Destination Florence and Pisa – (The Finale, The Italian Trilogy)

Destination Florence (The Finale) the last blog post from my Italy escapade. I kicked off the trilogy with a trip in Venice, then Milan and now Florence (Firenze). There were some breath-taking in-between transit stops and it all fell into place so well.

Had 3 days to spare in Florence, decided to add PISA to the mix. Besides the fact that Florence is the capital of the Tuscan region of Italy, home to many masterpieces of Renaissance art, it’s rich in history and Architectural marvel. Below are some fun facts:-

  1. Italian Gelato was invented in Florence! It was the Florentine architect who in 1565 made the first frozen dessert considered as Italian Gelato.
  2. Florence was the first city with paved streets in Europe.
  3. Opera was created in Florence.
  4. Florence is the Birthplace of the Piano, Invented by Bartolomeo Cristofori in the 18th Century.
  5. Home to Pinocchio.

Site Seeing in Florence

Day 1

Ponte Vecchio

Ponte Vecchio

Legend has it that during WWII Hitler prevented the destruction of Ponte Vecchio. The bridge is the oldest and has become the most iconic landmark in Florence and crosses over the Arno River. This medieval stone bridge still preserves its original characteristic with shops built along with it. The bridge was initially occupied by Butchers but today you will find art dealers, jewellers and souvenirs.

Piazza della Signoria

The Piazza della Signoria is the heart of the city for Florentines. It has been the political center of Florence since the 14th century, a site for political rallies, festivals, and ceremonial events. You’ll find several iconic Florence tourist attractions: Palazzo Vecchio (Florence townhall), the Neptune Fountain, the Uffizi Gallery (a prominent art museum), the Loggia dei Lanzi (corner building with wide arches), and copies of statues by Michelangelo and Donatello.

The Palazzo Vecchio

Because I’m a secret Liker of Things, I had to visit Gucci Garden – a museum dedicated to the iconic Italian fashion house. The museum is the brainchild of creative director Alessandro Michele, its a place where fashion, art and haute-cuisine meet. The space is home to an exclusive boutique offering unique pieces, the Gucci Osteria da Massimo Bottura restaurant, and the Gucci Garden Galleria exhibition area.

The Gucci Garden museum is a great concept, some great collectors items and some very questionable one. My next stop was the Cathedral of Santa Maria del Fiore.

Cathedral of Santa Maria del Fiore

This cathedral is what Saint Mark’s Basilica is to Venice and the Duomo di Milano is to Milan. Standing tall over the city with its magnificent Renaissance dome design, the Cathedral referred to as the Duomo by locals is the prominent landmark. The cathedral complex includes the Baptistery and Giotto’s Campanile and located in Piazza del Duomo, the heart of the historic center of Florence.

The tour of the cathedral which includes climbing the Dome which is known to be the largest in the world was the highlight. At the base of the dome, you walk along an interior walkway for a close-up view of “The Last Judgement.” a beautiful work of art which was started by Giorgio Vasari and completed by Federico Zuccari. From there, you continue and then step outside for incredible views of Florence.

Day 2

‘Life is getting up an hour early to live an hour more

I have this ritual when I travel of getting up before sunrise, I usually go for a run or a long walk. I use the time to discover the city while its peaceful. On my 2nd day in Florence, I decided to go for a run from Ponte Vecchio to the Piazzale Michelangelo (1,6km’s one way depending on the route).

The Piazzale Michelangelo is square with panoramic views of Florence, a great place to catch the sunrise or sunset. Unfortunately for me, the weather was not great but still made the most of it. The square is dedicated to the Renaissance sculptor Michelangelo. The 2nd copy of the statue of David is on the square.

The Galleria dell’Accademia (Accademia Gallery)

If you a lover of sculptures and art, the Galleria dell’Accademia is a must visit. The gallery houses the most famous statue in the world – the sculpture of David by Michelangelo. Photos don’t do justice to this genius work of art. Being up, close and personal with the original was awe-inspiring.

To think that David was sculpted from a single block of white marble that had been worked on more than 50 years earlier by Donatello. At that time the marble was said to have had a flaw in it and the project was abandoned.

The gallery also houses some unfinished works of Michelangelo, some beautiful old musical instruments as well as a host of beautiful artworks.

