Explore Florence…

Florence, Italy

Florence, Italy

Florence, Italy is by far my favorite place in the world!!! It is an absolute dream city that you could walk around for days and just get lost in it all. I have had the pleasure of visiting Florence twice and would love to return and spend a whole week walking around all of the museums, monuments, cathedrals, art galleries, boutiques and restaurants. Since it is a non-drive zone, it really has the feel of going back in time with the narrow streets, cobblestone sidewalks and carriages passing by. The pictures are absolutely inviting but Florence is a place that you must see for yourself. You will be in awe of the marble sculptures, cathedrals and the indescribable experience.

Florence

Florence

Florence is the capital city of the Italian region of Tuscany and of the province of Florence. It is the most populous city in Tuscany. Florence has approximately 370,000 residents which increases to over 1.5 million in the metropolitan area. Florence is famous for its history!!! The first time I experienced Florence, I knew I had to bring my husband back because he is a history buff. Known for being the centre of medieval European trade and finance, Florence is one of the wealthiest cities of the time. Florence is the birthplace of the Renaissance.

The historic centre of Florence attracts millions of tourists each year, and in 2009, Euromonitor International ranked the city as the world’s 72nd most visited. Forbes ranked Florenceas one of the most beautiful cities in the world! The city also contains numerous museums and art galleries, such as the Uffizi Gallery and the Pitti Palace. Bet you didn’t know that Florence is important in Italian fashion, as it is ranked in the top fifty fashion capitals of the world.

The picture above is of the Facade of the Cathedral.

The original façade was designed by Arnolfo di Cambio while attributed to Giotto. It all started as a mid 15th century ink drawing in 1587, which is currently on display in the Museum of the Opera del Duomo (located behind the cathedral). This façade was the collective work of several artists which was completed in its lower portion and then left unfinished. It was dismantled in 1587-1588 by the Medici court architect Bernardo Buontalenti. Some of the original sculptures are on display in the Museum Opera del Duomo. The competition for a new façade turned into a huge corruption scandal and it was left bare until the 19th century.

In 1864, a competition was held to design a new façade and was won 7 years later by Emilio De Fabris. Work began in 1876 and completed in 1887. This neo-gothic façade in white, green and red marble forms a harmonious entity with the cathedral. The whole façade is dedicated to the Mother of Christ.
Duomo

Duomo

Duomo meaning “Italian Cathedral” can be seen for miles. It is probably the most recognized structure in all of Florence. The Cathedral is located at Piazza Duomo in the historic center of Florence. The cathedral complex, located in Piazza del Duomo, includes the Baptistery and Giotto’s Campanile. We visited the cathedral from the outside, but tours are available. Guided visits are available for the Duomo (€9), its dome, (€11, includes entrance fee), the cathedral terrace (€15, also includes the dome), and Santa Reparata (€9, includes entrance fee). All guided tours last approximately 45 minutes to one hour.

History of the Dome~ In the beginning of the 15th century, after a hundred years of construction, the Florence Cathedral was still missing its dome. The basic features of the dome had been designed by Arnolfo di Cambio in 1296. In 1367, the architectural choice of Neri di Fioravante’s model was chosen over a competing one by Giovanni di Lapo Ghini which was one of the first events of the Italian Renaissance. At the time, the use of buttresses (structure made of brick or stone built against a wall for support or reinforcement) was forbidden in Florence. In August 1418, the Arte della Lana (the wool guild of Florence) announced a structural design competition for erecting Neri’s dome.  Filippo Brunelleschi, a master goldsmith, was chosen.

The Duomo, Cathedral

The Duomo, Cathedral

The dome posed many technical problems.

Bell Tower

Bell Tower

Brunelleschi researched the great dome of the Pantheon in Rome for solutions. There was not enough timber in Tuscany to build the scaffolding and forms.Brunelleschi chose to follow such design and employed a double shell, made of sandstone and marble. He constructed a wooden and brick model with the help of Donatello and Nanni di Banco which is currently displayed in the Museo dell’Opera del Duomo. The model served as a guide for the craftsmen. Construction of the dome started in 1420 and was completed in 1436. The dome was the first octagonal dome in history to be built without a temporary wooden supporting frame.

Palazzo Vecchio

Palazzo Vecchio

The Palazzo Vecchio

The Palazzo Vecchio meaning “Old Palace” is the town hall of Florence. The massive, Romanesque, solid cubicle shaped building with a walled fortress-palace is considered to be the most impressive town hall in all of Tuscany. The location of the fortress-palace is what makes it  one of the most significant public places in Italy. It overlooks the Piazza della Signoria with the replica of Michelangelo’s David statue as well as the gallery of statues in the adjacent Loggia dei Lanzi. The Tower includes three bells, the oldest one was cast in the 13th century.

How did the building come about? The commune and people of Florence decided to build a palace in 1299 that would be worthy of the city’s importance and would provide security to the magistrates. Arnolfo di Cambio, architect, constructed Palazzo Vecchio so that the Uberti family (rebels of Florence and Ghibellines) homes would never be rebuilt on the same location. The tower contains two small cells, which imprisoned Cosimo de’ Medici in 1435 and Girolamo Savonarola in 1498. The tower is named after its designer Torre d’Arnolfo.

The large, one-handed clock was originally constructed by the Florentine Nicolò Bernardo, but was replaced in 1667 by a clock made by Vincenzo Viviani. Most of Palazzo Vecchio is now a museum but remains the symbol of local government housing the office of the mayor of Florence and it is the seat of the City Council since 1872.

