Tag Archives: medieval city


Wow, the dates on this blog have gotten really screwed up!  We were actually in Tuscany on October 1st.  From Florence, we took a tour of four Tuscan towns and one divine stop for a wine tasting.

Our first stop was Siena.  We only had a short time here, so we pretty much confined ourselves to the Cathedral.  But it was a really incredible Cathedral.


Street in Siena.



Here’s the outside of the Cathedral.  There were little spiky things sticking out all over and when I zoomed in, I realized they were statues of sitting dogs, complete with leashes.


Here’s the inside.  It was full of black and white marble.


The floors were spectacular and they told stories.


One of the side altars.



This is where the lector reads the readings.  It was beautifully carved.


The main altar.




This was a very pleasant surprise for me.  I love illuminated manuscripts so finding a room dedicated to them was a real thrill.  To find them in such a beautiful room was pure pleasure.  The first pictures one of the many illuminated manuscripts.  The next picture is the ceiling in the room.  The colors were spectacular.  The last picture shows the wall of the room with a couple of the manuscripts on display below.  It was a stunning room.


We stopped for a drink on the way out of town and this sign made me smile.  The Italians love sparkling water and this is the store owner’s way of saying this is the still water.



Our next stop was Monteriggionni, a very ancient medieval city.  It was kind of famous historically and its been in many paintings.  It’s also near Voltura, made famous by the Twilight books.



Some of the scenes from this very small town


It’s a walled city and here’s what they look like from the outside.


Our next stop was a wine tasting.  Now, those of you who know us know that we rarely drink.  This tasting included about 10 different wines.  Needless to say, it was a little overwhelming.


Here we are before we had just a little too much to drink.  : )  Ironically, after tasting all that wine, what did we buy?  We got the truffled olive oil which was TO DIE FOR!  Of course, the wine may have influenced our opinion.  I’ll let you know when we get home and try it again.



Our next stop was San Gimignano.  It’s also a medieval city, but it’s much larger and people actually live there today.  It was interesting to stroll around.  Luckily, the rain didn’t cause too many problems.

The first picture above is the entrance into the city through the city wall.  The second picture is a view of the street.



Here’s the city square and the well.


A view of the Tuscan hillside from the city walls.

Next stop:  Pisa!  What trip to Tuscany would be complete without a stop in Pisa?




It’s still leaning.  Although there was an effort made in the last few years to shore up the ground around it to stop it’s slow topple.  To everyone’s surprise, the work actually made it straighten a little!


The tower is actually the bell tower for this church.  We only had a short time and decided more food (after all that wine!) was more important than touring the church.

Cinque Terre


Wow, what an experience.  The Cinque Terre, pronounced Chinkwa Tear (like tear paper, not cry a tear), means “five lands.”  It consists of five tiny medieval villages that date back to about the 1200’s.  Before 1950, the only way to get to them was by boat.  Each one was (and still is) linked together by cliff-side paths that are popular with hikers today.

In the 1980’s, these tiny fishing villages were discovered by tourists and their popularity exploded.  To protect them and maintain their old world charm, they were included under UNESCO’s umbrella.  Today, they exist much as they did in the middle ages.

Between the five villages, there are about 5000 inhabitants.  In the smallest, there are only 250 people.  They are all built vertically on the cliff face so they were a challenge.  What goes down must go up!  Only one of the villages didn’t have a “beach.”  I use that term loosely and you’ll see why in the pictures.  That village was built on the top of a cliff and has shear drops to the sea.  I should also mention that the water here is a brilliant blue color.  It was a little hazy, so not all the pictures capture the true color, but a few do, thankfully!

So, let’s get to it.


The drive to the coast from Florence was about 2 hours so we stopped at a rest area.  It was just like a rest stop in the US except I had to laugh at the scrum around the espresso bar.  This spot was more popular than the bathrooms!


This is a good view of the terracing that is all over the hilly areas of Italy, especially the Amalfi Coast, Capri, and the Cinque Terre.


We went to 4 of the 5 Cinque Terre villages.  I’m not even going to try and keep them straight, but I’m pretty sure this is Manarola. While they were all the same in the sense that they are very old villages built into cliffs, they are also very different.


They are still fishing villages, but they’re also famous for their wine.  Grape vines were everywhere and they’re in the midst of harvesting now




Here are a couple shots of what the main streets look like.  It’s hard to appreciate how steep they are from the photos.  As you can see, they are full of tourists and there were many Italians visiting since it was a Saturday.



