When we decided to explore the Mediterranean on a cruise ship, the one disadvantage was the cost of the excursions. By booking the “Ultimate tour” in each port, we felt we were able to see and do as much in one day, as it took most people to do in 3 days. Florence and Pisa were no exception. We definitely got the “ultimate” experience. Therefore, most of our excursions from the ship are 8-10 hours long. Even though we are seasoned cruisers, we rarely book a private tour. we have weighed the pros and cons, save some money, but have the possibility of the cruise ship leaving you. We have seen this happen a few times.
The cruise ship docked in Livorno which is the closest port to Florence and Pisa. We met our guide Lorena and we would follow her “2” sign all day. We boarded a bus and drove to Florence. Lorena gave us general information about Italy. Fish dishes are served with tomato sauce. Coffee is called Espresso. You can tell an American from a European by how they hold up 3 fingers. Americans hold up the middle 3 fingers, while holding the pinkie with the thumb. Europeans hold up the middle, fourth, and pinkie fingers, while holding the fore finger with the thumb. We got quite a kick out of this, as we watched everyone on the bus, including us, practice holding up 3 fingers.
We then drove down into the city and began our walking tour. Florence was founded in 59 BC. It is in the region of Tuscany and has 400,000 residents. The patron Saint of Florence is John the Baptist and the crest is the lily. The 3 most important laws to obey: Don’t buy from illegal vendors, don’t feed the pigeons, and don’t litter especially cigarette butts. We entered the center of town known as Piazza di Santa Croce. which was constructed in the 13th century. The square smells of leather products. In the 11th century Monks developed a special process to treat leather which makes it very soft. There is a small cathedral on the edge of the square that was built in 1299, Basilica of Santa Croce (Holy Cross).
The walk through the streets had many different buildings.
We walked past an astrological sundial that was constructed in 2007, in front of the Museo Gallileo.
We then walked to the Ponte Vecchio bridge. The version you see today was built in 1345. It has always hosted shops and merchants.
Down an alley, there is an olive tree growing in a planter. In 1993, the Mafia blew up a bomb that killed a family. The tree was planted and is cared for as a sign of peace.
Next we walked to the famous city square, Pizza della Signoria
This square is full of statutes. They are mostly replicas of the original statues which were moved to a museum in 1873. The sculptor of most of the statues was Botticelli. Michelangelo hated him and said that his sculptors looked like sacks of potatoes. We didn’t think they looked that bad, but we aren’t art experts.
The statues in the arch area are original.
As we walked, we saw shops with an assortment of foods.
We walked to the Cathedral of Florence also known as Santa Maria del Fiore located in the Franciscan Quarter. It was started in 1296 with the dome being added in the 15th century. It is the 4th largest cathedral in the world and is dedicated to the Virgin Mary. Florence has a quarry nearby, so the Cathedral has 3 different types of marble…green, white, and pink.
The Florence Baptistery located across the street in the 11th century. In medieval times, you could not enter the Cathedral until you were baptised. It has eight sides and the door panels depict the Old Testament.
We then walked to the Galleria dell’Accademia where the statue of David is located. There was a wait of 4 hours, so really glad we were on a tour, as we only waited 20 minutes. The rooms are full of half complete statues, as Michelangelo liked to practice a lot.
We learned that in Italian art, there is usually an X shape for human sculptures. This creates a balanced look. The statue of David (from the bible story of David and Goliath) is a perfect example of this. We were told to notice the details of a sling on his back and a rock in his hand. It was kind of weird to take pictures of a totally nude man(boy) from the bible. As we walked around the back, Jerie says, “I can’t believe I am staring at a guy’s naked butt”. We are not art people!!
We walked back to the Piazza di Santa Croce, where Lorena gave us 30 minutes to eat as our tour was only half over. We still had Pisa to look forward to. We ate wonderful pizza and then explored the leather shops.
We walked back to the bus and headed to Pisa. We drove past the Triumphal Arch of the Lorraine located Piazza della Liberta. It was began in 1737 to welcome the Habsburg-Lorraine dynasty. A cruel irony is that the same dynasty passed the arch in 1859, as they left for exile.
Lorena gave us information on Pisa. It has 90,000 residents and is home to Italy’s best university. The official symbol is the red flag with an ornate cross. Camp Darby which is nearby, is the second largest American military base in Europe.
Here are your facts about the Leaning Tower. of Pisa. Construction began in 1173 and was to symbolize the elevation of life. It was to be a belfry tower but when the 3rd level of columns were built, it started to lean and construction was halted. It leans due to soggy soil from the rivers nearby, however the wet ground has helped support the weight of the tower. If there were to be a severe drought, the dry ground would cause the tower to fall. The tower is 55 meters high, depending on where you measure. It weighs 14,500 tons. There were 3 different architects used during construction, and Galileo used the tower to experiment with the law of gravity. There are other towers in the Pisa area that lean but this is the most famous one. The Tower was closed to the public from 1990-2001 while repairs were planned and completed. In 1995, cables were secured to the tower to stabilize it during the repair process. 900 blocks were placed on the opposite side of the lean, causing the tower to slowly shift. The soil on the leaning side rose, and cement was pumped under the soil. The tower shifted to its present lean of 4 meters and the experts are confident that is where it will stay. The wall surrounding the Leaning Tower, cathedral, baptistery, and cemetary was built in 1155 and has caper vines growing on it.
As part of our tour, we were to climb the leaning tower, so we went straight there. The security was very strict
The inside is hollow, with the stairs on the outside walls. There is a obsevation area about 3/4 of the way up the tower.
It was pretty wild. Depending on which side you were on, it felt like you were walking down even though you were going up. You could definitely feel the lean.
We made it to the first level, what a view…Cindy doesn’t like heights, especially leaning heights!!
There were bells and each is tuned to a different musical note.
We found the tiny door and climbed the extremely small staircase to the very top.
We then made our way down, and tried our hand at the obligatory picture of holding up the tower. It is not as easy as you would think.
The Pisa Cathedral has the largest baptistery in Italy. The outside construction consists of 3 parts…the bottom is Roman, the second level is gothic, and the top level is in honor of John the Baptist. Every 30 minutes an echo scale is preformed, as it has great acoustics. Baptism was changed from immersion to sprinkling due to the plague and the fear that the water would spread the out-break. The gargoyles are dogs to remind patrons to be friendly to the church. The cemetary is known as the Holy Field and was bombed in World War II. The paintings and murals were melted. People tried to save them, and ancient drawings under them.
It had been a very long but exciting day. We saw so many things and learned so much. We were a bit delayed in getting back to the ship, as 2 people on our tour decided to take a taxi back but didn’t tell the tour guide. We were one of the last tours to return to the ship. Day 24 was awesome but Day 25 held just as much excitement…Rome here we come.