Perseus with the Head of Medusa at Loggia dei Lanzi

Perseus with the Head of Medusa at Loggia dei Lanzi

The Perseus with the head of Medusa is quite a violent and interesting sculpture which was created by Benvenuto Cellini’s 1545. The sculpture sits on a square base with bronze relief panels located in the Loggia dei Lanzi of the Piazza della Signoria in Florence, Italy. The piece was introduced to the public on April 27, 1554. Michelangelo’s David, Bandinelli’s Hercules and Cacus, and Donatello’s Judith and Holofernes were already in the piazza.

What is with the snakey head? The sculpture is about the mythological story of Perseus beheading Medusa. Medusa was a hideous woman-faced Gorgon whose hair was turned to snakes and anyone that looked at her was turned to stone. In the sculpture, Perseus stands naked except for a sash and winged sandals, standing on top of Medusa holding her snakey head in his hand. The body of Medusa spews blood from her severed neck. The bronze sculpture is surrounded by three huge marble statues of men: Hercules, David and later Neptune.Cellini was the first sculptor to introduce bronze in Perseus and the head of Medusa in the piazza.

The Loggia dei Lanzi (the arches above the sculptures in the picture) consists of wide arches open to the street.  The wide arches appealed so much to the Florentines, that Michelangelo even proposed that they should be continued all around the Piazza della Signoria. The Loggia dei Lanzi is an open-air sculpture gallery of antique and Renaissance art including the Medici lions.

Cosimo I de' Medici

Cosimo I de’ Medici

Cosimo I de’ Medici – Florence
I find it interesting how the bronze sculptures appear green in color. Why? Bronze alloys contain copper. When bronze oxidizes (comes in contact with water and oxygen) or “rusts”, the process causes the bronze to turn in a green color. More commonly recognized in the Statue of Liberty – due to oxidation.
The bronze equestrian statue of Cosimo I by Giambologna, pictured abovereflects the famous equestrian statue of Marc Aurelius located at the Campidoglio in Rome. It illustrates the relation between the Roman Empire and Florence and Cosimo I himself.
The David

The David

The David (statue of David)
By far the most moving experience in all of Florence is seeing the original David with your own eyes located inside the Galleria dell’Accademia. Unfortunately, photography is not allowed inside the Galleria and therefore I have attached a picture of the replica of The David located in Palazzo Vecchio. The David is known as the world’s most famous statue.
The statue, which is 17 feet tall, was commissioned by the Florentine republic, who saw the biblical hero slaying the giant Goliath as a symbol for the creation of the nascent republic.
The statue was installed in front of the Palazzo Vecchio but in 1873 it was replaced by a replica and moved to the Galleria dell’Accademia to protect it from the elements. Another replica can be found at the center of the Piazzale Michelangelo.
The statue was created by Michelangelo in 1501-1504 from a single block of marble and instantly became admired for its proportions and attention to detail. Michelangelo chose to depict David as an adolescent instead of a young boy. The statue brought instant fame to the 29 year-old Michelangelo.
Ponte Vecchio

The Ponte Vecchio means  “Old Bridge”. It is a Medieval stone closed-spandrel segmental (space between two arches) arch bridge which spans over the Arno River, in Florence. The Ponte Vecchio is unique as it has shops built along it, which used to be common. Butchers originally occupied the shops in the Ponte Vechhio but now they are filled with jewelers, art dealers and souvenir sellers.

Kids in front of Ponte Vecchio

Kids in front of Ponte Vecchio

History of the bridge~ The bridge crosses the Arno at its narrowest point where it is believed that the via Cassia (important Roman road) crossed. When was it built? The bridge first appeared in a document of 996.  It was reconstructed in stone, after being destroyed by a flood in 1117.  In 1333, the Ponte Vecchio was swept away again but two of its central piers were saved. Giorgio Vasari recorded that the bridge was rebuilt in 1345.   that attributed its design to Taddeo Gaddi, besides Giotto one of the few artistic names of the 14th Century still recalled two hundred years later. Modern historians present Neri di Fioravanti as a possible candidate. Displayed in a little gallery at the central opening of the bridge is a weathered dedication stone, which once read Nel trentatrè dopo il mille-trecento, il ponte cadde, per diluvio dell’ acque: poi dieci anni, come al Comun piacque, rifatto fu con questo adornamento, which means “In the thirty-third year following thirteen hundred, the bridge fell, from a watery flood: ten years later, at the pleasure of the Commune, it was rebuilt, with this adornment”. 

Structure of the Ponte Vecchio~ The bridge consists of three sections of arches. The main arch has a span of 98 ft and the two side arches each span 88 ft. The rise of the arches is between 11½ to 14½ feet.

On August 4, 1944, During World War II, the Ponte Vechhio was not destroyed like all other bridges in Florence.  The buildings at both ends of the bridge were destroyed which prevented access . The buildings have since been rebuilt using a combination of original and modern design.

Buca San Giovani

Buca San Giovani

Let’s eat!!!

