Europe Trip – Italy – Through Tuscany and Umbria to Rome


We started our visit to Tuscany immediately with one of its centerpieces: Firenze or Florence. This city with its small medieval center and the Ponte Vecchio across the Arno River, is truly magnetic and unrivalled. It’s not only the cradle of the Renaissance, but also the home of Machiavelli, Michelangelo and the Medici. Visiting the old bridge, the central square but especially the magnificent and superb cathedral, are amongst the highlights of our visit.

We then headed westward to stop in beautiful and surprising Pisa. Not only is the Leaning Tower really leaning, but the real treats of the town are the magnificent and grand cathedral and the fantastical baptistery with almost everlasting echoes.

The walled and fortified city of Lucca with its excellent medieval center and round Piazza Anfiteatro, was our next stop and the ramparts, now  crowned with a tree-lined footpath and plenty of playgrounds, were fun to explore.

South again, in the direction of Siena, we stopped in San Gimignano and we were truly amazed. There, 15 towers, one taller than the other, make it look like medieval Manhattan. The only ones left of the original 72, they are witnesses of the way the rich families flaunted their wealth. It was an inspiring place with a great medieval town center, and a cathedral with vivid frescoes that resemble a vast medieval comic strip.

Siena, the great rival of Firenze, has a great sloping central piazza and the Palazzo Communale is a great centerpiece. Its Duomo or cathedral is one of Italy’s greatest gothic churches and the façade is full of white, green and red polychrome marble, while the inside has a unique inlaid marble floor decorated with 56 (!) panels depicting biblical subjects.

Overwhelmed with all this architectural and cultural greatness, we stopped at Lago Trasimeno, a drop-dead gorgeous and undeveloped lake in Umbria, to relax and slow down.

In Assisi, where we almost got stuck on a steep campground where it was almost impossible to turn around, we explored the well preserved medieval town as well as the pilgrimage site of Saint Francis of Assisi. The upper church or basilica is full of frescoes depicting Saint Francis’ life, while the bottom church contains more morbid paintings. What a place to feel the devotion of the followers and monks.

Orvieto, a town placed precariously on a cliff made of tufa stone, contains a cathedral where the façade is a visual feast of black-and-white banding, mosaics, sculptures and frescoes. It just makes your jaw drop and sit down to take it all in.

Ostia Antica, with preservation matching Pompei in places, is a an ancient Roman port town. Wandering through the almost complete Roman streets, toilets, bathhouses and other structures had something evocative and the Thermopolium is remarkably similar to our modern day McDonalds.

We went to a campsite 7 km out of Rome and Dimitri took the bicycle to explore it in one day, while the kids stayed with Shadae around the camper. Going from site to site on bicycle, surrounded by buses, taxis, scooters, and the little Piaggio’s, was an experience in itself. The town however, is a sheer treasure trove of churches, squares, ruins, and fountains and behind every corner, there is another architectural wonder to be explored. The Colosseum, Forum Romanum, Pantheon and Trevi fountain were but a few of the things visited that day (together with thousands of other tourists).

The less developed and completely different south of Italy was next on schedule.


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