Written by MagdaDH_AlexH on 22 Nov, 2009
The Rough Guide to Tuscany & Umbria, by Jonathan Buckley & Mark Ellingham***I sang the praises of the general Rough Guide to Italy elsewhere, but revisiting again this regional guide in the process of writing up our trip to Tuscany two years ago, I was…Read More
The Rough Guide to Tuscany & Umbria, by Jonathan Buckley & Mark Ellingham***I sang the praises of the general Rough Guide to Italy elsewhere, but revisiting again this regional guide in the process of writing up our trip to Tuscany two years ago, I was reminded of how good indeed this particular Rough Guide is. I bought it because I wanted to supplement the general Rough Guide to Italy I had with more detailed coverage of the region in which we were going to spend the whole trip - and I was extremely happy with the result.The Rough Guides are meant to cover the one of the bottom brackets of the travel market - perhaps a notch up from the Lonely Planet audience of backpackers, but I always felt that it was a notch up in terms of age and interests rather than just budgets. Rough Guides do cover the needs of penniless visitors and those who are "roughing it", financially at least, but have a very broad appeal: from cheap B&Bs to luxury hotels, and everything in between. As in all books in the series, the Rough Guide to Tuscany and Umbria starts with a general introductory section on travel, admin, eating out & accommodation, followed by colourful teaser of the best, not to miss sights; it closes with the "Contexts" section, a great feature of all Rough Guides, with articles on history, dictionary of artists and a language guide. Between the two sits the guide proper, divided into handy sections for main provinces, cities and tourist regions of the area and reliably covering practicalities of accommodation, eating places, transport and orientation. I tend to trust Rough Guide's recommendations and am yet to find a place I picked from one of their lists that would disappoint me - not all are fantastic, but all are at least good enough. And thus to the sightseeing guide section - and this is where Buckley and Ellingham really excel. Many tourist guides duly but dully describe the sights, but Rough Guide to Tuscany and Umbria is written so well that one can read it like a travel book. It's informative, fairly comprehensive though not overtly academic, selective when needed and most of all, discerning, albeit not excessively so. A good guide makes judgements, not just provides descriptions and listings, and Buckley and Ellingham do exactly that. The style is lively, the writing erudite; the mix of practical tips, logistical detail, scholarly description and opinionated commentary almost perfectly judged. The authors do have a - rather expected - penchant for the picturesquely old and artistically attractive, and are perhaps a tad too scathing about more modern developments and communities, but overall their judgements seem well balanced and justified. The guide devotes a lot of space to art, architecture and generally cultural matters. Things like clubbing and night-life as well as food and wine are covered but not explored extensively, and thus the books is probably best suited to a visitor on such a cultural sightseeing trip: perfect for all Grand Tourers, old and young alike. Close
Written by MagdaDH_AlexH on 28 Oct, 2009
We spent a week in Pisa in December 2007, and I have no idea why I haven't written anything about this part of Italy before. I fell in love with Pisa after a one-night stand of sorts seven years prior to this last visit, during…Read More
We spent a week in Pisa in December 2007, and I have no idea why I haven't written anything about this part of Italy before. I fell in love with Pisa after a one-night stand of sorts seven years prior to this last visit, during my first ever trip to Italy in 2000. We stayed one night only and arrived after dark, to depart early in the morning for a Corsica ferry from nearby Livorno. And thus my first view of the Pisan Campo dei Miracoli was a night-time one - the white marble of the wondrous buildings floodlit against the silvery-inky sky, the tat merchants and most of the tourists gone, the square itself quiet, eerie and heart achingly beautiful. The Campo certainly lived up to its name then.***Pisa was a significant port in Roman times, and in the Middle Ages it became a significant maritime power in the western Mediterranean. It was one of the four maritime republics (and it's still often referred to as Republica Marinara and very proud of its sea traditions), the other three being Amalfi, Venice and Genoa.The power and influence of Pisa declined with its defeat at the hands of Genoa in the late 13th century and loss of its coastal and island possessions while silting up of Arno meant it couldn't function as a viable port any more. Pisa became part of the Florentine city-state in the early 15th century and since than has been largely eclipsed by Florence. This is why the most strikingly unique monuments in Pisa date to the medieval period, and of those the most important are on or near the vast square of Piazza del Duomo, otherwise known after the Anuzio novel as Piazza (or Campo) dei Miracoli. My favourite building is probably the Baptistery: a round creation of white marble, with rounded Romanesque arches on the lower level pointed Gothic ones higher up. The Duomo is the largest building in the Piazza, in Pisan Romanesque, with a grey marble facade and Byzantine interior.The Leaning Tower is certainly attractive and now stable after a lot of work put into straightening it and stabilising. I also liked the Camposanto - a large Gothic cloister full of of tombs, sculptures and housing a collection of Roman sarcophagi as well as some great - and rather disturbing - frescoes. But there is more to Pisa than the Campo dei Miracoli. Piazza dei Cavalieri was constructed in a Renaissance style by Cosimo I de Medici, with the Palazzo dei Cavalieri, Palazzo dell' Orologio and the church of the Cavalieri di Santo Stefano al handsome buildings creating an altogether different space from the medieval Campo dei Miracoli,The banks of Arno, lined with what seems like an endless sequence of palazzos are very pleasant to stroll by, and on the southern bank (opposite the main part of the old town) there is a little chapel of Santa Maria della Spina, a striking Gothic contrast to the palazzos with its pointed arches, rose windows and latticed turrets. The main shopping drag is Borgo Stretto, where old palaces now house shops, cafes and a street market takes place. Pisa has a an university dating back to the 14th century. Its famous alumni include Galileo Galilei, who was supposed to conduct some of his experiments using the Leaning Tower; physicist Enrico Fermi and poet Giosue Carducci. The large student population gives Pisa a youthful feel, but it's not a city dominated by the university: it feels like a place with a good mixture of ages and social groups, confident in itself, not too stuffy and not too crude either. It's fairly flat, and during our stay I saw many a distinguished looking Italian in a well cut suit cycling about its partially pedestrianised centre: I have not seen as many cyclists in any other Italian city. The university area is perhaps a little bit shabbier, but not very noticeably so and it's here that the cheapest and liveliest bars, cafes and trattorias can be found as well as the Botanic Garden - reputedly the first in the world - with a collection of rare plants from all over the world. Close
