Monday, January 30, 2017

Italy for the New Year {Florence-Day 4}

I woke up on New Year's Day and set out through the fairly vacant streets of Florence.  While pretty much everything was closed for the day, my goal was to walk around and take time to ooh and ah over the architecture, and take in some sweeping views of Firenze.  First stop was the Piazza del Duomo...

This is a view of the Baptistry
The Duomo
I arrived right in time for some morning bells...





After walking around the Duomo and giving it it's due of admiration, I headed down toward the river.  This sweet shop's pretty windows caught my attention...
Just look at those marzipan cherries!

Panforte selections on display...
Piazza della Repubblica...
Palazzo Vecchio and the Town Hall of the Medici...

Until 1873, Michelangelo's David stood where this replica stands today.
I've read people's take on their trip to Florence where they felt like seeing the replica was a good substitute for seeing the real thing.  In, my opinion, IT IS NOT!
This is a much less crowded Uffizi Museum.  Remember that I had rushed through seeing everything on 12/30 because the Uffizi was suppose to be closed on NY Day?  Yeah, well, they decided to open after all, but didn't publicize that until 12/31.  I don't think they plan things out well in Italy.  Another example of this is that I had read the Bargello Museum was suppose to be open on NY Day, but wouldn't you know they decided to close.  Frustrating yes, but just part of traveling around holidays.
All of the shops on the Ponte Vecchio were closed, but a New Years sign had been hung on the bridge...
Buon 2017 = Good 2017
On the South, less visited side, of the Arno River is the Pitti Palace.  It was closed, but I walked by and took it in.  Just down the street from the Palace, I found a cute vintage store that I rummaged through for a while.
I walked along the south side of the Arno.  This is the Uffizi, and there was some sort of water event that day...

Some video of this view...
And looking the other direction....

My next stop was Piazzale Michelangelo.  Please note: you should take a taxi to Piazzale Michelangelo and walk back down.  I did not.  I walked up and down.  And it is up, and up, and up.

Here I think I was taking a momentary break on the hike and captured some of the view...
As you inch higher and higher, the view gets more breathtaking...







Can you imaging driving around in this little car?
I walked back through Florence and took in the city.  I tried to stop by a couple of restaurants I had read about, but they were all closed.  I went back to the hotel, and upon their recommendation, I walked to the Mercato Centrale, which is a giant iron and glass covered market.  The downstairs traditional market was closed, but upstairs giant food court was buzzing.  I totally should have been eating here the whole trip, so I was bummed I didn't discover it until my last meal in Florence.
It was so crowded, I decided to get some food to go, but I ate my dessert first as I walked back to my hotel.

This was the BEST gelato I had the entire trip!
I had 3 flavors here:  Pistachio, Milk with chocolate flakes, and mascarpone with caramelized figs & walnuts.  Oh my gosh...that mascarpone flavor was sublime.
That pizza-like thing with the eggplant, cherry tomatoes, and basil was pretty darn good as well.
I hung out on the hotel rooftop garden to finish out the day.
They had heaters up here, so I enjoyed reading up here for a while.
I always feel bad if I'm not going non-stop, but so many things being closed on the holiday pushed me to relax a little.  It was mid-way through the trip, so not bad timing to rest up a little.
The view from the rooftop garden...
I love to listen to the bells
Buona notte Firenze!
I packed up before going to bed, because I was on a train the next morning to Venice.
Stay Tuned...

Monday, January 23, 2017

Italy for the New Year {Tuscany-Day 3}

On New Year's Eve, I took an 11 hour tour out to Tuscany.  The tour made stops in San Gimignano, Siena, a winery in Chianti, and Greve.  First stop was San Gimignano.  SG is a small medieval walled town famous for it's 14 still standing towers (It's a UNESCO World Heritage Site).  As with most tours, you end up wishing you had more time at some stops and less time at others.  SG was definitely a stop where I wished I'd have had more time.

This is the main street in town.  All of our time in SG was self-guided, and they encouraged us to stay on the main street due to the short time there.
I saw this little off-shoot though and there was a sign indicating a scenic overlook, so I detoured.
The sun wasn't at a great angle for photos, but I was glad for my detour...



The scenery was beautiful

Piazza della Cisterna is the main plaza in town...

 We were there before some stores/restaurants had opened, and some were just completely closed for the off-season...

 Laundry day...