Ristorante Buca San Giovanni

Ristorante Buca San Giovanni

Finding a restaurant or “ristorante” in Florence is no easy task I must warn you. There are 1797 restaurants in Florence!!! Fortunately, we were on tour and the restaurant was already chosen. We really were fortanute because we experienced the BEST baked lasagna we have ever had in our lives. Ristorante Buca San Giovani opened in 1882 and is located in the Piazza Di San Giovanni. They are open for lunch and dinner and ideally located downtown Florence. It is just steps away from the historical city centre and it’s masterpiece like the Cathedral, Palazzo Vecchio, Uffizi Gallery, Loggia dei Lanzi, Ponte Vecchio,The David at the Accademia. The wine list has a selection of 40 red wines!!! This is compared to the list of White/Pink wine which has 10 selections. Can you say heaven?? One of my favorite things about dining in Italy is that you will almost always have three glass at your setting for lunch or dinner for red wine, white wine and water. Can’t we all dine this way universally?? Here’s the real question, does the food, bread and wine taste better just because you are in Italy? Very well could be.

Buca San Giovanni Label

Buca San Giovanni Label

Since we were in a group, we had the pleasure of dining downstairs which is actually underground~ in the Gallery. It was amazing!! The gallery has red brick ceilings in an arcg form and feels as if you are eating in a wine cellar with wine bottles everywhere you look. Interesting historical fact~ the Buca San Giovanni was the former Sacristy of the Baptistry San Giovanni, before the building of the Cathedral Santa Reparata, later on was a secret meeting place where the Rosa Croce Masons started the activities. Many important people showed at the “Buca” like the Prince of Bulgaria for his bachelor party in the 30’s and th U.S. President John F. Kennedy.

Ristorante San Buca Giovanni

Ristorante San Buca Giovanni

Below you will find a list of some of their highlights~

Crunchy eggplant strudel with Buffalo’s milk mozzarella and grilled cherry tomatoes
Macaroni with meat and mushrooms sauce
Scamorza large raviolis with , saffron potato cream sauce and courgettes
Sliced beef with rocket and Parmesan cheese
Bitter chocolate basket with cream and strawberries

Desserts~

Dry almond biscuits with Vin Santo

Cream pudding with chocolate

Tiramisù

Rice pears cake with warm Armagnac cream

Bitter chocolate basket with Chantilly cream and strawberries

Mille-feuille with orange cream and cinnamon

Cheese cake with morellos sauce

Crème caramel with aniseed flavour

Chocolate soft cake with vanilla ice cream

Pineapple

Strawberries coupe

Ice-cream coupe

Movies you ask? Florence is so picturesque that is has been the setting for many movies. Many of the movies are International of course but some that you may be familiar with are The Dark Knight Rises, A Room With a View, Tea With Mussolini, Stay As You Are, Hannibal, The Devil in Love, The Mandrake, My Friends and Romola.

Florence, Italy

Florence, Italy

Leather

Leather

Shopping!!!! My favorite thing about shopping in Florence is the Italian leather.

I was sniffing purses, belts and wallets everywhere we went. Be sure to look for the label stating “genuine leather made in Italy” as there are a lot of vendors selling knock offs and faux leather.

Shopping

Shopping

Money Saving Tips: Don’t buy any knockoff goods from any of the hawkers selling their fake Prada (or any other high-end designer) on the streets. It’s illegal, and fines are astronomical if the police happen to catch you. The police will fine you a hefty fee while the vendors only receives a small fine. Faux leather is pretty easy to detect. Touch, feel and smell the leather. As crazy as that may seem, I opened all the zippers and looked at the lining. If it has a plastic feel to it at all, don’t buy. The vendors on the street, as opposed to in the shops, often times will offer bargains. I bought two leather purses for €10 less than if I would have purchased them individually.

5wheelsto5star was featured in the March 2014 issue of Destinations Travel Magazine

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For the Love of Gelato!!!

Gelato in Florence

Gelato in Florence

Gelato in Roma

Gelato in Roma

Throughout the Mediterranean our kids flipped out over gelato!! Everywhere we went, they wanted more and more. In Florence, Italy our daughter ate gelato three times in one day which is not cheap.

Gelato is the Italian word for ice cream, but is it really the same thing as ice cream??? Gelato refers to varieties of ice cream made in a traditional Italian style. Gelato is made with milk, cream, various sugars, and flavoring such as fresh fruit and nut purees. Often times you will see it served in a glass as a parfait or in a dish with whole fruits. In the picture above the gelato is displayed in parfaits. Whether in a cup, on a cone or in a dish~ It’s all amazing!!!

First you must know the gelato lingo!!! Gelati is plural for gelato and Gelateria is where geltao is sold.

Money saving tips: We ate gelato all along the Mediterranean. Be sure to look around and price out the gelato as some gelaterias are located on the same block for twice as much and the one next door. At Piazza Navona in Rome for example, gelato is priced very high within the piazza but if you step a block outside of the piazza you can find it much cheaper and just as good! It’s the same for paella in Spain or wood burning oven pizzas in Rome. When visiting Barcelona, the Mercat de Sant Josep de la Boqueria (The Market) has amazing gelato for much cheaper than purchasing on La Rambla. If you would like to read more about The Market, click on the link Mercat de Sant Josep de la Boqueria on the right hand side under “topics”.

What makes gelato different from ice cream? Gelato is a type of soft ice cream which contains a relatively small amount of air. Gelato in Italy must have at least 3.5% butterfat. The sugar content in homemade gelato, as in ice cream, is balanced with the water content to act as an anti-freeze to prevent it from freezing solid. Several types of sugar are used including sucrose, dextrose, and inverted sugar to control sweetness. Typically, gelato—like any other ice cream—needs a stabilizing base. Egg yolks are used in yellow custard-based gelato flavors, including zabaione (an Italian dessert, or sometimes a beverage, made with egg yolks, sugar, and a sweet wine) and creme caramel, and non-fat milk solids are also added to gelato to stabilize the base. Starches and gums, especially corn starch, are often used to thicken and stabilize the mix.

