Tuscany & Firenze
I am extremely glad that I had taken this trip. Not only I was able to achieve what I wanted and more, but more importantly, the fact that I had finally visited Tuscany & Firenze and it changed my perspective of Italy entirely.
My first visit to Italy was about 10 years ago and since my 1st trip, I had developed this negative image of Italy and although I have been a frequent to Italy (mostly for business), I've never enjoyed much and had a high regard for Italy. On my first visit to Rome, as probably was with everyone, I was extremely excited to finally visit Rome...the capital and the center of Roman Empire and Western culture. I still remember the shock upon seeing the griffitties on the ancient Roman wall and my excitement totally crumbled down and crashed to ashes when I saw the sea of cigarrettes butts on the Coliseum. Certainly many cigarrett butts were thrown by the mindless tourists, but how can Roman gov't keep the World heritage in this condition and its citizens simply not care? How could this be possible? I was just puzzled and confused and after encountering the similar things in Milano, I just lost all my affections in Italy.
This trip to Tuscany was so special in that regard because spending 3 days in Tuscany had completely changed my view on Italy and I believe Tuscany does represent what Italy is about.... love for life, culture, and humanity.
The weather, landscape, its people, and the culture.... strangely I found a lot of similarities in Tuscany to California. The clean air and since many houses still uses the wood to cook Pizza and others, the smell of wood burning were so refreshing.
San Miniato is a small town located alongside the hills of Tuscany. Just driving thru the narrow streets alongside the hills is quite a pleasure. The landscape, the view, and old medieval buildings are simply astonishing and truly unique.
Going to the hotel, there was this uphill passage to the hotel and remember that scene in the gladiator at the beginning? Where the messenger was entering Russel Crowe's mansion to deliver the King's summon? This particular hotel was once a castle of local noble and later turned to hotel. Hotel was very delicate and artfully decorated. Located at the top of hill, it has a very nice view and a lot of semi walking trails. Any restaurant you find, just go in and ask the speciality. Trust me, you won't go wrong.
After finishing up a meeting with MB Pellami and a beautiful lunch, I went to Firenze. Before coming to Tuscany, I wanted to spend a day in Firenze and I should have made it 2 nights instead of one.
Firenze... where do I even start? I still vividly remember my 1st encounter of Piazza del Duomo. This is the image I have seen many times prior to arriving, but it was an utter shock. Yes, that was what I felt. It was so beautiful and so captivating... lost for words.
After a light dinner, I went to the bed and fell in sleep. Perhaps because of the excitement or anticipation, I woke up too soon, 2am. Maybe it was a hunger that woke me. I was starving and found this kebab place opening late. Eating and a few hours of failing to sleep, I decided to head out and explore the city at 5am.
Going to the kebab restaurant and because it was located near the area known for bars, even at 2am, the city was bristling with life. Yet, its morning was very errie and silent. From 5am to 6am or so, I did not see one single person and cars were very rare to find during the morning hours. Looking at the closed stores on Ponte Vecchio brought some smiles. How creative and beautiful... how fitting for Firenze!
Piazza Del Duomo opens at 9am and I believe I got to the line around 8:10 and there were already 6 people ahead of me. I had a feeling they too probably traveled thousands miles and a sleepless night because of an excitement. No one spoke much and we were all smiling.
Perhaps it was 2 hours of walking in the dawn or simply I am getting old, but it was tough climbing to the top. I had to stop my track about 3 times to get some breathe. It probably was 30 mins climbing to the top and I just kept thinking, "how could they have built this?" Just with my camera backpack, it was tough and imagining these workers in 16th century carrying the building blocks made me shake my head in disbelief.
As I was getting close to the top and climbing up what must have been the dome section of the Cathedral, I began to see some interesting shape or patterns of bricks and those were probably innovative trick that made the dome possible, and could not stop thinking about Brunelleschi's brilliance and the power of human will and imagination.
Although the climb was rough and long, but when the view finally came in, it was just all worth it. The view was so incredibly beautiful and I understood why people all over the world fly thousands of miles for this.
Once at the top, you get 360 degree full view of entire city and it simply is magical. For a safety reason, only 10 people or so are allowed at once on the top and if I had a choice, I wanted to and could have stayed there an entire day. However, I also wanted to make sure I thoroughly enjoy my time as well. I believe I have stayed there for about an hour. It was a cloudy day at first and clouds were changing quite rapidly and made my experience only better. I felt like a world masterpiece art changing in front of my eyes. If you have not been to Firenze nor have not been on top of Piazza Del Duomo, you must. Definitely should be one's bucket list.
Sadly, I saw a lot of writings on the walls and on the polls and they seemed to be written by Americans. We already know you have been there as I am quite certain you've already posted on your facebook, instagram, twitters, and etc. There is no need to remind others and there is absolutely no point of doing it.
Time for me to come down and I felt a small guilt when I saw so many people waiting for their turn. I went to Bell Tower nextwards. I wanted a closer look of top portion of duomo. I mean the details of this Cathedral is simply amazing. Sculptures and perhaps the emblem of family that contributed to this building, I had a feeling every single inch of this masterpiece had been carefully thoughtout and carried. It would have caused a massive headache for current day architech to mimic this building, yet back in 15th century without the Crane? Just speechless.
My legs started giving away so had to take a small break before heading to Piazza de Michaelangelo. It was about 35~45 min walk from the Square, but does not seem that long as the walk is quite pleasurable. It gets a bit tough as you get near and have to climb up the hill.
The view of the Piazza del Duomo & the city was quite amazing and no other why it has been one of the favorite spots for artists and painters. By this time, I was exhausted and a walking zombie. Luckily, right below the Piazza, there was a rose garden that had a long bench and the place was very quiet and deserted. I had such a sweet hour of sleep & dreaming. I felt energized again.
Just seeing the Cathedral, Baptistery, and Bell tower, I got owed and speechless. I knew and felt that every single brick & sculptures had a reason and story behind it. My assumptions were confimed once I learned the details and stories behind them at the Museum. These doors on the Baptistery (photoed are North & East door) are the works of Lorenzo Ghiberti and I just could not take my eyes off of them. The faces, details, delicacies, and story tellings..... I tried to imagine what kind of determination, efforts, and how many hours it had taken him to plan and get it finished. I simply got blown away.
I also saw the work of Michaelangelo, "Pieta" and there was his personal quote written on the wall and it kind of summed up or piqued the curiosity I had all day long. Firenze was the heart and soul of the Renaissance age and just by walking the city for a few hours, you can feel it by heart. All these arts & intellectual enlightenment were flourishing during that era, yet everything seemed to be done under the Catholic church's supervision. Of course, the works, paintings, and sculptures on the Cathedral & Baptistery obvioulsy have the religious themes, but the same theme can be found throughout the city. It seemed a bit odd and somewhat contradicting to me. I guess it was just a different era back then.
As a Catholic myself, I thoroughly enjoyed the city, but regardless of your religion, you will love the city for its culture, architectures, and its people. Maybe I was simply lucky in this trip, but people I met and ran into in Tuscany, they seemed to be more friendly & kind than Italians in other cities. I am definitely coming back here hopefully within next few years and as I said from the beginning, Tuscany was exactly what I thought Italy to be and it completely changed my dogmatic view of Italy. A must visit for everyone!