Tag Archives: italy

Arezzo

Walled cities are a Tuscan specialty. I’d been to a few in the last couple of weeks and, on paper, Arezzo looked to be another gem in the making.

Arezzo, Tuscany, Italy

However shortly after arriving things did not look quite so promising. Although an old city, much of what you can see on first entering the city is dull, generic office buildings, including one company amusingly called “multiass.”

Arezzo, Tuscany, ItalyInside the city walls things immediately get… confusing. I walk down a street. To my right is a church, ahead are a mess of signs pointing in every direction, each one presumably a place of interest. With no guide book on the city I had no real idea what any of them were and arbitrarily picked “right.”

To cut a long story short(er), this was almost certainly not the best choice. After a mostly fruitless search for interesting sights, I looped back and accidentally found the Duomo. The inside was as lavishly decorated as you might expect for a Catholic church. In one cubby-hole1 a service was being taken. Maybe I should have gone and got a panini earlier as the wafers and wine seemed mighty tempting at this point.

Arezzo, Tuscany, Italy

Immediately behind the church is Il Prato, a large park by the Medici Fortress and with views over the neighbouring area. I’m not sure of its significance, but there was a huge cemetery visible also.

Service in Arezzo, Tuscany, Italy

My opinion of the place having rapidly changed from ambivalence to enthusiasm, I decided to stay a little longer. Unfortunately this required relocating the car from it’s temporary home near the multiass. To get back to the car I tracked the most direct route back, which included wandering through Piazza Grand, apparently the most beautiful square in the city.

Locating another parking space could have been easier. Without going into detail about any of the almost certainly illegal manoeuvres made, I will say that the signage in Arezzo is somewhat lacking. With plenty of one way systems and areas off limits to non-residents, it’s not a city to tackle without a map.

Arezzo, Tuscany, Italy

Still, having found somewhere to park near Il Prato, I failed to find anywhere decent looking to eat despite the area being well renowned for its cuisine.

Still, I’m pleased that I made it to Arezzo. Despite my initial misgivings, it is most certainly a city worth visiting. But next time I’ll know to turn left.

  1. I kind of want to say transept here but I’m not completely sure. []

Lucca

After the disappointment of Pisa1 I was looking forward to the highly regarded city of Lucca, which is only twenty five kilometres north-east up the SS12.

Lucca, Tuscany, Italy

Like Pisa the parking situation was dire and it took several attempts to find somewhere to put the car. The comparisons to Pisa end here, however, as I immediately liked what I saw.

Immediately inside the walls are those very typical narrow, cobbled streets. There were no shortage of shops with extensive displays of meats and cheeses, bread and cakes. These all needed investigating. While I’m sure that most of these places see a good number of tourists passing through, they’re certainly not at the level of tea towels or cheap models of local sites.

Lucca, Tuscany, Italy

Of course, Lucca has no shortage of churches and squares. There are, however, things worth seeing that are not shops, religious monuments or rhombus shaped. The first is the clock tower (Torre delle Ore), which, apparently, is the oldest tower in the city. The clock still works, though I’m not sure from exactly when it dates. A few people have noted that the time is often not correct — this is Italy after all!

Lucca, Tuscany, Italy

The second is also a tower, this time called Guinigi. It is unusual because it has seven oaks growing from its roof. I have subsequently read that having a garden such as this did not used to be particularly unusual. However I’ve never seen such large trees sprouting from the top of a tower and so will include it as a point of interest.

Lucca, Tuscany, Italy

When I headed to Pisa in the morning I wasn’t completely sure that I would be able to squeeze in a look around Lucca also. I’m glad I made the time.

  1. The disappointment also includes the failure of my regular camera. These images were taken on a Canon PowerShot A95. []

Pisa

I really wanted to like Pisa. When I last visited in 2004 I came away fond of the area around the leaning tower but unimpressed with pretty much everything else I saw of the city. It was grey and bland and unattractive. But I was hoping that I had been wrong. It had been overcast and rainy, and I had had to rush around the place. Perhaps I had just not done the place justice?

Pisa, Italy

This time, at least, I had the weather on my side, just not the traffic1. I ended up driving almost completely around the city, through some very narrow street clearly designed well before cars frequented them, before finally managing to get parked just inside the city walls.

Approaching the campanile from the east I remembered one of the things that I had disliked from my first visit: the streets nearby were filled with cheap trinkets and identical looking tourist trap cafes and restaurants. It’s the most “touristy” place I’ve ever been to in Italy.

