Bus day trip from Florence to San Gimignano, Italy medieval city of towers

We took a day trip to San Gimignano from Florence today.  We took the regional bus that cost us 13.60 euros each to take the round trip.  Tip for those who are taking bus day trips in Tuscany, get to the bus station early to buy your ticket and get on your bus.  The bus is normally there early and the first people on it get the best seats ( if there are not enough seats you need to wait for the next bus which can be an hour later).  This bus took us to a train station in the town of  Poggibonsi, where we had to wait about a half hour for another bus that would take us to San Gimignano ( the trip to the city took about 2 hours).

It’s pretty easy to navigate the bus system, as a lot of it is automated. Many stops have electronic signs that announce expected arrivals and departures (but I suspect they’re just schedules, and if your bus is late it won’t be reflected on the sign). This one is at the transfer point in Poggibonsi, and gives the schedule time, route, destination, and boarding area for each bus expected soon.

San Gimignano bus schedule small

San Gimignano is a medieval time capsule with 12 tower homes still in place.  In the 11th through 12th century rich people built tall tower homes with few windows and wooden stairways. San Gimignano towers small If they were attacked by other city states or sadly from other people in the town that they were feuding with, they burnt the stairway into the tower.  As they ran up the ladders for each floor, they pulled the ladders up with them until they were in the stronghold in the top of the tower where they stayed hopefully safe from the bad guys. In the 12th and 13th centuries there were about 72 tower homes in the town.   The Florentines attacked them in the 14th century and made them take down all but 12 towers . The black death came to the town and its population went from 13,000 people to about 4,000 people.  The town never recovered but stayed in a medieval time warp.  Now that time warp is the main tourist attraction.  Here is the main city gates that we arrived at with the bus.San Gimignano town gate  small

When you walk in the town it is like you are in the 14th century again.  The buildings have remained the same ; some of them like the town hall were built in 1245 and they are still in use.  Here are some photos; these two towers are the oldest remaining ones in SG. around the 10th century.  They are still standing and you can even spend the night in one of the rooms,San Gimignano twin towers  small  Most of the plazas had a well in the center for water when the town was under siege.  Here is the well in the city hall.San Gimignano well small  The tallest tower house that you can climb the 200 stairs to the top is called the Torre Grossa.  It is 177 ft tall and was built in 1300.  We decided to look at it from the bottom as I am afraid of heights.San Gimignano Torre Grossa tower small  The Duomo or main church is called the Collegiata.  It has a beautiful set of frescoes painted in the 14th century.  We purchased a ticket and went into the church but they did not allow any photos inside. Here is a photo of the plain outside of the building. San Gimignano Collegiata church small We had a late lunch in a restaurant recommended by Rick Steves called Locanda di Sant,Agostino.  We had the sausage pizza which is like a tortilla with cheese, tomato sauce and a little bit of sausage on it.  But it was filling and the service was good.  Here is David tasting the white wine that the town is famous for. San Gimignano Dave dinner small When you walk off the main street into the side streets you can almost imagine you are in the  14th century.  Here are some photos; San Gimignano medieval street small San Gimignano oldest towers small San Gimignano street vault smallSan Gimignano entry into town small  This is a hill town and so there were wonderful views of the Tuscan landscape like this one; San Gimignano landscape  small  The bus rides home took only 1.5 hours and we were quite happy to see our little apartment in Florence.

Florence Italy, old mail boxes and funny graffiti

Florence is an old city with lots of artists and artistic history.  So I thought I would share with you today some old mail boxes and some funny current graffiti in the city.  The old mail boxes are mainly slits in doors or walls.  Here are some examples;Florence letter holder crumble small Florence letter holder door marble small Florence letter holder medieval smallFlorence letter holder carte small Florence letter holder elegant small Florence letter holder metal wood small Florence letter holder wood small Florence letter holder wooden small  The graffiti is by a local artist who inserts some humor into local signs like these; florence graffiti  man painting small florence graffiti man lifting small florence graffiti man small And this is a sign that David saw and we thought was funny.florence inferno garage small

The Fiorita Commemoration of the burning of the monk Savonarola Medieval costume parade in Florence

People in Italy do a great job dressing up in medieval costumes and having parades on special commemorative days.  In addition to colorful costumes there are flags and drums.   “Every May in Florence flowers are donated in memory of the Dominican friar, Fra’ Girolamo Savonarola”.Savonarola Fiorita flowers small

Savonarola had a complex, love-hate, nine-year relationship with Florence and her rulers, but things kind of came to a head and he was hanged, his body burned, and his ashes thrown into the Arno in 1498, along with 2 other friars accused of being heretics and speaking against the corrupt pope.Girolamo_Savonarola (He does not look like a happy man)

“The Fiorita Commemoration takes place at the circular plaque embedded in the stones in Piazza Signoria, at the very spot in the square where this historic event took place.

