October 1, 2014, 03:00 AM
Just got back!!
Well, my wife and I just got back a couple of days ago from our trip to Florence and Tuscany. We flew into Rome for a few days and then took the train north to Florence where we based the trip and did a day trip to Pisa and Lucca, then another one to Sienna, San Gimiagiano and the Chiani area a couple of wine tastings, etc. It was a wonderful trip with wonderful weather. My wife got to shop (a lot, ha) and I visited all of the museums, basilicas, etc that I had on my list. That is all but one......
If you are going, be aware that the Museo dell'Opera del Duomo is closed for renovation until at least November. I was really bummed as this museum has many of the classic works of Michelangelo, Donatello, and others. It contains the actual panels of the Gates of Paradise that Ghilberti created for the Baptistry. This closure may be common knowledge, but I did not know it. Of course, I loved the other greats like the Uffizi, Accademia, Bargello, Cappelle De Medici, and the churches.
Also, I definitely recommend the Firenze Card. It saves a ton of time but you have to be a tad bold and move on up to the front. Don't be shy. There's too much to see to waste it being timid, ha.
Oh, and convert your cash to Euros over here in the states and avoid the rip offs of the money changers abroad.
Great trip, great food great place.
October 2, 2014, 10:19 PM
Sounds like you had a wonderful trip!! Great suggestions and recommendations.
The Museo dell'Opera del Duomo has been closed all year - not only large scale renovations but completely new, enlarged museum being set up. Just met the director last week at a lecture and asked him when it will reopen: he said the deadline is the end of October 2015, just in time for the POPE's visit to Florence! That is also the reason the Baptistery is completely covered in scaffolding, as they are getting it cleaned in time for the Pope's visit.
I agree about converting Euros ahead of time, as the money changers here have outrageous fees "hidden" in the conversion rate. But a better suggestion is to just use credit cards for most of all of your big purchases and keep the cash for the smaller ones, like coffee at the bar, small souvenirs, lunch. Credit cards are now accepted most everywhere, and the currency conversion is decent - better than carrying wads of cash on your body ;-). In any case, if you need some more cash here, use the ATMs and take out the highest amount of money you can, to limit the times you use it. Conversion rate is also good as it is the bank's, plus the small fee they'll charge for using the ATM. Better still than the money changing offices. I should write an article with these tips, if it could be useful?
October 4, 2014, 01:27 AM
Just got back and loved it!
Landed home last night after 2.5 weeks in the beautiful Tuscan region. The trip was heavenly! Me and my family of 4 stayed in Florence for 5 nights and we covered the length and breadth of Florence. We had a whole apartment to ourselves and gradually we felt we were a part of the locality. Transportation is not at all an problem in Florence. We travelled by the local bus every time we wanted to go sightseeing. You could simply approach a Tabbacheria (these shops have a 'T' sign board) and purchase a 90-minutes valid bus ticket or a 10-Euro Agile card. We purchased the latter and it was so useful and economical.
Galleria Dell Accademia-We visited the Galleria Dell' Accademia. Here we strongly suggest you to reserve the tickets in advance. We had to stay in the long queue for 1.5-2 hours to enter the Accademia. They would only let in batches of 15 at a time. Once you get in, then you may record each and every step you take towards David's statue. An amazing piece of art, I must say and I spent a good 2-3 hours in the Accademia. There is a Musical Instrument section too which is a must visit. This section also has a facility to access the original musical score archives of some of the world famous musicians who had influenced the Florentine music. Plus, there is a whole musical documentary that you could listen to.
The Duomo-We walked to the Duomo. Be prepared to climb the 418 steps towards the top of the tower :-) You could get a splendid view of the whole of Florence.
As mentioned by MarkC the Opera Del Duomo was closed for renovation until November. Just opposite the Opera Del Duomo we saw a long queue in a Gelato store called Eduardo. The Gelato was mind numbing and believe it or not I had visited them daily for 5 days straight trying out different flavours. My favourite was the Pistacchio and vanilla combo. I must confess that I am a foodie and go nuts over the Gelato.