This is a little square in the midst of the village.  Up on the hillside, you can see the permanent nativity they have on display.  The second picture is a close-up.  At night, it is always lit up.

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More of the streets.  I thought it was interesting that they drag their boats up the street and store them outside their doors.


Here is a view of the “beach” at the foot of the village.  There really isn’t any beach to speak of, but lots of rocky spots.



But if you look closely, there are people all over the rocks soaking up the sun.  In the top picture here, there’s a handrail to assist swimmers.  In the second picture, you can see the walkway along the cliff.  It leads all the way to the next village (or it did before a landslide a couple years ago).  We walked along the walkway all the way to the point and that’s where the next several photos came from.





Here are some views of the village from that path.


In this picture, you can see the color of the water.  It was brilliant blue.




From the point, you could see the village on your left, but the top pictures are the view to the right.  One is a wide shot, the other zoomed in.  Its the village of Corniglia, the only one of the five villages that doesn’t have a beach–its the one built on top of the cliff.


Lorenzo, our tour guide, taking us down to the boat dock for a ride to our next stop.  Since Corniglia doesn’t have a dock, we had to skip it and go to the next village down the line.  Once we got in the car again, we doubled back to Corniglia.  Pictures to come!


Another picture that begins to accurately show the color of the sea.DSC01183



Our next stop, the village of Vernazzo.  You can see all the people enjoying the sun on the rocky shore.


There were lots of sunbathers and some of the kids were fishing.



A couple views of the harbor.


This is the outdoor restaurant where we had lunch.  It was so colorful and vibrant.  I think it would be impossible not to be cheerful here.  At lunch we were joined by some of our fellow tourists, another recovering attorney from Manhattan, and three lovely young ladies from Michigan.



I have no idea what Bob ordered, or what it actually was, but he loved it.  Here are the before and after shots.  I stuck with the ravioli alla scampi, which I thought would be pretty safe.  And it was, except the shrimp were whole– as in heads, antennae, claws, everything.  I’ve pulled a lobster apart before, but a shrimp is tiny by comparison (even though these shrimp were probably 6 to 8 inches long).  I’m afraid all I attempted was the tail.


More of the sunbathers on the rocks.



Some of the streets of Vernazzo.


This cracked me up.  These two ladies were enjoying a glass of wine outside the clothing store.  Every few minutes, their friend came out in a new outfit and they happy analyzed it for her.  What a way to shop.

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The steps up to someone’s front door.


Here we are back in Corniglia.  This is the smallest of the villages with only about 250 permanent inhabitants.



Up the little street you saw above is this tiny square.  You can see how these pictures fit together if you look at the church in the background.


A look at another front door.  It was a few steps down from the main street, which you can see in the picture below.


It was narrow and charming.


Another front door.  They were really charming.


At the end of the road we found this terrace with wonderful views. Here’s a view off to the left, back towards the first village we visited.


Here’s a look straight down.  Again, the beautiful blue water.


This is the view off to the right, towards the second village we visited.


We all thought this doorway would make a good spot for prom or wedding photos.  The little passage under the stairs is the continuation of the road.



Gelato!  We had to step down several steps inside the shop.  It was good, but not as good as the stuff we found in Florence.  By the way, I had no idea the English and Italian words for the City of Florence were so different.  English: Florence.  Italian: Firenze.




The final village we visited was Riomaggiore.  It was, by far, the steepest of the villages.  We parked at the top and walked all the way down, then heaved ourselves all the way back up.  You can see a little of the slope in the first photo.

The last photo is my favorite.  You can see the dog on the beach.  As we stood there admiring the view, he ran down the dock beside us, scampered down the stairs, and frolicked on the beach.  He had clearly done this before. He was dancing in the waves, barking, having a really great time . . . until his owner showed up.  She was ticked!  Apparently he had slipped his leash and she had to chase him all the way down.  He didn’t give up easily, she had to literally muscle him out to of the water and drag him up the stairs.  Both were drenched, of course.  The joys of dog ownership!!  I still miss Mel. : )



A couple of shots in the dock area.


Yummy, looks a lot like Bob’s lunch.  I’m sorry the photo quality I had to use isn’t good enough to see the little fish eyes looking at you, but they’re there!