 Collegiate Church





 You can buy lots of pottery in SG.  I found a shop that commissioned 3 or 4 local artists to paint scenes of Tuscany on various items...I got a great Christmas ornament & magnet for my refrigerator.  I really wanted some dishes though!
I was kinda hungry because I skipped breakfast, but it was getting close to lunch so I just decided to have a snack.  One of my friends had been concerned about my lack of gelato intake, so I decided now would be a good time to fix that problem.
Pistachio and Strawberry...yum!

The outside walls of SG
 The landscapes around SG

Next stop was Siena (also a UNESCO World Heritage Site).  Siena was the main reason I booked this tour.  I desperately wanted to see the Duomo in Siena.  The tour didn't include a tour of the Duomo, but indicated there would be time to tour on your own.  This was partially true.  I think we had a fair amount of time in Siena (about 3 hours), but I didn't love how the time was dispersed.  We had 1 hour on our own, and a 2 hour walking tour.  The 1 hour on your own really needed to involve eating lunch.  But as I had come to Siena to see the Duomo, that is what I did.  I could have skipped the 2 hour walking tour, but I didn't really know much about Siena so I felt like it would be good.  

SO...I spent my free time mostly in line for duomo tickets, then a quick run through the duomo, and just enough time to purchase a Coke Zero before the walking tour began.  That gelato basically became my only "meal" until 8:00 that night.  But enough about that...

The streets of Siena...
 The tower is called Torre del Mangia and is located in the Piazza del Campo...

The Piazza del Campo
I took this pic of the Duomo as I was standing in line for tickets.  Others on the tour intended to see the Duomo, but I think I'm the only one who did.  The long line, and hunger, scared them off.  
 I'm so glad the line moved quickly enough for me get tickets to go inside, if only for a few minutes.  It's so pretty.







 They had a very elaborate nativity set up inside...




 The walking tour did end up having lots of great information about Siena.  

 Laundry day in Siena too.
 Siena is constructed on a hill, which means there is no natural water source.  This is one of the city's fountains... Fonte del Casato.  It's hidden between buildings.
 Siena has a horse race every summer.  It's not for tourists, but is really a medieval tradition that the city has held on to.  They take it SERIOUSLY.  A lot of our tour was spent talking about the race, which is called "Palio di Siena" and the 17 city districts, or "contrades".

I know much more about this than I probably ever wanted to know, but the Palio is a race between the   17 districts.  The 17 districts each have their own colors, mascot, church (not to be confused with the local parish church) and museum.  These are generally closed to the public, but our tour guide was able to take us into one of the district's museums and churches.

This museum had gathered jockeys shirts from various Palios of the past.
 When your district wins, you win a banner (or Palio).  These are some of the older Palios.
 They differ from year to year, but always have the Virgin Mary on them.
 The walking tour circled up around the Duomo and I found out some great info
 That door to the lower left of this pic was where I had to enter to get tickets earlier in the day.  The line snaked out from there and I had looked at this scene not knowing what I was seeing.  On the tour, I learned that there had been a plan somewhere around 1337 to expand the church.  The expansion work started, but was never completed, and this is what the next two pictures shows.

 I love the Moorish influence in this Gothic church...


 The mosaics are beautiful when they catch the sunlight...



 Siena Duomo was built of brick with a marble veneer.  Here you can see where some of the veneer has come off to reveal the bricks (along the roof)...
 The Basilica Cateriniana San Domenico...

 Siena is a labyrinth of narrow, hilly streets.



We left Siena and headed for a winery in Chianti.  We passed lots of vineyards along the way...
We arrived at sunset...



They also grow olives...
I'm sure this was a great part of the tour if you like wine.  I tasted it and it reconfirmed that I HATE wine.  Wine in the U.S.  Wine in Italy.  Makes no difference to me.  I HATE the stuff.  We did get to sample some of their olive oil, some local cheese, local salami, and a grape marmalade (kind of like a balsamic), and they were all good.
The last stop was a town in Chianti called Greve.  I'm sure it is a great stop in the summer, but it was a waste of 45 minutes for our tour.  Everything was closed.  I'm not sure if that was because it was off-season, or because it was New Year's Eve.


I would definitely go back to San Gimignano and Siena.  In my opinion, they were absolutely worth stealing a day from my time in Florence to see.

Thanks for reading!  Stay tuned... next post is New Year's Day back in Florence

 

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