Florence at Christmas time – December 2015

Duomo at Night

TreeFlorence, Italy is just a short trip from Lucca, so some friends and I decided to spend a full day there, enjoying the holiday festivities. The Duomo or main Cathedral in Florence is spectacular on a normal day, but it sparkles at night now with the large Christmas tree in front of it. I don’t know if I have ever seen anything so beautiful. There is also a large nativity scene in front of the cathedral as well (pictured at the bottom of this post).

The streets were all decorated with lights, and we were pleased to discover a few light shows throughout town as well. The one pictured below we just stumbled upon, but the big one is displayed on Ponte Vecchio. Don’t be fooled though. Just because it is the holiday season doesn’t mean that the light show will have a holiday theme. However, it is remarkable nonetheless and shows a deep appreciation for art. Pictures or videos just don’t do it justice. You have to experience it.

Lights

We managed to catch one of the last nights of the Christmas market in Piazza Santa Croce. It was a great place to try different holiday foods like Hungarian Chimney Cake and German Apple Strudel. You can wash it down with some mulled wine. When you have eaten all you can, then it is time to shop. There were so many unique gifts to be found there.

There is nothing like Christmas trees, lights and markets to put one in the holiday spirit. Buon Natale!

nativity

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ADVENTURES IN ITALY 2014 (January-March)

PISA, TOSCANA

Pisa

My husband and I spent the New Year in Pisa. He picked a hotel that was right next to the Duomo. The best part of this hotel was its rooftop terrace. We had the best views of the Duomo at sunset and came back out at midnight to watch the fireworks that brought in the New Year. It was amazing!

VENICE, VENETO

Venice at Night

My husband and I decided to spend Valentine’s Day in one of the most romantic cities incostume Italy….Venice. It just so happens that Valentine’s Day weekend also is the beginning of the famous Venetian Carnivale. Venice is always pretty crowded, but you could feel an air of excitement at the beginning of Carnivale. Late in the day, people started promenading in their elaborate costumes. I heard from a local that some individuals spend all year preparing their costumes for Carnivale. Every costume we saw was amazing with a focus on dramatic headpieces covered in lace and sequence.

Gondola

VIAREGGIO, TOSCANA

Viareggio Carnivale

Viareggio also does a big celebration for Carnivale. We had heard about the giant parades, so we decided to check it out while we had a friend visiting. This parade had the most elaborate floats I had ever seen in my life (one such float is pictured here). Plus, I have never in my life had so much fun throwing confetti.

FLORENCE, TOSCANA

Overview of Florence

Florence is still my favorite place to visit in Italy. Last year I explored the Duomo, the Museo Nazionale del Bargello, & Santa Croce. So far this year, I have also explored two additional museums: the Uffizi Galleria (home of many amazing Botticeli paintings including Venus di Milo) and the Galleria dell’Accademia (home of the original David statue by Michelangelo). I have also hiked up to the Piazzale Michelangelo, which displays the best views of Florence (pictured above). You can read more about things we do in Florence on the blog post America Day.

VINCI, TOSCANA

Vinci

Vinci, as you can tell by the name, is the town of Leonardo DaVinci’s birth. It is a very small town in the heart of Chianti land. There you see a large statue of DaVinci’s Vitruvian Man, a library dedicated to his studies and work, and the chapel where he was baptized. Nearby are many small boutique wineries that provide you with delicious Chianti wines and fresh olive oil.

LUCCA, TOSCANA

Villa T

Outside the center of Lucca, and not within walking distance, is the Villa Torrigiani. The grounds are extensive and manicured in the English garden style. While the family still occupies the upper floors of the villa, they allow visitors to tour the ground floor.

BORGO A MOZZANO, TOSCANA

Devil's Bridge

On our drive to visit Barga (just outside Lucca), we stopped to walk over Ponte del Diavolo (Devil’s Bridge) in Borgo a Mozzano on the Serchio River.

BARGA, TOSCANA

Barga

This tiny town is just a 30-minute drive from Lucca. You park as soon as you arrive in Barga. Inside the city center the streets are more like tiny alleyways that would not accommodate most vehicles. All houses are so compact. The Duomo in Barga is worth the climb if for no other reason than the extensive views of the mountains just to the north of Barga.

