Sunday, May 09, 2010

Florence Italy Travel Blog

I'm Suzanne and I want to welcome you to my travel blog on Florence, Italy - one of the most amazing cities in Europe! This is a travel & photo blog of my trip to Florence, San Gimignano, Siena, Pisa & Volterra.

Why not grab a coffee (or a glass of vino), stop by for a few minutes, and let me share some stories and photos of Florence.

Since this is a blog, all the posts are in time order, newest first. Here is a list of all the posts in case you are in a rush to find something:

- Florence In a Day Article
- Tuscany In September
- A Florence Hills Tour
- A villa in Tuscany
- Tuscany Map with Cities
- Cheap Flights to Italy
- My vacation in Tuscany
- Flight to Pisa
- Florence
- Review of Anglo American Hotel in Florence
- First Evening in Florence
- Florence SightSeeing on a Rainy Day
- Last Morning in Florence
- Our Hertz Nightmare
- A Villa in Vitolini
- Views of San Gimignano
- Chilling out at the Villa in Vitolini
- Volterra
- A day in Siena

If you're planning a trip to Italy, you may want to look at my Florence Italy website. I would also recommend a visit to the Tuscany Section of Tripadvisor for lots of reviews of things to do and places to stay and eat in Florence.

Ciao for now!

Thursday, December 15, 2005

A day in Siena

The drive from Volterra to Siena was scenic as usual with rolling hills, olive groves and little villages along the way.

We got to Siena in just under an hour and managed to get parked reasonably easily, which was lucky, considering the huge number of cars and the lack of spaces. After a short walk through some narrow streets, one of the streets opened out on to the Piazza del Campo and we were faced with a magnificant view of the shell shaped Piazza and the Torre del Mangia, surrounded by beautiful buildings.

Torre del Mangia, Siena

We wandered round the Piazza del Campo, basking in the sunshined and taking photos at every possible angle, then found a great seat at one of the restaurants and ordered a Pizza and a beer with one of the best views of the holiday.

Here's a photo of the view from our seat:

Lunch at Piazza del Campo, Siena

This is definitely a sight that would easily rival any of the places in Florence.

After lunch we decided to burn off the pizza by climbing the 505 steps to the top of the Torre del Mangia. Although the number of steps here was much more than the Cupola in Florence's Duomo, it didn't seem as difficult a climb. The view from the top was superb. The sky was blue and we could see for miles across the city and over the Tuscan countryside.

View from top of Torre Del Mangia, Siena

After the tower we visited the Duomo. It wasn't as impressive as Florence's Duomo and the facade was covered up as it was being renovated, but it was still very impressive.

Duomo, Siena

We spent the remainder of the afternoon wandering round the city, looking in shops, taking photos and just soaking up the atmosphere.

I loved Siena and could have easily spent a couple of days here. Perhaps next time!

If you want to stay in Siena you can find Reviews of hotels in Siena here.


We made an effort today and got out of bed before 8am to hit the road and spend a morning in Volterra.

As usual the journey was filled with the contrasts of beautiful Italian countryside and psycho Italian drivers :-)

View of countryside surrounding Volterra

We managed to get to Volterra in one piece within an hour despite stop when a double decker bus and a tourist bus from Germany tried to squeeze past each other on a road that was barely wide enough for one bus. 10 minutes later after lots of reversing, with a big queue of traffic behind us they finally made it through without toppling.

The road to Volterra was steep and winding as expected as it is situated over 1700 feet above sea level up on a Plateau. We managed to get parked a little easier than we had done in San Gimignano and walked up some steps through to the main part of town.

Volterra is a pretty small town and you can easily walk across it in twenty minutes or less, but it is a nice place to stop and spend an hour or two. The town is filled with narrow winding alleyways and tiny little streets. If it wasn't so small it would be easy to get lost here.

We spent an hour or so just wandering about the town and the main square, through lots of little alleyways that often opened out to places giving beautiful vistas of the Tuscan countryside.


Before leaving we stopped at a little Pasteleria for a coffee and a pastry, after which Stuart was shocked that I'd spent 3 Euros 30 on a can of diet coke, then it was back to the car to continue on to Siena.

I'd highly recommend Volterra for a 2 hour stop off during a day trip.

Streets of Volterra

If you'd like to stay longer in Volterra you can read reviews of Volterra Hotels here.