Palazzo Michealangelo-The best time to visit the Palazzo Michealangelo is from 6 P.M onwards. Carry a bottle of wine and some wine glasses with you, if you can. There is a restaurant but their charges are quite exorbitant. Not recommended at all for budget travellers. If you are a photography enthusiast,a tripod, a wide angle lens and a portrait lens are a must :-) Enjoy your wine while you watch the sunset, the view of of the whole Florentine city at this time is simply splendid. Even more, is the panoramic view of the whole city at night. Simply romantic!!
Fiesole- We took the Bus No.7 to Fiesole and the trip was worth it. It has a monastery which can be visited for free.
The best place to have food and wine is the huge Mercato Centrale. 10 minutes walk from the Duomo. Get to the first floor and you will be amazed! Take your time to look around the whole 'food arena' You have an array of options to look into. If you are staying in an apartment, don't forget to order fresh pancetta for your following days breakfast meals from the only butcher shop. You could even chose a cut and have them cook it for you. I ordered a nice juicy pork steak and it was simply heavenly.
My strong advice to you is to hire a vehicle once you leave Florence to visit the core Tuscan region. I went through a tough time when I didn't get my car as scheduled from one of those 'Big Five' agents. However, that didn't stop me from proceeding with my itinerary. From Florence we took a train journey to Certaldo ( Badia El Elmi to be precise) and we would use this as the base to visit the whole of the Chianti region and Siena. The next day being a Sunday, we planned to visit Pisa by train. So we were at the station waiting for the train to Pisa but unfortunately it got cancelled. There were other trains that got cancelled too. After 3 hours of waiting at the station, we decided to postpone the Pisa trip to some other day and instead we took a short trip to the Certaldo Alto. Apparently, the Alto hosts carnivals during the weekends and this was an exciting one! It was a blessing in disguise that we postponed out Pisa trip else we would have missed the carnival. The next day we took a train to Pisa and on our way back, stopped by San Gimingano. Quite fortunately, the owner of our apartment suggested us of a prominent car/scooter rental company in San Gimingano- Bellini Rentals. Their deals were the best ever! No extra charges for the GPS unlike other agents- No Security Deposits! You sign the contract, they ask you for your IDL, credit card copy ( which they return to you after you return your car/scooter) and you are all set! So we visited the whole of Chianti region- Castellina in Chianti, Radda in Chianti, Greve in Chianti ( Here we visited a winery-Castellino Di Verezzano, ofcourse you need to reserve in advance and they even gave us a free sample bottle of their fresh olive oil. Free wine tastings too. We even bought the Chianti Classico wine from here. For lunch, we drove straight to the world renowned Cecchini's in Panzano. Don't miss the Panzanese steak. Best part is, we were lucky to meet the one and only Dario Cecchini and he was so kind enough to make himself available for a family photograph with him. I am gonna have that picture framed in a couple of days :-) We visited Volterra, famous for its Alabaster crafts and even has a Roman theatre. Take a walk around this typical Tuscan town and observe the Tuscan style of living here and their culture.
The whole trip around Chianti and Siena was carried out by driving through road SR222. Simply majestic! I cannot count the number of times I stopped my car to get that splendid view of the vineyards and the landscapes. No words can describe the scenic beauty- No camera lens could fully capture the panaromic view. Your eyes is the best lens! After a 5 days trip around the Chianti-Siena region, we shifted base to Montichello another splendid area of the Southern Tuscan region. It was easy to get to Montepulciano, Val D'Orcia,San Quirico D'Rocia and La Foce- an estate in this region. The La Foce has guided tours every Wednesday till November 5th at 3, 4, 5 and 6 P.M. Due to the increasing number of touristers flocking to the estate they have even included every Saturdays and Sundays till November 2nd at 11.30 A.M, 3 P.M and 4.30 P.M. You could even book a meal at their restaurant ' Dopolavoro La Foce'. Our last stop was at Pienza before we headed back to Florence. Overall it was a great trip and my family thoroughly enjoyed it. I had tears of utter joy when driving through the picturesque landscapes and the ploughed fields of the Tuscan region. Even joined with a team of farmers in plucking the grapes while we were passing by an orchard.Simply great a trip! Grazie Tuscany for all your love. Ciao till we meet again soon!
October 7, 2014, 11:15 AM
Thanks for advice on cash exchange, cheers!