Tuscany Italy is filled with extraordinary paintings, sculptures, architectural masterpieces and an outstanding countryside. As we left France and drove to Pisa, Italy we immediately felt a sense of comfort. Pisa is a small town that you can easily get around on by foot. As we approached Piazza dei Miracoli, the Cathedral Square, we quickly became entertained by the number of people posing with the iconic Leaning Tower of Pisa. If you do plan on creating a photo where you are ‘preventing the tower from falling’ may I suggest the person with the camera move to get the appropriate angle and not the subject. The Bapistry, Campo Santo and Duomo di Pisa are equally as impressive as the leaning tower and worth checking out.
We stayed on a campsite just outside of Florence, the capital of Tuscany Italy. The camp sites in Italy are excellent with buses that will take you into the city centers, this is definitely the more affordable option. Florence has some of the greatest artistic treasures of the world and if you plan on seeing them all you will need more then a day. My favourite sculpture in the city was Cellini’s Perseus and Medusa placed outside Palazzo Vecchio, Florence’s city hall. The artist placed his signature in the form of his face on the back of the helmet and his girlfriends head as Medussa. It was unacceptable for a sculpture to sign their work however they often found a clever way of doing so. The amount of outdoor art in Florence is incredible including a replica of Michelangelo’s David. A must see for art lovers.
Venice is a city that feels like a community. Men and women shop locally from their favourite bakery, butchers and vegetable markets daily and the food is amazing. We took the train from Verona to Venice and when we arrived we thought it would be no problem to find our hotel. Little did we know that Google maps does not depict the roads properly and many of them are not even printed out on maps. Fortunately we were near one of the tourist destinations with signs to follow once we got off track. Venice was very safe, which meant no risk in getting lost unless it was night. There are very few lights to guide you back so it can take a while if you get lost in the evening.
One of the best things to see in Venice is the Mercato del Pesce, the fish market. I personally don’t care for fish or its smell but the experience is worth it, and you can plug your nose as you walk through. The market is located along the canal behind the Rialto Bridge and is best to visit in the morning. Across from the fish market is Mercato di Frutta e Verdura, the fruit and vegetable market. The vegetables are so colourful and tempting. You can pick up some fruit to snack on during the day and pick up a roll at a bakery nearby for lunch.
David and I consumed an overwhelming amount of pizza during our trip. Every single day we had pizza, and more often than not we had it for both lunch and dinner. It’s cheaper than any other dish in the city and very fresh. The gelato is what I will miss the most about our trip. Getting a scoop for 1.50 was like living in one of my dreams. Gelato is my absolute favourite and pistachio is the flavour to beat. Pictured to the right is me in the gelato eating zone!
Verona has the second largest amount of Roman remains in Italy, next to Rome. Being at the center of an important roads network, Verona can equally apply the phrase from “all streets lead to Rome” to “all streets lead to Verona”. Used as a strategic base, Verona was built in the first stage of the Roman expansion.
The Arena Ampitheatre, is the first noticeable Roman remain when walking through the city. In the Summer, thousands of visitors from all over the world applaud the many opera concerts held at the arena. It can hold more than 20,000 people and is the biggest open-air lyrical theatre in the world! Our hotel, Guilette and Romeo was located just off of one of the side streets surrounding the arena.
Closer to the hilltop along the river, lies remains of an old Roman Theatre. It was only discovered in the 19th century by a business man who bought the property for development. He changed his mind however, and uncovered many Roman ruins and artifacts in the area. The original marble floor of the orchestra pit, along with rows of stone seats were discovered. The Roman Theatre is part of the Archeological Museum where you can see many of the other artifacts that were found throughout the city. This includes many coins, mosaics and sculptures. It was one of our favourite attractions to visit in Verona.
In 1815 Verona became part of the Austrian empire. The city had a strategic advantage as a fortress town providing a strong defence system throughout the Veneto region, making it the capital of Austrian territory in Italy. During their occupancy, Vienna architects were inspired by the various styles of buildings in Verona. They used local materials to blend their works among other buildings in the city. Despite the fact that they were there only for its strategic military position, the Austrians built beautiful and elegant buildings which are pictured and described throughout this post.
The Ex Arsenale, a beautiful building near the river, was used for weapons and ammunition during their period of takeover. At first glance, it looks as if it were an old school building that had been closed down. The building has not been well conserved but is worth checking out! Apparently there are occasional exhibits and events held there so look it up to see if anything is going on during your stay first.
If you continue to walk along the riverbank you can see San Pietro Castle in the distance, at the top of the hill of Verona. This is where rulers built fortresses and the Austrians decided to build their castle. It is difficult to see from some angles as large cypress trees were planted after Verona became part of the Italian Kingdom in 1866. These trees were to cover up and hide any sign of Austrian domination.
Palazzo Barbieri, today the city hall or Gran Guardia Nuova, also used to be an Austrian headquarters in Verona. It is located in Piazza Bra, the arena square. The building is massive and with its huge Corinthian columns, seems almost similar to a greek temple.
These three buildings were our favourites, but there were many others built during this period. They include: the Military Hospital, the University of Economics Verona (used to be Santa Marta, an old bakery for the soldiers), the NATO headquarters (used to be Carli Palace where Austrian field marshal lived) and many fortresses throughout the city.
“There Is No World Without Verona’s Walls”, taken from Romeo and Juliet, the most famous love story in the world written by William Shakespeare. Verona is the city of love and the capital of music and poetry. Although it cannot be determined if Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet ever lived in Verona, there are many references to real places and historical facts on Verona.
One of the first sites we visited was Juliet’s tomb,the only existing monastery outside city walls at the time of the story. Inside the crypt, under the church, lays an empty sarcophagus made of the red Verona marble where it is believed Juliet laid after she drank the poison in the love story.
A few blocks away are both Romeo and Juliet’s gothic style houses. Juliet’s house is one of the most famous sites in the world, and the amount of people packed into the tiny courtyard proved it! Within the courtyard you see Juliet’s balcony and her bronze statue, which apparently brings good luck if you touch her right breast. Romantics fill the walls and entrance way to the courtyard with love notes. Those who have found their Romeo place a love lock on the gate in the courtyard then throw away the key in the river or one of the many wells spotted throughout the city.
Bra gate, the final stage of the love story, is where Romeo left Verona saying, “There is no world without Verona walls, But purgatory, torture, hell itself. Hence-banished is banish’d from the world, And world’s exile is death.” This was the main entrance of Verona during the time that the love story took place and the assumed exit that Romeo would take to leave.