Saturday, October 25, 2014

Our first afternoon in Florence...

We arrived back in Florence, dropped off our rental car and headed to our hostel.  Unfortunately Steven wasn't with us, as the hostel was full, however, we hung out for as long as possible in the meantime together.  This is the view from the hostel window - a view of the Florence Cathedral.

We waited in the hostel resting for the other to arrive.  Jay, Kelly and xx.  Once they had all arrive and we had had suitable amounts of cups of tea and cookies provied by the hostel, we set out to explore..

The River Arno, which cuts through the old part of the city, is as much a character in Florentine history as many of the people who lived there. Historically, the locals have had a love-hate relationship with the Arno – which alternated between nourishing the city with commerce, and destroying it by flood.

This is just out the door from our hostel.

We wandered down to the Ponte Vecchio... Built very close to the Roman crossing, the Old Bridge was until 1218 the only bridge across the Arno in Florence. The current bridge was rebuilt after a flood in 1345. During World War II it was the only bridge across the Arno that the fleeing Germans did not destroy. Instead they blocked access by demolishing the medieval buildings on each side. On November 4, 1966, the bridge miraculously withstood the tremendous weight of water and silt when the Arno once again burst its banks.

We then headed to the Piazza della Signoria to check out all the amazing artworks and buildings surrounding. First up is Bartolomeo Bandinelli's Hercules and Cacus.

Benvenuto Cellini's statue Perseus With the Head of Medusa.

The subject matter of the work is the mythological story of Perseus beheading Medusa, a hideous woman-faced Gorgon whose hair was turned to snakes and anyone that looked at her was turned to stone. Perseus stands naked except for a sash and winged sandals, triumphant on top of the body of Medusa with her snakey head in his raised hand. The body of Medusa spews blood from her severed neck. The bronze sculpture and Medusa’s head turns men to stone and is appropriately surrounded by three huge marble statues of men: Hercules, David and later Neptune. Cellini breathed new life into the piazza visitor through his new use of bronze in Perseus and the head of Medusa and the motifs he used to respond to the previous sculpture in the piazza.

The sculpture is thought to be the first statue since classical times where the base included figurative sculpture forming an integral part of the work.

A reproduction of Michelangelo's David...

The Fountain of Neptune is a fountain in Florence, Italy, situated on the Piazza della Signoria (Signoria square), in front of the Palazzo Vecchio. The fountain was commissioned in 1565 and is the work of the sculptor Bartolomeo Ammannati.


The Palazzo Pitti (Italian pronunciation: [paˈlattso ˈpitti]), in English sometimes called the Pitti Palace, is a vast mainly Renaissance palace in Florence, Italy. It is situated on the south side of the River Arno, a short distance from the Ponte Vecchio. The core of the present palazzo dates from 1458 and was originally the town residence of Luca Pitti, an ambitious Florentine banker.

The palace was bought by the Medici family in 1549 and became the chief residence of the ruling families of the Grand Duchy of Tuscany. It grew as a great treasure house as later generations amassed paintings, plates, jewelry and luxurious possessions.

In the late 18th century, the palazzo was used as a power base by Napoleon, and later served for a brief period as the principal royal palace of the newly united Italy. The palace and its contents were donated to the Italian people by King Victor Emmanuel III in 1919.

The palazzo is now the largest museum complex in Florence. The principal palazzo block, often in a building of this design known as the corps de logis, is 32,000 square metres.  Unfortunately it was closed when we were there, so I could only take photos of the exterior.

We ate at a restaurant that we had to queue up for, apparently the best in Florence, so while everyone queue up, I took some photos of the surrounding area, which was very beautiful...

And here we all are - the famous five, plus the photographer (me), not shown!

Siena, Italy

The weather didn't look too good when I popped my head out the window of our apartment in Siena, By the time we got in the night before, it was dark, so this was first time I had seen the view.  That's the Cathedral in the background.

Many of the the apartments had lots of greenery on their verandahs, so first impressions were of a very pretty place.

Breakfast was provided at the apartment, so we had breakfast, start exploring fairly early...

Lots of alleyways to explore here.. Steven doing the Monster of Siena monsterfication..

 The view from where the people above are looking out to the Basilica of San Domenico....

An interesting and most likely very old door knocker...

The back of the Cathedral of Siena...

Siena Cathedral (Italian: Duomo di Siena) is a medieval church in Siena, Italy, dedicated from its earliest days as a Roman Catholic Marian church, and now dedicated to Santa Maria Assunta (Holy Mary, Our Lady of the Assumption).
The cathedral itself was originally designed and completed between 1215 and 1263 on the site of an earlier structure. It has the form of a Latin cross with a slightly projecting transept, a dome and a bell tower. The dome rises from a hexagonal base with supporting columns. The lantern atop the dome was added by Gian Lorenzo Bernini. The nave is separated from the two aisles by semicircular arches. The exterior and interior are constructed of white and greenish-black marble in alternating stripes, with addition of red marble on the façade. Black and white are the symbolic colors of Siena, etiologically linked to black and white horses of the legendary city's founders, Senius and Aschius.

