Our GPS likes to take us the scenic route. So I’m pretty sure with all the driving between all the places we went that we pretty much saw aaaall of Tuscany. On our way home we had to stop and just enjoy the countryside.
Historically Sienna has always been competing with Florence. As far as I can tell, Florence has beat them at most things. But in some ways I preferred Sienna. It had more of a small town feel and everyone there was so friendly. It is built on some hills and gives the streets a unique feel as you wander around going up and down the slopes of the narrow walkways.
There are 17 neighborhoods in Sienna and each is represented by and animal. Some of the neighborhoods hung banners of their animal, it was festive and fun. Just after stopping to take this picture a little old lady leaned out of her window above us to dote on Jonah. Old people here just looooove kids. I get to practice my Italian a lot thanks to my little man.
You have probably seen pictures of the famous tower in Sienna. It’s in this great amphitheater like square that all slopes towards the tower as if it were a stage. Jonah had a great time chasing pigeons there. There is a bareback horse race around this square two times a year, we might have to come back 🙂
I love how a lot of the old cities in Italy still have things from the past just lying around. In Sienna there were tons of “horse parking spot” or metal rings to tie your horse up. You see these things a lot, and also the torch holders for old school street lights.
Sienna is famous for a “fruit cake”. It was pretty good for fruit cake, but it was still fruit cake if you know what I mean.
Sienna’s patron saint is this lady named Catherine. She received the stigmata (basically gouged herself in the hands and feet and said it happened by the spirit), and convinced the pope to return to Rome. The people loved her so much that they now have her head, that’s right, her actual head all shriveled up and gross, on display in this church in Sienna. Oh and also her thumb. I guess she’s pretty important to all of Italy because there are “relics” of her in lot’s of churches.
Florence, or Firenze as the say here, is a great place to go if you love art. We decided not to wait in the long lines or pay the high price to see any of the museums. It was our first time there and we just wanted to get a good feel for the city. We found free parking up above the city and stepped out of the car to the most amazing view. Plus there was a nice big statue of David in our parking lot, can’t beat that!
We walked through the courtyard of the Uffizi gallery, taking in all the statues. And out into the Signora piazza, where the famous campanile (bell tower) is. The statue of david used to stand right in front of the Campanile, which is a center of politics, one day someone ransacked the building and threw a table out the window, breaking David’s left arm off. So they decided to move David inside for protection for elements and tables. Today a replica of David stands where the real one used to stand.(The real one is in the Accademia…you have to reserve in advance to see it. We did not see it.)
The Duomo in Florence was very impressive. You could climb up to the top of it to see the view, or you could climb to the top of it’s bell tower, Giotto’s tower, for cheaper. So we did the bell tower, since that way we would have a view of the duomo. It was 414 steps up and Jonah did the WHOLE thing by himself. Every time I even tried to hold his hand he’d say “I got it Mom!” He also climbed most of the way down, I picked him up a few times because he kept trying to jump down the stairs and I was scared he was going to miss a step and roll. That kid is tough though. He climbed those stairs better then lot’s of the adults who were huffing and puffing.
|Giotto’s tower, Jonah climbed it himself|
We stopped for gelato at the most amaaaazing place. Supposedly Florence has the best gelato in Italy. Aneesa and I both had a blueberry flavor that was so full of actual blueberries that our mouths and lips were a nice purpley blue afterward.
There is a bridge in Florence that is very famous. All the little buildings on it are jewelers shops and I guess some of them are very good. I can tell you they were definitely expensive!
Cinque Terre is a string of five villages on the cliffs next to the ocean in Tuscany. There are hiking trails connecting each of the villages and also a train you can take. Overall I felt it was a beautiful disappointment. I have been looking forward to going here for quite some time. I had no idea it was a HUGE tourist destination. There were so many tourists there it really took away from the environment. Especially since most of them were speaking english…I know that sounds weird but American tourists really bug me. They are loud and annoying. Maybe I am too…but I guess I prefer to be the only one 🙂
|The “walk of love” between the first two villages|
Don’t get me wrong. It was amazingly beautiful. But it was the kind of place that you expect to be deserted and more remote. I know the locals like to say that it deserves a quiet kind of respect that it has not received since being “discovered”.
The houses are built right into, on and around the rock. I wondered if some of them even have the natural rock as part of their walls inside.
Vacations are a but rough on the little man of our family. He doesn’t get naps and there’s always a lot to take in. We try to do things that he enjoys, like stop at every playground we see and eat lot’s of gelato. But by the end of this, our 5th day of vacation Jonah was getting a bit burnt out.