Just as the townspeople had done the morning after the death of the preacher, today the citizens of Florence leave flowers for Savonarola who dominated the Florence republic from 1494 to 1498.

The ceremony is followed by a procession in period costumes leading to the Ponte Vecchio, the bridge that Savonarola’s ashes were scattered from. ” ( from The Florence Web page the photos are mine).  Savonarola Fiorita commemoration small Savonarola Fiorita drummers small Savonarola Fiorita flags small Girolamo Savonarola (Italian:  21 September 1452 – 23 May 1498) was an Italian Dominican friar and preacher active in Renaissance Florence. He was known for his prophecies of civic glory, the destruction of secular art and culture, and his calls for Christian renewal. ( wikipedia)  He also preached that the Pope in Rome ( Alexander VI ) was corrupt .  This was true; Alexandra was the Borgia pope who had 3 of his children and his current mistress living with him in the Vatican.  But on the other hand, Savonarola was responsible for inspiring Florentine people  to burn their ancient books , jewelry and art treasures in his  Bonfire of the Vanities. Unfortunately for Savonarola, the Pope had more power and people were tired of being told they were terrible sinners for enjoying life.

Tutorial quick & easy ; How to make a travel smash book or journal on the road

Here is a quick and easy tutorial on how to make a travel smash book or travel journal .  It is important for me to keep my tickets and memorabilia ( plus I like to keep the prices of things like food and tours for future reference) from a trip because all the days sometime melt into each other and I cannot remember. Later, David will ask “When did we do that?”  and I cannot recall.  In addition, when we are traveling like this, it is hard for me to find the time to record all of our activities everyday.  This is where a travel smash book comes in handy.

It’s a journal where you just tape or glue in receipts, tickets, itineraries and menus as you go.  Here are two photos; one of two pages already prepared at home and another of the cover of my smash book that is not decorated yet.travel smashbook tutorial small 10travel smashbook tutorial small 6  This is not an art journal like I would make at home.  I only take a small amount of art items with me due to packing space. ( watercolor pencils, double stick tape, scissors, a small stapler, pencil, black sharpie pens, paint brushes, glue sticks, eraser and dry watercolor paints).   I prepare my journal before the trip by lining the pages with papers themed to where we are going and/or painting different backgrounds . Smash book  tutorial travel postcards 3 small

Then all I have to do is add the date to the page and a couple of comments. travel smashbook tutorial small 7travel smashbook tutorial small 9  Some times when I have larger brochures I glue some pages together and put the brochures inside.  travel smashbook tutorial small 11

I take lots of photos but I will not have time to get them printed until later so I leave space for them in the smash book.  Another trick that I use is to purchase postcards that have three photos on them in places we visit and cut them up and paste them into the book as I go along.  Here is a post card that I purchased and how I made a page from it.Smash book  tutorial travel postcards 2 smallSmash book  tutorial travel postcards smallThere is a pocket I made from some manuscript paper that I purchased here to put the tickets in to.

By the way, if you are short of packing space, you can acquire most art supplies here in Europe, and at reasonable prices. Here in Italy there are “99 cent only” stores, and a chain of Danish stores called Tiger. These last have lots of low-cost items ranging from spices to socks, including many office supplies and small craft materials.  Here in Florence, every museum and many other stores offer high-quality wrapping paper, two sheets for €2.50. They have Florentine motifs and are great for use in smash books. You can see a couple of sheets in the pictures above.

These are just a few suggestions.  If you have any other ones you would like to share , just leave a comment below.  Happy traveling and smash booking.

Florence’s knockers; doors of distinction and history

When you wander the streets and historic back alleys of Florence like I have in the last 3 weeks, you start to notice the variety of interesting door knockers that are attached to some of the doors.  In this city of the birth of the Renaissance it is appropriate that the decorative hardware should reflect the artistic nature of the residents.  So here are some examples of door knockers that I have discovered on the streets of Firenze. Most are plain and simple door ornaments like this one; Florence, Italy door knockers small   And the standard lion knocker; Florence door knocker lion small Here is an elegant black and gold knocker. Florence door knocker refined black and gold small But with further exploration there are some surprising ways to let someone know that you are at the door. knocker baby small  This one is the devil knocker ,love his face and hornsFlorence, Italy door knockers devil small The lady knocker; knocker lady small The ugly man knocker Florence door knocker ugly man small A green tree ugly devil knocker for the kinky;Florence door knocker devil man small the well worn baby face knocker; Florence door knocker baby face small the angry fist knocker , I might think twice before using it; Florence door knocker fist small  and the lovely lyrical knocker; Florence door knocker lyrical small  I call this one the bull horned knocker; Florence door knocker bull horns small And the twins knocker Florence door knocker twins small Finally the last photo is not a knocker but a door handle and it is one of my favorite; the horse head;knockers horse small  So if you get to Florence or even if you do not; look around and see the everyday art that door knockers bring to doors everywhere.

