A Travellerspoint blog

Florence

Day 10 - Friday 8th July 2016

sunny 30 °C

Our last full day in Tuscany so we got going early and drove back in to Florence as we hadn't seen all the major sights we had wanted to. Despite leaving home just after 8am by the time we drove around looking for parking we didn't get to the Duomo until nearly 10am. The hit list comprised of attractions all covered by the one ticket for 15 euro. We started to line up to climb to the top of the Duomo but the queue was long, we decided that the bell tower was the better option as there was no queue. We slowly made our way up the 414 steps inside the tower and with a couple of rest stops we reached the top and were treated with 360 degree views of Florence - simply stunning.

Once we ascended back to street level we headed to the Baptistry which is a separate building beside the Duomo and shaped like a dome itself. Once inside we were greeted by a giant dome ceiling with a circle letting in light in the middle. The walls of the dome were ornately covered by gold and coloured mosaics of many biblical themes. The altar was on one side and the baptismal font on the other. An extremely pretty and colourful building indeed.

Next stop was outside and lining up to enter the cathedral as our tickets gave us access underneath the floor of the cathedral where the old church was before they built on top of it. Lots of tombstones and even saw two skulls encased in glass behind a locked gate. Exiting the cathedral it was time for lunch, we walked a few streets away to get away from the duomo crowds and sat and had lunch.

Only 2 attractions left from our ticket purchase but the main thing was to climb the Duomo. The queue was still long so we had turns lining up and it took just over an hour to get inside. Climbing up the dome is done in several stages. After a little while, we were up above the church altar but under the dome that was amazingly painted. We circled around the edge of the dome and then started scaling more stairs upwards. It was certainly an adventure navigating the tiny stairs and with so many people going up and down. But the view from the top - wow. Such a beautiful and historic city. On the way down I was just a few steps from the ground when I slipped and overstretched my foot. Painful for a minute but nothing too serious.

We stopped by the Magnum ice cream store right next to the Duomo, here you make your own style Magnum. You get to choose the flavour of ice cream, choice of three types of chocolate coating, choose 3 types of sprinkles or crumbles then have it drizzled with fondant. Interesting experience as Stephanie and I had one each. Last stop was the museum that was included in the ticket price. After a hot day, long queues, and climbing two tall structures I had little energy to wander around looking at sculptures. We all breezed through the displays as we wanted to start heading back to the villa. This was our last night all together and dinner supposedly was booked for 8pm somewhere so we wanted to get back and shower before dinner.

For some unknown reason the traffic getting out of Florence was crazy. The entire drive should take just under an hour but we were caught in a traffic jam just trying to escape the city centre. It was about 45 minutes before we could even reach the freeway, a trip of only a few miles. Once we hit open road we made quick time and arrived about 8pm. All the cars from the others were still there and we found they were still waiting to hear from one of the other families. We showered and dressed but then just hung around the villa waiting for the others. We ventured out finally around 9pm to the restaurant we'd had lunch at yesterday that was just a few hundred metres away. I was tired from a long day so was less than impressed that my meal didn't arrive until about 11pm whilst others had already finished eating. I quickly devoured my pizza that had porcini mushrooms and goose ham. We headed home for our last night in the villa, had a few quick shots of limoncello then went to bed and crashed out.

Posted by Ace from Oz 13:53 Archived in Italy Tagged florence duomo Comments (0)

Tuscany - Arezzo and Laterina

Day 9 - Thursday 7th July 2016

sunny 30 °C

We decided to sleep in a little today, first thought was to go back to Florence to finish off the sights we didn't get to do on Tuesday. Vicky wanted to do laundry as it was our last chance here and by the time three loads were done and hung out we decided to leave Florence for tomorrow. After casually hanging with the others at the villa they had decided to visit one of the wineries in Arezzo about 20 minutes away. They had rung to ensure it was open so we set off in 5 cars to get there. Us and one of my cousins made it there with no fuss following the instructions on the GPS but the other three cars got lost. By the time the others got there half an hour later the winery was closing for the lunch siesta so the outing was pointless. I'm never one for travelling in groups and this was the first day all week we went with the majority but clearly it's too difficult to manage a large group outing in a foreign country.

By now it was 12:30pm so a decision was made to head back to a restaurant I had found on Sunday which was just down the road from our villa. The cuisine was quite different and offered more traditional Tuscan dishes. I hadn't tried a beef dish since arriving in Italy so I went for the beef fillet pieces with leek and strawberries, that was different but tasty. Vicky had the special of the day - wild boar, even more interesting! Once lunch was over we headed the the villa and spent the afternoon in the pool.