Okay, now for the nitty-gritty.  Sanitation is an interesting subject in these very old little villages.  Why they don’t choose to install real toilets, I’ll never know.  It couldn’t be that hard!  But no, they apparently prefer something called a “Turkish toilet” which is really nothing more than a whole in the floor.  I walked in, saw the deal, and decided I could hold it.  The poor ladies from Michigan made another choice, however.  Thankfully they were all wearing thongs (on their feet!) so the misfires were easily cleaned up!

I talked to Abby about it last night and she said they’re common in Spain, too.  I asked her how to use it properly because the likelihood of disaster seems high. Rather than getting into the details, she sent me to youtube.  If you’re curious, here’s one of the videos I found and I agree with all the advice, even though the video refers to conditions in Asia, not Europe.  Another word of advice, this is one time where wearing a skirt has a big advantage.



This is a view of La Spezia.  It isn’t one of the Cinque Terre villages, but it is the city they’re linked to via the new road that was built in the 1950s.  La Spezia is a ship building port and was almost completely destroyed in WWII, so most of the buildings are much more modern than in the rest of Italy.


Curious what Italians grab when they want a snack?  Here’s a display we found at the rest stop on the way home.

Once we got back to Florence, we were beyond exhausted.  We found a little pizzeria near our hotel and I tried the local specialty: bread soup.  It was really, really good.  I can see why it’s popular, especially in the winter.  It’s thick, hearty, hot and savory.  Perfect comfort food.

While we were eating, another couple were seated at the table next to us and we discovered they are from Calgary.  After a little more chatting, we found she was another recovering attorney who’d turned to writing anything other than legal documents for a living.  She’s even published a romance novel and is a member of RWA.  I felt like I’d met a long lost sorority sister!  We’re hoping to catch up at next year’s national convention : )



Florence is both ordinary and absolutely fantastic.  At first glance, it is a little dull,  a little dingy, and everywhere we looked things are surrounded by plastic sheeting and scaffolds.  However, look a little deeper and the real gem is revealed. Many of the buildings are medieval, built in the 9th, 10th and 11th centuries.  These buildings are simple, but if you look closely, there are details worth noting.  For example, look at the original palace built by the Medici Family in the mid-1100’s.

DSC01014 I know, it doesn’t look like much, but look again.  Start at the base of the building where you can see between the cars. There is a bench built into the building along its entire length.  Believe me, as a tourist today, I really appreciate such thoughtfulness!  It’s hard to see in this photo, but above the benches are rings where horses could be tied and on top of these are brackets for torches so the walk would be well lit.  The architecture of this building may seem commonplace, but that’s because its been copied all over the world.  When this building was made, it was very unique.  Even the scrolling under the eves were seen for the first time in this building.  Also, notice the brackets in the wall between the windows.  Two of them are being used to hold the flags over the door.  Can you imagine flags in all the holders?  It would be quite festive.

DSC01055 Here’s a close-up of the ring used to tie up horses and you can see the bracket where they stuck the torches.  Notice the very top of the bracket has a little animal head. Of course, there are some buildings that are so breathtaking on the outside, it’s hard to leave the street and enter them.  One of those buildings is the Duomo, also known as the Basilica di Santa Maria del Fiore, or Saint Mary of the Flowers.


DSC01020 See what I mean?  This building is completely covered in marble.  Mostly white, green, and pink marble.  The building was begun in the 1200’s but wasn’t completely finished until the 1800’s.  The detail is so intricate, I could have spent hours just looking at it. Surprisingly, the inside isn’t at all what I expected.  I thought we’d be overwhelmed with bric-a-brac and elaborate details, but that isn’t the case.  The inside is huge, and its covered in an elaborate and varied marble floor.

DSC01028 See how it’s pieced to produce an optical illusion?  This is just a small section; it varies in design and complexity every 20 feet, or so.





The walls have paintings and stained glass windows and the altar is beautiful, but not as elaborate as others we’ve seen. DSC01033

The real show is the dome.  You can see the light from it above the altar, but until you get under it, you can’t know how amazing it is. Of course, the pictures can’t begin to do it justice. DSC01031

To give you an idea of how large this dome is, the wood rim beneath the smaller round windows is actually a walkway, and so is the rim above the windows and just below the frescoes.  Also, the sunlit spot at the top is called the lantern, and it is also full of people.  It costs 10 Euro for a ticket to climb into the dome, and it’s hundreds of claustrophobic steps, but we plan to do it in the next couple of days. The dome is a bit of an engineering mystery/miracle.  It’s way too complicated for me to explain, or even completely understand, but you can read more here.


