A Family Trip to Italy
This Family trip to Italy was motivated by the idea of exploring a number of Italian locations, ie; Rome, Florence, Siena, Pisa, Livorno, Venice and the Ferrari Factory in Maranello. We had originally wanted to include Genoa & Milan, but we felt that we would not have sufficient time to be able to explore each area if they were included. In addition, our game plan called for us to have a rental car only while in Florence, and to return that car when we took the train to Venice. We therefore decided to leave Genoa & Milan to another future trip.
We had never been to Italy as a family, and I had not been there since I was in the Navy many years ago, so the concept of going there and exploring it was exciting for all of us. Especially exciting due to the wide range of locations we selected to visit!
Note that we only rented a car while in Florence, during the other time frames of this trip we utilized the Italian Rail System. Yes it may not be considered as good as the French Rail System, but we had no issues, the trains were on time, clean and got to our destination(s) at the time(s) advertised. We did not see a way to cover all of the places we wanted to visit while in Florence without a vehicle, as each of those destinations were not only widely separated (ie; Florence to Siena, Siena to Livorno via country roads, Florence to Pisa and Florence to Maranello) but we did not want to be tied to a train schedule. As you will read on this page, this allowed us to stop anywhere we wanted, and to remain there for as long as we wanted.
To navigate to any area of this page, click this "locations list" to find where you would like to go to.
I am not going to describe how we flew to Rome, suffice it to say that we had a pleasant flight and got there jet-lagged. Yes, it is difficult to sleep in an airplane seat and yes, we all arrived feeling like we had to find coffee immediately!
Note that we flew into Leonardo da Vinci International Airport, which is 32 kilometers from our apartment rental near the Vatican. Using a taxi would have been very expensive, so we arranged to use a "hired car" (remember this is pre-Uber). As you can see in these two images, the airport was very crowded and it was a good decision to use a hired car!
We encourage you to click here to be taken to our "Exploring Rome" page, where you will find a number of beautiful pictures and informative descriptions & maps of what we saw.
The first stop (after Rome) on our Trek through Italy was Florence a beautiful city; full of amazing architecture, historical sites and amazing art collections residing in various museums.
Yes, Florence is only 270 kilometers north from Rome on the Italian E35 Autostrada, but the train service between the two cities is frequent & fast and our game plan called for us to rent a car only while in Florence.
Click here to visit our Florence Page.
Siena is a city in Tuscany, Italy and it is the capital of the province of Siena. The historic centre of
Siena has been declared by UNESCO a World Heritage Site.
It is one of the nation's most visited tourist attractions, with over 163,000 international
arrivals in 2008. Siena is famous for its cuisine, art, museums, medieval cityscape and the
Palio, a horse race held twice a year.
Siena is not easy to navigate in, if you do not have cellular service there, get yourself some paper maps and you will be glad that you did.
Day Trip to Siena from Florence
Our first day-trip from Florence, was to drive to
Siena so we could see the famous
horse race there. The Palio di Siena (known locally simply as Il Palio) is
a horse race that is held twice each year, on 2 July and 16 August.
Once we were able to get clear of the Florence City traffic, we headed straight south on the Raccordo Autostradale Firenze for not quite 85 kilometers. Our only concern was to get to Siena "early enough" to find a parking place, as we knew that there would be a very large crowd for the horse race.
Piazza del Campo
Even though we had arrived early in the morning, people were already starting to
gather. The actual arena is in the interior of the city, a very large court yard, circular
in layout and they have stadium seating and standing-only areas marked off (all of which
were long since reserved and expensive).
So we jumped back onto the Auto Strada, with the intention of driving to the coast via the Italian back-road SR68. Our first stop wound up being the Museo Delle Armature, near Monteriggioni, Italy. Everyone was thirsty, this looked like something that might be amusing, etc.
Porta Camollìa is one of the northern portals in the medieval walls of Siena. It is located on via Camollia and opens inside the city into the Contrada of Istrice. It consists of three arches; the inner arch is surmounted by a circular marble bas-relief with the Roman Catholic IHS Christogram inside a sun symbol (San Bernardino Christogram). The outer facade has the Medici heraldic shield with a stone arch added in 1604 by Alessandro Casolani and decorated by Domenico Cafaggi. The inscription was placed to record the entry of Ferdinand I de' Medici into Siena, and states Cor magis tibi sena pandit (Siena shows a heart that is bigger than this gate). The two central figures hold the Medici coat of arms.
Siena Cathedral is a medieval church in Siena, Italy, dedicated from its earliest days as a Roman Catholic Marian church, and now dedicated to the Assumption of Mary. It was the episcopal seat of the Diocese of Siena, and from the 15th century that of the Archdiocese of Siena. It is now the seat of the Archdiocese of Siena-Colle di Val d'Elsa-Montalcino.
