A Travellerspoint blog

November 2014

Meet David - Florence

Michelangelo's Masterpiece

We arrived in Florence to be surrounded by churches and old buildings, there was even a church outside of the main train station. From here we were straight off to find our AirBnB accommodation which was beautiful and helped make our stay even more magical. We stayed in an old converted monastery with a young family and their old black cat. They were lovely and really made us feel a part of the family. Off we went to the local pizzeria that night for delicious radicchio gnocchi and green sauce pasta followed by tiramisu and apple lemon tart for desert. The gnocchi was phenomenal and Lewis couldn't stop raving about the tiramisu.


The next day we were off on a long day tour of Tuscany (8am – 9pm). Our tour went through Siena, San Gimignano and Pisa with lunch at an organic vineyard in Chianti country. It was a long day but the scenery was spectacular! It was also All Saints Day so we couldn’t look inside most churches that day which was a little disappointing. We arrived via bus in Sienna in a group of about 40 people.


We had a local guide taking us around to show us the sights of this ionic town. The streets were quiet when we arrived as it was before 10am and Italians aren't early risers. We explored the old buildings on our way into the main square (Piazza del Campo) where on our way we visited one of the first banks of Europe that still runs today.


The main square is sloping and is where they do Palio, a major horse race event that the town is famous for. Twice a year the race happens in honour of the Madonna of Provenzano and the prize is the Palio (a silk banner). Horses are chosen from a lottery and only 10 of the 17 districts race. A week later a rider from the group rides the horse three times around the clay track. The rider is not the thing the people are concerned about it is the horse. The horse that crosses the finish line first wins whether the jockey is still on it or not. Most Palio races only last 90 seconds but the party lasts for the rest of the night. It seems like an intense few minutes. (Nope this isn't the type of horse they use. Haha).


We then headed up to the magnificent cathedral of Siena. The Duomo was one's of the first in Italy and is still the highest point of the city. Opposite the cathedral is Santa Maria della Scala, an former hospital that the monks use to run. It was one of the only free public hospitals when it first started and people came from all over Europe for treatment. It is understood that most of the time that people were given bread and wine and then saw the church and were cured. The walls are covered with frescos which were commissioned by wealthy families at the time. They are beautiful and showed the hospital monks feeding the poor bread, teaching students and of course treating patients.


We managed to get inside the church before the next service (very sneaky, sneaky of us) to see if the inside looked as stunning as the outside looked. It was better....The inside was simply gorgeous. As we were privileged to even look inside we didn’t stay to take photos.


We continued back to the main square admiring the old houses and alleyways on our way back. The town hall (called Palazzo Pubblico) dominates one side of the square. It was built to be taller than the tower in Florence. On our tour and in general you can see that there is a large rivalry (even now) between Siena and Florence locals.
We were off again, this time headed to a local organic vineyard for lunch in the Chianti region. The region is renowned for its grape and olive production as well as for its rolling hills. We saw Monterosi, the town that was used in the filming of Gladiator on our way.


The views on the ride in and at the vineyard were spectacular. We had a mini tour of the wine processing and storage areas with the large barrels to age the wine.


Lunch was bruschetta with there own olive oil followed by homemade penne with bolognese and then roast pork with potatoes for secondi and to top it off it was almond biscotti for desert. We had a wine tasting with each course of the meal. This meant swirling the wine to see the thickness, smelling the wine, admiring the colour in the sun and of course drinking it with air. We started with a white, then a unaged red and finally an aged red to see the difference the time in an oak barrel makes and lastly we had a desert wine with our biscotti (it was my least favourite). Over lunch we had the picturesque view of the hills, vines and a little lake. It was a luxurious setting and it was difficult to get back on the bus to leave.


We headed to San Gimignano, a town called the Medieval Manhattan due to all of the old towers. This place was awesome to explore. It had plenty of little alleys to get lost in and the views from the tower overlooking Chianti were again mind-blowing.


The tower had a small garden below with an artist painting and a musician playing the harp. It was such a amazing area and felt like I should have been wearing a dress from the middle ages.


It was hard to leave to the garden and explore the rest of the town. I had an award wining ice-cream while there - saffron cream and ricotta and blueberry flavours. It was creamy and heavenly, definitely real gelato rather than the fake stuff. We were off again to soon sadly leaving another picturesque town behind us.


After travelling through beautiful Tuscany countryside and seeing the Volterra (Twilight reference and random fact: they actually used another town in Tuscany when they filmed the scenes for the movie just down the road) we arrived in Pisa just as the sun was setting. Unfortunately it again wasn’t possible to see inside the church but with the setting sun the place looked gorgeous.


The leaning tower was much smaller than I imagined. It marble glowed as the last of the suns setting rays touched it. The tower was built to lean after the foundations started to sink on one side in construction. They decided that they would make it purposely lean and so one side was built longer than the other. We went around on Pisa on a speedy train seeing the university as well as the old town streets before heading back to Florence.


That evening when we arrived back in Florence we thought we would try Mercado Centrale (The Central Market) restaurants. Basically the place follows the same concept as Elliott Stables in Auckland, lots of little restaurants with numbers and shared tables in the middle. The place was chaotic so we left pretty swiftly to find somewhere where we could actually move and see what we were choosing to eat.
Sunday was the first Sunday of the month and you know what that means…well you probably don’t but I shall tell you...first Sunday means the state museums are free pretty much in every country all over Europe. I had a few I wanted to see so it meant another early morning (The look on Lewis' face when I told him was priceless).