Written by Ginaru on 23 Nov, 2008
During the week of August 17th - 24th, while many Italians were still on holiday for Ferragosto - a few artists from Phoenix took in the Chianti Countryside with their eyes, their paints, pastels and their hearts. We spent a wonderful week once again at…Read More
During the week of August 17th - 24th, while many Italians were still on holiday for Ferragosto - a few artists from Phoenix took in the Chianti Countryside with their eyes, their paints, pastels and their hearts. We spent a wonderful week once again at Il Borgo Villa di Bossi Pucci located just south of Florence near the town of Montespertoli. Pastel artist Liz Kenyon created this trip to allow fellow artists to join her while she worked on her own series.On the day we arrived, we all checked into our simple yet elegant apartments just prior to a huge downpour which drenched the land. As quickly as it came, it ended and the skies opened back up to bright sunshine with puffy white clouds. We all enjoyed a wonderful welcome antipasti - which is typically appetizers, but always turns into a grand feast at Il Borgo. We enjoyed fresh tomatoes picked from the garden, Il Borgo's own wine and olive oil from their nearby castle estate, hand-made pasta and bread made by Alessandro's 8 year old son Francesco and much more. After a much needed siesta and time to unpack and get settled, we hopped into the van to enjoy the surrounding beauty which would make its way onto the canvas over the next few days. The following day, the artists found their places around Il Borgo to begin their "field sketches" and record their interpretations of the Chianti countryside. Over the week ahead, the artists would create several paintings of various sites in and around Il Borgo and the surrounding towns. With its fiascos and courtyards, cypress lined drive, charming chapel and sprawling valley-views, the property offered many opportunities for artists.Since Florence was only 20 minutes away, we always make sure to include a full day visit during our stays at Il Borgo. Our artists opted to visit the Uffizi Gallery and Academia to view some of Florence's most treasured works of art including Michelangelo's David and Botticelli's Birth of Venus. We strolled along the River Arno and spent time on the infamous Ponte Vecchio. With its grand statues and fountains, Piazza Signori is always a focus of attention. We also took time to view the amazing Duomo and Baptistry as well as enjoy some gelato, of course! Another wonderful field trip was to the small town of Volpaia just north of Radda in Chianti. This little gem of a town has a small cafe in the central piazza and a wonderful restaurant called La Bottega. Both are owned by two sisters who have lived in Volpaia for over 70 years. We had incredible views of the valley from our table and enjoyed a variety of wonderful dishes from the country kitchen, such as handmade ravioli and tagliatelle with mushrooms. In Volpaia, there are no gift shops, markets or tobacco stores and best of all, there is no traffic! Streets and doorways are lined with flower pots bursting with colorful plants and herbs. Here the artists set up their easels to capture some of the beauty this town offers. A small tour group of American students came through on foot. While admiring Liz's work, the aspiring artists among them longed to join us!Poppiano was another very special place just minutes from Il Borgo. Her grand castle was always in view from our rooms. The sunflowers in the foreground had since passed with the exception of a few late bloomers. However, the scene was no less magnificent. We set up along the cypress lined road in front of vineyards, peach, pear, and olive trees with the castle in the distance and Puccini playing in the background courtesy of our laptop. The sun was hot and bright - the colors brilliant. The clouds moved in giving the artists a bit of shade and offered new hues including some puffy clouds for their skies. The interpretation of the scene was varied and interesting. It was another lovely day in the Chianti countryside.Our visit to Chianti through artists’ eyes has opened my eyes even more to the marvelous beauty, the brilliant colors, patterns, and patchwork of this land. All of which has been created by the fine hands of the agricultural artists of Tuscany and dutifully and respectfully preserved by the creative and talented hands of our artists Liz, Barb, Alicia and Barbara from Phoenix, Arizona. Close
Written by paigey121 on 06 Aug, 2007
I found a website that does Tuscany tours on a modern Vespa near Siena, Italy. I thought of how to steal this idea and work it into my travels. I found a great "Drive through the Chianti Countryside" map with sights from the National Geographic…Read More
I found a website that does Tuscany tours on a modern Vespa near Siena, Italy. I thought of how to steal this idea and work it into my travels. I found a great "Drive through the Chianti Countryside" map with sights from the National Geographic Italy tour book. I changed it to a "Scoot through the Chianti Countryside". It was hard to find journals about renting scooters, so I was determined to make one after my trip.We rented two scooters for 80 euros (not actual Vespas) from Perozzi Rental (Via del Gazzani 16, www.perozzi.it, tel 0577 288387, near main bus stop in Siena). We reserved the scoots the evening before and they simply asked for the drivers license and if we had scooted before. We took off into the Chianti Region from Siena. We took route SS408 (continued on in a loop to SS222) and made stops in:
1. San Gusme (the cutest walled town you ever did see).2. Castello di Brolio (owned by the Ricasoli family since the 12th Century). 3. Lunched in Badia a Coltibuono (11th Century abbey now a restaurant/wine cellar).4. Scooted through Radda in Chianti.5. Stopped in Castellina in Chianti. A great wine tasting at Mazzei winery, www.mazzei.it, proved to be fantastic and I brought two bottles of wine and olive oil home (termed "scooter wine" and "scooter oil"- thus very precious). My sister was my passenger, so she tasted all eight wines! Please don't drink and scoot!The countryside was fantastic. The roads were well maintained with many curves and many cyclists were present as well. It was a beautiful scoot that lasted all day, about 50 miles. We went in mid May, and wore jeans and tees. It was perfect weather and a perfect day. I think being a Tuesday was great and there was hardly any traffic and no crazy drivers. I owned a scoot before this trip so I had recent scoot time under my belt. I would do it again in a heartbeat. Take an international drivers license and a credit card to rent, and a back pack to carry back your wine.