Mercat de Sant Josep de la Boqueria, Barcelona

Mercat de Sant Josep de la Boqueria, Barcelona

Facts about Gelato~ In the United States there isn’t a standard of definition for gelato set forth by the U.S. Department of Agriculture, as there is for ice cream. Ice cream in the U.S. is defined by the Federal Code both by its ingredients, which includes milk fat of 10% or more, gelato in the U.S. covers a wide range of products including frozen desserts eaten like ice cream; products that are identical to ice cream with the exception of their butterfat contents; and premium ice cream containing butterfat far exceeding the minimums set forth in Italy. Recipes will vary as will the person making it, but most dairy gelato contains 16–24% sugar. Whereas, ice cream in the United States contains 12 to 16% sugar.

Where does gelato come from? The history of gelato dates back to frozen desserts in Sicily, ancient Rome and Egypt which were made from snow and ice brought down from mountaintops and preserved below ground. Then, frozen desserts appeared during banquets at the Medici court in Florence. Bernardo Buontalenti, the Florentine cook, is said to have invented modern ice cream in 1565. He presented his recipe and his innovative refrigerating techniques to Catherine de’ Medici, who in turn brought the novelty to France as Queen consort. In 1686 the Sicilian fisherman Francesco Procopio dei Coltelli perfected the first ice cream machine. Gelato increased in popularity in the 1920s–1930s in the northern Italian city of Varese, where the first gelato cart was developed!!

Interesting Gelato Stat: Italy is the only country where the market share of handmade gelato versus industrial one is over 55%. More than 5,000 modern Italian ice cream parlors employ over 15,000 people today, mostly Italians.

Gelato in Florence

Gelato in Florence

Want to make your own gelato???

Piazza Navona, Roma

Piazza Navona, Roma

Making gelato is similar to making ice cream. There are several steps involved. The mixture for gelato is typically prepared using a hot process first, dissolving sugars. White base is heated to 185 °F completing a pasteurization program. The hot process to make chocolate gelato is basically the same for ice cream and is traditionally flavored with cocoa powder and cocoa butter.

Gelato and some premium ice creams are so dense that they require a slightly higher serving temperature. This is the perfect point in which your scoop is firm but not hard and not so soft that it melts immediately. Gelato recipes usually include more egg yolks, more milk and less cream than ice cream. It actually has less fat than regular ice cream. Gelato’s low overrun (less air) makes for an extremely dense, rich and creamy treat that we all love.

Sorbets are all about the fruit, fruit, fruit. With the absence of milk, cream or eggs, they depend only on sugar, lemon juice and fresh fruit for flavor. Elegantly simple and refreshingly tart, sorbets were the rage during Victorian years, when they were served as palate cleansers between rich, heavy courses. A sorbetto, the more intense Italian version, generally has more fruit and less water, resulting in a softer, less icy texture. Sorbet is all about the FRESH fruit.

Giada’s Chocolate-Hazelnut Gelato

  • 2 cups whole milk
  • 1 cup heavy cream
  • 1/2 cup sugar, plus 1/4 cup
  • 4 egg yolks
  • 1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 1/2 cup chocolate-hazelnut spread (recommended: Nutella)
  • 1/2 cup toasted hazelnuts, crushed, for garnish

In a saucepan combine the milk, cream, and 1/2 cup sugar over medium heat. Cook until the sugar dissolves, about 5 minutes.

Meanwhile, in a medium bowl whip the egg yolks with the remaining sugar using an electric mixer until the eggs have become thick and pale yellow, about 4 minutes. Pour 1/2 cup of the warm milk and cream mixture into the egg mixture and stir. Add this mixture back into the saucepan. Cook over very low heat, stirring constantly, until the mixture becomes thick enough to coat the back of a wooden spoon, about 7 to 10 minutes.

Place a strainer over a medium bowl and pour the warm custard mixture through the strainer. Stir in the vanilla and hazelnut spread until it dissolves. Chill mixture completely before pouring into an ice cream maker and follow manufacturer’s instructions to freeze. To serve, scoop gelato into serving bowls and top with hazelnuts.

What type of gelato maker should you buy? Gelato makers can run anywhere from $22.00 – $1200 depending on the brand, size and features. De Longhi GM6000 Gelator Maker with Self-Refrigerating Compressor will cost you about $300! Cuisinart ICE-100 compressor is both an ice cream maker and gelato maker which runs about $251. If you own a KitchenAid mixer, there is an attachment for ice cream which is $85.00. Be sure to research before purchase, check out ratings and read reviews as some of the ice cream makers are for both ice and gelato while others are for frozen yogurt and sorbets. Gelato is made to perfection at a slightly lower temperature than ice cream in Italian Gelaterias; however, it can still be made at home using an ice cream maker.

According to World of Ice Cream, here is the equation for gelato:

Gelato= less fat + no air added = richer taste

Gelato in Barcelona

Gelato in Barcelona

 5wheelsto5star is featured monthly in Destinations Travel Magazine

 

Vatican, Rome

Vatican

3 generations at the Vatican

We decided to explore Vatican City as three generations of girls!!! It was an extremely hot day and thankfully we purchased our tickets in

St. Peter's Square

St. Peter’s Square

advance so we were able to bypass waiting in the long, hot ticket lines. The Vatican is a very high tourist area, as you can imagine and therefore, swarms of people gather around the outside and inside. The ticket lines looked like hundreds of people standing in the blazing sun. There are several parts to tour within Vatican City, so be sure to research what you want to do and see. There are tours which include several buildings or just one. I did not have the kids with me that day and to be honest, I think it would be too boring for them. The tours are long, crowded and require a lot of standing and walking. Please note, shoulders must be covered upon entering the Basilica. I brought a scarf because it was easy to carry around, provided coverage and was much cooler than a sweater.

