It’s 170 miles from Rome to Florence, but thanks to Italy’s generally great train system, we got there in 90 minutes. (Boston to NYC should be so easy!)
Here’s how we spent our 8 hours…
Our first stop was the central market for some energy. Lots of meats, cheeses, dried mushrooms, veggies and wine – we chose a spinach and cheese calzone and some cantucci.
We headed to the Duomo, the main cathedral in Florence. Begun in 1296, this catherdral is the 3rd largest in the world. Florence was the birthplace of the Renaissance and this building is a major symbol of that era. The building is capped by Brunelleschi’s famous dome – the largest brick dome ever built.
The blocks between the Duomo and the Arno river are (mostly) car free and devoted to shopping, fun, dining and of course gelato. We enjoyed them all!
There are multiple bridges across the river, the most famous is the Ponte Vecchio. This bridge is lined with jewelry shops – the Medici family that ruled Florence and lived on the other side of the river decided that was an acceptable trade and displaced the butchers that were originally there. Even then, the Medici’s still had a passage built on top of all the shops so they didn’t have to mingle with the regular folks!
Just a block off the river, is the town square with the famous statue of David by Michelangelo (ok, its a copy…) and some other important artworks. And 6 cafes….and the Uffuzi gallery we visited many years ago.
After one of our best meals of the trip (ask Melanie about Nobile Soup!) it was back to the train station for our trip to Rome. A GREAT day for us!
Time to take a break from walking and rent some bikes for the day! We did an out and back ride on a section of the Appian Way – riding on 2300 year old cobble stones was a great journey back in time.
The Appian Way was constructed in 312BC by Appius Claudius to connect Rome and Capua, an ally city to the south. 132 miles built in only 1 year! It’s initial purpose was for moving military supplies, but was later extended to a port on the ’boot heel’ of Italy and used for trade with the eastern end of the Mediterranean.
Along the road, we saw buildings, monuments, villas, viaducts, catacombs and even a 10,000 seat ’circus’ used for chariot races. It’s a bit of a jumble of time periods, but a wonderful adventure. Use a road for 2300 years and you build up a bit of history!
Rain showers were forecast for the weekend, so we adjusted our schedule and drove 1-1/2 hours north from Syracusa along the eastern coast of Sicily to get some great views. For most of the drive, the mountain was filling our front windshield, at least till we started our hill climb to Rifugio Sapienza (1900 meters).
As we wound up the side of the mountain, we passed vinyards, orchards and farms as well as lava flows from past eruptions. And we got stuck in a sheep traffic jam!
The Rifugio is the access point for a cable car ride up to 2500 meters. From there, you can walk or take a 4×4 up to 2900 meters – that’s the current limit for visitors due to volcanic activity. The landscape from the Rifugio is mix of volcanic ash, lava flows, craters and a few bits of vegetation taking hold.
We hiked to several viewpoints and circumnavigated a small crater from a 2001 eruption. There’s still enough heat there to create steam from warm-to-the-touch rocks – 21 years later!
Two days later, we returned to Etna for a drive through the wine growing regions on the east and northern slopes. Clouds surrounded the top and there was thunder and lightning in the distance, but we only had 1/2 hour of rain and used that time to grab some lunch.
Our afternoon destination was a wine tasting at Pietrodolce, a very fine winery on the north slope. Their ultra-modern winery was constructed in 2009, but built in the middle of 50-100 year old vineyards. We got a tour of the operation, a walk through the vineyards and a chance to sample several of their delicious and pricey wines.
Tomorrow is our last day in Sicicly, then on to Rome!