Written by moatway on 02 May, 2004
And the winner of the prize for the best hill-town in central Italy…
If you’re driving down from Pisa on S429, the drive into town on a winding road through Chianti country is beautiful. There are a number of parking areas around the city. I did…Read More
And the winner of the prize for the best hill-town in central Italy…
If you’re driving down from Pisa on S429, the drive into town on a winding road through Chianti country is beautiful. There are a number of parking areas around the city. I did the obvious, settled in the first available space without any consideration of how far I actually was from the city gate. It turned out to be only five minutes up the hill and we entered through the Porta San Matteo. At the other end of the city is a larger lot (where the tour buses park) and entry is through the Porta San Giovanni. Regardless through which gate you arrive, you will walk to the other through the streets which are named for the gates.
In the middle is the Piazza Duomo. The walk to that point from either end is a walk through a tourist mecca. There are artists, artisans, restaurants and souvenir traps. It may be the busiest little village in Italy.
Perhaps you should start your visit at Tourist Information in the Piazza Duomo, which features an exchange and information on combined ticket purchases. Next to it, the duomo, actually the Collegiate, is well worth the 3.50 Euro price of admission. It is a three-nave church that has been entirely covered with frescoes. Light streams through plain windows high up in the vaults of the church. The steps to the chancel are a handsome red marble and the chancel itself is surrounded by eight side chapels.
One of the side chapels is dedicated to Santa Fina, the patron saint of San Gimignano. The story says that she had devoted herself for five years in detention in prayer when she disobeyed her mother’s orders. (She had been told not to accept an apple from a male suitor.) Her remains are apparently in the chancel.
The most powerful fresco in the church is at the rear. It depicts St. Sebastian pierced with arrows… a lot of arrows. Of course, a beatific, somewhat enigmatic expression remains on his face. The frescos are the work of a number or medieval artists – the result is quite enjoyable.
The second site in the Piazza Duomo is the Civic Museum in the Palazzo Communale Pinacoteca and the Torre Grossa. One ticket… 5 Euros gets everything. While you’re picking up your ticket you might consider getting an audio guide for the whole town. I tried it but found it all a little confusing and didn’t use it much. The museum in the palazzo brings together two things: the building itself is beautiful with its frescoed walls and old council hall. In the pinacoteca or picture gallery are religious works and altar pieces of a number of 14th and 15th century Tuscan artists.
The Torre Grossa is a must-do. It is the tallest of the square’s seven remaining towers. The first few steps are awkward tile but after that, a modern steel-grate stairway will take you to the top. (Don’t hit your head on the bell cage) From the terrace at the top of the tower you will have amazing views far into the countryside of Tuscany.
There are a number of other civic museums and sites in the town… use your judgment, but you are more likely to be distracted by the town's many little shops.
Written by actonsteve on 26 Dec, 2004
"I will show you the Piazza della Signoria...and then we go and visit Armani..."
The price that my friend Nicola Pavese consented to for showing us around Florence was that he was allowed to cane the plastic at Emporio Armani. And who can blame him? The…Read More
"I will show you the Piazza della Signoria...and then we go and visit Armani..."
The price that my friend Nicola Pavese consented to for showing us around Florence was that he was allowed to cane the plastic at Emporio Armani. And who can blame him? The Italians cannot live without fine shops and judge every other country in Europe on how stylish their shopping streets are. And the set of streets between the stazione and the river are rolling in designer shops. Florence has some of the best shopping in Europe.
But the heart of this area is the gorgeous Piazza della Signoria. The great Palazzo di Signoria, where the Medici family kept an eye on their famous city, dominates the piazza--and the 'Signoria' (the top tier of government) kept a wary eye on them. For the piazza is drama - everything about it is exaggerated and dramatic. Its palazzo is overbearing and domineering, its fountains are extrovert and eye-catching, its buildings are colourful and striking, and its art? Well, its art is some of the best known in the world.
There are plenty of ways to reach it. Most stroll down from the Duomo on Via della Cazoullli past all the gelatarias and leatherware shops. There they will enter the piazza from the northwest corner and see it in its entirety. The medieval buildings on four sides are apricot coloured and they compliment the flagstones underfoot which are dotted with pigeons. In the southern corner are a number of open-air carriages for hire, the whiff of their dung on a hot day will take your breathe away for a different reason. And despite the hordes of tourists dashing to the Uffizi before the queues get too long or posing in front of the statues, there is a sense of palpable history to the Piazza. This was where the 'Bonfire of the Vanities' took place, where the fanatical friar Savaronola whipped the crowd into a frenzy. It was on this piazza back in 1504 that Michelangelo unveiled his David to the city fathers. He was meant to represent plucky little Florence with its battles with the 'goliath', which was then France.
