Bella Italia

City of arts

Hi, welcome back to my blog! Last week I wrote an introduction to the topic I will be talking about the next couple of weeks, which is a road trip through my favorite country Italy.

San Vincenzo

The first stop on our road trip is San Vincenzo! This might be a place you don’t know, but it’s quite popular among Dutch tourist, especially for the (quite luxurious) camping sites situated there right next to the beach. San Vincenzo is a small city in the province Livorno, Tuscany. The city has about 7,500 inhabitants, so yeah, it really is small, but it is the ideal place to stay for a beach/ culture vacation.

Overall the city is quite calm, but it comes to life on Saturdays, when the weekly market takes place on the Piazza Giovanni XXIII. I always love going to those markets and I often find myself getting into a conversation with the lovely market traders, who often already are quite on age. At the beach in San Vincenzo you will find Paradisino, a restaurant and bar with a private beach, sports areas and entertainment. A nice place to go, especially in the weekends when the beaches are crowded, because of the Italians who have a couple days off. You’ll have a little more privacy and it is a lot less crowded.

Florence

San Vincenzo is small, so in one day you should’ve seen everything. That’s why we leave the city and go to Florence, the city of art.

Florence. San Vincenzo is situated at the western coast line

Florence might be one of my favorite cities, although it is a hard choice. I think it is, because it’s the first city I was fascinated by and can remember visiting.

If you’re not interested in culture (and a little history) at all, visiting this place might be a waste of time, since you’re going to be finding a, i’m sorry, shitload of museums here.

Since we only got to spend one day in Florence, I only went to one museum: The Galleria dell’Accademia di Firenze, this was the first art academy in whole Europe for painters. At that time I was this kind of history freak and I found that this was a museum we had to go to. The main reason was Michelangelo’s sculpture ‘the David’ and Botticelli’s painting ‘la primavera’.

The David by Michelangelo

If you’re planning on going to The Galleria dell’Accademia in the high season, I can highly recommend to already get your tickets online or go there early in the morning, because we didn’t and it was the worst thing ever. We went there just after lunch, so it was about 2 p.m., when it was super busy and the queue we were in took ages. That day it was about 38 degrees outside, so it was very important to drink a lot which I didn’t, so at one point (this is so typical) I almost passed out. Actually, when you don’t feel like getting up early, this might be a good way to get in, because we instantly got picked out of the queue and got to go in. Oh well, it was a blessing in disguise.

I was super excited to see the paintings and sculptures, although it was really busy especially at the David. After visiting the museum we continued walking through the city and my disappointment was big when we got to Piazza della Signoria. Here we found another sculpture of the David. We were suffering in that queue for what felt like hours, to find a second one standing outside. What made me a little happier was hearing that this is a replica and that we saw the original one in the museum.

Another stop was the Basilica di Santa Maria del Fiore, or the Duomo, which was massive. It even is the third largest cathedral of Europe (well, at least that’s what the Florentians say, and I’m willing to believe it). I found the cathedral very impressive to see, although I found it a bit empty on the inside compared to other Italian cathedrals (a lot of Italian churches are catholic which often means lots of sculptures, ornaments and decorations) I’ve seen. Later I read this was because those sculptures and decorations have been lost in time or transferred to the Museo dell’Opera del Duomo. The Basilica consist of three parts, the Duomo with the dome, the baptistery and the campanile which has a height of 85 meters. That last one you can climb by taking the 414 steps stairs. It’s quite a workout, but definitely worth it when you reach the top and get rewarded by an amazing view over Florence.

Basilica di Santa Maria del Fiore. The high building on the left is the campanile. The baptistery is next to it, you only see the top part

Something you definitely need to visit when in Florence is the Ponte Vecchio (the old bridge). This is one of the most famous bridges in Italy and it crosses the Arno river. Just as in the rest of Florence, be prepared to see a lot of tourists. The bridge is quite original because it has shops, mostly jewellers, art shops and souvenir sellers, build along it. The bridge has two levels; one for the shops and crossing the river and the second one originally build for the De’ Medici family who then reigned Florence. This level was for the family to go from one of their palaces to the other (Palazzo Vecchio and Palazzo Pitti) without having to mix with the rest of the folk. Buying souvenirs on this bridge is about two times as expensive as somewhere else, the same for the Duomo, because you of course pay for the location.

Ponte Vecchio

There was one place I really enjoyed being, it’s a pity I forgot the name. It was a small place in the middle of a couple museums where a lot of souvenir sellers were(illegal) selling fake paintings and other things. Overall the atmosphere was very nice there and we stayed there quite long even though it was a small place. The fun part was the police who came by every couple of minutes to chase away the sellers. They would than grab the blankets on which they had all their goods laid out and run away. This was a couple of years ago and I remember my little brother wanting to help the sellers pack their stuff to run away, which, of course, my parents didn’t find the best idea.

Siena

Eighty kilometers away from Florence is Siena, quite a small city on top of a mountain. When on the highway you can already see it. Our drive over there was not the best one, since we had to stop the car twice for my brother to, ehem, throw up (which also happened on our way back L) and I must say I didn’t feel too well myself. Driving there from Florence doesn’t take a long time, but the roads have a lot of bends and hairpins. Therefore I noticed you need to look outside and see where you’re going.

Arriving in Siena we parked the car downhill next to a long street. We had to walk uphill until we got to a moving staircase. There are about 5 of them and when you get off the last one you will find yourself on the Piazza San Francesco and there you see the first church in Siena! I always find Italy is crammed with cathedrals, the amount of them is just bizarre. I sometimes get the feeling they have more churches than people. Most of the time you can get in for free except from the big and important churches (such as the Basilica di San Pietro in Vatican city). I normally walk inside and look around for a bit (very often you can even walk inside when there’s a service going on), although it sometimes make me feel a little awkward. The Basilica San Francesco I found not that interesting, so it was a little waste of time since there is so much more to see in Siena.

One of the landmarks in Siena is the Duomo Cattedrale di Santa Maria Assunta. I haven’t been in this one, but it seems to be very beautiful from the inside. The outside already looked amazing, I can’t even imagine what it would be looking like from the inside.

Cattedrale di Santa Maria Assunta (Duomo di Siena)

Something that amazed me was the amount of tourists: there were barely any. That gave us the time and space to hang around there for a bit and take some pictures.

What might be the most well-known place in Siena is the Piazza del Campo. If you have seen the James Bond movie ‘Quantum of solace’ you might recognize this place. In that movie they show the horse races (Palio di Siena), which are held twice a year: in July and in August. Unfortunately it had been a week before I went there, so I didn’t see it.

Piazza del Campo

If you walk away from the place onthe left side and then to your left again, you will find a very small gelateria. Tourists most of the time don’t go in to these places, while those shops often have the best ice cream for low prices. The place doesn’t have a name which I found very interesting, but I think it belongs to the pizzeria next to it called Pizza. Very original I must say.

To end the trip in Florence find yourself a place to eat fagioli all uccelletto: white beans in tomato sauce. This is a very old, traditional, florentian dish and a big favourite among the inhabitants.