Although we have been back from our short summer break in Tuscany (northern Italy) for more than a week now, I still have not managed to post anything on the seven days we spent on the other side of the Alps. In fact, I had not even uploaded the pictures I had shot while we were in Tuscany onto our home desktop until late Sunday night (but I had done so on another computer, which is why there was less of an incentive to do so on this computer). By the way, one of the drawbacks with travelogue entries is the time it takes to select and prepare the pictures to be displayed … but hey, nobody is forcing me to write anything on WordPress. 😉

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As we passed by Carrara, it was hard to resist taking a shot of this city, which is famous for the marble that has been extracted from the mountains nearby since Roman times. Ironically, we would end up staying at a place which had also served as a quarry as far back as the Romans, but quite some kilometres further south (yet also in Tuscany).

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As we had decided only once in Italy that we would go to Isola d’Elba (Isle of Elba) for the first part of our holidays (we had been thinking of returning — see Some pictures of our holidays in Northern Italy — to Cinque Terre in Liguria initially), we opted to drive down to Piombino from where we would take a ferry to Portoferraio, which lies on the northern coast of the island, rather than from Livorno because to have done so from the latter would have required a longer boat journey. We had a really pleasant boat ride. Once at Portoferraio, we headed to the tourist office and from the pictures of the beaches we saw there, we decided we would stay at either Marina di Campo or at Cavoli. As we were driving south, we were surprised by the size of the island, which we had assumed to be much smaller as the triangle of land off the coast of Tuscany that is represented on the maps of Italy makes the island seem much smaller than it is in real life.

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Cavoli is a small seaside resort situated on the south-west coast of the Isle of Elba. We were lucky to be able to stay in a house not far from the beach (the property even had its own beach as well as its own road leading to it from the main road further up on the hillside — you can see the car park on the bottom right corner). This was attributable to the fact that we had not made any arrangements for our accommodation beforehand and, of course, to sheer luck.

DSCN4717_Porto Azurro_12 September 2013[Click to enlarge]

In essence, our holiday was a break from everything at a nice seaside resort with heavy doses of beach time and swimming. Although this is not my ideal type of holiday, I must acknowledge that it was very relaxing. The main drawback was that we did not go round the whole of Isola d’Elba, which is why for instance we did not get to see either of the two villas where Napoleon was confined (anyhow I have never been an admirer of this historical figure — on the contrary, I think of him more as a 19th century war criminal than anything else). Fortunately, we did get to visit a few places, including Marina di Campo, Seccheto, San Andrea, Marciana Marina, Porto Azzurro. To pay justice to this small island, I think I shall have to write a specific entry on it.

Various shades and colours in the countryside in Tuscany_13 September 2013

As we were driving towards the hilltop town of Volterra, we were able to admire the colourful landscapes of Tuscany’s countryside (the varied colouring has something to do with the different types of soil, apparently).

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Even though Volterra is only a small town, it is one of my favourite places in Italy because, to some extent, it is a miniature Italy all by itself with remnants (buildings, archaeological structures) of some of that country’s main historical periods: the Etruscans, the Romans, the Middle Ages, the Renaissance, the post-Renaissance period, etc. Although I had visited Volterra more than 20 years ago as a student, I was keen to return there to be able to show this small Italian jewel to my father and to my wife.

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La piazza dei Priori: Palazzo Vescovile (left), Palazzo Incontri (centre), Palazzo Pretorio and Torre del Porcellino (far right).

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La piazza dei Priori with Palazzo Pretorio and the beginning of Torre del Porcellino (far left), Palazzo del Monte Pio (centre), the 13th century Palazzo dei Priori (far right; I did not manage to get its tower, which is the highest of these palazzi, into the picture).

Unfortunately, we spent less than an hour in Volterra as I was hoping that we would manage to visit another hilltop town on our way to Florence. My main regret was that we did not get to see the Roman theatre. I made the mistake of trusting my memory and we ended up at the Etruscan Acropolis instead!

San Gimignano_13 September 2013

From Volterra, we drove eastwards. Initially, we were thinking of giving the Manhattan-like, UNESCO-listed tophill town of San Gimignano a miss as we were hoping to reach Florence not too late in the evening — we would be staying at a friend’s flat and we had already pre-announced our arrival for mid-afternoon. But the call to visit this charming little town again (Our Italian escapade… in beautiful Tuscany…) proved too strong.

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A (distorted) panoramic shot of Piazza della Cisterna looking towards via dello Castello (left) and the archway Arco dei Becci e Cugnanesi (right), therefore with Piazza del Duomo behind me.

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Another poor (my hands must have been shaky) and distorted (attributable to the algorithm used by my Nikon to compress the pictures) shot, this time of Piazza del Duomo, the adjacent square which is not only home to the Duomo (Basilica Collegiata di Santa Maria Assunta) and its famous Judgment Day fresco but also to several palazzi (Palazzo Comunale on the left, the palazzo of the Salvucci family, centre, palazzo of the Chigi-Useppi , right, and palazzo della Podesta, far right) and to some famous towers (Torre Grossa, which rises to 54 metres, far left, and the twin Salvucci towers, centre, Pettini tower, right). We stayed at San Gimignano for probably not more than an hour, which is why for better pictures, I would refer any visitor to this page to go to the entry my wife and I wrote two years ago (Our Italian escapade… in beautiful Tuscany…).

It was time to head to Florence, the capital of Tuscany and a Renaissance jewel (of course, it is also part of UNESCO’s list of World Heritage sites).

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Even though in all we spent only a little more than a full afternoon in Florence, we were able to see some of the main attractions: basilica of Santa Maria Novella, the cathedral Santa Maria del Fiore, with the Baptistry of St John and Giotto’s campanile, Ponte Vecchio, Piazza dela Signoria, Loggia della Signoria, Palazzo Vecchio and the Galleria degli Uffizi nearby (as shown on the photo above from the top left).

Florence Cellini Perseus_David Michelangelo_Hercules and Cacus Bandinelli_Uffizi _Palazzo Vecchio_Palazzo Antinori_Santa Maria del Fiore[Roll your mouse pointer on the picture to display the names]

Although it was mid-September, the weather was great and there were crowds of tourists in the streets. As many of the visitors seemed to be genuinely enraptured by the beauty of the buildings in the old town, I did not really mind the crowds as it was almost inspiring to be able to witness the expression of quasi delight on people’s faces as well as it was a pleasure for the eyes to be able to catch sight of the occasional fashion afficionada in her summer attire. Although I had been to Florence twice before (including for almost a week the first time as part of a voyage d’études when I was fifteen), our short stay this year has definitely rekindled in me the desire to go back to this Renaissance jewel again for, say, an extended weekend. In short, Florence was a nice conclusion to our summer break in Tuscany and it will have left us with some sunny memories to cherish during the cold, grey days of November and December we shall soon have to endure.

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PS Many thanks to Vito for having provided us with the hospitality of his flat, some 8 tram stops away from Florence’s main railway station.

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