Italy for the Ordinary | Tuscany Part 2
As you can tell, it was hard to even leave Borgo di Vagli but we had no choice. It was my husband’s first trip to Italy and we needed to see more than a beautiful setting. I had been to Italy years and years ago when I was in college. My girlfriend and I spent 6 weeks backpacking in Europe. We had a totally different experience in Italy and I remember it like it was just a few years ago. It’s so crazy this “time” thing. How can it be over 30 years ago? Anyway, back to this trip. The day after our arrival we hopped in our peppy VW diesel car and headed to Cortona. It’s a lovely old town. We meandered through the streets, did a little shopping and of course ate another fabulous meal. There’s nothing like Italian food and eating it in Italy is that much better. We went into churches and museums along the way and took a bunch of pictures. When you travel to distant lands, you leave there wanting to recreate that feeling and capture it in your own home. Typically, most of us do not follow through but there is one thing I hope my husband can build for me; I’ll add it at the end but I’ll give you a hint, it has to do with cooking.
Upon exiting the Church of San Francesco, we came upon a gallery of two artists: luigi and kate agnelli, whose work was on display in the 13th century Catholic church. If you look back at my blog, Journey through an Image, I used one of their pieces to illustrate my post. We were able to view their work and chatted a bit with Luigi. It’s so fun to speak with people from different lands. I love to hear their stories and how the collaboration of two artists created a unique art form.
I mentioned in the opening page of my travel blog that I might include some poems, prayers and promises. Well one thing I pondered while on this journey, when you’re traveling or reading historical books you begin to learn about the culture of ancient times. Ancient culture was influenced by the church. We have travelled so far from this sphere of influence and presently our culture is mostly influenced by pop-culture and media-culture. The importance and value of ones faith has greatly disappeared from everyday life. All the ancient cities that we visited were transfused with Christianity. For those that have read my blog, perhaps you have surmised my belief system. As far as poems, prayers and promises it sure was amazing to take a few moments and admire the architecture and design likely created for the edification of God. I wonder if those that presently reside in these cities have a deeper awareness of why artisans of ancient day expressed their love of God? We have seen many beautiful works of modern day architecture but most was constructed to impress man. It would be naive of me to think that every stroke or every chisel was an act of worship and yet I believe there must have been a deeper understanding and awe of something more ethereal than mundane life on earth.
After a day in Cortona we ventured out to the nearest train station and boarded a train to Florence. It was an overcast day with a few drops of rain but nothing that could deter our exploration of the city. We found our way to the city center where the concentration of many of the historic sights reside. We waited patiently on line to enter: Basilica of Saint Mary of the Flower, The Baptistery of St John, we climbed the tower and went to Il Grande Museo Del Duomo. There were a few lesson’s learned along the way which I will share at the end of this post. I’ll also make a few observations that might disappoint some of my readers.
My observation was Florence has changed since I was there last. Granted it was over 30 years ago but it wasn’t the Florence I remembered. I felt like it needed a scrubbing. I’m sorry. I know so many of you love Florence, and I do too, but it seemed a bit drab. I wanted to get the power wash out and make it sparkle again. Thousand upon thousand of people visit this city so upkeep most be extremely difficult and the cost to restore natural stone is unimaginable but it was an overall sense of how I felt compared to my first visit to Florence. I guess it goes to show there is something special about seeing something for the first time.
In the afternoon we made our way to Ponte Vecchio and the feelings continued. There was splashes of graffiti and the buildings seemed a little neglected. I know the bridge of Ponte Vecchio dates back to 1345 and apparently the original bridge was from year 966, so this place is very old but all the more reason to preserve this historic treasure. I felt like these structures needed a little more consideration. Time certainly has a way of aging structures, but careless graffiti, that’s unacceptable. Again, this is just my observation. My daughter was there a few years ago and other family members recently traveled to Florence and did not share my sentiment, so don’t disregard going to Florence because of my perception. Florence is an incredible city, period amen. However, for me it lost some of its radiance.
We had a full 8 hour day in Florence which included historic churches, museums and some shopping. We didn't see all we wanted to see since some museums were closed on Monday’s but we did take in quite a bit. We ate a delicious meal at Osteria i’ Mangiarion on Via dello Studio, which offered fine local fare near the Duomo.
I’ll show you some more pictures. It is amazing to look back at the sites and the views from high towers and Piazzale Michelangelo. Once again, if you have a few days to see all the sights you will leave with a new appreciation of art and history. We enjoyed our visit to both Cortona and Florence but our favorite city in this region was in the heart of Umbria- Assisi.
My favorite picture of Florence
We left Tuscany and headed for Puglia but made a stop at Assisi along the way and I’m so glad we did! I love Assisi. It is such a beautiful city. After being in Florence the day before, when we arrived at Assisi we immediately felt like this city was cared for and loved. It was gleaming with beauty. We explored a few churches, art galleries and shopped a bit. It was a very pleasant morning. We thoroughly enjoyed our visit, albeit brief.
I’ll share some photos of Assisi then I’ll end this Tuscany Part 2 with some lesson’s learned and my take home wish.
Captivating works of art
Stone streets and alleys of Assisi
1) Check International Drivers License requirements before you leave your home country
2) Bring an international phone. Just a repeat recommendation. We were thinking what would happen if we broke down in our rental car, how we would reach out for help.? You’re not in Kansas anymore. We were on some back-roads. If we blew a tire, sure my husband could change it, but it would be very helpful to have a means of communication.
3) Learn what your GPS symbols mean. We traveled for some time thinking we were on a scenic route when actually the symbol for the tree meant non-toll roads or more unmarked roads. We definitely added unnecessary time to our trip by learning on the fly, so to speak. Take the most expedient route. Rural roads are fine if you know where you’re going. Either way, try and understand your GPS before you actually hit the road. It’s worth taking a few minutes to learn what the symbols mean, it may not be as obvious as you think. You can’t go wrong asking the rental car staff before you leave.
4) Get specific address with coordinates: latitude and longitude. This is very helpful when traveling to places that are off the beaten path. Many websites list their coordinates. It must be a European thing.
5) If you’re renting a car make sure you’re a good, confident driver. Driving in some of the cities can be very stressful. The roads are narrow, cars are parked everywhere, you’re likely not that familiar with the signage. We were on dirt roads, bumpy roads and parking in tight city spaces can be tricky.
6) When visiting churches, make sure you wear modest clothing. Short sleeves not sleeveless tops, avoid short-shorts, men too. If you have exposed shoulders, pack a scarf to cover them or be prepared to buy something from a local vendor. Head coverings are no longer required.
7) Back to car rental: verify the pick up time. Usually the company will send you an email the day before to confirm your intent. Reply to the email. Don’t assume what you established before you left is all you need to do. They are confirming with you so you have an obligation to advise what your plans are for car retrieval.
8) It’s not a bad idea to have a paper road map.
As I end this journey of the second leg of ‘Italy for the Ordinary’ the “take home” I want to recreate one day is this herb garden from Borgo di Vagli. I just thought it made the perfect display. Another project for my husband!