Last Day in Rome

Since it was our last day in Italy, we finally allowed ourselves to have a lazy morning before heading off to have a look at the Protestant Cemetery.

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Things we saw on our way to the Protestant Cemetery

On the way to the cemetery, we spotted two ancient Roman temples, so we stopped to take some photos.

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The Pyramid of Cestius

The first thing we saw as we approached the Protestant Cemetery was the large white pyramid of Gaius Cestius. The cemetery itself was really beautiful inside the walls and we spent quite a bit of time wandering around looking at the elaborate headstones.

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Inside the Protestant Cemetery

My main reason for wanting to visit the cemetery was to see the graves of the English poets,  Keats and Shelley, who both died before they were 30 years old.

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The headstones of John Keats and his friend Joseph Severn

John Keats suffered from tuberculosis and traveled from London to Rome for the warmer climate. The house that he lived in is located next to the Spanish Steps. The combination of his disease and bad medical treatment led to Keats’ death in 1821 when he was only 25. His headstone has no name on it because Keats requested it to be that way. The headstone next to Keats is that of Joseph Severn who moved from England to Rome with Keats and helped to look after him until he died.

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This epitaph to Keats was also on a wall near his headstone

Shelley died a year later in 1822 at age 29 when he drowned in a storm near the Gulf of La Spezia. Apparently his body was found with a book of Keats’ poetry in his pocket. His ashes were buried in the Protestant Cemetery and his headstone has a quote from Shakespeare’s play, The Tempest, which alludes to his death at sea.

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The headstone of Percy Bysshe Shelley

Like Keats, Shelley also has a good friend buried beside him, Edward John Trelawny, who helped in identifying Shelley’s body, arranging the cremation and funeral, and also purchasing the grave site where he and Shelley are now buried. It is said that during the cremation, Trelawny removed Shelley’s heart from the pyre and gave it to his widow, Mary Shelley. After Mary died, the heart was supposedly found in her desk drawer wrapped in a page of Shelley’s poetry and later buried in England with their son, Percy Florence Shelley. However, various details of this story have been debated, including whether the specified organ was actually a liver, not a heart.

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The headstone of Edward John Trelawny

There is also a cat sanctuary inside the cemetery, so the visit was made all the more interesting because of the many cats relaxing on and between the graves. I really admire the way Rome takes care of its cats.

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Cats relaxing in the Protestant Cemetery

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After that we bought some pizza from a small place we went past where they weigh what you choose. Cost us 5 euro for a box of pizza with three different flavours and it was the best pizza I’ve had. We ate beside the Colosseum while watching the many hawkers selling their wares.

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Our last glimpse of the Colosseum while eating lunch

We were in Rome on the day of the Feast of the Immaculate Conception which is a public holiday there, so many roads were closed and there were tourists and locals everywhere. We walked down the Via dei Fori Imperiali near the Colosseum which was lined with buskers and had a really awesome atmosphere. Along the way we stopped to look at the forums of Augustus, Trajan and Caesar.

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Foot traffic on the Via dei Fori Imperiali

We headed to the Piazza Mignanelli to see if we could spot the Pope, who was to lay a wreath at the Madonna statue. On the way, we were passed by 6 police vans headed to some protest. It seems there were quite a few protests while we were there. We also bought some gelati on the way which was a lot harder on a public holiday, with the store being so crowded and us not being used to the system of paying first and then picking the flavours you want. It does make sense though, at least you can enjoy your ice cream straight away, rather than having it sit there melting while you’re trying to dig around for the right change!

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Italian police at the protest

The streets were so crowded that we had no chance of getting anywhere near the statue where the Pope was to appear. Waves of people were trying to get to a good viewing spot and at one point a car tried to drive through the already packed street and as everyone moved to make room when there was really no room to move, I felt quite crushed and claustrophobic. There was no way we could turn around, so we just had to go along with the wave of the crowd until we could find a place to exit. We ended up lining one of the streets that the Pope was to drive down after the wreath laying, as the crowds were way too big for us to get anywhere near the main event. Eventually we heard a massive cheer and were passed by a black car in which we saw a brief glimpse of the Pope.