Our Last View of the Piazza del Campo
Since the horse race was still many hours later that day, we decided that we were not going to wait, so we researched our maps and decided to drive over to the coastal area of Italy near Livorno. This was our final view of the Piazza as we walked back to our rental car.
Castello di Monteriggioni
As we drove north on the autostradale Firenze (Florence Freeway), we spotted the Museo Delle Armature which not only looked like an interesting place to visit, it also had a place to get coffee & snacks and restrooms!
The museum houses faithful reproductions of medieval and Renaissance weapons and armor. Accurate models, moreover, illustrate siege means and techniques in vogue in the same periods. Each room of the museum is dedicated to a specific moment in the history of Monteriggioni, in which the exhibited pieces are contextualized.
Interacting with Medieval Armor
The kids had a great time investigating various displays in the museum, because the Museum allows handling and wearing some weapons and parts of armor, located in special areas . Some explanatory panels and an easy multilingual audio guide accompany the visitor on this short but intense immersion in history.
Exterior area of the Castello
The Castello was built by the people of Siena at the beginning of the 13th century, to watch over the valleys extending towards rival town, Florence, in 1554 the Monteriggioni Castle was conquered by the Florentine Medici family. After so many wars, the castle changed hands not after a battle, but because of treason by a false ally, Bernardino Zeti.
The entire castle structure and surrounding buildings looked as though they had been
there for a seriously long time and looked every bit the part of a castle or fortified structure.
Fortunately for us, it also had an espresso bar and a cold drinks machine.
Our next stop on the way to Livorno, would be Castel San Gimignano. Astute map reading and investigative use of our Italy guidebook led us to this decision.
San Gimignano, Italy
Only a 42 kilometer drive from Siena (via Raccordo Autostradale Firenze & SR68/SP44). We had read about this area and Castel San Gimignano in our Italy research documentation, and decided that since it was on the way to Livorno, that this would be a good place to visit to break up the drive.
The Village of San Gimignano
It is a small walled medieval hill town in the province of Siena, Tuscany, north-central Italy. Known as the Town of Fine Towers, San Gimignano is famous for its medieval architecture, unique in the preservation of about a dozen of its tower houses, which, with its hilltop setting and encircling walls, form an unforgettable skyline.
Since San Gimignano is somewhat of a "living museum", the streets are narrow and
cobble stoned as originally constructed. Within the walls, the well-preserved buildings include notable examples
of both Romanesque and Gothic architecture, with outstanding examples of secular buildings
as well as churches. The Palazzo Comunale, the Collegiate Church and Church of Sant' Agostino
contain frescos, including cycles dating from the 14th and 15th centuries.
San Gimignano is mostly pedestrian-only, so no need for dodging cars or buses! However it should be noted that walking on cobblestone can be very tiring if you do not have good shoes on!
Collegiate Church of San Gimignano
It is a Roman Catholic collegiate church and minor basilica
situated in the Piazza del Duomo at the town's heart.
The church is famous for its fresco cycles which include works by Domenico Ghirlandaio, Benozzo Gozzoli, Taddeo di Bartolo, Lippo Memmi and Bartolo di Fredi. The basilica is located within the UNESCO World Heritage Site of the "Historic Centre of San Gimignano", with its frescos being described by UNESCO as "works of outstanding beauty".
San Gimignano Town Hall
The town hall building is immediately to the left of the Collegiate Church (the Duomo). San Gimignano is headed by a mayor (sindaco) assisted by a legislative body, the consiglio comunale, and an executive body, the giunta comunale. Since 1995 the mayor and members of the consiglio comunale are directly elected together by resident citizens, while from 1945 to 1995 the mayor was chosen by the legislative body.
Livorno is a port city on the Ligurian Sea on the western coast of Tuscany, Italy. It is the capital of the Province of Livorno, having a population of 158,493 residents in December 2017. It has traditionally been known in English as Leghorn.
The construction of the Roman road "Via Aurelia" in 241BC, coincided with the occupation of the region by the Romans, who left traces of their presence in the toponyms and ruins of towers. The natural cove called Liburna, later transformed into Livorna, before becoming Livorno certainly in eighteenth century.
Calambrone Beach, Italy
We continued our drive along SR68 to the Italian Coast, turned north on the Italy SS1 and drove to the Livorno
area. I had been here numerous times in the Navy, but never since then.
We decided that since it was such a nice day, that a beach outing would be a really good idea. However, we soon found out that there is no such thing as a "free" beach chair, everything has to be rented from whomever "owns" that section of the beach. This beach is near Calambrone, 9.6 kilometers north of Livorno.
Calambrone Beach Crowd
Even though the beach was initially sparsely populated when we arrived, by mid-afternoon it had become packed. However, since it was such a nice day and we had already paid for our beach chairs, we hung out longer. The Mediterranean water temperature was comfortable and all of us enjoyed our time here before driving back to Florence.
