Tuesday, 4 August 2015 – Day 10 – Montecatini – Pisa – Milan – Lake Como – (Day 56)

Tuesday, 4 August 2015 – Day 10 – Montecatini – Pisa – Milan – Lake Como (261 miles/420 Kms)  Day 56

Up at 7.00 and after breakfast we set off at 8.30 from Montecatini towards Pisa.  About 9.00 we arrived in Pisa. We caught the local bus to visit the Piazza dei Miracoli  (Square of Miracles), formally known as Piazza del Duomo  (Cathedral Square), is a wide walled area located inPisa, Tuscany, Italy, recognized as an important centre of European medieval art and one of the finest architectural complexes in the world. Considered a sacred area by its owner, the Catholic Church, the square is dominated by four great religious edifices: the Pisa Cathedral, the Pisa Baptistry, the Leaning Tower of Pisa and the Camposanto Monumentale (Monumental Cemetery).

In 1987 the whole square was declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

As we entered the Square, I just thought what amazing architecture and so vast.

The Pisa Baptistry of St. John (Italian: Battistero di San Giovanni) is a Roman Catholic ecclesiastical building. Construction started in 1152 and completed in 1363. The largest baptistry in Italy, it is 54.86 m high, with a circumference of 107.24 m. The Baptistry is constructed of marble. In the heart of the Piazza del Miracoli is the Duomo, the medieval cathedral of the Archdiocese of Pisa, entitled to Santa Maria Assunta (St. Mary of the Assumption). This is a five-naved cathedral with a three-naved transept. The church is known also as the Primatial, the archbishop of Pisa being a Primate since 1092. Its construction began in 1064.

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The Camposanto Monumentale  (Monumental Cemetery is located at the northern edge of the square. This walled cemetery which some believe to be the most beautiful cemetery in the world, is said to have been built around a shipload of sacred soil from Calvary, brought back to Pisa from the Fourth Crusade by Ubaldo de’ Lanfranchi, the Archbishop of Pisa in the 12th century. This is where the name Campo Santo(Holy Field) originates.

The building itself dates from a century later and was erected over the earlier burial ground. The building of this huge, oblong Gothic cloister began in 1278 and was only completed in 1464.

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The heart of the Piazza del Duomo is the Duomo, the medieval cathedral of the Archdiocese of Pisa, entitled Santa Maria Assunta (St. Mary of the Assumption). This is a five-naved cathedral with a three-naved transept. The church is known also as the Primatial, the archbishop of Pisa being a Primate since 1092. Its construction began in 1064 by the architect Busketo, and set the model for the distinctive Pisan Romanesque style of architecture. The mosaics of the interior, as well as the pointed arches, show a strong Byzantime influence.The façade of grey marble and white stone set with discs of coloured marble, was built by a master named Rainaldo, as indicated by an inscription above the middle door: Rainaldus prudens operator.

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We were unable to go into the Cathedral. The massive bronze main doors were made in the workshops of Giambologna replacing the original doors destroyed in a fire in 1595.

The Leaning Tower of Pisa (Italian: Torre pendente di Pisa) or simply the Tower of Pisa (Torre di Pisa) is the campanile, or freestanding bell tower, of the cathedral of the Italian city of Pisa, known worldwide for its unintended tilt.

It is situated behind the Cathedral and is the third oldest structure in Pisa’s Cathedral Square after the Cathedral and the Baptistry. The tower’s tilt began during construction, caused by an inadequate foundation on ground too soft on one side to properly support the structure’s weight. The tilt increased in the decades before the structure was completed, and gradually increased until the structure was stabilized (and the tilt partially corrected) by efforts in the late 20th and early 21st centuries.

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Prior to restoration work performed between 1990 and 2001, the tower leaned at an angle of 5.5 degrees, but the tower now leans at about 3.99 degrees. This means that the top of the tower is displaced horizontally 3.9 metres (12 ft 10 in) from the centre.

On January 7, 1990, after over two decades of stabilisation studies the tower was closed to the public. The final solution to prevent the collapse of the tower was to slightly straighten the tower to a safer angle, by removing 38 cubic metres (1,342 cubic feet) of soil from underneath the raised end. The tower was straightened by 45 centimetres (17.7 inches), returning to its 1838 position. After a decade of corrective reconstruction and stabilization efforts, the tower was reopened to the public on December 15, 2001, and was declared stable for at least another 300 years. In May 2008, after the removal of another 70 metric tons (77 short tons) of ground, engineers announced that the Tower had been stabilized such that it had stopped moving for the first time in its history. They stated it would be stable for at least 200 years. We will just have to wait and see.