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Crowds pushing through the streets to get close to the Pope

That being done, we headed back home to have dinner in the osteria below our apartment. The pasta there was amazing (unfortunately we were too hungry to take photos of it), and we enjoyed watching two ladies rolling out the pasta dough on their work space next to us as we ate.

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Other headstones in the Protestant Cemetery

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Last Days in Rome Part 2

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Cleaning up the coins in the Trevi Fountain

Our second to last day in Rome involved a lot more walking around. First up, we passed the Trevi Fountain again and stopped to watch the workers vacuuming up all the coins.

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Spanish Steps

Then we headed to the Spanish Steps, which we didn’t find overly impressive and there were too many tourists around at the bottom, so we didn’t stay long before continuing along to the Piazza del Popolo.

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Piazza del Popolo

The obelisk located in the Piazza del Popolo was also found in the Circus Maximus after being brought to Rome from Egypt during the reign of Emperor Augustus.

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Fountain in the Piazza del Popolo

 

Next, we climbed up to the Pincian Hill and enjoyed the views from the lookout point there, before wandering through the Pincian Gardens.

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View of the Piazza del Popolo from the Pincian Hill

While wandering around the gardens, we came across some sort of water clock, which was good to look at.

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The Water Clock

Then we headed over a bridge and walked into the Villa Borghese Gardens where we found the most beautiful fountain and monument in the middle of a lake. There were kayaks for hire, but we were too cold to give it a try.

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Instead, we walked around the lake and watched the ducks frolicking in the water. The area was so peaceful and beautiful, I could have sat there mesmerised all day!

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After strolling past the Villa Borghese we headed off to buy some gelati and explore Trastevere on the other side of the Tiber.

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Crossing the Tiber

We walked across the Ponte Sisto bridge and then upward to the Piazza Garibaldi in Trastevere to watch the sunset over Rome.

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View of Rome from Piazza Garibaldi

 

We had fun messing around taking photos of the sunset before wandering back down around Trastevere, which was so lovely at night with stalls and Christmas lights. Unfortunately, we were too caught up in looking around to take many photos.

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Wandering the streets of Trastevere

We headed back across the Ponte Garibaldi and took some photos of the Tiber Island on the way back.

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The Tiber Island at night

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Last Days in Rome

Before we flew out from Italy, we had a few days back in Rome and spent some more time exploring.

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Largo di Torre Argentina

The first thing we visited was the Largo di Torre Argentina, the place where Caesar was supposedly assassinated. We saw quite a few cats roaming around and discovered a cat shelter right next to the ruins, so of course I had to go inside. The healthy cats are able to come and go, but cats that need extra care are kept in a gated area. I spent quite some time (my husband would say too much time), cuddling these beautiful cats. We heard some of the stories of the cats, one was brought there in an emaciated condition by a little boy because he could no longer feed it, another had a constant sneeze, some had ear conditions, some had eye conditions, but they were all beautiful and so loving. I made the mistake of squatting down, and immediately I had a cat on my knee burying his head into me and refusing to let go. I wished I could have taken one of them home with me. While patting the cats and chatting with the volunteers, I found out that one of the ladies there was planning to move to the same rural city that I live in after she finished her time in Italy! It really is a small world.

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Cuddling one of the special needs cats

Next, we visited the Pantheon, which was impressive, but crowded. There are a few tombs in there, including that of Raphael and also Vittorio Emanuelle II and his son Umberto I. Although we went inside during the day, I particularly enjoyed the sight of the Pantheon at night, but then again, I enjoyed everything at night in Rome.

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The Pantheon at night

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Another angle of the Pantheon at night

 

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Inside the Pantheon

Our apartment was very close to the Campo di Fiori which was filled with markets in the morning, filled with rubbish and pigeons from the markets in the early afternoon, and then spotless and surrounded with charming restaurants in the evening. Quite a transformation!

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Statue in the Campo di Fiori

We also saw Piazza Navona at night, which was so pretty. The Fountain of Four Rivers was beautiful. The atmosphere was so lovely, with buskers and a merry-go-round next to some sideshow stalls and vendors selling freshly roasted hazelnuts.