Palazzo Vecchio the Medici secret passages tour ; preview of The Inferno Movie

I just finished reading The Inferno by Dan Brown.  indexThe movie The Inferno just finished filming here in Florence with Tom Hanks and Ron Howard.Florence, Italy  The Inferno extras small

Much of the action in the movie takes place in the Palazzo Vecchio which is the ancient and the current town hall of Florence. It was also the home to the Medici duke and his family in the 16th century.

Dave and I took the Palazzo Vecchio secret passages tour ( cost 21.5 euros each, 10 for the entry into the museum and 10 for the private guided tour which got us past the lines) .  If you have read the book you will recognize  the descriptions of the secret doorway in the room of maps ( we saw the room but not the secret doorway on the tour)Palazzo Vecchio secret tour map room small, the top of the great hall of 500  ( alternative name Salone dei Cinquecento.Palazzo Vecchio secret tour hall of the 500  small and the Duke of Athens secret stairway.

We started the tour with the secret stairway which you can enter through a 4 foot door on the side of the fortress. Palazzo Vecchio secret tour secret door smallOur very good tour guide , Julia, told us this was used in the 15th century for spies and mistresses.  It also has a key part in the Dan Brown book .  After we went in the tiny door Julia showed us a diagram of the secret staircases Palazzo Vecchio secret tour stairway diagram smallIt must have been dark ( only candles to light the way up really tiny stairs) cold and somewhat frightening to use this way in. From the bottom floor in the wall  we climbed more tiny stairs and went into the Studiolo of Francesco I.  This was a small hidden workroom for the strange Count Francesco who fancied himself a scientist.  There were no windows so the light must have made it a problem to work in this space.  It is  covered with frescoes on the ceiling and paintings on wooden cabinet doors, why?   Perhaps he just wanted to hide out in the dark and play with his treasures (coral, shells , pearls etc) which were hidden behind the cabinet doors.  His mother Eleanor was painted over the doorway into the room to keep an eye on her wayward son.palazzo vecchio studio Eleanor painting smallIn this room there was another secret doorway behind one of the painted cabinet doors.Palazzo Vecchio secret tour Studiolo of Francesco I small Up a few more secret stairs and we find Francesco I’s father’s  secret study.  This room  had a window that you could open and was much smaller.  We were told this was his study where he could get away to think and read his large collection of books.

From here we crossed a balcony that is over the room of 500 ( spoiler, this room is involved in the death of one of the characters in the book) and up into the space above this great hall.  Vasari ( the artist/ architect who designed the ceiling of the room of the 500) basically hung the canvas paintings on the ceiling with a set of trusses to suspend them. Palazzo Vecchio secret tour rafters model small Here is a wooden model that shows how they fit under the regular ceiling of the great hall.  Here is a photo of what it actually looks like in person. Palazzo Vecchio secret tour above the false ceiling small  That was it for the tour but we were free to look at all the other parts of the fortress/ducal home that are open to the regular public.  Here is a photo of Dante’s death mask Palazzo Vecchio secret tour Dante death mask smallDavid in front of one of the giant fireplaces ( luckily they had a lot of servants to clean and haul wood) Palazzo Vecchio secret tour fireplace small and to finish our tour off, here is an indoor toilet.Palazzo Vecchio secret tour toilet small This door was set into a regular room wall about 3 feet above the floor they must have had some stairs to get up to it.  Inside there is a seat with a hole and if you look closely there is  a small vent to the outside for light and ventilation?  Well, now you have seen some of the secrets of this old palace and some of the areas which will probably be featured in the film.  Hope you have enjoyed the tour.

