Archive for the 'Italy' Category


Italy: Giotto’s Campanile in Florence

CSC_0790The Piazza del Duomo is one of the most interesting places to visit in Florence and it is just a few minutes walk from the Florence central train station.



DSC_0792Florence’s main cathedral, the bell tower (campanile) and the Baptistery of St. John are all in the Piazza del Duomo.



DSC_0746Florence’s Duomo is the second longest church in Italy after St. Peter’s Basilica in the Vatican.




CSC_0755Ordinarily called Il Duomo di Firenze, this cathedral’s officially called The Basilica di Santa Maria del Fiore (Basilica of Saint Mary of the Flower).


CSC_0751Standing right next to the basilica is the bell tower which is one of the great showcases of Florentine Gothic architecture designed by Giotto di Bondone or simply Giotto.



DSC_0745When you are in Piazza del Duomo, you probably would, at one time, need to decide whether to go up the Dome of the Basilica of Santa Maria del Fiore or Giotto’s Campanile or do both or skip both.





DSC_0786My wife and I decided to go up Giotto’s Campanile instead. The tower would take us to a vantage point with a breathtaking view of the nearby cathedral’s dome towering over the city and the harbor.




We already bought the ticket to go up the campanile until we realized there was no elevator and we have to climb up 414 steps to the top of the bell tower!  We were not prepared but we did it anyway!



CSC_0761At the first of. five levels of the tower we got a view of the Baptistry of Florence, a religious building dedicated to its patron saint, John the Baptist. It was originally believed to be a Roman temple dedicated to Mars.



CSC_0766Halfway through our ascent we had this view of the dome, which dominates the cathedral exterior, and was engineered by Filippo Brunellesch.




DSC_0769We took from above snapshots of the place voted many times as the best city to live in……



DSC_0764….and the views were truly breathtaking.






DSC_0785Finally we reached the top of the bell tower and the cathedral dome (slightly higher than the campanile) is gloriously dominating the Florentine skyline.


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My wife and I took turns taking our photos with the dome. Unless one has a selfie stick, it’s rather difficult to take a selfie due to the narrow walkway at the top of the bell tower.



CSC_0759Going down the bell tower was definitely easier than climbing up.  When we reached the ground we explored the other side of the basilica.



DSC_0787We also checked the bronze door panels of the baptistery by Ghiberti.



DSC_0788It is said that when Michaelangelo first saw them, he supposedly exclaimed, “Oh door worthy of heaven!”




DSC_0791We walked away from Piazza del Duomo feeling awed and exhausted.



DSC_0793As we looked back I believe we made the right decision to climb up the campanile instead of the cathedral’s dome if we had to choose only one option.




Italy : Venice, Queen of the Adriatic

Venice has been described as “undoubtedly the most beautiful city built by man”.  With 118 small islands separated by canals and connected by bridges, the entire city has been listed as a World Heritage Site, along with its lagoons.  On a gloomy winter day, the “City of Water” would be our grand gateway into stunning Italy as we arrived from the north via an overnight sleeper train from Wien Westbahnhof (Vienna West Station) to Stazione di Venezia Sta. Lucia (Venice Sta. Lucia Train Station).  It was a rather smooth ride and we arrived in Venice early in the morning.


We took the vaporetto, the city’s ferry system and glided through Venice’s Grand Canal.  We alighted at the stop near Rialto Bridge.





We have decided to stay at the Hotel Rialto. A few bad reviews in some websites did not stop us from booking in the hotel aptly called because it is just a few steps from the famous Rialto Bridge. Some bad experiences are sometimes just isolated cases and I wanted to try the hotel with its perfect location: fronting the Grand Canal, a few minutes walk to Piazza San Marco and just in front of a water bus stop near the Rialto Bridge.




We had a tiny but cozy, classic room that my friend and I instantly loved.




Just a few steps from our hotel were beautiful gondolas moored in the a gondola station very near the Rialto Bridge.




We had fun taking directions along narrow passageways leading to Venice’s most famous square….




….with views of the narrow canals as well.




This is Piazza San Marco at mid -morning.





The famous square was just as lovely as I imagined it at mid-morning.





This stolen shot became my classic Piazza San Marco memoir.




DSC_0618Veering left from Piazza San Marco we reached the Piazzeta di San Marco which is not part of the Piazza San Marco but an adjoining open space connecting the south side of the Piazza to the waterway of the lagoon. The Piazzetta lies between the Doge’s Palace on the east and Jacopo Sansovino’s Libreria which holds the Biblioteca Marciana on the west.