Where I ate

Food plays a big part in everyday Italian lifestyle and they have a relaxed nature in how they appreciate food. It’s all about authenticity, tradition, unique senses, aroma and most importantly family.  

Eataly

I discovered Eataly – a retail outlet dedicated to the best of Italian regional food and wine on one of my walks. You can go there for grocery shopping, coffee, lunch or dinner and it’s a one stop shop for Italian produce. Decided to treat myself to dinner at Pizza  & Cucina Restaurant that forms part of the retail outlet.

Gelatarium

Gelatariuma dream ice-cream… is indeed dreamy. This place is about eating gelato, swinging and enjoying the simple pleasures of life.

Day 3: PISA

Pisa is one of the most famous regions in Italy, its known for its iconic Leaning Tower.  The city has an array of beautiful historical buildings and beautiful scenery along the banks of the River Arno.

The Leaning Tower forms part of a complex known as The Field of Miracles and consists of four structures – the Cathedral of Pisa (Il Duomo di Pisa), the Baptistry, the Bell Tower of Pisa and the Monumental Cemetery.  The complex is located in Piazza dei Miracoli, one of the most beautiful squares in Italy.

The Tower of Pisa referred simply as the Bell Tower, or Campanile which was made famous by its noticeable tilt is the crowning glory of the complex. A climb to the top of the bell tower is a must but its not for the faint hearted. The entire experience is weird primarily because the building is tilted.

Adding PISA to my itinerary was a good call, another day well spent. I took a train back to Florence and decided to ‘treat myself’ to some Gelato. Went to Venchi, a chocolate and ice-cream haven.  The chocolate wall for me was everything.

Italy is magical, the cities I visited all rich in history and each city has its unique characteristic (Venice – the city of canals, Milan – the fashion capital, Rome – home to the Vatican and the Coliseum)

The Italian way of life is unique, the people are passionate, family is an important value and food isn’t just nourishment, it is life. There is still so much more of Italy that I want to explore, for now we reminisce on past adventures.

Stay Splendid!

La trilogia Italy (The Italy Trilogy) – Part 1 – Venice

“Italy is a dream that keeps returning for the rest of your life.”

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Italy is one of the most iconic places for one to travel. Its diverse natural landscapes, cultural heritage, authentic Italian food and lifestyle will always be a dream like no other.

Before the world went to lock-down, I got to wander through the streets of three iconic cities, admiring the architecture, churches, visiting museums, indulging in a meal and completing it with a Gelato. Always grateful that I get to relive, reminisce and share on my blog.

Thinking of making this Italy content a Trilogy, that way I can do justice to all three cities. Part 1 of the trilogy (La trilogia) will be a feature on Venice – a masterpiece of architectural beauty.

When we landed at Marco Polo Airport, our transfer was waiting to take us to the water taxi dock. The drive to the water taxi dock was short but I could not contain my excitement being picked up in a Tesla Model X. I LOVE Tesla’s especially the Model X.

Tesla Model X

water taxi

Venice, sometimes referred as ‘The City of Water’ relies on a series of waterways and canals. It’s quiet a unique experience watching the entire water taxi system work so effortlessly.

The city is situated on 118 small islands that are separated by canals and linked by more than 400 bridges, earning the city one of its nicknames – “The City of Bridges.”

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What we did?

Venice is filled with things to do, from the standard tourist attractions, to visiting a gallery or taking a water taxi to the neighbouring islands.

Our hotel was a mere 500m from St Marks Square also called Piazza San Marco. This is the city’s main public square, the heartbeat of Venice. Its a great place to start as you can explore some famous landmarks.

1.St Marks Basilica – Basilica di San Marco

  • The most famous and most recognisable of all the churches in the city of Venice. Its architecture, a mixture of Byzantine, Roman and Venetian. The exterior of the basilica is quite ornate, and one cannot help but admire its gleaming, golden byzantine mosaics.

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2.St Mark’s Campanile – The bell tower of St Mark’s Basilica

  • One of the most recognisable structure in Venice and sits across from the iconic St Marks Basilica.
  • The bell tower is the tallest structure in the city, visitors can climb to the top and enjoy panoramic views over Venice.
  • The bell tower has been restored many times due to fires caused by lightning. It collapsed in 1902 and it was decided tower had to be reconstructed exactly as it was. In 1912, it was finally inaugurated on St. Mark’s Day.

