The Walk to the Palazzo Pitti- Florence, Italy

After leaving the Florence Cathedral and having re-energized ourselves with coffee and pastries, we headed on our way to the Uffizi Gallery. Afterwards the plan was to cross the Arno river via the Ponte Vecchio and finish up the day at the Palazzo Pitti.  We were a little worried the weather would turn ugly as we had a couple of stop planned along the way and while we had already endured 3 days straight of rain in Venice with no problem, we didn’t want to do it again in Florence.

Thankfully by the time we reached The Basilica di Santa Croce, the skies had cleared up again to picturesque cloudy fluffs with brilliant blue beneath.

Completed in the 14th Century, Santa Croce is the principle Franciscan church in Florence and is also the largest Franciscan church in the world. While we had been planning the way we would walk to the Uffizi Gallery, we had seen this church as kinda on the way and figured, why not stop by? We didn’t go inside but even just getting a chance to see the beautiful exterior was worth the detour. We sat down on one of the many benches around the square and eventually, only a bit reluctantly, made our way to the next stop on our walking tour, the Palazzo Vecchio.

The town hall of Florence, the Palazzo Vecchio is an immensely interesting building thats bursting with history but this was another place we decided to save for a later visit. One of the reasons for this is we’d seen a couple of interesting historical  residence/art museum type buildings already in Venice and we were sure the Palazzo Pitti would have enough to hold our interest in this regard (spoiler alert: it 100% delivered on that). From what i’ve read, the best way to visit the Palazzo Vecchio is to take a tour as there are many rooms and halls that are only accessible via guided tour so, definetly something we put on the list for a longer return trip.

The exterior is incredible in it’s own right and just next to it is the Loggia dei Lanzi (also known as the Loggia della Signoria as it’s on the corner of the Piazza della Signoria where the Palazzo Vechio is situated)  which is an amazing open-air sculpture gallery. Even if you don’t have the time or inclination to visit the Palazzo Vecchio, I can’t recommend enough to at least pass by the area, especially if you’re headed to the Uffizi Gallery as it’s a straight shot from there.

After leaving the dramatically beautiful statues behind, we made it to the Uffizi Gallery and were confronted by a rather huge line. We had expected this one however and had previously discussed that if the line here was incredibly long, we would head to the Pitti Palace first instead and finish up the day at the Uffizi Gallery when we came back. This was mainly because I was more keen to seen the Boboli Gardens of the Palazzo Pitti than any art held inside the gallery and so, we kept walking on towards the Arno river and crossed the Ponte Vecchio to the other side of Florence.

Taking our time, we made it to the Pitti Palace by around 1pm that afternoon and found no line to get inside- fates way of telling us we had made the right choice by coming here first maybe? Either way we happily headed inside to explore the opulent interiors.

~m

Il Duomo di Firenze and David- Florence, Italy

Our first day in Rome and what do we do? Where do we pick to see, in a city overflowing with a bounty of historically interesting and arrestingly beautiful points of interest?

Why, none of them of course. Instead, we headed off just a little after sunrise via Metro to the train that would take us to Florence.

When we had first started out making plans for this trip, I had asked the bf what cities he wanted to see in Italy and his first question had been, “Which one has Michelangelo’s David?”. And so, we bought a day trip train ticket from Rome to Florence so that we could fulfill one of his bucket list dream items- seeing the statue in person where it’s housed at the Galleria dell’Accademia.

I didn’t have many expectations of Florence and in truth I didn’t think I would find much to catch my interest, but by gods was I proved resoundingly wrong. Starting at the unexpected overwhelming beauty on display at our first stop of the day at the Galleria dell’Accademia and moving out onto the streets of Florence itself to find the Florence Cathedral, I found arresting views and points of marveling interest around almost every corner.

We had gotten skip the line tickets for the Galleria dell’Accademia because every single book or website we had looked through had suggested this (and really I can’t recommend it enough because if we hadn’t gotten skip the line tickets I think we would have been in line to get in for well over an hour) but we hadn’t thought to do the same for Il Duomo di Firenze, mostly because we just didn’t think it would be busy enough to warrant it.

Once again, Florence turned those expectations upside down.

The line for either entrance was massive and we were approached by a friendly tour guide who was still selling tickets for skip the line tours later in the day, which were very tempting. We still had about 3-4 other places we wanted to see though, and at this point I had decided that we would most definetly be coming back to Florence again and for longer then the length of a day trip. With that in mind, we declined to buy tickets and just enjoyed the incredible view of the exterior.

