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Friday, July 27, 2012

European Vacation: Part 2 (Florence/Pisa, Italy)

After Barcelona, we boarded our cruise ship and spent the next day at sea en route to Livorno, Italy. Once docked in Livorno, we spent the day visiting the beautiful cities of Pisa and Florence. 

As we journeyed to the Tuscan countryside on our way to Pisa, there were sunflowers, olive lemon trees as far as the eye can see. 

Once we arrived at the Piazza dei Miracoli, the streets were already humming with vendors setting up their souvenirs and tourists all gathering to see the famous site of the Leaning Tower...

And of course Gab had to do the infamous "pushing the tower" pose. :)

The Cathedral...

And the Baptistry...

Just look at the detail in these columns...amazing!

Interesting Facts About the Leaning Tower of Pisa

The leaning tower of Pisa weighs 14,500 tonnes - Although it took quite a long time for construction to be completed, the official estimated weight of the tower is just shy of 14,500 tonnes. No wonder the clay foundation couldn't handle the weight!

The tower took over 800 years to completely finish - With the final modifications to the tower made in the early 21 st century, the entire process took over 800 years. During this time it witness two great wars, civil war, change in religious governments, and a change in use. It was "completed" in 1350 (over 200 years after its initial construction), but has undergone constant additions and modifications since that date.

The leaning tower of Pisa is only 55.86 meters tall - With its low height, it's the smallest "tower" achieve worldwide recognition.

Europe 's most famous monument was the result of a slight miscalculation - Although many factors have contributed to the lean, the decision of where to build the tower resulted in the original tilt of the tower.

It is located in the Piazza Dei Miracoli - The "field of miracles" is where the tower is located, along with a few other famous structures, such as the Duomo, the Camposanto, and the Baptistery.

It was upright for five years upon completion of its initial construction - Having only two floors, no one was aware of any problem with the tower. Upon the addition of the third floor the tower began to lean, and the result was thousands of confused people and hundreds of years of quick-fixes.

Construction was halted for 100 years - Once the tower began to lean the construction was halted for 100 years. During this time, engineers hopes that the clay beneath the tower would settle and harden enough to permit further construction.

A new architect resume construction - Giovanni di Simone continued where the tower had left off, adding four additional floors to the tower. Fortunately, and despite his efforts, he was unable to correct the lean.

A bad idea made the lean worse - Alessandro Della Gherardesca tried to show the world the intricately decorated base of the tower by digging a walkway around the base. You can imagine the resulting disaster when his workers struck water, flooding the ditches.

Mussolini tried to fix the tower - Embarrassed of the tower, and calling it a disgrace to national pride, he attempted to fix the tower by way of a cement counterweight drilled into the base of the tower. It didn't work.

The tower has 294 steps - How fast can you make it up?

The tower was almost torn down - American soldiers, under the orders to destroy all buildings that may act as a potential nest for enemy snipers, nearly destroyed the famous tower during World War Two.

All text and leaning tower of Pisa pictures © 2010

Next, we headed to lunch at a Tuscan restaurant in Florence called Ristorante Buca San Giovanni where they served us some Penne Pommodoro, Pork with Salad and for dessert, homemade tiramisu. Now, I never cared for tiramisu. Or Jello. Or pudding for that matter. It's a consistency thing but when in Rome (well technically Florence!), I vowed to try it all. This tiramisu was the best I had ever tasted and I was glad I was doing a LOT of walking because I ate the entire piece. 

Oh, and you can't forget the wine. They bottle their own and it was superb, just like the rest of our meal, but then again, I'm partial to wine from the Tuscan region of Italy. :) 

Next, it was onto visit Piazza della Signoria to see the copy of Michelangelo's David and the Basilica Santa Croce. The original statue took three years to complete between 1501 and 1504 and was symbolic for civil liberties of the independent Florentine Republic. The original statue was moved in 1873 to the Gallery of the Accademia di Belle Arti; however, this replica was created in 1910 in the same location. 

The Basilica di Santa Croce (Basilica of the Holy Cross) is the principal Franciscan church of Florence, Italy. Situated on the Piazza Santa Croce to the east of the Duomo, it is best known for its Florentine artwork and its tombs of illustrious dead, including Michelangelo, Galileo and Machiavelli. Legend has it that Santa Croce was founded by St Francis himself. The current church was probably begun in 1294, possibly by Arnolfo di Cambio, and paid for by some of the city's wealthiest families. In 1439 the Council of Florence, which attempted to heal the schism between Roman Catholic and Orthodox Churches, was held at Santa Croce. In 1560, the choir screen was removed and the interior rebuilt by Giorgio Vasari, who damaged the church's decoration in the process. The neo-Gothic facade only dates from 1857-1863 and the campanile was built in 1842.

One thing to note, and this pertains to everywhere we went in Europe, when entering a church, you must have your shoulders and legs covered; especially women. Depending on the country you are in, they will sometimes have a disposable shawl or scarf available to use or you may have to purchase one from a peddler trying to earn a little extra cash. As you can see, Rachael wasn't overly thrilled (notice the lovely scarf adorned at her waist). :)

Then, when got a little free time to walk around the square and visit all of the wonderful shops. I don't even think we got to half of them as there were so many. 

We did manage to find a local wine shop and did some unexpected wine tasting, always a plus when in Italy. Did I mention my favorite wines are from the Tuscan region? ;)

Allow me to introduce you to Tony Sasa, one of the owners of Enoteca PontevecchioAs a child, Tony grew up in a farming family where he learned about genuine food and joyful lifestyle. Tony is a passionate wine enthusiast who has worked in the wine and restaurant business in Chicago, Florence and abroad for more than a decade. Throughout these years he has built enduring relationships with Italy's foremost enologists, winemakers and journalists. 

We had the pleasure of meeting Tony and tasting some of his wines and sample some other products they sell like Chianti Jam (REALLY!), extra virgin olive oil and homemade balsamic vinegar. His daughter even drew the label (in crayon no cute!) on one of the bottles. I couldn't resist and had to buy some of each. I had it shipped home and I can't wait until it arrives! He comes back to the US on occasion for wine tasting events throughout the year and we've since been in contact and I'll make sure to let you know when and where they will be held. 

Tony has some great tips on buying wine and the grapes themselves on his website if you want some more in depth information. I've learned over the years, that if you like a certain type of grape, you're more likely to like the majority of wines made with that type of grape as well. There are exceptions of course, but here is a tip from Tony that I found on his website about when to taste old vintages.  

"As a collector I will open some of my old vintages I have in my cellar, like Tuscany 1997. Why not? This is the only way to see evolution. I don't take the aging of certain wines very seriously. For example, a wine is supposed to taste delicious after 10 years, then you open it after 5 years and the wine is dead. What the hell is wrong? Wrong bottle, wrong wine or did the guy sell me the wrong bottle? If you buy a case or 6 bottles of a certain type of wine, I recommend opening the first bottle a year or two later to see the evolution or revolution." 

Well, are you as tired reading this post as I was at the end of this day? I LOVED Florence a.k.a. Firenze and felt so at ease and at home there.  I was sorry it was only for the day and hopefully, I'll get a chance to return someday for a longer period of time. 

To Be Continued...


  1. Beautiful pictures, looks like a great time! Carol

  2. I'm so envious. I want to visit Italy someday...

    1. it was definitely on my bucket list and well worth the wait. I absolutely love it there and my oldest daughter now wants to live there so maybe I'll get a chance to go back. :)


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