italy: tuscany Archives

June 19, 2007

bella Cortona

Tuesday, June 19th
The breakfast the following morning in Bologna was one of the usual buffet types. There was a man at the bar taking orders for coffee. He made me a delicious Caffè macchiato. The staff were very friendly and helpful. I found Hotel Porta San Mamolo after reading one of Palma’s posts from Bologna. I would definitely stay there again if returning to Bologna.

I arrived in Cortona about 12:45 after two train rides. It was a beautiful day. I was fortunate to have a nice man share a taxi with me at the Camucia-Cortona train station, although I think I ended up paying the entire fare. After checking into my B&B, I went on a restaurant hunt to find a somewhere to have lunch. I brought a list of recommended restaurants with me. As I did not know the town well yet, I looked for restaurants near the center which was also near my B&B. I stumbled onto La Logetta but it was already full. Since I was there, I asked to have a table reserved for me for dinner. I also asked the waiter for a recommendation of another restaurant nearby. He suggested Il Cacciatore.

Il Cacciatore was also on my list and turned out to be my favorite place to eat while I was there. I had a ravioli dish which was stuffed with eggplant and came with a fresh tomato sauce. Delicious!! I also enjoyed the atmosphere. There were a few tables full of locals and what seemed to be a table of Italian tourists.

After lunch, I went to look for Il Girasole to see if Alessandra was there. It took me a while to find it and when I did, I could not believe I did not see it sooner as it is located right in the town center. Alessandra wasn’t there and so I left a message saying that I would be back the next morning.

After leaving my message, I went to the tourist information office to get a map of Cortona. I also inquired about the hike up to the church on the top of the hill. The road to take started near where the buses depart and so I went to check the bus schedule and then started on my long hike. It was a very hot day and I ended up with the beginning of a blister. At the top was the Sanctuary of Santa Margherita and a little further up was a fortezza, Fortezza del Girifalco. The cost was 3 euros and it was similar to the fortezza in Montalcino in that it had the wall at the top that you could walk around but it was not as big. I really enjoyed my visit inside the fortezza. The views were spectacular.

After my long walk up to the church and the fortezza, I headed back down a different way which included walking along a few windy roads through the middle of the town. When I got back to the center, I went back to my room to rest my feet for a while. I went back out to look for an internet caffè and spent a little time catching up.

I then headed over to La Logetta for dinner. The food at La Logetta was good but it was a very “touristy” restaurant and I felt that the service was not as genuinely friendly as I find it to be in places which are not frequented by so many tourists. I had bruschetta with tomatoes and a salad with lots of vegetables and delicious tuna.

I was pretty tired after dinner and went back to my B&B for the night.

June 21, 2007

the men of Cortona & Arezzo

Wednesday, June 20th
Wednesday morning I headed out for some breakfast. The B&B I stayed at gives you a ticket for breakfast. You can choose one of three places listed on the card. The one I wanted to eat at was closed and so I went to the Bar Sport Caffè. The most handsome Carabiniere came in and stood next to me as we had our coffees at the bar. I kept trying to steal a few glances without making it too obvious. I was not brave enough to take picture but I can still remember every detail.

After breakfast, I went back over to Il Girasole to see if Alessandra was there. The rolling green door was open but the regular doors were still locked. I peered into the window and a man, who I later found out was her husband, came up to me to tell me that the shop was not open yet. I explained that I was another Slow Traveler and wanted to meet Alessandra. He insisted that I wait right there while he made a phone call. Actually it took him a few minutes as the reception is impossible in Cortona. I thought it was just my phone service but I later found out it is the town. It reminded me so much of the “Can you hear me now?” commercial. I actually tried to explain the commercial to a few people but no one got it. Anyways, he finally reached Alessandra and I told her that I needed to catch the bus that was leaving soon for Arezzo and that I would return around 3 pm.

I walked to the bus stop and sat on one of the park benches to wait for the bus. This man who was also sitting on the bench asked me in Italian if I was a tourist. I told him that I was from Hawaii. He told me that he was from Canada and then we both switched to English. I was very lucky to meet him as I would never have found the train station without him. We chatted on the ride down on the bus and also at the train station for a few minutes before our trains arrived. He was going to Rome and I was going to Arezzo so we took different trains. He had that accent that everyone had in the movie “Fargo” and I had the hardest time paying attention to what he was saying. All I could keep thinking of was the movie. He teaches Roman History and was off to meet some friends to go to a dig down south somewhere in Italy.

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May 4, 2008

my hike in Cortona

I still have so many photos to share from my trip to Cortona in June, 2007. When originally blogging about this trip, I only had access to a computer at an internet café. I am finally adding photos to this trip. Here is my original post and below is a summary and a photo album of the hike I took.

After a long train ride to Cortona, finding a taxi, settling in, and having lunch, I spent my first afternoon in Cortona hiking up to the Sanctuary of Santa Margherita and the Fortezza del Girifalco. It was a long hike uphill. Although it was a hot afternoon, the views were spectacular. When I finally reached the top, I arrived at a huge church, the Sanctuary of Santa Margherita. It was unfortunately closed when I arrived.

I continued walking a little further uphill to reach the Fortezza del Girifalco. The cost to enter the fortezza was 3 euros. There was only one other person visiting this very peaceful fortezza while I was there. I first spent about 30 minutes walking along the wall that surrounded the perimeter along the top (similar to the fortezza in Montalcino) enjoying the views and the cool breeze. I then spent a little bit of time checking out the rooms inside. There were a few art pieces hanging in one or two of the rooms. Although the other rooms were empty, they were also peaceful and cool. After an enjoyable visit, I headed back to town, taking a different path, which took me along a few windy roads through a beautiful area of the town.

