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Saturday 18 August 2007

CK Goes to Italy – Pisa

Whenever the name of Pisa is mentioned, everybody knows this university town through its landmark, the Leaning Tower of Pisa, which is also one of the 7 Wonders of the World before July 7, 2007 (07-07-07). This title has been dropped since the list of the 'New 7 Wonders of the World' was out through an online voting which generated 90 million votes. However, the Leaning Tower will never lose its fame thanks to its marvelous architecture and leaning.

The town of Pisa is about 50 km west of Florence. On May 20, 2006, I bought a train ticket at Stazione Firenze SMN, and the train left the station at 8:57 a.m. At 10:10 a.m., the train arrived at Stazione Pisa Centrale.

The first thing I did was walking into the Tourist Information Centre to get a map of the town and asked for the direction to the Leaning Tower. When I have the route figured out, I hit on the streets of Pisa right away.

Walking through the streets of Pisa was a very pleasant experience for me with all the multi-coloured buildings and signboards.

When I walked along the corridors of these buildings, I came across some views through the arched walkway with a hive of activities.

While I was reading the map to look for the direction to Piazza dei Miracoli, this construction worker showed me the direction. He was so willing that the posed for me as the Leaning Tower. I would like to call him the Leaning Hunk of Pisa!

A few steps ahead stands the road sign pointing the way to Piazza del Duomo. It doesn't matter whether it's Piazza dei Miracoli, Campo dei Miracoli or Piazza del Duomo, it means the same place anyway.

I have finally arrived at one of the most beautiful squares in Europe! From where I came from, this white wall of the Camposanto (Cemetery) was on my right.

When I went round the square, I could see the Duomo (Cathedral) with the Torre Pendente (Bell Tower). Only then I knew that the Leaning Tower was actually built as the bell tower for the Cathedral. The Cathedral had been overshadowed since the imperfection of its bell tower had occurred.

How could I leave this place without a self-portrait? Haha! Oh gosh! I didn't realise that the Italian sun had 'baked' me to such tan.

Walking further east of Piazza dei Miracoli, I now have all the three Romanesque buildings set among the sprawling lawns of the square. The Battistero (Baptistry), Duomo and Torre Pendente.

I could only see how much the Torre Pendente has leaned out of position by comparison to the neighbouring building.

I wonder when the tower will collapse completely! Haha, just kidding. The foundation of the Leaning Tower had been retrofitted recently, and according to the monitoring, the tower will remain stable for a while, and continue to lean for another 100 years before it needs another retrofitting.

Do you notice that the trees on the far left are also slanted? Have you ever wondered why all the trees want to be leaning also? Haha! Interesting, isn't it?

The slanting tower looks a bit worrying, but it is still safe for people to climb to the top, with a limited number at a time, of course!

Will I be able to make it to the top? Well, I've got the ticket and could not put it to waste!

I was already half way up the tower, but I've got to rest for a while. While resting, why not I appreciate these columns of Romanesque architecture first?

The bell is hung somewhere near to the top of the tower. Hurray, I was just a few steps away from reaching the top!

The effort of climbing the tower was not wasted with this spectacular aerial view of the Pisa town covered with brown-tiled roofs.

In fact I could see the same spectacular views in any direction on top of the tower. It was really a one-in-a-life-time experience for me!

I did not forget to take a shot of the Duomo and Battistero when I was half way up the tower.

When I was on top, I could see that the Duomo's layout is actually a cross.

Soon after I was down from the Leaning Tower, I entered the Duomo to see how it looks inside. It is as beautiful as it looks from the outside.

The dome of the vault of the main altar is painted with a very nice portrait of Christ flanked by two angels.

The Duomo is also lined with a series of tinted-glass windows depicting the bible stories.

After I was satisfied with my browsing of the interior of the Duomo, I started to inspect the Battistero in detail.

When I mean detail, I mean capturing the detail of the building. The cylindrical Battistero has a lot of carvings around its perimeter.

I left Piazza dei Miracoli for the train station by walking south along Via Roma. When I was on Ponte Solferino, I spotted a very interesting Gothic church, Chiesa di Santa Maria della Spina, along the River Arno.