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Piazza Navona

Next up was the Trevi Fountain, which was beautiful but crowded. Touristy things aren’t really my thing, so we spent a little bit of time taking photos, watched people throwing coins with their backs to the fountain and saw a police officer chasing one of the hawkers away for some reason.

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The Trevi Fountain

There were quite a few hawkers at the fountain, mainly the rose sellers and guys walking around with Polaroid cameras offering to take your photo for money. These same guys would also offer to take a photo of you using your own camera/phone and then demand money for it.

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Trajan’s Column

We managed to stumble across Trajan’s Column while wandering around Rome at night. Apparently we had walked past it at least 6 times during our first stay in Rome and never looked in that direction to notice it. Neither of us could figure out how we missed such a massive structure that many times!

 

 

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Love Yourself

So I tried making some background music to go with another poem I wrote called ‘Love Yourself’.

I used a free online program called Looplabs that contains a library of royalty-free sounds that you can put together.

It’s my first try so hopefully I can get better from here!

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Florence Duomo and Surrounds

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Florence Duomo, Bell Tower, and Baptistry

We decided to spend our last day in Florence actually seeing some things around Florence, so we bought a 15 euro ticket that combined the Cathedral, Brunelleschi’s Dome, Baptistry, Giotto’s Campanile (Bell Tower), Crypt, and Il Grande Museo del Duomo (The Great Museum of the Duomo).

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Climbing inside Giotto’s Bell Tower

We climbed Giotto’s Bell Tower first, which was 414 steps, not that I counted. It was quite a climb, but had a few flat levels where people could stop for a rest. The views from the roof area were great, and it was a good spot to look at Brunelleschi’s Dome. We stayed up there for about half an hour before heading to the museum.

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View of the Duomo from part way up Giotto’s Bell Tower

The museum took us an hour to get through and was quite good. There were lots of statues and pieces in there that came from the Bell Tower, Duomo and Baptistery, such as the original doors and silver altar from the Baptistery. Basically everything in there relates to the Duomo and the surrounding buildings, so it was pretty relevant.

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Inside Il Grande Museo del Duomo

Next we headed to Brunelleschi’s Dome and climbed that. The stairs were quite narrow, so we had to do a few awkward shuffles when we met with people coming back down. There were some pretty steep parts, so it made for a pretty enjoyable climb if you like that sort of thing. Unlike the Bell Tower, which was completely caged in at the top, the Dome had great unobstructed views, with only a low fence around it, so it was a better place to take clear photos.

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Some of the stairs inside Brunelleschi’s Dome

It is interesting to think that the Cathedral was left without a dome for many years because nobody could think of a way to build a dome that large, until good old Brunelleschi came along.

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View of Florence from Brunelleschi’s Dome

We stayed up there for about an hour, picking out different places we’d seen around Florence, such as the Piazza della Repubblica, the Palazzo Vecchio (which was originally called the Palazzo della Signoria). Apparently, Cosimo de’ Medici was once imprisoned inside the palace tower facing death, but he survived and around 100 years later the Medici family moved to the Palazzo della Signoria, where they lived until they relocated to the Pitti Palace and renamed their old palace the Palazzo Vecchio.  The square next to it is still called the Piazza della Signoria and has been the center of many important political events in Florentine history. For example, Michelangelo’s David was placed outside the Palazzo Vecchio and has been viewed by many as a political symbol. Apparently it was attacked at least twice by rioters, and its arm was broken during one riot against the Medici Family returning to Florence.

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The Baptistery

On our way back down from Brunelleschi’s Dome, we faced another wave of people coming up, so we had to keep pausing at the narrowest of spaces to let people go past us. We then headed to the Baptistery for a quick look at it’s shiny and impressive interior.

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The dome inside the Baptistery

Next, we looked inside the Cathedral itself, which was quite plain in general, but the painted scenes on the inside of Brunelleschi’s Dome were amazing. I found it more interesting than the Sistine Chapel.

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The relatively plain interior of the Duomo

 

Lastly, we headed down inside the Cathedral to the underground crypt and looked at some ruins of an old basilica, ancient flooring, and various gravestones.

