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Fedora 20 (Heisenberg)
Released: 20 Dec 2013



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Italian flag icon Photographs from my trip to Italy (Toscana & Roma)
November-December, 2003

I was a little apprehensive about holidaying in Italy (or anywhere else for that matter) in November-December. It's normally the worst time of the year weather-wise, but he advantage is that the destinations aren't overrun with tourists like they can be in mid-summer.

The trip started OK, flying with Ryanair from Stanstead to Pisa - or so I thought. As we descended into Pisa, the fog quickly became very thick and just as I was expecting the plane to land, I heard the engines go to full throttle and the plane started to lift rapidly. A few minutes later the captain explained that due to poor visibility we were unable to land and that they'd go around and try again. About 20 minutes later the captain advised us that we were coming in for another attempt, and he felt we'd be able to land as several other planes had landed in the last 20 minutes. We descended again and just as we were expecting to land, same thing as before, the engines go to full throttle and the plane started to lift rapidly. The captain appeared on the intercom again and explained that we were diverting north to Genoa.

About 40 minutes later, we landed safely at the small airport just outside Genoa. It was raining lightly as we all filed out of the airport terminal and onto the bus they'd provided to shuttle us back down to Pisa. At least I got a chance to see a bit more of Italy than I would have had we landed in Pisa as planned, and there was some very pleasant scenery down the coast of Liguria and the hills inland as we continued into Tuscany. Genoa was a surprisingly uninspiring city, despite its pretty location on the Mediterranean coast.


Pisa Coat of Arms

Pisa
Some pictures from Pisa, my first stop in Tuscany - well, my second stop if you count the unscheduled diversion to Genoa (see above).

The weather was mild and sunny in the late afternoon by the time we arrived at Pisa airport and I set about the ritual exercise of working out how to get from the airport to the city. I managed to find the terminal where buses departed for the city. The bus turned up and somebody explained that the ticket machine on the platform was broken, the driver just waved us on to the bus like he wasn't the least bit concerned, as he stepped off the bus for a cigarette.

I arrived at the main bus terminal near the Pisa train station and managed to find somebody who spoke enough English to find out how to get another bus to my hotel, which was only about 200 metres from the leaning tower. After a few minutes of wandering about with my very inadequate map and looking for (mostly non-existant) street signs, I managed to find the leaning tower. I never realised it was on quite as much of a lean as it is. It's amazing that it's still standing at all, and that's after they've just finished straightening it!

I dropped my bags off at the hotel and went back to the Piazza dei Miracoli, paid my 15€, and started up the old, worn concrete spiral staircase toward the top of the tower. The view was quite spectacular just before sunset on a perfectly clear afternoon and for my allocated 30 minutes I had an incredible view of the entire city, which was coloured various shades of orange, yellow, and red as the sun moved closer to the horizon. That night I had a delicious meal of wild boar and polenta at a local restaurant.

Construction of the cathedral bell tower began in 1173 and took two centuries to complete (including two long interruptions). The tower began to lean by the time the third storey was added, since it was unwittingly built on the soft silt of a buried riverbed. Over the centuries engineers and builders made efforts to correct the lean using schemes that only made the tower slant further. In 1990 the tower was closed to the public due to safety concerns, and Italy's prime minister appointed a panel of experts to find a definitive solution. After ten years of work, extracting soil from beneath the north side, at a cost of around 27€ million, the tower was reopened to the public on 16th June, 2001.

Leaning Tower of Pisa
Leaning Tower of Pisa
Leaning Tower of Pisa
Leaning Tower of Pisa
Leaning Tower of Pisa
Leaning Tower of Pisa
Pisa Cathedral
Pisa Cathedral

Pisa Cathedral
Pisa Cathedral
 

Firenze Coat of Arms

Firenze (Florence)
I only stayed in Pisa for one night as the leaning tower and cathedral are the only real attractions there. The following morning I wandered back through the city centre and to the central train station where I bought my ticket south to Firenze (Florence), where I planned to spend the next three days.

A couple of hours later I arrived in Florence, where I was greeted by a very grey day with light rain and traffic galore. Because of this, my first impressions of Florence were not favourable to say the least. I felt like getting back on the train and going somewhere else, anywhere else. I found my hotel, on via Nazionale, nice and close to the main train station so I didn't have to lug my backpack too far, but my room was facing one of the busiest streets in Florence. My opinion of Florence was growing worse all the time! A quick visit to reception resolved that problem though and I was moved to a nice quiet room at the back of the hotel.

It stopped raining and I ventured out on a walk toward the city, stopping at the cathedral and the Palazzo Vecchio. I spent the rest of the afternoon wandering around the city centre, down the Arno River, across the famous Ponte Vecchio, etc. Florence has a nice feel to it. It's quite a pleasant place just to wander around looking at the sites, people, etc.

My initial poor impression of the city quickly faded and I eventually grew to like Florence. The main highlights of Florence for me were tours of the Uffizi Gallery, home of Bottticelli's Birth of Venus and La Primavera, and the Palazzo Pitti, home of various ruling dynasties of Florence since the wife of Cosimo I de Medici, Duchess Eleonora of Toledo, bought it from Buonaccorso Pitti in 1550 to turn it into the new home of the Medici family. The Palazzo Pitti is one of the most beautifully and elaborately decorated palaces I've seen.

