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Chapter Sixteen

Day 40


Woke up in the camperstop in Florence to blue skies. The temperature is definately getting a bit warmer. Deciding to park closer to the city, as we were quite a bit away, we headed off along the fairly narrow streets. We did not get far as suddenly we saw the roof tops of Florence below us, how beautiful! we stopped at a small park and soaked in the view, we could see the Dome, the churches and the river below. In the park the scents of herbs surrounded us and in amongst the plants and trees were rosemary bushes, through the centre of the park a stone snake acted as a fountain and carried water up the steps leading to the various levels.

We made our way down to the city and tried our luck to find a parking space! getting snarled up in the traffic, the one way systems and not knowing our way around we found ourselves in a pedestrian zone at the end of the Ponte Vecchio! People all around looked on in amazment as we tried to get ourselves out of this hole! but we did so thanks to our very calm driver! Coming back along the riverside we found a parking spot and walked into the city.

Florence is breathtakingly beautiful, but with this it attracts so very many people and this is something you have to accept when visiting. You also need a map to get around as the streets are narrow and the buildings are high and landmarks are therefore difficult to make out. The streets are paved with large uneven stones so comfortable shoes are a definiate must. A bit of forward planning makes for a much more enjoyable experience, wish I had done so as I hobbled out of Florence with terrible aching feet! but it was worth it. The Cathedral is an absolutely magnificent building, so huge, ornate and colourful. Dedicated to Santa Maria del Fiore (St.Mary of the Flower), the building was started in 1294. The authorities who organised the building which was to replace the previous church of Santa Repartata, wanted a building that would outshine and be bigger than any other in Tuscany. The remaining parts of the church of Santa Repartata can now be visited in the lower parts of the cathedral. The facade of the Cathedral was designed by the 19th century architect Emilio De Fabris who tried to recapture the Florentine Gothic style. It was completed in 1887 by Luigi Del Moro. On entering you can see the height and spacious, stately interior. It is quite a severe building inside and not embelished with paintings and statues as many others have been, but it does contain works of art from over many centuries. The vault of the dome is frescoed with a depiction of the last supper. One can visit the roof and the Dome but this can only be done as part of the guided tour (€15) entry into the Cathedral is free.

Back out into the sunshine and in the Piazza Duomo, we cross over to the Baptistery. Construction started on this small building in the 5th century but it was the work done in the 11th and 12th centuries that have made it the most important monument of Romanesque architectuere in Florence. On the east side of the Baptistery is the famous door of Paradise with its ten beautiful bronze panels depicting the stories of Noah and Joshua, these are definately not to be missed. The South door consists of 28 panels showing the life of John the Baptist and the North door with its 28 panels illustrating the Life of Christ. The interior of the Baptistery is covered in 13th – 14th century mosaics and is an octagonal shape with marble decoration. Behind the Cathedral is the Cathedral museum which contains works fom the cathedral, the Bell Tower and the Baptistery. Next we headed towards the Piazza Della Signoria with its grand Neptune fountain and the bronze statue of Cosimo I dei Medici astride his horse. The piazza was quite full of tourists but I thought how much busier it must be in the summer and hotter! At the far side of the piazza is the Loggia dei Lanzi ( also called the Logia della Signoria) people sat inside watching all the goings on, a white painted mime artist chased people around and had the crowd laughing at his antics, especially when he crept up on unsuspecting victims. In another corner a man played soothing music on a classical guitar whilst around all this the street vendors plied their wares. In the Loggia stand large copies of famous statues such as the ‘Rape of the Sabine Women’, Perseus cutting off the head of Medusa, Statues of the Virtues, Hercules and Nessus and Menelaus bearing the body of Patroclus, it is a lovely place to sit and enjoy the day, but be careful not to sit on the steps of the Loggia or else a man with a loud whistle will come and chase you! Next to the Loggia is the Palazzo Vecchio (the Old Palace so called after the Medici left in the middle of the 16th century for the Palazzo Pitti). Nine coats of arms are over the arches, these represent the various rulers of Florence through the centuries. The 94 metre high tower stands slightly off centre and bears a large clock. At the entrance stands the copy of Michelangelo’s David and the Bandinelli’s Hercules and Cacus. The interior of the Palace is of great interest for its contents and its architecture. We did not, unfortunately get in as it was closing but speaking to others who had been luckier, there are some wonderful ornate rooms with exquisite panels, very interesting statues and exhibits, musical instruments, Statute of ‘Victory’ by Michelangelo and on the first floor are the rooms named ‘Hall of the Five Hundred’ and ‘Hall of the Two Hundred’, with wonderful wood panelled ceilings (these rooms were used as war council chambers), and much, much more. As I have said before at least it leaves us something to come back to see.

