Memories of Tuscany


This blog entry about the events of Sunday, July 18, 2004 was originally posted on July 25, 2004.

DAY 274: Firenze, more commonly known in the English-speaking world as Florence, lies in the scenic hills in Tuscany, the northwestern province of Italy.  Florence has attracted many people for centuries, particularly in the 14th and 15th (A.D.), when it became the center point of the Renaissance, a place where the masters of thought, astronomy, literature, art and architecture came to be.  Nowadays, the city of 376,000 residents attracts tourists from all over the world, each bringing home his/her own personal memory of Tuscany.

“What do you have planned this morning?” Val, the Australian novice to the hostel scene, asked me. 

“I’m gonna check out the Duomo.”

“What is that again?”

“The big cathedral,” I answered.  “It’s meant to be the cathedral.  Have you been already?”  Val had told me the night before that he had previously been to Florence with a group of others — including some high-maintenance Australian girls — but his memory of it sort of blurred in with other Italian places he’d been.  I suppose when you get an overload of cathedrals and churches, it’s hard to remember if you’ve seen a particular one.

“I’ll know when I see it,” Val said.  He tagged along.

After a quick breakfast of Italian proscuitto croissant sandwiches and authentic cappuccino, we waited on the long, but not overwhelming line in front of the cathedral entrance.  Even in front of the large and impressionable building, Val’s memory hadn’t been jogged. 

THE DUOMO (MAIN CATHEDRAL), whose technical name is the Cattedrale di Santa Maria del Fiore, was an architectural marvel of its time.  Filippo Brunelleschi devised of an interlocking brick technique that supported itself, which provided for the creation of its enormous dome.  The dome was topped off with Michelangelo’s “lantern,” a structure with terrace views of the entire region.  Both the cathedral and the lantern were under renovation, with scaffolding getting in the way of classic shots.
Half an hour later Val and I were inside the duomo’s nave — the third largest nave in the world — along with the hordes of tourists that just kept on pouring in at no entrance cost.  I witnessed its religious statues, its high ceilings and its incredible frescoes painted high above on the ceiling of the dome.  “Do you remember this now?” I asked Val.

“Yeah, I remember.  I was here.  What do you think?”

“I don’t know.  I sort of expected more,” I said.  True, I had seen churches that were more impressive.  We left the nave after ten minutes and walked over to the other entrance, the stairwell up the dome at a cost of six euros.  Up the staircase of 463 steps we went, like two guys on a Stairmaster that wouldn’t shut off.  “I definitely didn’t do this [before,]” Val said.  “The girls wouldn’t have allowed it.” 

The stairwell went up and up, passed small ventilation windows, and led to an indoor walking platform just under the colorful frescoes of the dome’s ceilingDown below the not-so-impressionable nave suddenly became something to marvel about.  “Okay, now it’s amazing,” I raved.

“I guess you have to pay to appreciate it.”

Our six euros a piece eventually got Val and me not only a good workout of the thigh, leg and butt muscles, but a spectacular panorama from Michelangelo’s lantern on the top of the dome, with incredible views of the red roofs of Florence and the rolling green hills of Tuscany just beyond. 

FROM THE LANTERN OF MICHELANGELO, we decided to go to the Piazza Michelangelo, with another view of the city from the south.  Val had a vague memory of having gone there before, and so we decided to go for a leisurely stroll across town to find out.  Passed the Neptune statue at the Piazza della Signoria and across the jewelry store-lined Ponte Vecchio (Florence’s oldest bridge) Val and I walked, stopping every so often for a break — once at a trendy outdoor cafe for iced teas and cappuccinos.  “It’s funny,” Val said with his memory of Florence coming back to him.  “I think I went this same exact way last time.”

Beyond an “old random tower” (as we and some other nearby American girls called it), we walked up a hill to the Piazza Michelangelo where Val and I took more pictures of the incredible view of the bridges across the River Arno and the nearby replica of Michelangelo’s David.  All impressionable things to behold, but for Val, the sights might one day be forgotten again; a self-proclaimed glutton, it was the finer things in life and travel that stood out in Val’s mind instead.