Creepy gravestones in the Church of San Miniato’s cemetery in Florence Italy

I am getting behind in my chronicles of Florence.  It seems like there is history and wonderful photographs everywhere. Today, I am going to take you to the church of San Miniato which is located in the hills above Florence. “St. Miniato or Minas (Armenian: Մինաս) was an Armenian prince serving in the Roman army under Emperor Decius. He was denounced as a Christian after becoming a hermit and was brought before the Emperor who was camped outside the gates of Florence. The Emperor ordered him to be thrown to beasts in the Amphitheatre where a panther was called upon him but refused to devour him. Beheaded in the presence of the Emperor, he is alleged to have picked up his head, crossed the Arno and walked up the hill of Mons Fiorentinus to his hermitage. A shrine was later erected at this spot and there was a chapel there by the 8th century. Construction of the present church was begun in 1013 by Bishop Alibrando and it was endowed by the Emperor Henry II. ” ( from Wikipedia). san miniato church Florence Italy small There are an order of monks who have been in residence at this church since the 15th century. We got to hear Mass and Vespers sung in Latin by this group.  It is very inspiring to go to Mass in a church that is that old. We also looked at the Porte Sante cemetery that surrounds the church. This is a large cemetery with lots of marble statues and gravestones.  Some of them are quite unusual, for example; “Mario and Maria Mazzone. The life-size statues of these two young people who died so very long ago make even the most casual observer stop and look for details of this love story. One sees a young man in an airman’s uniform with a broad smile, looking squarely at the young woman whose gaze is turned slightly aside and downward, with just a hint of a smile on her face, their hands just about to touch. One looks closely and reads in the inscription that Mario, born in 1919, was killed in Hamm, Germany on 22 April 1944; Maria, born in 1922, died some 11 months later, in May of 1945. No other Mazzones are buried there, nor are there any clues as to who these people were. Were they lovers? Husband and wife? In fact, according to Graziella Cirri, who has done an exhaustive analysis of the sculpture in several Florentine cemeteries, Maria and Mario were in fact brother and sister and the statue was commissioned in 1947 by their mother.” ( from The Florentine). san miniato cemetery young couple face bw small san miniato cemetery young couple small Another interesting grave belongs to Silvia Marini Nei de Rogati 1886-1947 .  She is shown standing with a cape outstretched behind her and 4 young children in front of her.san miniato cemetery Silvia Marini Nei de Rogati small I also came across a couple of kind of creepy graves.  The first thing I saw of this particular grave were his feet.  Then I worked my way around to find the sculpted body of a life sized naked man lying over his grave. Click on the photo to enlarge it .san miniato cemetery fallen man small   Then there is this grave with a child being covered with an octopus.  I could not find any information on the web about it or the person, Maria Elizabetta Giustini whose dates were 1955-1956.  san miniato cemetery baby squid smALL There were also many large mausoleums that were made like mini churches; here is one that was quite large.san miniato cemetery domed mausoleum small  Here are a couple of other statues that I found interesting..san miniato cemetery broken angel small san miniato cemetery man small san miniato cemetery praying child small san miniato cemetery woman mosaic small It is a different kind of art; one that expresses a little bit of what one person’s life meant to other people they left behind.

To make my travel art journal, today I went to search for art supplies in Florence, Italy

So today was my art supply search day in Florence.  I brought my smash book with me and have been putting the receipts and brochures in it but I miss working with paint and glue!  smashbook tickets  Here are some museum ticket I put into the pages with some journal observations.

spring art journal page  This is a page dedicated to Spring…it is flourishing here in Italy, flowers everywhere.

So David and I went looking for art supply stores in Florence.  Surprise…the home of art in Italy has about 10 small art supply stores.  No Micheal’s or Joanne’s here.  I was able to get some matte medium and some acrylic paints (much more expensive than at home).

It seems like people here do not seem to make mixed media art journals.  At least the store people that I have talked too do not know about them. They would know because they would be selling the supplies to make them.   I thought that this art technique was practiced in Europe as well as in the USA and Australia.  Anyway, I am making my own supplies with white glue, baby powder, and acrylic paints. I am also saving paper bags and tissue paper to recycle into my journal.  Something that they do have in abundance is beautiful Florentine wrapping paper.  Two extra large pieces come in a package for only $3.  This is the type of paper that has a type of gold leaf embedded in it.art journal page Florentine paper

So I was happy today to make a big mess and create some pages for my new art journal.  The old smash book is completely filled and will have to go home to have its cover made, as I do not have the supplies to do something like that here.smash book side

Stairs and walking constantly ; here’s why you need to travel now and not wait too long

Since we left Murrieta for Mexico at the end of January, we keep discovering reasons why it’s a good thing that our joints still work, and we are fit enough to do this kind of trip. When I (Dave) retired, I counseled my younger colleagues, not that they asked, to aim for retirement at 55 rather than 65.

The principal reason boils down to two words: walking and stairs. There are a lot of both in the not-so-modern world. This is Dave walking down our stairs.Florence Italy Dave stairs smallThis apartment has 64 stairs up ( but we have a lift which we use religiously when we come home from our  5 mile walks).  The last apartment had 50 steps up and no lift, the huffing and puffing was probably funny to our neighbors.

