June 27, 2010

Tuscany

It was a nice change to go from the crowded, sometimes smelly buses and metro that we had used to get around Rome to a quiet little car to ourselves. It was also a nice change to soak up the peaceful countryside as we headed to Tuscany. Siena caught our eye as we were driving through and we decided to stop. I'm so glad we did, it is one of the most beautiful medieval cities, I could have spent a few days there.

The Piazza del Campo differs from most "square" piazzas because it's shaped as a shell. They used to have horse races around the perimeter and now they have annual bike races. Can you find me in the picture? I'll give you a hint, I'm sitting down.
This is just 1/4 of the piazza!
Just a sliver of an amazing view. Steep streets with locals eating at an osteria behind us. We found a neat ceramics store here where the husband and wife sculpted and painted all the pottery themselves. We bought a plate to hang and a bowl for serving.
These are all apartments behind me, I love the swag of vines they have running in between them.
Siena's Gothic style Duomo, the exterior is made of black and white striped marble.
ahh diet coke and a teeny tiny car
side view of the Fiat, it was actually very comfortable up front, but the backseat is non existent!
We had to pry ourselves away from Siena to make sure we had enough daylight to explore San Gimignano, a much smaller medieval Tuscan village, where we were staying. this was the view from our hotel window.
We stayed at La Casa di Giovanna, run out of a woman's apartment that had been in her family for generations. She rented out two rooms and lived in the third. Giovanna served us the most delicious breakfast of fresh tomatoes and mozzarella, prosciutto, melons and toasted baguette. The room was one of my favorites of the trip, full of old antique furniture that had been her Grandmother's and Great-Grandmother's.
San Gimignano is very small and though it attracts a few buses of tourists during the day, it's deserted with a few boarders and village residents after 3pm. This was our favorite little piazza to wind the evening away, eating a long dinner and taking a walk before returning to the piazza for the obligatory gelato (we had to...it's Italy!)
This is my "I'm starving!" smile
San Gimignano is known for it's wine, olive oil and towers. The medieval residents would built towers onto their houses to signify wealth; the taller the tower, the wealthier you were. There were once 72 towers, 13 remain. You can climb a few of them to get a spectacular view of the village and Tuscany.
San Gimignano is below me, the Tuscan hillside is beyond that.
Jake and a few of the remaining towers.
Tuscany is so beautiful. We climbed the steps a few times to get more of the view.
This is the door to our room, I love how antiquated it is.
The main street. See the window with the shutters propped open? That's our room. We also found more amazing pottery here and added two more plates to our collection.
Jake found an olive grove. We went to a few different olive presses and tasted different oils until we found one we loved. Jake loves olive oil, he puts it on everything, so this was his souvenir of choice. We bought an olive oil that was pressed from local olive trees and infused with saffron. It's delish! But it's being delivered by boat, so it won't be here for another month :(
Jake & I on top of a tower
Jake is showing how narrow the streets are. We accidentally drove down this street! Only residents and hotel boarders dropping off their bags are allowed to drive within the village walls.

You wouldn't expect the shopping to be much in such a small village but there were some amazing leather shops with affordable, genuine leather. I bought a bag :) I'm so glad we happened upon San Gimignano, it feels like it's frozen in time. After a few days here it was time to move on to Florence.

Florence

After dropping our rental car off we headed toward the historic center of Florence where we were staying. We spent the day walking around the city and checking out Michelangelo's David at the Academia Museum (which is just as amazing as you would think. It's amazing how Michelangelo can capture such detail in stone). The next day we climbed the dome of the Duomo. Here is the first level of the climb on the inside:
It was really neat to see the dome murals up close. This one was taken from the second (higher) level. If you look closely at the picture you can see the the lower parts of the mural depict hell and the higher levels heaven.
There was a terrace on the top of the dome where we saw these beautiful panoramic views of Florence:

Florence is huge! It seemed small to me compared to Rome but it just has a smaller historic center. And although Rome was interesting for it's ancient ruins, Florence was equally interesting for it's Renaissance art. Florence is considered to be the birthplace of the Renaissance.
Jake & I on top of the Duomo's dome. You can see the Duomo's bell tower in the background.
We climbed and descended over 940 steps (steep, narrow and at times dizzily winding steps!) I was seriously afraid that I was going to fall with my bad hip and no handrails. Stairs were my biggest nemesis.
The view we had of the Duomo from our hotel
The Uffizi Museum. We spent hours here one day browsing works by Rembrandt, Da Vinci, Michelangelo, Caravaggio, Raphael, Botticelli and so many more. We love museums and history so the Uffizi was a lot of fun.
Both nights we stayed in Florence we were treated to free concerts in different piazza's. The first was huge orchestra playing classical music and this one was a smaller orchestra with a big choir and a few opera singers. They set up speakers all over the piazza so you could here the music reverberating blocks away. It was amazing. You can also see one of the two replica's of Michelangelo's David in the background, it's accurate to size so you can see how massive the statue is.
The golden doors of the baptistery to the Duomo
The baptistery in Florence is unique because, unlike most round baptistry's, it is octagonal.
Once we saw the sights of Florence, we got on a train headed north.

Pisa

We stopped in Pisa to see the leaning tower. The square that it was located in was really unique because it was surrounded by grass, you don't see that very often. In this picture you can see the baptistery, cathedral and the bell tower (the leaning tower).
The cathedral is the real work of art but it deserted inside because everyone goes to see the tower. They have it stabilized for now and were allowing people to climb it.
Good thing Jake was there to help hold the tower up
Jake & I

After strolling around the square we hopped on the bus back to the train station and caught the next train to the Cinque Terre.

Cinque Terre

Cinque Terre, translated to "the five lands," was the most relaxing and beautiful cliff side landscape I have seen. Besides San Gimignano, most of our hotels were located in bustling city centers, so it was nice to take a few days in a remote village to unwind. We stayed in Il Borgo di Campi in Riomaggiore. While there we went on a hike that connected each of the 5 villages.
Checking out the main piazza in Riomaggiore.
Our hotel was actually made up of about 25 little cottages nestled into the cliff.
Our cottage was sparse but comfortable.
And this was our view...we spent most of our time sitting out on the terrace reading.
This was taken on the hotel restaurant terrace. We had to eat at the hotel because it was so remote that there was only one bus that ran from it to the village 3 times a day. Luckily the food was fantastic. The chef happened to be the owner of the hotel. One night we had seafood pasta and pesto gnocchi. The pesto gnocchi was the best I've ever had, the pesto was light and the gnocchi just melted in your mouth.
The view of Riomaggiore from the first leg of the hike. This was the shortest leg of the hike and also the most popular, it's called "Via del'Amor."
Manarola
You can see Corniglia behind us.
Looking down on Vernazza.
The leg of hike connecting Vernazza to the final village of Monterosso was closed, so we took a few hours to eat lunch and gelato. Here we're on top of the stronghold tower you can see in the previous picture.
The pier and beach of Monterosso. This was the only one of the five villages that had a beach with a decent sandbar.
The foliage in Cinque Terre was beautiful
The rat tail is alive and well in Riomaggiore! We initially thought it was a mullet, but my southern friend Amanda, who has more experience in these things, informed us differently.
On to Venice! This was a long train ride with a few quick train changes, but we were old pro's at this point.