Fantastic Florence

Although this is a trip that focuses on hilltop Tuscan towns, no visit to Tuscany would be complete without a stop in the birthplace of the Renaissance, Florence.
My sister Sandy and I were lucky enough to spend two days in Florence in July, 2012, and Mike and I had done a day trip about 10 years ago, so we didn’t feel compelled to “do it all” this time around.  Instead, we were satisfied with a leisurely and informative stroll with our wonderful local guide, Fernanda.
The evening before Fernanda  had given us a fascinating overview of the Medici family, Renaissance art and the connections between the two.  I’m sure I heard it all before in various history classes, but Fernanda really made it come to life during the lecture, and again, the next day during our stroll through Florence.

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The Piazza Della Signoria was the first home of an important Medici couple, Eleonora and Cosimo I. This arranged match was not off to a great start. Those in the know wondered why this Spanish old maid was not spoken for? (She was 17).  The groom didn’t even make it to his own wedding, so they were married by proxy. Fortunately, things improved greatly  after that: it turned out to be a love match that produced 11 children.

Well, Eleanora was not happy with her  “starter home”.  It was devoid of gardens for the children to play in, so Eleanora used her own money (how cool is that–a woman with $$$ of her own back in the 1400’s) to purchase from the Pitti family a little “cottage” across the river.

The interior of the "starter" house

The interior of the “starter” house

Sandy and I spent a day wandering through the Pitti Palace, a glorious edifice, which now houses 6 or 7 museums. The Pitti Palace does indeed have spectacular gardens, plus a breathtaking view of the river and the duomo. No photos of the Pitti from this trip, because there was no time to visit it.  You’ll just have to take my word for it that it was grand.
But I digress.  Back to the Piazza Della Signoria . In front of the “starter home” is a replica of Michelangelo’s David. The original was moved from there to the protection of the Academia, but it was not initially created for that plaza.  Instead, it was supposed to be placed on the facade of the Duomo.  Fernanda explained that was why the hands are so enormous.  When viewed from below, the hands would be correctly proportioned.

Formulating his Goliath slaying strategy

Formulating his Goliath slaying strategy

There are lots of other wonderful sculptures, but my favorite is below–the rape of the Sabine women.
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We had considered visiting a museum during our free time. Instead, we decided to take Anna’s advice not to succumb to “Stendhal Syndrome” and become over saturated with culture.
After a fantastic lunch at Boccadama, Mike and I stopped for gelato, then wandered up an alley near the church of Santa Croce to visit Italian Loves, a wonderful little shop.
The proprietor allows you to sample his wares. You can taste the olive oil, the balsamic vinegar and the wine. I was deeply regretting having a gelato BEFORE visiting Italian Loves. What to do? Why, buy a little of everything. Those near and dear to me know what THAT means. Yes, there just MAY be a gift in your future.

Yes, that wine was wonderful-and yes, we have already polished it off

Yes, that wine was wonderful-and yes, we have already polished it off

Although my BLOG is only on our second day in Tuscany, WE are actually in Sorrento.   The problem with posts lagging well behind the visits is one can get confused. Particularly when that “one” is me.  If you are following my posts, true confession time.  We didn’t stop at the American cemetery after our feast at Giuseppe’s Pianciorciano Cheese Factory.  It was after this visit to Florence,  which is only important if you want to find the cemetery. You’d have a hell of a time if you were looking in the  Radicofani area, because it is located between Florence and Chianciano Terme. Ah well. Accuracy is a small price to pay for all the wine drinking and cafe sitting done instead of blogging, right?

“A Joy That’s Shared is a Joy Made Double”

Nothing would have made me happier than to have all my favorite people with me on this trip. Although I was unsuccessful in recruiting all of you (not from lack of trying), I DID manage to convince our good friends, Owen and Shirley to “double our joy”.  For those of you that are making the journey with us via this blog (especially my sister, Sue, who refuses to fly), I’m so glad to have you riding along.image
Now, back to our first full day in Tuscany. After Radicofani, we made our way to Giuseppi’s (Pepe’s) sheep farm. Unfortunately, according to Pepe the sheep had a  “party” five months ago, which resulted in a lot of very pregnant sheep, so for a reason I have since forgotten (but was definitely connected to the party) the sheep were all in the barn. Too bad. It would no doubt have made for a lovely photo op.  Instead, the photo at the top of this post just shows you the picturesque fields.  Take a look at the lengths I go to so you don’t have cars or garbage cans cluttering up your view.