As we wandered back to get our bus back to our coach we passed lots of market stalls.  I purchased some toy pinnochios and a little giraffe. .

We were on the coach once more and headed towards Parma.  Got a glimpse of the sea. The houses looked really Italian in this area. There were lots of vineyards and olive groves and fields of sunflowers.  We passed a ski resort with a chairlift going up the mountain as in winter this area is covered in snow. Hard to imagine it is in the high twenties now.  At the pretty village of Aulla, we stopped for about 50 minutes and then our journey took us northwards through the Tuscan hills and across the Po Plain to MILAN – home city of our bus driver, Luigi.

We arrived in Milan at approx. 2.30 – a  very multicultural city. Known for its fashion, Da Vinci and the last supper and the Da Vinci code, formulae 1 circuit, Pirelli tyres, Alfa Romeo and risotto.

Our first stop was at the Piazza del Duomo  (Cathedral Square) – seems every city has a Cathedral Square. This Piazza was equally as impressive as the other ones we have visited.  The Milan Cathedral (Italian: Duomo di Milano is the second largest Catholic cathedral in the world: only Seville Cathedral is larger ( St Peter’s Basilica doesn’t count because it is not a cathedral). Milan Cathedral is 157 meters long and 40,000 people can fit comfortably within.  The Gothic cathedral took nearly six centuries to complete. Once again, we did not go into the Cathedral as the crowds were just too much.

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Nearby was the impressive monument of Victor Emmanuel II (14 March 1820 – 9 January 1878) who was King of Sardinia from 1849 until 17 March 1861, when he assumed the title King of Italy to become the first king of a united Italy since the 6th century, a title he held until his death in 1878. The Italians gave him the epithet Father of the Fatherland.  In 1896, the statue of King Victor Emmanuel II of Italy was inaugurated in the centre of the piazza. This marked the completion of the restructuring initiated by the city authorities in 1860.

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Wayne, Lou, Steve and Gay and I walked along the bustling alleyways where there were painters and a lady suspended in the air – a passer-by put his hand under her feet and there was nothing there – still has me baffled how these people can stay suspended up in the air for so long. The lady showed she was human as she pulled faces when the tourists posed with her and did not leave her a token of her appreciation.


We moved along to the Galleria Vittorio Emanuele II –  one of the world’s oldest shopping malls.  No, we did not have time to go shopping!  It is housed within a four-story double arcade consists of two glass-vaulted arcades intersecting in an octagon covering the street connecting Piazza del Duomo to Piazza della Scala. The street is covered by an arching glass and cast iron roof, a popular design for 19th-century arcades. The Galleria is named after Vittorio Emanuele II. It was designed in 1861 and built by Giuseppe Mengoni between 1865 and 1877.

 On the ground of the central octagonal, there are four mosaics portraying the coat of arms of the four capitals of the Kingdom of Italy (Turin, Florence, Rome and Milan). Tradition says that if a person spins around three times with a heel on the testicles of the bull from Turin coat of arms this will bring good luck. This practice causes damage to the mosaic: a hole developed on the place of the bull’s genitals. Of course we all had a go.
We had a refreshing iced coffee had a refreshing iced coffee as it was 32 degrees and then started our way back to the coach passing by the beautiful cathedral once more.
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Our one and a half hour drive ended on a narrow road beside Lake Como (Lago di Como in Italian, also known as Lario. It is a lake of glacial origin in Lombardy, Italy. It has an area of 146 square kilometres (56 sq mi), making it the third-largest lake in Italy. At over 400 metres (1,300 feet) deep, it is one of the deepest lakes in Europe, and the bottom of the lake is more than 200 metres (660 ft) below sea level.

Lake Como has been a popular retreat for aristocrats and wealthy people since Roman times, and a very popular tourist attraction with many artistic and cultural gems. It has many villas and palaces. Many famous people have or have had homes on the shores of Lake Como, such as Madonna, George Clooney, Gianni Verace, Sylvester Stallone, Julian Lennon, Richard Branson and Pierina Legnani. Lake Como is widely regarded as one of the most beautiful lakes in Europe and it certainly looks like it.

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We booked into lovely Hotel Lario in Mezzegra-Tremezzina and had beautiful view of Lake Como and spectacular mountain landscapes of Mount Crocione and the slopes of Mount Galbiga.

After booking in, I had a lovely swim in the hotel pool. After dinner, Wayne, Lou, Steve and Gay went over the road to the Lake to watch some of the group have a swim in the lake. We then took a short walk across the road to a local bar for our usual nightcap and then returned to the hotel and went to bed.

Another full on day – full of history and wonderful buildings and fantastic scenery. Just seems to get better as each day passes.

