A Travellerspoint blog

By this Author: Anja Fourie

Lake Como

'Lake Como has always been a magnet for the elite." ~ Janine di Giovanni

sunny 17 °C
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Lake Como is the third largest lake in Italy and has been a popular retreat for aristocrats and wealthy people since the Roman times. Today many famous celebrities have houses at Lake Como including George Clooney, Brad Pitt, Helen Mirren and Woody Allen.

There are many towns that surround the massive Lake Como. We stopped at the town of Como, which is situated right at the southern tip of the lake, and about 1 hour from Milan.

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COMO CATHEDRAL

The cathedral is commonly described as one of the last Gothic cathedrals built in Italy. The construction on the cathedral was started in 1396, but was not finished until 1770.
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BRUNATE

Overlooking Como, is the little village of Brunate. It has a population of about 1800. From Como you can take the Como-Brunate funicular. The track is about 1km long and goes straight up the mountain side. It takes 7 minutes to reach the top. At the top you can see as far as the alps in Switzerland.

The route of the funicular up the mountain
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The view from Brunate
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Next stop: Milan

Posted by Anja Fourie 13:17 Archived in Italy Tagged italy cathedral como funicular lake_como brunate Comments (0)

La Spezia, The Bay of Poets

“Italia! Oh Italia! Thou who hast the fatal gift of Beauty." ~ Lord Byron's tribute to the Bay of Poets

sunny 15 °C
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Where did we stay? Hotel Firenze e Continentale

La Spezia is a quiet harbour town. La Spezia is the departure point for the Cinque Terre, but also has many little coffee shops, restaurants and interesting areas to explore. Many cruise ships stop at La Spezia to allow guests to visit Pisa and Florence, who are both easily accessibly by train from La Spezia. Many would choose to give this port city a skip, as it is so close to so much more grander history, but the city is quaint in its own way.

We spent the day exploring the city by foot, relaxing in coffee shops and breathing in the fresh ocean breeze.

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Market and beautiful food items in La Spezia
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The La Spezia government has installed free lifts in the city, as it can be quite hilly. Take the lifts for a view of the city.

The lifts of La Spezia
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Breathing in the fresh ocean air at the port
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Next stop: Lake Como

Posted by Anja Fourie 07:38 Archived in Italy Tagged harbour italy port tuscany la_spezia Comments (0)

Pisa

"I've been to the Leaning Tower of Pisa. It's a tower, and it's leaning. You look at it, but nothing happens, so then you look for someplace to get a sandwich." ~ Danny deVito

sunny 15 °C
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Read about my previous visit to Pisa here: Florence and Pisa in one day..

If you have limited time in Pisa, the only place you need to head to is the Piazza dei Mirocoli, the Field of Miracles. In 1987, the whole square was declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

As with many cities in Italy, their famous sights dominate their skylines. With Pisa it is no different, as you already spot the cathedral and that famous tower when you enter Pisa. The town of Pisa only has a population of 90 000 people, but attracts over 1 million visitors every year thanks to the famous leaning tower.

While crossing the bridge into Pisa, the Field of Miracles can be seen in the distance
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This piazza is recognised as one of the finest architectural complexes in Europe and is a centre of Renaissance art. The complex hosts the Leaning Tower of Pisa, the Pisa Cathedral, the Pisa Baptistry and the Old Cemetery.

The Baptistry - the largest baptistry in Italy at 54.86m high
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The Pisa Campanile (Bell Tower) - commonly known as the Leaning Tower of Pisa, currently leaning at 4 degrees.
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The Pisa Cathedral - the heart of the Piazza dei Mirocoli
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Beautiful aerial shot of the Field of Miracles.
Credit to: Mark the Gr8
From top to bottom it is the Leaning Tower of Pisa, the cathedral and then the baptistry with is dome.
To the left of the field is the white rectangular building called the Composanto Monumentale, the old cemetery. It holds a shipload of sacred soil from the Crusades. This is also where the name of the piazza, Holy Field, originates from.
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Next stop: La Spezia

Posted by Anja Fourie 07:33 Archived in Italy Tagged italy pisa field_of_miracles Comments (0)

Florence, The Cradle of the Renaissance

“Visiting Florence was like attending a surprise party every day.” ~ Jennifer Corburn

sunny 15 °C
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The playground of the Medici's, Da Vinci's inspiration, Dante's writing desk. The beautiful seat of the Renenaissance. This is Florence.

Where did we stay? Villa Saulina Resort Hotel
Read about my previous visit to Florence here: Florence and Pisa in one day...

"In fact, one of the reasons artists in fifteenth century Florence made such great things was that they believed you could make great things. They were intensely competitive and were always trying to outdo one another, like mathematicians or physicists today—maybe like anyone who has ever done anything really well." ~ Paul Graham

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STATUES OF FLORENCE

The Piazza della Signoria is an L-shaped square in Florence. It is overlooked by the Palazza Vecchio, the town hall of Florence. It was, and still is, the political hub of Florence. In the square many famous sculptures can be seen, such as Perseus with the head of Medusa by Benvenuto Cellini.