The rest of the city we’ve seen so far is in the photos below.  It’s just a taste, but we have all week to soak it up!



Cracked me up.  Have a reservation at this hotel?  Too bad, so sad.  No idea where you’re supposed to go.


DSC00954 A typical medieval street in Florence.  The cars, motorbikes and buses sometimes go down them, but the side streets are mostly for pedestrians.  Mostly.  You still have to watch out. DSC00955

Bob and dinner last night.  I had to laugh because a couple sat at the table next to us and she was clearly having trouble with her leg.  Bob, always the doctor, asked her about it.  The couple was from Norway and she was having lots of pain.  One thing led to another and before I knew it, Bob was palpating her leg muscles and looking for pulses.  The lady was worried about a blood clot, but Bob was able to reassure her that a blod clot was unlikely.  She was very grateful and they were fun to talk to.

DSC00956 This is the tower of the Palazzo Vecchio, the building beside the restaurant.  I was amazed by the staircase so far up there — that doesn’t appear to have a handrail!

DSC00958 Bob had the lasagna and it was AMAZING! DSC00960




Here’s a full picture of the Palazzo Vecchio, with that tower way up there. DSC00965

The front of the Palazzo Vecchio, which is currently the city government building in Florence.  Notice the statue of David?  Its a copy, but its in the place where the original David stood for centuries before it was moved to the art school (I think in the 1700’s).

DSC00973   Yum!

DSC00979 Ever seen a real live Stradivarius violin or cello?  How about both?  Here you go, the nearer one is a violin and the further one is the cello.  They really are properly sized for those instruments, the angle of this shot makes that hard to see.  These are originals and the violin has never been restored.  It is exactly as it was when Stradivarius made it so it’s priceless today.  Every year both of these instruments are taken out of the case and played by some very lucky musicians.

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So, here we go.  This is the original David.  Call me stupid, but I never really understood that the statue depicted David right before he killed the Philistine giant, Goliath.  It was originally built to decorate a church, but because the statue shows the moment where David is considering Goliath and making his plan of how to act, the Florentines of the time felt it depicted mind over brawn, which was much more of a political statement that resonated with them at the time.  So, the statue was placed in front of the Palazzo Vecchio, the center of their government.

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The detail is incredible and the proportions are perfect, except for the head and hands, which are a little big.  Since Michelangelo made the statue for a church where it would be seen from a distance, it is thought he made the hands and head bigger to emphasize the mind over brawn theme.



This is the front and back of a plaster statue made by one of the teachers at the school or art.  The plaster was made to get the details right before it was carved out of marble.  I liked it because of the children.


This is a clock in the back of the Duomo.  It dates to the middle ages so it’s not a conventional clock.  First, it runs counter-clockwise.  Next, it has all the hours of a day.  Finally, 1 o’clock always depicts the hour the sun sets.  It still works, but it needs to be readjusted every couple of weeks.  Above, the clock shows its about 9 hours until sunset, which was correct at the time.


This is a view of the dome from the outside.  You can see the large circular windows that were obvious from the inside.  Above them is the dome, which is actually two domes in one. The one here is the outer dome and the one with the pained frescoes on the inside is a separate dome.




This is three shots of the same market.  It is said if you touch the pig’s snout, you’ll return to Florence someday.



These are views from the same spot.  The top picture is the left of the camera and the bottom picture is to the right.  Of course, the bottom picture is of the Ponte Vecchio, the oldest bridge in Florence, and the only one left standing by the Germans in WWII.  Originally, the shops on the Ponte Vecchio were all butchers because they dumped the “extras” from the carcasses into the river–thus cutting down the smell.  Nowadays, its the center for gold and silver in Florence.


A view down the Ponte Vecchio.  Every store window was literally dripping with gold jewelry of all kinds.


Here, a shop lady has to use tongs to reach one of the hundreds (thousands?) of items in the window.  When she got it, Bob applauded and she bowed to him and laughed.


Did I mention that some of the styles in the shops are kinda questionable?  Here’s a good example of something not everyone can carry off.  Maybe only a basketball sportscaster?


Gelato was invented in Florence.  O.M.G.  It was heavenly.  I don’t have words.  I barely had breath to breathe.  It was fabulous!

Final note for today:  Doing laundry at a laundromat in a foreign county is SO much more enjoyable if you’re just a little bit tipsy.  Just saying. : )