One of the largest churches in the world, the Florence Cathedral- in Italian Il Duomo di Firenze – is also a very prominent landmark of the Florentine skyline and later in the day we would actually get a chance to see it from a much different angle, from across the river while we rested in the Boboli Gardens of the Pallazzo Pitti.

With one last lingering look, we ducked into a nearby coffee shop to fuel up before we made our way towards the next couple of stops on our Florence day trip plans.

~m

 

The Bridge of Sighs and a Beautiful Goodbye – Venice, Italy

I feel like I write the phrase “it was like something out of a dream” so often on this blog that people must think i’m always half awake when I travel, but the truth is that though I would consider myself a writer of at least some skill- there’s always places that I visit that truly do leave me without the necessary adjectives to describe them in any way that does them justice.

We woke up early that last day to wander our way down the quiet and still sleeping streets to make it to Piazza San Marco and get a chance to see it one more time before we left. Not only did we get spared from the constant drizzle of the days before, but there were absolutely no crowds yet and apart from a couple of other dedicated photographers walking around trying to get their best shots, the area was fairly deserted compared to the last time we had been there.

(credit to the bf for taking the photo of me standing in front of Basilica San Marco, I would almost say he’s looking to challenge me for title of head photographer on our trips  )

The previous two days that we’d made our way to see the Bridge of Sighs, it’d been fairly impossible to try and get a good shot because of the crowds but that morning, we had the bridge that overlooks the canal it’s suspended over all to ourselves. After I had finished looking at the beautiful coastline and the islands on the other side (and wishing we had maybe a little bit more time to make it over to explore them), we walked up to the bridge and there was just one guy there, trying to take a good selfie of himself in front of it. He saw us and asked very nicely if we would take a photo of him and I enthusiastically obliged and snapped two photos from him, after which he thanked us with a big smile and walked off to admire the canal coastline himself and suddenly we had the view of the Bridge of Sighs all to ourselves.

A really rather popular tourist attraction in Venice, the Bridge of Sighs is a beautiful enclosed arch bridge built in the 17th century as a way to connect the New Prison to the interrogation rooms in the Doges Palace. The general consensus seems to be the name of the bridge comes from the idea that convicts crossing the bridge to the prisons would get one last glimpse of the lagoon through the covered windows and heave a despairing sigh but…. historically there doesn’t seem to be much credence to this. Personally I can attest that the view is limited from inside the bridge as the glass panels are very cloudy and also crossed with steel bars on the inside, but I can also say that if I was crossing any bridge as a prisoner, I would probably let out a good number of sighs no matter what.

The walk back to our hotel was unhurried as we had already packed up the night before and had our transportation to the Venezia Santa Lucia train station arranged by the staff, so we had plenty of time to marvel at all the unique and beautifully colored buildings that surrounded us.

Once back at the hotel we tucked into breakfast and then time seemed to rush on by until suddenly our water taxi was there and it was time to check out and begin the journey to Rome.

A thrilling and beautiful ride on a lovely water taxi, bright morning light streaming in through the windows as the city rushed by us made a pretty perfect way to say goodbye to Venice.

~m

The Doges Palace and the Rialto Bridge- Venice, Italy

Having already purchased tickets that granted entrance to the Doges Palace at the Correr Musuem, we were able to get in past the long line that snaked around the building, saving us a whole world of wasted time and enabling us to get more out of our last full day in Venice.

The Doges Palace is a must-see if you’re visiting Venice, so I could easily understand the long lines outside and also justify the way the interior was more than a bit packed in. And what, exactly, is the Doges Palace? This is the question the bf had when we first made plans to visit, and I couldn’t easily provide an answer since I hadn’t really researched it much up to this point (for shame right?). Basically, the Doges Palace was the residence of the Doge of Venice who was the chief magistrate and head authority of the Most Serene Republic of Venice from the years of 697–1797. They were elected for life and served as the civil and military leader and as such, their surroundings reflect this.

Taken from the visitor website to the Palazzo Ducale, this helps give an idea of what the general tour of the Palace will consist of : “the Museo dell’Opera are located at the ground floor; what used to be the palace’s kitchens are now partly occupied also by a space for temporary exhibitions. The visit to the upper floors starts in the extraordinary courtyard, from where you pass up to the Loggia on the first floor (where the Doge’s Apartments are located) and then to the Institutional Chambers, throughout the first and second floors. The visit finishes with the Armoury and Prisons.”

