Our Second Week in Italy: Florence

March 22 - April 18, 2008

Our Three-Week Italy Vacation - Overview

We had a fantastic vacation in Italy! Almost three weeks. Our trip overview page is here.

April 6 - April 11, 2008

Our Second Week (This Page) - Where we Stayed

Florence - 6 nights, beginning April 6. Our tour group all stayed at Torre Guelfa.

Sunday, April 6


Driving Through the Chianti Region

Drove from Siena to the Florence Airport in the morning, to drop off our rental car.

We had wanted to see more of the Chianti region between Siena and Florence, but our schedule didn't allow us enough time, so we were a bit rushed. (Took longer to pack up, and we needed to make sure we were at our Florence hotel by 3 pm for the start of our Rick Steves Florence tour.) Still, we got a sense of what a beautiful area it is. Would be great to go back and spend more time there!

Siena (A), through some back roads in Chianti, then back on the main road at Poggibonsi and then north to the Florence Airport (B):

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A vista in the Chianti region.

Chianti vista

Dropped off the car at the airport, and took a bus from the airport to the train station in downtown Florence. Walked to the Torre Guelfa hotel, and met up with our group.

Rick Steves Florence Tour

Our tour was wonderful! Our guide, Kathy, struck the perfect balance between organizing things for us and allowing us time on our own. And she was a great tour guide. Relaxed, but organized, and very knowledgeable. Our group was fun to be with and to explore Florence with. And, it was nice to have much of the "what's next?" decision-making done by someone else, and by someone who knows the city well.

After meeting the group and having some wine at the hotel, we headed off for our first museum tour (at 4:00 pm) -- the Galleria dell' Accademia. With Michelangelo's David. Wow -- what a sculpture! The confident look in David's eyes -- ready to take on Goliath -- is amazing, and was a treat to see "in person."

Dinner with the group at Trattoria Nerone Pizzeria, Via Faenza. Delicious pizza in a funky and fun restaurant. A great choice by our guide Kathy!

Monday, April 7


Museums and Sights in Florence - with the group, and then on our own

We walked with the group to the Duomo Museum (the Museo dell'Opera di Santa Maria del Fiore), for an 8:45 entrance. Kathy gave us an intro to some of the works, and then once we were ready we were on our own for the rest of the day. Many interesting things to see.

Fruit market


Near our hotel.


A facade detail from the Duomo.

A facade detail from the Duomo

A detail from the exterior of the Baptistery. (He's perhaps 8 or so inches tall.) I believe that this is a copy, with the originals kept inside the Duomo Muesum for protection.

A detail from the exterior of the Baptistry

A mosaic.

Mosaic on the Duomo

Kathy took us on a detour through the Mercato Centrale, to which we would return for lunch.

Counter in the Mercato Centrale

At the Duomo Museum.

One of the panels by Ghilberti from the doors of the Baptistery, inside for safekeeping and protection from the weather. (These are in sealed glass boxes, filled with nitrogen. Replicas have been installed on the doors.)

Ghilberti panel from the Baptistry

An angel


In the mid-afternoon we climbed up inside to the Cupola del Brunelleschi -- the dome of the Duomo, designed by Brunelleschi. Great views: first, inside the Duomo at the base of the dome, looking (way!) down on the floor of the Duomo below as well as up at the frescos on the inside of the dome, above. Then, a walk up increasintly narrow stairs between the inner and outer dome shells. And finally, emerging outside at the top, for great views of the city below.

View from Brunelleschi's dome

View from Brunelleschi's dome

View from Brunelleschi's dome

View from Brunelleschi's dome

View from Brunelleschi's dome

Chiesa (Basilica) di Santa Croce is visible in the far left. (Which we visited the next day.)

View from Brunelleschi's dome, looking south

View from Brunelleschi's dome, looking north

A detail at the top of Brunelleschi's dome

A detail at the top of Brunelleschi's dome

Inside the Duomo.

Inside teh Duomo

Moving in closer, with a view of a bit of the inside of the dome that we had just climbed.

Inside the Duomo

Looking up into the dome.

Looking up into Brunelleschi's dome

Another view up

Back on the street, looking up at where we were.

The Duomo

The Duomo

Palazzo Vecchio, catching the evening light.

Palazzo Vecchio

Palazzo Vecchio

Then, a nice dinner with the group that evening.

And then to the open top of the tower at our hotel (the "Torre" in Torre Guelfa) for this 15-second exposure shot of the Duomo. (The greenish-tinted building in the lower-right corner of the image is the Orsanmichele Church, which was between our hotel and the Duomo.)

The Duomo, from our hotel

San Frediano in Castello, across (and on the south side of) the Arno River. The buildings (and car headlight trails) are on the south bank of the river.

Looking across the Arno, from our hotel

Tuesday, April 8


Museums (Including the Outstanding Uffizi Gallery!), Wanderings, and Food

We went with the group for a 9:00 am entrance to the San Marco Museum (Museo di San Marco).

