Florence · Italy

Under the Tuscan sun

I think someone might already have used the title of this post, but it describes our day perfectly.

We had a great time away from Florence today, Siena, San Gimignano, and a small winery in between the two. Trouble is, we’re bushed, so here are three photos showing where we stopped for wine tasting and lunch, a view of the Tuscan countryside from San Gimignano, and some olives ripening–more details about the day in the next post.

Florence · Italy

In the footsteps of Galileo

The weather in Florence today was perfect, sunny with a maximum temperature of 22 Celsius. We started the day with coffee and croissants–a special spider cappuccino for me.

We’d planned a morning of wandering followed by a tour of the Duomo, but although we’d bought ‘skip the line’ tickets, when we saw the queue we were skipping, we decided to give the tour a miss. Our tickets would get us in without having to wait, but once inside, we’d be shoulder-to-shoulder with the hoi poloi, and we didn’t want the same experience we’d had at the Sistine Chapel. So, what else could we do but eat.

No, we didn’t eat the pig, just a light lunch followed by a hunt for the Vivoli ice cream store, which wasn’t hard to find.

The photo is deceiving, those are small cups containing coffee, vanilla, chocolate, and strawberry flavoured samples–the Italians certainly know how to make ice cream 🙂

A walk across the oldest bridge in the world with elliptical arches took us to the southern side of the Arno river where we conquered the steep climb up to Fort Belvedere, built for one of the Medicis in the late sixteenth century. Galileo made astronomical observations from the fort and one of the houses he lived in is on the hill leading up there.

This plaque commemorates Galileo’s observations of the Jovian moons, but I don’t think he made those particular discoveries in Florence.

The view of the city from the fort, the highest part of Florence, is spectacular whichever way you look.

The climb was worth the effort, and the decent through Galileo’s old stomping grounds was very pleasant.

There was even a Florentine Banksy to admire.

As usual, at this time of day we begin thinking about dinner. Last night we spotted a cosy little pizzeria with a wood-burning oven not too far from the B&B, so that’s where we’re planning to eat tonight–unless somewhere else takes our fancy on the way.

Florence · Italy


Just about to wind down our first evening in Florence.

We arrived a few minutes late by train and didn’t see much of the Tuscan countryside on the 45 minute journey–too many tunnels. But the few glimpses we had were gorgeous.

This view from our third floor B&B is great. We’ve been given third-floor rooms throughout the trip so far, and we’re not complaining.

After an hour wandering aimlessly, and having crossed the famous medieval stone bridge, Pont Vecchio, both ways we found a lovely little restaurant. Our meals were typically Tuscan, and we had our first taste of ribollita soup, seasonal vegetables and bread–it was excellent.

The temperature is cooling down a bit, glad of that. And here’s the evening view from our window to say goodnight.

Florence · Italy

Entraining for Florence

Here we are at Bologna Centrale, three levels underground, waiting to board the train for Florence.

This is Italy’s second largest railway station, and there’s yet another level of platforms below us.

Quite amazing!

Less than forty-five minutes after leaving Bologna, we’ll be heading for our B&B in the historic part of Florence, not far from the Cathedral of Santa Maria del Fiore, the Duomo of Florence–looking forward to seeing that.

Bologna · Italy

Definitely not Venice …

… but Bologna has its own canals. You have to go hunting for them as they’re hidden away and off the beaten track, but they’re there.

This is our last full day in Bologna. We made our way through the crowds in Piazza Maggiore–there was a run-for-breast-cancer event on this morning–and then strolled through the back streets searching for the remnants of the canals that once supplied Bologna with water.

Late morning found us in the shade of a street cafe with a couple of cappuccinos biding our time until lunch. We’d noticed a nice little restaurant in the back streets earlier on, so we made our way back there for our first authentic pizza– a salsiccia pizza, tomato, cheese, and sausage. Despite appearances …

… we didn’t have long to wait.

Here it is, or rather, was:

After lunch, we were happy to find the Basilica di Santo Stefano open, and we spent the next hour or so exploring this four-in-one church, which in its 2000 year history has been influenced by Romans, ancient Christians, Byzantines, and Ottomans. It’s one of the most church-like churches we’ve visited in Italy so far.

The church cat seemed to think so too.

Tomorrow we turn south again and take the regional train to Florence. We’re looking forward to seeing that storied city, but it will be hard to beat Bologna 🙂

Bologna · Italy

Rest day

It was another hot day in Bologna. We ventured out this morning and happened upon a nice hidden gem–a museum of medieval Bologna with some amazing exhibits from private collections.

Earlier, in a chapel of the Cathedrale Metropolitana di San Pietro, we listened in on a priest celebrating Mass with a small congregation.

And instead of joining the luncheoners in the street cafes today, we picked up some bread, cheese, yoghurt, and fruit and headed back to the cool of the B&B. And after lunch, a long nap.

This evening we had lasagna and gnocchi for supper and we’ve now eaten so much pasta that we should both be speaking fluent Italian. That’s how it should work, anyway.

Here are the Two Towers of Bologna, as seen from the spiral staircase leading to our B&B earlier this evening.

Bologna · Italy

Cannolis, dissections, and fountain pens

I’m posting a little earlier today. It’s about tea time here, so on the way back to our room for a rest, we picked up some cannolis and we’re having them with some Earl Grey tea, hot. The items you see in the next picture no longer exist.

Our route today, although ostensibly from interesting thing to see to interesting thing to see, was really from coffee shop to restaurant to bakery with interesting things to see in between.

For lunch today we shared a selection of cold cuts, cheese, and jam–not sure how we were supposed to eat the jam.

As with the cannolis, the items you see in the photo above, except perhaps for the jam, no longer exist, but during their last hours, we were visiting some of the buildings that for the last 930 years have belonged to the oldest university in Europe. This lecture room is still in use today.

Here are some of the books that line the walls, along with a recognizable name or two:

And here’s a view into the main library:

As well as the lecture room above, the lecture theatre for the empirical teaching of anatomy was also open–an oak panelled room with seating on all sides overlooking a marble dissection table in middle of the room. Some statues of great names in the field of medicine, including Galen and Paracelsus still look down on today’s proceedings–just visitors to the university these days, no more dissections.

Between the university and lunch, it was my turn to be lured by sirens, in my case they took the form of fountain pens. This grey beauty was designed and made by Pineider in Florence, a pen maker since the late eighteenth century. It has a resin body, a fine rhodium-plated steel nib, and a magnetic closure. The ring is engraved with the skyline of Florence and the marine-steel clip looks like a quill. Oh yes, and filled with Aurora blue-black ink, it writes very smoothly :-).

It’s a bit early to be thinking about supper, but it will be hard to beat what we had last night–tagliatelle with ragu (the real name for Bolognese meat sauce), tagliatelle culatello (black ham), and tiramisu. Something a little simpler tonight, I think.