Monday, 3 August 2015 – Day 9 – Roma- Florence – Montecatini – (Day 55)

Monday, 3 August 2015 – Day 9 – Roma- Florence – Montecatini (211 miles/340 Kms)  – Day 55

This morning it was 6.00 wakeup, bags out at 6.45 down to breakfast and at 7.30 on coach and heading towards the Vatican. Thankfully, we had our local guide, Flavia again so our tickets were organised so that we didn’t have to queue up with thousands to enter.  Our handbags were security checked and then we entered the Vatican Museum. A huge huge museum with over 2000 rooms and 9 miles of the most extensive collections of art in the world. The Museums are brilliantly decorated and brim over with treasures and history.  Flavia, our local  gave us a commentary before we entered the Museums.

The Vatican Museums  are the museums of the Vatican City and are located within the city’s boundaries. They display works from the immense collection built up by the Popes throughout the centuries including some of the most renowned classical sculptures and most important masterpieces of Renaisance art in the world

Pope Julius II founded the museums in the early 16th century.

On our way to the Sistine Chapel we passed the monumental orbs standing tall as the centrepiece of the Courtyard of the Pinecone by Italian sculptor Arnaldo Pomodoro, born 23 June 1926 in Morciano, Romagna,Italy and  currently lives and works in Milan.  Arnaldo Pomodoro is known to construct enormous spheres with layers of complexities. The structure titled Sphere within a Sphere, is a bronze statue that appears golden as the sun shines down on it. It is 4 meters (a little over 13 feet) in diameter.

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The Milan-based artist began his series of spheres in the 60’s with Sphere no. 1 and has continued designing the globe-like pieces, each depicting a different map of destruction. Each tremendous ball is fractured, revealing an intricate interior that unveils yet another cracking orb. The design of the internal layers seem to mimicking the gears of a clock or the inner workings of a grand piano, making it appear very complicated.

Because of the sculptural installation’s round shape, it also echoes the form of Earth. It isn’t absolutely clear what the artist’s intentions are, but it gives off the impression that it is reflecting the complexity of our world and how easily it can be torn apart.

We went onto the other side of Saint Peter’s Square or Piazza San Pietro, which is located in front of  St. Peter’s Basilica,  and is one of the best known squares in all of Italy and is an important gathering place for tourists visiting the sights of Vatican City. From St. Peter’s Square, visitors can also see the Papal Apartments, which is not only where the Pope lives but also the perch from which the pontiff often addresses crowds of pilgrim.

We entered the Sistine Chapel .  In 2013, 5.5 million people visited the Museum, which combined makes it the 5th most visited art museum in the world. There are 54 galleries, or salas, in total, with the Sistine Chapel, notably, being the very last sala within the Museum. You enter and just don’t know where to look. It is stunning – Michaelangelo’s masterpiece, which is perhaps the greatest example of art anywhere and certainly the largest contiguous body by one painter. There are also some lesser masterpieces in the Sistine Chapel which are beautiful.

The Sistine Chapel ceiling, with its ceiling decorated by Michelangelo between 1508 and 1512, is a cornerstone work of High Renaissance art. The Sistine Chapel, is the large papal chapel built within the Vatican between 1477 and 1480. It was painted at the commission of Pope Julius II. The chapel is the location for papal conclaves and many important services.

The ceiling’s various painted elements form part of a larger scheme of decoration within the Chapel, which includes the large fresco  of The Last Judgement on the sanctuary wall, also by Michelangelo, wall paintings by several leading painters of the late 15th century including Sandro Botticelli, Domenico Ghirlandaio and Pietro Perugino, and a set of large tapestries by Raphael, the whole illustrating much of the doctrine of the Catholic Church.

Central to the ceiling decoration are nine scenes from the Book of Genesis of which The Creation of Adam is the best known, the hands of God and Adam being reproduced in countless imitations. The complex design includes several sets of individual figures, both clothed and nude, which allowed Michelangelo to fully demonstrate his skill in creating a huge variety of poses for the human figure, and have provided an enormously influential pattern book of models for other artists ever since.

Words cannot describe this building.  Even though there were thousands of people, it did not feel crowded. Weird thing to say as this building is just so huge.   What a talented man Michaelangelo was not forgetting the other artists.  I cannot write and describe this wonderful building but it was just such an interesting place with the hundreds of paintings, frescoes and statues. Google will come in handy to read the story of the Sistine Chapel. What was amazing to hear was that some of the “paintings” were done in mosaic. You just cannot comprehend how these very talented artists performed their magnificent artworks. It was certainly a beautiful time being in this unbelievable building.