Chilling out at the Villa

For the first time of our holiday we spent two whole days by the villa doing absolutely nothing. Bliss!

We were blessed with two days of beautiful weather - blue skies and sunshine and we spent a couple of days just chilling out and relaxing by the pool.

It was Stuart's 29th Birthday on Tuesday 13th September so I made him dinner - ensalada caprese followed by chicken and mushroom risotta, washed down with a bottle of Tattinger champagne (brought from home). We spent the two days eating, reading, relaxing, drinking Chianti and Italian Beer and having long lies.

Renting a villa is in my opinion one of the best ways to enjoy your time in Italy. Interchanging lazy days by the pool with daytrips to go sightseeing in the nearby towns and villages is an ideal way to spend your time.

When planning a trip to Florence or Tuscany, a useful website regarding villa rentals in tuscany is They have a good selection of villa, farmhouse and apartment rentals throughout Tuscany. They also offer many luxury villas and apartments with pools for rent by the week.

Sunday, November 20, 2005

Views of San Gimignano

We were a bit lazy today and didn't manage to get up as early as planned. We had decided the day before to visit both San Gimignano and Volterra in the one day, but since we never managed to leave the villa till around 11am we decided to visit only San Gimignano.

Unfortunately the weather was a little bit gloomy and rainy once again, but the drive from our villa to San Gimignano was full of beautiful views of rolling Tuscan countryside.

It took around an hour and a half to reach San Gimignano and before we arrived we caught a glimpse of the medieval towers on a hill in the distance.

San Gimignano is set on a 334m high hill and dates back to the 10th century. The town originally had 72 tower houses, some which were as high as 50 metres. These towers were a symbol of wealth and only 14 remain today.

Countryside near San Gimignano

The town is known as "San Gimignano delle belle Torri" and is a UNESCO world heritage site.

We spent a couple of hours just wandering aimlessly round the streets of San Gimignano and had an enjoyable time, despite the fact that for most of the time it was absolutely pouring with rain (see the photo below)

San Gimignano in the Rain

In the afternoon we climbed to the top of the Torre Grossa and were rewarded with amazing views of San Gimignano. Luckilly for me and my camera the rain had cleared up by this time and it turned into a beautiful sunny day. Here are some of the photos that I took from the top of the Torre Grossa:

View of the Piazza in San Gimignano from the top of the Tower

Above you can see a view of the Piazza in San Gimignano and below a view of one of the towers and the streets below.

View of San Gimignano

If you'd like to spend a little longer in San Gimignano you can read reviews of San Gimignano hotels and things to do in San Gimignano

Tuesday, November 01, 2005

A Villa in Vitolini

It didn't take long to get from Florence airport to our villa in Vitolini, near Vinci. The instructions were excellent and it took us just over an hour including a stop in the supermarket to stock up on all the essentials like food, water and of course some vino and a few beers.

The villa, called "Il Mulinetto del Lica" was gorgeous, set in a valley, surrounded by greenery with a lovely pool and sundeck. The inside of the villa was really modern and split on two levels with the kitchen and living room area on the ground floor and steps up to the bedroom area, which had a huge arched window looking out on to the countryside. There was also a door which led straight out to the pool area from the bedroom.

Bedroom of Il Mulinetto del Lica

The caretaker of the villa, Tina was really friendly and helpful. She spoke great English (luckily, as our Italian isn't up to much) and showed us around the place, then invited us to join her, the owner and a couple of others for a glass of wine and some bread and cheese, which was nice.

On Sunday we had a lazy day by the pool, relaxing in the sun, eating pizza, pasta, bread and olives and drinking Italian wine and beer.

Swimming Pool, Il Mulinetto del Lica

We both had a swim in the pool - our first and last swim of the holiday as it was absolutely freezing! I've been in cold pools before, but this one literally took your breath away.

Unfortunately we found that our location wasn't as perfect as we originally thought it was when we realised that the evening before both of us had been eaten alive by mosquitos.

For the remainder of our stay we burned mosquito coils, coated ourself in insect repellent from the late afternoon onwards and stayed inside as soon as the sun went down. At the end of the first few days I counted a total of 20 bites, including one that was almost the size of the palm of my hand on the back of my leg.

