Post # 4 in my Mediterranean Adventure Series – Pisa and Florence
I have wanted to see the Tuscan region of Italy for as long as I could remember! Then, along came the movie “Under The Tuscan Sun” and it became an obsession…..a major life goal……one of my top bucket list items…..I HAD to go to Tuscany sometime before I “kicked the bucket”! So, our second port on the cruise was the one I was most looking forward to and it did not disappoint!
Of all the places I spent time in during this trip, Tuscany is the one I want to return to — stay right there for a few days and take taxis to places where the busses can’t get close and get advance reservations and skip the line tours of places I didn’t get to see inside. What a wonderful experience it was and how much more wonderful it could be!
The second port on our cruise was Livorno – a port city on the Tyrrhenian Sea on the western coast of Tuscany, Italy. The main areas of focus for shore excursions were Pisa and Florence – a few others, but most of the excursions involved one or the other, both, or in some combination with other stops. We arrived at Livorno port at 9:30 am and had to be back on ship no later than 8:30 pm.
The excursion I chose was a 10 hour tour called “Florence and Pisa On Your Own”. A bit of advice from someone who learned the hard way — when anyone in Europe says “short walk” or “just a couple blocks” or “just over there – 5-10 minutes tops”, you need to understand that they walk everywhere and what they mean by a short walk could be very different than your idea of a short walk! hahaha I chose this tour because the description said it was a bus tour with stops at Pisa and Florence and time to explore on your own and at your own pace at both locations. On our first stop in Pisa, the guide said the bus is not allowed to be any closer than the designated parking area and we will walk about 20 minutes to the Leaning Tower and back…..it ended up taking about 25 minutes! When we got to Florence – same thing – however, the guide noticed there were five of us ladies of a certain age that struggled with the walk in Pisa and ordered us a taxi – we had to pay for it, but for three euros a piece, we were driven to the primary spot in Florence and another three euros a piece took us back to the bus. What a wonderful thing that was….things always work out the way they should!!! I feel like I am voicing a big complaint, but, really I’m just explaining my experience – it was a small thing in the grand scheme of things and it was sooooooo worth it to get to see what I saw and be in some of the most amazing places in the world!
View of the Port of Livorno from the ship
The walk from the bus to the Leaning Tower was a challenge, but it was doable – I got there and back – and thoroughly enjoyed the time in the courtyard with the tower, the cathedral, and the baptistry. This was our shortest stop, but it was ample time to enjoy this amazing place.
Pisa is a city located at the mouth of the Arno River in Tuscany – central Italy.
The group stopped to look at olive trees in someone’s yard on the walk to our destination
A small market place along the wall that surrounds the area where the cathedral, etc. was located
A wall surrounds the Piazza del Duomo
A shot that shows the Baptistry in the foreground, the cathedral behind it, and the bell tower (Leaning Tower of Pisa) behind that.
Because of the large crowds, long lines, and needing to have a reservation to enter many of the buildings on this tour (both Pisa and Florence), I did not get to enter any of the buildings, but it was still so amazing to just be there.
The Baptistry, a round Romanesque style building built in the mid-12th century, is dedicated to St. John the Baptist and stands opposite the west end of the Duomo (medieval cathedral). It was built away from the cathedral because in the time of Michelangelo and Galileo, you had to be baptized before you could enter the cathedral. It is the largest baptistry in Italy and stands a few centimeters taller than the cathedral’s bell tower (the leaning tower).
The Cathedral and the Campanile (bell tower)
The Duomo (cathedral) construction began in 1064 and it set the model for the distinctive Pisan Romanesque style of architecture. It is dedicated to Santa Maria Assunta (St. Mary of the Assumption).
The Campanile (bell tower), more commonly known as the Leaning Tower of Pisa, is located behind the cathedral. The reason the tower leans is because of the ground it was built on – copied from Wikipedia, here is the explanation: “The last of the three major buildings on the piazza to be built, construction of the bell tower began in 1173 and took place in three stages over the course of 177 years, with the bell-chamber only added in 1372. Five years after construction began, when the building had reached the third floor level, the weak subsoil and poor foundation led to the building sinking on its south side. The building was left for a century, which allowed the subsoil to stabilize itself and prevented the building from collapsing. In 1272, to adjust the lean of the building, when construction resumed, the upper floors were built with one side taller than the other. The seventh and final floor was added in 1319. By the time the building was completed, the lean was approximately 1 degree, or 80 cm (2.5 feet) from vertical. At its greatest, measured prior to 1990, the lean measured approximately 5.5 degrees. As at 2010, the lean was reduced to approximately 4 degrees.”