And it is the art which takes your attention in the Piazza della Signoria. The southern side is almost entirely taken up with the loggia, which was built in the 14th century to allow the city fathers to shelter from the sun during civic ceremonies. Now it is covered in fine statuary, and the public is allowed access. I wondered before I arrived how the famous statuary was protected from vandals and drunks rolling home after a night out. The reason became clear as I climbed the steps, there are security guards--if someone gets to close to The Rape of the Sabine Women the carabinieri growl ominously. The statues are impressive; most popular is Cellini's Perseus and Medusa, where a skinny youth in blue marble holds a head covered in snakes. Other impressive statues include Donatello's Mazocco--a lion statue and symbol of the city. And most memorably, Giambologna's Hercules and the Centaur, where Hercules wrestles with a mythological creature with the hindquarters of a horse. I had to giggle when one tourist spotted this and called out loudly, "Hey George! Come and look at this! Some guy is beating up a cow!"
But the big statue has to be Michelangelo's David, or at least the copy, put here when the elements became too much for the original. Unfortunately, it stands right underneath the Palazzo Vecchio, which is currently being renovated and is covered head to toe in scaffolding. I couldn't even get within ten feet of David, and I couldn't manage to view the original in the Accademia. Next to it is the monstrous Neptune fountain. If you like your statues big and brash, it's great! Luckily, I do, so I lapped up the big, butch Neptune, with his club and abdominal muscles standing on a plinth of rearing horses and gushing water. But crush central has to be the southeastern corner, where the 'loggia', 'Uffizi', and entrance to the Palazzo all meet. The Piazzale del Uffizi is the arcade that wraps around the famous art museum and leads to the river. This is where the queues wind for the Uffizi, and it really is a wonderfully dark little courtyard overlooked by pompous statues of Giotto and Da Vinci.
As we were foolishly there on a Monday, and the Uffizi was shut, so I opted for the Palazzo Vecchioinstead. At six euros, this was a good choice, and I was very impressed by what was on display. This was the big one, this was where the Medici's ran their kingdom from--they even had a corridor running from the Palazzo, across the Ponte Vecchio to the Pitti Palace on the other side of the Arno. What struck me about the Palazzo Vecchio is how much it doesn't look like a palace from the outside--there is none of the swirling artwork of the Doges Palace in Venice or the statuary of our own Hampton Court. Probably because it was a fortress, people vanished inside to the dungeons and didn't come out, armies attacked it from time to time--political life in renaissance Florence was very tough. So, incidently, is security; in the Cortile, you will have to go through an overworked security guard and ancient metal detector. Beyond that are the courtyards, ticket office, restaurant, and book shop.
Up the stairs is the first of the big set-pieces. The 'Salone de Cinquecento' is over 20 feet high and 50 feet wide. This was the audience chamber of the Medicis, and a dais stands at one end. The ceiling is covered in golden panels, and the walls covered in frescoes showing 'the siege of Florence'. The audio-visual screens dotted around the palazzo were very good--for a few euros, you could learn about the history of the building and the artists who worked here. Then it was up more stairs and dark corridors to the Sala de Carte Geographice, which was covered in maps, etc. Almost every room had a golden ceiling, a priceless statue, or an ornate chapel. Before such treasures became too much, I found myself on the second floor with an open-air loggia overlooking the rooftops of Florence (see photo). As far as the eye could see, the terracotta-tiled roofs of the city stretched, broken only by church domes and campaniles. This is one beautiful city.
But on this visit I was on a timetable and had to return to my friend, who was enjoying the delights of Emporio Armani. He showed us the main shopping street in Florence--the Via Tournoboni. In the Middle Ages, the source of Florence's great wealth was its cloth industry, and modern day Florentines still make the city a mecca for the well-dressed. The street stretched from the river to Santa Maria Maggiore. Housed in the great brown medieval palazzo's were Gucci, Enrico Coveri, Louis Vuitton, and the glittering jewellry of Bulgari. Armani itself was situated next to the Palazzo Strozzi, a massive fortress/palace that once belonged to a powerful Florentine family. While we were there the palazzo had an exhibtion on the artist Botticelli.
Not finished shopping yet? One more thing to buy?
Okay, I'll go and wait on the Piazza del Republica, another massive square in the heart of Florence. This one is more human, and for Florentines rather then tourists. Great arches and offices decorate its east and west sides, and cafes spill out onto the street. But there is a carousel for children, benches for adults, and tabacchis that sell cold drinks.
It's a good place to unwind, put my feet up, soak up the sun, and watch Florentine life mill around me. Take your time, Nic...I'm quite happy here...
You remember the scene in the film...
The soundtrack starts with Puccini's 'Sogno di Doretta',, the shutters are thrown open, and the audience sees the magnificent cityscape of Florence for the first time. The tangerine octagonal dome of the Duomo floats above the terracotta roofs, Italian…Read More
You remember the scene in the film...
The soundtrack starts with Puccini's 'Sogno di Doretta',, the shutters are thrown open, and the audience sees the magnificent cityscape of Florence for the first time. The tangerine octagonal dome of the Duomo floats above the terracotta roofs, Italian voices can be heard below, and the whole vista is bathed in warm sunshine.
Everyone in that darkened cinema then swears that they will visit Florence one day....