Given we had eaten at a restaurant for lunch it was decided we'd have a plain dinner at home. A few of them ventured to the supermarket and stocked up on sliced ham, mozzarella, prosciutto, salami, cheeses, bread etc and then salads were made. Nice to have a plain meal after eating rich food. The evening was spent watching the second semi final of the Euro 2016 tournament, a few drinks and then to bed.

Posted by Ace from Oz 00:23 Archived in Italy Tagged tuscany arezzo laterina Comments (0)

Pisa - Volterra - San Gimignano

Day 8 - Wednesday 6th July 2016

sunny 30 °C

Today was the most sightseeing in one day so far this holiday. We had a lot of miles to cover, we took of for Pisa just after 8am for the long drive. Pisa was almost two hours away from our villa, we stopped to refuel just before getting there. We found street parking along the river, one of the few times we've managed free parking. I've been using an app my daughter mentioned to me, you can download maps to your mobile device and you can use them offline. It detects your position by the location service on your device so you don't need Internet and you can still know where you are. It's been very handy so far, and parking today and knowing where to walk made it easy. The map app is called Ulmon CityMaps2Go if anyone is interested.

We made our way towards the Piazza dei Miracoli (Plaza of Miracles) and were soon confronted by one of the worlds most recognisable buildings. Standing right there is the Leaning Tower, so impressive and you can go right close to it and see how much it actually leans. You can walk around it and see it from every angle. The tower was first started in the early 1100s and after a decade of construction was stopped with only three floors built due to the lean being apparent. It lay dormant for about 100 years before they recommended construction. We would have loved to have walked up to the top but we had to wait several hours before a spot was available, and that would have meant a big dent on the other plans we had for today. We spent a little time taking photos, the cathedral and Baptistry are also impressive structures. It was another very hot day so being in the sun was tiring.

After leaving the Tower we decided to stop for lunch at the nearby Main Street, funnily enough the place was called "Il Canguro" - the kangaroo - a piece of Australia here in Pisa. Afterwards we headed back to the car, the original next destination was to be San Gimignano but we detoured slightly to a place called Volterra. This town was perched on top of a mountain - and I mean on top!! We were so high up, looking out over the surrounding area it seemed we were the same height as the clouds. This town was the setting for some of the Twilight movie "New Moon", it was the home of the Volturri. Wandering around we soon found the plaza where they had filmed a large scene from that movie. We stopped for our daily fix of macchiato, pastry and a cold drink (and complimentary toilet stop). The streets were step and so beautiful and amazing that people live so high and the views are just stupendous. We headed back to the car when it started raining, it lasted all of about two minutes! We picked up some supplies at the local supermarket and headed for the drive to San Gimignano.

This town is also perched fairly high on a hillside, it is know for the many towers built there centuries ago. It was a sign of wealth and power who could build the tallest tower - it's a size thing. Parking was tough, the town had four dedicated car parks scattered around the perimeter, we couldn't get into two of them but eventually found one. We had a bit of walk up to town but I was amazed how many people were here wandering around as it neared 6pm. We were hungry again (all this walking makes you hungry!) as we knew we wouldn't get back to the villa before late, so sat down at a nice restaurant in one of the piazzas. I had a ravioli, shared a pizza with the girls, and tried their new favourite alcoholic drink, a spritz. We shared a piece of tiramisu for dessert - omg it tasted just amazing. After dinner we walked a little to find one of the main lookouts, people sitting at tables with views over the surrounding valleys would be a perfect and romantic way to see this gem of a town. We couldn't leave without sampling their gelato - two shops in the one piazza all vying for top dog honours. One shop said it sold "the best gelato in the world", the other shop heralded their claim as its owner had been World Champion gelato maker for two years - and we had seen this place on TV in Australia when comedian Anh Do did some docos travelling through Italy. And of course I ordered some gelato with the flavour shown in that show - pink grapefruit and champagne. Wow what a gelato.

We ate our gelato walking back to the car and had glimpses of the sun setting down over the Tuscan hills. The drive back was long, 1.5 hours and by the time we arrived it was already 10pm. Very tired as you can imagine but we saw so much and so many beautiful places we were all very content with our big day exploring.

Posted by Ace from Oz 10:28 Archived in Italy Tagged pisa volterra san_gimignano leaning_toer Comments (0)

Florence

Day 7 Tuesday 5th July 2016

sunny 30 °C

We decided to wake up and try and get going by 8am so we could make the most of a full day in Florence. The city is about an hour or so away, certainly the most time consuming part are the first 20kms or so as we snake and wind through the narrow streets of the Tuscan countryside. Once you hit the "autostrada" (motorway) it's fast moving. It's an adventure just getting to and from our villa, one part of the road squeezes between two buildings and is only one car wide, it looks so weird.

