After surviving the vineyard trails in the Cinque Terre, we were off to Florence for the day. Florence wasn’t part of the original itinerary, but when I noticed we had a free day between Siena, we both jumped at the chance to see the city. This was probably one of the smartest decisions we’ve made so far on the trip. Everywhere you look in Florence you see something that catches your eye, whether it’s the rolling hills, or the view of the Duomo. The Duomo was the perfect place to start our adventure in Florence, and we both gladly paid the eight euros to descend up to the top of the dome. Now when I say descend I mean taking one narrow winding staircase after the other till we reached the top. Something tells me this is what they made the prisoners do at the conception of the church. From there we were treated to some of the best views on our trip so far. In every direction you saw beautiful architecture and landscapes. Trust me the view had to be good for me to forget about my fear of heights. Having scouted out locations from our skyward perch, we were off to explore the rest of the city.
We walked from the Duomo to the Uffizi Gallery, and marveled at the many statutes outside of the building. Still not having an appetite for art museums (sorry Mom,) we continued on to Ponte Vecchio Bridge. The views from the bridge were stunning as we caught the Florentine buildings right during sun set. It’s a shame that the bridge is lined with literally only jewelry stores, as I was beginning to crave some gelato. Lucky for me one of Leer’s friends had studied abroad in Florence, and had given him some suggestions on the best gelato and pizza. Her gelato tip was right on the money, and I’ll make sure to thank her for the joy I felt at eating one of the best gelato’s I’ve had on the trip. Feeling full and satisfied we continued our walk towards the Piazza Michelangelo, an open plaza that has incredible views of the city. We stopped to take a handful of pictures, and realized that we were both getting pretty hungry, so we thought we would try out her pizza recommendation. This one she hit out of the park as well, as I can say without a doubt that Gusta Pizza was the best pizza we’ve had in Italy. We both ordered the spicy salami pizza which we scarfed down in no time. The atmosphere of the restaurant was very laid back and there were many study abroad students who were enjoying one of the best parts of Italy. My mouth is watering right now thinking about that pizza.
With the sun set, and the city lit up, we decided to head back to Piazza Michelangelo to catch some views of the city illuminated at night. To our surprise there was a nice older Italian gentleman with his guitar that entertained us on the steps as we looked out at the Duomo shining against the night sky. This guy was all about the classics, and I’ll never think of the song Hotel California the same way again. He also did a rousing rendition of the song “Hallelujah” that nearly brought me to tears. Without a doubt that was one of the more surreal moments on the trip for me, where I really started to reflect on what exactly I’ve had the privilege of taking part in for the past two and a half weeks.
The next morning we set off early for Siena, where we would be staying for one night. We made it into the train station and began the hike up to the center of the city which is located on a hill. Even from the train station, the views of the Tuscan countryside were breathtaking. I think they have a different sky over here or something. We just started our walk, when it started to rain so we tried to find anything to hide under as we made our way further towards the center. Like Venice, Siena has many little streets and alleyways and it took us a few times to find our room. Once we were settled in, we took off for off all things, the Duomo of Siena. While it wasn’t as large as the Duomo in Florence, it definitely loomed large in this hill town. There weren’t too many places we walked to, where we couldn’t see the top of the dome following us. From the Duomo we walked down a little bit to the big open area known as Il Campo. For those of you who don’t watch the travel channel as religiously as I do, Siena holds a horse race twice a year between the many different neighborhoods in the city. That race is held in Il Campo, which you wouldn’t be able to tell from walking in it. For now there are no horses, but rather restaurants that line the streets. We stopped to grab some lunch and decided to walk throughout the rest of the city, exploring every little side street. It was interesting to see how the atmosphere changed as you went from neighborhood to neighborhood. Each new neighborhood had its own flag that lined the streets throughout the area.
Later that night we explored the areas around our hostel, and stumbled upon a little carnival that was thrown together by the Democratic Party of Siena. It was definitely amusing to see local politics in Italy when I’m constantly bombarded by politics on my Twitter Feed. By the way, I still need someone to send me the video of Clint Eastwood arguing with a chair. The carnival took place in a big plaza high above the city which gave way to once again amazing views of Tuscany. With the smell of sausages and chicken on the grill wafting through the air, we walked back to our room, but not without getting lost a few more times. We’re lucky we had the map that our hostel owner gave us, or we would still probably be wandering around Siena.
I can’t say enough good things about both Tuscan cities we visited, and I definitely understand now how Diane Lane must have felt in “Under the Tuscan Sun.” With good food, and amazing views I can see the appeal. That’s it for now; we’re on the train heading to our last stop, Rome. I can’t believe it’s almost coming to an end, but I’m also ready to go home and see family and friends. I’m also happy that today is the last time I’ll have to get on a train in Europe. We’ve had a very love hate relationship with the trains over here, and have definitely been in our fair share of both trains, and train stations. Enjoy the pictures, and I look forward to the sights and sounds that await us in Rome.
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