Friday, December 24, 2010

Leaning in Pisa and Walking in Florence (Oct. 28, 2010)

The day started bright and early with a tour leaving at 7:15, so it was up at 5:30. We groaned! It was still dark as we left the ship. We did a Princess tour as most of the Cruise Critic group had already been to Florence or Pisa.

Getting on the buses… was cold!

We had a little nap on the way to Pisa. Pisa is small, but was once the capital of a large trading area in the 11th century. We had to leave the warmth of the bus to walk to the city center. We've noticed a lot of graffiti in Rome and it doesn’t appear to be any different here.

Getting close to the Leaning Tower…

Beautiful flower market…

The gate is the entry way to the “Square of Miracles,” which contains the cathedral, baptistery and bell tower. This bell tower is the world famous Leaning Tower, which is now inclined about 12 feet to one side due to settling of the soil.

It was chilly! Our first view of the Leaning Tower! The cathedral was used by Galileo to study the movement of the pendulum, and the Leaning Tower to work out his laws of gravity and acceleration. Construction began in 1173. Five years after construction began, when it had reached the third floor, the building began to sink into the soil on the south side.

Wow! It's gorgeous! No wonder people say it resembles a wedding cake topper.

After it started to lean, construction stopped for a century, which allowed the subsoil to settle.

In 1272, when construction resumed, the upper floors were built with one side taller than the other to take the lean into account. Huh! Amazing...

Here we are…of the many places we’ve been, it was such a reality check to think “I am standing in front of the Leaning Tower of Pisa!” We are very fortunate...

And with one last look, we were off to walk back to the bus. As our guide, Elmira, reminded us "This isn't a Pisa tour." It was really only a photo stop as our focus for the day was Florence.

These little teepees are all vendor stands which were just opening up as we left around 9:00 a.m. There was an upscale McDonald's close by and we all trooped in to use their facilities.

These mountains have provided much of the marble for different buildings in Italy.

We left the bus once again to start our walking tour of Florence. We will be walking from one side of the city to the other. One of the many small streets…

Our first stop was the Museum of Accademia, which houses Michelangelo’s David. You are not allowed to take any photos, mostly because they want you to buy their postcards and books. The postcards were an outrageous 1€ each! This is one of Michelangelo’s Captive series. They were intended for the tomb of Pope Julius II, but remained unfinished due to his constantly being pulled away to work on other things for the Pope, including St. Peter’s Basilica. The way he sculpted is fascinating in that the sculptures appear to be struggling to free themselves from the marble.

The statue of David was in the Piazza della Signoria for over 300 years, before they decided to give him an inside home. It is stunning…

It was created between 1501 and 1504 and represents the biblical David who would become the King of Israel.

It it believed that it shows David before his battle with Goliath.

After that quickie stop, Elmira began explaining the structure and different colours of marble of the Basilica di Santa Maria del Fiore as we walked towards it.

It took 140 years to build. The fa├žade is decorated with geometric panels of  pink, white and green marble. The dome is the largest brick dome ever constructed.

Once again you see the three parts--the cathedral with the dome, the baptistery and the bell tower.

Amazing detail..

Look at this bell tower compared to the leaning tower!

This is the baptistery decorated with white and green marble. The bronze doors show scenes from the Bible to help people who could not read.

An aerial view that shows how massive it is. Can you imagine building something like this in the 1300s?

It was time for lunch…the horses thought so too.

We walked some more to the Astoria Hotel for lunch which was very good. We have noticed that on the restaurant menus, it usually has first course and second course and they are normally pasta. For lunch we had a first course of vegetarian lasagna, followed by beef and potatoes, with a custard dessert. We asked Elmira if Italians always eat like this, and she said they do on Sundays. But she does eat pasta every day which blows our carbs theory. They certainly aren’t overweight! As we were leaving the restaurant, Elmira, on the left, is making sure we don’t get run over!

We walked by these cannolis which I have never tasted. They looked delicious! It's a good thing we were full from lunch!

Look at the lineup of motorcycles. There isn’t a parking space to be had. You might see a bike leave and two seconds later someone grabs the spot!

We walked to the Piazza della Repubblica, which for some reason has a carousel in it. It looks quite out of character.

This piazza is not that old. Florence was briefly the capital of Italy in the 1800s and many buildings were torn down in an attempt to modernize the city. The piazza was one of the modernization projects.

From there we walked to the Piazza della Signoria, the heart of political life in Florence. This is the Old Palace of the Medici family, which is now the government center for the city.

On the left is the copy of David and on the right is the original statue, sculpted in 1540, of Hercules beheading Cacus.

The replica David...

Cacus was a fire-breathing monster in Roman mythology.

The statue is the Rape of the Sabine Women. The first generation of Roman men acquired wives from the neighbouring tribes. In this case, rape means abduction.

The bronze statue of Perseus holding the head of Medusa which was sculpted in 1545.

A new version of the rickshaw!

From here we walked to Ponte Vecchio (oh, our aching feet!!) a 14th century bridge which spans the Arno River. Goldsmiths and silversmiths long ago built their shops on the bridge and the road leading up to it.

We are standing on Ponte Vecchio looking out at the other bridges.

Lots of people on the bridge…it was a beautiful day.

Jim taking notes trying to keep up with Elmira’s commentary.

Elmira is a good photographer!

No one is allowed to drive on the bridge, but I guess if you’re the polizia, it’s okay.

It is just one jewellery shop after another. How would you ever choose one? We didn't try! It has been occupied by jewellers since the 14th century!

We left the bridge to walk some more. One of my favourite pictures. This is a picture of the Ponte Vecchio. You can see the arches in the middle and the shops on both sides.

We noticed a lot of laundry hanging out the windows. Not sure how clean it would be when you took it in, but it seems to be pretty common.

Pretty balconies…

Still walking…we headed to our last stop, Piazza di Santa Croce. The church is once again in the coloured marble and is from the 14th century. The walls are lined with tombs, including those of Michelangelo, Machiavelli, Galileo and Rossini. Dante’s tomb is also here, but his body is actually in Ravenna.

Elmira took us into the required “Princess shopping stop.” There is always one! Here a guy is working on gold stamping leather. They had beautiful leather goods and jewellery. We had noticed in Rome and Florence that there are shops that just sell leather gloves. I decided to buy a pair and saw a nice necklace that managed to leave with us as well.

Back in the piazza, here we were sitting with our backs to the church watching the people go by. We had some time to kill before walking back to the bus. This piazza is large, but quite empty without a fountain or obelisk.

Dante’s statue in front of the church. Doesn’t he look angry!

And someone has definitely ticked off the lions…

As we were leaving, one of the ladies in the group was looking ahead and didn’t see that there was a pavement drop in front of her. Down she went with the worst thwack! Her glasses cut her forehead and she was pretty shaken up, but after a few minutes of getting her wits about her, we all trekked back to the bus.

What a great day of sights! One of the towers remaining from the walls that surrounded the city.

So beautiful…goodbye to Florence!

Olive trees and grape vines…

Weird! I was trying to figure out what this thing was in the sky. I even woke Jim up who was dozing away. I guess it was just the sun peeking through, but I’ve never seen it look like that…

Coming back into Livorno where the ship is docked. Actually Livorno looked quite cute in itself. It would have been nice to walk around here, but not today!!

Livorno is the third largest seaport in Italy and exports large amounts of marble and alabaster. The port was rebuilt in the 16th century by the Medici family as it had become choked with silt. Very pretty…

And we’re back at the ship! We got a good workout today to make up for any goodies we ate! Next stop is Cannes…

Setting sail from Livorno…

Lots of fantastic memories...

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