Whilst Florence isn't that far once you get there you need to navigate the small streets and traffic. People just walk everywhere, the streets are small so you're forever dodging obstacles. Our first stop was to be the Accedemia building that houses the statue of David, carved by Michelangelo in the early 1500s from a single block of marble yet it is over 4 metres tall. We navigated to a car park close by and walked a few short blocks over to the Academia.

All the warnings are to pre purchase your tickets for this as the queues are horrendous, however not knowing what days we were to go we chanced our luck and thought getting there early would be OK. We lined up just before10am, the street was crowded as there were three queues - prepaid tickets, prepaid groups, and then unreserved. Naturally the unreserved line was going to be the slowest and I had thought three hours here as a minimum. I wasn't far off my prediction, it was actually 3 hours 45min before we entered the building.

The Accedemia was built specifically to host the giant statue, you wander through a room of paintings and another sculpture before you enter the Michelangelo wing. At the far end you can see the imposing figure of David towering above everyone. As you wander down there are some unfinished sculptures by Michelangelo flanking both sides of the room. But the standout of course is David, standing tall and surrounded by people all taking photos. The craftsmanship is amazing, it made the long wait outside seem irrelevant to see one of the most famous statues in the world.

Meandering through the rest of the building we saw countless paintings and works of art, some dating back to the 1300s. The majority of these were painted on wood so trying to preserve these must be a difficult task. All told we were in there about 1.5hrs, and by this time a large chunk of our day was already gone.

The main other attraction was to get to the cathedral and duomo, we headed in that direction next. The cathedral is such an impressive building, the detail on the outside carvings of the church almost makes it look like a giant paper mache building. After a few photos we lined up to enter the cathedral, it was free to go in and the queue moved quickly. We had intended on purchasing a ticket that allows entry into some of the other attractions there, like climbing to the top of the duomo, the crypt, the Baptistry and the museum. However it was too late as some of the attractions were closing shortly.

We kept walking and passed by the Uffizi gallery and headed to the river and aimed for the Ponte Vecchio - the "old bridge". A larger and sturdier bridge flanked by shops every one on the bridge sells jewellery. We walked over to the middle to take some nice pics of the river and then started making our way back to the car. On the way we passed by some market stalls, I bought two tee shirts as souvenirs. We got back to our car and drove back to the villa, dinner for tonight was booked in the restaurant in Laterina, up high on the hill and has views for miles. As we neared the villa it was evident there had been a storm as the roads were all wet and debris everywhere, and we pulled into the villa and saw unmelted hailstones on the ground. We only had half an hour to shower and dress for dinner.

We all drove up to Laterina and had to park in weird places given the town is small and with not many roads. We had planned to sit outside In the terrace with the great views but the storm put paid to that idea. We had a room inside to ourselves but it was very hot and stuffy so I was sweating once again. Dinner was great, they made huge plates of antipasto with freshly sliced salamis, fresh cheese, beans and pate. I ordered a pasta dish in duck sauce which was interesting. Didn't sound like much food but I pigged out on the antipasto so was feeling very full and the local artisan beer and glass of red wine made it a great meal. A coffee and a shot of limoncello (lemon infused alcohol) topped the night off.

A full day on the run, big meal, I was exhausted once again. I couldn't stay awake at the restaurant so needless to say once we got back to the villa it was straight to bed for this tired little man.

Posted by Ace from Oz 01:05 Archived in Italy Tagged italy florence tuscany david michelangelo Comments (0)

Tuscany - Arezzo

Day 6 - Monday 4th July 2016

sunny 30 °C

Today was one of those days things just didn't go to plan. The rest of the gang here had planned to visit Siena today, and we were to go with them. Sadly that never occurred as Vicky was up from 2am being sick. She spent the whole morning in bed, but felt better after a while so decided we'd drive to Arezzo to do grocery shopping for the house.

We grabbed a bite to eat once we got to the shopping mall in Arezzo, we bought an entire trolley full of stuff for 61 euro. Bottles of beer for 60 euro cents, so cheap. Bottled water too - you can buy 2 litre bottles in the supermarket for 20 euro cents, we pay through the nose in Australia.

We came home and dumped the shopping, I jumped in the pool to cool off. Within a few minutes of us getting back some of the crowd started arriving from Siena. 2 car loads took a wrong turn and had trouble getting back, they arrived way later than the others.

Given the lateness I the day we decided to order pizzas to take away for dinner whilst a few made bowls of salad in the kitchen. We ended up buying 28 pizzas, it was a great effort making that many for us. They only cost about 7 euro average for them all, so cheap. And they were yummy too! Late dinner so then a couple of closing drinks and back to bed.

Posted by Ace from Oz 14:58 Archived in Italy Tagged tuscany arezzo Comments (0)

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