience, feeling a sense of shifting my center of gravity every 5 meters while going up the endless set of stairs that took us to the top.  The panorama view from the top of the tower was amazing, but the area around the historical square was quite off putting. I’m glad we got to see the Piazza dei Miracoli as part of the tour, because we would have been disappointed if we had spent one day alone on a visit to Pisa.

By the end of our stay in Florence we were both happy as well as exhausted from all the walking, but we had gotten enough sweet souvenirs to keep up going  as we started our trip back North. 🙂

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August 16, 2012Permalink 1 Comment