St Marks Square

3. The bridge of sighs – Ponte dei Sospiri

  • The Bridge of Sighs was built to connect the old prison in the Doges Palace with the new prison across the river. Its arched profile that suspended over the water of the Palazzo Rio, is one of the most famous scenes in Venice.

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4. Rialto Bridge – Ponte Di Rialto

  • The Rialto Bridge is the oldest and most famous of the four bridges straddling the Grand Canal.

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5. The Grand Canal

  • This monumental canal is more like a river and it passes from one side of Venice to the other meandering through the city in a zigzag way from Saint Mark’s Basilica to the Church of Santa Chiara. A ride along the Grand Canal is a must.

the grand canal

6. Visiting the neighbouring island 

  • Murano, Burano and Torcello are the three most famous islands near Venice, you can tour all three in one day or choose to explore the islands in depth.
    • Murano is famous for its beautiful glass.
    • Burano for its lace.
    • Torcello for its cathedral.

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In terms of artistic expressions and influence, Venice is one of Italy’s most important cities. Art is as essential to characterising Venice and can be experienced first-hand in any of the City’s many museums. We visited three of the museums. Peggy Guggenheim Collection, the Leonardo Da Vinci Museum and Doge’s Palace.

1.Peggy Guggenheim Collection

“I dedicated myself to my collection. I made it my life’s work. I am not an art collector. I am a museum”

  • Peggy Guggenheim was, and still is, one of the important women who left a mark on Venice. She introduced the American modern art to the European art scene supporting the careers of some of modern art’s biggest names such as Picasso, Miro and Pollock.
  • The Peggy Guggenheim Collection, is one of Europe’s premier museum devoted to modern art is located in Palazzo Venier dei Leoni, Guggenheim’s former home on the Grand Canal.
  • The museum presents Peggy Guggenheim’s personal collection, masterpieces from the Hannelore B. and Rudolph B. Schulhof collection, a sculpture garden as well as temporary exhibitions.

Peggy Guggenheim

2. Leonardo Da Vinci Museum

‘The life, the works, the secrets of the greatest genius in history. In the museum you will find Leonardo’s most important inventions.’

Da Vinci was a multifaceted man and the museum is a great place to learn and explore his world. We got to learn about his paintings and anatomical drawings, and saw working replicas of his creative machines.

  • The first floor of the museum contains several replicas of da Vinci’s most famous works of art with descriptions and information about their significance.
  • The whole second floor (or first in European terms) is full of wooden reconstructions of da Vinci’s designs.

Leonardo da Vinci Museum

3. Doges’ Palace – Palazzo Ducale

  • Once residence of the Doge and house of the political body of the State, the palace can be seen from the lagoon.
  • Its a masterpiece of Gothic architecture combining use of the Gothic lancet arch with Byzantine and Moorish influences. It’s now the most important museum in Venice.

Doge Palace

Where we ate?

Eating in Italy is a serious deal, food is an essential part of the countries culture with pasta and pizza generally being the stable food option. Turned out, pasta is not a staple in the region of Veneto. The most popular carbohydrates are polenta and rice. The places that stood out for me were:-

1. Conca D’oro

  • Lovely Italian restaurant, famous for their Pizza and we were not disappointed. Lovely restaurant with a great atmosphere.

Conca D Oro

2. Restaurant Terrazza Danieli

  • For our last supper, we had dinner at the Restaurant Terrazza Danieli, which is located on the top floor of the Hotel Danieli and has magnificent views of the Lagoon. We thoroughly enjoyed our dinner.

Hotel Daniele

Where we stayed?
Hotel Danieli dominates the Venetian lagoon with spectacular views of the Grand Canal and islands.  My room had gorgeous views of the lagoon.

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The hotel has great dining options – Restaurant Terrazza Danieli, the rooftop restaurant, Bar Dandolo, in the main hotel lobby and the Danieli Bistro an informal venue serving the finest Venetian cicchetti.

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Venice is truly remarkable, a dream destination and was a true Splendid Experience!