Apostolic Palace

Apostolic Palace

The Papal Apartments have been the official residence of the Pope in his religious capacity since the 17th century. The Papal Apartments in Italian are called appartamento nobile and appartamento pontificio.

The apartments have ten large rooms including a lobby, a studio office for the secretary, the pope’s private study, the pope’s bedroom in the corner of the building, a medical suite, a dining room, a small living room, and the kitchen. In addition, the apartments have a roof garden and staff quarters for the nuns who run the household. The pope greets and blesses visitors to Saint Peter’s Square on Sundays from the window of his small study. The top four windows to the right are where the Pope resides. The pope lives there for all months except July to September, when Papal Palace of Castel Gandolfo is the official summer residence.Three of the last five popes, John XXIII, John Paul I, and John Paul II, died in the Papal Apartments.

The Vatican is located in Vatican City also known as Vatican City State, in Italian is officially Stato della Città del Vaticano. The Vadicanis a landlocked sovereign city-state whose territory consists of a walled enclave within the city of Rome.  The population in Vatican City is 836 in 109 acres and was founded on February 11, 1929.

St. Peter's Basilica

St. Peter’s Basilica

St. Peter’s Basilica is a Late Renaissance church located within Vatican City. It was designed by Donato Bramante, Michelangelo, Carlo Maderno and Gian Lorenzo Bernini. St. Peter’s is the most well known work of Renaissance architecture and remains one of the largest churches in the world. While it is neither the mother church of the Roman Catholic Church nor the cathedral of the Bishop of Rome. St. It is regarded as one of the holiest Catholic sites and has been referred to as “holding a unique position in the Christian world” and as “the greatest of all churches of Christendom”. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/St._Peter’s_Basilica

The basilica is the burial site of its namesake Saint Peter who was one of the twelve apostles of Jesus and the first Bishop of Rome. Tradition and some historical evidence hold that Saint Peter’s tomb is directly below the altar of the basilica. For this reason, many Popes have been interred at St. Peter’s since the Early Christian period. There has been a church on this site since the time of Constantine. Construction of the present basilica began on April 18, 1506 and was completed on November 18, 1626.

The Pope holds a number of services throughout the year, which audiences of 15,000 to over 80,000 people gather , either within the Vatican Basilica, or in St. Peter’s Square. The picture of the Square shows all of the seating present when the Pope speaks.

St. Peter's Basilica

Altar with Bernini’s baldacchino

Altar with Bernini’s Baldacchino: Bernini’s first work at St. Peter’s was designing the baldacchino.  The baldacchino is a pavilion-like structure 98 ft tall and said to be the largest piece of bronze in the world. The baldacchino is located underneath the dome and above the altar. Bernini’s idea for the baldacchino was for something other than the typical white marble and colored stone. Bernini designed four enormouscolumns of bronze, twisted and decorated with olive leaves and beesto represent Pope Urban.

The dome of St. Peter’s 448.1 ft high from the floor of the basilica to the top of the cross. This is the tallest dome in the world. When designing the dome, the architects of St. Peter’s looked to the domes of the Pantheon and Florence duomo. St. Peter’s is  the greatest dome of Christendom.

DSC07830

Tomb of Pope Alexander VII

Next I took a picture of the Tomb of Pope Alexander VII. The color of the marble in person is indescribable. It is so vibrant with gold, orange and amber tones. At the age of 80, the Italian artist Gianlorenzo Bernini designed the sculpture Tomb of Pope Alexander VII. It is located in the south section of St Peter’s Basilica in the Vatican City. The piece was commissioned by Pope Alexander himself. Construction of the monument didn’t start until 1671 and then was finally completed eleven years after the Pope’s death in 1678.

Just as you leave the Chapel, you will pass the Monument to Gregory XIII on the rightIt was built by Camillo Rusconi in 1723 out of white marble. The moument was influenced by Algardi in its structural linearity and the expressive peacefulness. The monument is known as the Figure of Knowledge and represents the pope giving his blessing.

Monument to Gregory XIII

Monument to Gregory XIII

Let’s talk food!!! After a long tour of the Vatican, everyone is hungry. As we departed the Square, there was a cafeteria-style restuarant to the left with some of the best Italian food we experiencedDSC07833 in Rome!!! We were starving and just started walking and saw tons of people gathering outside in line, sitting in the outdoor seating and it was so noisy. You could hear espresso machines going and dishes clanking around. I think we grabbed one of everything and all shared.

IMG00079-20100913-1526$$ saving tips: Vatican City is located right off of a stop on the double decker bus in Rome. If you choose to take a cab, it will be more expensive and there are long cab lines. The buses have designated stops right outside of the Vatican Square which is easy access to and from shopping and restaurants. The double decker bus picked us up right in front of our hotel, Westin Excelsior Rome. Be sure to bring your camera to the Vatican, as they do allow pictures inside. I was quite surprised because many museums won’t allow flash photography. We saved money by eating outside of the Vatican, ordering food family style and sharing it all. Plus it’s a great way to try everything!! Look up information on the double decker bus stops at http://www.rome-tours.net/?event=offer.detail&offerId=2154&startDate=07/01/2013&endDate=07/31/2013

5wheelsto5star was featured in the March 2014 issue of Destinations Travel Magazine

Trevi Fountain, Roma

IMG00101-20100914-1049

You must see The Trevi Fountain, Fontana di Trevi, in person!! Pitcures of the fountain do not capture size nor the details in the marble and travertine. The fountain is 85.28 feet high and 160.72 feet wide, spilling over 2 million cubic feet of water each day.  The fountain is a display of ancient roman acqueduct termination and constructed of carrara marble and travertine.