The origins of the first structure are obscure and shrouded in legend. There was a 9th-century church with bishop's palace at the present location. In December 1058 a synod was held in this church resulting in the election of pope Nicholas II and the deposition of the antipope Benedict X.

In 1196 the cathedral masons’ guild, the Opera di Santa Maria, was put in charge of the construction of a new cathedral. Works were started with the north - south transept and it was planned to add the main, larger body of the cathedral later, but this enlargement was never accomplished.

By 1215 there were already daily masses said in the new church. There are records from 1226 onwards of the transport of black and white marble, probably for the construction of the façade and the bell tower. The vaults and the transept were constructed in 1259-1260. In 1259 Manuello di Ranieri and his son Parri carved some wooden choir stalls, which were replaced about 100 years later and have now disappeared. In 1264, Rosso Padellaio was paid for the copper sphere on top of the dome.

A second massive addition of the main body of the cathedral was planned in 1339. It would have more than doubled the size of the structure by means of an entirely new nave and two aisles ranged perpendicular to the existing nave and centred on the high altar. The construction was begun under the direction of Giovanni di Agostino, better known as a sculptor. Construction was halted by the Black Death in 1348. Basic errors in the construction were already evident by then, however, and the work was never resumed. The outer walls, remains of this extension, can now be seen to the south of the Duomo. The floor of the uncompleted nave now serves as a parking lot and museum, and, though unfinished, the remains are testament to Sienese power, ambition, and artistic achievement.

Underneath the choir of the Duomo, a narthex containing important late 13th-century frescoes (probably about 1280) was found and excavated in 1999-2003. The frescoes depict scenes from the Old Testament and the life of Christ. This was part of the entrance of an earlier church. But when the baptistry was built, this under-church was filled with rubble. The narthex is now open to the public.

The belltower has six bells, the oldest one was casted in 1149.

The façade of Siena Cathedral is one of the most fascinating in all of Italy and certainly one of the most impressive features in Siena. Each of the cardinal points (west, east, north, and south) has their own distinct work; by far the most impressive of these is the west façade. Acting as the main entryway to the Duomo proper, it boasts three portals -  the central one is capped by a bronze-work sun.

Built in two stages and combining elements of French Gothic, Tuscan Romanesque architecture, and Classical architecture, the west façade is a beautiful example of Sienanise workmanship. Work began on the lower part around 1284. Built using polychrome marble, the work was overseen by Giovanni Pisano whose work on the Duomo’s façade and pulpit was influenced by his father Nicola Pisano.

The lower portion of the façade is designed from Giovanni's original plans. Built in Tuscan Romanesque style it emphasizes a horizontal unity of the area around the portals at the expense of the vertical bay divisions. The three portals, surmounted by lunettes, are based on Giovanni Pisano’s original designs, as are much of the sculpture and orientation surrounding the entrances. The areas around and above the doors, as well as the columns between the portals, are richly decorated with acanthus scrolls, allegorical figures and biblical scenes.

I loved the red marble which gave the cathedral a tinge of pink. A very impressive building and to me, it was a totally unexpected sight when we came across it. (I hadn't done my homework on Siena before we arrived)

Back out on the alleyways of Siena it started to rain...

The historic centre of Siena has been declared by UNESCO a World Heritage Site. It is one of the nation's most visited tourist attractions, with over 163,000 international arrivals in 2008. Siena is famous for its cuisine, art, museums, medieval cityscape and the Palio, a horse race held twice a year

I can't find any information on these, but apparently these may be spearheads left in a brick wall from a medieval war.  Siena is very old first setled in 900-400BC by the Etruscans.

We stumbled across this very ancient fountain..

It was wet and cold and miserable so we found a cafe and warmed up with a hot chocolate and one of these to share between the three of us.  It. Was. Amazing.  Inside was melted fudgy chocolate stuff.  I could do with one right now!

Back on the streets exploring...

We then went and picked up our car to drive to Florence where we were meeting some of Anne's Friends for the weekend. Siena is a gorgeous city.

Friday, October 24, 2014

Tuscany - Montepulciano and Pienza

For some reason in my last week of my holiday, I didn't update my diary, so I only have photos to go on.  On this morning, I spent the morning repacking my suitcase, and packing a light back for 4 days in Italy, as after that, I was flying home.