On the far side of the Piazzetta is the side wall of the Doges Palace with gothic arcades at ground level and a loggia on the floor above. 




Up to the seventh pillar from the front this is the building as rebuilt in 1340, while the extension towards the Basilica was added in 1424.



DSC_0628At the end of the Piazzetta were more gondolas and across the water (the Bacino di San Marco) we could vaguely see  the island of San Giorgio Maggiore and the brilliant white facade of Palladio’s church there.




We traveled south to see more of the Venetian waterway…..



more photos of me…




..and the gondolas.




Our hotel was just next to the Rialto Bridge and we can just conveniently cross the bridge to get another perspective of the area.




Our favorite spot for hot Italian coffee and sometimes meals of pizza and pasta (what else!) was Ristorante Florida as we always had seats overlooking the Rialto Bridge, the Grand Canal and our hotel.




For sunset watching Rialto Bridge was my favorite because of the views of the Grand Canal.

We climbed to the top of the bridge and stayed there the whole time.



DSC_0681The blue skies of twilight reflecting on the busy Grand Canal and the evening lights lining its banks were a sight to behold.  This is the classic Venice snapshot.


Restaurants were starting to be lit up and were slowly filling up.




Water buses, the cheapest mode of transportation, and gondolas continue to ply the Grand Canal.


After sunset, we would climb down the bridge and prepare for that short walk again to Piazza San Marco.





There were nights the Piazza San Marco was not so crowded as I expected it to be.





Restaurant tables right on the square were coveted spots for dining and people watching.






At times, we nearly had the Piazza San Macro and the adjacent Piazetta di San Marco to ourselves.





The Basilica di San Marco (St. Mark’s Church) which was partly under renovation did not escape our gaze.





Also, the distant Church of Santa Maria Dei Miracoli.





And the Palazzo Ducale.





The most wonderful dining experience for me in Venice was having the best tasting Spaghetti al Nero di Seppia (squid ink spaghetti)!  This is Venice’s specialty that is not to be missed! Delizioso!





One of the activities that offers great surprises to first time Venice visitors is walking along Venice’s famous narrow alleys opening up unexpectedly onto  squares in the maze-like configuration…..





….and crossing its bridges, 490 of them, small and big.





The vivid waterways of Venice always give visitors the constant nearness of water.  This city of water charmed us with blissful little moments that it stayed with us long after we have left.


Italy : Pisa At Night

We were on our way from lovely Florence to ancient Rome and one of our itineraries for the day was to take a quick peek at Pisa’s leaning tower.  Florence is so beautiful that we were enchanted by it longer than we had planned and we were left with only a few hours to get to Pisa and go back to Florence before our fast train to Rome leaves. We had no choice but to do it. I was actually planning to take the blue sunset sky of Pisa but we were only able to leave Florence at sunset and reached Pisa’s main train station after one hour. And it was night.

Without its world famous tower, Pisa would just be another little Italian city. However, I did not expect Pisa to exceed my expectations of a city only known for its Piazza del Uomo. We just walked from the main train station asking directions from everyone on how to reach the cathedral grounds and of course its tower.


We first passed by its bustling commercial strip which was filled with shoppers and strollers.


We then crossed a bridge over River Arno and I took a shot of the building blocks lining the river bank.


We then reached one of the city’s squares and onwards we walked westward.


We passed by some a number of ancient alleys.


Finally after a few more minutes walk, we reached Piazza dei Miracoli, previously known as Piazza del Duomo.




The Leaning Tower of Pisa is the campanile, or freestanding bell tower, of the cathedral of the Italian city of Pisa, known worldwide for its unintended tilt to one side. It is situated behind the Cathedral and is the third oldest structure in Pisa’s Cathedral Square (Piazza del Duomo) after the Cathedral and the Baptistry. As the story goes, the tower’s tilt began during construction, caused by an inadequate foundation on ground too soft on one side to properly support the structure’s weight. The tilt increased in the decades before the structure was completed, and gradually increased until the structure was stabilized (and the tilt partially corrected) by efforts in the late 20th and early 21st centuries.
It was a really short peek at the Tower of Pisa but at least we were able to visit it. As we need to go back to Florence immediately, we boarded one of the public buses plying the main road near the cathedral grounds. It was around 10-15 minutes trip to the main train station. As we did not know how to pay for the bus ride, we asked the bus driver but he nicely told us we do not need to pay as he knew we were tourists. And yes, we managed to board our train from Florence to Rome, arriving in Rome shortly before midnight.
Have you been to Pisa yet? How was your experience visiting the place?

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