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Back to the sheep that we didn’t see.  They are Sardinian sheep, because that breed produces the milk that makes the VERY best pecorino cheese.  In case you haven’t guessed, Pepe and his family are from Sardinia.  Like Silvana, Pepe was highly amusing and quite informative.

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Of course we had to sample some of that wonderful cheese.  Eight different kinds.  Washed down with wine, accompanied by prosciutto and salami and bread.

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According to the official itinerary, we were done for the day, but Anna had a little surprise for us.  We stopped at a cemetery for Americans killed during World War II, just in time for a brief lecture about the military campaign, the men buried there and  the MIA.  After taps, the flag was lowered.  A very sobering experience, especially given the recent wars in Afghanistan and Iraq.  It made me think about the differences: WWII was the pain and sacrifice was shared by all.  The recent wars are so very different.  A small percentage of our population is giving so much, while the rest of us go about our normal lives.

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Normally I like to end on an upbeat note, but for this post all I can say is “Thanks for your service”.

 

Chianciano Terme–“The place to cure your liver”

That’s right. That’s the slogan for Chianciano Terme, our home for the next six days. Although my liver doesn’t need to be cured–at least not yet, if it ever ails me, I’m definitely coming back to this sweet Tuscan hill town. Twenty years ago, before socialized medicine stopped covering spa treatments, people came here for a week or two to drink and soak in the mineral waters. One hopes they were not drinking the water they were sitting in, but who knows? For some reason, once the treatments were no longer free, business dropped off dramatically, so now it is a much quieter place, which suits us just fine.

Our family owned and operated hotel is cute and comfortable. If you are wondering why I am including the following photo, it is because the shutter visible on the top of the door to the balcony rolls up and down with the press of a button, just like a garage door opener.
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I don’t know why, but I find that enchanting.

This time, we didn’t win the room assignment sweepstakes. Our balcony overlooks the parking lot, while those on the other side view the rolling hills. But no matter. Our bus rides offer us views aplenty.

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The first half of our trip focuses on hilltop towns of Tuscany.  First up is the lovely hilltop town of Radicofani, a stopping place for pilgrims enroute to Rome.

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Here’s Anna, our wonderful guide, pointing out the Pilgrim icon on the side of one of the buildings.

Ghino di Tacco, Radicofani’s most famous resident made his living robbing those pilgrims, but he did it with class. He made sure he left the poor ones enough to eat.  But still, he was a robber.  So how come he is immortalized with a statue on the outskirts of town?

Ghino di Tacco

Ghino di Tacco

All was forgiven after he kidnapped an Abbott, who had digestive problems (perhaps on his way to Chianciano Terme to get a liver tune up?).   Instead, after living on bread, water and dried beans, the Abbott was miraculously cured of whatever ailed him, was released, made his way to Rome, and convinced the pope to make Ghino a knight of the Order of St. John.  Who says crime doesn’t pay? 

Here are a few more images of this hidden gem of a town.image

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One of the many reasons I’m loving this tour  with Grand Circle is because of the experiences I never would have had if we were on our own.  Silvana is one of those experiences.  We stopped for a snack at her shop.  Silvana not only fed us, she kept us entertained with a monologue (translated by Anna) that Jerry Seinfeld would have envied.

Anna, our fantastic tour guide, and Radicofani's delightful shopkeeper.

Anna with Silvana, Radicofani’s stand up comic.  Check out those pastries!

Silvana is the youngest resident of Radicofani. Her 78 year old mama is still working, taking care of 5 of her “elderly” neighbors.

Mama, saying hello from the window over the shop.

Mama, saying hello from the window over the shop.

Our trip to the sheep farm will have to wait till tomorrow, or I’ll never get this post finished!