Over the previous weeks, I had tried to change my flight so I could join Anne in Spain for a few days. Flight Centre in Blenheim didn't answer emails in a timely enough fashion, so what should have taken a couple of days, took 3 weeks, and by that time, flights to Spain had become expensive so I missed out. When I got back to Blenheim, NZ, I went into Flight Centre, and made an official complaint at the way it was handled.  They took the details and said they would get back to me. I never even got a courtesy of a reply. Nothing.  I will never book with Flight Centre again.  Their customer service absolutely sucks.  They blamed staff shortages, but in my opinion, that is no excuse. How long does it take to reply to an email?

My foot was still very sore, from the Plitvice Lakes, and I think I was still tired so appreciated a slow day.  I had kept all the maps of everywhere I had been, but they take up space and are heavy, so I spent some time photographing them. 

I can't for the life of me remember if Anne came home first and we went to the airport together, or if I met her at the airport.  I think I met her at the airport!  And we flew out to Florence.  We arrived quite late at night and got a taxi to the hostel.

Steven was there waiting for us and the hostel manager literally poured jugs of red wine into us until the early hours of the morning.  I was surprised I wasn't hungover the next day!

We left at a reasonable hour in the morning  - and got a taxi to our rental car place.  We picked it up from this garage where classic cars were being worked on. Steven is just checking one of his photos on his toy camera!

We then drove to my friend's place in Montepulciano.  Vicky and I worked together at ACNielsen many years ago, and she is now living here with her family. After a few wrong turns we found her place.  She then took us to the Montepulciano village where they were busy laying out the red carpet for us...

Montepulciano is a medieval and Renaissance hill town and comune in the Italian province of Siena in southern Tuscany. It sits high on a 605-metre (1,985 ft) limestone ridge, 13 kilometres (8 mi) east of Pienza, 70 kilometres (43 mi) southeast of Siena, 124 kilometres (77 mi) southeast of Florence, and 186 kilometres (116 mi) north of Rome by car.

Montepulciano is a major producer of food and drink. Renowned for its pork, cheese, "pici" pasta, lentils, and honey, it is known world-wide for its wine. Connoisseurs consider its Vino Nobile, which should not be confused with varietal wine merely made from the Montepulciano grape, among Italy's best.

The Cathedral of Santa Maria Assunta, or the Duomo of Montepulciano, constructed between 1594 and 1680, includes a masterpiece from the Sienese School, a massive Assumption of the Virgin triptych painted by Taddeo di Bartolo in 1401.
The Palazzo Comunale, designed in the tradition of the Palazzo della Signoria (Palazzo Vecchio) of Florence

Vicky had a couple of things to do so we wandered around these buildings for 20 minutes or so and then met up with her again to go and try some wine...

We then wandered up the hill...

to get some amazing views...

On the way back to the car, we came across a wine shop selling vintage wines for 25 euros a bottle.  I bought one for Anne 1985 vintage. I'm still wondering what it'll be like!

The streets were really narrow and a car tried to go past.  I jokingly said I needed to lose weight and the lovely driver called out - 'no no - my car needs to lose weight'.  I want to marry him. And live happily ever after in Italy. Drinking red wine in the sun over those gorgeous views.

When we walked back into the square we found the red carpet hadn't been rolled out for us afterall, but for a whole lot of motorbikes - Hmph!

Vicky then drove us to a tiny little medieval village between Montepulciano and Pienza. called Monticchiello.

Those poppies growing wild - are just lovely.

The Village was really beautiful.

And the food was amazing at La Porta.  I'm still disappointed I didn't do Vicky's recommendation for dessert.  In fact, I'm craving it now. The restaurant specialised in Tuscan food of the area, and it was lovely. You can see the menu at the above link.

After lunch, Vicky left us to wander around the village, and said she'd meet up with us for Icecream in Pienza at 4pm. So we wandered around this tiny village.

I'd love a car like this. Betcha it would run on the smell of an oily rag...

The buildings were lovely...

At the top of the hill was an open air art gallery which looked great.  There was also a tower, but that was closed.

On the buildings both here and in Pienza were these metal rings.  I never did find out what they were used for, but wondered if they were there to tie up horses?

Views to die for...

On the way to Pienza we stopped to take photos several times as the landscapes were amazing..

Our first view of Pienza...

The view from Pienza that we had just driven in...

Old cobblestoned streets and architecture.  Pienza, a town and comune in the province of Siena, in the Val d'Orcia in Tuscany (central Italy), between the towns of Montepulciano and Montalcino, is the "touchstone of Renaissance urbanism"

In 1996, UNESCO declared the town a World Heritage Site, and in 2004 the entire valley, the Val d'Orcia, was included on the list of UNESCO's World Cultural Landscapes.

Here's one of those dodackies again that I don't know what they're used for...

Vicky and family.  They've grown up a bit more now..

Can I come and Nanny for you Vicky?

After sadly saying goodbye, we drove to Siena.  It took a while to find a park - the city is so confusing, but we got there in the end, just on sunset...

We dropped our bags and and went for a stroll, for a short while just to get bearings for the next day, and to find something to eat!