I didn't know what to expect in Florence, but it ended up being my favorite spot in all of Italy. The medieval architecture and narrow winding streets were magical. The art was second-to-none (my favorite piece was Cellini's 'Perseus With the Head of Medusa'). The awesome leather market satisfied the money burning a hole in my pocket and the city could also boast about having the best pizza, which, if I am being completely honest, is the #1 reason I enjoyed it so much. I ate it every day. At 3€, I ate for a week what it cost me for one slice in Rome.
The Duomo is the main landmark penetrating the skyline of the fabled city. I almost didn't go up because of the long line-up but was really glad I did. The view was breathtaking. The chapel ceiling was something else altogether though...like something out of an 80s B-horror film. The graphic painting of hellbound creatures torturing and dragging sinners into the fire sent a shiver down my spine. It's not as famous (or well-executed) as the Sistine Chapel, but it definitely left more of an impression on me. If I were an uneducated serf, it would have set me straight for life.
Situated in the Tuscany region of Italy, opportunity for daytripping abounds. My first excursion outside of Florence was a day tour via a company called 'Walkabout' that focused on the best of the region. I've never been on a proper tour before, much preferring to explore and discover things on my own, however the people I met really made it worth it. There was the Cameron Diaz lookalike from Croatia. The couple from Hawaii who couldn't stop talking about the Roughriders.* The family from England who kicked people out of their seats on the bus, claiming they were reserved, only to be kicked out at the tail-end because they hadn't actually paid to be on the tour. And then there was our guide, Stefano, who was excellent at peppering the conversation with humour and insight.
Our first stop was Siena, where we visited the world's oldest bank, saw a building with creepy heads sticking out of it and visited yet another church with several Michaelangelo originals. Where did this dude find the time?I feel so unproductive. Next up was lunch at a winery overlooking another one of my favorite spots, San Gimignano, a town renowned for its medieval towers and "world's best gelato". Then came the long drive to Pisa. The Leaning Tower was the only thing I knew about this place and let me say - it's pretty much all they've got. Well...that and plenty of people trying to sell fake Rolexes. Pisa is ugly. Really ugly. After WWII bombings decimated it, the rest of the city appears to have been inspired by eastern bloc architecture. And then there's that GIANT parking lot. The tower itself was pretty neat to see in person though. It was a lot more slanted than I expected.
Since the first tour wasn't so bad, I decided to go on a second 'Walkabout' tour, this time to Unesco World Heritage site the Cinque-Terre. It was a vastly different experience. There was no small talk. No real insight into the area...just a long, hot, sweaty hike along the mediterranean coast trailing a tour guide who didn't care if any touristas got lost or fell to their death along the way. I really wish I would have had time to relax on the beach for a bit, but it was not to be. The day was rushed, the lunch was terrible and I developed a sunburn that will surely result in skin cancer in a few years time. Having said that, trekking to the Cinque Terre was definitely worth it and my overall experience in Italy was priceless.
*Travel Tip: no matter where I go, when I am wearing a Roughrider logo, I make instant friends. It's like the new Canada flag.
Me at the top of the Duomo:
Graffiti in the Duomo:
Piazza della Signoria, Florence:
'Perseus With the Head of Medusa' by Cellini:
Living Street Art, Florence:
World's oldest bank in Siena, Italy:
Creepy heads creeping out of a building in Siena:
Best Gelato in the World? Not bad:
This belongs on www.photocliches.com:
It took hours to hike all the way to that town way far off in the distance:
From Here to Eternity:
Graffiti on a cactus at the Cinque Terre: