On a day that was as perfect as could be in Tuscany, our group of travelers were all (finally) together in one place. Or rather, several of them. For this was the day we did a walking tour of Florence that included a leather factory store and the Ponte Vecchio.
Florence and the area around it are home to Italy’s largest leather producers, so the city hosts a number of leather factories and boutiques that carry the beautiful results—wallets, bags, belts and jackets—in every color imaginable. After a quick video describing how leather is tanned and cut, we were let loose in one such factory store.
Let’s just say a number of souvenirs were purchased (and not always for friends or loved ones).
Then it was off to Ponte Vecchio. Located at the narrowest point of the River Arno, this medieval bridge was originally home to butcher shops. The only original Florentine bridge (all the others were destroyed during World War II), Ponte Vecchio is now home to a number of jewelry shops, souvenir shops, goldsmiths, art dealers, and more jewelry stores featuring gold. Lots of gold. Unlike the wares sold in the shops, the view from the bridge is priceless. Although all the other bridges over the Arno have been built since the war, they were done as reproductions of their originals, so they retain their Old World look.
Like most European cities, Florence features lots of thin streets and alleys that boast all kinds of fun finds, including boutiques, fruit stands, gelato shops, and … statue makers?
Most of the outdoor statues featured in and around Florence are reproductions. The originals are safely stored somewhere indoors, and not always in Florence, so an entire industry exists just to reproduce the priceless treasures. In the shop shown above, the sculptors use laser cutters and other fine chisels to recreate an original to exacting standards.
An Excursion to Siena
Having completed our quick morning sightseeing tour, it was time to make our way to the bus station to catch an express bus to Siena.
The center of this Tuscan city has been declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Brick buildings surround the fan-shaped central square, Piazza del Campo and include the Palazzo Pubblico, the Gothic town hall, and Torre del Mangia, which features a 14th-century tower. Stores and restaurants make up some of the other businesses that line the plaza. We had a late lunch in one of them, and the soup was amazing.
Oh, and there’s a storm drain that’s probably the most decorative one you’ll ever see.
Here’s a shot taken from inside the courtyard of the Pubblico and the entrance to the museum-like interiors.
A multitude of treasures await inside the Pubblico, including huge frescoes, paintings, sculptures and more. Shown below are Simone Martini’d La Maesta, a fresco along with some of the gorgeous architectural details, the sculpture Tristitia, commonly known as Il Doloreand, and the ceiling of the Room of the Risorgimento.
As for the gelato, we had an easy time fulfilling our goal of eating some every day. Instead of coffee shops on every corner, Florence features gelato shops on every corner.
Next up: Ancient Rome