You can NOT go to the Leaning Tower of Pisa without taking some variation of this photo!!! haha
There are 296 steps with no elevator to reach the top of the tower — one tour I could have taken included climbing the tower……no thank you! LOL But, I did do my part to keep the tower from falling while we were there — I am strong like bull…..I held the tower up, even if only for a few minutes! hehehe (pardon the “hat hair”, but I didn’t want the hat on for this photo – even though it left me sweaty hat hair)
We had a meeting time and place to gather for the walk back to the bus – it was in the market place and the actual spot was called “The Meeting Place Café”! haha I took some time to look around at the various vendors and sat to have a cold drink at the meeting place while waiting for the others.
There was even a Caffe New York!!!
A display at the Meeting Place Café……couldn’t resist taking a photo of this huge flute of wine!
Seen from the bus on the drive to Florence
Florence is the capital of the Tuscan Region. It is the most populated city in Tuscany, with 383,083 inhabitants in 2016, and over 1,520,000 in its metropolitan area. Florence was the center of medieval European trade and finance and one of the wealthiest cities of that era. Florence plays an important role in Italian fashion and is ranked in the top 15 fashion capitals of the world. It is famous for Tuscan and Florentine leather products.
When we arrived in Florence, it was another 20-25 minute walk to/from the bus to the primary spot where we were left to explore on our own. But, as I said earlier, a few of us had the pleasure of being taken from the bus by taxi…..we were dropped off at the Michelangelo Florentine Leather Shop where we’d meet up with the others.
Before the guide left us to our day, she took us in the leather shop for a demonstration and talk about Italian leather. By participating in the demo/talk, we got a nice discount on any leather goods we purchased in the shop. I bought myself a beautiful pair of lamb skin leather gloves lined in cashmere — sooooo nice and they fit…well, like a glove!!! I also bought a couple gifts.
Forms used to hand make shoes
This purse was originally commissioned to be designed for Princess Grace of Monaco (Grace Kelly) – it was hand made for her at this shop when she was in Florence on location filming “To Catch A Thief”. They now sell handmade replicas of the “Grace Kelly” bag for several hundred euros.
Aside from just spending time in Tuscany, I wanted to be sure to see the original Michelangelo’s David. But, the guide told us the museum required advance reservations to get in and it is a very long, uninteresting walk to get there and unless you knew to get a reservation, you likely would not be granted access — the lines for impromptu reservations would be extremely long and no guarantees there would be ANY open reservation times. So…..I didn’t get to do that.
Living the dream Under the Tuscan Sun!!!
I hung out in the square, browsed the shops, had lunch, ate gelato, and just really enjoyed being there – what a thrill and it was a beautiful day – HOT – be beautiful!
Where I had lunch – the BEST meal of the entire trip – maybe even of my entire life!!!
I started my lunch with Bruschetta – Tuscan bread with fresh tomatoes, olive oil, and basil – AMAZING!!!
And, then had the rigatoni with sausage……OMG……I’ve never tasted anything like it and doubt I ever will again!!! It had the most incredible flavor….I can’t describe it — it looks like such a simple dish, but the flavors were complex and everything was cooked to perfection — unbelievable and indescribably delicious!!!
I don’t know if it was just cause it was hot and the water was so cold, but everywhere I went for the entire trip I especially loved the bottled still mineral water — it tasted so much better than any bottled water I’ve ever had! Amazing!
They also had some of the most beautiful varieties of pigeons I’ve ever seen!
I watched this lady feed the pigeons by hand — they all took their turns getting morsels from her!
I noticed this lady looking out her window at the tourists wandering around in her square
The following are shots I took around the square as I shopped and sat to “people watch” and enjoy my day:
I stopped in for gelato at a wonderful sweet shop:
This gelato was AMAZING – nut cream flavor – tasted like hazelnut with swirls of chocolate and bits of nuts
When we returned to the bus (again – a few of us were were lucky to get the taxi back), the guide told us that we were so timely in getting back that the driver was going to take a detour on the way back to the ship so we could see more of Tuscany — the views were awesome!!! We made one stop and weren’t allowed off the bus, but I had a window seat on the right side of the bus and got the view overlooking Florence from a high upper class area — incredible!!!
Back on the ship, I caught my first sunset — all the other nights, so far, I was so exhausted I fell aslep before sunset or I was inside having a late dinner or watching a show!
It was late when we returned, so I just grabbed some fruit from the buffet for “dinner” — nothing could have topped that lunch and gelato in Florence and I really didn’t want to taint the memory of it with an inferior meal! LOL The show that night was “Burn The Floor – a ballroom rebellion” – a very energetic show of ballroom dancing through the years – very good! After the show, I crashed for the night!
So that was my most wonderful and magical day in Tuscany…..a dream come true…..a day I’ll never forget!!!
The next port will be in the French Riviera where I spent the day in Monaco……so that will be the next post in this series.