We decided to make a few “city tours” on our trip, so three of the days were spent in some of the nearby Tuscan cities. Needless to say I have a lot of pictures, but I’m trying to cure myself of picture overload, so I’m going to give you three pictures from each place. Three cities, three pictures of each, hence, Tuscany in Threes. Let’s give it a shot!
First up was the city that most people hit when they head to Tuscany: Florence.
Everyone posts a picture of the famous bridge, the Ponte Vecchio (Old Bridge), when they go to Florence. But this is the view from the Ponte Vecchio. A nice day, wasn’t it? Truth be told, we were on and off the bridge very quickly because despite the grey skies and the January rain, it was still packed with tourists. In fact it was even more dangerous due to all the people wielding umbrellas. Add that to the amount of jewelry shops on the bridge and watch out! Danger around every corner.
Of course another Must-See in Florence is the Duomo, or, the Basilica di Santa Mario del Fiore. (Got all that?) If it had been a nicer day, it would have been great to climb a neighboring tower to get the view of the Duomo and the city roofs from above. But alas, grey and rain prevailed so we opted to stay on the ground. This was also another one of those churches where it’s impossible to get a good picture of the whole facade, so sorry about that. The exterior of this church is really just beyond words, and it certainly has earned its reputation as an artistic wonder.
One of our after-dinner stops was the old pharmacy in Church of Santa Maria Novella, which claims to be one of the oldest pharmacies in the world. Nowadays it sells lots of very expensive-looking perfumes and other such things, but there are still old pharmacy wares on display, and a really gorgeous interior to admire.
Something we didn’t get to do in Florence was visit the famous art museum, the Uffizi. We were hoping that in January the line wouldn’t be too bad, but when we got there and saw the line running the length of the (fairly long) building, we decided that our time was better spent visiting the city. We stopped for a coffee and decided to poke our heads into the Museo Galileo next door, and found ourselves occupied for the next couple of hours. If you have any interest in technology and the evolution thereof, and find yourself in Florence, go check it out! Disclaimer: I didn’t love the room full of cross-sectioned models of pregnancy. That kind of freaked me out. But other than that, there were some cool things… be sure to keep an eye out for Galileo’s freakishly long finger….
Next up on our city tour list was Siena:
We got to Siena in the early evening after a few hours at a natural thermal bath near the city. Unfortunately because of the time a lot of the shops were already closed, and we only had time to poke our heads into one church. But if I want to do some shopping in Tuscany, I will be coming back here. There were a ton of interesting looking little places, and who couldn’t love a window display with a stuffed boar, a snacking fox, and enough garlic to ward off an entire army of vampires?? Amazing.
We did find a few places open, which was lucky because we didn’t have a reserved breakfast at our apartment the next day and so we needed to stock up on some hams and cheeses. Everything in this shop looked incredibly delicious, and some of the packaged pastas looked like artwork!
To me, Siena was much more like my idea of a typical city in Tuscany. Even by night you could see all the brown stone that would look so warm in the sun. I was also a big fan of their Christmas lights they still had up. There were some truly impressive light displays in Italy, but most of them were so bright and flashing that they were almost seizure-inducing. Siena was just lovely.
I’m happy we went to Florence, and I’ve been assured that we didn’t even see most of it, but I liked Siena more. Just an evening of wandering the narrow cobbled streets was enough to make me want to come back. Admittedly we had lousy weather in Florence, but there were so many tourists there that it was difficult to appreciate the city. Especially while dodging umbrellas. I’m sure I’ll give it another shot, but Siena is without a doubt on my “to re-visit” list. We saw the Duomo from the outside, but it looks like it’s worth a trip inside so that’s on the list as well. You can never see enough churches, right? I also saw something rather amusing while there, but there will be another post to come on that matter…
The third city on the list was the closest to where we were staying, and that was Arezzo:
We purposely waited to visit Arezzo until Saturday which was our last full day in Italy. On the first weekend of every month in Arezzo they have one of the largest antiquities markets in all of Italy. This is NOT your average flea market. Think gorgeous antique wooden furniture, paintings, books, jewelry, and almost anything else you can image. I’m not normally a huge “flea market” person because I’m not a fan of digging through stuff. This was something else. If I ever have a house (you know, like a normal person), I’m coming straight back here to furnish it. And it’s not just a few stalls; this market literally fills the entire old city. Every time we thought we found the end, we turned a corner and it kept going. So much so that we had to take a lunch break in a restaurant that I didn’t feel fancy enough to be in. Which is maybe valid, given that it was recommended to us by a market vendor, who was setting up his outdoor lunch with take-out containers, but real glassware, dishes, and cloth napkins that the restaurant provided. That’s Italy. Take note, Olive Garden.
The market really deserves its own post, but in the event that I don’t get to that, you can see some of the wares in these photos. Spot anything odd in the second one?
Although I wasn’t in the market for an old scuba helmet, my friend and I were on a mission to scout out the jewelry. I did find an amazing antique cocktail ring that haunts my dreams. Leave it to me to find something I loved that was waaaaaay beyond my spending limit. Gah. I wasn’t alone though, because the ring that my friend really liked was even more. Ouch.
|Photo courtesy of BV. His are better than mine. 🙂|
After we were all antiqued-out, we headed away from the city center in search of an old Roman coliseum that was marked on our city map. When we got there we found a fence around the site, but an open door directed us to a visitor’s center. They’ve had to fence it off due to vandalism, but if you go inside and ask, someone will come out, open the gate, and just hang out and wait while you have a good wander around. So there we were, checking out the Roman construction techniques, figuring out where the ancient hot dog stand was from the smoke marks, and admiring the different kinds of stonework. We were the only ones inside, and I wouldn’t be surprised if we were the only ones there the whole day. When we left, we tried to give the woman a little money as a donation, but she wouldn’t even take it.
After the coliseum we went back towards the city, stopping a few food stands to buy some truffle products. Then we managed to find even more of the antique market that we hadn’t seen, so it was a long, slow, walk back to the car. There was another church that I’d like to go back to and see, as they had some fantastic-looking frescoes, but the exhibit was already closed for the day. Arezzo was much like Siena in that it was more my “idea” of a Tuscan city, and I think there was a lot more to see that we didn’t even get to because we were so busy treasure-hunting. If you can get there the first weekend of the month, it’s well worth a trip to this market. But if you can’t, Arezzo is well known for its antique and art shops, that are hopefully open the rest of the month.