Friday, May 22, 2015

Dreams Of Tuscany Come To Life........Boun Giorno Italia!

Today we docked in the port of Livorno on the Ligurian Sea.  Founded in 1017 Livorno was a small coastal fortress that protected Pisa. Upon boarding the bus we met our guide named Cinze, an Australian who lived in Italy since she was a teen. 

Our day in Tuscany began with a drive past Lucca, a tiny walled city nestled in the countryside. We passed by groves of olives trees as Cinze told us how she buys olive oil from a local farmer by the gallon. She explained the difference between the various grades of the oil with extra virgin being the finest.

Miracle Square would be our first stop to see the famous leaning tower of Pisa.  My heart giggled with excitement as I realized that I was really Tuscany, Italy about to see the leaning tower!  As we entered the square by foot I noticed the recognizable tower in the distance with a massive dome and church nearby.  To be honest my first thought was, "that's it," as the tower was dwarfed in size compared to the large "duomo," or dome. The Pisa Baptistery stands 180 feet high with a circumference of 352 feet and proudly claims the title of largest baptistery in all of Italy. It was believed that newborns were not Christians until they were baptized and therefore not allowed into the church itself.  After the newborn was baptized it was allowed into the church with its family.

The Baptistery of Pisa, Italy

And There It Is.......

Immediately we noticed Chinese tourists taking the typical corny pictures of someone holding up the tower.  So we just couldn't resist and had to take a silly picture too. We only had one hour to roam around the large square for picture taking and entering the monuments.  Briefly we thought about climbing the tilted tower since it started to rain, but after seeing the price and lines we declined.

 Not As Easy But Cheesy Shot Holding Up The Tower

Originally built as a freestanding  "campanile" or bell tower for the church nearby the tilt began during construction.  The ground was to soft on one side to support the weight of the tower and the tilt increased until it was stabilized and partially corrected in the late 20th-century. And to think this disaster turned into one of the most visited spots in all of Italy, possibly in all the world.  Check out the article below where authorities are considering turning the tower into a high dollar (20,000 euros per night) hotel.

Base of Tower

See The Tilt?

Tower And Tall, Slender Cypress Tress Common Throughout Europe

After a rainy morning in Pisa we jumped back on the bus for a ride to Florence.  Deep in the heart of Tuscany sits the charming city of Florence. Our tour guide mentioned lunch on the bus and suggested a place for an authentic Italian meal. She even called ahead to reserve enough seats for those that wanted to accompany her to the little Italian bistro.  She made suggestions as to what we should eat saying, "you need to taste and smell Italy and not just see it." 

City of Florence, Italy

Once seated inside the restaurant we ordered Bruchetta (pronounced bru-sketta) according to our guide.  Simply put it's an appetizer of heated Italian bread covered with olive oil and tomatoes.  For the main course we ordered a pizza that was cooked in a brick over and contained just a few ingredients.  And while in Italy wine is a must and we ordered a glass of chianti wine for each of us. This delectable lunch came to 26 euros and satiated us with a taste of Italy we won't soon forget.

Bruchetta & Chianti

Our Lunch.....Florence IS The Birthplace Of Pizza
So When In Florence.....Pizza Was A Must Eat!

Florence with some 400,000 residents gets packed with tourists like ourselves who flock to the historic city center.  We stopped at the Basilica of Santa Croce (holy cross) to explore the inside and outside of this lovely church.  Since the skies had cleared and the sun was peeking out we had the perfect opportunity to explore this beautiful city. Next stop was the cathedral of Santa Maria del Fiore (St. Mary of the flower) and it's massive dome.  Then onto the Ponte Vecchio (old bridge) which is an old bridge made of stone.  The arched bridge goes across the Arno River and houses various jewelry stores and tourist shops.  From there we headed over to Accademia (Academy of Fine Arts) which is home to Michelangelo's statue of David.

Michelangelo's Statue of David
More Statues & Naked People



Like I said before we do enjoy the touristy parts of a city but even more so we LOVE to get lost in the back streets everywhere we go.  And get lost we did as we headed down narrow cobblestoned alleyways, marveling at the nooks and crannies, shops, restaurants and different way of life. Since it was getting late and we couldn't seem to find our way out of this maze Clyde pulled out his trusty map.  Just then another tour group headed our way and the guide, assuming we were lost tourists simply said, "it's that way," as she pointed.

Backstreets of Florence

Street Performer Or Ghost?

Walking In The Streets In Common Throughout Europe From What We've Seen

 Gelato Is Everywhere!

Lots Of Tiny Cars In Europe

Pinocchio.....The Story Was Set In Italy So Everywhere
This Little Guy Was On Sale

Police In Florence

Ponte Vecchio


Back at our meeting point we met up with others in a bakery.  Drooling at the display of real Italian pastries we just had to sample a few. Ordering the delights was rather confusing since we were told to order by category and size, then go over to the register and pay.  While I recognized a cannoli from my childhood days in New Jersey the rest was a blur.  We didn't know a baba mignon from a bigne much less anything else in the place.  Clyde called a clerk over as we proceeded to point to the ones we wanted and specify either "grandi" or "piccolo" (large or small) in Italian. Then Clyde asked the man to write down the names of each one which he then presented at another counter to the cashier. Surprisingly, the lovely, luscious desserts were inexpensive as were our coffee's in this cute, little café.  And in case you're wondering what a baba mignon is ours was a pastry soaked in alcohol covered with whipped cream and a strawberry on top.  Thinking this was a finger food I picked it up to take a bite and the booze ran down my arm and onto the little plate.  Not to worry though as I was able to slurp up the good stuff from my plate after eating the cake.  Then we moved onto the bigne that resembled a small cream puff.  We also had a torte coccolat which was simply a rich layer cake of chocolate. Clyde and I shared all three desserts with fond memories of our day in Florence. 

Ahhhh I was falling in love again with the taste and smells of Italy.  Perhaps we could just stow away in the back of a bakery and stay here forever? After all we've had to learn Spanish living in Panama and Italian is similar, so how hard could it be?

Back to reality we made our way back onto the bus and back on the ship by 6pm, after another 10-hour day of touring. After dinner we took in the nightly show which today was a group called Backstreet Beatles.  The group of four men performed well-known hits done by the Beatles that got everyone singing along.  The show ended with us and many others from the audience getting up to dance.  We swayed along to the movement of the ship, or perhaps from too much wine in Italy as we sailed away from Florence headed to our next stop Rome.......along the gringo trail.

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