Here's a slideshow (album) of my hike in Cortona and my visit to the Fortezza del Girifalco.

hike in Cortona

May 7, 2008

more photos of Cortona

view from the bus stop:

another view from the bus stop - the Santa Maria Nuova Church:

shop in Cortona:

Teatro Signorelli (scenes from the movie Life is Beautiful/La vita è bella were filmed here):

i dolci (sweets):

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May 13, 2008

photos of Arezzo

While in Cortona, I took a daytrip to Arezzo, a place I have wanted to see since seeing the movie, Life is Beautiful. I wrote about my visit, "the men of Cortona & Arezzo" while traveling last summer. Here are some photos to go with the post.

The Duomo was HUGE!! Too bad it was closed when I arrived.


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July 13, 2008

daytrip to Florence & a wonderful lunch with friends in Empoli

Tuesday, July 8th

My plan for Tuesday was to take the train to Florence, spend some time there walking around, taking photos, and then take another train to Empoli to visit with my friends Francesco and Irene and their family and then after taking the train back to Florence, spend more time in Florence before heading back to Bologna for my dinner at Ristorante Teresina. I had not been to Florence since 2001 and have not seen my friends in Empoli for two years.

After breakfast, I asked the man at the hotel desk where I could find the bus stop for the 32 or 33 bus. He told me that I should take the 29 or 30 bus since it was much faster. I went in search of the stop for either the 29 or 30. I was close to one of the stops when the bus drove by. Because the woman at the bus info place did not mention that either of these buses went to the train station and said something about having to change buses if I took a different bus besides the 32 or 33, I decided to look for one of those bus stops instead.

Once I was on the busy road where the circolare buses traveled, I saw the bus stop. It was actually pretty easy to find. I was mad at myself for listening to the man at the desk because the bus drove by before I reached the bus stop and I would have made that bus if I just went to that bus stop in the beginning. Instead I had to wait 15 more minutes for another bus. My next problem was trying to figure out which stop to get off at on this bus since I was told that it did not stop right at the train station. I took out my map and followed along watching the street names. A couple got on the bus a couple of stops before the train station stop. That was a good sign since I figured they were getting off at the train station. After all my anxiety about not knowing what stop to get off at, it was very obvious when we reached the train station stop.

I joined the big crowd of people crossing the street when the walk light turned green. I went to one of the automatic ticket machine to buy my ticket. All the seats were sold out for the train I wanted and only 1st class tickets were available for the next train (just about all the trains to Florence were Eurostar – expensive trains). I bought my ticket and then waited. Since I was there, I also bought my ticket for Friday to head to Coccaglio.

The train ride was fast (1 hour). Because quite a few people were getting off the train in Florence, the line went back into the car. I ended up standing right in the doorway. At one point the electric door started to close on me. I was stuck in the door and couldn’t figure out how to open it. A very nice man pushed the button to get me out of the stuck door. I squished my way out of the doorway for the rest of the wait.

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May 29, 2009

the leaning tower... I am finally going to climb it!!!

I have been to Pisa twice.

The first time was in 1999 during my very first trip to Europe. I stopped there on my way to Lucca after leaving Vernazza (Cinque Terre). When arriving at the train station, I locked my bags up in a storage locker, took the bus to the Piazza dei Miracoli, and saw la Torre pendente di Pisa (the Leaning Tower of Pisa) for the very first time. Although I was thrilled to see this amazing tower in person, I was also quite shocked by the *Disneyland atmosphere* of the area. The place was packed with tourists and silly little stands selling trinkets. I knew in advance that the tower was closed for climbing but I still had to at least see it in person. I did not spend much time in Pisa during that visit although I did take a quick peek inside the Cathedral and the Baptistery.

The following year, I returned to Pisa on a daytrip from Vernazza. During this visit, I spent more time inside the Cathedral, I heard the the custodian on duty demonstrate the echo effects inside the Baptistery, and I visited one of the museums (I believe it was the Opera Museum). I had a wonderful time that day. I still however did not veer outside of the Piazza dei Miracoli except to take the bus back to the train station. Again the tower was unfortunately not open for climbing.

This summer I am very excited about returning to Pisa for a daytrip while staying in Lucca AND I am going to finally climb the Leaning Tower of Pisa, the most famous tower in all of Italy!!

If I have counted correctly, I have climbed 23 towers in Italy. This is not counting the towers that are only accessible by elevator, the towers which in my book do not really count as towers to climb like the tower I visited last year in Genova. I have also climbed the church domes of the Duomo in Florence and St. Peter's Basilica. Someday, I will do a post about all of the towers I have climbed.

I need to make a reservation to climb the Leaning Tower of Pisa. I am thinking of doing a 7pm climb. A climb at dusk was recommended to me by a few fellow Slow Travelers on the Slow Travel Board. I am hoping 7 pm will be a good time. That way, I can get back to Lucca for dinner and I won't have to worry about missing the last train back to Lucca that evening.

Not only am I extremely excited about climbing this very famous tower but I am also excited to finally explore more of Pisa. Gloria (fellow Slow Traveler) has written wonderful information about what to do in Pisa on her Behind the Tower blog. She has also written this great article: Pisa, More than the Leaning Tower! for Slow Travel. The best part is that I am also planning to meet Gloria the afternoon of my visit to Pisa for a gelato and a walk around Pisa. That is like the icing in the cake!!! I have so enjoyed all of Gloria's posts over the years on Slow Travel and am very excited to finally meet her in person.

This is a photo I took back in 1999 during my very first visit to Pisa (with a film camera). I must have tipped my camera to one side while taking this photo in order to make the tower level (like a good photographer should). I had no idea I did this until I returned home and had my photos developed! This is the scanned version of my photo, which I then adjusted to make the tower lean again using Photoshop Elements.