An Aqueduct Recreation
On the drive back to Florence from Livorno (Italian E80/A11/E76), we were surprised to see an aqueduct crossing the Autostrada! This is not a "Roman Artifact", it is the Medici Aqueduct of Asciano and construction started in 1592. This aqueduct contains 900 arches and is over six kilometes long. It was constructed to provide the city of Pisa with water from the Pisan Mountains near Lucca.
Driving to Pisa was straightforward, however the final miles were on city streets and conditions were very crowded. Parking was a major challenge, as the tourists had already taken up every available parking place for blocks surrounding the Piazza del Duomo. You will need a good source of information about where to go and you should have your mobile mapping device set - or you might wind up driving aimlessly around Pisa!
Tower of Pisa
The Leaning Tower of Pisa or simply the Tower of Pisa (Torre di Pisa [ˈtorre di ˈpiːza]) is the campanile, or
freestanding bell tower, of the cathedral of the Italian city of Pisa, known worldwide for its unintended tilt.
The tower is situated behind the Pisa Cathedral and is the third oldest structure in the city's Cathedral
Square (Piazza del Duomo), after the cathedral and the Pisa Baptistry. The "lean" started during
construction in the 12th century, due to an inadequate foundation. There have been numerous attempts
to correct the "lean" but none have been successful.
The tower is 183.27 feet on the "low side" and 185.93 feet on the "high side", and there are 294 steps from the base to the top.
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 the top of the tower is displaced horizontally 3.9 metres (12 ft 10 in) from the centre.
Pisa Baptistery of St. John
A Roman Catholic ecclesiastical building in Pisa, Italy. Construction
started in 1152 to replace an older baptistery, and when it was completed in 1363, it became the second
building, in chronological order, in the Piazza dei Miracoli, near the Duomo di Pisa and the cathedral's
free-standing campanile, the famous Leaning Tower of Pisa. The baptistery was designed by Diotisalvi, whose
signature can be read on two pillars inside the building, with the date 1153.
The largest baptistery in Italy, it is 54.86 meters high, with a diameter of 34.13 meters. The Pisa Baptistery is an example of the transition from the Romanesque style to the Gothic style: the lower section is in the Romanesque style, with rounded arches, while the upper sections are in the Gothic style, with pointed arches. The Baptistery is constructed of marble, as is common in Italian architecture.
Ferrari Factory Maranello, Italy
Since we were already in Florence, a drive north across the Appennine Mountains to Maranello, Italy to visit the Ferrari Factory seemed like a fantastic idea. We decided to drive the A1/E35 route which resulted in a 140 kilometer trek.
The drive through the mountains was spectacular, but then the navigation to get from the Autostrada to Maranello was a challenge (think country roads & no signs), but well worth it.
Ferrari Factory & Museum in Maranello
Upon arrival at the factory, we discovered that entrance to the Factory is limited to current Ferrari owners, soon to be owners, employees/workers
and nobody else. Fortunately, the
Ferrari Museum was located just a block away, and is populated with every
race car Ferrari ever raced, as well as just about every street car that Ferrari ever produced.
As the museum was also on the way to the Ferrari Test Track, and since it also had a deli, we decided to head over there and make the best of being in Maranello.
Ferrari F-40 Exhibit
Perhaps one of the most famous street cars Ferrari ever produced! This Ferrari F40 (Type F120) is a mid-engine, rear-wheel drive sports car built from 1987 to 1992, with the LM and GTE race car versions continuing production until 1994 and 1996 respectively. As the successor to the 288 GTO, it was designed to celebrate Ferrari's 40th anniversary and was the last Ferrari automobile personally approved by Enzo Ferrari. At the time it was Ferrari's fastest, most powerful, and most expensive car for sale.
Ferrari F-40 Exhibit
The F-40 is beautiful from any angle! The F-40 debuted with a planned production total of 400 units and a factory suggested retail price of approximately US$400,000 (5-fold the price of its predecessor, the 288 GTO) in 1987 ($900,000 today). One of those that belonged to the Formula One driver Nigel Mansell was sold for the then record of £1 million in 1990, a record that stood into the 2010s. A total of 1,311 cars were manufactured with 213 units destined for the United States.
After Florence, our next stop is Venice: We had decided during
our trip planning that it would be logical to turn in the rental car in Florence, and take the train
to Venice. This is because cars are not allowed in Venice, and the only place to park is on the
mainland and no parking anywhere else.
Click here to visit our Venice Page.
The end of the Trip
And so this trip comes to a conclusion - we caught the train back to Rome, so we could get onto our return flight to Virginia. This was an excellent way to have seen quite a bit of Italy, and even though we did not see everything, we plan to return on some future trip and see what we missed.
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