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Painted scenes on the inside of Brunelleschi’s Dome

We finished off our last day in Florence by taking some dinner up to the Piazzale Michelangelo where we sat and listened to the buskers while watching the sun go down. I just sat there enjoying (while my husband took a million photos) for a few hours. It was such a beautiful place. On our way home, we stopped by the Christmas Markets one last time to buy dessert before heading back to our apartment.

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One of the meals we ate at the Chrismas Markets on a previous night in Florence

Florence was amazing and I was so sad to leave. As in other places in Italy, we did come across various people trying to sell you things. The main one in Florence was people approaching us, starting a conversation and then trying to offer us a present from Africa. At first we were too polite because we didn’t want to offend them, but we soon learned to just say a firm no to any attempt at conversation and keep walking. Once when one of them was talking to us, another man walked past saying ‘polizia, polizia’, which caused the one talking to us to leave us alone. Another scam we came across was people walking around in costume asking you to take a photo with them and then hassling you for money. We had one couple physically grab hold of me and refuse to let go until my husband took a photo, and then demand money. Too bad for them, we didn’t have any cash on us at that point, so we couldn’t have paid them even if we wanted to! However, these little annoyances were just part of the experience and didn’t really stop us from enjoying beautiful Florence.

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Unedited photo of the sunset from Piazzale Michelangelo

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Florence – Uffizi Gallery, Pitti Palace and Boboli Gardens

 

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Looking at cars while we waited to get into the Uffizi gallery

We decided to tackle the Uffizi Gallery on the first Sunday of the month since museum entry was free. As expected, the line was quite long when we got there. The hold up was mainly the security checks that everyone has to go through to get into any tourist attractions in Italy now. By this point we were so used to seeing the polizia, Carabinieri and Italian Army everywhere that it was more disconcerting if we went somewhere and they weren’t around! We waited about half an hour to get in, but we weren’t too bored because they were setting up some car/bike display outside the gallery.

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Inside the Uffizi Gallery

We had an audio tour on our phones and spent about two hours wandering around the Uffizi Gallery before heading off across the Ponte Vecchio to visit the Pitti Palace. We were happy with our decision to visit the Ufizzi Gallery and the Pitti Palace on the same day, since the Uffizi Gallery contains many pieces of artwork gathered by the Medici family, who also owned the Pitti Palace, so it was good to be able to connect the two.

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View of the Ponte Vecchio from the Uffizi Gallery

The Pitti Palace was commissioned by a banker named Luca Pitti, but later sold to Eleonora di Toledo who was the wife of Cosimo I de’ Medici, the first Grand Duke of Tuscany. The Medici family were initially bankers, but became very powerful. Some of them became popes and queens as well as the family being rulers of Florence. The Medici were the ones who built the Vasari Corridor, the walkway above the Ponte Vecchio that connects the Pitti Palace to the Palazzo Vecchio where the Medici family lived and ran the government before moving to the Pitti Palace.

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View of the Arno from the Ponte Vecchio

The Medici family also had a large part in a lot of the Florentine art created during their reign, being patrons to artists such as Botticelli and Michelangelo. The Pitti Palace was quite interesting. There were some pretty magnificent paintings and sculptures on walls and ceilings. One roof had sculptures of men in chains sitting around the sides with their legs dangling down. Another had sculptured people with their arms extended as though they were holding up the roof. It was all quite imaginative and impressive.

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One of the ceilings inside the Pitti Palace

The Boboli Gardens outside were so large and well kept. They were a great mix of green grass, tall maze like neatly trimmed hedges to walk through, hills to walk up and see views and ponds to relax around. I could imagine the rich men and women spending the afternoon wandering around and finding quiet places to talk and rest.

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View of the Pitti Palace from the Boboli Gardens

The walk was uphill and very pretty. It’s hard to imagine one family owning so much while there were so many poor people around them. Even for the Medici family those times must have been tough though. They seemed to have often been in power struggles with other families and often faced the threat of losing their power, even being exiled from Florence more than once.