The change of scenery from the Armoury over to the Prisons is an almost jarring one, and one that begins by crossing through the famous Bridge of Sighs.

I do have to admit though, as weird as it probably sounds, our favorite part of the visit was to the prisons rather than through all the grand opulence of the palace. For me it was the great contrast between the two that made it all the more interesting and especially seeing the cells and even some of the artwork the prisoners had made. We spent the longest time here, lingering in the narrow corridors until eventually we made our way back to the Palace over the Bridge of Sighs once more and exited out to head towards the Rialto Bridge, the oldest of 4 bridges spanning the Grand Canal and a top recommended sight to us.

We walked our way through some more winding streets, making idle plans for the rest of the day-pizza and some gelato perhaps? All morning there had been a somewhat steady sprinkling, but for just a few minutes as we looked over the bridge to the Grand Canal, the rain let up enough for us to enjoy the view.

Satisfied with having successfully seen everything we had planned to that day, we headed back into the maze of streets to find a good souvenir shop I could buy some postcards for friends at and then afterwards hopefully procure some tasty gelato to cap our last full day in Venice. The next morning we would wake up at sunrise to take in some of the early morning light and give our farewell to this first stop of our trip, and head on to Rome.

~m

Basilica Di San Marco and Museo Correr- Venice, Italy

Our second day in Venice started bright and early, with the determination to see as much as possible now that our leisurely day of walking around (and souvenir buying) had been allocated. After eating a pretty delicious breakfast at the hotel, we booked it to the Piazza San Marco to see if we could either get into the Doges Palace or the visit the Basilica Di San Marco first. The previous day when we had walked by the Basilica we had seen a line that rounded back towards the exit of the church and we had seen something similar with the Doges Palace, so we had decided that waking up early would be the best bet to get the chance to see more without having to be stuck in line for too long (and also cut down on costs by not buying skip the line tickets- they’re great when you’re more pressed for time but in general if you can just wake up early, it’s always nicer to save that money for other things).

We found only a couple of people in line to enter San Marcos at 9:15 (it opens at 9:30, and is free admission but they do check to make sure you’re not carrying large backpacks) and so we figured that was our best bet for getting a chance to explore the most famous of all churches in Venice and one of the most beautiful examples of Italo-Byzantine architecture. Photography is not allowed inside the Basilica but, I don’t think any photography would really do justice to how beautiful and just awe-inspiring the interior is. I’ve been to my fair share of churches (and I would continue to visit yet more on this trip) but the clear and heavy influence of Byzantine artifacts and style here- like the beautiful mosaic work in the floor- makes it a genuine favorite.

After exiting the main area of the church we decided to wander up and pay the fee to visit the accompanying museum thats housed on the upper level. I would highly recommend paying the 5€ ticket fee even if you’ve absolutely no interest in the historical context of the Basilica or the artwork it houses (although I’m judging you something fierce if you’re here at all and have no interest- the heck are you wasting your time like that for?) if only for the view of the square and part of the Doges Palace that you can only get if you go up to the second level.

After sitting down for a good bit to bask in the veritable splendor of the basilica, we took ourselves back downstairs and across the square, to the Museo Correr. We decided to do this rather than go straight to the Doges Palaces because we found out that if you bought tickets at the Museo Correr, they were also valid for the Palace and would enable you to skip the regular line, and since I had wanted to visit this museum anyways, it worked out perfectly.

The Correr Musuem encompasses both the art and history of Venice and it’s a fantastic primer for someone who’s never been before and has only a small idea of what Venetian history contains (I really only know the history of Venice as it intersected rather bloodily with Byzantine history, namely the 4th crusade). Though the Doges palace also contains plenty concerning the history of Venice, I would really recommend visiting the Correr Museum if you have the time during your visit here because the art on display is supremely interesting, the building itself is gorgeous and honestly there’s just so much to see here alone that we didn’t realize two hours had already passed until we checked the time.

We would have spent longer there, but for reasons not quite well explained to us, the Doge’s palace wouldn’t be open it’s full hours until 6pm that day, and would instead close much earlier. So we exited back onto the now very familiar Piazza San Marco and headed to the Doges Palace, for a taste of another kind of opulence.

~m