Despite the villa and the stting being absolutely lovely, this is one reason that I wouldn't come back again. I've travelled through areas in the world that have malaria, but never have I been bitten as much as I have this week. Arghhh! Perhaps it was due to the fact that it was more wet & humid in this area of Italy in September than usual and because it was in a valley surrounded by trees.

Kitchen, Il Mulinetto del Lica

Sunday, October 23, 2005

Our Hertz Nightmare

After checking out of the hotel we took a taxi to the airport (12 Euros) and went to pick up our hire car from Hertz. Easier said than done! First we went straight to the car hire office in the car park, but were told that we had to pick the car keys up from the terminal building. I stood with the cases in the sweltering hot sun while Stuart picked up the keys - easy enough.

Unfortunately when we found the right number in the Hertz parking lot, the space was empty - no car! Stuart went back to the Hertz office in the parking lot to ask the woman where the car was. She came out of her office and wandered aimlessly around the parking lot for the next 15 minutes looking for the car, without success. She then told Stuart that he would have to walk back to the terminal building again and speak to the staff there. So he did, and came back a few minutes later with some new car keys.

We had booked the car through Expedia and selected the second car size up, which had room for two adults, two children and two suitcases. Much to our dismay, the keys that Stuart had been given were for a Fiat Panda - with a boot barely big enough to fit one suitcase.

The next half hour was spent with Stuart arguing with the Hertz staff, who refused to budge and wouldn't give us a car of the size that we'd ordered, despite the fact that there were a couple of hundred other Hertz cars in the parking lot and some of them weren't due to be picked up until the following day. Hertz refused to take responsibility for the car that they had lost.

In the end we had to make do with the pile of s**t known as the Fiat Panda . The Hertz guy actually had the audacity to tell us that we should think ourselves lucky, as this car was an upgrade from what we had previously ordered. Nothing like putting the customer first!

Last Morning in Florence

We decided to make the most of our last morning in Florence and took a walk to San Miniato al Monte, perched high on a hill with fantastic views of Florence.

We started from the Ponte Vecchio and walked up a steep road, past the former home of Galileo Galilei and up to Forte Belvedere.

View of the Duomo, Florence from a distance

The walk took us up a steep hill then almost all the way down again, then up towards the church - San Miniato al Monte (below).

San Miniato al Monte, Florence

Once we reached the top we were rewarded with a magnificant view at a viewpoint just below the church, with the whole of Florence laid out before us. Yet another photo opportunity. Below you can see a photo of of the view.

View of Florence

If you are planning on spending a few days in Florence you can read independent reviews of all the Florence Hotels here.

Monday, October 10, 2005

Florence Sightseeing on a Rainy Day

I'm writing this while lying in my bed in the hotel room in Florence. It's Friday 9th September, September being the fourth least rainy time of year in Florence.

It's just after 9.30am, I've been for breakfast and I'm all ready for a day of sightseeing in Florence, but its absolutely pissing it down outside! Not only that, it's almost completely dark and the rain is bouncing off the ground, there's loud thunder and fork lightning. It's the sort of rain I've only seen in the Tropics.

I was expecting beautiful blue sky and sunshine for most of my vacation, since the average temperature in Florence in September is 79 degrees, but hopefully this will be the one and only day of bad weather!

We decided to stay in the hotel for a while in the hope that there would be a break in the rain. Finally after almost an hour the rain eased off enough for us to venture outside. Jeans, a jumper and an umbrella was not what I expected to be wearing for my Florence Sightseeing!

It's about a 20 minute walk from our hotel to the Duomo and if it hadn't been raining we would have taken the picturesque route beside the River Arno. Instead we walked through the narrow streets to get as much shelter from the rain as possible.

We arrived at the Duomo just after 11am and the queue was tiny compared to yesterday. We paid 6 Euros for entry to the Duomo's Cupola (Dome) and started the journey up the 463 steps to the top.

Duomo Belltower, Florence

This climb is definitely not recommended if you're feeling tired or in any way unfit. I felt reasonably fit and had been going to the gym and Yoga 3-4 times a week for the last couple of months, but I found the steps pretty challenging. Lots of narrow winding staircases and steps that became more and more like ladders as you climb to the top of the Dome.

Half way up we came to a long balcony like walkway that went all the round the Cupola. This is not the place to go if you suffer from Vertigo! Luckily I don't but stil felt a slight rush of fear when I glanced down and saw the tiny people below. I was glad of the plastic pane in front of my, preventing me from accidentally toppling over.

