A drive through the luxuriant Tuscan countryside. I did want to stop at Bramasole and take tea with Frances Mayes but there was so much to do and to see. Next time, Frances!
Florence's dark and winding streets are filled with little craft shops packed with treasures. I visited Il Botterga d' Arte on the Borgo Ognissanti to buy another little carved angel to go with the two bought by Richard (in 1999) and myself (in 2004) on previous trips. The shop's interior just looked the same as it did then.
While street artists chalked an admirable depiction of Botticelli's Birth of Venus outside the Uffizi Gallery, Florence, I gazed in awe at the real thing inside the Gallery together with the Botticelli's Allegory of Spring, Lippi's Madonna and Child, Giotto's Madonna Enthroned and Michelangelo's Holy Family.
In Siena a marble dog spouted water into the famous fountain in Il Campo.
It's appropriate that my visit to Tuscany included a visit to the piazza in the little town of Fiesole, perched on the top of a hill overlooking the roofs of Florence. This is where Florence's history began. Fiesole was an Etruscan city and some of its inhabitants ventured down into the valley to give life to a village "destined to flourish" (the meaning of Florence) long before the Romans arrived to start a settlement. I enjoyed a glass of Chianti in Fiesole as I watched the rays of a late summer sun bathe Brunelleschi's Duomo in its soft light.
While the rest of Europe built cathedrals in sombre grey stone, the Florentines (and the Sienese) built extravagant creations of pink, green and white marble to the glory of God! The flamboyant cathedral of Sante Maria Del Fiore was begun in 1296 and finished 1461. The famous Duomo only took Brunelleschi 32 years, a relatively short time. On both my visits to Florence (in 2004), I was startled by the frivolous beauty of the Cathedral as I turned the corner of the dark winding medieval streets and came suddenly upon the Piazza de Duoma.
Siena's glorious Duomo is smaller but as impressive. It is like an iced wedding cake adorned with carved animal faces and sugarstick pillars.
The view down the Arno - the Santa Trinita Bridge, Florence.
The Ponte Vecchio, Florence, is a huddle of jewellery shops selling exquisite cameos, coral bracelets and necklaces, opal rings and fine goldwork.
A highlight was a morning visit to the well-preserved medieval town of San Gimignano. 15 of the original 70 towers survive. Do you remember this little town which featured in Zeffrelli's movie, "Tea with Mussolini"?
A street cafe in Siena's Il Campo which is also the scene of Siena's contrade (neighbourhoods) twice-yearly race, Il Palio.
And the brilliant wares of Tuscany - rich brocades, gilt frames, carved angels, painted Montecalcino ceramics, rich tapestries and delicious food and wine.