Persues with the head of Medusa
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A replica of the most famous naked man, Michelangelo's David, can also be seen in this piazza. It took Michelangelo three years to sculpt the 5.17m high sculpture from marble and itt weighs 6 tons. It was unveiled in the Piazza in 1504. In 1873 the statue was removed the square and placed inside the Galleria dell'Accademia in Florence to preserve it from damage. During World War II, the entire statue was entombed in brick to protect it from any damage of airborne bombs. The replica, which still stands in the square today, is the exact size of the original and also stands in the same spot as the original used to stand many years ago.

The replica of David
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Statues of Dante and Galileo in the Piazzo
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THE PONTE VECCHIO and the VASARI CORRIDOR

The Ponte Vecchio (Old Bridge) crosses the Arno river at its norrowest point. The first bridge was built here in 996, but was destroyed by flood many times over the years. The current bridge was built in 1345. The bridge has always hosted shops. It used to be butcher shops, but over time changed to jewellers and trinket sellers.

It is here that the term bankruptcy originated from. Merchants used to sell their wares on tables on the bridge. If they could not pay their debts, the table on which he sold his wares would be physically broken by soldiers. This practice was called bancorotto, meaning broken table.

The Ponte Vecchio
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On the close-up of the Ponte Vecchio, a small row of windows is visible at the top. This is the Vasari Corridor. The ruling Florentine family in the 1500s, the Medici, did not want to walk in the streets from their residence, Palazzo Pitti, to the town hall, the Palazzo Vecchio. Over 5 months in 1565, the corridor was built above Florence. It snakes its way around towers, over houses and across the bridge. The secret passageway is approximately 1km long. Today the Vasari Corridor can be walked as part of a tour. The corridor can be spotted from street level by its small prison-like windows.

Small windows of the Vasari Corridor
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THE FLORENCE CATHEDRAL

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Driving into Firenze, the Cattedrale di Santa Maria del Fiore takes your breath away. Its magnificent dome stands out above the red tiled skyline of Florence. The cathedral is one of the biggest attractions for tourists visiting Tuscany and it is not hard to see why. Inside the square, the massive cathedral feels squashed in. It dominates all of Florence. To this day, it remains the largest brick dome constructed in the world.

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GIOTTO'S CAMPANILE

Adjacent to the Cathedral is Giotto's Campanile / Giotto's Bell Tower. The tower is 87m tall and has a whopping 414 steps to the top. The problem with these steps are that they are very narrow, and with people coming up and down, this is a nightmare zone for claustrophobic people. If you are in any way claustrophobic, prone to panic attacks, or unfit, do not attempt this climb. The stairs are steep and very narrow, and many people have collapsed on their way up.

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When we finally reach the top, the view is definitely worth the climb.

Views from the top of the tower
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Next stop: Pisa and the Field of Miracles

Posted by Anja Fourie 07:30 Archived in Italy Tagged italy florence cathedral da_vinci Comments (0)

San Gimignano, The Town of Fine Towers

"As a matter of fact, I'm writing a book. My memoirs: Letters from San Gimignano." ~ Tea with Mussolini

sunny 20 °C
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The tiny, walled town of San Gimignano is high up on the rolling hills of Tuscany. The hilltop towns were built so the enemies could easily be seen from a far. There is also evidence that Attila the Hun and his Hun army lived in this part of Italy. When trying to take over a castle at Silvio, the Saint Geminianus intervened to save the castle. The church that was built on the site was named after him and the walled city of San Gimignano grew around it.

The skyline of San Gimignano
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During the Black Death in 1348, more than half of the population of San Gimignano died. After this period, the growth that the town was experiencing stagnated. The town submitted to Florentine rule and many of the towers were reduced to the height of the houses. Today, it is still very much the same Gothic and Medieval town from centuries ago.

San Gimignano has also featured in many movies, such as Tea with Mussolini, and it is not hard to see why.

Scenes from Tea with Mussolini in San Gimignano's square
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THE TOWERS OF SAN GIMIGNANO

San Gimignano is not know as the 'Town of Fine Towers' for no reason. During the Middle Ages, rival families keen to show off their wealth, started to built towers, the one higher than the other. By the end of the Medieval Period, the town had a total of 72 towers. The town council then ordered that no tower be built higher than the tower of the Palazza Comunale and this seemed to end the rivalry. During the ages most towers have been destroyed by war and natural catastrophes. Today, only 14 towers remain, but these Medieval skyscrapers are still an impressive sight to behold.

The Palazza Comunal (Municipal Palace) has been the seat of authority for San Gimignano since the 13th century. Next to it is the highest tower in the town, the Torre Grossa (Great Tower). It stand at 54m. Climb the tower for amazing views of the town.

Torre Grossa
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Eating gelato on the steps of the Torre Grossa
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Views from the Torre Grossa
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FATTORIA POGGIO ALLORO

After enjoying the sights of San Gimignano, we headed towards Fattoria Poggio Alloro, a wine farm just 5km outside of the town. Here we did a tour of the cellar and met some farm animals. We also attended a great class where we all made our own pasta. It was then cooked and served to us for lunch. During lunch we also tasted the Vernaccia wine, which is made solely from the grapes in this region.
Check out the farm here: Fattoria Poggio Alloro

Fattoria Poggio Alloro, making and eating our own pasta
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The view of San Gimignano from the farm's restaurant
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Next stop: The Cradle of the Renaissance, Florence

Posted by Anja Fourie 23:43 Archived in Italy Tagged food italy wine pasta san_gimignano making_pasta Comments (1)

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