 

AMERICA DAY IN ITALY – April 2014

After more than seven months living in Italy, I was craving a little taste of the USA. My husband and I didn’t have to go far. I got to have my America Day in Florence.

The day started with a stop at The Paperback Exchange near the Duomo. I am a huge fan of books, but Italy has been hard on my book collecting habit. I do have a small Italian book collection started, but it has been difficult to find affordable English language books. I am not spending 25 Euros for one book at the local Libreria. The Paperback Exchange was a great find. It provides new and used English books from art, history, and politics to classic fiction and new bestsellers for more affordable prices. (I recommend not doing the bookstore first, because in our experience, then you have to carry lots of books around Florence with you.) I managed to find a large bag full for just around 20 Euros.

We ate lunch at The Diner near the Museo Nazionale del Bargello. The Diner provides you with an American style breakfast or burgers. Cheddar cheese has been hard to find here in Italy, but The Diner has it, so I highly recommend having either a cheddar burger or cheddar omelette. You can also have a classic milkshake there too. I got the Oreo milkshake. It was delicious of course. They do American coffee too. The biggest difference in American coffee is the size. The Diner serves the coffee in the largest coffee mug ever.

I am a huge movie fan. However, Lucca, Italy (where we live) does not show movies in their original sound. While my Italian has improved, I don’t think I would get much out of new movies that are dubbed over in Italian. In Florence, there is a theater called Cinema Odeon that shows American movies in their original sound. They include Italian subtitles, which was helpful in continuing to learn more of the Italian language. The Odeon also has a bar attached so that you can have wine or beer during the movie. Our America Day would not have been complete without seeing the new Captain America movie.

It was a perfect America Day!

ITALY (2013)

Since I moved to Lucca, Italy in August, I have explored some areas of Italy. Here is a summary of some of the places I have gone in 2013.

LUCCA, TOSCANA

Lucca

As Lucca is now my hometown, I have explored most of it by this point. Some highlights would include the 500 year old walls that surround the city center, San Michele Cathedral, the Duomo, Tower Guinigi, and Piazza Napoleone. It was also the home of the famous opera composer, Giacomo Puccini.

VIARREGIO, TOSCANA

Viarregio

For a brief reprieve in the summer months, many Italians in the Tuscany region go to the beach town of Viareggio. It is only a 30 minute bus ride from Lucca. There are free beaches, but my husband and I prefer one that we have to pay a fee for. It is an affordable fee and includes your own spot with umbrellas on the beach, a separate private pool, wi-fi, clean restrooms and will lock up your belongings while you swim. My husband and I found that if you go early in the morning, the beach is not crowded at all.

MONTECARLO, TOSCANA

Montecarlo

I visited Montecarlo for the wine festival in September. Montecarlo has some of the best wine in the region in my opinion.

PISTOIA, TOSCANA

Pistoia Piazza

I visited Pistoia in September when it was still tourist season in Lucca. I found Pistoia was similar to Lucca as it was another small Tuscan town. However, it was void of the crowds of tourists, so I enjoyed the peacefulness I found there.

PORTO VENERE, LIGURIA

portovenere

Porto Venere is located next to the popular coastal area of Cinque Terre. You can take a ferry from La Spezia to get to Porto Venere. The famous poet, Lord Byron, found this town inspirational. It is no wonder why. This town is very beautiful! We went in October. The weather was perfect!

FLORENCE, TOSCANA

Florence Duomo

As far as popular tourist cities in Italy, Florence (Firenze) is at the top of the list with Rome, Venice, and Pisa. I have been to all the other big cities in Italy but had never been to Florence. Florence is my favorite big city for sure. It is an hour and a half train ride from Lucca. Florence statueIn just one day, my husband and I were able to visit the Duomo, Bargello (Museo Nazionale – best known for housing Donatello’s “David” statue), Palazzo Vecchio, Ponte Vecchio (famous bridge over the Arno River that survived World War II), San Lorenzo market, and Santa Croce (houses the tombs of famous Italians including Michelangelo, Galileo, Machiavelli, Rossini, and more). You do not need reservations to see any of those sites. During tourist season you will have to make reservations to see Uffizi Gallery and the Galleria dell’ Academia, which houses Michelangelo’s “David.” I haven’t seen either of those galleries yet but will make it there next year. Florence has provoked a delight in statues that I never had before.

Ponte Vecchio