Taking the Long Way to Florence

After several wonderful days together in Turin, it was time to head to Florence with our friends.

We decided to proceed along the western Mediterranean coastline towards the village of Tellaro for lunch. I’d read it’s one of the most beautiful villages in all of Europe. It didn’t disappoint.

Arriving in Florence, we tried to find the parking lot our Florence apartment owner, suggested. Having no luck and tired of driving narrow but fortunately mostly one-way streets, we dumped the car in a parking lot and hiked to the apartment. After a long walk with luggage, we found our apartment on the smallest street in Florence, or so it seemed: a 2-bedroom, 2-bath charmer a short walk from the Uffizi and the Duomo, the Cathedral of Florence.

After wine and cheese for dinner and a good night’s sleep, we were off to the Uffizi. Mark had arranged for tickets in advance, so we were able to avoid much of the entry line. Truly amazing: room after room of sculpture and paintings.

We ate a late lunch and enjoyed refreshments in the square by the Basilica of Santa Croce. Santa Croce, the largest Franciscan church in the world, is also known as the Temple of the Italian Glories, as it’s the burial place of Michelangelo, Galileo, Machiavelli, Rossini, and a few other illustrious Italians.

After lunch, we spent the rest of the day absorbing the architecture, stained glass, and religious monuments of this special church.

On the way back to the apartment, I decided to move the car to the correct parking lot (a mile from the apartment and 20€ per day). I was amazed to learn I owed 180€ for less than two days. After some negotiations, I was granted a discount to 90€. An expensive lesson.

That evening, we strolled around the city, enjoying the views along the Arno River and the beautiful colored building and architecture. We ate dinner in a quaint courtyard restaurant a few blocks away, and enjoyed a delightful seafood medley among the local residents.

15741082_986778248133681_7281273014815848393_nThe next day was dedicated to the Santa Maria del Fiore, also called the Duomo, with its Campanile and adjacent Baptistry, as well as the area surrounding these neo-gothic cornerstones of the city.

The Brunelleschi-designed dome of the Duomo was a major achievement in the 1300s, as this 91-meter structure was built without scaffolding. An inner shell of 463 steps provides a platform for the timbers that support the outer shell.

The Baptistry and its colorful mosaic ceiling illustrate the Last Judgment with the large octagonal baptism font below. This is where Dante and other notables were baptized.

At the end the day, Mark and I needed to prove we were still young – at least at heart – and climbed the 85 meters, some 414 steps, to the top of the Duomo Tower, also called the Campanile. We enjoyed magnificent 360-degree views of the Duomo’s dome and all of Florence. We agreed the climb was worth it – but only once – as was the 6€ entrance fee for the privilege.

After walking down those same 414 steps and narrow winding passageway, we rejoined our wives who were eating gelato and drinking wine – imagine.

Another delightful evening at the apartment with some great wine, cheese, olives, bread, and a good sleep after our heroic walk up the Campanile.

Siena – you are so close

Our friends only had one more day in Italy before departing from the Milan airport, so we decided to make it memorable and headed out unexpectedly to Siena.

An 80-km drive in the rain and we were there. We paid for several hours of street parking and, with rain jackets, headed towards the Palazzo Pubblico and its magnificent buildings and Tower of Mangia.

Our wives jumped into shops to avoid the rain while Mark and I trudged along to the Siena Cathedral with its dome and bell tower. Unfortunately, we did not go in this landmark, but instead bought a picture book illustrating its magnificence.

Finding our wives in a ceramic shop, we arrived just in time to pay for more nice stuff to put in our cabinets. After lunch and a last cruise through the old town of the city and its narrow cobblestone streets/small artistic shops, we headed to the Milan airport hotel to drop off our friends.

We all decided that even though Florence is a must-see and stay, having more time to overnight in Siena would definitively have been a better plan. Siena, although less monumental, is prettier, less hectic because of the scarcity of tour groups, and definitely more quaint Italian vs. the commercialized chaos of Florence.