Sunday, May 19, 2013

Under the Tuscan Sun Part 1: Florence

“We’ve found heaven, and it’s Italian.” -Kyle

That pretty much sums up our amazing trip to Florence and Tuscany. I think we’re both in love with la dolce vita. The natural landscape is captivating with its hills, cypress trees, olive groves, and vineyards. To that add warm, friendly people (although they’re awful drivers!), incredible food and wine, a relaxing atmosphere and you have a perfect Tuscan holiday.

It seems like for one reason or another, people seem to be drawn to certain countries or regions. I’ve always been attracted to Italy. I have a soft spot for Florence and Tuscany in particular. For a summer in college between my sophomore and junior year, I took art and art history classes there. We stayed in Florence, and ventured out on the weekends. It was such a great experience, and I was so excited to go back and share some of those treasures with Kyle. That summer, while I was in Italy, Kyle was in China learning the language. It seems like with everything I saw, I thought to myself, “I wish Kyle could see this!”

Our road trip started early in the morning. From Stuttgart, it’s about seven hours and forty five minutes to Florence. That seems like a long drive, but we’re so used to it from driving back and forth between Baltimore and Indianapolis, which was a 9-10 hour drive. The difference is our drive was straight through the Black Forest, the Swiss Alps and northern Italy to get there, rather than West Virginia and Ohio! We drove through a little bit of rain, but when we arrived in Florence about 4, it started clearing up and turned into a beautiful evening.

Our hotel was just about 100 meters from the Duomo, the huge cathedral in the center of the city, so we had a great central location. Florence is a small and very walkable city. As usual on our first evening, we walked wherever we felt like it, with no destination in mind. We covered a lot of ground that evening, seeing a lot of the well known sites from the outside. One of our first priorities though was getting some gelato, and I knew exactly where to go and even how to get there! In case you’re ever there, the best gelato in town is Remember, not all gelato is created equal!

Santa Maria del Fiore aka the Duomo

The famous Ponte Vecchio bridge

Only the best!
We stayed on the top floor in college. Looks the same!

Peaceful and non-touristy Santo Spirito
Palazzo Vecchio

Giambologna's Rape of the Sabine

The next day after our croissants and cappuccinos, we headed to the Accademia Gallery where we had a tour booked. The Accademia is a wonderful, small gallery with a great collection where students used to study art. The most notable work there, which is also one of my favorites, is Michelangelo’s David. On this trip I wanted to tour this gallery instead of the better known and larger Uffizi since we weren’t spending much time in Florence. (We’ll definitely be going back and we’ll see it then!) Our tour and tour guide were wonderful. There was only one other person in our group. Our guide was very knowledgeable and gave us an overview of the highlights of the gallery. It’s always more interesting coming from a real person rather than a book! You’re not allowed to take pictures in the gallery, but trust me, it’s very impressive!

 After our tour, we headed over to check out the Duomo again and to see the inside. Construction on the Duomo began in 1296, but wasn’t completed until 1436 with the addition of Brunelleschi’s famous dome, which is still the largest brick dome ever constructed. The inside of the dome is an impressive fresco of the Last Judgement. 

The baptistry, the cathedral, and the campanile, or bell tower

From the Duomo, we headed across the Ponte Vecchio to the Palazzo Pitti where we toured the Boboli gardens. The gardens are massive and very hilly! The beauty of the gardens makes the hills worth it!

Looking back at the Palazzo Pitti where the Medici's lived

Beautiful views from the top!

After recharging with delicious caffeine, we walked from the Boboli Gardens up to a great lookout point at the Piazzale Michelangelo. From there we had an incredible view of the entire city.

We walked back down, crossed back over the river to see the Basilica di Santa Croce. It is the largest Franciscan church in the world. Legend says that it was started by St. Francis himself. Construction on the current church to replace an older one began in 1294. Many incredible people are buried there, such as Michelangelo, Galileo, Machiavelli, Foscolo, Gentile and Rossini. It also has some notable art work, such as a Raphael fresco and Cimabue’s Crucifix. We enjoyed happy hour and a great dinner that evening before heading back to the hotel.

Santa Croce

A robe worn by St. Francis

The tomb of Michelangelo

Admiring the cloisters

Cimabue's Crucifix 1287-1288

Tired puppy!

Florence is one of my all time favorite cities.  It's not too big, and it's so full of incredible art and history, not to mention how beautiful it is! 

The following three days we spent in a villa in Tuscany.  It was incredible and Kyle took a lot of great photos, so we'll be posting about it soon!  Ciao!

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