We know many of our friends and relatives have been to Italy, this is our first trip and it has been amazing. First we need to say, which we were told by many, order the “house red wine”, it is always excellent!
Our next stop on our journey was Venice. We got off at the Venice stationed headed down along the Grand Canal to find our flat. Marcello, our host, said to walk straight along the canal, cross over a small bridge then continue for about 400 meters and there would be a yellow building with a hat shop, he would meet us there. It was a beautiful walk down the narrow streets through a Piazza over the bridge. We walked past the and building and crossed another bridge about 400 meters. We realized this could not be correct so we turned around and walked back. We found the hat shop and Marcello (about `50 meters from the bridge).
The flat was adorable, very rustic low ceilings just off the canal. It was a perfect location; not far from the train station, in a local neighborhood and only a 30 minute walk to St Mark’s square. We learned quickly to duck, after smashing our heads several times on the doorways (about 5 foot tall).
We went for a walk to go see the “ghetto”, just a few bridges away. Even in Venice there was a Jewish neighborhood, that during WWII had an camp that Jews were kept and then shipped to other concentration camps, this area is still as it was then, a Jewish neighborhood with stores and restaurants.
Time for our first dinner experience, we walked to the restaurant recommended by Marcello, it seemed to be closed until Tuesday, that is a story we will tell later, so we picked another from YELP. It was very good and the local red, very nice at $7 a liter. Amazing, no headaches!
The next morning we had breakfast in the flat and strolled through the narrow streets to St Mark’s square. It was a lovely stroll along the Grand Canal at times. Janice wanted to do a Gondola ride so we checked into that option. We saw a number of the gondolas backed up on narrow canals, avoiding power boats and the views were not spectacular until they got out to the Grand Canal. Needless to say, walking along the way, we had the same views. We went up to one of the gondola stops and found the cost was 80 Euros a piece for 30 minutes. You had to share with four other people and that didn’t include someone to sing love songs. Given all that we decided to take a pass. It was interesting, they mostly seem motorized and the paddle is just for steering.
We then decided to go find Harry’s Bar, famous as a hang out of Hemingway and many other writers and artists. John has wanted to go to this bar forever. We arrived and walked into the bar, a bit dingy and dark even though it is right on the Grand Canal. The gentleman came over and informed us that John was not permitted in the bar with shorts or upstairs for lunch. This worked out to our advantage, we got to see the famous bar and saved some money. What we didn’t know, it had become a tourist trap for wealthier travelers; two drinks and a grilled cheese sandwich could cost $85! Needless to say we cancelled our plan to return the next day. Our stroll back took us on a different set of alleys and canal crossing and we arrived back to the piazza by our flat.
That night at the flat was an exciting evening, maybe it as a full moon. First at about 2 am, a young person was screaming, seemed like it was right below our window, leave me alone, go home then the best ever at about 5 am, a man was singing opera right under the window, not that bad either, John said he hired him!
We spent the next day exploring all the small alley’s and walkways around Venice and it was delightful! It is amazing to watch the boats pull up along the way to deliver goods to the stores, construction material and supplies. It took these folks in the picture a while just to find a place to park, parking along a canal is no small feat then on to the throwing the containers onto a dolly then brought with them on the boat.
Our plan was to go to the recommended restaurant it was after all Tuesday, now the story. Turned out the times we saw for the restaurant, under the restaurant sign, were for the barber shop on the corner, not the restaurant which was several doorways around the corner. I suspect you can guess by now, the restaurant was closed on Tuesday. Well that is the end of the story.
We departed Venice, from the train station the next morning for our next stop.
We arrived in Florence Station and let google maps direct us to the flat where our Host Barbara’s husband Maurizio greeted us with his daughter. They were both wonderful and showed us around the flat, and explained how things worked and gave us a map of the city pointing out important areas, they also presented us a bottle of red wine, how nice. The flat was remarkable, remodeled using the old rustic parts with a modern flair.
