16.07.2010 95 °F
On Wednesday, our ship docked in Livorno, which is about 1.5 hours outside of Florence. Kevin and I had a quick breakfast and hopped directly on the tour bus – our planned excursion would take us to Florence for a few hours of free time and sightseeing, then to the Greve region, home of some of Tuscany’s top vineyards. On the bus, we planned some of the sights that we wanted to see in Florence, since we wouldn’t have a guided tour, and had to really cram our visit into a mere 2.5 hours. Luckily I remembered a few of my favorite sites from when I visited Florence in October of 2005.
We got off of the bus right in St. Croce Square (“Santa Croce Piazza”), home of Florence’s 2nd most famous church, the Santa Croce Basilica. The inside of the church building itself is not that impressive, but the outside is gorgeous and the inside holds several gorgeous works of Florentine art, as well as several tombs of famous Italians. The church was designed by a Jewish man who knew it would be a Christian church, but wanted to put his own religious influence on the design, so he put a big Star of David at the top!
Inside the church, we saw (in order of the pictures you see here): The tomb of Galileo Galilei, Pio Fedi’s Statue of Liberty, the tomb of Michelangelo Buonarroti, the tomb of Nicolo Machiavelli, and two works by Donatello – the “Annunciation” and the “Crucifix.”
There were several pretty apses in the church and we really enjoyed the visit!
After St. Croce, we walked to another Piazza (Piazza della Signoria) that holds the Palazzo Vecchio and some outdoor sculptures. The Palazzo is the town hall of Florence today, and is also a museum – it was built in 1299 and has had a role in Florence’s governing bodies since then. It is famous for its huge clock tower, which you see here. We didn’t get into the museum due to time constraints, but just peeked in to see some of the original painted ceilings – gorgeous!
Inside the Piazza, we also saw “The Fountain of Neptune,” by Ammannati in 1575, “Perseus with the Head of Medusa,” by Cellinni in 1554, a copy of Donatello’s “The Lion,” and a copy of Michelangelo’s “David,” which we pretended was the original since we wouldn’t get through the huge lines for the Accademia, where the original is housed.
Next, we walked to the Duomo, which is Florence’s most famous church. We learned that “Duomo” just means “basilica,” so ALL of the churches in Italy are “Duomos,” but only this one is the famous “Il Duomo.” This one took 5 centuries to be built, starting in 1386, and passed through several designers, architects, builders, project managers, and government rulers, giving each part a unique style. The outside is made of pure marble – white, green, and pink, all of which are naturally occurring. The mosaics of marble, along with a few gold-specked mosaics, make a really unique and beautiful façade. The Duomo is actually the 4th largest church in the world today! Unfortunately, the line to go inside the church and/or to climb the dome was incredibly long, stretching around the whole outside, so we didn’t even try to go in. I guess that means we’ll have to go back!
Across from the Duomo is the Baptistry, which we didn’t go inside, but which does have some incredible bronze doors made by Andrea Pisano and Lorenzo Ghiberti. The east doors are plated in gold, and Michelangelo himself called them the “Gates of Paradise.”
Our last stop in our walk around the city was the Ponte Vecchio, which is a shop-lined bridge similar to the Rialto in Venice. The Ponte Vecchio was built before 996 (they’re not exactly sure when), and was the only bridge spared when the Germans sacked Florence during World War II. Supposedly, Hitler himself had a soft spot for the bridge and thought it was beautiful, so he just bombed several buildings on either side (to make it impossible to cross the river and escape Florence), but didn’t want it destroyed. Today there are beautiful views of the Arno River and Florence itself from the bridge and on either side.