The city contains miles and miles (or so it seems) of galleried walkways, the marble floors are cool and thankfully nice and smooth. Along these galleries you will find handbags for sale, scarfs, gifts, books, and artists painting and displaying their pictures. There are many restaurants around the squares with outside seating that look very inviting, but if you have a budget, always check the prices before sitting down. Along the side streets you can find some very good and affordable cafes and restaurants and whilst exploring the small streets you will come across some hidden treasures in the way of churches, shops, museums and exhibitions. The streets are interesting with their old houses and quirky designs but don’t be afraid to go off the beaten track if you get a bit lost just ask, we have found people to be very helpful.

We walk past the Uffizi Gallery, oh how I would like a day or two to explore inside there! but now it is closed as are most places. The night life is starting to begin, but all I need to do is soak my feet! they are killing me and I still have about two kilometres to walk back to the motorhome. I eventually make it back and we sit and rest while having a cup of tea, thank goodness all the walking is over for today! or so I think, the younger members of the team have gone up the steep path leading to the Piazzale Michelangelo which looks out over the city and is starting to be lit up. They come rushing back excitedly to tell us to join them as the views are well worth the climb. Hobbling along after them they pulled me up the steep steps leading to the top, YES it was worth it, a beautiful view of Florence by night, many other people obviously thought the same as there were lots of couples and groups sitting around and enjoying the view and maybe an ice cream as well. The Statue of David is huge and is illuminated, we pose for pictures in front of him and these show just how large the statue is, it is also very beautiful and it draws people across to admire it. We spend a long time up here before heading back down the steep path again, it is much easier on the way down. Gosh I will certainly sleep well tonight!

Day 41

Our second day in Florence and we are up bright and early for another day of sightseeing and culture in this beautiful city. We have been cheeky and just stayed put where we parked yesterday alongside the River Arno, we were just too tired to go anywhere last night! The view that greets us this morning is Florence in all its glory, across the river, bathed in sunshine and inviting us to come and join her. A quick cup of coffee and we are off again so much to see and do and so little time, we have to be in Rome this week as two of the team are flying home for a few days R&R. Oh it will be SOOOO peaceful! Enough of this, back to Florence I am looking forward to going to the Galleria Academia later on today.

Heading towards the far side of the city first, we pass through the Piazza Duomo and through the busy little streets soaking in the atmosphere, it really is a lovely city. Near the train station we find the Basilica Santa Maria Novella and pay our €3.50 to go in, they are very strict on the no photos here, shame! Inside the gates are lovely tranquil gardens leading to the entrance to the Basilica and inside the large structure the marble floors are cool and welcoming. The vast arched ceilings stretch up above you but the walls are quite plain. Along the sides there are wonderful works of art each containg a discription in Italian and English on a plaque in front of them. On inspection you realise the vast number of incredible works of art that this building actually contains. The sacristy contains a crucifix by Giotto and the walls are lined with beautiful wooden cupboards that a man is busy polishing as we look around. Everywhere is so peaceful and calming. The paintings and Frescoes are certainly magnificent. Once outside we are in need of a coffee and something to eat, we spot a McDonalds across the road which is also a McCafe just like the one in Milan, a coffee and cake and we are ready to go again. We have to meet up with another of the team who had a lie in this morning, lazy bones! so we arange to meet on the far side of the Ponte Vecchio. The Ponte Vecchio is a quiant and surprising little bridge, with what looks like houses stuck to the sides but on closer inspection it is totally lined with Goldsmith shops, the window displays all glistening with gold and jewels. It is the oldest bridge in Florence and has been in existance since Roman times. The first shops were butchers then later grocers and smiths joined them, the small shops jutt out over the river. In 1591 Ferdinand I threw them all out and decreed that only Goldsmiths be allowed to have the shops on the bridge and it has been so ever since.