“See, this is what I’ll remember of Florence,” Val said as we sat down at a fancy restaurant overlooking the city and the countryside for a lunch of risotto, panzerotti, champagne and a fine bottle of classic chianti (picture above).  “This couldn’t be more perfect; good food, good wine, a nice view, good company.  Of course, you could be a girl.” 

We ate our fancy Tuscan dishes over conversations about life, drank and were merry.  A good memory of Tuscany, I agreed.

VAL WENT OFF ON A BUS TO GROSSETO to meet with friends, leaving me to have memories on my own from that point on.  Being a Monday, most of the state museums were closed so I took advantage of my unlimited travel Eurail Pass and hopped on a train westbound to Pisa, one hour away.  Pisa had always stood out in my memory since I was a child when I saw a particular classic Warner Bros. cartoon where a stray dog (voiced by Mel Blanc) that was leaching off of Italian restaurant owners had to hold back the famous leaning tower.  There’s something about him yelling “HELP!” day and night that sticks with you.

I had forgotten to bring my map of Pisa with me and was disoriented upon arrival, until I saw the famous tower leaning behind some buildings.  The Leaning Tower of Pisa, whose south side started to sink in into shifting soil in 1173, was a lot smaller than I had visualized, but impressionable nonetheless.  In 2001, engineers reinforced the structure via cables, retaining the awkward angle for historical purposes — and so unoriginal tourists could do hackneyed poses as if to hold up the tower.  (I thought of photo of a bunch of them doing it was funnier than doing it myself.) 

I wandered around Pisa’s duomo and laid out on the nearby Campo dei Miracoli (Field of Miracles) to write alongside my Leaning Bottle of Water

By nightfall I was back in Florence, with memories of Tuscany of my own — although at the rate I’ve been zipping around Europe, I’m sure they may just blur in with the other sights I’ve seen.

I’ll always remember that Warner Bros. cartoon though.

Next entry: Mr. Big Head

Previous entry: Three Flavors of Alps

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Comments for “Memories of Tuscany”

  • first!  awesome pics

    Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)  on  07/25  at  02:12 AM

  • authentic cappuccino *sigh*  I’m jealous! That’s my dream - to sit in cafe’s in Italy and drink real coffee.

    Posted by Liz  on  07/25  at  04:36 AM

  • I agree…..most dissapointed when I finally saw the Leaning Tower, it is sooooo small!  but still well worth seeing at least once a lifetime!

    Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)  on  07/25  at  05:50 AM

  • This trip through Italy is bring back a lot of memories… It’s making me want to go back.

    Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)  on  07/25  at  06:09 AM

  • wow, man. that tower IS small.  i think i’d have laughed at it (while still enjoying the fact of seeing it in person).  you should have taken a picture pointing at it and laughing.

    Posted by Alyson  on  07/25  at  07:06 AM

  • Awesome pictures - I like the ones of the rooftops - nice one of you and the rooftops too! smile The pictures of the tourists “holding” the tower is classic - that cracks me up… I just may have to be one of those that attempts that feat, though…

    Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)  on  07/25  at  09:20 AM

  • should have been 6 more steps…

    i have that same shirt!!

    Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)  on  07/25  at  06:00 PM

  • Jealous!

    Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)  on  07/25  at  07:02 PM

  • wow, soooo cool. i am jealous. the tower is pretty small. if they didn’t reinforce it in 2001, would it have eventually fallen over? or is it stuck at that angle for good?

    Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)  on  07/25  at  09:06 PM

  • YES, the Leaning Tower was much smaller than I had anticipated…  I’m glad I just did it in a short little afternoon 3-hour excursion instead of making it a big deal.  Can you believe it costs $20 to climb it?

    ALICE:  Don’t think it would have fallen over if it was closed to the public… I think the reinforcements let tourist still climb up.  Let’s face it, without the tower, why go to Pisa?

    Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)  on  07/25  at  10:34 PM

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This blog post is one of over 500 travel dispatches from the trip blog, "The Global Trip 2004: Sixteen Months Around The World (Or Until Money Runs Out, Whichever Comes First)," originally hosted by It chronicled a trip around the world from October 2003 to March 2005, which encompassed travel through thirty-seven countries in North America, South America, Africa, Europe, and Asia. It was this blog that "started it all," where Erik evolved and honed his style of travel blogging — it starts to come into focus around the time he arrives in Africa.

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