Happy Weekend everyone!!!

June 25, 2009

men in tights

Wednesday, June 24th:
After checking into my wonderful B&B and unpacking, I headed out to explore Florence. My first stop was GROM for some gelato. I wandered around a little bit and then headed back to catch the parade of men in tights and a few cute little boys also with flags and drums as part of the Festa di San Giovanni (Festival of Saint John the Baptist). Every year, on 24 June, Florence celebrates the feast of its patron, San San Giovanni. A huge crowd lined the parade route in Piazza Signoria. I managed to work my way in to get a few shots.










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June 26, 2009

a visit to Palazzo Vecchio

Thursday, June 25th:
The breakfast room at my B&B is located on the 3rd floor. There is one long table where all the guests sit...

and a wonderful view of Piazza Signoria from the window.

I had a plate of fresh fruit, a fried egg (which came with a little pancake), a brioche,some bread, fresh squeezed orange juice and a caffè machiato. Delicious and very filling!! There was also a chocolate cake that many of the other guests enjoyed as well as yogurt. I had an nice chat with some of the guests (a family from Philadelphia, a couple from Canada, and a woman from Sweden).

After breakfast, I headed out to the Piazza Signoria and decided to go inside the Palazzo Vecchio.

I visited this beautiful palace (which also houses the office of the mayor of Florence) during my first visit to Florence. After purchasing my ticket, I inquired about the sign for the Secret Passage tour. This tour cost 2 euro more and was a guided tour for a small group and required a reservation. There was still room left for this tour and I would have one hour to explore the palace before the tour started.

The last time I toured this palace, it was really crowded. I remember being pushed almost into the wall in some of the rooms by other tourists. This time, I arrived before the crowds.

I had a wonderful time exploring the many rooms of the palace, admiring all of the amazing art.





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the Bargello, rain, pizza, and more gelato

Friday, June 26th:
I enjoyed another filling breakfast at my B&B. Great food and new people to meet. After breakfast, I went out looking for a bancomat (atm machine). I found a few nearby but for some reason, none of them were working.

The skies were pretty gray. I went back for my raincoat and headed to the Bargello, my favorite museum in Florence. It started to rain just as I arrived. Photos are no longer allowed inside the museum rooms which was disappointing. Even so, I was very excited to see the Donatello David again. This is my very favorite sculpture in Florence. The detail of this bronze sculpture is amazing. I stood and stared at this David for quite a while. I also watched an Interesting video of how he was recently restored.

At least I was able to take photos in the courtyard.





After walking through the rest of the museum, I headed to the Oltrano area to have lunch at Trattoria St. Agostino. I ordered panzanella (a famous Tuscan bread and tomato salad). I decided to order a pasta after I finished the salad. The waiter told me he knew of the perfect pasta for me. He brought out a pasta dish with pici (thick pasta noodles) and red peppers and some sort of crusted bread crumbs. I thought it was just was ok (a little too salty for my taste). I am finding that much of the food in Florence seems to be quite salty. I am not sure if this is typical of Tuscan food, just what I have ordered so far, or due to the fact that I don't cook with salt at home.

As I headed back towards Piazza Signoria, I noticed that the sky was black. Just as I was crossing the Alla Carraia bridge it started to rain again. As I headed back towards the piazza, I searced for a bancomat that was working. I finally found one not far from Grom. Naturally, I could not pass up a gelato.

Right after I ordered my gelato (nocciola and pistacchio), it started to rain a little bit harder. Grom was too crowded to stand inside. Florence does not have many covered areas. As I walked back towards my B&B, I held my hand over my gelato, trying to cover it from the rain while eating it as fast as I could.

I returned to my B&B just in time. A few mintues later the skies opened up and it started to pour with thunder and lightening. I hung out watching a little TV and then took another long nap.

I was still pretty full from breakfast and lunch and decided to have pizza for dinner. Instead of giving Yellow Bar another try, I headed to Pizzeria Il Pizzaiuolo for dinner. I have eaten here twice during past trips to Florence. This is where my friends Francesco and Irene took me when we first met in 1999. After about a 20 minute wait, I was seated. I ordered the caprese pizza (pizza with fresh mozzarella, tomato slices, and basil). Sooooo good!!! I love eating at this place. It is lively and fun and I have always been treated well. If only it was not such a far walk, although I think it was good for me to walk off dinner after eating so much food since I have arrived in Florence. My stomach feels like it is going to burst after every meal!

So...I am all caught up. Thank you for all of your comments. I am hoping for sun tomorrow although the weather forecast is for more rain and thunderstorms. I am glad I brought warm clothes. It is chilly here!


June 28, 2009

fabulous daytrip to Arezzo

*I am writing most of this post about my fabulous day in Arezzo from trains heading to Arezzo and then back to Florence.

Saturday, June 27th:
Ate a quick breakfast Saturday morning. Weather forecast says rain at noon in Florence, Siena, and Arezzo.  Decided to head to the train station to take a daytrip, hoping for nice weather (or at least no rain) for the morning hours.

It was an easy 15 minute walk to the train station.  When I arrived, I decided on going to Arezzo since that was my original planned first stop in Italy this summer.  

There were 2 trains - the 9:08 train, which had a few more stops and would take longer to arrive in Arezzo and the 9:13 train that is quicker, heads to Roma and stops in Arezzo along the way. Of course just when the slower 9:08 train departed, the partenza (departure) board announced that the quicker 9:13 train would be 40 minutes late!

I noticed that the board indicated that another train left for Arezzo at 9:33.  I checked with one of the automatic ticket machines (going through the steps to purchase a ticket) to see if my ticket price was the same for the 9:33 train and then double checked with a train person and am now sitting on this train typing this while waiting for this train to leave.