We started with visiting the Accademia Museum to see Michelangelo's David statue. There are replicas of David all over the city but we were told seeing the real thing is a completely different experience. I have to say I have to agree. It was the first statue I have seen on our trip that I have been in awe of. We turned the corner noticing smaller statues on the outside of our path, then our vision narrowed to the centre of the hall and David took over the whole room. Everything else was irrelevant compared to him (except for Lewis hehe). He was made of marble and just shone in the light, perfect flesh carved in stone. I discovered that David is a statue of David from the David and Goliath story. The subtle details like the veins in his arms were impressive. The pose is the moment between conscious choice and action, David had decided to fight but hadn't started fighting yet.


We saw the line for the Uffizi Gallery and headed to explore on the other side of the river ad crossed the Ponte Vecchio which now is just covered in overpriced gold shops. We ended up at Pitti Palace, a place we had never heard of and discovered the Boboli gardens above the palace were also free on Sunday. We headed up seeing the beautiful fountains along the way. The view from the top was outstanding!


We also ended up in Bardini gardens. These were more French style gardens and have only recently opened to the public. They too were beautiful but the gardens were really made special by the outstanding view of Florence from the lookout.


We sat here for a while just admiring the stunning view before heading back to the Pitti Palace. We looked through the Palatine Gallery in the palace and saw some of the rooms the Medicci’s lived in before heading to Gusto Pizza for lunch. We found another Neapolitan pizza. It was pretty amazing...not as good as Naples but was still pretty good.


Our last stop was the Uffizi gallery to look around. The thing I have discovered with the old galleries are that the buildings themselves are amazing. The walls/ceilings are usually covered with decorative motifs or frescos. The rooms are nearly as great as the paintings. After a full day of going to the museum we went home exhausted. We saw amazing chalk images being drawn on the street on our way home. They were impressive!
I figured out that we had saved ourselves over 50 euro each for the day by going on Sunday! That’s just under $200 NZD. Nice work I have to say.


We headed to Santa Maria Novella – the oldest pharmacy in Florence. It has been done up and it is very ritzy now. The place was lavish and the prices reflected that….40 euro for a tub of arnica is a tad ridiculous! It was gorgeous though. Our lovely hosts got us a few things from there. I was blown away by their kindness when they gave them to us. It was very touching.


Our next day we were off on a day trip to Lucca. Lucca was a vital stop on our trip as that Lewis' niece is called Lucca (how could we not go!). Lucca was a beautiful walled town. It's special as it still has the wall the whole way around it, which you can walk or bike on.


The Comic Festival had finished the day before so tents were everywhere and the place was quite dead…this was part of the appeal. Lucca itself was full of cute little gourmet shops…cheese, chocolate, delicatessen. We found a lovely deli for lunch where I had Lucchese style veggie soup and Lewis Lucchese style ravioli with bolognese sauce. Both were outstanding!


The nice thing about Lucca is that it was small enough to be able to find shops that don’t just cater to the tourist crowd…most restaurants that cater for tourists have tourist set prices but Lucca had less of this. Looking out to the trees from the wall was a great experience. It was the perfect place to stop and contemplate the world for a moment. We headed home sad to be leaving such a picturesque area.


Our last day was spent going on a secret passage and room tour of Palace Vecchio. This was really interesting and well worth the 2 euro we ended up paying. We learnt about all the alterations to the building as different people and political systems came into power. Originally the elections were every two months to stop leaders becoming power hungry. During those two months you had to live in the palace and weren't allowed to leave and see the outside world. This was to avoid corruption while the leader was in power. We went up a secret stair case in the wall of the original building into the bedroom of Cosimo Medicci.

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This lead to two secret rooms, Francesco who was a strong believer in Alchemy and his father Cosimo's small secret areas. Francesco's room had paintings on secret cupboards. The paintings contained symbols so you knew what was in them. For example there was a painting of how glass was first made, another for how pigment was discovered. There was also another door which was an escape the picture on the front showed a shell horn being given to alert others of danger. The symbolic nature of the images was amazing and really interesting to learn about.


His fathers room was much more simple and the ceiling frescos were about the arts. Unlike Francesco who showed others his room it is not really known what Cosimo stored in his secret room as nobody but him went in there. We went into the roof of the Palace, seeing its original triangle beams that hold up the roof and the ceiling in place. It was really interesting to see amazing technology from so long ago and to see that it hasn't had to be replaced at all.


After the excellent tour we headed to the Mercado Centrale again to buy produce for making dinner. Fresh ravioli with a fresh veggies sauce was on the menu. It was amazing!


I also made cookies for our lovely hosts. It was an interesting shopping adventure for ingredients as Italy doesn’t have vanilla essence and baking powder is called a different name. I discovered that flour is wetter so you need to account for that when you bake. Rolled oats surprisingly were also a mission to find. The cookies were a success but they definitely didn’t taste like they do at home. It was still great to get in the kitchen and create my own food again. That is probably one of the things I miss the most while travelling.

Our time in Florence seemed to go really fast. I can’t wait to go back and explore more of the Tuscany area with it's cute rustic old villages surrounded by amazing scenery. I think our time in Florence was amazing due to us staying a little further out with an amazing family and away from the hustle and bustle of the tourist central.


Posted by chellebelle 11:52 Archived in Italy Tagged food tuscany free david sunday cookies airbnb Comments (2)

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