Well, everybody does. Florence copes with enormous hordes in the summer, and each person comes away with a feeling of satisfaction in visiting one of the great repositories of culture in the world. The words "Florence" and "Renaissance" are synonymous. No other place on earth has had such an exceptional flowering of the arts. Some of the most important artists that ever lived graced the narrow dark streets of Firenze—Da Vinci, Raphael, Botticelli. It has been beguiling cultured Anglo-Saxons since the 17th century. Those on the grand tour visited the 'City of the Lily'. After all, it was de rigeur for the completion of one's education in the 19/18th centuries. If you have 'A Room with a View' fantasies, then this is the city to come to…
And those cinematic views are still there. The best has to be from Piazza Michelangelo, where you get the entire breath of the Arno valley and sweep of the rooftops. But every street turning will bring an exciting vista—a statue in a piazza, a bell tower looming over the river, the chatter in a café, and the wide, green Arno, complimented by the caramel and sandy coloured medieval buildings along its length. Of course, you will have to share all this beauty with thousands of others, and in the height of summer, queuing to get into the Duomo and Uffizi will be mandatory. But no way should Florence be a chore. The minute the patience begins to wear thin when the next tour party treads on your toes or the heat and crowds get too much—then pull up a chair in a cafe and order a Negroni. After all, you are in one of the most beautiful cities in the world. Why get stressed?
Most people arrive at the Stazione Santa Maria Novella, which is a great barn of a station northwest of the city centre. From here, it is a short walk across the road to the rear of the Santa Maria Novella church. Most of central Florence is pedestrianised, allowing visitors to move from piazza to piazza unmolested by speeding lambrettas. From the stazione, it is a walk down the Via dei Banchi to the Piazza del Duomo. If you were in any doubt that you are in a city, rather than a tourist attraction, then the Via dei Banchi will prove it. All human life moves through this—harassed tourists, beggars, shoppers, salesmen, and carabinieri, and proof that Florence is no different from anywhere else is evident in the road works, noise, and car fumes. Finally, as you pass all the souvenir shops, pizzerias, and postcard vendors, you open up into the magnificent Piazza del Duomo.
It’s the colour that strikes you first. This is not the heavy stone of the northern European cathedrals—this is a mosaic of green, white, red, and brown. Its bulk is colossal—it engulfs the entire piazza. In fact, in many ways, it is too imposing—it reminded me, when I caught a sideways view of it from the south, of a B-movie giant blob slowly moving through the streets of Florence. But this is the monster all the tourists want to see. There was an American couple on the train back who were on a cruise of the Mediterranean and were taking the train from the port of Viarreggio—they only had one hour in Florence before they had to head back, and guess what they made sure they saw?
If you can take a breath before entering the Duomo, take a look upwards at the facade. As your eyes move upwards, they will take in the mass of florid detail and bas reliefs. As if that wasn't enough, the Campanile stands next door, and that really is exceptional. The detail of the carving is gorgeous, with horizontal bands of green, white, and pink inlay. A few metres to the west is the inverted bowl of the Baptistery of San Giovanni. This is second on most people’s wish lists, and yes, you are right—the exterior is encased entirely by green marble. They must have had money to burn. It's famous for its engraved golden doors, with Ghiberti's eastern doors being the most lauded. The queue to enter the building blocked the view of the doors when we were there, but we were able to glimpse the golden carvings. I especially liked the Fall of Jericho, with its toppling tower in the bottom right-hand corner.
One queue worth joining is the queue for the Duomo interior. Like at Santa Croce, all ladies with bare shoulders are given paper ponchos that rustle in the echoing confines of the cathedral. And it’s this interior, once you get through the doors, which tends to get the majority of prose written about it for all the wrong reasons. Guidebooks call it bare and talk of "disappointment" for first-time visitors. But, contrary Mary that I am, I rather liked it. It is a massive barn-like space which stretches for a hundred feet into the air. The walls are rather bare, with just ancient candelabra to please the eye, but as you move into the centre, you notice that everyone is looking up. And high above you are the frescoes adorning the inside of Brunescelli's famous dome. The eye can only just make out swirling cherubs and scenes from the Bible. This is the Duomo's true highlight. If you can, go downstairs and see his tomb. He is tucked away in a cave-like room, with a simple stone plinth. When I looked at his tomb, I was reminded of the epitaph of another famous English architect that says, "If you wish my monument, look around you."
The Ponte Vecchio
Without even knowing it, most visitors’ feet lead them lemming-like towards the Arno. Armed with a gelato, they are drawn to the wide green river by hypnotic forces beyond their control. The 'Old Bridge' is pretty impressive. As you approach, the river is obscured except for a brown ramp leading up the caramel stone of the bridge. The bridge is pedestrianised, and as you move across, I was amazed how wide it was and how it could accommodate all the tourists. The memory of being nearly crushed to death on the Rialto in Venice was still vivid. This was wide enough to accommodate much traffic, and just like the Rialto, it was lined with artisan shops, selling not the tacky glassware from the lagoon city but glittery silverware. Each medieval house housed a jewelry shop, and millions of euros’ worth of silver and gold wares glittered back at me. But that seemed to fit the image of Florence; gone are the old tanneries and slaughterhouses that used to be on this bridge, and conspicuous consumption is more in vogue.
In the middle is a small loggia and statue. This is where the tourist hordes stop to gaze at the views up and downstream. And those medieval houses are still there, their overhanging eaves being kept up by brackets, their brown stonework showing up against the blue sky. There were many bridges like the Ponte Vecchio in medieval times, where home and workshop shared the same space. The most famous of these has to be London Bridge, which was much bigger and longer, but as the nursery rhyme says, "it fell down," and the Ponte Vecchio is one of the few remaining bridges with houses left in the world. And for that, we are grateful.
And as we walked east along Oltrano to the Ponte Trinity, I kept thinking how lucky we were that the Ponte Vecchio was still standing. The buildings on the southern end looked medieval, but I knew them to be reconstructed fakes. The originals were blown up by retreating Nazis in 1944. I've seen pictures of either end blocked by rubble, which didn't slow the Allies as they crossed the Arno when the river level fell. But to stand on one of the bridges in Florence and gaze west at the Ponte Vecchio is one of thoseviews of Italy.