Walking in the cities of Europe results, ironically, from things being so close together. Florence is a great example. From the Duomo, right in the historic center, it isn’t more than a 15-minute walk to almost all the famous sights. There are a few bus lines in the center, but because the streets are so narrow, the buses are quite small … and that means they’re usually full. In Rome, things were farther apart, but because you’re so likely to discover interesting things while walking, we usually walked distances less than a mile. (Every day our faithful pedometer reported 14000+ steps; one day it was 26000, but we had to rest a little more the day after that.) Assisi is built on the side of a hill, and it’s really too steep even for wheelchair safety.

Fifteenth century buildings were not designed with disability in mind. Stairs are everywhere, and fourth-floor apartments without elevators are still common. You’ll find architectural steps (like the Spanish Steps in Rome), practical steps (down to the Metro and up onto the bus) and sometimes just-for-the-heck-of-it steps (one or two to adjust levels where two old buildings have been joined, for example).Florence Italy Pitti Palace stairs inside This is just one set of stairs in the Pitti Palace, Linda climbed 6 sets to get to the Costume museum.  The Medici who lived here had lots of servants.

Modern streets are paved; historic streets use either cobblestones (about 4 inches square) or larger paving stones (maybe 12 by 18), but both are uneven and you have to watch where you walk.

Having an apartment in the center of your activities is helpful; if you can retire for an hour or two in the middle of the day, you can recharge a little. And somehow, it’s easier to be out in the evening, even up to 10pm, when you know you don’t have to go far to get homeFlorence Italy Pitti Palace entry smallFlorence Italy boboli gardens small This is the entry way to the Pitti Palace and the second photo is the Palace’s backyard ( 111 acres of hills and steps).

Here in Florence, the highs have been about 82, but there are two things that seem strange: In the sun, it seems a lot warmer. Even through your shirt you feel hot. And the temperature doesn’t peak until about 4pm, whereas at home it usually tops out by noon.

Europe is very accommodating of disabilities, wherever possible, and we have seen elevators in some really creative spaces. Finding someone to operate them might take a while though. Apartment elevators are tiny, because they’ve been squeezed into a small vertical space.

Other medical surprises can limit your abilities. My mom developed MS shortly after 50. My parents still cruised a lot, but after a few years my dad was making most shore excursions by himself, as either the exertion or the heat were beyond Mom’s endurance. Eating in a strange place is difficult; what if you need a special diet? You can’t eat low-carb in Italy unless you cook for yourself. (Bran is not a big deal here, but “senza glutina” is, and of course there are no GMO’s in Europe.)

So start thinking about it at Google:  “early retirement” or “year off” will get you started.  You already are getting some good advice from reading the Senior Gap Year,Florence Italy Pitti Palace stairs outside small Keep on climbing stairs to get ready for travel.

Florence , Italy medieval locks and doors ; do you think this will keep those bad knights out?

I find that I enjoy imagining how people lived in times past. When I am walking in a place like Florence (which has been a settlement since before the Romans)  there are many medieval buildings still being used and lived in that make me wonder who lived there.

One of my fascinations is old doors and locks.  How did people keep those invaders out of their castle or their homes?  So here are some photos of a back door of the Palazzo Vecchio  (means old palace) in the center of Florence.  It was started to be built in 1299 to protect the city officials from people who might like to influence them at the point of a sword.  If you rode up on your horse you would see a building like this; palazzo vecchio outside small But if you were trying to sneak into the back door this is what you would have encountered.Florence Italy Palazzo Vecchio backdoor small  It is about 18 feet high, there are 4 doors in this door ( 2 on the bottom and 2 on the top).  The outside wood is studded with projecting points in case you missed the “stay out sign”.

But it is the inside of this door that is incredible.  These builders were intent on making this door strong and unbreakable. Here is the inside photo.palazzo vecchio door locks small  As you can see there is a lot of hardware on this door.  I was very impressed by all the ways they reinforced the wood and managed to come up with a series of locks and bars.  Here are some close up photographs.  You can use your imagination about how they were used to keep the people safe inside.  If you have a detailed explanationpalazzo vecchio door locks details small about how all of this hardware worked,  please feel free to leave some comments.  So let’s start from the bottom and work our way up the door. palazzo vecchio door locks detail smallpalazzo vecchio door detail 2 smallFlorence Italy Palazzo Vecchio slide locks smallpalazzo vecchio door detail 1 smallpalazzo vecchio door detail 3 smallpalazzo vecchio door top small  okay there you go, one door, an ingenious set of locks from the 14th and 15th centuries.