Maurizio recommended we walk over to the market for lunch, the second floor would have all kinds of options so after settling in we strolled over to the market. The market was crazy, somewhat like the wonderful market in Budapest. We decided not to fight the crowds for food instead elected to drink wine, imaging that.
The next day we started out with coffee at a cafe then made our way to “The Dome” Florence’s cathedral that stands tall over the city with its magnificent Renaissance dome designed by Filippo Brunelleschi, with the bapistery right across. The cathedral named in honor of Santa Maria del Floref is a very large and vast Gothic structure built on the site of the 7th century. church of Santa Reparat the remains of which can be seen in the crypt. We chose not to take the long walk to the top of the dome (some 400+ stairs) rather we got on-line to enter the cathedral. It was magnificent. The biggest artwork within the cathedral is Giorgio Vasari’s frescoes of the Last Judgment (1572-9): they were designed by Vasari but painted mostly by his less-talented student Frederuco Zuccari by 1579.
We had a 1:15 p.m. reservation to visit The Accademia Gallery so we started walking through the streets to locate the museum and to find a stop for lunch. While winding our way through the streets we found a beautiful square Piazza della Signoria.
We had no idea what we had found. The Piazza della Signoria has been the center of political life in Florence since the 14th century. It was the scene of great triumphs, such as the return of the Midici in 1530 as well as the Bonfire of the Vanities instigated y Savonarola who himself was burned at the sake there in 1498 after he was denounced by the Inquisition as a heretic.
The sculptures in Plazza delia Signoria bristle with political connotations, many of which are contradictory. The David (the original is in the Accademia Gallery), was placed outside the Palazzo Vecchio as a symbol of the Republic’s defiance of the tyrannical Medici.
Bandinelli’s Hercules and Cacus (1534) to the right of the David was appropriated by the Medici to show their physical power after their return from exile. The Nettuno (1575) by Ammanneti celebrates the Medici’s maritime ambitions and Giambologna’s (all the PICS intertwined)equestrian statue of Duke Cosimo I (1595) is an elegant portrait of the man who brought all of Tuscany under Medici military rule.
Also in the Piazza was a sculpture that is part of an exhibit that had appeared, seemingly overnight, in the middle of Piazza della Signoria is a turtle “Searching for Utopia,” We think he is looking for Flagler Beach) is part of “Spiritual Guards,” an exhibit by Belgian artist Jan Fabre. It was an interesting modern day bronze.
We left the square to find the place to get the tickets from our voucher for entry into the Accademia Galleries and when we found it were told to come back only 15 minutes before our time so we walked down the street and found a cute sandwich shop. What was great about this place is they
raised all the animals on a farm so everything was wonderful! finished with lunch we were right on time to pick up our tickets.This was an experience of a lifetime for us.
Michelangelo’s “David”!, we never expected it to be that large or that magnificent, is even more impressive as you walk up the corridor, past his other works that are just stunning. Nothing much to say just admire the art!
Next stop the Uffizi museum.
The building of Uffizi complex was begun by Giorgio Vasari in 1560. Over the years, more sections of the palace were recruited to exhibit paintings and sculpture collected or commissioned by the Medici. According to Vasari, who was not only the architect of the Uffizi but also the author of Lives of the Artists, published in 1550 and 1568, artists such as Leonardo da Vinci and Michelangelo gathered at the Uffizi “for beauty, for work and for recreation”.
We strolled though the museum, many sculptures, admiring them, after seeing the Michelangelo’s everything was small in comparison. There were some beautiful artwork from the 12th thru 15th century and we really admired these two Da Vinci paintings.
We walked out of the museum and decided to head to the palace on the other side of the river, crossing the Ponte Vecchio Bridge. This bridge itself has a very long history and interesting stories. The bridge was first constructed in 996 but was rebuilt many times over the centuries. It has always hosted shops and merchants who displayed their goods on tables before their premises, after authorization of the Bargello (a sort of lord mayor, a magistrate and a police authority). The back shops that may be seen from upriver, were added in the seventeenth century. During WWII, the Ponte Vecchio was not destroyed by Germans during their retreat on the advance of the liberating British 8th Army on August 4, 1944, unlike all other bridges in Florence.
