Once we left Rome, we were on our way to the city of Florence, which is located in the Tuscany region of Italy. It took most of the afternoon to get to our hotel so we had just enough time to freshen up before heading to dinner with our tour group. With our hotel just outside of City Centre, we could easily walk to dinner, which was a welcomed change from Rome! We enjoyed a taste spaghetti and meatball dinner, complete with endless bottles of Tuscan wine. We even ended our meal with limoncello, an Italian liquor, traditionally served as an after dinner digestivo.
On our first morning in Florence, we met our friends for breakfast in the hotel, before our Italian leather-making demonstration. We enjoyed the eggs, croissants that were available for breakfast at this hotel, but found the sliced hot dogs that were served the most unique part of the spread!
At Leonardo Leather Works, we learned about the process of making leather products, especially how widely-used leather products are. After the presentation, we had time to wander through their shop to do a little shopping of our own. Neither Jody or I bought anything, but we loved the vibrant colors of the various bags and enjoyed watching our friends get the items they purchase embossed.
We had about an hour break prior to our walking tour of Florence. I was anxious to taste a Tuscan cappuccino and Jody was ready for his morning gelato. Our friends Anthony and Briset tagged along because, honestly, what is better than a cappuccino and gelato before 11am?!
Our walking tour of Florence was amazing! It was nice to have a local show us a lot of the main sights to see, along with the extensive history of the building and famed Italians. Between the cobblestone streets, Renaissance architecture, and small city feel, it didn’t take long for Florence to quickly become our new favorite city. The Ponte Vecchio was also a nice backdrop for pictures, as well!
Our walking tour ended at the Piazza del Duomo, which is the Cathedral of Florence. We were in awe of the beauty of this cathedral, dome, bell tower and baptistery across the street. As one of the top sights to see in Florence, and probably the most popular church of the city, we purchased tickets so that we could climb the bell tower and enter the church and adjacent museum. We planned to come back later in the day so that we could walk back to the hotel so I could change into long pants, as many churches had rules about appropriate clothing for the holy sites.
While we waited for our assigned ticket time, we continued to explore this beautiful city. We wandered through the city market, various shops, and even stopped at Porcellino, a bronze pig fountain. Legend has it if you rub the snout of the pig, you will be blessed with good luck!
Later that afternoon, we headed back to the Duomo to see the church and climb the bell tower. I was pumped for a little bit of exercise, even if the 460 seemed like a lot. However, before even reaching the first open level to see out of the windows, we were laughing at how pathetic we were and how hard it was going to be to climb the tower. As we continued, we counted down the steps until the next opening, where we could judge our progress, but more importantly feel the breeze. Finally, after climbing narrow and uneven steps, we reached the top of the bell tower. We welcomed the fresh air, although I was surprised by how windy it was! We took our time taking it the view from each corner of the tower, pointing to all of the fans watching the World Cup below up and viewing real estate up in the hills.
Unfortunately, by the time we made it back down the tower, the church was closing for the day. While we were disappointed that we wouldn’t be able to go to the church, we still were able to visit the Baptistry and museum. The dome of the baptistry was covered in mosaics of biblical stories, especially featuring John the Baptist who was the patron saint of Florence. In the museum, we are able to view the original “Gates of Paradise” that were the east doors into the Baptistry.
That night, we participated in a Tuscan Evening dinner at this beautiful restaurant that was up in the hills overlooking Florence. When we arrived we were served Sangria (which did not originate in Italy, I learned), and were served pate, salami, and lasagna when we were seated. Our main course was between a choice of chicken, which Jody had, and pork, which is what I ordered. We made a decision early in the trip to try to avoid ordering the same thing so we could sample more. Traveling as a couple is so fun! :p
Our next day called for an early departure time for a day trip to the Tuscan countryside. We boarded our Contiki coach and headed to the Medieval city of San Gimignano. We didn’t have long to explore so we quickly grabbed a cappuccino and found our way to Sant’Agostino, the second largest church in San Gimignano.
After we visited the chapel and gardens, we found ourselves just wandering the streets to capture some of this old town’s charm. We ended up stumbling upon a beautiful lookout, with a breathtaking view of San Gimignano and the surrounding hills. Nearby, was a set of steps that led us to an even more stunning view. I kept thinking about how I would never get tired of these views!
Later that afternoon, we headed to the one stop I was most looking forward to on this trip — a visit to a Tuscany winery. I was so excited to learn the history of this 15th-century vineyard and to taste Tuscan wine right where it was created! Our tour started in the cellar where they keep the barrels (which came from Kentucky of all places!) and then headed up to the tasting building for a wine tasting. The actually held the wine tasting outside so we could take in the rolling hills of vines as we sipped. All of my Under the Tuscan Sun dreams came true through this one visit!
The last activity we did in Florence was an add-on called the Taste of Florence, where we got to taste some Florence delicacies, with a bit of history as well. To my surprise, it was a lot less pizza and pasta and more pates, stews, tripe, and sandwiches. While these foods were a little out of my comfort zone, I tried each of them and was surprised that I actually didn’t mind most of them! Granted, I may stick to my pasta and pizza though.
Overall, Florence was our favorite city that we visited. We loved its history, rich Tuscan beauty and of course, its wine. At this point, we couldn’t believe that our trip was more than halfway over, and of all of the breathtaking things that we had seen. But before its end, we still had three more full days ahead of exploring, experiencing, and tasting!