You know the one. The one you saw in the darkened cinema that inspired you to come to Florence in the first place...
I first got to see the famous Torre Pendente (Leaning Tower) at 1am.
We had just arrived in Pisa and were eating late. A friend of ours, Alessio, suggested seeing the Field of Miracles before we went to bed. And as Italians keep late hours, we…Read More
I first got to see the famous Torre Pendente (Leaning Tower) at 1am.
We had just arrived in Pisa and were eating late. A friend of ours, Alessio, suggested seeing the Field of Miracles before we went to bed. And as Italians keep late hours, we tagged along to find that, apart from a couple of European backpackers lounging near the steps of the Ospetale, we were the only ones there. Imagine it? One of the most famous sights in the world, but with just you there. The Duomo, Baptistery, and Leaning Tower standing unmolested in their sea of green grass. The pure white stone gleams under the arc lights, and there is not a sound to be heard, except far, far away, the lone buzz of a lambretta
If you hit Tuscany, then you will hit Pisa just to see the Leaning Tower. You will not be able to resist having your photo taken at an angle where you are holding the tower up with your bare hands. The tourist circus around The Field of Miracles is very entertaining. Most have come on a day trip from Florence and have trudged up the Via Santa Maria from the stazione, or there are the tour groups who just stay for 1 hour before hurrying off to the bus for the next sight. But the Field of Miracles deserves a morning’s wander. A combined ticket to Baptisery, the Duomo, and the Tower can be had, and the green lawns surrounding it are a lovely place for a picnic. Lucky for us, the apartment we were staying in was a 20-minute walk away, and I saw it in the morning and combined it with a lazy afternoon on the beach of Torre del Largo (see other journal). Steve's idea of heaven - culture in the morning and sunbathing in the afternoon.
How get to the Field of Miracles is discussed in the Pisa journal. As you make your way down the Via Santa Maria, the great bulk of the Duomo will slide into sight. But to get there, you must run the gauntlet of African souvenir sellers and their plastic towers and Mussolini tea towels (I kid you not!). But once you are through, you will be standing in the northeastern corner of the field. To the south are the green lawns and the buildings of the Ospetale. Under the Ospetale walls are a legion of souvenir sellers and small restaurants, but it is the great tower in front of you that is the most interesting. To the south of this is the florid bulk of the Duomo, and at the end of the field is the wedding cake of the Baptisery. Each one is breathtaking and a beautiful example of Italian artistry. And to visit them all, you can buy a pass for 8.50€, which lets you into four sights (6€ for two or just 5€ for one monument).
Of course, you cannot not come to the Field of Miracles and not think of Galileo. His experiments with falling objects dropped from the Leaning Tower paved the way for Newton and gravity. But those experiments served a useful purpose - it was in this town that Galileo formed his theory that the earth revolved around the sun. This went against the official Roman-Catholic view that everything spun around the earth, and in 1633, he was dragged before the inquisition in Rome. The pope ordered him to renounce his conclusions publicly on pain of torture or even execution. He did so, but under his breath he whispered secretly, "E pur sì muove" ("But the earth does move"). Whenever I looked up at the tilt of the Leaning Tower, I could not help but think of Galileo peering up at the stars with his telescope.
It is the famousTowerthat you will make for first. It is bigger then I expected, and its tilt is not really noticeable from close up (see photo). It is made from gleaming white marble. There is a sort of helter-skelter effect as the swirling stories roll slowly upwards. Each storey is covered in pillars, and as you watch, you can see people slowly creep their way up to the very top. The tilt is 5 degrees to the south, and it slides another millimeter each year. They are trying to stop the tilt; the British came up with a way of reversing the tilt or at least stopping the continuous lean - they carefully extracted soil from around the foundation. It seems to have worked, and for the first time in 40 years, you can climb the tower for 15€. It looked too precarious for me, but Nic assured me that he had climbed it in his youth. It terrified him, and he inched his way upward while clinging to the sides.
Next is the colossal Cathedral (Duomo). This monster made of white marble is built in the shape of a cross. It soars into the air, and the gleaming white exterior contrasts nicely with the usually blue Tuscan sky. The facade is on the west side, and most people traverse the Duomo and pay attention to its beautiful exterior, which is unique and called Pisan Romanesque. The interior is exceptionally cool on a hot day and over 300 feet long. It has one of the highest ceilings I have ever seen in a cathedral. The ceiling is supported by a dozen or so columns and a frescoed dome. It is the fresco above the nave that I found interesting - Christ is flying above the altar with a golden gilt background. The lamps around it were meant to have inspired Galileo's theories about the movement of the earth. Speaking of which, when I was walking out, I noticed something about the cathedral - the massive building itself leans. As you walk away, the building looks as if it is falling ever so slightly forward.
And lastly is the Baptistery. It's a very strange shape, almost as if someone took a jelly bowl, turned it upside down, and started carving away (see photo). The decorations on the roof are all swirls and ornate filigree, and it tapers to a point. You can enter on a combined ticket with the cathedral, and the inside is rather memorable. It is hemispherical in shape, and very austere, brown, and grey marble dominate. Pillars hold up the gallery, running around the top of the hemisphere and looking down on a bronze statue of a man with a rod. You can climb the stone stairs to the gallery for a view down, and as a London schoolboy, I learned that domes carry noise and that you can have great fun with the acoustics.
