After breaking through the language barrier and buying train tickets to Florence, we were off to the next town. The ride was quick, but we were in a set of seats with a girl playing her iPod for all to hear. She had headphones in, but the thing was on speaker. Odd.
We found our hotel without too much trouble. It was a decent-sized room for Italy with a large bathroom. The window overlooked a street fair; pretty cool. After we dropped off our bags, we headed out. Our first stop (by accident, I swear!) was to the food market. It was closing for the day, so we only got a quick look. After, we found a cute little place for lunch almost immediately. I had risotto with gorgonzola. YUM! (Note, I’ve been way overcooking my risotto!)
Our next stop was the Duomo, Florence’s largest cathedral. Our tour guide the next day explained the opulence of the cathedrals as the way of buying your way into heaven for the historic elite. Wouldn’t it be interesting to see what would be created if that was the belief today. After checking out the inside, we did the climb to the top of the tower. Oh my. At one point, I turned around and asked Randy if we were climbing to heaven. It was 456 steps , mostly in cramped, really tight quarters. Totally worth it though. We could see the painting in the tower up close, which put the Sistine Chapel’s ceiling to shame…this one used 3D imaging! The view from outside was just as amazing. Florence is much more spread out than I expected.
After we recovered with that day’s gelato, we moved on to the Piazza della Signoria that had a number of famous statues (or copies anyway). Next we tried the Uffizi Gallery where we expected to wait in line for up to an hour. What a great surprise – there was no line! I really enjoyed this art museum. Maybe the overload of art was teaching me how to appreciate it after all!
We were at that gallery until closing time and then walked in the rain to the Oltarno neighborhood to take in the view from Piazza Michelangelo. It was gorgeous, but very, very popular to sit on the stairs and watch the sunset. Needless to say, between the teenage throngs drinking wine and the impending storm cloud, we left before the true sunset. We enjoyed another good dinner and meandered through different piazzas on our way home to work off the $6 bottle of wine. (Good wine. $6. Fantastic.) About halfway through our walk, we ran into the camera crew and one “actor” from Jersey Shore. And here I thought I couldn’t be more embarrassed to be an American than after I heard the 20-something say she was ready to “slut it up” for all on the Piazza Michelangelo to hear. And yes, she most definitely was an American. Sigh.
We had an early morning wakeup call on Friday to meet our 8:30 departure time for a “Best of Tuscany” tour. Before we left, we had the included breakfast from the hotel, which is exactly what you would expect from a three-star hotel: lots of sugary pasties, hardboiled eggs, and fruit out of can. No worries though because all we did was eat the rest of the day.
Our first stop was Siena, where we took four (yes, four) escalators to get to the top of the hill. Once there, we had a guided tour through the highlights. For me, there were two. First was their duomo. These churches kept getting more outlandish than the last! This one was ornate, which is typically too much for my taste, but I found it pretty. Also, it had some statuary by Michelangelo from before he was famous. Next, I enjoyed their Piazza del Campo, which was huge! So huge, that they have two horse races since 1656. This is steeped in tradition. There are seventeen neighborhoods to this small city; each with a name, symbol, colors and leadership. Through a lottery system, each neighborhood gets a chance to compete, but they don’t know what horse they will be using until four days ahead of time. Finally, we did try the local cake, called panforte. We tried a chocolate and a “cannolla” flavor. Eh. A little too fruit cake-y for my tastes.
Next, we went to Fattoria Poggio Alloro, a farm that produced wine, olive oil, cheese and saffron. We had a quick tour of the facilities and then sat for lunch next to three girls from Alabama who were spending three weeks in Europe to celebrate graduating from college. Sigh again. We tried four wines: a white, a Chianti, a Merlot and a dessert wine.
Stop number three was San Gimignano, another medieval town…this one with 14 standing towers. They were serious towers that could be seen all the way from the farm, which was 15 minutes away. By this stop, we were so full and tired, so we made our own way to the top of their fortress, took some pictures and just hung out.
Our final stop, Pisa, wasn’t what I expected. The touristy area around the leaning tower was what you would think, but on a mini-train tour, they showed us the rest of the town. Did you know they have over 60,000 college students in Pisa? Crazy.
We didn’t get tickets to Venice until Friday night (for a Saturday departure), so we were stuck with a 12:30 train. We used this late start as the opportunity to go the street market where I bought a couple of belts and wander through the food market again where we bought stuff for lunch. I have never had cherries that tasted so good!
For pictures from this portion of our trip, please click here.