After Rome, we wandered further north, preparing to make a nice wandering journey through Tuscany. Tuscany, of course, is famous for its open, rolling hills, dotted with innumerable wineries, villas, and medieval towns.
A tuscan road
We camped at a delightful little camp spot not far north of Rome, just on the edge of the official boundary of the province of Tuscany. Jennifer especially liked how the campsites were located in a hillside glade of olive trees.
The next morning, we were off, Jenn at the GPS-map display, trying to locate the most scenic and most twisty of ways to travel into and through Tuscany. Our first stop was the mid-sized renaissance/medieval city of Siena. Siena was once one of the largest centers in Tuscany, but the ravages of the plague and the ascension of Florence relegated it to its current "mid-size" place. That might be a good thing, though, because Siena has a relaxed and unexplored character, even though it is in many ways as interesting to visit as Florence. Where Florence is a big, large, valley city, busy with dense crowds, Siena is perched on a hilltop, and a walk through its very narrow streets is a more quiet and reflective experience. You feel more like you have the city to yourself (although don't get me wrong, there are still a goodly number of tourists!).
The weather this day had turned cloudy and cool, with dark, threatening clouds. This made for some dramatic shots of buildings, but also made for dramatic goosebumps on Jenn's skin. Ah well... we'd had practically perfect weather up to this point, so a bit of clouds and showers couldn't dampen our spirits too much.
Campanile, Duomo of Siena
We did extensive walking around the city of Siena, visiting the Duomo with its impressive banded marble exterior. I love the inside of the duomo: Its dark and gloomy main vaults banded in dark and light marble; the cool inlaid floor mosaics; the brilliantly colored and painted and contrasting piccolomini library (when I say contrasting, I mean compared to the gloomy main hall).
The Piccolomini Library ceiling
We wandered around the famous Piazza del Campo, where the famous 'Palio di Siena' (a horse race) is held twice each year. The Piazza is considered one of the nicest and most famous in Europe. It is shaped like a shell (think half-moon shaped), and has slices of multitextured brick and marble radiating out away from the center. The focal point of the piazza is the town hall, or Palazzo Pubblico. There is a slender and tall tower in this town hall, and I wanted to go up and get a cool view of the city and the piazza, but rain had closed access.
Instead, we had a delightful little lunch in a cafe right at the edge of the Piazza, and watched as some enthusiastic local soccer fans paraded around the square in a colorfully decorated public bus, and then retired to the courtyard of the town hall to sing and drink and cheer their team. They take their soccer seriously here!
Piazza del campo and Mangia tower
Saying goodbye to Siena, we made our way to another fairly famous medieval Tuscan hilltown. This time it was a place I'd never visited before : San Gimignano - The city of the towers. San Gimignano is smaller than Siena, and is fascinating in its own way. The city has many odd towers of different shapes and sizes. From a distance it uncannily looks like the medieval version of a modern city's skyscrapers. The towers were a result of a medieval form of "keeping up with the Joneses", and, at one time, there were 72 separate towers!
Today there are only 14 towers left, but even so, they give San Gimignano a wonderful distinctive character. Also not to be forgotten are the other delights of the town, including its medieval defensive walls, winding narrow streets, and picture-perfect setting atop a hill surrounded by a lush and productive patchwork of vineyards and villas.
Lush winemaking country
Jenn and I throroughly enjoyed our visit here, visiting viewpoints, piazze, little nooks and crannies. We even visited the "museum of torture", which for some reason Jenn actually wanted to see (and somewhat regretted it). The museum was slightly pricey (8 Euros) and definitely disturbing, especially when one reads the description of the strange-looking devices within. However, I thought it was quite good from a standpoint of remembering the atrocities of history. For all of the wonderful art and architecture of the ages, we musn't forget that there were very dark and unforgivable deeds, much of the time committed in the name of "good".
Dusk was drawing near, and we'd had a full day exploring both Siena and San Gimignano. In preparation for visiting Florence the next day, we drove to a hilltop campsite just north of the city (of Florence) and set up for the night.
The next morning, we took a bus into the center of Florence. Florence is the largest city in Tuscany, and has a very restrictive central zone automobile policy (actually, most of the famous cities in Tuscany do this). Taking a bus from our campsite into the center of town was far easier and cheaper than any other alternative.
Straight down from Campanile
We had a fairly relaxed day in Florence; I showed Jenn the Duomo; we went up the impressive Campanile di Giotto and had ourselves a look at the wonderful panoramic view of the city. We skipped doing the Galleria degli uffizi and instead wandered around outside in the Piazza della signoria, home to a bunch of very famous and impressive sculptures. Then it was over to the Ponte Vecchio and we had a look at the crowded and overpriced jewelry shops.
Florentine street and tower
Circling back towards our start point (and our bus stop), we then visited a delightful church, one I'd never visited before: the church of Santa Maria Novella. Situated near the train station (and our bus stop), the church has an unassuming character, except for the beautiful and fanciful front facade, which was progressively tacked on to the church long after it was initially built. The interior of the church is wonderful. In my opinion, it is much more impressive than the inside of the Duomo. The altar is made of wonderful multicolored marble, and there are neat side chapels inside with impressive art and decorations. For some reason, they don't want you to take pictures inside this church. I snuck a few in anyway (see below). Well worth the visit.
Stuck to the side of the church is a
quiet and beautiful little spot containing the 'Green Cloister' and the
Spanish Chapel (in Italian, the Capellone degli Spanioli). The
Spanish Chapel is a medium-sized room with an amazing wall-to-wall-to-ceiling
fresco with the most interesting imagery. There is also a small museum
in here (look for the entrance to all of this just to the left of the
main facade of the church).
Altar, Santa Maria Novella
Cappellone degli spagnoli
We retired from Florence after this, heading back to our campsite, packing up, and heading north-east, to the Adriatic and its crown Jewel: Venice!
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[ Italy 2005 trip
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Monte Cervialto |
Herculaneum & Vesuvius |
Palace of Caserta |
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The Biennale |
Via Ferrata-ing in the dolomites |
Climbing in the Ortles |
Gottfried's Adventures |
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