Yay! The train's engine is revving up and we are leaving on time!!

Well I am not sure how brilliant that plan was. I only arrived 3 minutes faster than the quicker 40 minutes late train arrived.  

The weather was overcast with the sun peeking in here and there when I arrived.  The main street leading up to the historical center is called Corso Italia.  It is a pedestrian only street and it was packed.  It reminded me of the afternoon passiagiata that takes place all over Italy.  People were out greeting each other and going in and out of the various stores.  

I was tempted to check out a few stores but only had an hour or so before the churches I wanted to visit closed until opening again late in the afternoon. The last time I was in Arezzo, I missed out going inside the Duomo and I did not want to miss it again.

I stopped in a couple of other churches along the way before reaching the Duomo which is located at the top of the hill. When I went inside, I discovered a wedding taking place. I usually only stay for a minute or two when there is a wedding occurring but this time I stayed, watching the rest of the ceremony.

Most of the mass was completed.  What I saw was the personal touch to their ceremony.  It was such a joyous occasion that it brought tears to my eyes a few times during the ceremony.


I have to go off topic for a moment to mention that it is now pouring outside and I can see lightening and hear thunder crackling!  I wonder if sitting in a metal train car is a good thing to be doing when there is lightening happening.  I don't think I have shared this before but I am terrified of thunder and lightening storms.

The train just stopped in Incisa.  Has anyone heard of this town before?  

Ok storm has passed, back to my day in Arezzo.

Not only was the wedding beautiful, but the Duomo itself is quite a gem.  There is a famous Piero della Francesco fresco in this church.

While watching the end of the wedding ceremony, I met a lovely couple from Bologna. We chatted for quite a while.  

In Italy, the bride and groom leave the church last.  I wanted to make sure to get out of the church before the bride and groom headed for the door.  All their friends and family were waiting outside with large containers of rice.  

After watching everyone throw rice at the bride and groom, I headed towards Piazza Grande.  This piazza was made famous from the movie Life Is Beautiful.  The sun was shining and the piazza was even more beautiful than I even imagined it could be.  The last time I was in Arezzo, there were barriors set up in the piazza ruining the perfect photo opportunities.




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June 29, 2009

a tower, a marching band, and a gtg

I am now in Lucca : ) Free wifi but no computer - so blog posts from iPod Touch...

The beginning of this post was written while on the train from Firenze to Lucca and the rest of this post was written while sitting in the lobby/breakfast room/general shared area of my B&B in Lucca waiting for my room to be ready. (Photos were added later)

Saturday, June 27th:
Earlier in the week, I saw this beautiful purple pashmina hanging on the door of one of the shops heading towards Piazza Santa Croce. I wasn't sure what shops would be open on Sunday so I went back early Saturday evening hoping that the shop would be open. It was already closed when I got there.

I wandered around the area and then went over one of the bridges and walked around the Oltrano side of Florence for a little while. The sun was beginning to set and it started to rain again.  I took some photos of the Ponte Vecchio bridge and then headed back towards my B&B for dinner.

View looking the opposite way:

I decided to try dei Frescobaldi, which was located right next to my B&B. I would give this place 5 stars for the food, but this place loses a few points in my book because it is one of the places where it seems to seat all of the Italians on one room and all of the foreigners in another room. I even asked if I could sit in the other room and was told that I needed a reservation. To confirm my suspicion, I walked past the window of the room where I saw a couple of free tables and one of the tables was still free.

However, the food and service were both wonderful. I ordered a pumpkin ravioli with a butter, sage, and crunchy amaretto sauce. It was one of those "wow" type of reactions when I took the first bite. I would have ordered more food but I was still full from lunch. I only had just enough room for a gelato.  I went back to Grom and discovered the perfect combination - caffe & pistacchio.  

I was really tired Saturday night and fell asleep right after returning to my B&B. I was awakened suddenly at 2 am by the rude people staying in the room next door. They had the TV blaring so loudly that I could hear every word as if it was on in my room. They also were very loud and kept me awake until 3:30 am. I even tried drowning out the sound with my iPod but nothing worked.

Sunday, June 28th:
The skies were blue and the weather was perfect for my last day in Florence. After breakfast, I climbed my first tower of 2009 - the Giotto Bell Tower, which is located next to the Duomo. There are 414 or 494 steps to the top (I can't remember which now).

Although it is a tall tower, there are many stops along the way (various levels of the tower) where you can stop to catch your breath I was at the very top of the tower when the bells started to ring all over Florence. It was incredible!!

I took a little video that I hope comes out. While on the level below where the bells are located, the bells began to ring. I think I might have lost a few decibels of hearing, but stood right there videoing the bells ringing. I spent about an hour and a half hanging out on the different levels of this tower.

Views from the tower:




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first day in Lucca

Monday, June 29th:
Monday morning, I had an early breakfast, said goodbye to the people at my B&B in Florence, and took a taxi to the train station.  

The train to Lucca was a new modern regional train and it was on time!  Although somewhere along the way. it became behind schedule.  There were not many people taking this train, which was nice because that meant I did not have to worry about storing my luggage.

All of the trains I have been on so far announce the next stop in advance and this train also had digital signs in each end of each car telling the speed of the train, the temperature inside and outside the train, the next stop, if the bathroom was free or occupied, and how many minutes the train was late.  

When we arrived in Lucca, I had to carry my luggage down a few stairs but then was thrilled to find a ramp as an alternative to taking the stairs back up to the exit area. There was a taxi waiting right outside the train station.  The taxi cost €7.  

I arrived before my room was ready.  The woman running the B&B gave me a map and pointed out many of the recommended places to visit in Lucca,  including the two towers that can be climbed after I told her of my tower obsession.  