Once you have finished, you must head for the southeast corner of the Campo dei Miracoli, where you can line your camera up for the classic view of Baptistery, Duomo, and Leaning Tower (see photo). The lean is at its most obvious from this distance, and I couldn't help thinking whether Pisa would have been so popular down the ages if it had been a "straight" tower? It must be one of the most famous failures in history. Whoever messed up in 1173 probably kept his embarrassed head down.
But little did he know that he provided this cosy town on the Arno with one of the world’s greatest icons and a very profitable tourist industry.
Florentine proverb: "Meglio un morto a casa che un Pisano al'uschio!" ("Better a death in the family than a Pisan at the door!")
Pisan reply: "E che Dio to contenda!" ("And may god grant your wish!")
At midnight on a weekday, when most of Europe is tucked…Read More
Florentine proverb: "Meglio un morto a casa che un Pisano al'uschio!" ("Better a death in the family than a Pisan at the door!")
Pisan reply: "E che Dio to contenda!" ("And may god grant your wish!")
At midnight on a weekday, when most of Europe is tucked up in bed, Pisa comes alive down by the river.
The students from the famous university sit on the river walls - hundreds of them - chatting, drinking, and flirting till the early hours. It is of course the famous Italian passoggiata, and in this town of ancient academia, its participants are young people who study at one of the most important universities in the world. But then students can stay up to all hours - they can miss lectures in the morning. It's the rest of Pisa that needs its sleep.
And if you come to Tuscany, you must visit Pisa. Apart from its world-famous tower, it is a beautiful city with barely a modern building amongst its twisting medieval streets. Butter-coloured stone crowns the facades of churches, cobbles cover elegant piazzas, arcades hide good shopping, and the town buzzes with the sound of tourists and students. It feels strange to look around at day-trip Pisa and to realise it was once a major power. Pisa was also the final destination for the western end of the Silk Road from China. It was a little battler of a city. It held the strategic islands of Corsica, Sardinia, and Mallorca, and, in turn, came to dominate the Mediterranean. But there were two other predatory cities that were growing into aggressive powers, Venice and Genoa, and they became, all three, bitter rivals. In 1284 Pisa was defeated in battle by the Genoese. The town remained wealthy, but it plummeted in power and had to submit to a succession of overlords like Genoa, Milan, and Florence. Pisa still had its moments. In the 16th century, for 15 years, this little city held off the combined might of Florence and France. And this is not counting all of its artistic achievements.
And in its layout, it does resemble Florence but without the crowds. It contains the major airport for Tuscany, Galileo, which has frequent buses into town that stop outside the stazione. In fact, the stazione is the true hub of Pisa. There are direct trains to the airport from the station every half an hour, but the big draw is Florence only 1 hour away. The return fare for Florence from Pisa is €8. Yes, I’ll say that again, 8€! It’s just £6.00 or $8.00, and trains leave every half an hour. Keep an eye on the timetables that are pasted onto the walls of the stazione, as there is quite a difference between the fast trains and those that stop at each station. And another tip is to make sure you activate your ticket in one of the machines dotted around the station. Failure to do this results in a nasty fine.
Outside the stazione is the taxi rank and bus port. From here buses can be taken to Viarreggio, Lucca, and the Torre del Largo. But most tourists, clutching their little guidebooks, cross the road and head north to find The Field of Miracles. The street that stretches from the stazione to the south bank of the Arno is the Corso Italiano, a pedestrianised narrow thoroughfare that houses the best boutiques and cafés in Pisa. In fact, all human life traverses this street: students on their way to lectures, preoccupied academics on bicycles, expensively dressed women, and trendy teenagers wearing the latest label. Italians spend more of their salaries on clothes then any other European country, and it can be seen as they move around town. As we traversed, our Italian friends would periodically stop, ostensibly to look at clothes in the window, but we caught them looking at themselves.
Finally, the Corso Italiano opens out into a piazza bordering the river Arno. Here Pisa becomes epic with the wide green river stretching in either direction. The stone banks look the same as they did in medieval times, with three bridges crossing the wide river. On either bank of the Arno are some truly beautiful buildings, most of them coloured tangerine or the light brown so specific to Tuscany, their terracotta roofs sloping down, shielding shuttered windows and balconies. Romanesque churches loomed above the rooftops, and lambrettas buzzed across the Ponte di Mezzo spanning the Arno. It is when you cross this bridge that Pisa seems to work its magic. Directly across is the Piazza Garibaldi. An arcaded building in streaked green marble overlooks the cobbled piazza that contains a statue of Garibaldi himself. I thoroughly recommend the gelataria in the northwest corner - their pistachio ice cream is delicious.
From there things get confusing. The Field of Miracles is not in a straight line from the stazione; it is situated away to the northwest, as the streets of Pisa do not lead there directly. From the Piazza Garibaldi the Borgo Stretto heads northwards; after travelling along this for 10 minutes you must take a left along Via Ulisse Dini into the beautiful Piazza Cavaolari. From there take the narrow street Via dei Mille further northwest and hopefully connect up with Via Santa Maria and the Leaning Tower. You will be in the same predicament as hundreds of equally confused tourists, so my advice is to follow the herd - they may know where they are going.
The shops are a major attraction - many of them situated in lovely arcades resembling that other stunning Italian University town, Bologna. And there are some truly beautiful set-pieces, i.e. Piazza de Cavaolari, which is one of the administrative centers of the university and is stunning (see photo). The university building is called Scuola Normale Superiore and has a set of stone steps leading up to a marble facade with shuttered windows. And between these windows is incredible ornate tracery, pictures of angels, and emblems with little marble busts perched in niches. The building was Napoleon Bonaparte’s idea. You need to pass special exams to get in and keep a high rating during the course. Another statue stands in the centre of this Piazza, this time with a drinking fountain. There are so many little exquisite piazzas in Pisa (although I must admit there is a lot of graffiti, some of it very political). One of my favorites was Piazza Dante Aligheri down by the river. The noble university building overlooked a tiny green square surrounded by palm trees.
