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Tuscany and Florence

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S: Tuscany and Florence


FC: Tuscany Florence | and | October 2011

1: Barbara, Rochelle Siegel, Nina Koenick and Joan Simon | Tuscany | Il Borgo Montagnana, Italy | After being whisked over the Atlantic we were picked up in Florence by Daniele, our driver. At Il Borgo. we were greeted by Alessandro with bouquets of flowers. We looked forward to the "Lessons of Tuscany".

2: Tuscany Florence | and | October 2011

4: View from our balcony

5: Lessons of Tuscany at Il Borgo The 7 nights included a small apartment, transfers, and breakfast set outside of our door in a basket each morning. There was always a little surprise gift in the basket. Our driver, Daniele drove us to a different town each day and chauffeured us to dinner at locally owned restaurants each evening. We went to a winery one day and had a cooking lesson where we learned to make ravioli and tiramisu.

6: PISA | 10/13 Our first excursion was to Pisa, whose power peaked in A.D. 1200. It's powerful navy ensured its dominance in trading links with Spain and North Africa. This ended with the silting in of the Arno River. Barbara enjoyed doing the "tourist thing"....holding up the Tower of Pisa.

8: Next stop, Lucca, a Roman walled city. It was home to Puccini. Lucca has several surviving tower houses, where families ran businesses from the main level and lived above in the other 4 stories. | Barbara with Puccini | A tower house


10: Monteriggioni | In the heart of Tuscany, in the southwest corner of the Chianti region, Monteriggioni castle was built in the 2nd decade of the 13th century by the Republic of Siena. Its original purpose was as a defensive outpost against Siena's rival, Florence. Home to garrisons of soldiers, but also a large number of civilian families, its military use declined in the middle of the 16th century, when the Sienese State, to which the castle belonged, was annexed by Florence.

11: 10/14 - Off we went to a small hill town, Monterissioni with a small square and cute little shops. oxoxo | To: The Gang USA

12: Siena was medieval Florence's archrival, a city of steep medieval alleys surrounding the Piazza del Campo. The buildings around the square symbolize the golden age of the city between 1260 and 1348, when wealthy citizens contributed to a major programme of civic building. Siena's decline began in 1348 when the Black Death hit the city, killing a third of the population; 200 years later many more died in an 18-month siege ending in defeat by the Florentines. | Siena

13: The Duomo

15: Siena rooftops | Il Campo, Siena's Main Square is the heart of Siena. The square fans out from the City Hall to create an amphitheater, where the citizens are the stars. Originally, this area was just a field (campo) located outside the former city walls. As the city expanded, Il Campo eventually became the historic junction of Siena's various competing districts and the old marketplace. The brick surface is divided into nine sections, representing the council of nine merchants and city bigwigs who ruled medieval Siena. The square and its buildings are the color of the soil upon which they stand...a color known as "Burnt Sienna." Usually twice a year - on July 2 and August 16_ the city erupts during its world-famous horse race, the Palio di Siena. Ten of the 17 neighborhoods compete to be honored for the coming year.

16: Certaldo

17: 10/15 - Daniele drove us to this hilltop town of Certaldo. We entered the gate and walked towards the town hall., Palazzo Pretorio. We visited Boccaccio's house where Rochelle had a good look at him in a painting by Benvenuti, a well known painter in his time. The house was bombed by the Allies during the war, but has been restored. We climbed the tower to get good views of the city. The other thing Certaldo is known for is Artesia, a pottery and artist's studio where you can watch artisans decorating wares with traditional designs.

18: The "city of beautiful towers" is one of the best-preserved medieval towns in Tuscany. Its stunning skyline bristles with tall towers dating from the 13th century: 14 of the original 76 have survived. These windowless towers were built to serve both as private fortresses and symbols of their owners' wealth. | San Gimignano | The Museo Civico was a small, fun museum, consisting of just three unfurnished rooms and a tower inside City Hall. We were enthralled with the 14th century frescoes by Memmo di Filippucci of the Wedding Scene cycle.. Patron Saint San Gimignano holding the city much as it looks today was another favorite. We climbed the tower, the tallest in the city and could see the tops of some of the tower homes. Of course, we enjoyed our daily dose of gelato when we got down.