Once my room was ready, I unpacked my things and then headed out to find somewhere to eat lunch.  I immediately became lost, but it did not take me that long to figure out my way around using my map. 

I had lunch at Ristorante Pizzeria K2.  I ordered a delicious caprese salad and a pizza margherita with peperoni (peppers) added.  I thought about telling the waitress that I was aware that peperoni meant the vegetable - peppers and not the meat, but did not. About a minute after she took my order, she came back to make sure I understood that peperoni meant the vegetable and not the meat.  

The caprese salad was the melt in your mouth kind.

The pizza was ok. I am pretty picky when it comes to pizza.

I spent a wonderful afternoon wandering around Lucca.  






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July 3, 2009

still alive in Lucca

Ciao everyone!

I am still alive here in Lucca and am having a fabulous time. I have free wifi here at my wonderful B&B but only when in the breakfast/sitting room. I do not have access to a computer and I just have not found time to slowly “one finger type” a blog post using my iPod Touch the past few days.

I will have lots of time to catch up when I take two trains (traveling to Bologna on Sunday). I will have access to a computer at my hotel in Bologna and should be able to blog more regularly. I head to Bologna on Sunday

Pisa was wonderful. Climbing the tower was one of my top 10 experiences in Italy.

I will write more soon. Thanks for all of your comments. Hope all is well with everyone.


July 6, 2009

my amazing tower climb in Pisa

Tuesday, June 30th:
After arriving in Pisa at the little train station, I headed straight for the Piazza dei Miracoli (also known as the Campo dei Miracoli) where the tower as well as the beautiful cathedral and baptistery are located. Even though there are tons of tourist shops set up and many visitors in this piazza, it is still incredibly beautiful. I walked around and took a few photos. I then walked over to the ticket office, well marked and is located at the end of this long beautiful orangeish yellow building, to see if I could pick up my reserved tower ticket early.

There was no line when I arrived at the ticket office. I showed the man my reservation paper and he gave me my ticket. It felt like holding gold in my hands! I could already feel the excitement building.

Since my reservation was not until 5:40 in the afternoon, my plan was to visit the city of Pisa and then return later in the day to visit the other sites near the tower. I decided I might as well purchase a cumulative ticket while I was there. Of the many options, I decided on visiting the Baptistery, the Cathedral, and the Museo dell'Opera del Duomo (all sites I have visited back in 2000). The man told me I made a good choice visiting the Museo dell'Opera del Duomo .

I noticed when I was leaving the ticket office that the sun was located perfectly for some nice photos of the Baptistery. I also saw that it was close to 11:30. I timed it perfectly. Every 30 minutes, the doors of the Baptistery are closed and a man sings or chants a few vowel sounds and the entire place echos. I timed it perfectly. This is the second time I have seen this. I took a little video and will post it later on when I return home.

After leaving the Baptistery, I headed towards some of the streets Gloria from Slow Travel indicated in her article, Pisa - The Town Today. Pisa is a wonderful town. Piazza dei Cavalieri is a beautiful square and should not be missed. There are many interesting streets and buildings in Pisa. I took tons of photos during my 90 minute walk through this city before meeting Gloria for lunch. We enjoyed a wonderful lunch at
Osteria i Santi. I ordered a delicious spaghetti with seafood dish.

After lunch, we walked around a bit and she showed me some of her beautiful city. I was so fortunate and am very grateful to Gloria for the time we spent together. It is wonderful getting to see a town from a local's perspective. I walked with her across the river to meet her husband. I said goodbye to Gloria and thanked her and then headed back over the the river.

It started to sprinkle off and on. I began to worry that the weather would turn nasty and my view from the top would not be very good. I wandered down some more streets to check out more of the buildings Gloria pointed out, got lost at one point, and took lots of photos along the way.

As I arrived back at the Piazza dei Miracoli, the weather started to clear up. The sun was behind the tower in the morning so I did not take many photos of the tower yet. I went to a few spots where there are great views of the tower as it leans. I took some photos (I think I took 4 GB total of my day in Pisa) and then went inside the Museo dell'Opera del Duomo. This is a beautiful little museum, which houses quite a few treasures. There are also very unique views of the tower from the courtyard of this museum.

It was now getting close to my reservation time. I went back over to the ticket area where there is a set of guarded lockers to leave all of your bags, purses, etc. during your tower climb. After putting all of my belongings except for my ticket and my camera inside the locker, I sat on the bench and waited. I was early but was surprised no one else was showing up to wait. Good thing I asked at one point where I was supposed to be waiting. I was told that I needed to wait at the entrance of the tower for the tour. I thought that the meeting point was at the locker site. When I got to the tower entrance, there was a small group of people waiting. Time moved very slowly for the next 10 minutes.

Finally, it was our turn to go into the tower. It was sort of a mad rush at first as people started down the few steps to the entrance. I waited patiently until someone let me into the line. I was surprised that a guide was not joining us. I savored every step as I walked up the first set of steps of the tower. The steps are circular and I believe are made of the same stone that the tower is built out of. Many of the steps have indentations on one side where I guess everyone tends to step due to the lean. I really could not feel that much of a lean. There were a few little openings along the way with great views. You can see how the tower is tilting more from the windows. When you hold your camera straight, the horizon is not straight.

About half way or maybe three quarters of the way up, there is a doorway that leads out the the outside of the tower (of course there is a barrier so that you won't fall off the tower). A woman with a badge, who was not very friendly, was standing at the opening. Everyone was told to walk around the tower. There is a walkway at this opening that circles the tower from the outside with a netting on the outside. When you get to the end, there is a gate and you have to return back to the doorway. I figured out later on that this is the point where the people from the previous tour are descending while all of us on the present tour are climbing up to the top. The woman could have just explained this to us (that this is the waiting point) instead of confusing everyone.