In the center of the fountain you will see a statue of Ocean which was carved by Pietro Bracci standing under the trymphal arch. When viewing the fountain, you will see a statue of Abundance to the left and on the right side, a statue of Health.

Drink stand by fountain

Drink stand by fountain

The Trevi Fountain was within walking distance of our hotel. The walk there was nice on a sunny day in September. The legend of the Trevi Fountain is that you are to throw 3 coins into the fountain over your shoulder and

Fontana di Trevi

Fontana di Trevi

then you will be ensured a return to Rome! Must be true as I threw the coin in the fountain in September 2011 and I ended up back in Rome less than a year later in June 2012. There is a famous song called ‘Three Coins in the Fountain’.

For more information on the meaning of the inscriptions on the fountain and history, please visit http://www.trevifountain.net/

Fontana di Trevi

Fontana di Trevi

$$ saving tips: It is free of charge to view the fountain. There are an abundance of cute boutiques and restaurants tucked in alleyways all around the fountain. Most of the bistros advertise their original pizza by having waiters stand out on the street waving you in. As we stopped off in wood shop to purchase a Pinocchio ornament, the manager said to be very careful of where we ate as many of the restaurants serve pizza made from frozen dough and charge a lot of money due to the location near the fountain. He gave us the tip to look in the restaurant for a wood burning oven and ask to see it if they say they have one. His advice was great! That way we knew where to order authentic Italian pizza made in a wood burning oven.

5wheelsto5star was featured in the March 2014 issue of Destinations Travel Magazine

Leaning Tower of Pisa, Italy

Europe 582

Leaning Tower of Pisa

You may recall hearing the stories about The Leaning Tower of Pisa in history. The tower was originally designed in 1173 to be perfectly vertical, but started to lean during construction and was eventually completed in 1399. The tower originally stood at 60 meters high and now is 56.67 meters at the highest point and 55.86 meters at the lower end. The tower leans at a 10 degree angle. The Italian name for the tower is Torre Pendente di Pisa. The leaning Tower of Pisa is medieval architecture, in Romanesque style. The tower was built in two phases, which included a total of 5 architects. The tower weighs approximately 14,500 tons. The Leaning Tower is the Piazza’s crowning glory.

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View from top of the Leaning Tower

Climbing the tower: There are 297 steps that you must climb to get to the top of the Leaning

Top of Leaning Tower

Tower. A purchased ticket to view the tower has a specific time to enter, in 30 minute intervals. It is important to note that if you will only be in Pisa for one day, you should visit the tower in the morning to ensure your ticket for the day. Depending on how busy it is that day, your ticket may be for several hours out or even sold out for the day. The second time I went to Pisa, we were on a tour which arrived in the afternoon and only allowed two hours to explore. When we went to purchase a ticket to climb the tower, the first available was three hours out and our tour would already be gone. My family was devastated to travel all the way to Pisa, just to be turned away. The afternoon is quite busy in Pisa. Keep in mind that buses drop tourists off constantly throughout the day. We wasted an entire 30 minutes of our 2 hours at the Square just waiting in line at the bathroom. If possible, use the restroom outside of the square. When purchasing a ticket, they require that all bags, purses and any belongings be checked into a locker (for a fee) prior to entering the tower. If you have asthma, I recommend bringing your inhaler into the tower. I didn’t think to bring mine and left it behind in my purse – big mistake. When climbing the tower, there aren’t any railings to hold on to and it is very narrow with people passing as they are coming down. It is odd climbing up steps which aren’t level and it can cause dizziness climbing in a circle for 297 steps. Nonetheless, it is worth it when you get to the top! The view is unbelievable and you can see the entire square. Bring your camera to take pictures at the top.

The Square of Miracles

The Square of Miracles

The Square of Miracles

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Duomo di Pisa

There are four buildings that make up the cathedral complex in Pisa, Italy, called Campo dei Miracoli or Piazza dei Miracoli, which means Field of Miracles. The cathedral, or Duomo di Pisa, was the first building constructed at Campo dei Miracoli, Pisa, which rests on a white marble pavement and is an impressive example of Romanesque architecture. Just west of the dome, lies the next building added which is the baptistery. Then work on the campanile began. Before the work on the campanile was completed the cemetery, Campo Santo, was built.This Piazza is the most phenomenal display of Romanesque architecture in Italy. The cathedral is faced in gray-and-white striped marble and bristling with columns and arches. It has a curiously Islamic dome and matching domed baptistery, which rises from an emerald green lawn. Flanking one side of the piazza, the camposanto, or cemetery, is a gracefully elongated cloister enclosing a burial ground with earth reputedly brought back during the Crusades from Golgotha, the hill where Jesus was crucified, so that noble Pisans could rest in holy ground.

http://www.towerofpisa.info/

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Lawn in front of cathedral

There is a large area of lawn at the Square which is a great way to unwind after being cooped up on a long bus or car ride to reach the Tower. Tourists were sitting around on the lawn enjoying a drink, taking pictures of the enormous structures all the while kids were running around. The lawn area is very inviting.