19: Gelato was great!!! We never missed a chance to treat ourselves.

20: Cinque Terre | Il Borgo | Cinque Terre | Portovenere

21: 10/16 - The five hamlets of the Cinque Terre are located on the west coast, north of Tuscany in Liguria, The villages of Riomaggiore, Manarola, Corniglia, Vernazza and Monterosso either cling to the cliff face or are concealed in miniature inlets perfectly blending in to this unique and unspoilt landscape. After a 2 hour drive through hills and mountains we arrived at Portovenere where we boarded a ferry. which would drop us off in Riomaggiore, the beginning of our hike on the Blue Path. This path existed in medieval times and was the only road between the inhabitants of the coast. There are dozens of mule-tracks which go up the crest of hills, tracing a tight network of routes crossing dry stone walls. | Portovenere

22: Riomaggiore

23: The path that connects Riomaggiore to Monterosso is the most famous and spectacular one and is called the "blue path".. In order to travel the whole path, one needs to walk for about five hours. The path was traced over the centuries by those who used it to travel from place to place, therefore in some points, it is a real bridle path which unwinds itself by the seaside and connecting the five villages amongst themselves. We chose to walk the first part from Riomaggiore to Manarola.

24: After we paid our fee for the privilege of hiking, we started from Riomaggiore to Manarola through this tunnel in the mountain. The "Path of Love" was filled with locks and graffi from lovers expressing their undying love. Even the vegetation sometimes had writing on it. | Manarola

25: We enjoyed our walk on The Lover's Path, but the climb down to the ferry was something else! To: The Family USA We didn't love it. xoxoxo | Manarola sights | The Ferry Dock

26: Vernazza, Corniglia & Monterosso | Monterosso | Vernazza | The ferry bypasses Corniglia, then stopped at Vernazza. The topography of Vernazza is outstanding: tower-like buildings flank the narrow alleyways leading down to the anchorage.. We ended our cruise in Monterosso renowned for the unspoilt architecture of the medieval center with pleasant beaches. | Monterosso | Corniglia

27: Barbara's favorite lunch choice... PIZZA

28: We ended our visit to Cinque Terre by strolling up these steps which led to a tunnel. We had no idea that the light at the end of the tunnel was this spectacular beach. And of course, our faithful driver, Daniele | A little gelato and we were on our way!

29: Volterra | 10/17 - Volterra's most famous sight is its Etruscan arch, built of massive, volcanic tuff stones in the 4th century B.C. Volterra's original wall was 4 miles around - twice the size of the wall that encircles it today. With 25,000 people, Volterra was a key Etruscan trade center. The 3 eroded heads, dating from the 1st century B.C. are probably Jupiter, Juno, and Minerva.

30: We headed for the Etruscan Museum filled top to bottom with rare Etruscan artifacts, highlighted by Etruscan funerary urns (designed to contain ashes of cremated loved ones. Each urn is carved with a unique scene, offering a peek into the still-mysterious Etruscan society. The tall skinny figure was dug up by a farmer and used as a fireplace poker until it was realized that it was an artifact. | L'Ombra della Sera

31: Volterra's other claim to fame is its alabaster industry. Alabaster is softer than marble and easier to carve, but it's much more fragile and can't be used outside. The above items look like cloth but are actually alabaster carvings.

32: A walking tour included the main square with the Palazzo dei Priori, City Hall. It claims to be the oldest of any Tuscan city-state and inspired the more famous Palazzo Vecchio in FLorence. The Duomo has alabaster windows and a beautiful dome.. The outside has the usual marble "zebra stripes" that we've come to know. A Roman Theater still stands after being used as a city dump until be restored.

33: We had a cooking lesson and now we can get jobs in an Italian restaurant. | Joan and Rochelle make our dessert, yummy tiramisu!!! | We got to eat what we made, a goat cheese appetizer, eggplant and ricotta filled ravioli and the tiramisu. We're great chefs. | To: The Gang USA

34: Greve in Chianti | Greve in Chianti - The town square

35: 10/18 - We were obsessed with wild boar meat and discovered this butcher shop full of it. We weren't sure if we'd had it, but we probably had. Bon Appetit! xoxoxo | To: The Clan at home USA | Barbara and her wild boar! New pet???