463 steps later, we reached the top of the Duomo and were rewarded for our effort with a spectacular view of Florence in all directions.

View from the top of the Duomo

As it was raining slightly when we got to the top the marble floor was a little slippy, which was quite worrying as the barrier wasn't very high. Despite this, I found it less scary than standing on the inside of the Dome.

After taking lots of photos from every possible angle and Stuart refusing the offer of a photo of us together (as he was too scared of toppling over the edge :-) we began our descent back to the bottom.

I don't think I would have liked to do this on a hot July day, as it was stuffy enough on a September day with the rain pouring down outside.

One the way down we walked round the inside of the Dome again, this time on a higher walkway than before. After a quick stop to take a photo and admire the "Last Judgement" frescoes by Vasari on the roof, we quickly continued our journey down the steps. I'm sure that everything was perfectly safe, but walking around the top of a building that was completed nearly 600 years ago made me slightly nervous!

After our trip to the Duomo, we wandered to the nearby Piazza Della Signoria and stopped for a bit longer this time to take some photos of the statue of David and Neptune's Fountain. We also wandered around the outdoor Sculpture gallery, which contains statues such as the Loggia dei Lanzi (1382) and the Rape of the Sabine Women (1583), which was carved from a single block of Flawed marble.

Piazza della Signoria

By this time it was absolutely pouring with rain, so we found a restaurant with some indoor seating and had another Pasta lunch.

After lunch the rain had calmed slightly so we took a walk over the River Arno via the famous Ponte Vecchio. This bridge was built in 1345 and is the only bridge over the Arno that wasn't destroyed during the second world war. Originally the workshops overhanging the bridge were used by blacksmiths and butchers, but due to the noise and the smell they were evicted and the bridge is now filled with jewellery shops.

Once over the bridge we wandered through the winding streets and into the Palazzo Pitti. I wanted to visit the Boboli gardens as well as the Palentine gallery and the Royal Appartments, but unfortunately the Boboli Gardens were closed, perhaps due to the excessive rain. We just bought a combined ticket for the Palentine Galleries and the Royal apartments and spent an hour or so wandering through the different rooms and admiring the paintings and the ceilings which were ornately decorated with gold and frescoes. I'm definitely not educated in art, but I really enjoyed wandering around the rooms and imagining the people who once stayed there.

After our visit to the Gallery we (stupidly) bought what was probably the most expensive ice cream in Florence from a Gelateria next to the Ponte Vecchio - 6 Euros each for a small tub! If we had walked a few blocks away we would have got one for less than half the price, but never mind, I enjoyed eating it all the same, despite getting it all over my hands and face.

We crossed the River via the Ponte alla Grazie, which is the next bridge along from the Ponte Vecchio and took the opportunitity to take a few photos of the bridge.

Ponte Vecchio in Florence

That evening we had a great dinner in a place called La Bussola (58/R Via Porto Rossa). It was slightly expensive at almost 100 Euros for the two of us, but it was very nice. We both had pasta to start with and I had Languistines in a curried sauce with rice, while Stuart had Sole with a side dish of Melanzani Parmigiana, washed down with a half bottle of Ruffino of Chardonnay for me and a half bottle of Chianti for Stuart. A very nice way to finish off a busy day!

You can read more about things to do in Florence here.

Sunday, October 09, 2005

Our first evening in Florence

After spending a couple of hours chilling out in our room we took a walk alongside the River Arno and over the Ponte Vespucci, which is a few bridges up from the Ponte Vecchio, and into the area on the other side of the bridge known as Oltrarno. We stopped for a beer in a bar called Dolce Vita, which was nice, but at 6 Euros for a medium beer it would be easy to rack up a huge bill.

After that we wandered around a bit and stopped for a drink in the Santo Spirito area, then wandered back over a different bridge and into the central historical part of Florence. We had dinner at a little restaurant and ate some Steak washed down by a nice bottle of Chianti. One word of warning - if you like your steak well done, don't bother ordering one while you're in Italy! I had asked for my steak to be well done, but it was pink and still a little bloody inside. I hate to think what it would have been like if I hadn't asked for it to be well done!

Overall the restaurant was quite nice with steaks served with potatoes and veg for 15 Euros, Pasta dishes for 8-12 Euros and a large selection of other main dishes.