And then to the absolutely wonderful Uffizi Gallery (and the official site here). This time with a guide that Kathy had lined up, Simone, who did a wonderful job of introducing us to many of the Uffizi's spectacular treasures. Simone is a scholar of ancient and medieval history; it was a treat to get his insights into what was happening at the time that the art and treasures we saw were created, how the arts were evolving, and lots of other great context and info.

A great dinner with another couple from the tour at a Osteria Santo Spirito, on the south side of the Arno River.

Wednesday, April 9


Guided Wanderings, a Basilica, and Food

The group spent a few hours with Simone leading us on a walk through neighborhoods on the south side of the Arno River. He did a great job of describing what life was like in the very neighborhoods through which we walked, many hundreds of years ago.

This caught my eye along the way.

Iron ring

Inside the Palazzo Bartolini Salimbeni, (roughly) an upper middle class home during the 16th century. Thoughts of M. C. Escher sprung to my mind!

Palazzo Bartolini Salimbeni

Palazzo Bartolini Salimbeni

Ponte Vecchio.

Ponte Vecchio

Ponte Vecchio

Ponte Vecchio

Wisteria along (the road) Lungamo Generale Armando Diaz, on the north bank of the Arno.


After the walk with Simone we were on our own for the late morning and afternoon. We took a nice long walk to the Chiesa (Basilica) di Santa Croce at Piazza Santa Croce.

Chiesa (Basilica) di Santa Croce

A memorial tomb for Dante Alighieri in the Basilica.

Memorial tomb for Dante Alighieri

A narrow alley on the way back to the hotel.


We met back up with the group for a wine tasting (and meal) led by Kathy. Pitti Gola e Cantina, on Piazza Pitti. Very nice way to end the day!

Thursday, April 10


A Daytime Excursion to the Tuscan Hills - San Gimignano & Certaldo

Today was our bus excursion day -- a tour of the "Tuscan Hills." Two stops: San Gimignano and Certaldo.

San Gimignano is the only medieval Italian town with many of its towers (medieval status symbols of the wealthy, essentially) intact. It's a bit of a tourist trap -- but the crowds thinned as soon as we got off the main drag.

A view out (and down) from the edge town.

Hillside view

A tower in San Gimignano

A tower in San Gimignano

A detail in San Gimignano

Towers in San Gimignano

The view from Torre Grossa (with joint admission to a very nice little museum).

The view from Torre Grossa

The view from Torre Grossa

The view from Torre Grossa

The view from Torre Grossa

The view from Torre Grossa

A detail - behind the museum



Olive tree and stone wall

Wisteria and stone wall

San Gimignano view

San Gimignano view

flowers on a tray on a pot

In contrast to San Gimignano, Certaldo, is not a tourist trap at all! Kathy wanted us to see a medieval hill town that was not filled with people.

Blossoms in a courtyard of Palazzo Pretorio. (AKA Palazzo Vicariale.)

Blossoms in Certaldo

Both hill towns were a treat to see.

That evening we had a good dinner with another couple from the tour at a restaurant recommended by Kathy - the name of which I can't recall.

Friday, April 11


Museums, Wanderings, and Food

A fresco fragment on the ceiling of our hotel room (which was in the tower), at Torre Guelfa.

Fresco fragment in our hotel room

We had a 9:30 am entrance with the group to the Bargello Museum (Museo del Bargello - the official site is here).

Courtyard at the Bargello Museum

Courtyard at the Bargello Museum

We walked across the Arno, and up the hill to Piazzale Michelangelo (and this caught my eye along the way).

Stone wall and moss

Great views from the Piazzale!

View from Piazzale Michelangelo

View from Piazzale Michelangelo

View from Piazzale Michelangelo

View from Piazzale Michelangelo

Flowers, Piazzale Michelangelo

On the way to and from the Piazzale, we passed some cats who are evidently cared for by the city.


After walking back down and crossing the Arno, we visited the Medici Chapel (Cappelle Medicee).

Then we made it to the Santa Maria Novella -- and made it to the chapel just before closing.

Nearby, we visited the Officina Profumo Farmaceutica di Santa Maria Novella. Sells all things scented. Amazing scents and smells! (Fancy place, too!)

We met up with our guide Kathy and a few from our group to visit the Baptistery, an octagonal building just outside the Duomo. The mosaiced ceiling is amazing! (I'm very glad that Kathy encouraged us to make the visit.)

Baptistry mosaiced ceiling

Baptistry mosaiced ceiling - a detail

Hell is not a nice place!

Baptistry mosaiced ceiling - Hell!

Dinner with the group at Trattoria Antellesi, Via Faenza. The best meal of our stay in Florence. Particularly the Florentine steak -- a regional specialty and the "special" dish of this restaurant! I think it was the best and most flavorful beef I've ever had.

Continuing on to Venice...

Click here to continue on to our third week in Italy.