Monday, 30 April 2007


So this weekend we decided we would rent a car and head out of Florence. We managed to hunt down a plucky little diesel Fiat Punto and accommodation in Volterra so off we went!

I drove on the wrong side of the road once. Once was enough.

We decided to bypass the Autostrada in order to make our drive a little more scenic. This was a wise decision, as the countryside was spectacular, however the Autostrada did manage to lure us onto its wide roads a few times thanks to the Italian road signs which vary from merely vague to outright deceptive.

Along the way we passed through several nice little towns and fields of green and yellow. At last we're in Tuscany!

We may have posed for a few photos...

We stopped by San Gimignano on the way, which we initially thought would be our main destination, but the place was completely packed with tourists and we decided we would come back early the following day and beat the crowds (hah!).


When we arrived in Volterra we found our hotel in the historic centre near to one of the Etruscan gates to the city, the Porta all'Arco, which dates back to the 4th century BC and had been modified many times over thousands of years.

After dropping off our bags, our first stop was the Parco Archeologico which doesn't really have much in the way of ruins but is definitely a nice spot to relax and plan your day in Volterra. From the park you overlook the Fortezza Medicea, built in the 14th century but used as a prison for the last 150 years.

Here we have the 13th century Babtistry font and the ruins of a Roman Amphitheatre.
(Linda was very happy to read the ruins were excavated and restored by members of the local psychiatric hospital, whereas I was annoyed that it cost us 3 Euros each yet were only allowed to walk around the top of the amphitheatre.)

We also wandered out of town a little to the Balze where the limestone hillside had been eroding, naturally and through alabaster mining, for many hundreds of years leading to the loss of many houses, churches and, shortly, this 14th century monastery.
It is a spectacular site but you are prevented from getting too close to the edge (or taking decent photos) by an 8 foot fence. It was probably for the best as it did look quite unstable.
For the brave there is a camping site nearby.

The spot also offered a great view back at the town.

We also stopped by the Museo Guarnacci which contains a vast array of Etruscan burial urns carved out of the local alabaster. It is a little overwhelming to see so many urns, even if many were interesting (including the Sposa), but there was also some pre-historic relics that added a bit of variety. Navigating the audio guide provided some entertainment.
The big attraction of the Museo Guarnacci is the Ombra della Sera which, the guide assured us, was deliberately manufactured with a bit of a sway to its pose.

We then found a spot on the ancient walls of Volterra to watch the sun set. It was a great place to sit, watching the birds flying around the historic buildings under the red glow.

We may have taken some more photos.

After sunset we headed back into town for dinner at a Trattoria. The local specialty is game meats so I had pasta with a sauce containing wild boar, washed down with Acqua Minerale (Naturale) and Vino Rosso, before stumbling home.

In the morning we got up early to go to San Gimignano (stay tuned for this in my next post) and I had time to wander out and take some photos in the early morning sun.

Wednesday, 25 April 2007


Yesterday we went to Fiesole, which is a quiet little town in the hills not far from Florence. Fiesole has some interesting sites and a very impressive view over of Florence.

Most notable of the sites is the Roman amphitheatre and attached museum which has some interesting Etruscan artifacts.

By visiting on a Tuesday afternoon, after my Italian classes had finished, we seemed to miss any sizable crowds. I'm not sure what it is like on the weekends but we turned out to have pretty much the entire amphitheatre site to ourselves.

Linda was very excited to find a Linda-sized door and nearby garage suitable for a Fiat Bambini and possibly a Vespa 50.

At the end of the day we walked up the hill towards the Monestary, which was by that time closed, to see the view over Florence and watch the sun set. The view was spectacular if a little hazy. You could clearly make out the Duomo and the Medici Chapel near where we live. We were a little put out by some overly-friendly American tourists who terrorised not only us but some other American tourists, who also seemed would have been happy to be left alone.

After making our escape we headed off to a local Trattoria recommended in the lonely planet and had some traditional soups that are a speciality of the region followed up by our mains which were also very nice. All washed down with a little Vino Rosso.

Monday, 23 April 2007

Pisa and Lucca

Okay this is a bit of a mega-post as the last few days have been fairly busy. I think in future I won't make the posts this big as it turns out Blogger is fairly bad at handling posts with lots of pictures.

On Saturday we took a bus up to one of the Medici Villas not far from the center of Florence. Of course we arrived 20 minutes after last entry so we walked around the area and found ourselves a nice spot for a picnic. It was very nice to be out of Florence since, as beautiful a city Florence is, it does get somewhat claustrophobic living here.

Then on Sunday we went out to Pisa and Lucca with our school. This was quite an expensive excursion but it worked out well as it got us into Tuscany proper and I finally got to see the famous leaning tower! I may even have learned some Italian.

While many amusing photos were taken with the tower, they have been deemed un-blog-worthy. We didn't climb the tower as it was 50 Euro each and required a booking.. and more than the 20 minutes of free time we were granted with our tour. While the tower may no longer be in imminent danger of tipping over, it still makes a surreal sight when you first see it.

In Campo dei Miracoli at Pisa we found the Baptistry, Duomo and, of course, The Tower.

I did manage to sneak off one or two covert photos inside the Duomo, which was prohibited and enforced by some random German tourist.

Next up was Lucca.

Lucca is a pretty little town built entirely inside a large wall (Le Mura) to protect it from the flooding Arno (or from expansionist families depending upon whom you ask). Our first sights were of Chiesa Di San Michele, above.

In Lucca there are a number of towers which we dutifully climbed and for which Linda was, in turn, dutifully annoyed at me. First we climbed the Torre delle Ore which is a civic tower equipped with a clock and bells in order to scare the tourists when they go off in close proximity unexpectedly. Next was the Torre Guinigi which was constructed as an emblem of a powerful Luccian family has a hanging garden of Holm trees at its top.

We also visited the Piazza Anfiteatro. This 'square' is the remains of a roman theater, restored in the 18th century to its current form of an oval ring of terraced buildings forming the square in which you can buy gelato and many fine post cards.

In a surprise move we then ate pizza and gelato.

After that thoroughly exhausting trip we took a relaxing ride back to Florence in our little bus with our guide and the bus driver debating how long it would be until we would be back in Florence, and whether that constituted the fringes of Florence or the centre, and how the traffic might affect that...