We were climbing down from watching the sunset over Florence when out of one of the windows I spotted this view. I loved the contrasting blue sky to the east with the warmer colors to the west where the sun had just dipped below the horizon. Add in the square below that was just starting to bustle with early evening activity and dinner goers, the historic cathedral and hills in the backdrop and it made for a picturesque scene. Of the places we’ve visited in Italy this is definitely one of the areas I’d love to go back to – the wines and delicious food mixed with the history of the city make it one of my favorite places we’ve ever visited.
Walking out into the Piazza del Duomo in Florence, Italy is an amazing scene. The tourists naturally attracted to the main church in the city flock around it. The locals, knowing what a zoo it will be, avoid the area at all costs but entertainers, hustlers and street vendors swarm to make their wages for the day. However, at sunrise, the square is quiet and peaceful – likely as it was before travel became so easy and affordable. Old men and women – probably lifelong Florentine residents – read the daily news, feed the pigeons and gather around cafes drinking espressos before moving on to start their day.
Duomo – Florence, Italy
I love sitting on the benches taking in the mornings. It is peaceful and about as a ‘real’ an experience in “old” Florence you can experience.
The dome that sits atop the cathedral in Florence, Italy is an engineering feat even to this day. So much so that TV programs like NOVA and the National Geographic channel have had specials where engineers today try to re-create it in the same form (using modern computers, tools, etc…) that Brunelleschi did. The crazy thing about what Filippo Brunelleschi did is that he built and designed this dome in 1418! Imagine what we all could accomplish if we didn’t watch TV for three to four hours each day – I feel like such a failure!
Brunelleschi’s Dome (Florence, Italy)
Seriously though this is was and is a pretty impressive feat and Florence was in a real bind until they opened a ‘contest’ up to everyone in the world to design a dome that could cover the altar in the cathedral. Architects of varying fame from around the world submitted plans and designs but the one who was selected – Filippo Brunelleschi – was a goldsmith with no formal training in building structures like the one that still stands nearly 600 years later. Pretty damn amazing.
There is a fascinating article over on National Geographic’s website called Brunelleschi’s Dome if you’d like to read more of the back story and the reaction of the architects that weren’t chosen (sore losers anyone?).
In the heart of Tuscany, stretching between Florence, Italy and Sienna, Italy is the Chianti region. Famous for their wine and often romanticized in novels because of the lovely countryside it certainly didn’t disappoint. We took an unforgettable bike/wine tour during our time in the countryside. I absolutely love Italy and hope to be back many times throughout my life. We’ve been twice and it gets better with each visit because I feel like we can slow down a bit more and enjoy things like the rolling countryside of the Chianti region.
Afternoon in Chianti (Chianti, Italy)
From atop a European castle, turned winery, I took this photo of the countryside below. The winery also made olive oil and I was shocked/awed to learn that it took about three olive trees to make a single bottle of olive oil – I guess that’s why it is always so expensive for very fine, legitimate olive oil. We also learned that we pay WAY too much for wine in the US – the vineyard offered locals a hose (like a gas pump) for filling up five liter drinking jugs of wine and for that privilege charged them three euros a liter…for that same wine in a bottle we were paying 25 Euros and that’s for only 3/4 of a liter. If I ever do move to Europe the accessibility of amazing, cheap wine may be my downfall.
The Ponte Vecchio Bridge that spans the River Arno in Florence, Italy is known as the “Old Bridge” and for a period of time it was the only bridge that crossed the river in the city. The original bridge was built in the 1200s but this version was rebuilt in 1345 after a flood washed out the previous one. It was also the only bridge that the Germans left standing in World War II as even they did not want to damage its beauty. Instead they blocked access to it by toppling buildings on both sides of the bridge so traffic would be unable to enter from either direction without significant amounts of work being done to clear the crossing.
Ponte Vecchio Bridge at Sunrise (Florence, Italy)
I didn’t know this when we visited but after reading ‘Inferno’ by Dan Brown I learned there is a secret passage running above all of the shops (now gold shops but they used to be butcher shops – in the height of summer imagine the smell!) that would allow the ruling family to cross the river from one royal building to another without having to mingle with the “common people”.
While in Florence, Italy my wife and I took a day trip into the rolling hillside of Tuscany. Our trip involved a fairly long and strenuous bike trip that we were not prepared for. We knew we were going to be riding bikes of course – and riding from winery to winery sampling their wines sounded like a fun time. However, the riding was much more strenuous than we thought and our dress (khaki pants, oxford shirt and dress shoes – appropriate for wine tasting) was pretty off the mark for the days activities. The day’s ride started out fine with a lot of downhill from the first winery to the next one but by the end of lunch (spaghetti and MORE wine) they told us we needed to go back up the hill. They had a van following us with trailer hitches for the bikes so I thought they’d keep the ride pretty leisurely but the second half was rough – complicated by the large quantity of wine I’d already drank by that point and the heavy lunch of pasta and garlic bread.
From the top of one of the wineries I shot this picture – the day was mostly overcast and a little bit hazy – but I tried to make the best of the picture by minimizing the amount of sky shown at the top and focusing more on the lush green of the hillside and the houses isolated in the distance. A beautiful view and one I hope to have again in the future because when we go back to Italy we will definitely spend more time in Tuscana.
Stepping out onto the streets of Italy sipping a delicious cappuccino and flaky pastry we headed to the church (Florence Cathedral aka Duomo di Firenze) and the joined the queue to take the steps to the top for the spectacular views of the city streets. The narrow cobbled streets form a maze of old, family owned bakeries, coffee shops and the more upscale shopping districts that Florence is known for.
The Streets of Florence, Italy
The view from the top of the Duomo in Florence, Italy provides a wonderful view of the historic, twisted streets below. The Cathedral sits in the center of it all and is one of the most visited landmarks in Italy. Built in the Byzantine style it stands out from the more traditional/Gothic architecture that other Italian churches are often known for.