Saturday, January 31, 2015

Tuscany Interlude

Florence in Italy ranks as one of my favourite cities in Europe. It has so much going for it, including its art, its architecture, its history, and its food. In fact, it's an energetic city with lots of diversity. And let me not forget the Tuscany wines! With all that, it was no wonder we enjoyed many activities, beginning with the Ufizzi gallery.
 Ufizzi Gallery as seen from the Ponte Vecchia
 After the first hour or so, we found ourselves in a quieter part of the gallery.

As one would expect, there were hoards of people, lining up to gain entry into the gallery. It certainly was different from when I first visited this gallery in 1981, when it seemed there more artists than tourists! At that time it was so relaxing that we had our portraits done by two different artists. One was a caricature and the other a more serious one.

When Jan and I visited this time, there were still artists painting in the vicinity, but nowhere near the number that I saw years ago. This time, there were tourists by the thousands, pushing for a front position in the long queues. There were no ticket offices at the gallery and we found one not far away, but still had to line up for 45 minutes or so. It's part of the tourists' lot!
 Some artists at work, but only few.

 Caricatures on the day ........
and below:
How the artist saw me in 1981!

The treasures in the Ufizzi gallery are worth more than one visit So much to see and it was hard to do justice to the visit with so many people crowding around. But, that's life! We made the best of our time and after a few hours were happy to move on and enjoy other parts of Florence. Not in the least was the Ponte Vecchio, which is just a stone throw from the Ufizzi gallery, as can be seen form the next photograph taken from the gallery:
The Ponte Vecchio - note the covered walkway.
A great perspective of the Ponte Vecchio with other bridges over the River Arno.
 Walking to the Ponte Vecchio and admiring the architecture.
A lovely perspective of a lovely lady enjoying Florence!
What can one say! It is unique!

 Police with a smile, happily mixed with visitors.

I do enjoy seeing artists expressing themselves in places around Florence. The young man in the next photograph spent hours and hours with his chalk perfecting Vermeer's well known oil painting of the Girl with a Pearl Earring. We, along with others, were enchanted. He looked so intent in getting it right and we thought he did really well. What an incredible shame that after a shower of rain it would all disappear! But from us, 'Thank you. We loved it!'
Judge for yourself!

Wandering around the main tourist centre with more art as can be seen as follows:
It is all rather demonstrable!

Florence is Florence.
Just a few of the thousands admiring Florence.
The 'david' in the pic above is located in Piazza della Signoria. It is a replica. 
(see quote below)
The real thing is in the Galleria dell' Accademia.

The real statue of David is an amazing work of art and we very much enjoyed spending a lot of time in the Galleria dell' Accademia where we also found other incredible treasures. It was especially fascinating to see uncompleted works of Michelangelo and from those, get some idea how his work unfolded. A real pity that photography was not permitted. Instead, we will copy a couple of images which we understand are public domain.
David in all his glory!

Wikipedia was helpful in the following quotation::
"David is a masterpiece of Renaissance sculpture created created between 1501 and 1504, by Michelangelo.The statue represents the Biblical hero David, a favoured subject in the art of Florence. Originally, the statue was placed in a public square, outside the Piazza della Signoria, the seat of civic government in Florence, where it was unveiled on the 8th of September, 1504.

Because of the nature of the hero it represented, the statue soon came to symbolize the defence of civil liberties embodied in the Republic of Florence, an independent city-state threatened on all sides by more powerful rival states and by the hegemony of the Medici family. The eyes of David, with a warning glare, were turned towards Rome.

The eyes have it!
The statue was moved to the, Florence, in 1873, and later replaced at the original location by a replica."
We had set aside a whole day to travel to the city of Siena, south of Florence. We both looked forward to it, travelling  through Tuscanny  country side. With a valid EURAIL pass and the train station just across the hotel, it was easy enough to hop on the train and travel in comfort.