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Part of the Boboli Gardens

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Siena and San Gimignano

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Walking into the Piazza del Campo at Siena

We decided to make a day trip from Florence using public transport to see both the city of Siena and the town of San Gimignano in one day. We visited Siena first. There was a lovely Christmas market set up in the main square, so we spent a bit of time walking around trying different cheeses and looking at the various things being sold.

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View of the Piazza del Campo and Torre del Mangia

 

After spending some time and money at the markets (only on food of course), we headed to the Torre del Mangia. This tower had a fair few steps to climb, I didn’t count, but heard there were around 400. The views were definitely worth it though!

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Looking up through the stairs in the Torre del Mangia

There weren’t many other people climbing the tower at the same time as us, which was good because there were some tight spots on the way up that I imagine would have been difficult to maneuver around if there were others coming back down. As we got closer to the top, the stairs were quite dirty with bird droppings, so we had to climb without touching anything. There was a landing with quite high walls that we had to peer over to see out, and then there was an even higher small platform at the top that had a 15 minute time limit, although nobody seemed to be enforcing it, possibly because there weren’t many people climbing on the day. The top had a wooden floor and was quite cold and dirty, but the views were so good! Even after having climbed so many bell towers already during our time in Italy, the views just never cease to amaze.

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View from Siena’s tower

Next we headed to Siena’s huge cathedral. We initially weren’t going to go in, but the 8 euro ticket for the cathedral, crypt, baptistry, and museum seemed okay, so we went ahead and saw it all. First, we looked around the museum. which was interesting and had a nice lookout in the form of a flat walkway. Again, the lookout only had a 15 minute time limit, but we were able to stay for quite a bit longer.

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The outside of the Cathedral

Then we did the baptistry, crypt, and cathedral. The cathedral was impressive. It was definitely my favourite cathedral that we saw in Italy. The whole thing was just a work of art, both inside and out. I found that I got ‘church fatigue’ quite quickly when in Italy, but this cathedral was definitely worth seeing.

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Inside the Cathedral at Siena

After looking around Siena, we bought a bus ticked to San Gimignano. The driver of the bus didn’t speak English, so he called another driver over and told us to go with him. Apparently there were no direct buses, so the driver told us we would have to wait in Poggibonsi for an hour, but he would try to catch up with the other bus for us so we could do a direct changeover in an earlier town and not wait. So, we switched buses at some random town, with our driver getting out and pointing us to the right buse. Turns out, he had called the driver and asked him to wait for us. We couldn’t believe what a kind and helpful bus driver he was!

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Some of the towers in San Gimignano 

San Gimignano is a small town on a hill that is known for it’s many towers. The town certainly looked impressive from a distance. At one point in history, this town apparently had around 70 towers built by rich families to show off their wealth, because fancy cars didn’t exist back then. Of those many towers, about 14 towers are still standing. We wandered around a bit and took some photos before heading to the Torre Grossa. This tower was much easier to climb and a lot cleaner with a large solid platform at the top. We were allowed to take our backpacks up with us for once. The only difficult bit was a thin steep stairway at the top that had very little space for maneuvering.

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View from the Torre Grossa

The views from this tower were also lovely. Again our tickets had a 15 minute time limit, but we stayed at the top of the tower for around an hour and watched the sunset. Most of the time we had it to ourselves, so I guess the time limit is only really an issue during peak tourist times.

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From the top of the Torre Grossa

We stopped at the tourist office in San Gimignano and found out that the town was having a light show while we were there, so we stayed and enjoyed some gelati while wandering around and seeing the light shows in different locations around San Gimignano before catching the bus home.

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Part of the light show at San Gimignano

We did see a car accident while waiting for the bus in San Gimignano, where one driver hit the back of another car. They seemed to resolve it quite easily, both taking photos and driving off. The only thing was that the driver in the second car was in such a hurry to get out that he forgot to put the handbrake on and his car started rolling backwards and almost caused another accident! Luckily he managed to jump back in, stop the car and put an end to the night’s entertainment.

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San Gimignano at night

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The Lily – In Loving Memory on Mother’s Day

Mother’s day is a happy and joyful day, but I’m sure there are many people who find Mother’s day difficult. Generally I try to ignore all the Mother’s Day stuff going on around me, but this year I decided to write a poem for Mum and then I spent a little time on the piano to put some music with it.