Again, I was having a closer inspection of the church to see the details.

Being satisfied with what I've seen in a day in Pisa, I walked southbound along Via F Crispi to Stazione Pisa Centrale for the train back to Florence. :)

If you would like to read my other posts on Italy, these are the links:

Friday 17 August 2007

CK Goes to Italy – Fiesole

Fiesole is a small town at the outskirt of Florence. It is located on hills at about 8 km northeast of Florence.

On the 22nd of May, 2006, I took the ATAF bus No. 7 from the Stazione di Santa Maria Novella in Florence at 9:22 a.m. bound for Fiesole. Thirty minutes later, I was already at the Fiesole terminal station.

This small town went into my itinerary because of the viewpoint which offers the five-star panorama of Florence according to my Lonely Planet travel guide, so it gotta be good. Getting to the viewpoint was not so easy for me as I need to walk up the steep Via S Francesco. However, the walk was quite pleasant with posh restaurants along the way.

The spread of flowers at one of the restaurants are so colourful that I have forgotten about the hassles in climbing the steep and winding street.

This restaurant has another creative way of arranging the plants to attract patronage.

Sighting of this tree marked my arrival at the viewpoint. There were not many people around, so I could have a large territory of the viewpoint to myself.

All the hard work of climbing the steep street really pays off with this view of the olive groves and valleys, not to mention the spectacular city of Florence below.

By zooming in, I could recognise the two landmarks of Florence. On the left is the Palazzo Vecchio with its bell tower soaring higher than the other towers. The brown-tiled dome of the Duomo on the right is unmistakable.

This is another view that I could see from the viewpoint, but I know the name of the place with that turquoise blue dome. Anyway, just enjoy the view, hehe!

It's not just the view of the city of Florence below that I could see from this viewpoint, there is also nice view of the olive groves in Fiesole itself.

Continuing further up the steep street led me to this church at the very top of the hill.

Satisfied with my hiking up the hill and all the nice scenes that I could see from there, I came down to the main street of this small town.

Being tired and thirsty, I ordered this fruit punch of strawberry, pear and tangerine to quench my thirst.

And to replenish my energy for the day, I requested the waiter to send me this pizza with tuna and olives.

Being satisfied with a nice drinks and a good pizza, I walked slowly to the bus terminal to catch a bus back to Florence.

If you would like to read my other posts on Italy, these are the links:

Thursday 16 August 2007

CK Goes to Italy – Florence (Firenze)

Florence is not only a beautiful city along the River Arno, it's filled with art, culture and history too. Bearing the title of Cradle of the Renaissance, the streets of Florence is really an open gallery which is an eye-opening experience to me. This city was home to Michelangelo too.

On May 17, 2006, 8:30 a.m., I boarded the Eurostar train at the Roma Termini train station bound for Florence. At about 10:00 a.m., the train arrived at the Stazione di Santa Maria Novella train station in Florence. The hotel that I had booked, Hotel Sempione, was just within walking distance but it took me quite a while to find it. I'd made the right choice of hotel as the room is extremely clean and cozy.

After I had unloaded my luggage at the hotel and got myself refreshed, I hit on the streets of Florence without wasting any time. The very first things I saw were all these merchandises, i.e., leather sandals, scarfs and leather jackets.

There were also beaded handbags and T-shirts with twisted humour.

When I spotted this gelato outlet, guess what I did? Stepped in and came out with a cone in my hand, of course!

There were plenty of street artists along the streets of Florence. Some were even selling their recorded music on CDs. Amazing, huh!

When it comes to lunchtime, how could I miss the most authentic Italian food? This is the best pizza I have ever had! The crispy and crunchy crust topped with fresh tomato paste, mozzarella cheese and tuna, garnished with onions, is simply superb!

After filling the stomach, I should be full with energy to show you around Florence. This is the front facade of the Basilica di San Lorenzo which looks like uncompleted but beautiful with its form. In front of this basilica is the Piazza San Lorenzo.