I have a friend, Dr. Nicola Pavese, who works in London but keeps his apartment going in Pisa. And for 4 days in June, we stayed in his apartment outside the city walls on the Via Mossa (or Via Tosser as another friend called it - sorry, English joke), and from there we spread out to explore Tuscany. We were lucky enough to be shown about by his friends, and on the first night, slightly tired from the budget flight, we were taken out in a convertible sports car and spun along the cobbled streets. There we got our first snapshots of Pisa: the light reflected in the dark river, the studentpasseigetta in Piazza Garibaldi, and the famous leaning tower glowing in the darkness.
Once in a while there is a poll in the European Union: "If you were not your own nationality, which other nationality would you be?" Italian always wins; isn’t that funny?
Written by barbara on 19 Dec, 2001
The Terme di Saturnia was by far the busiest spa I visited while in Italy. Despite on-going construction and renovation on the grounds (To be completed by Spring 2002--Golf Course in 2003), it is also one of the most luxurious spas in Tuscany.…Read More
The Terme di Saturnia was by far the busiest spa I visited while in Italy. Despite on-going construction and renovation on the grounds (To be completed by Spring 2002--Golf Course in 2003), it is also one of the most luxurious spas in Tuscany.
While waiting in the reception area for check-in, I watched a group of tall Italian men in fluffy white robes and Saturnia slippers gather around chatting. A friend in a suit walked through the front door, and the robed men erupted in loud sounds of enthuisiastic greeting, slapping the newcomer on the back, using Italian words so full and warm that I could hear fond emotion in their mere inflection.
This group of men summed up the mood of most of the Saturnia clients I encountered in my stay at this spa....
I also received a new treatment at Saturnia. I was escorted to a room by an attendant who was versed in reflexology. My feet received a twenty minute massage. The soft, deliberate strokes of the attendant's strong fingers were meant to stimulate nerves connected to other parts of my body such as my lungs, heart, and stomach for over-all health benefit.
The only negative thing I can say about my massage is that I was in more of a cubicle than a room, and the undercurrent of conversations of people in other rooms was as ubiquitous as the opera playing through the wall speakers.
Still, I really enjoyed this treatment more than any other I received at any other spa in Italy. (Admittedly, part of this pleasure had something to do with the fact that my modesty was left--for once--in tact!)
I was also told that private rooms for treatments are being built to promote a more private atmosphere for clients in the future. This was good news to my friends who received hot stone treatments (a type of massage incorporating stones that finds its origins in the American West!) and face massages. They enjoyed their experiences, too, but would have liked a quieter environment.
A big attraction to the Terme di Saturnia is an outdoor thermal pool. I went swimming in the 98.6 degree F water. Despite the sulphur smell of the pool, the cold air and the warm water proved to be heavenly. The sun setting over the white umbrellas of the spa, the purple and pink sky lightly kissing the hills of Maremma, made my visit to the pool that much more enchanting.
The actual idea of going into the pool is to soak more than swim, and there are ropes lining the pool for people to hold onto while enjoying their treatment. This ancient thermal cure is beneficial because of the hydrogen-sulfate in the water that is supposed to work on the cardio-circulatory system, dilating surface veins and reducing arterial pressure, while also relaxing inflamed muscle tissue. Drinking of the water is supposed to positively influence digestion, too. The pools are open to residents of the area, and the Italians believe so greatly in the health benefits that they travel to Terme di Saturnia from miles around just to enjoy a day.
At Terme di Saturnia, 80% of the clients are Italian. 20% come from other countries including the US. While doctors are on staff, and healthcare is certainly part of this spa, too, there is a definite move to promote this place as a spa of luxurious indulgence.
The staff is doing something right.
In 2000 the hotel boasted over 90% occupancy at the height of the season. The average client is 45, but 8 out of every 10 clients revisits the spa. One of the things I think contributes to this success is the hiring of staff from different cultural backgrounds to contribute input on how to make the spa more appealing. After all, marketing for different groups of people should be focused on specific wants.
For instance, Americans might find the fact that they can get a quick physical at a spa while on vacation appealing. This is actually done at all the spas I visited, but the Terme di Saturnia did the best job of presenting its medical facilities as a benefit to someone like me who already has a primary care physician and prescription card back home. As the spa director pointed out: Americans live in a fast paced culture, and they don't always make time for things like check-ups. Yet they don't want to be in a hospital during their precious moments of leisure either. Hence Terme di Saturnia focuses on relaxation as the prescription offered during any stay. Grounds are provided for exercise. A PT leads stretching classes in the gym. A driving range (soon to be golf course) is availabe for familiar, leisure activities. A dietician prepares balanced (but yummy) Tuscan meals for clients who are watching their diets.
In the Terme di Saturnia restaurant, I enjoyed eating dishes such as polenta with porcini mushrooms (Made from corn. Has a consistency similar to Cream of Wheat.), lamb chops with chocolate and pine nuts, sauteed potatoes with braised savoy cabbage, and assorted cheeses including a sumptious ricotta cheese and chocolate dessert!
The rooms at the spa are also very spacious. I practically wanted to move into the walk-in closet! All the ammenities one would expect from a luxury hotel are included, right down to a bottle of wine and fruit waiting on a marble side table in each room to welcome guests.
For more information on Terme di Saturnia, please visit www.termedisaturnia.it.