Pictures do not do this town justice. Plus we didn’t seem to take many pictures there, probably because we were too busy enjoying the loveliness of it. Lucca is a walled city and is not very touristy at all, which makes it oh so nice. When we arrived on Sunday they were having their monthly antique market and it was amazing. Further along we found a regular market and they had some of the best Venetian scarves I have seen anywhere…looove scarves.
|Big city gate|
The walls of the city are so big that there is a path on top of them that you can ride your bike on or just wander around with a great view of the city.
|Path on top of city walls|
There seemed to be A LOT of churches in Lucca, so pretty. There was also a cool spot that you could go to that used to be a Roman arena but they built houses over it, so when you walk into the square it’s in an oval shape like a roman arena.
At the market we found a twenties style felt hat and Nick said that I absolutely had to have it and he proceeded to buy it for me. Then we found the most adorable pink bike as we were walking (have I told you how much I LOOOOOOVE the antique bikes all over Italy? They are impossibly hard to find for purchase…but everyone seems to have them) and we had to take a picture with it.
Lovely Lucca. I will definitely be back there again. It had a very local and authentic feel to it.
Everyone has to go to the leaning tower if they are in Italy…I think it’s one of those mandatory things like Rome. Frankly, I wasn’t that impressed. The town of Pisa itself was alright but not my favorite. And the square where the tower and duomo are is soooo crowded that it’s not super enjoyable to me.
The leaning tower is the bell tower to the duomo, even without leaning it is an impressive bell tower. It was built over two centuries by at least three different architects. About five years after the first stones were laid they noticed it was a bit crooked due to the fact that the foundation was only 13 feet thick and the tower was large and heavy. Each architect attempted to straighten it out a bit so when you look at it it’s not just a straight building that is leaning, it sort of curves where they tried to correct it a few times.
After completion there were many attempts to slow down the steady leaning of the tower. Some worked, but some made it worse like in 1838 when they decided to pump all the groundwater out and it actually increased the lean rate to a millimeter per year. So in 1990 they closed the tower and spent $30 million dollars trying lot’s of ways to fix it. What eventually worked was digging fifteen foot holes on the north side and allowing the tower to sink more on that side to straighten it by about 6 inches.
Due to erosion and weather damage 135 of the 180 marble columns have had to be replaced.
For 2 Euro you can go inside the duomo. I wasn’t super impressed, but it was pretty.
Near Volterra is another fun city called San Gimignona. It is a very medieval town as evidenced by it’s walls and many towers. There used to be over 60 towers but today there are only 14 left. Back in the day before city walls people made towers to protect themselves. Then they built the city walls and people held on to their towers as feuds among different families within the city walls (i.e. Montagues and Capulets) were prominent.
Does Volterra sound familiar to you? Probably from the recently popular Twilight books. When Bella goes to Italy to save Edward from stepping out into the square in daylight…that was in Volterra. Aside from Twilight though this town is so lovely. It is a walled Etruscan city (which means it’s older than Roman times!) with so much charm and a lot less tourists then a lot of places in Tuscany.
The walls of the city used to be twice as big as they are today. There is one remaining city gate from Etruscan times. A lot of the wall was destroyed by the Nazis, but this one arch the Volterra people took up all the stones from the street that led to it and filled it to the top so that the Nazi’s wouldn’t blow it up. After WWII they took all the stones out and put them back down on the street. Really neat story.
|Beautiful streets of Volterra|
Of course Rome came in and took over Volterra at one point so there is a Roman theater that was later mostly taken apart to make some baths.
|roman theater on left, baths on the right|
|The town square…the one Edward almost stepped out into for you Twilight fans|
Overall I really loved Volterra. It was fun to just wander the streets and take it all in. Walled cities are nice because you can wander as much as you want and know you’re still in the city as long as you haven’t gone out of the walls.
On Wednesday we attempted to make our way down to Camp Darby, we made it all the way there before realizing that we had left an important document (namely a passport) and needed to return to Caserma Ederle (home base) to retrieve it from the gate guards there. When a visitor comes on to post they have to leave their passport at the gate and retrieve it before they leave. We drove off without retrieving Aneesa’s and not a single one of us thought about it until we were three hours away at our destination and realized we couldn’t get onto Camp Darby (another military post) without her passport. So we drove home. Thursday morning we woke up and tried again.
We got to Camp Darby and set up our camp. Then we headed for the beach. When we arrived Aneesa casually said, “I’ve never been to the beach”. I couldn’t believe it, so we gave her the full beach experience and buried her. Jonah decided he wanted to be buried too. Speaking of Jonah, that kid is fearless, he went right out into the waves and a few times the waves went over his head and he just held his breath, no problem.