When I walked to the right side of the church, the shapes of cube and hemisphere formed a very interesting view for me to capture a shot.

Walking further through the intertwined streets of Florence brought me to Piazza del Duomo. The Duomo with tiered pink, white and green facade stood proudly in front of this square. In front of the Duomo is the Romanesque baptistry (shown in the lower right quadrant of the photo below).

The brown-tiled dome of the Duomo soaring high above the crowded streets can be seen from many parts of Florence.

Climbing more than 400 steps (was it 436?) up the Duomo brought me to the top of the dome where I can have a spectacular panoramic view of the city of Florence.

These are the views when I was inside the Duomo.

On the next day, I visited the Museo dell'Opera del Duomo where old scriptures showing the appearance of the Duomo then is displayed. A sculpture by Michelangelo with the title Pietà is also on display in this museum. This sculpture was in fact prepared for his own tomb but he was not satisfied with it, so he broke the arm and left leg of Christ. They were restored later by one of Michelangelo's student.

Cappelle Medicee is just within walking distance from Museo dell'Opera del Duomo. Inside this museum, there is this Cappella dei Principi (Princes' Chapel) with a dome of colourful paintings (top two quadrants of the photo below). This was a burial place of the Medici rulers. Further in to the museum is the Sagrestia Nuova where the sculptures of Night and Day and Dawn and Dusk by Michelangelo can be found (bottom two quadrants of the photo below).

Other than museums, there are plenty of palaces to explore in Florence. The photo below shows a banquet hall of Palazzo Medici Riccardi.

The courtyard of Palazzo Medici Riccardi is also very well maintained.

There are many churches around Florence as well. This Chiesa di Orsanmichele may look ordinary from the outside,

the inside is filled with beautiful decorations and paintings.

The photo below shows the sculptures on display at the Museo del Bargello inside the Palazzo del Bargello. The top left quadrant shows Giambologna's Mercurio Volante, whereas to its right is Donatello's David. The bottom left is Amore-Attis, also by Donatello, and the bottom right shows Michelangelo's Bacco.

Mercato Nuovo is an open gallery built in the 16-th century for the gold and silver trade. Today, it houses the souvenir and leather stalls.

The details of a column and the arches of Mercato Nuovo form an interesting subject for photography.

At the southern end of Mercato Nuovo is this Fontana del Porcellino (Piglet Fountain). According to the legend, rub the piglet's nose and slide a coin into the fountain through the piglet's mouth, you'll go to Florence again.

Loggia della Signoria, an open gallery of sculptures, is located at the Piazza della Signoria which is also surrounded by a vast number of sculptures. Shown on top left of the photo below is Benvenuto Cellini's Perseo (Perseus) who beheaded Medusa. On top right is Giambologna's final work, Rape of the Sabine Women.

On the other end of Piazza della Signoria stands Palazzo Vecchio with interesting curves of the arches.

Just outside of Palazzo Vecchio, I saw a duplicated copy of Michelangelo's David replacing the original copy which stood there.

On the other day, I went to Galleria dell'Accademia to look at the original David. The duplicated copy seems out of proportion as compared to the original. The museum guards kept on shouting: "No photos! No photos!", but nobody seems to care and kept on snapping, and that includes me, hehe!

A violin made by Antonio Stradivari is also on display at the wing housing the musical instruments.

I managed to pay a visit to the Galleria degli Uffizi which houses the spectacular treasures - Birth of Venus and Allegory of Spring by Botticelli, and Leornado Da Vinci's Annunciation. Priceless paintings by Michelangelo, Raphael and other Florence painters are also exhibited here. No photo-taking is allowed inside this gallery, so I took a shot of the interesting corridor.

Here are some artifacts found in Galleria degli Uffizi. On the left is a machine built based on Leornado Da Vinci's sketch and an old architectural drawing is shown on the right.

I have also been to Ponte Vecchio which spans across River Arno with houses built on the bridge.

This is another palace which I passed by in Florence, the Palazzo Strozzi.

Florence is really full of things to see and enjoy. It's one of my favourite among other Italian cities.

If you would like to read my other posts on Italy, these are the links:

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