Duomo (Santa Maria del Fiore) and Giotta’s Tower

clea Picture of Duomo (Santa Maria del Fiore) and Giotta’s TowerLike most cities, Florence has an abundance of sites to see and things to do but there are often better times to visit a museum or go to a church. One of those places is the Duomo (Santa Maria del Fiore) and Giotta’s Tower (the campanile). The Duomo and Tower are magnificent; the dome itself is enormous and the façade has been beautifully refurbished and cleaned. You can climb both the Duomo and the Tower, but definitely climb at least one of them. No matter when you visit it is a must see but if you can pick the time to visit I would suggest later in the afternoon. I have climbed the tower at various times, including very early in the morning and later in the evening. For me, the best time is in the late afternoon. One year my husband and I went probably about an hour or so before closing and the tower was empty. We encountered one other person on our journey up. It was so nice because we took our time, we took pictures and when we got to the top we had it all to ourselves. We got a little nervous that perhaps we would get locked in it was so quiet.

Be aware that there are a lot of steps to climb to get to the top of the tower, so you want to leave yourself enough time to climb at your speed. There are various levels to stop and take in the view along the way which is helpful if you need to rest on the way to the top. Also, if you find that the climb is too much you return down at any point.

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Macelleria Scroccario in Pienza

Photo of Macelleria Scroccario in Pienza, is a butcher shopMacelleria Scroccario in Pienza, is a butcher shop and the aroma from within beckoned.  No, I do not have a strange obsession with meat; it was the pig roast that was being carved that called.  As my husband and I walked by Marcelleria Scroccario we immediately stopped as the scent hit our noses and we looked at each other and knew we had to find out what was producing this scent.  When we entered we were a little surprised to be in a butcher shop but not deterred.  We saw the pig roast and asked for a sandwich which my husband and I shared, just to taste, and I have to say it was one of the best sandwiches I have ever had; nothing but pork and bread, simple.  Well, it turned out that one sandwich was not enough.  We decided that this was going to be lunch.  We ordered two sandwiches and two drinks and we were on our way, however we wanted to relax and really enjoy this Panini.  Walking about a block or so south from Macelleria Scroccario we arrived at a pathway which overlooks the countryside and we spotted a bench where we were able to sit and relax with our lunch.

Photo of Macelleria Scroccario in Pienza, is a butcher shop

Photo of Macelleria Scroccario in Pienza, is a butcher shop

TIP:  While I love to eat out and try new foods, sometimes when travelling eating at restaurants becomes tiringand can be an expensive.  One of the first times I went to Italy with my mom she suggested that we buy some meats, cheeses, bread, fruit, and wine and make a meal instead of going to another restaurant.  To this day I always try to do this at least once during my stay.  It is a great way to shop at the local markets and if the hotel you are staying at offers a terrace or private balcony this can be a particularly relaxing way to enjoy the evening.


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Mercato Centrale (Central Market) Florence

Mercato Centrale (Central Market) may not be the typical tourist site and some may say it is simply a food market but they would be wrong.  The Mercato Centrale is a large market in the middle of the San Lorenzo Market area.  If you are not familiar with Florence, the San Lorenzo Market area is the open air market with stalls selling primarily leather goods but also other souvenirs (i.e. the Venice Carnival Masks, pottery, etc.).  Since most everyone goes to the San Lorenzo Market at some point a quick detour into the Central Market is highly advised.  You will find some of the most appetizing foods (pastas, meats, fish, cheese and the list goes on) for sale; I only wished I lived in Florence so I could purchase my produce here.  Since I am a foodie it was easy for me to get lost in the Market, but even if you are not it is still something to see, if only for a quick walk through.  The sights, the smells all combine to make a true Italian experience.  If you live near a local Italian Market area (i.e. Arthur Avenue in the Bronx or even the upscale Eatly in NYC) you will see how they are designed in the image of an Italian Market.  In Florence, there are other markets throughout the city, but this is the biggest and most impressive.  Like most structure is Italy, there is some history behind this historic market but quite honestly I went simply for the food.  Maybe one of these days I will go with the goal of studying the history…

Within the Market there are several eating establishments where you can grab a quick and cheap lunch.  It is not luxurious and not fine Italian dining but it is an experience and a quick way to get a decent meal.  The Market itself is somewhat difficult to find, but you will see stairs that lead into the various entrances tucked behind some of the leather stalls.  If you can’t find it just ask one of the vendors.  Be aware the Market is only open between 7am and 2pm, my advice is go before you start shopping for your leather goods as the leather stalls are open all day.

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To Go or Not To Go: The Palio Horse Race

A picture of the Palio horse race in Siena Italy.To Go or Not To Go:  The Palio.  If you are not familiar with The Palio, it is a horse race that takes place in Sienna twice during the summer, once in July and once in August.  During this time Sienna is overwrought with tourists who come solely for the Palio, it is a big event by all means.  The city is divided into sections (Contradas) and ten of these Contradas are represented at the Palio, each with its own coat of arms and following of fans.  Obviously, the emotions run high as the winner of the Palio is winning not just for himself but for his turf.  On the plus side, is the emotion and pageantry that encompasses the festivities.  The city is full of life and tension as each region prepares for the race.  During the days leading up to the actual Palio race are the trials which you can read about on the link below.  Though the actual race only last a short time, like any race it is a nail bitter, and if you are like me you will pick a horse to win (though in my case it wasn’t actually a winner).

So what is there to think about, it sounds like an event to see and I would agree as long as you know the downside.  If you are visiting Sienna to leisurely explore the sites and enjoy good food, scheduling this during The Palio is not recommended.  The streets are packed and everything requires a wait.  The food at the restaurants is subpar and you will be rushed through your meal so they can serve as many patrons as possible.  Finally, getting a spot at the track requires either a lot of money or time; in my case it was time.  Like many, or most, I had a spot standing in the middle of the track and this didn’t come easy, it required getting there early and standing for hours (in the sun) waiting for the race to begin.  My promptness paid off as I had a spot right at the rail and could hear the thunder of the horses as they raced by.  It is not for the faint of heart or those with limited time.  My suggestion is go to Sienna during The Palio if the reason for the visit is strictly to see the race, otherwise book your trip before or after.

For more information on The Palio and its history visit: http://www.ilpalio.org/palioenglish.htm

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