It is said that the economic concept of bankruptcy originated there: when a money-changer could not pay his debts, the table on which he sold his wares (the “banco”) was physically broken (“rotto”) by soldiers, and this practice was called “bancorotto” (broken table; possibly it can come from “banca rotta” which means “broken bank”). Not having a table anymore, the merchant was not able to sell anything.
We crossed the bridge and walked up the palace stopping for a glass of wine nearby. We did not go into the Pitti Palace, instead we walked around and back over the bridge, a long day we headed back to the flat.
That evening we ate at a local restaurant, when we arrived it was early, 6:15 and the waiter told us they would not be open until 6:30 but we could sit and he would get us some wine. The food was good, reasonable priced and the house wine was fantastic. The walls were covered in paintings that were replicas of famous art, all signed by the person with the date in 2000.
Pisa and Siena
Everyone said it was not worth the trip but how could we not go to see the leaning tower? We again used our train passes and headed to Pisa. We took the train then decided we were not sure how far so we took our first taxi instead of public transportation (that includes our feet). The tower it is amazing and who knows how it stands up. We stopped for coffee and tea looking at the tower then walked back to the station. On the walk back we crossed the river and there were wonderful views of the homes along the river. Our next stop on the train would be Siena
We had been told by many not to miss this destination. We knew it was a long uphill walk from the train station and were told how to take the public bus up the hill to the square. We got off a wee bit early so we walked down on towards the square, Piazza del Campo. This is a unique place in the whole of the world, starting with the very particular conformation of the ground, which turns the square into a big concave shell. The paving is made of red bricks arranged in fish bone style, divided into a sunburst pattern by nine strips of travertine (in memory of the Government of the Nine, who ruled over the city from 1292 to 1355). The square was magnificent, we sat down and drank some wine. Guess we sat just in time as the afternoon rains began, as they had every day since we arrived in Florence. We had planned to explore more of the city but decided on getting back to the train (via taxi) and head back to Florence. The taxi driver was very interesting. He had worked as an engineer for 20 years and was recently laid off replaced by someone younger for less pay. He decided to try to give running his own taxi a chance, entrepreneurship at its best!
The next morning we headed off to Cinque Terre, a group of 5 fishing villages on the rugged portion of coast on the Italian Riviera, in the Liguria region of Italy. We took the regional train from Florence station and arrived in the southern most village called Riomaggiore, it was a cute town lovely small shops with extraordinary views. It was our plan to walk between there and the next village, Manarola, but the walk path was closed so we decided to take the train and skip a few villages and head up to Vernazza. The village of Vernazza had a cute beach and we sat down for lunch watching the college kids sun bath along the rocks.
You can hike all up and down the hills and see all the fishing villages, it would take a full day and we decided hiking up and down mountains was not the plan. We were happy we took the day trip, we planned it for the day when rain was not in the forecast and it was a beautiful day.
Our final day in Florence we simply walked around the narrow alleys past many churches and museums the city is very beautiful.
We should talk about things we learned in the restaurants in Florence. The first evening we read about a beef restaurant excellent reviews on Yelp and it was not far from our flat off we went. There was a short line but what was more interesting 99% of the people in the restaurant and online were Chinese, we were confused. We ordered the Porterhouse as did everyone, still could not figure this out. The next few nights we ate at very local restaurants and the food was great wine $6 at half liter, local wine that was excellent. The last night in one of the local restaurant 2 young Chinese business women there in Florence training with Ferrari, more Ferrari’s are sold in China right now than anyplace in the world.They were showing pictures of what they wanted to order, one of the women was surprised to find it was Rabbit so ordered something else. We got into a conversation with then, and they explained that all the Chinese take a picture of the food in a restaurant and write their reviews about the picture, that is because most Chinese cannot read other language menu’s and that is how they pick their restaurants and their food This is all done on Tripadvisor China.
It was time to say goodby to Florence and our wonderful flat and headed to the train station.