Europe 2015 Day 16: Pisa and Florence

A Europe trip was long overdue for this New Yorker. I managed to clear 19 days (flight time inclusive) to figure out how to plan such an itinerary and came up with:

Day 1 – Fly from NYC to London overnight
Day 2 – Check in hotel, brief sightseeing, sleep
Day 3,4 – Explore London
Day 5 – Daytrip to Paris via Eurostar
Day 6 – Travel to Edinburgh, sightseeing
Day 7,8,9 – Tour the Scotland highlands
Day 10 – Travel back to London, Harry Potter tour
Day 11 – Fly from London to Barcelona, sightseeing
Day 12-18 – 7 day cruise
Day 19 – Fly back home

The most challenging part is planning it all (and saving enough money as well). The flights, hotels, where to go, how to get there, things to avoid, not getting lost, saving money, optimizing time, eating, bathroom stops, what to pack, currency, backup plans for when things go wrong, survival, etc. Somehow, everything went according to plan with a few minor mishaps. Follow me on my travels as I cover the itineraries, highlights, and other random encounters and experiences.

Pisa

The ship docks at the coastal town of Livorno but mostly everyone just wants to drive through Toscana to see Pisa and Florence, drink wine, eat pizza and gelato, and take selfies.

The drive to Pisa isn’t a long one. Once the Torre Pendente (Leaning Tower) is in sight in the Piazza dei Miracoli, everyone recognizes it like they’ve seen it somewhere before but never up close. The strategy is to show up first thing in the morning to avoid the crowds. Then, you have to identify the best photo spot before people accumulate in your background. And finally, be creative and have fun with it.

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There is also a huge church and baptistery but  people get distracted with the leaning tower, the star of the show. Throughout the 45 minutes we had, I dedicated at least 10 take some photos of these overlooked buildings.

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After an brief visit, we headed to Firenze (Florence). Unlike Rome, it seemed like a ghost town at first since the locals are mostly on vacation during the summer. But the tourists soon filled up the city center. A group of us ate at a restaurant near the Piazza Signoria. The statues are always cool to check out.

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I thought Florence was prettier than Rome. Actually, in my mind, Florence is what I imagined Italy to look like. Restaurants and shops everywhere. Most buildings follow a yellow and red pattern. In the Piazza del Duomo, the building that dominates the entire city is the cathedral with the largest brick dome in the world; Cattedrale di Santa Maria del Fiore. You feel so small as you approach and circle around it. The large dome is something special. An amateur engineer (never built anything before) named Filippo Brunelleschi designed the massive dome more than 600 years ago without ever revealing his secret. It remains somewhat of a mystery how he and his team were able to stack 4 million bricks into a dome the size of half a football field with precision. If there was a slight error of even a fraction of an inch then that error would propagate upwards and make the dome unstable. Also, it was accomplished without modern support systems and without it collapsing on itself. What is known is that he used a clever zig-zag pattern for the bricks and ropes in a flower pattern throughout the process. Just imagine how it felt to stand at the roof of the cathedral prior to the dome’s construction and placing the first brick. And how would you transport 4 millions bricks to the roof in the first place? He also invented his two-way pulley system. If you have time then this documentary is a good watch: (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wEUe8mq8CKs). I’m an engineering major so naturally, this interests me. Ok, photo time.

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You can actually walk up 463 steps to the top of the dome but that line was really long. What kind of view of the dome would one get if they were standing on top of the dome itself? Instead, I chose 414 steps up Giotto’s Campanile (Belltower) for a few euros and 10-15 minute line. In my opinion, this was a better option since get as close as possible to the dome without being in top of it. And of course you get a great view of the overall area.

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With only 1.5 hours left, it was time to give myself a running tour. Yea, when you’re low on time, just run. Perhaps I was the only one running on along the riverside, but it was awesome. I headed to Ponte Vecchio; a bridge full of shops and a very popular selfie photo spot.

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There is another viewpoint area across the Arno river called Piazzale Michelangelo. It’s quite a hill and I was a hot sweaty mess by the time I reached the top, but the views are worth it. Also, the fake David statue stands on the summit of the hill. Running back down was a breeze but I had to restock on water, Italy is quite hot.

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The real David statue is located in the Academy of Fine Arts which is a short walk from the Duomo. The wife went with some friends and snapped these photos while I was on my running tour. Sometimes you have to split the experience to have photos of everything at the end of the day, especially with limited time.

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With some time to spare, I checked out the courtyard of the Uffizi Gallery. I recognized a few statues like Amerigo and Galileo.

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Finally, with one last glimpse of Ponte Vecchio, it was arrivederci to Italy…

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