Having enjoyed the beauty of Rome in The Honeymoon Series Part 4 (review here), we bade it goodbye and left for Siena, Florence and Pisa. In this episode, we discuss the intricate loveliness of the architectural and buildings, as well as more iconic attractions.
PLACES OF INTERESTWe stopped by Siena Square first, the beautiful Tuscan town with stunning ancient walls, gothic buildings, historical churches, monuments and palaces.
PIAZZA DEL CAMPO
II Campo, 53100, Siena SI, Italy
The Piazza del Campo is the principal public square of Siena, Tuscany, and is considered one of Europe's greatest public squares. It is a unique shell-shaped square surrounded by gorgeous red brick Medieval buildings, and preserves centuries of traditions. Twice a year, the square is home to the famous Palio of Siena, a unique event that transforms the entire city back to the Middle Ages, a horse-racing competition that is engaging to both participants and its audiences. This square is also one of the 7 Unesco sites.
8 Piazza Del Duomo, 53100, Siena SI, Italy
Better known simply as just the "Duomo", this is one of Italy's finest gothic cathedrals. It is magnificent on the outside as well as on the inside, housing some of the finest works of Italy's artists during the day. It is also full of other treasures such as marble pavement, Piccolomini Library frescoes, ornate interiors and a good recommendation for anyone who wants a glimpse of Siena's history.
CATHEDRAL OF FLORENCE / BRUNELLESCHI'S DOME
Piazza del Duomo, 50122, Firenze, Italy
Known as the main church of Italy, this building stands tall over the city with its magnificent Renaissance design. With a clear allusion to the lily, the symbol of Florence City, this was the third and last cathedral of Florence. Sitting atop of the beautiful cathedral is the famous Brunelleschi's Dome which is 45 metres wide, a masterpiece capable of withstanding lighting, earthquakes and passage of time. Within the cathedral is a beautiful with more than 750 pieces of art with more than 720 years of history; entrance fee is 15 euros.
FLORENCE BAPTISTERY / BAPTISTERY OF SAN GIOVANNI
Piazza del Duomo, 50123, Firenze, Italy
One of the most ancient churches of Florence, this may also be known as the Saint John's Baptistery. It is swathed in medieval mosaics and decorated with famous bronze doors - the pictorial carvings upon the doors tell moving stories, therefore it is not unusual to see visitors staring at the doors for hours on end, depicting the tales carved on them.
SANTA MARIA DELLA SCALA
Piazza del Duomo, 1, 53100, Siena SI, Italy
This medieval building used to be a civic hospital to the indigent, the sick, the pilgrims, the elderly and the abandoned children. It housed the people as well as took care of them, therefore it was termed a "hospital" more because of its warm hospitality towards them. Today, the entire complex is "a city within a city", hosting several museums and splendid monumental areas, spanning across 3 floors of the building. The entrance fees for this museum is 10 euros.
Piazzale degli Uffizi, 6, 50122, Firenze, Italy
An art gallery containing some of the most important art collections by the greatest artists during the Middle Ages - such as Giotto, Botticelli, Leonardo da Vinci, Michelango etc - this is a museum not to be missed. Ticket pricing start from 9.99 euros, depending on the date / time chosen as well as reservation fees etc, could cost up to to 22 euros per person.
PIAZZA DELLA SIGNORIA / PALAZZO VECCHIO
Piazza della Signoria, 50122, Firenze, Italy
The Piazza della Signoria is the town hall in Florence; this main square provides a well-rounded view of the immense political and artistic presence of the Renaissance city. The Palazzo Vecchio overlooks the Piazza della Signoria with its magnificent statue of David; a fortress palace (also known as "Old Palace").
LEANING TOWER OF PISA
Piazza del Duomo, 56126, Pisa PI, Italy
The iconic Leaning Tower of Pisa needs no introduction whatsoever, being one of the world's most well-known landmarks. Standing at 60 metres tall, it has began to lean 10 degrees during construction; and has since been the crowning glory of the piazza as millions of visitors flock to view this slanted building. It is made of white marble and has 8 floors, and took 200 years to construct (according to historical research). Ticket price is around 15 euros and you are given 30 minutes to climb to the top!
BAPTISTERY OF ST. JOHN
Piazza del Duomo, 56126, Pisa PI, Italy
Also within the Piazza dei Miracoli (Square of Miracles), behind the Leaning Tower of Pisa, is this stunning domed Baptistery dedicated to Saint John the Baptist; the entire building is also constructed of white marble. While the exterior is a remarkable sight abundant with columns and arches, the interior is filled with artworks depicting the various stages of Saint John's life.
RESTAURANTSFrom Siena to Florence to Pisa, we have eaten at a few diners across the Tuscan regions. I wouldn't say anything was fantastic, sadly - probably because we were trying all the commercialized eateries rather than those small, family run, traditional diners I've heard so much about.
