After a wonderful day in Siena, we packed up and headed to Florence. Florence is a much bigger city, full of bustling people, shops, restaurants, and churches. The main church is La Basílica de Santa Maria del Fiore (Basilica of Saint Mary of the Flower), or as it is most commonly called, the Duomo di Firenze (Dome of Florence). Our apartment was located in the shadow of this giant dome, visible from a small porch we shared with a few other apartments. Unfortunately, that also meant that we could hear the bells for mass starting at 7 am.
After settling in (and eating!) we headed to our first stop: Galleria dell’Accademia di Firenze, aka where the David statue lives. Besides the David, which is obviously the main draw, there are lots of pretty pictures, especially of Baby Jesus. The David is just as breathtaking as it is built up to be.
Next it was a light snack and then onto the Uffizi Gallery. The Uffizi is one of the oldest and largest art museums in all of Europe. We got lucky and happened to visit on the last Tuesday of the summer season, which meant that the gallery was open for a second, later session starting at 7. We just walked right in the front door without waiting in line (and if you know me, you know how much I hate waiting in line).The gallery is amazing – some of the pieces have been in the gallery since before 1800. It continues to amaze me how old everything in Italy is. Highlights of the gallery included Botticelli’s Birth of Venus, lots of paintings of the Annunication of Jesus, and heaps more Baby Jesus paintings.
Wednesday morning we spent exploring the Duomo. We started on fresh legs and headed up to the cupola at the top of the dome. From here we got some amazing views of Florence. After checking out the view from there, we climbed all the way back down. After all that exercise, it was time for another round of coffee and then we explored the archeological excavations underneath the church. Then it was back up to climb Giotti’s Campanile. From here we got more amazing views of Florence, especially of the Duomo. We took a quick look around the Baptistry, including Ghiberti’s gold ‘Gates of Paradise’ (the 200-year old replication anyway). Unfortunately, the Duomo Museum was closed.
For lunch, I finally got my first chance at Italian pizza. It was…underwhelming. Think I’ll stick to pasta from here on out. Not bad, just not as great as I hoped it would be. Especially since it is truffle season, so everything has truffles on it. Truffles are definitely becoming one of my favorite things here (I was going to say “growing on me” but that lead to a bad image of truffles literally growing on me).
On Wednesday afternoon, we headed out on an organized tour to a couple of wine tastings in the Chianti region. The first stop was to Monteriggioni, a walled medieval town that was built about 900 years ago by the Sienese in 1214–19 as a fortress and lookout during the ongoing wars with Florence. We stopped here for a wine tasting at a local shop, sampling two different local wines (one white, one red) and some cheese and salami.
The next stop was Poggio Amorelli, just outside of Castellina in Chianti. Here we sampled a wide variety of items, including several remarkable red wines, olive oil, aged Balsamic vinegar and cheese. From here we could see a little of the rolling hills of the Chianti region, covered in grapevines and olive trees. The countryside was stunning. Our guide, Francesca was phenomenal and even gave us a recommendation for dinner. The place we ate for dinner was absolutely fabulous. Chelsey and Jake split a Bisteca al Florentina (Florentine steak), the smallest size of which was one kilogram (2.2 pounds!).
Today we’re off to Riomaggiore and the Cinque Terre!