The first three days! Milan, Bologna, Florence

Florence Travel Blog

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Hi Everyone,
Just wanted to give you all a quick update on our trip in Europe!  As you likely know, we left on Saturday from Austin on sort of an odd itinerary, flying into Atlanta, then up to La Guardia, where we took a shuttle to JFK.  From JFK we flew (1st class of course! :-)) to Budapest Hungary, and from there got on an Alitalia flight into Milan.  We arrived at the hotel at around 4pm Sunday (Europe time, which is six hrs ahead of Eastern, seven ahead of Central).  That night we walked around a little bit, found a GREAT little street-side restaurant, and had some red wine and authentic italian food.  Monday was a busy day, as we hit all the main sites in Milan, the highlight of which was Il Duomo... a 14th century gothic cathedral in the heart of the city.  The architecture was simply out of this world, with hundreds of spires and figures carved out of nearly every nook and cranny.  I can't wait to be able to post all the pictures.  (By the way, today was our third full day in Italy and we've taken nearly 200 pictures already!)  After 10+ miles of walking we treated ourselves to another nice dinner and planned out our next day, Tuesday.
We woke up early and got in our rented Smart Car and drove 135 miles southeast to Bologna, which is a very old and historic city about halfway between Milan and Rome.  The city has roots dating back to the 5th century BC and gave birth to several famous historical figures, and some newer ones too (Ferrarri, Maserati, just to name a few).  This was filled with a different kind of beauty.  Rather than the majestic cathedrals of the rennaisance, this place is simply old.  The fountain of Neptune is located in the center town square, along with some buildings dating back to the 13th and 14th centures.  The highlight of Bologna was "the Two Towers", the symbols of the city.  Back in the 10th through 13th century, the city was characterized by extremely tall, thin towers.  Prominent families built them to increase their social stature.  Several remain to this day, with the two towers being the most easily recognized.  The taller of the two is 97 meters tall (around 300 feet), with the shorter one about 2/3 of that.  Both towers lean, one precariously, and you can climb to the top of the taller one.  498 steps in all!  You'll love those pictures, too!
We only spent about four hours in Bologna before going back to the car and driving on to Florence.  It was a 60 mile drive through the heart of the mountains.  It was simly beautiful.  The autostrada (expressway) had over 40 tunnels in this 60 mile stretch!  Florence sits in a valley half-way between Bologna and Rome, and is easily one of the most beloved cities on earth - and with good reason.  When we arrived, we relaxed in our executive suite on the top floor of the Hilton Metropole Hotel and then relaxed on the rooftop terrace that is the executive lounge and enjoyed a couple glasses of red wine while conversing with some other Americans that happened to be up there.  In the evening, we went into the centro of Florence and walked around for a little while, and had dinner at an outdoor cafe / ristorante in the Piazza della Signoria - which is a relatively large square bordered by historic sculptures and the Palazza Vecchio (which dates back to the late 1200s.  This was the original location of the statue of David, and today a copy still sits in the original spot. (The real one is in the Accademia Museum about 1/2 mile to the north).  Coincidentally, this piazza (plaza) is also where the puritanical monk Savonarola held a bonfire, which he called the bonfire of the vanities, back in 1498.  This was where enraged Florentines took paintings, clothes, books, and burned them - as they were deemed to be items of decadence - and hence, needed to be destroyed.  The history here is almost beyond compare.
This morning, we slept in a little and took the hotel shuttle back to the heart of Florence and started seeing the sites.  We tried to get to as many things as possible today, as the weather was expected to go downhill quickly (and finally did, at around 6:15pm).  We started off by going to Palazzo San Lorenzo.  San Lorenzo was a member of the Medici family, a very wealthy family that existed between the 15th and 18th centuries who contributed a large portion to what is present-day Florence.  This Palazzo is actually a church.  A church built just for this family!  It has a domed cieling inside with paintings not unlike those of the sistine chapel in Vatican City.  I could go on, but there is so much more to tell!
Following San Lorenzo, we walked over to Il Duomo.  No, not the same one from Milan, this one is Florence's.  It is a huge cathedral and dome which is the symbol of the city.  The dome was designed by Brunelleschi, whose tomb is located inside the cathedral.  It was built in the late 1300s and to this day is by far the tallest structure in central Florence.  To see this thing up close is awestriking.  Part Gothic, part renaissance, it is simply grand.  The inside is just as great!  You can climb to the top of the dome, but the line was a bit too long.  Since we had a 5 o'clock reservation at the Accademia to see the original statue of David, we made our way to the next spot.  The clock was ticking!
Next, we went back down to the Piazza della Signoria and snapped some pictures and ate a fabulous panini sandwich.  Adjacent to this piazza is the palazzo Vecchio, as said, built between 1299 and 1302, and is still the city's town hall.  We paid the $6 euros (like $8.50 USD) and toured the inside.  It also is filled with medieval works of art and sculptures, and nearly every one of the rooms has paintings on the cielings, also dating back to the 1400-1500s. 
From there we headed still further south, past the Uffizi Museum, one of the best on earth (we didn't make reservations far enough in advance so we could not enter) and on to the River Arno, which runs through the heart of Florence.  There, we spent some time on the Ponte (Bridge) Vecchio.  Interesting story, this bridge was built in 1387 and has remained nearly unchanged since.  All along the bridge are jewelers and jewelery shops.  Up until the 1500s, this was the main meat-market until one of the Medici family members complained of the smell of it, and ever since then, it has been host to some of the best jewelery stores in the world.  Also, during WWII, as the Allied Forces were making their way into Italy, the Nazis bombed every bridge on the Arno, but couldn't bring themselves to bomb and destroy this historic bridge.  So what they did instead was bomb buildings on both sides of it, blocking access to it and making it impassable.  Pretty neat story!
Then we walked over to the Piazza de Pitti, mainly because we wanted to enter the Giardino di Boboli (Boboli Gardens) which are behind it.  They are among the oldest renaissance gardens (1400s) and are huge.  It was an oasis away from the hustle and bustle of a busy city teaming with tens of thousands of tourists a day.  Here we spent about an hour just lazily walking around, and snapped some great photos while we were at it. 
By now it was about 4:15 so we had to head back up to the Accademia for our meeting with the statue of David at 5pm.  The walk didn't take as long as we expected and ended up waiting for about 15 minutes, but it was well worth it.  The museum itself was kind of drab on the outside, just a regular building along a regular street, but the inside more than made up for it.  Aside from some world famous paintings, there were also many sculptures and some unfinished Michelangelo works.  The statue of David was by far the highlight - and you would need to see it in person to truly appreciate just why it is as famous as it is.  The detail goes right down to tendons and veins.  Eddie was able to sneak a picture of it. (shh, don't tell anyone!) :-)
By now we were both pretty tired, so we sat down for dinner and a glass of wine before walking back to the bus / train terminal to catch our shuttle back to the hotel.  This is when it finally started raining.  (It was supposed to rain all day with a high of 65, but ended up being sunny and 80 until this time.)  That brings us up to now.  Eddie is laying on the couch sleeping and I'm going to post this on my myspace page after I send it to you.  The rest of the night we are going to relax with some red wine and plan out our drive through the heart of Tuscany tomorrow, en route to Rome!!! 
We will be in Rome tomorrow night (Thursday) through Monday morning.  One of those days we plan on driving to Pompeii to see Mt. Vesuvius - the volcano that erupted in the 1st century AD and destroyed the city completely.  After Rome on Monday morning, we will be driving back up to Milan to catch a Tuesday morning flight to Madrid.  En route, we will stop in Pisa to see the famous leaning tower... so expect more updates to come!
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photo by: spocklogic