We passed a couple of Swiss Guards  who are the Swiss soldiers who have served as guards at foreign European courts since the late 15th century and now protect the Pope. The Swiss troops were famous mercenaries for hundreds of years and had a reputation for discipline and loyalty, and employing revolutionary battle tactics and were considered the most powerful troops of the 15th century.  The Papal Swiss Guard (now located in Vatican City) was founded in 1506 and the first contingent of 150 Swiss guardsmen arrived at the Vatican. The Papal Swiss Guard has a bodyguard like role. Often called “the world’s smallest army,” they serve as personal escorts to the pontiff and as watchmen for the Vatican City and the pontifical summer villa of Castel Gandolfo. The guards, who are independent of the Swiss armed forces, are employed by the Roman Catholic Church under the leadership of the Pole. Recruits to the guards must be Catholic, single males with Swiss citizenship who have completed basic training with the Swiss military and can obtain certificates of good conduct. New recruits must be unmarried Roman Catholic males with Swiss citizenship, between 19 and 30 years of age, and at least 5 feet 8 inches (1.74 metres) tall; they must have a professional diploma or high school degree and must complete basic training with the Swiss military.

We had our last walk on the magnificent St Peter’s Square and on our way to our coach, Steve decided he would be our “guide” on our way back to the coach. We had to watch out for scarf on the stick as we went on our tours – we certainly looked out for it as we did not want to get to get lost with so many other hundreds of tourists were around.

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We had our last walk on St Peter’s Square and then boarded our coach on our way heading north to Florence (Firenze). One of the impressive buildings we saw  the The Supreme Court of Cassation (Italian: Corte Suprema di Cassazione) is the highest court of appeal or court of last resort in Italy.

We stopped for our lunch and had to have a photo with the cow (for the benefit of my friend’s amusement) We had an easy drive on the Highway of the Sun to Florence.  Again the countryside was agricultural with more paddocks of sunflowers.  Hills were in the background and villages started to appear.  The motorway started to ascend the Tuscanny Hills.

We arrived in Florence  – Italian: Firenze, the capital city of the Italian region of Tuscany and of the province of Florence. It is the most populous city in Tuscany, with approximately 382,000 inhabitants, expanding to over 1,520,000 in the metropolitan area. It was declared a World Heritage Site by UNESCO in 1982.

Florence originated as a Roman city, and later, after a long period as a flourishing trading and banking medieval commune, it was the birthplace of the Italian Renaissance. Florence was home to the Medici, one of history’s most important noble families.

We stopped at the Piazzale Michelangelo (Michelangelo Square) and had a beautiful panoramic view of Florence, Italy, located in the Oltrarno district of the city. The square, dedicated to the Renaissance sculptor Michelangelo, has bronze copies of some of his marble works found elsewhere in Florence: We saw the famous David and the four allegories of the Medici Chapel of San Lorenzo. The monument was brought up by nine pairs of oxen on 25 June 1873.

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We had to move on to take a walk in the Piazza Santa Croce, one of the main plazas or squares located in the central neighborhood of Florence, region of Tuscany, Italy and takes its name from the Basilica of Santa Croce that overlooks the square. We passed the National Central Library and Rotunda. We took a few minutes out to listen to the lovely recital by a violinist.  We then arrived at the Basilica of Santa Croce (Basilica of the Holy Cross). The Basilica di Santa Croce, the principal Franciscan church in Florence, Italy, and a minor basilica of the Roman Catholic Church. We did not go in as the queues were too lengthy.

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We then went into a huge leather outlet and watched a demonstration of some leather making. The artist made a leather rubbish bin.  We were then able to go into the shop but it was so crowded we did not stay.

As we done quite a lot of walking here stayed in town with Steve, Gay, Wayne and Lou – a little later on Susan, Kevin and Britt joined us (she had some time off as Andraya was the local guide). Gay and I had a bit of fun on a couple of bikes that were nearby. We said we should have hired some instead all our walking.

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We met up with the group at 6.30. It was onto the coach for our hour’s drive to our accommodation town in the spa of Montecatini at the Settentrionale Esplanade. A lovely hotel.

We had our dinner at the hotel and then Alyssa and I went down to the little market stalls in the nearby street to buy some extra luggage.

I had a bit of a headache so came back to the hotel and intended to have a reasonably early night. Alyssa came home about midnight and wanted to go across the road for a nightcap but didn’t want to by herself so as my headache tablets had taken effect, I accompanied her.  She is a night owl for sure. We had a couple of interesting drinks and finally came back to the room quite late so into bed. So much for my early night but thankfully my headache had eased considerably!!