36: CASTELLO di VERRANZZANO | The Castle is situated on the top of a hill in Greve, the heart of the Chianti Classico wine production area. It was originally an Etruscan settlement, then a Roman one, until becoming the property of the Verrazzano family in the 7th century. The Castle of Verrazzano has an ancient tradition of winemaking and Balsamic vinegar production. Wild boars are reared in the surrounding woods. Cured meats and wild boar sausages are also produced here.

37: We weren't expecting lunch at the winery, but when we sat down for the winetasting this platter was presented. We thought it was to be shared, but NO.............we each got one just like this. I'm sure some of it was the wild boar sausage that they produce at the winery. The wines were delicious and so was the well-aged Balsamic vinegar that was poured over cheese.. Biscotti dipped in their sweet wine topped off the meal.

39: Our "lessons" were over and Florence beckoned us. We watched one more sunset, packed and awaited our next adventures, hoping to return one day.

40: Florence

41: 10/19- After saying goodbye to Daniele, we dropped our bags and found our way to the Jewish Synagogue to meet Giovanna, our guide for Jewish FLorence.. (1) The synagogue, one of the largest in Europe, was built between 1874 and 1882 in the Spanish-Moorish style. There is a museum on the 1st floor housing a collection of ritual objects dating from the 16th to the 20th centuries regarding the history of the community.. The ghetto area (2) was set up in 1570-71 by Cosimo I di 'Medici and extended during the early 18th century.. Two synagogues, one Italian, one Spanish, as well as all other facilities necessary for community life were set up in the existing buildings. Under the Hapsburg-Lorraine family, Jews were emancipated and could live outside the ghetto. It was demolished the end of the 19th century. (3) Two oratories set up for those who preferred to have a place in the city center to pray, (4) House where esteemed poet Salomone Fiorentino lived, , (5) Site of a Jewish lynching, (6) The former Vio dei Giudei ("Street of the Jews"), (7) Convent housing reformed prostitutes; and converted Jewish women were probably also housed here. (8) Our hotel, Grand Hotel Minerva. | . | 8

42: Galleria

43: dell'Accademia | Michelangelo's David The central rotunda of the gallery of the Galleria dell'Accademia was especially built by De Fabris in 1882 to exhibit Michelangelo's 1504 masterpiece - and to protect it from vandals and the elements. A copy by Arrighetti has been standing in the statue's original spot since 1873, at the main entrance of the Palazzo Vecchio in the Piazza della Signoria. Entering the gallery and walking past unfinished statues of Michelangelo, one is mesmerised by the statue of David at the other end. David was commissioned in 1501 by the Cathedral Works Committee. At the age of 26, Michelangelo was given a used, leftover block of marble that came from the mountains of Carrara. Viewed as a gallery piece, David looks odd; his upper body and head are both out of proportion, and out of keeping with the Renaissance obsession with the perfect harmony of form and proportion.

44: Piazza del Duomo

45: The Duomo, Bapistry and "Gate of Paradise" doors. . . . it always pointed us home

46: Plaza di Santa Trinita is marked by an ancient Roman Column. Straight ahead is the Ferragamo Museum.. . . . . Scrafitto is an old Italian technique produced by applying layers of plaster tinted in contrasting colors to a moistened surface and then scratching so as to produce a design like the one above which we saw on a building. | After our morning with Giovanna, we took a break and checked into our hotel, the Grand Hotel Minerva located next to the Santa Maria Novella church. The Gothic-style church is the 2nd largest in Florence. . . . .Our back alley walk took us past this old "wine key" where people used to bring their jugs to get filled with wine.

47: We stepped into the Santa Trinita to see its chapel with frescoes done by a teacher of Michelangelo's. Then walked over the Ponte Vecchio Bridge.. This more of a local area, less touristy. Hidden away on a back street was a restaurant known for a Florentine specialty, tripe. Some of us were determined to try it if we got a chance.. | The enormous Pitti Palace was on our way and soon we walked under the Medici's corridor to find ourselves at a local bar where we enjoyed wine and a snack.....more salami and cheese. Bueno!

