From Venice S. Lucia station, we traveled to the capital city of Tuscany, Florence, via ItaliaRail. It took us about 2 hours to reach this b...

From Venice S. Lucia station, we traveled to the capital city of Tuscany, Florence, via ItaliaRail. It took us about 2 hours to reach this beautiful city, which is known as the cradle of Renaissance, the cultural movement that spread throughout Europe in the 14th century. Upon reaching Florence S.M.N Station, we headed to the lodging located in Borgo Santi Apostoli area, which we booked through AirBnb. Mario, our host, was very friendly. He gave us a warm welcome, showed us around his cosy apartment and our room. After settling in, we only managed to have a short chat with him before he headed out to work. He told us this year's winter was delayed, so the weather was still cold though it was supposed to be spring time already. We left the house thereafter to do some sightseeing.

First stop was Ponte Vecchio - literally next to where we stayed. Up until 1218, Ponte Vecchio, or Old Bridge, was the only bridge across River Arno, which cuts through the old part of the city. It is the only bridge that survived the World War II but the current bridge was rebuilt after a flood in 1345. The attraction here is the multitude of shops built upon its edges, held up by stilts. Apparently at the beginning, there were all types of shops, including butchers, fishmongers and tanners, whose wastes caused a pretty rank stench in the area, and in 1593, the Medici family (the family that ruled over Florence in the 15th-17th centuries) decreed that only goldsmiths and jewelers be allowed to have their shops on the bridge in order to improve the well-being of all, including their own as they walked over the bridge. 

Ponte Vecchio

The little 'houses' are actually shops
Next was Piazza della Signoria, one of the most recognizable symbols of Florence, also closeby to Ponte Vecchio. This L-shaped square is where the government of Florence is, as the main building dominating it is Palazza Vecchio (Old Place), the city's town hall. The center of the square contains the Fountain of Neptune and several other impressive sculptures including Perseus holding the head of Medusa and the replica of Michelangelo's 'David'.

Palazzo Vecchio
The Neptune Fountain

Benvenuto Cellini's statue Perseus With Medusa's severed head
Bartolommeo Bandinelli's Hercules and Cacus

A copy of Michelangelo's statue David. The original is housed in the Accademia. 
After all the walking, we decided to venture to the Caffe' La Terrazza to have a drink and give our feet a break. Located on the 5th floor of La Rinascente department store at the Piazza della Repubblica, this small rooftop terrace bar offers stunning views of the city, including the in-your-face views of the Duomo and the mountains beyond.

View of Basilica di Santa Maria del Fiore from the cafe.
The heart of Florence, Piazza del Duomo, houses the city's most iconic landmark. The Cattedrale di Santa Maria del Fiore or Cathedral of Saint Mary of the Flowers is the main church of the city, one of Italy's largest churches and also a great example of Gothic architecture designed by Italian Renaissance architect Filippo Brunelleschi. The cathedral complex includes the Baptistry and Giotto's Campanile. These three buildings are part of the UNESCO World Heritage Site.

The facade of the Cathedral

The Cathedral and Giotto's bell tower

The cupola, Brunelleschi’s Dome, remains the largest brick dome ever constructed.

Beautiful street art at the Piazza.

Dinner was at a small restaurant that Mario frequently visited. He recommended it to us because it was not touristy and the food was reasonably priced as most of their patrons were locals. Sadly, I've forgotten the name of this place :( It was hidden in some alley, not easy to find even with the map he drew for us. 

Tuscan soup v veggie n bread
Sliced chicken breast v salad

Sliced pork v potatoes. This was succulent and absolutely delicious.
We called it a night and went to bed early because we had to do quite a bit of traveling the next day.

The next morning we woke up at 6am and boarded the train to Montevarchi. I was thrilled, reason being that we were heading to Prada (Space) outlet to fulfill my desire for bags!! My hubby, on the other hand, was feeling meh >.< (Probably worried that my shopping would cost him a bomb. Haha.) Once we arrived at Montevarchi, we saw many taxis waiting outside with the “SPACE” sign. One of the van drivers approached us, said there were 2 spaces left and asked if we wanted to share the ride. We agreed and hopped on, sharing the fare with the other 4 peeps. NOTE: Before you exit the taxi and embark on a mad shopping frenzy at the outlet, make sure to grab the taxi driver’s business card and tell him what time you would like to be picked up. DO NOT FORGET TO DO THIS! Some taxi drivers will make you pre-pay. Unfortunately we made this mistake and it was no fun trying to use the pay phone and scrambling for a taxi. Feeling stranded, frantic and frustrated, we were almost in tears when we saw a couple arriving on a taxi, which then took us back to the station.

The first thing we had to do was take a number from a number dispenser outside the building. There were some pretty serious shoppers at that time we were there. One even brought along an empty luggage bag to store her loots. No joke. After entering store, you must hold on to your number. If you want to buy anything, the salesperson will take your potential purchases to the cashier and they can only be claimed by showing your number. We spent nearly an hour there and left with few new bags and a pair of shoes. WHEE!! 

 People usually line up before the opening time, so it is best to go early to increase your chances of getting the item you want as the popular items will be available in limited quantities.

As the time we had was limited, we couldn't go to the other outlet, 'The Mall', which was on the opposite side of the town. The Mall houses outlets for: Gucci (Fyi, Florence is the city that spawned Gucci :D), Balenciaga, Bottega Veneta, Burberry, Emilio Pucci, Ermenegildo Zegna, Fendi, Giorgio Armani, Salvatore Ferragamo, Yves Satin Laurent and many more.

From Montevarchi station, we took a train to Pisa Centrale, just to see the Leaning Tower. The journey took about an hour and forty minutes and walking to the tower took another about half an hour. 

Palazzo della Carovana. Housing the main building of the Scuola Normale Superiore di Pisa - a public higher learning institution

Stalls selling arts and crafts along the way
Stalls selling arts and crafts along the way

Piazza del Duomo (Cathedral Square), also known as The Piazza dei Miracoli (Square of Miracles),
 is a wide walled area located to the north of the old town center in Pisa. Standing in a large green expanse, Piazza del Duomo houses the four masterpieces of medieval architecture – Duomo ( the Cathedral), the Baptistry, the Campanile (the 'Leaning Tower') and the Campo Santo (the monumental cemetery). The whole square was declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1987.

Piazza del Duomo, Pisa
The Leaning Tower of Pisa - the campanile, or freestanding bell tower, known worldwide for its unintended tilt.
Cattedrale di Pisa
The Baptistry
That concluded our trip to Florence and Pisa. Headed back to Florence from Pisa, packed our bags and departed for Rome :)

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