RISTORANTE GALLO NERO
Via del Porrione 65-67, 53100, Siena SI, Italy
Located along a brick wall in one of the streets, this charming restaurant has a breath-taking medieval interior with brick and candles, transporting one back in time. We enjoyed a hearty lunch of Chickpea Soup, Roast Chicken with Potatoes, and desserts of Apples - the apples were sweet and had a unique texture between pear and apple, very interesting.
RISTORANTE II CAVALLINO FIRENZE
Via del Farine, 4, 50122, Firenze, Italy
This was recommend by the local Italian tour guide and so we decided to give it a try. We tried the salad and Carbonara of our friends' - quite average and nothing mind-blowing. Our Tiramisu was pretty good, truth be told. However, the service was terrible - kept us waiting for an hour because they forgot about our orders, yet when we checked several times, they always told us "food is coming, food is coming". An hour later, our steak was raw, and when we brought it up, they gave us varying degrees of bad attitude, arguing that we "only placed order 20 minutes ago", and "our restaurant is not a McDonald's" etc. Hello big dudes, sorry but we have tour group mates who came at the same time and witnessed all this fiasco. Never going back nor recommending them.
PIZZA RESTAURANT @ PIAZZA DELLA SIGNORIA
Name of restaurant not captured; apologies.
Good service and brightly-colored pasta as well as pizzas, available for takeout or dining in. Price was reasonable and these homely dishes were comfort food, especially after our terrible experience with above restaurant.
MEETING POINT BAR / CAFE
Along the entrance to Piazza dei Miracoli (Square of Miracles) are a row of restaurants and cafes, including fast food joints Burger King etc. This little cafe was more like a Singapore coffee-style setting (casual) and the beverages were terrible even though they cost 2 to 3 euros per cup (good cups of coffee in Rome only cost 1.5 to 2 euros).
Via Europa 8, 50066, Leccio Reggello, FI, Toscana, Italy (Top level, Gucci Building)
An elegant restaurant located within the Gucci Outlet itself, at The Mall Outlet, this is one of the only 2 eateries within the huge, huge shopping compound. Serving a variety of Tuscan and Italian cuisines at different counters - ranging from sandwiches to pasta to desserts etc, the dark-walled settings makes one comfortable at first sight, settling in even if just for a coffee or glass of wine. Mon Beau had a Roast Beef Sandwich and I had an Italian Sushi set (the latter consisting of cured meat instead of raw fish on top of the rice). Not bad, I liked this place immensely.
SHOPPINGBesides the many, many shops and boutiques lining Italian streets, there are several outlet malls in Tuscan region itself, so that one could get quality merchandise (albeit dated) or bags at more wallet-friendly prices. We were supposed to visit BARBERINO DESIGNER OUTLET SHOPPING MALL, where they would have up to 70% discount on brands such as Prada, Porsche Designs, D&G, Furla, Lacoste, Polo Ralph Lauren, Calvin Klein and Adidas etc.
Via Europa 8, 50066, Leccio Reggello, FI, Toscana, Italy
We headed to The Mall instead, where there are large buildings featuring brands such as Prada, Bottega Venta, Gucci, Nike, Armani, Balenciaga, Alexander McQueen, Burberry, Pucci Emilio, etc. The pricing of bags and clothes is indeed very attractive. If you require tax refund, expect to spend about 20 minutes at the boutique counters for them to assist with paperwork and completing your purchase transaction.
Unfortunately, this is another restaurant in the Florence region whose name eluded me. You must think it weird that we had Chinese fare in Europe anyway. Food was pretty all right; but they served everything at a go, including the apple meant for dessert. My favorite dishes were the stir-fried squid and seaweed egg soup.
ACCOMMODATIONWe stayed for a night at Art Museo Hotel before moving on. The next night, we moved to Crowne Plaza Padova. Buffet breakfast are all provided at these Italian hotels; however the spread is pretty much the same - sweet pastries, bread, ham, cereals and some fruits.
ART HOTEL MUSEO, TUSCANY
Viale della Repubblica, 289, 59100, Prato, PO, Italy
Known as the "art museum hotel", this unique boutique hotel offers spacious rooms as well as artistically-furnished decor to perk one up easily. The rooms are quite comfortable, and this hotel has outdoor pool as well as fitness centre within its premises - all for a mere 80 euros. However, I am not sure why they mentioned there is free wi-fi, because we weren't able to access at all.
CROWNE PLAZA PADOVA HOTEL
Via Po, 197, 35135, Padova, Italy
A nice, comfortable hotel termed 4-5 stars in local context, the Crowne Plaza Hotel was rather comfortable with polite service. Rooms were quite spacious, with beds, work table, couches, all at only 90 euros a night. It also houses an elegant restaurant, a hotel lounge / bar for drinks as well as fitness centre for those who require their daily dose of exercise.
Overall, we enjoyed the Tuscany regions very much. What would've been more perfect might've been some visits into the museums as well as wine tasting tours to the Chianti regions, since we were already in the vicinity.