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Shopping in the Square

$$ saving tips: Vendors set up at tables along the walk to the Square selling various items such as snow globes, aprons, purses, plates with the tower on them, etc. Many of the vendors sell the same items, so be sure to check prices at each table prior to purchasing. The shopping area is filled with high priced souvenirs, so be sure to compare prices with vendors located right outside the square. Rather than sitting down and eating a meal outside the square, you can grab a piece of fruit and a bottled water or coffee from one of the vendors and make your way into the Square. If you are there for a limited amount of time, don’t waste time eating lunch. Go straight to the tower to purchase the ticket to go inside.

5wheelsto5star was featured in the March 2014 issue of Destinations Travel Magazine

Isle of Capri

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Just off the coast of Naples and Salerno is the island of Capri, which is a fabulous stop for the day.

The picture above shows the view of the island as you sail into Capri. The harbor area has shops and restaurants within walking distance. Capri is most famous for their handmade sandals.  Walk into any sandal shop, get your feet measured and choose your very own leather straps. IMG00335-20100921-1006

Upon arriving in Capri, we boarded a minibus for 15 a minute ride which took us up to the top of the island, known as Anacapri. The bus ride was a little scary as it zipped up the mountain on very narrow roads without any railings. The view from the minibus was beautiful, looking down onto Capri and the Amalfi coastline. On the ride up the windy mountain, you will pass residential areas with large estates and vacation homes, most of which are gated.

Once we arrived in Anacapri, we took a tour of Villa San Michele.

Villa San Michele, Anacapri

Villa San Michele, Anacapri

The villa is off white with arches and staircases throughout, open air and had beautiful gardens that you can walk through. My grandmother came along and could walk around at her own pace even though we were on a guided tour. The villa had sculptures and busts about the rooms.

IMG00339-20100921-1033The Villa San Michele was built around the turn of the 20th century by the Swedish physician, Axel Munthe, on the ruins of the Roman Emperor Tiberius’s villa, on the Isle of Capri, Italy. Its gardens have panoramic views of Capri town and its marina, the Sorrentine Peninsula and Mount Vesuvius. The villa and its grounds sit on a ledge at the top of the Phoenician Steps, between Anacapri and Capri, at 327 meters above sea level.

Outside the Villa San Michele

Outside the Villa San Michele

San Michele’s gardens are adorned with numerous relics and works of art dating from ancient Egypt and other periods of antiquity. They now form part of the Grandi Giardini Italiani.The story of the villa is recorded by Dr. Munthe in his book entitled The Story of San Michele, published in 1929. There have been numerous reprints since.In 1919–1920, Munthe was an unwilling landlord to the outrageous socialite and muse Luisa Casati, who took possession of Villa San Michele. This was described by Scottish author Compton Mackenzie in his diarieshttp://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Villa_San_Michele

My sister and I enjoyed thick hot chocolate, almost like liquid pudding consistency in Capri. It was so thick that it rolled down the side of the cup and just hung there! It was rich chocolate that tasted just like you were eating a chocolate bar.

Capri CakeEnjoy the Torta Caprese, flourless chocolate and almond cake found all over the island of Capri. In Anacapri we passed a glass case with desserts inside, the cake with the sign on it which read “capri cake” caught my eye.

Torta Caprese
(makes one 9-inch cake)

9 ounces (255 g) good quality dark chocolate, chopped into small pieces
1 cup (225 g) butter
¼ cup (25 g) cocoa powder
1 tablespoon almond extract
1 ¼ cup (250 g) granulated sugar
1 ½ cups ground blanched and toasted almonds
6 eggs, room temperature

Preheat an oven to 310°F and line the bottom of a 9-inch spring form pan with parchment paper.

Slowly melt the chocolate and butter over a double-boiler.  In a stand mixer with a whisk attachment, whisk together the melted chocolate mixture, the cocoa powder, almond extract and sugar until combined.  Add the ground almonds and whisk until combined.  Add the eggs one at a time, adding each egg after the first has been incorporated into the mixture.  Pour the mixture into the spring form pan.  Make sure the mixture is level and smooth on top.  Bake for 50-60 minutes.  Cool and serve with chocolate spirals or shavings and powdered sugar.  Serve with gelato or whipped cream.

http://foodloversodyssey.typepad.com/my_weblog/2010/10/torta-caprese-flourless-chocolate-cake-from-capri.html

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Hot chocolate in Capri

Hot chocolate in Capri

We enjoyed a fabulous, light lunch at Relais La Palma Capri, a restaurant that was nestled into a Spanish style hotel.  The lunch ended with a light, lemon panna cotta that was to die for.