Finally, we were allowed to climb the rest of the way to the top. This was the best part of the climb. The lean of the tower was a little more evident but not again as much as I imagined. The next doorway leads back out to the edge. There are a few steps at this point that are a little spooky to step out onto and this was the only spot that was a "whoa!" moment. This is the level with all of the bells and was my favorite spot to stand and admire the view and the structure of the tower.

As I started to take a few photos, this guy in a blue uniform told me that I should go to the top (one short flight up) because I only had limited time. I walked up the narrow set of stairs and stood at the very top of the tower. There is a flag at the top of the tower and you can really see how one side is lower than the other, although I don't think it really shows in the photos. There is a guard rail around the tower so no one can fall off. I took a few photos and then went back down to the bell level while everyone else stayed at the top. I think there were about 12 people in my group.

I spent the rest of the time taking photos of the bells and the view from this level. I asked the guy in the blue uniform to take a photo of me by one of the bells and then I snuck a photo of him. He was very nice. We ended up chatting for a short while before our time was up. I lingered a little bit longer at each window on the way down, taking a few more photos. I would have stayed up there for hours if I could have. The climb definitely ranks up there as one of my to 10 experiences in Italy. I will definitely post photos when I return home.

Before heading back to the train station, I still had the Cathedral to visit. The inside of this church is definitely worth a visit. I took a few photos but am not sure how well they came out as it was pretty dark inside.

As I walked towards the porta (door) that is one of the the entrances to the Piazza dei Miracoli, I took a little video of the area and a few more photos. I could have stayed there for a few more hours but wanted to get back to Lucca before dinner time. If you read my train post, you know but my fall...

After returning to my B&B, cleaning up my cut on my knee, and icing my knee and my foot, I went back to Trattoria da "Leo" for dinner. I was surprised that the owners remembered my name. I was greeted with a friendly Ciao! I ordered fettuccine alle melenzane (spaghetti with eggplant and a tomato based sauce). It was sooooo good!

Perfect way to end a wonderful day in Pisa.

July 9, 2009

two bike rides and two towers

Wednesday, July 1st:
Wednesday morning, I awoke to a very sore jaw, knee, and foot. The swelling was down some on my foot though so that was good. I enjoyed another fabulous breakfast at my B&B. So far the best breakfasts have been at B&B La Romea in Lucca (although the coffee is from a moka and I prefer coffee made from espresso machine). No big problem though, this gives me a chance to experience the morning bar scene.

I originally planned to climb one of the two towers in Lucca but decided to put that off with my foot situation. Instead after stopping for a caffè macchiato at the beautiful bar on Via Filungo, I walked to one of the bike rental shops near the wall. I figured that riding a bike would take some of the weight off of my foot and still allow me to enjoy the sights in Lucca.

The cost of renting a bike in Lucca is 2.50 euros. You leave your passport with the guy at the bike shop and then pay when you return.

I had a wonderful time riding around the wall, stopping many times to take photos along the way. The weather was perfect! I am not sure how, but at one point I stepped in dog shit. I was wearing my new Nike sneakers since they provided me with the most cushioning. Of course there were many knooks and crannies in the bottom of these sneakers. I tried my best to clean most of it off with a stick but my sneaker still reaked of the smell.

I stumbled upon a fabulous little pizzeria called Bella 'Mbriana near the bike shop rental after returning my bike. This pizzeria is a serve yourself pizzeria. You order at the counter and then pick up your pizza when it comes out of the brick oven. I ordered a pizza margherita (mozzarella cheese and tomato sauce) adding peppers (peperoni). The pizza was delicious!

After I left the pizzeria, I went to the gelateria recommended by my B&B (something Venata I think). I ordered nocciola and caffè. It was just ok. I think I have been spoiled by Grom.

Dark clouds started moving in soon after I left the gelateria. I made it back to my B&B just before it started to rain. It took me quite a bit of time to get the smell and remnants of the dog doo doo out of the little crevices in my sneaker.

Once done cleaning my sneaker, I did some laundry and then took a much needed afternoon nap while it rained outside.

I decided on trying Ristorante da Francesco for dinner. I was a bit disappointed with this restaurant. I ordered ravioli with a tomato sauce. Again, I think I was spoiled with the wonderful food I have been eating at Trattoria da "Leo".

Thursday, July 2nd:
There are many towers in Lucca, and two that can be climbed.  In 1999 during my first visit to Lucca, I climbed my very first tower ever - the Torre Guinigi. This tower I believe is the only tower with trees growing on the top. Even though my foot was still pretty sore, the towers were calling my name. I figured I would climb one tower on Thursday and one on Friday.

Because my foot was pretty sore and I was not sure if I would make it up both towers, I decided to climb the Torre delle Ore first. My B&B was located between the two towers and not far from each.

The Torre delle Ore is a clock and bell tower. The bells ring every 15 minutes, although strangely the time was always off when the bells rang while I was there. At first I thought there was something wrong with my watch when I heard the bells ring until another person mentioned how the bells always rang at strange times.

There is a little doorway at the bottom of the tower that is open during the day. There are also two flags hanging outside the tower when it is open (I guess so people can find the tower). A girl was selling tickets at the bottom of the tower. She told me that if I planned to climb both towers, I could buy a cumulative ticket which was cheaper. She wasn't positive, but thought I needed to climb both during the same day with this ticket.

I am a sap for towers with or without a sore foot and could not pass up this deal. I asked her how many steps there were for each tower. Both were in the 200's (I believe the Torre Guinigi has 230 steps and I am not sure about Torre delle Ore). She said that although the Torre Guinigi (tower with the Oak trees at the top) is shorter, it has more steps because the Torre delle Ore is much more narrow.