I hope you’re all having a wonderful Mother’s Day weekend.

This poem is titled The Lily – for all of us who would love to give flowers to our Mum just one more time.

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Florence at First Glance

Our trip to Florence from Pisa was an easy one, but could have turned out quite differently. We didn’t book a train in advance, but arrived at the Pisa train station at 9:27am just in time for the 9:32am train to Florence. Luckily buying tickets is easy through the ticket machines, but then you have to validate them in these little green machines, which is also easy, but seems to take forever when you only have 5 minutes to do it all and then find the train. So we rushed to platform 8 and saw a train about to leave. As we were jumping on in our panic, I glanced at the board and it had a completely different place written on it! Apparently we were on platform 9 and thankfully avoided getting on a wrong train, which would have made for an interesting story, but wouldn’t have been so fun at the time.

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Florence at sunset

So we arrived in Florence and our host recommended we try a panino for lunch, which was basically a really delicious sandwich. The place that we went to always had long lines of people waiting to pick from the fresh meats, cheeses, and other items to go on their paninis. I know it seems crazy to rave over a sandwich, but the ingredients were amazing. We went back there a few times during our stay in Florence, which was good because we have not had anything like them since.

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Some of the panini fillings at the place we went for lunch

Florence was amazing, it was definitely one of the highlights of our trip to Italy. If I was to pick a place to live in Italy, it would be Florence, or somewhere around Tuscany. We spent 5 days there and would have stayed longer if we could. Not only was it a great base to visit other places in Tuscany, but Florence itself just blew me away and was the one place in Italy that I was really sad to leave.

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Florence at night

The Piazzale Michelangelo was amazing during the day and in the evening. The views and the atmosphere were just breathtaking. The Duomo in Florence was magnificent. I couldn’t help being awed by it every time we walked past. The night scenes in Florence were especially awesome.

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These buskers with their little wooden dancing puppet were awesome

The buskers around the famous landmarks, such as the Duomo and the Piazzale Michelangelo were particularly talented and really contributed to the enchanting ambience of the night. We stopped for ages beside the Duomo on the way back to our apartment to listen to a violin player and just soak up the atmosphere.

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Piazza della Repubblica at night

Since we were there near Christmas time, the streets and some of the buildings of Florence were beautifully lit. We also came across some interesting Christmas markets. We quite enjoyed wandering through the night markets, looking at the stalls and trying the food. Florence during the day was great, Florence at night was captivating. The whole place was just exceptional.

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Some Hungarian Chimney Cakes at the Christmas Markets

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Pisa and Lucca

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The Leaning Tower of Pisa

Since I’ve already seen so many photos of the Leaning Tower of Pisa, it didn’t come as a great surprise. The towers itself was actually smaller than I had imagined it to be based on the pictures I had seen, but it was still awesome to see it and climb it.

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The view from the top of the Tower of Pisa

In order to climb the tower, you have to go to a ticket office nearby and book a time to climb. Tickets are not cheap and they only allow a certain number of people up for a certain time period, although I don’t remember seeing anyone enforcing the time limit at the top. We could really feel the lean of the tower as we climbed, and found ourselves leaning against the wall on one side and then the other as we went around and up.

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View of the many people trying to hold up the tower

We enjoyed the view from the top, and amused ourselves watching the many people taking the typical ‘I’m holding up the Tower of Pisa with my hand’ photos. The first person to ever take that photo must feel pretty special.

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The Baptistery at Pisa

After that we visited the cathedral next to the tower. Then, since there wasn’t much else to do in Pisa, we caught the train to Lucca, an old walled city nearby.

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Lucca city walls with the moat at the bottom and tree lined pathway at the top

Lucca was very pretty. The historic center is surrounded by high walls with entry points at various locations around the walls. The walk along the top of the walls, especially the tree-lined pathway, was so beautiful. We had a bit of a walk around the city center and then caught the train back to Pisa to walk through the Christmas lit streets and visit the tower again in the dark.

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Pisa at night

After this we bought some amazing gelati from a place recommended to us by our host and walked along the Arno river at night.

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The Leaning Tower of Pisa at night

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