Falling in Love with Italy: Pisa & Florence

Our destination today is the famous town of Pisa where we explore the Square of Miracles, featuring the Leaning Tower, Cathedral and Baptistery. We then head to Florence, birthplace of the Renaissance where we visit the Academie de Arte to view Michelangelo’s David. Along the way, we observed ancient Roman aqueducts from our coach; I even managed to catch a decent photo with my iPhone (below).

pisa and florence

Tip: Click on the links of the notable sights to enjoy a photo sphere in Google maps, a 360-degree panorama.

Pisa

We departed for Pisa immediately after breakfast as usual. Upon our arrival we observed the usual roadside vendors selling kitschy tourist souvenirs. When we entered the square, I was surprised by the size of the area surrounding the tower. For some reason, I had always pictured in my mind the tower surrounding by other buildings in congested metropolitan area. I had not expected the  large green open spaces. Fortunately, these were roped off to confine the crowds to the pathways. The crowds were so intense the grass would otherwise not grow.

leaning tower pisaThe first structure we came to from this entrance was the Baptistry (pictured in the bottom photo above) – a large dome topped circular building. The cathedral was in between the Baptistry and the Leaning Tower. This Unesco World Heritage Site, Piazza del Duomo di Pisa, is unique. The tower was impressive indeed. Like many other visitors, we did our best to take a creative photo despite the crowds.

installation art pisaWe were afforded little free time here, not enough to wait in queue to climb the stairs of the tower but enough to capture photos and enjoy the architecture. As a result, we chose to dine quickly, choosing a McDonalds – trusting in free public restrooms and wifi. It’s also fun to compare menus. We still reminisce about the delicious black & white burgers and teriyaki rice wraps we had in China. Patrick and I both tried the McLobster sandwich and were pleased.

Tuscan Hills

We then proceeded to the heart of the Renaissance, which we discovered was a signifiant distance. We thereby arrived at our hotel, Art Gallery, late in the afternoon. We had very little time to freshen up before we needed to join our group again for the option Tuscan Hills Dinner at Villa Machiavelli.

florence vineyardThe drive to the villa was very scenic, through the Chianti hills, past vineyards and sunflower fields (sadly, they were no longer in bloom). The ancient stone house of Machiavelli was perched a top a small hill and was overlooked by an imposing castle across the vineyard. It was here that the political theorist wrote his immortal, The Prince.

After a toast of blue champagne, a living history interpreter portraying Machiavelli’s spouse, led us on a tour of his home including the wine cellar. The meal and our dinner companions were wonderful – one of the most memorable evenings of our stay in Italy. As we dined on tapas of cheese, bruschetta, ravioli, and gnocchi, we enjoyed three different wines (each paired to a specific dish). My favorite was the Volare, a pinot grigio and pompelmo rosa blend.

A musical trio – violinist, guitarist, and a vocalist – provided us with entertainment. Prime Rib was the main course and it was served with yet another wine. Everything was so very delicious. I had a fabulous time! We even purchased a case of wine to commemorate our evening.

Florence

The next morning, the itinerary included a walking tour of Florence. Giuseppe gave a short overview of the morning, detailing for the first time to the group that we would see the location where Michelangelo’s David had initially been located but that the original had been replaced with a bronze replica. The marble statue had been moved to the Academie de Arte. We (along with a couple from Colorado) had informed our guide early on that we were going to try our luck and get tickets to see David opting to forgo the walking tour.

He tried to talk us out of it initially but upon discovering how important it was to us, agreed to try to pull a few strings. I didn’t expect him to follow through – he had seemed unmotivated. Much to our surprise, he not only got us tickets in advance but we were able to skip the lines entirely, jumping in with another tour group. He asked only that we didn’t say anything to the others in the group and we slipped away as the group walked past the academy.

davidMichelangelo’s David

Upon entering the gallery in which David was the centerpiece, chills ran up my spine. I had never before been so moved by a piece of art. It was incredibly beautiful. I was amazed at the detail – the veins of David’s hands, his toenails, his muscles, his shoulders. Perfection. Photographs do not do it any justice.

At the Galleria del Academie de Arte, we also enjoyed several other sculptures by Michelangelo – some unfinished – in addition to a large gallery of busts and smaller works by less familiar artists. The museum obviously attracts a lot of attention because of the David, but the rest is a lot of religious art which is great but you really have to be into religious art.

Of most interest to us was Marco Polo’s bible – though many of the pages had begun to deteriorate, the text was still legible and the illuminations vibrant. Jeffrey was most interested in several volumes of illuminated works that looked like hymnals. dante florencePiazza de Saint Croce

When we completed our self-guided tour of the museum, we headed to the Piazza de Saint Croce, one of the main plazas or squares located in the central neighborhood of Florence. Here we were to meet the rest of the group. Along the way, we did a little shopping and took several photos by the Ponte Vecchio – a Medieval stone closed-spandrel segmental arch bridge over the Arno River. It is noted for still having shops built along it, as was once common.

florence duomo

Florence Cathedral 

As we continued on our way to the piazza, we came across theand the Cattedrale di Santa Maria del Fiore (the main church of Florence). Il Duomo di Firenze, as it is ordinarily called, was begun in 1296 in the Gothic style with the design of Arnolfo di Cambio. It was so grande that we had difficulty getting a decent photograph.

The exterior of the basilica is faced with marble panels in various shades of green and pink bordered by white, an elaborate 19th-century Gothic Revival façade. The complex includes the Baptistery and Giotto’s Campanile are part of the UNESCO World Heritage Site covering the historic centre of Florence. The the dome was once the largest in the world and remains the largest brick dome ever constructed.

Dante

Once we reached the piazza, we got a quick bite to eat at a cafe and wandered about the piazza to pass the time. Here we observed the statue of Dante, a major Italian poet of the Late Middle Ages. His Divine Comedy is widely considered the greatest literary work composed in the Italian language and a masterpiece of world literature.

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This concludes my Falling in Love with Italy hopscotch. I am planning another series in October to share our experiences in Greece.

Hopscotch-August2016My post is one of many hopscotch link-ups. Hop over and see what others are sharing.