I must admit, while knowing about Siena, I had really no special expectations of the place. That was good, because the surprise and enjoyment we had in Siena was well 'beyond all expectations'! What a town!
These two pics show the lovely setting of Siena!

The city gates were open for us to enter.
Clean & Tidy and colourful. Behold the character of Siena!

One of the more humble churches.
Just a great atmosphere for a drink and to relax.
Church of San Girolamo at Campansi

'Of late 1600 construction, the church shows the four spans of the arch face covered by 1700s frescoes by Gulio Bolognese and Michaelangelo and Nicollolo Ricciolini, namely The Glory of St Peter of Alcantara, The Glory of the Virgin Mary, The Glory of Saint Francis.'

The church is in the process of renovation and renewal. As a result, we were not able to see the full beauty of the place. The church folk were most welcoming & helpful and happily answered our questions.

So colourful and quite outstanding

The 'Glory' of it all!

Walking on, we came across the Basilica di Santo Domingo along with it a vista that overlooked another part of Siena.
Basilica di Santo Domingo

Above: the Tower and Dome of the Siena Cathedral.
Below: Looking towards the famous Magnia Tower in the Piazza del Campo.

The tower of the Cathedral beckoned us for further exploration. It looked great from a distance and it did not seem far. Hmmmm. Looks are deceiving!
 The Siena Cathedral!
Looking back to the Basilica di Santo Domingo 
It looks so close, but with all the diversions, quite far.

Our walk to the Siena Cathedral took us up and down streets that at times were really steep! But, it was well worth it and gave us time to chat with local folk as well as  viewing quaint shops, like:

Fruit & veggies - all so fresh!
 The streets at times were steep but full of character.

Finally, we arrived at the entrance to the Duomo do Siena

'Siena Cathedral is a medieval church in Siena. It was originally designed and completed between 1215 and 1263 on the site of an earlier structure. It has in the form of a Latin cross with a slightly projected transept, a dome and a bell tower. The exterior and interior are constructed of a white and greenish-black marble and alternating stripes, with addition of red marble on the facade. Black and white are the symbolic colours of Siena.' (Wikepedia)

Not far away, we came across the famous Magnia Tower in the Piazza de Campo.
Magnia Tower in the Piazza de Campo.

We had a fantastic day in Siena and returned to Florence in high spirits, truly captivated by Siena. Just simply fell in love with the place. It left us with just one more full day in, which was spent walking to many more delightful places, enjoying the outstanding architecture and history of this city:
 Everyone has seen this church. It is always worth an extra picture!
 This incredible door of a church with biblical scenes drew our attention. We loved it!
 The detail and the beauty always leaves me breathless!

What else could we do in the little time left? We chose to walk to the other side of the River Arno and find a place to eat, preferably away from too many tourists. While that is almost an impossibility in Florence, we did find a delightful place that suited us well with a wonderful hostess!

On the way, we enjoyed the twilight colours over the River Arno as can be seen in the following photo:
 The River Arno with the Ponte Vecchia behind the first bridge.
 Cheers in good Italian style with a Chianti!. 
A quiet corner with excellent food and service by the proprietor (below):
And photos that show Florence during another era. 
Below the Ponte Vecchia over 100 years ago!

After such a great meal, there was still time to enjoy our walk back to the hotel. We both loved the different atmosphere created by night life, lights and reflections and EVERYTHING! So enjoy the walk with us on the way to our hotel:
The moon over Florence and the Ponte Vecchio all lit up!
Truly, a wonderful sight!
And, how is this for atmosphere? Obviously, others had similar ideas to ourselves!

Window shopping along the way!
Our final look at Florence. Thank you!!

I realise that this has been a rather long blog. There is much more to share, but one can only reasonably fit so much in one chapter. Jan and I hope you have enjoyed sharing our visit to Florence and Siena.

For us, it was time pack our bags and be ready early in the morning for our train journey to Rome and on to Civitavecchia. Then..... it is back on the lovely cruise ship Marina. The next blog will cover the Amalfi Coast. Look forward to writing it.