Meeting up we made our way back slowly into the city and looking around for somewhere to eat, we were invited into a Pizzeria along one of the smaller streets. Ordering Pizzas and drinks we sat and watched the chefs at work tossing the dough high into the air and spinning it round before adding the toppings and placing them inside the hot wood burning oven, all very enjoyable and I have to say very tasty too. We decide to do a little shopping and head off around the many shops before two of the party have had enough and head off back again. Those remaining walk back over the Ponte Vecchio and towards the Palazzo Pitti a majestic, huge building built in the 15th century. We wander around the exterior of the palace in the warm sunshine and just enjoy the whole atmosphere of the place, but we decide that that we really must find the Galleria Academia before too long or it will be too late to get in.

Finding your way around Florence is not easy at the best of times and when you are not too sure which way you are going it is worse. We constantly ask the way but don’t seem too find this very famous building, in the end getting a little bit tired we ask a taxi driver (surely he must know the way!), he tells us it is behind us and only 5 mins away. Heading off down the street we are surprised to find the entrance is just a simple door in the side of a very unassuming building, no signs point the way but we have found it and no crowds about either, lucky us, the entrance fee is only €6 even better, but then we see it CLOSED ON MONDAYS! oh no! just don’t believe it. We should have gone to the Uffizi Galleria instead but we really wanted to go in here. There are just so many galleries here in Florence we really need to be here for a month at least. The others are waiting for us to return so we head of back to the motorhome. It is a sad goodbye to Florence as we leave, I hope to return again soon.

Next we are making for Sienna and it is not too far away. On reaching the outskirts there is a large Coach and Motorhome Stop nearby, buses ferry people in the day up to the city. It is quite dark and on getting out of the van we look up and see the outer lights of Sienna twinkling in the night. An Italian couple stop to chat as they head off to walk up, they tell us that the walk is only about 8 mins, so we decide to venture up as well. The younger members head off first while we tidy up and follow but they phone to say come up on the scooter the road is very steep and it will be more like 40mins than 8! Following up on the scooter we park up and join them. First stop the Gelateria, (ice cream parlour) the music is sounding out into the street and the laughter from inside draws us in, there are only a few people in but they are dancing and singing and welcome us in. Waving goodbye we walk up the steep dark streets towards the Cathedral which is lit up and stands magnificent against the dark night sky. The whole place looks lovely and we are looking forward to seeing it tomorrow. On the way back we pass through Il Campo the main square, there are only a handful of people milling about now but it is getting late.

On the way down, we pass a building, it appers interesting so we stop to take a look. It is called the Talking Fountain and the waters are clean and clear. On closer inspection we learn that it is called the ‘Fonte Branda’ and that the waters run in from a natural spring. In earlier days the first water trough was for drinking, a little further down another part was for animals to drink and then the last part was for washing. The Fonte Branda is like a cavern and if you close your eyes and listen you may hear the voices and sounds of long, long ago. I swear I did! Well time to go to bed and dream sweet dreams.

Day 42


Woke up to glorious sunshine shinning through the gaps in the blinds. We have had a little sleep-in as it half past nine and even though we did want to try and get out early, a quick wash, skipped breakfast and we are on our way. I walk up the ten minute journey while a few other of our members take the scooter that we carry on the back of the van, as the first few hills leading to the main square are very steep and they, today at least, feel too old to walk it. We meet up at the top of the square and decide, before we enter, we will walk to the stadium and “old forte” on the far left side of town.