On my third day, I woke up to a beautiful clear sunny day and on the spur of the moment, decided to hire a car and go exploring. Armed with my Michelin Road Atlas, me and my 'mighty' Fiat Uno headed south-east and after about 30 minutes of navigating through the hectic Florence traffic, I was enjoying a leisurely drive through the Tuscan countryside. I headed south-east through the vineyards and olive groves of the beautiful Chianti region, stopping frequently to take photographs, before turning west to the medieval walled town of San Gimignano. From there I headed further west to another walled town, Volterra, an important trading centre perched high on a rocky plateau, whose population frequently fought with the people of San Gimignano. It was almost sunset by the time I left and headed back toward Florence and its chaotic traffic. Along the main road into Florence I got some first-hand experience of classic Italian driving with cars following so close behind I could almost see the veins protruding from the foreheads of the stressed out drivers!

Despite that, I liked Florence.

Florence Cathedral
Florence Cathedral
Florence Cathedral
Florence Cathedral
Florence Cathedral
Florence Cathedral
Copy of the statue of David
Statue of David

The Ponte Vecchio
Ponte Vecchio
The Ponte Vecchio
Ponte Vecchio
Uffizi Gallery
Uffizi Gallery
Palazzo Vecchio
Palazzo Vecchio

View of Florence
View of Florence
San Gimignano
San Gimignano
San Gimignano
San Gimignano
Tuscany Countryside
Tuscany Countryside

Siena Coat of Arms

Siena
I took the train from Florence to Siena, my last stop in Tuscany before travelling to Rome. It's another historic medieval city, packed with gothic buildings and centred around the Piazza del Campo where the famous horse race is held during Il Palio, an apparently specactular event held in July and August each year in honour of the Virgin Mary. I had high expectations of Siena as it comes very highly recommended in any travel guide I've seen and several friends had told me how much they liked it.

My own impression of Siena however was tainted by the fact that, like many other Italian cities, it's packed with traffic (relatively speaking). That by itself isn't a serious problem. However being a very old city, the streets of Siena are extremely narrow and there are no footpaths, there's no room for them anyway, and so walking around Siena is a constant struggle to try not to get run over. I'm sorry to say that despite the attractions of Siena, I didn't find it a pleasant or relaxing place to visit and wasn't unhappy to leave at the end of my two day visit.

Siena could be a beautiful city....

Siena Cathedral
Siena Cathedral
Siena Cathedral
Siena Cathedral
Siena Cathedral
Siena Cathedral
Siena Cathedral
Siena Cathedral

Piazza del Campo
Piazza del Campo
Civic Museum
Civic Museum
Siena Street
Siena Street
Siena Street
Siena Street

Rome Coat of Arms

Rome
There's nothing I can say about Rome that hasn't been said before. I'd scheduled four days in Rome. I like to think that I've got quite good at taking in a large number of attractions in a relatively short time (much easier to do when you travel by yourself) but even so, four days just isn't enough for Rome.

The train journey from Siena took around five hours and for the second leg of the journey, after changing trains, I had to sit on my backpack in the corridor of the carriage. I didn't expect to have to do that in December but I guess Rome has a steady flow of tourists all year round and countless more people living there. I'd hate to think what it would be like in August!!

After arriving at Stazione Termini (the central train station) I walked to my hotel through what must be the seediest part of Rome. Fortunately it was broad daylight and I was relieved to find my hotel well beyond that area. After dropping my bags at the hotel, I walked straight to the Colosseum, about 30 minutes walk from the hotel.

I spent the rest of the day and evening wandering through the Foro Romano (Roman Forum), the Vittoriano (Victor Emmanuel II Monument), and up to St Peter's Square to see what turned out to be the highlight of my visit to Rome - St Peter's Basilica. I'm not at all religious but that has to be about the most incredible building I've ever seen. I think I must have spent several minutes just standing and staring around the interior before I finally moved and had a look around.

For me, Rome is the ultimate tourist city, despite the cost of hotel accomodation. There are a few cities that would come close but I haven't seen any other world city that has so many important buildings, monuments, and other historic artifacts packed into one place as Rome.

The Colosseum
The Colosseum
The Colosseum
The Colosseum
The Colosseum
The Colosseum
The Colosseum
The Colosseum

Arch of Constantine
Arch of Constantine
Arch of Titus
Arch of Titus
Arch of Septimus Severus
Septimus Severus
Temple of Castor and Pollux
Temple of Castor and Pollux

The Foro Romano (Roman Forum)
Foro Romano
IMAGE_ALT_TEXT
Foro Romano
Temple of Saturn
Temple of Saturn
Temple of Saturn
Temple of Saturn

Casa di Romolo
Casa di Romolo
Il Vittoriano
Il Vittoriano
Il Vittoriano
Il Vittoriano
Scooters in Rome
Scooters in Rome

St Peter's Basilica
St Peter's Basilica
St Peter's Basilica
St Peter's Basilica
St Peter's Basilica
St Peter's Basilica
St Peter's Basilica
St Peter's Basilica

The Pantheon
The Pantheon
The Pantheon
The Pantheon
The Pantheon
The Pantheon
The Pantheon
The Pantheon

Cappella Sistina (Sistine Chapel)
Sistine Chapel
Cappella Sistina (Sistine Chapel)
Sistine Chapel
Trevi Fountain
Trevi Fountain
Trevi Fountain
Trevi Fountain
 

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This page first created by Craig Porter: 16/05/2005.