However, once you get past the ornaments, aprons depicting Snoopy or Bart Simpson holding up the tower, the calendars and the books in six different languages, the site is impressive. The Duomo is amazing. I get a little annoyed that most people swept straight past it to see the Leaning Tower but that’s my problem.

Leaning Tower of Pisa, Italy

The gimmick of the tower is — at the risk of stating the obvious — that it leans2, which makes it easy to overlook the fact that even if it worked as it was designed it would still be worth visiting. The detailed maisonary is at least as good as that on the Duomo.

After a quick coffee I decided to return to the car and make for Lucca.

  1. Or my camera. The images you see here were taken on a Canon PowerShot A95. []
  2. Indeed, they’ve just finishing making sure that it continues to lean for the next few hundred years. []

Rufina

A few days ago when I drive to Poppi I saw signs for Rufina and Borgo San Lorenzo. Today I decided to head for the latter and stop off in the former.

Rufina, Tuscany, Italy

First stop was the Vine and Wine Museum, which I found at the end of this long row of tall trees.

After the last few days of rain I was annoyed with myself to be so relieved to get out of the hot, bright sun. Inside there were tables littered with leaflets publicising local events, wine tasting tours and the museum itself. In the distance were murmuring voices but by the entrance, near the tills where you’d expect someone to be taking tourists money, there was no-one.

Rufina, Tuscany, ItalyI thumbed through a couple of leaflets. I assumed someone would appear shortly.

Nothing.

Next a pamphlet about para-gliding something that, as anyone who knows me will tell you, is not exactly my cup of tea. Then art appreciation. Horse riding. And wine tasting. The next was actually in Italian and so have no idea what it was about.

Eventually I get bored and I cast off my English reserve in order to find someone to pay, or at least manage to sneak around and not find someone to pay.

Rufina, Tuscany, Italy

The Vine and Wine Museum is, well, exactly what it says on the tin. The exhibits show a whole host of vine growing implements, from hoes to watering-cans, and then moves onto the wine making process. The text was all in Italian, so if there was an explanation of why they put their wine bottles in a straw basket — fiascos — I couldn’t read it.

Back out in the sun I take a wander around the rest of the town. As with pretty much everywhere in this part of Italy, it’s attractive and charming

Rufina, Tuscany, Italy

In the end I found that there was much more in Rufina than I was expecting and I never made it as far as Borgo San Lorenzo. (Sorry if you found this page after Googling for Borgo San Lorenzo. I couldn’t really tell you in advance without spoiling the story.)

Castellina in Chianti

After leaving Monteriggioni I aim the car towards Castelline in Chianti, an area well known for its wineries.

And, well, I passed a few. After they thinned out I did a U-turn and went back to the first one which looked the most promising. From the road there was a long, straight line of trees either side of the drive up to the farm house at the end. It was a bumpy drive and I pulled in next to a couple of other waiting cars. I got out and strolled towards the entrance.

Castellina in Chianti, Tuscany, Italy

All the doors, however, were closed. I hear conversation and laughing inside but there was no external sign of life.

Another car arrived while I was looking around. I conveyed the little information that I had, and the couple in the car decided to look in a barn on the other side of the car park. If it’s possible, that looked even less open than the farm house.

Castellina in Chianti, Tuscany, Italy

So lacking any opportunity to learn about, taste or purchase wine, I took a few pictures and returned to the car. Not my most successful visit of the day.

Monteriggioni

A short distance from Colle di val d’Elsa is Monteriggioni. As with a few of the other places that I visited on this trip, I had not even heard of it when I woke up in the morning and, therefore, was pleasantly surprised with what I saw when I got there.

Monteriggioni, Tuscany, Italy

Monteriggioni is another one of Tuscany’s many pretty walled cities, this one smaller than most. You arrive on a steep, narrow path and enter underneath a tower. Inside you immediately find a large, mostly empty square. Around the periphery there are a number of parasols shading cafe tables and postcards and souvenirs spilling out of shop fronts.

Monteriggioni, Tuscany, Italy

Away from the main square it quickly got very residential. I liked to see the contrast between the traditional Italian surroundings and the American basket-ball hoop outside one of the houses.

Monteriggioni seems to be a town that hasn’t fully embraced the concept of tourism. On the one hand they charge for a walk on the city walls (I declined), on the other the main square was mostly empty. Is there just not much else there or have they simply resigned themselves to be a place that people stop off en route to somewhere else?

Having seemingly exhausted the possibilities in a fairly short period of time I move on, intending to check out some of the wineries in Castellina in Chianti.