Just around the corner from the famous Piazzetta, Hotel La Palma is in the centre of Capri, the most vibrant area of the Island. Since 1822 it is the first and oldest Hotel in Capri, but don’t expect  anything formal and austere. Here guests feel at home perceiving friendship and creativity. The spaces are large and bright,  the dynamic atmosphere is ideal for those who aspire to experiment and innovate. It is the favorite choice of young people and lovers of  authentic and high quality hospitality. Be inspired by Hotel La Palma’s genius loci like many artists, musicians and writers who love the hotel.

http://www.lapalma-capri.com/en/

$$ saving tips: Capri is quite small and most of the restaurants and shopping are pricy. Capri is full of high end shops such as Valentino, Alexander McQueen, Dior, Dolce & Gabbana, etc. and I did not see a sale sign. At the harbor there are vendors selling leather purses, wallets, scarves and other souveniers who will barder with you. It is a great way to pick up something small as a rememberance of your time on Capri. We booked a pre-packaged excursion which included the ferry ride to Capri, a minibus to Anacapri which only holds 12 people, lunch at La Palma Hotel, tour of San Michele and a ride down the Funicular Marina Grande for a reasonable price. Many of the restaurants would not allow a cup of hot chocolate or coffee to go, so we were required to sit and drink it there. Sample your way through the shops in Capri which offer limoncello chocolate, limoncello, or purchase a slice of the famous Torta Caprese, rich hot chocolate or frozen lemonaide. There are ways to experience the specialities of Capri without paying the high restaurant prices. It is a fun place to walk around, explore, people watch, window shop with amazing views of the Amalfi Coastline.

Fresh Lemons in Capri

Fresh Lemons in Capri

History:

The first inhabitants to settle in Capri were the Greek “Teleboi” who came to the island in the VIII Century BC. Today, only the fortified walls of an ancient Greek acropolis still survive as testimony to their presence on the island. In 1906 a local doctor, Ignazio Cerio, uncovered the remains of a number of prehistoric animals and stone weapons during excavation work undertaken to expand the Quisisana Hotel.

The great political events that unfolded in Naples with the consecutive rise to power of the Angevin, Aragonese, Spanish and Bourbon dynasties between the VIth and XIXth Centuries, had few repercussions on the island itself. Exposed to the threat of Muslim attack, and left to fend for themselves, the islanders’ best defence was to flea their homes around the Marina and take refuge in the uplands.

With few natural resources and a population decimated by pirate raids and pestilence, the plight of the islanders was further exacerbated in the Seventeenth and Eighteenth Centuries by the rivalry that emerged between the island’s two Communes, Capri and Anacapri , regarding their respective civil and ecclesiastic rights of jurisdiction.

http://www.capri.net/en/history

5wheelsto5star is featured monthly in Destinations Travel Magazine

Piazza Navona, Roma, Italy

Piazza navona square

While in Rome, you must stop off at the Piazza Navona Square which includes the famous Fountain of Four Rivers, music, gelatto, shopping and restaurants. The double decker bus conveniently stops off at the Piazza. Navona Square is exactly how Italy is portrayed in romantic movies with Italian music playing all around.

IMG00046-20100912-1258We rode the bus there and spent the entire day roaming around the square. The Piazza is a great place to take photos of the ancient buildings and statues and wander around for the day. We ate our way through the square with lunch, gelato and then cannoli.

The square is great for everyone, as we have taken our kids as well as my grandmother. There are many sidewalk cafes and bistros with shaded areas to sit as you walk along the square.

http://www.navonasquare.com/en/storia.php:

DSC07812Navona Square, the most beautiful baroque square in Rome, sits on the ancient ring of the Stadium of Domitian – also known as Circus Agonalis – built in 85 AD to host Greek athletic events, agones, with the typical rectangular shape of the arena with its curved northern side.

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Surrounded by two imposing travertine arcades, decorated with Ionian and Corinthian capitals, it could host up to 30,000 people, who accessed through the two main entrances located in the middle of its longer sides. The square came back to life in the second half of the 15th century, when it started to host the market. In 1485, it was paved to favour the several festivals and processions that were starting to take place there more and more often.

IMG00041-20100912-1142In the 16th century, the square was enriched with the fountains donated by Pope Gregory XIII Boncompagni; then, Pope Innocent X ordered the construction of the majestic Pamphili Palace on the land owned by his family. The Palace was built by Girolamo Rainaldi and embellished by marvellous frescos, a Gallery by Borromini and several art works.

Kaylee and Robbie at the Fountain of Four Rivers, Roma

The Fountain of Four Rivers, Roma

http://www.navonasquare.com/en/storia.php:

The Fountain of the Four Rivers (Fontana dei Quattro Fiumi), unveiled in 1651, is definitely one of the most beautiful and famous monuments in baroque Rome and represents the four major rivers known at the time. The Ganges, Nile, Danube and Plate: four white marble, 5-metre high statues located on travertine juts. The Nile, by G.A.Fancelli, has its head draped because its source was unknown at the time. However, the population thought that it expressed Bernini’s contempt for the nearby church of Sant’Agnese in Agone, designed by his rival Borromini, as the Rio de la Plata’s arm raised to protect its head, by Francesco Baratta, ironically expressed the artist’s fear that the church may collapse.
However, these rumours are totally groundless because Bernini finished the fountain before Borromini started the church. Finally, the Ganges is by Claude Poussin, while the Danube is by Antonio Raggi.

caprese salad$$ saving tips: There are great restaurants located right outside of the Piazza which are far less expensive than eating inside the square. We were craving authentic, Italian pizza so our tour guide recommended a restaurant called Ristorante Pizzeria Zio Ciro, where all of the pizzas are cooked in their wood burning oven. They make homemade sausages to put on top of the pizza and they have pastas, salads, seafood and more. Everything we ordered was fresh and fabulous along with a cold beer! Take the double decker bus to the Piazza!! It is a fun and inexpensive way to see Rome and take pictures.

http://www.pizzeriaziciro.com/

Zi Ciro pizza romaKaylee's pasta romaIMG00044-20100912-1231

We stumbled upon really cute boutiques walking down the side streets. Many of the shops had great sale racks tucked in the back.

5wheelsto5star was featured in the March 2014 issue of Destinations Travel Magazine