I have to say that the Torre delle Ore was one of my least favorite climbs. The steps are old and a few freaked me out a little as they creaked and looked like they could snap. I was glad some little kid was not up there jumping on all of the steps. At one point during the climb up, pigeons flew out of little crevices and I screamed (imagine a mellow version of The Birds). There was also lots of pigeon droppings and feathers everywhere.

The views at the top however were spectacular! Just as I was about to take a photo, the bells started ringing. I jumped! I immediately set my camera to video to record the bells ringing. I didn't get much video though as they stopped ringing right after I started videoing them. They don't ring very long. I was all alone during my climb up, time at the top, and climb down. After limping up and down the tower, I figured what the heck, I might as well do the second tower since it was such a beautiful day.

The Torre Guinigi is a much easier climb (even though there are more stairs). The first half of the stairs are inside a building. Along the way, there are illustrations on the walls showing some of the history of Lucca. After reaching the top floor of the building, there is a door that is open with metal stairs. It still was a pretty easy climb although at least a little more "towerish" as climbs go. There were many people climbing this tower and it was quite crowded at the top. There were even a few workers at the top working on the soil (I was told the trees are sick). The views are also wonderful at the top of this tower.

When comparing the two towers, I would say that the views were just as good at the top of both towers, the the Torre Guinigi climb was nicer (no creaking stairs and birds flying out at you) and it is very cool seeing trees at the top of this tower, but I preferred the peacefulness at the top of the Torre delle Ore.

Wow, two towers in one day! Very cool! My foot was super sore at this point. I stopped at a pasticceria near my B&B (and also near the Torre Guinigi for a caffé macchiato and a sweet rice filled pastry.

I had such a wonderful time riding around the wall the day before and was not able to do much else with my foot hurting so I decided to gather up some food for a picnic lunch and rent a bike again. I stopped in the little supermercato nearby to buy some fruit and yogurt for lunch. I also stopped in a little shop selling fabulous panzanella (bread salad) and some sort of chicken salad (bought a little bit of each) and then went to one of the bike rental shops. I had a wonderful lunch on the wall and then rode around the wall.

I ended up walking much more than I planned on Thursday. After returning my bike, I wandered through a different area of Lucca that I had not been to yet and checked out the big stage being set up for the summer concerts that I was missing by one night. By the time I finally returned to my B&B, I was exhausted.

I had a wonderful dinner at Prosciutto e Melone, a restaurant located just outside of one of the openings of the Piazza dell'Anfiteatro. I ordered Caprese conbufala campana in millefoglie con pesto di basilico (a sort of caprese salad with crunchy bread and basil sauce) and Spaghetti allo scoglio (spaghetti with seafood. Both were fabulous. I took photos of both and hope both come out. A rock band was playing in the Piazza dell'Anfiteatro. I stopped to watch the band for a few minutes but did not stay long as it was starting to sprinkle out and it was chilly (for me).

Long day! I headed back to my B&B and crashed.

Two more days of Lucca to catch up on and then I will start on Bologna (which has been wonderful). I have decided to travel to Stresa on Saturday instead of Sunday to avoid the possible strike. My hotel in Stresa has the same room that I reserved available on Saturday and my hotel in Bologna was very understanding about my need to leave early. I would prefer not to leave Bologna a day early as I really love it here but no going back as I purchased my Eurostar ticket today.

Hope all is well with everyone! Ciao!!

July 11, 2009

a palazzo, a couple of churches, and dinner with dear friends

Friday, July 3rd:
Friday morning I walked back to the train station to buy my ticket for my train travel to Bologna on Sunday. I prefer to purchase my Eurostar tickets in advance whenever possible so that I don't need to worry about a train being sold out. I also don't like to have to stand in line waiting to buy the ticket the day of train travel and this train station does not have the automatic ticket machines except for the little machines for regional trains. I walked a different route back to see a little bit more of Lucca and ended up on the wall for part of my walk.

I had lunch at Trattoria da "Leo". I really enjoyed eating at this trattoria, not only for the good food but also for the service and warm welcome each time I arrived. The owners remember my name and enthusiastically say "Ciao!" each time I arrived. I ordered penne pinoli pomodoro e basilico (pasta dish with pine nuts, tomatoes, and basil) and had a slice of torta di mele (apple cake) for dessert.

In the afternoon, I visited the Palazzo Pfanner garden and residence (you have the choice of visiting one or both when you purchase the ticket - 5 euros for the combined ticket). I had not heard of this palazzo before but became curious after seeing the beautiful gardens while riding my bike around the wall. It was pretty difficult to find, but after asking a few people, I located the palazzo on a little street near the San Frediano church (Via degli Asili, 33). Thre are 14 eighteenth-century statues made of marble from Carrara that depict the gods from Mount Olympus in this garden, a fountain in the middle, lemon trees, and beautiful bushes of flowers (forget the name now but I took photos). In the residence, an antique collection of medical and surgical instruments which belonged to Dr. Pietro Pfanner (1864-1935) was displayed. Looking at these instruments made me very appreciative of our current medical system.

For dinner, I made a reservation at Buca di Sant' Antonio. This restaurant is located near the San Michele church. Before dinner, I walked around a few of the streets near Buca di Sant' Antonio and discovered the panificio I remembered visiting in 1999 during my first visit to Lucca. I was pretty excited to find this place. I took a few photos of it back in 1999 and remembered the very kind man that worked there.