If you have any shred of respect for me, don’t read this next paragraph. Several of you have commented on how you like the historical information and interesting details about the places we’re visiting, and several of you have also made fun of me for including this. My very sweet little sister recently (jokingly) asked if I carried around a notepad on our tours to write down the information. I’ll have you know that yes, I do carry around a notepad, and I’m proud of it – ha! Kevin, on the other hand, is not, and pretends he doesn’t know me while I do this I have also been known to whip out a book or a crossword puzzle while waiting in line for some of the sites, and this really embarrasses him – oh well, he’ll survive! When else will we get to learn so much about so many interesting places? I don’t want to forget it!
OK, back to our day. After a quick visit of Florence, we hopped back on our tour bus and headed to the Castello Vicchiomaggio, a winery in Greve in Chianti, the wine region of Tuscany. The Castle is on a large hill and looks over the gorgeous wine country – the views were breathtaking! Yet another place to which we definitely want to return. Just look at these pictures!
You can see the rows of grapes, and also several bushels of olives, used for olive oil. The region also grows tons of sunflowers and corn – both also used for oil only, and not the actual crop.
We had lunch in the Castle, which was incredibly hot (Kev’s addition). In many places in Europe, they just don’t have prevalent air conditioning like we’re used to in the US, so many museums, restaurants, hotels, etc. get really hot – especially in the record-breaking heat Europe is having now. We sat in the original dining room of the Castle, and were greeted with several bottles of the Castle’s own red wine. The wine was surprisingly smooth and light (and this from a non-red-wine drinker!). We were first served really speckly salami (which we didn’t have) and some amazing tomato and olive oil bruschetta. The first main course was a rigatoni-shaped pasta in a vegetable sauce with parmesan, and was delicious. The second main course was lasagna-type pasta with meat sauce, and we both really enjoyed the flavor. We finished with biscotti, which we dipped into a Tuscan specialty, “vin santo” (meaning Holy wine). It is a dessert wine, but tastes more like a brandy – super strong and super sweet. We didn’t actually like it that much, but we ate it anyway since it is the Tuscan thing to do. When in Rome…
Unfortunately, we didn’t take pictures of the food, which is absolutely killing me now. If you know me well, you will appropriately guess my reaction to what you are about to hear. When we got back on the bus after more wine and view-absorbing, our bus driver told us what the “meat sauce” on the lasagna was … WILD BOAR! Are you kidding me? I just ate wild boar? And I LIKED it? And I actually picked out the meat parts because I couldn’t finish the whole thing but liked the flavor? Oh. My. Goodness. Ha! That’s one way to get us to try strange meats! Next birthday party, you know what’ll be on the menu! Another food note – did you notice that the appetizer, both main courses, and the dessert were all heavily bread/ pasta based? The Italians really do love their pasta! While they told us that a normal lunch wouldn’t be quite so heavy and bread-laden, they also told us that for celebrations, fancier meals, parties, or at nicer restaurants, it is not uncommon to have up to 5 courses of pasta! Wow!
After the Castle, we headed to “Unione Produttori Vini del Chianti,” one of the largest wine stories and wine-tasting facilities in the region. We got “debit cards” loaded with money and could use the cards to buy tastes of any of the 150+ wines on display. The main hall was filled with red wines, but there was also a white wine room, olive oil section, and Reserve wines section. This was such a fun experience! We got to taste a ton of wines and learned a little bit more about what we do and don’t like. We spent a few hours there and had a blast!
All that wine led to a sleepy 2-hour bus trip back, and when we eventually returned to the ship we relaxed for a while, walked around the ship, watched the sailaway from Livorno, and headed to dinner (yes, we were still hungry, even after the wild boar!). We started with French onion soup for each, which was very cheesy but delicious. I then had a salad, and Kev had chilled pumpkin soup (plus a weird look from the waiter for ordering 2 soups). Next we had filet medallions (Kev’s favorite dinner of the trip), and chicken breast, both served with nice grilled vegetables. Kev finished with chocolate hazelnut warm-centered cake and vanilla ice cream, and I had mango sorbet. Delicious meal to cap of a very busy, fun, and exciting day in Florence and Greve! Thanks for reading!