Under the Tuscan sun-A A +A
Wednesday, February 13, 2013
AH TUSCANY! A dream, a place that I only see in movies, a place that is only in my imagination, a place I never expected to go to.
Before, when I thought of Tuscany, I thought of vineyards, terra-cotta-colored villas and sunflowers. But lo and behold, there is actually a lot to see and do in Tuscany.
After my five-day stint in Rome, I bought a one-way ticket to Florence or “Firenze” via Trenitalia, which cost around 52 euros per way, per person. Rome to Florence is about two hours by train.
Whenever I travel, I always make sure I book my hotel near the train station. Arriving at the Sta. Maria Novella station in Florence, as I entered the heart of the city, with its alleys and narrow streets, I immediately fell in love with its beauty and charm. Walking around Florence, I could truly see how artistic the Florentines are.
With some of the finest shopping in Europe, it is one of the most important cities in Italian fashion. Here you will find leather goods, paper goods, and jewelry. It is in Florence where the big fashion houses of Gucci and Salvatore Ferragamo were born.
On my first day in Florence, I went around the Piazza della Signora, and while walking, ate two scoops of gelato. Non-negotiable for my trip to Italy was gelato, and I had to have some everyday. Piazza della Signora holds some important statues, including a copy of Michelangelo’s David. But if you’re a museum buff, unlike me, then the Galleria dell Academia is a must visit to see the original David. The piazza has been Florence’s political center since the middle ages and Florence’s town hall.
Next stop was the Santa Maria Del Fiore at the Piazza del Duomo. The basilica is the main church of Florence. It is done in the Gothic style and its exterior is made of marble panels in various shades of green and pink bordered by white. It is truly magnificent, being a Unesco heritage site. If you’re young, energetic and without heart problems, you can climb Giotto’s Campanile, or bell tower of the church. The first story was designed by Giotto, hence the name. Buy a ticket and climb the 414 stairs (no lift) for great views of the cathedral and its dome and the city of Florence and surrounding area. Or you can explore St. John’s baptistery and look at the different mosaics it houses.
After all that walking, one will definitely be hungry, so one must not leave Florence without trying its famous Bisteka Florentina or Florentine steak.
On my second day, we booked a day tour out of Florence to go to Pisa, San Gimignano and Siena. It’s about 80 euros per person for a whole day tour, including lunch of course. You can even ask your hotel to book the day tour for you.
Our tour started around 8 a.m. en route to Pisa. Truly, the leaning tower of Pisa was amazing. It was simply beautiful. After an hour of picture taking, we were immediately whisked off to Trattoria Borgo di Racciano to have lunch under the Tuscan sun surrounded by vineyards. Lunch was simple, tomato bruschetta with prosciutto, simple mixed green salad with balsamic vinaigrette, penne pomodoro and raspberry panna cotta, of course served with the famous chianti wine (red wine produced in Tuscany associated with a squat bottle enclosed in a straw basket).
After lunch, we went to a small, walled medieval hill town called San Gimignano.
Walking around San Gimignano, one can find different specialty shops like a meat shop selling dry, cured wild boar, where my father could not refuse buying 10 euros worth, definitely an experience my palette would never forget. Then we went to the world-famous gelateria named Dondoli Gelateria. Crowned world-champion gelato makers for the years 2006-2007 and 2008-2009, their creamy gelato is worth the line, and of course, a dream come true for a gelato lover like me.
After San Gimignano we, proceeded to the beautiful city of Siena. A Unesco heritage site, it is famous for its medieval architecture, art museum and the Palio - a horse race held twice a year (July and August). The Siena Cathedral and baptistery is definitely a must see. The Gothic-style church is dedicated to Our Lady of the Assumption. A walk around the characteristically shell-shaped Piazza del Campo is a treat because you get to see the Mangia Tower, buy souvenirs or just get a glimpse of everyday life in Siena. After a whole day of walking, we finally we headed back to Florence.
On our last day in Florence, we went to the Santa Croce church, the largest Franciscan church, to pay homage to the famous people who were buried there, like Galileo Galilei, Michelangelo and Dante Alighieri.
I never thought that I would be able to go and experience Tuscany in my lifetime. But dreams do come true and my trip to Tuscany is one experience I will forever treasure.
The sights, the sounds and the food are truly unique under the Tuscan sun. One day I will definitely be back.
Keep on dreaming folks! (Katrina Charmaine Avila)
Published in the Sun.Star Cebu newspaper on February 14, 2013.