48: The view from our window shows the Piazza Santa Maria Novella. In the 17th century the piazza was used for carriage races and the two obelisks sitting on turtles marked the turning points. The billowing sail emblem of the Rucellai family appears on the facade of the church because they paid for its completion in 1470. Beneath the arches on the bottom are tombs.

49: We visited the Guild House and saw pictures from soccer competitions. We passed through the Piazza Signoria on our way to the Uffizi. The view of the Ponte Vecchio is from the Uffizi and has a good view of the "corridor".

50: The Uffizi | A short walk brought us to the Uffizi. The Uffizi was built in 1560-80 as a suite of offices for Duke Cosimo I's new administration. The architect, Vasari, used iron reinforcement to create an almost continuous wall of glass on the upper storey. From 1581 Cosimo's heirs used this well-lit space to display the Medici family art treasures, creating what is now the oldest gallery in the world.

51: The Botticelli paintings are the highlight of the Uffizi's collection. The brilliant color and crisp draughtsmanship of "The Birth of Venus" are a reminder that Renaissance artists often experimented with new pigments to achieve striking color effects. The subject of this painting, the Roman goddess Venus, is also significant. By painting Venus instead of the Christian Virgin, Botticelli expressed the fascination with Classical mythology common to many Renaissance artists. | The same is true of his other famous work, "Primavera". It breaks with the tradition of Christian religious painting by illustrating a pagan rite of spring. | The Duke and Duchess of Urbino (1400) Piero della Francesca's panels are among the first true Renaissance portraits. He even recorded the Duke's hooked nose - broken by a sword blow. | "The Birth of Venus" (1485) shows the Roman goddess of love, born in a storm in the Aegean sea. She is blown ashore by the winds and greeted by nymphs, ready to wrap her in a cloak. | Some of the Uffizi art work

52: Crossing the Ponte Vecchio | The Ponte Vecchio is the oldest bridge in Florence - guilt in 1345. | There have always been workshops on the bridge, but the butchers, tanners and blacksmiths who were here originally were evicted by Duke Ferdinano I in 1593 because of the noise and stench they created. | The workshops were rebuilt and let to the more decorous goldsmiths, and the shops lining and overhanging the bridge continue to specialize in new and antique jewellery to this day.

53: The Palazzo Pitti, begun in 1457, was originally built for the banker Luca Pitti. Its huge scale was developed into its actual shape by the Medici, who one century later bought the palazzo when building costs bankrupted Pitti's heirs. In 1550 it became the main Medici residence and subsequently all Florentine rulers lived here. Today the richly decorated rooms exhibit treasures from the Medici collections and the Hapsburg-Lorraine court. | Palazzo Pitti | A painting by Raphael

54: A successful shopping spree at San Lorenzo Market | We even got our platter of tripe although none of us is anxious to try it again. | The Rape of the Sabine Women

55: 10/22 - Our last day we went back to see the statues at Piazza della Signoria.. Above is Cosimo I and to the right, Hercules and Cacus. Barbara stands at Neptune.'s Fountain. | David | Left: Perseus holding Medusa's head meant to warn Cosimo I's enemies of their probable fate. Above: Ammanati's Mannerist fountain of the Roman sea god Neptune surrounded by water nymphys to commemorate Tuscan naval victories. | Carved from a single flawed marble block. | Piazza della Signoria

56: The Palazzo Vecchio still fulfills its original role as Florence's town hall. It was completed in 1322 when a huge bell, used to call citizens to meetings or warn of fire, flood or enemy attack, was hauled to the top of the imposing belltower. The palazzo has retained its medieval appearance, but much of the interior was remodeled for Duke Cosimo I when he moved into the palace in 1540.

57: A walk along the Arno starting at the Ponte Vecchio took us to the Sante Croce church, the 2nd largest in Florence. That evening we had a grand banquet at one of our favorite restaurants, Buca Mario and said our goodbyes to Florence. It was a wonderful trip and we can't wait to return!

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