The pathways are cobbled and lined with little shops selling anything from pottery to sports wear. Ice cream parlours are already full of children and adults alike ordering flavours like Pistacheo, toffee and lemon. The city gives off a real friendly atmosphere even though it is crowded and even when we stop to ask directions, people are only too happy to help. We cross the hilly streets and finally arrive at the stadium. The dark green grass is being trimmed by the groundkeeper and tourists take pictures from the imposing stands that stand proud around. A square stands above with two large statues and a childrens playground full of little ones playing and laughing in the days sun. Ex Forte Di S.Barbara sits pride of place next to the square. We walk in (No cost) and the main building is now being used as a music hall. Walking underneath through one of the three large arches takes you into the main square. Lush green trees now grow around the side where soldiers would have once stood, and there are two large stairways, one on each side, that takes you to the top of the walls. Once up you can walk the entire way round, admiring the great architecture or admiring the great views. We did both and found ourselves just gazing out over the roaming Tuscan valleys around us. The views really are breathtaking. Joggers seem to use this as a circuit and many ran past us as we slowly made our way back to the main gates. Back through the square and past the bus station we head back to the centre and the main square Il Campo, home to the famous “Palio delle contrade”, a horse race which takes place every year on JUly 2nd and August 16th. It takes place between 10 of the surrounding 17 districts, and is the only surviving game of the many Medieval contests which used to take place. The horses run aound the edge of the square and the spectators are hemmed into the middle as well as on specially designed grand stands built all the way around the edge. It is attended by up to 50,000 people as well as the entire Sienese population with great excitement. Something special to see I’m sure!

Il Campo is also home to the “Palazzo Publico” and the “Torre del Mangia” The palazzo is one of the most elegant civic Gothic buildings in Italy while the Torre del Mangia is the name of the tower which stands along side the Palazzo and at the foot of the tower is the “Cappella di Piazza” (Chapel of the tower). Facing is the the celebrated “Fonte Gaia”, (a water fountain) so called because it brought the first flow of water to the city in 1346 to the joy of the population.

We sit amongst the other tourists on the floor and relax for a bit in the hot days sun. Couples cuddle and tours with tourguides explainig the buildings walk past, it seems a square where everyone feels relaxed and at ease with the surroundings. We check our guide book and decide to head off to the cathedral. From the square you have to walk up a few steep streets but it is not too exerting and we eventually find our way into the Piazza Del Duomo, home of the cathedral dedicated to Our Lady of the Assumption. You have to pay to enter everything here so for once we take a stand and decide not to pay. We would have liked to enter but for today we will just have to suffice with the elegance of the exterior. You can buy a card, a city card which gives you discounts to enter, but as we are leaving and do not have time to see everything it is something we will have to remember for next time.

Still in high spirits from our exploits, though slightly disapointed we never entered the cathedral we head back off down the streets towards the van. We wondar through the small streets taking pictures and enjoying the hilltop town, the views and the architecture. On route to the bottom we suddely got stopped in our tracks as the town has put escalators into the mountain to help disabled people get up. A fantastic idea and acheivment, something other cities should take note off, but I’m sure very little will do. Once back at the van, we finally have a drink and head off away from the magical little city of Sienna, a place truely worth a visit.

Driving onwards towards Rome we remember we haven’t eaten yet today so just as the ocean appears we pull off the main road and find a small secluded beach to have our dinner. The sun seems to be settled on the water and it sparkles almost especially for us as we sit and have our late lunch. We can see a few men in the distance casting out their lines from the shore and a single boat passes by on the horizon. The days heat still blazs through the windows and we enjoy a very relaxing hour in our beach side paradise. Deciding we will arrive in Rome in the morning and as we are getting close, we decide to stop in a small fishing village. We find a place to park and decide to have a nice relaxing evening before the sure chaos of Rome.

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