I had a wonderful dinner at Buca di Sant' Antonio. I ordered ravioli di ricotta alle zucchine (ravioli filled with ricotta cheese saute topped with grated zucchini and a few cherry tomatoes), capretto nostrale allo spiedo con patate arrosto e sformato di carciofi (baby goat cooked on the spit with potatoes and artichoke pudding), and fragole con panna (strawberries in fresh whipped cream) for dessert. The goat meat was good but strange to eat as I have not eaten meat like that in a long time. I sat next to a very nice family from Philadelphia and enjoyed our conversation during dinner. I was soooo stuffed when leaving Buca di Sant' Antonio.

When I returned to my B&B, Francesco (my friend from Empoli) called and confirmed our dinner Saturday night in Lucca. His family was staying in a little town near Viareggio. We had been in contact and hoped to meet while I was in Lucca since he would not be in Empoli while I was in Florence. I walked back to Trattoria da "Leo" to make a reservation for Saturday night and then went back to my B&B and called it a night.

Saturday, July 4th:
Saturday, I visited two of the very important churches in Lucca, the church of San Giovanni, which was built in the 12th century and partially remodeled in the 17th century but still has some Romanesque features and the main cathedral, San Martino.

Inside the church of San Giovanni, you can go underground to see the archaeological excavations dating from the first century BC through the eleventh century AD including Roman remains, part of an early Christian church, and a medieval crypt. Very cool!!

After enjoying my interesting visit to the San Giovanni church, I walked over to Lucca's main cathedral, San Martino, which is located just around the corner from the San Giovanni church. Unfortunately no photos are allowed inside this church, which is too bad as there are a couple of amazing sights - the Volto Santo and the 15th century tomb Ilaria del Carretto, a masterpiece by Jacopo della Quercia.

Next to the cathedral is an interesting museum I also visited. There is a cumulativo ticket you can purchase for 6 euros to visit the ruins, the museum, and part of the cathedral where the Ilaria tomb is located.

I went to Da Felice for lunch. I ordered both a slice of cecina pizza and a slice of pizza margherita. The pizza margherita was surprisingly good for a place that sells pizza by the slice. I thought the cecina pizza was just ok (it was a little too bland for my taste). After lunch, I went back to my B&B and packed and hung out for most of the afternoon at my B&B.

Saturday evening I met my dear friends from Empoli - Francesco & Irene and their two children, Sara & Gabriele. We walked around Lucca for a bit and then went to Trattoria da "Leo" for dinner. I ordered spaghetti aglio, olio, e peperoncini, which was delicious!

We walked over to Gelateria Santini for dessert. I thought the gelato was good there but the woman serving the gelato was not very friendly. When I asked for a taste of the pesca (peach), she gave me a not so nice look. Francesco also noticed the look and thought her attitude was pretty bad.

I had a wonderful evening catching up and spending time together with Francesco, Irene and their two children. I was amazed at how much they grew in one year. Sara is quite the little lady now at age 5 and Gabriele who is almost three has a fun personality. Our visit was much too short but it was so nice of them to drive over to Lucca to spend the evening with me.

Lucca started showing films in a little piazza on Wednesday of the week I arrived. The cost if 5 euros. The Millionaire was playing Saturday night. It took me a while to figure out that The Millionaire was the Italian name for Slumdog Millionaire. Strange that the Italian name would be an English name but still a different name. I arrived just as the little boy was in the outhouse. It was fun watching this movie in Italian. I have seen it before and so I could understand much of the movie (some of the dialogue in Italian, and of course the storyline).

I had a fabulous time in Lucca. I could have stayed there for weeks and was sad to leave after 6 nights but also excited to return to Bologna.

**I am now in Stresa and the computer at this hotel is crazy! I am not sure how much I will be posting from here. I might end up trying to use my iPod Touch instead to do some posts. Well, I am off to have dinner.


September 26, 2009

"twisted"~ PhotoHunt






(close-ups of the Duomo in Florence ~ June 2009)

October 27, 2009

mystery door

*Answer revealed at the end of this post...

No, this is not related to the Mystery Date game (for those old enough to remember).

I chose the title mystery door because I wanted to see if anyone can guess where this door in Florence is located. This is the same door (different shot) as the second photo in my last post - "tied"~ PhotoHunt.


I cropped the second photo from my last post so you can see the detail a little better.


And if anyone knows more about the history of this door, I am curious about the story of the one panel on the door that is carved like a flower. I tried googling this door but came up empty.


Flashing Star Woo Hoo!!! Sandra guessed the mystery door location!! :)

This was going to be my next clue...

These flags fly over this door.


The mystery door is...

the *other door* of the Palazzo Vecchio.

Can you spot the door in this photo of the Palazzo Vecchio?


November 7, 2009

"veterans/military"~ PhotoHunt


Sunday morning, after climbing the Giotto's Bell Tower (in Florence, Italy), I heard band music playing nearby. The band turned out to be the Rossa Italiana Corpa Militare Band. They were closing out the Calcio Storico event that took place a few days earlier in the week. After watching the band play for a few minutes, it started to march. Everyone followed the band. It was really alot of fun. The band marched around the block from the Piazza della Repubblica towards the Duomo and then back to the Piazza della Repubblica.


Somehow, I ended right up in the front and was able to video the band marching. Here's a little video clip I took. Towards the end of the clip, check out the cute kid and his mother's expression as she realizes that I am taking video of him marching along with the band.

Continue reading ""veterans/military"~ PhotoHunt" »

November 28, 2009

"technology"~ PhotoHunt


Technology of the Torre delle Ore clock tower in Lucca and how the bells ring…







Continue reading ""technology"~ PhotoHunt" »

March 13, 2010

"spriral"~ PhotoHunt


Two of my favorite tower climbs have spiral staircases:

This staircase leads to the top of the Clock Tower (Torre dell'Orologio) in Venice.

This staircase leads up to the top of the Leaning Tower of Pisa (Torre pendente di Pisa).

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