Tag Archives: Tuscany

Entrance Tickets – The Leaning Tower of Pisa

Entrance Ticket - Leaning Tower of Pisa

There are two hundred and ninety four steps up a spiral staircase that take visitors up and which due to the absence of windows, and therefore orientation, is reminiscent of a fairground wacky house attraction, especially when although you know that you were ascending sometimes according to the extreme angle of the tilt of the building it feels as though you were going down at the same time, which, believe me, is a very unusual experience.

Mark Twain described it like this: “The winding staircase within is dark, but one always knows which side of the tower he is on because of his naturally gravitating from one side to the other of the staircase with the rise or dip of the tower. Some of the stone steps are foot-worn only on one end; others only on the other end; others only in the middle.”

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Entrance Tickets, The Duomo in Florence

Florence Doumo

Arriving in Florence we went first to the Cathedral, or Duomo, which although completed as long ago as 1436 is still the tallest building in the City.

Even though it was relatively early in the morning there was a huge queue of visitors waiting at the entrance and snaking in a seemingly endless human coil around the building so being naturally impatient decided we couldn’t afford the time to wait so decided to return later.

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Click on an image to scroll through the Gallery…

Grimsby Dock Tower and The Torre del Mangia in Siena

Grimsby Dock Tower

Lincolnshire is a flat county, a great deal of it struggles to rise even above sea level and this means that any tall building can be seen for miles around.

In the south there is the Boston Stump (St Botolph’s Church, the largest Parish Church in England) in the centre there is Lincoln Cathedral (third largest Cathedral in England) and in Grimsby there is the Dock Tower.

This is a water tower built in 1852 to provide hydraulic lifting power to operate the giant lock gates of the dock. It was designed by a man called James William Wild who had visited Siena in Italy and had so admired the place that he based his design for the Grimsby Dock Tower on the Torre del Mangia tower on the Palazzo Pubblico in Siena city centre.

Torre del Mangia

This piece of Italianate architecture on the Humber Estuary may not be Portmeirion in Wales by Sir Clough William-Ellis but is a very fine building.

This is Portmeirion in a photo taken on holiday in 1985…

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At three hundred and thirty feet it is the highest building in Lincolnshire, fifty feet higher than either the Boston Stump or Lincoln Cathedral. If it were in Bristol or Newcastle or Manchester then it would be a major tourist attraction but it is in Grimsby and hardly any one visits Grimsby so not many people have seen it.

002tower2Dock Tower
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Or have they? Let me take you two hundred miles or so south to the County of Berkshire and to Legoland Windsor.

Legoland is a theme park and one of the attractions is a zone called ‘miniland’ which is basically a model of London built out of Lego bricks and here there is Buckingham Palace, The Palace of Westminster, St Paul’s Cathedral and a whole host of other famous landmarks.

There isn’t much room for anywhere else but right there alongside the buildings of the capital is a model representing docks – not Portsmouth or Dover or Southampton but Grimsby. Grimsby! To me that is completely astounding and I can find no explanation as to why the designers of ‘miniland’ should select the remote town of Grimsby to be represented in this way, maybe they got lost on their way over from Sweden.

There are about two hundred visitors to Grimsby every year (I imagine), there isn’t even a dedicated Tourist Information Office, but there are over two million visitors to Legoland so a lot more people have visited Grimsby than they ever realise.

If, like me, you find this hard to believe then here it is…

Legoland Grimsby with key.

The Dock Tower (1), Grimsby Port Offices (2), Corporation Bridge (3) and Victoria Flour Mills (4).

In Rimini in Italy there is a theme park called Italia in Miniatura where there is a small scale model of Siena and the Torre del Mangia …

Siena in Miniature

Mini-Europe is a theme park located near Brussels in Belgium and has reproductions of monuments in the European Union on show at a scale of 1:25. Approximately eighty cities and three hundred and fifty buildings are represented and Italy is represented by six mini-models including Siena…

Siena at Mini-Europe

European Capital of Culture 1986 – Florence

“…we used to go and stand on the bridges and admire the Arno. It is popular to admire the Arno. It is a great historical creek with four feet in the channel and some scows floating around. It would be a very plausible river if they would pump some water into it. They all call it a river, and they honestly think it is a river, do these dark and bloody Florentines. They even help out the delusion by building bridges over it.” – Mark Twain – ‘The Innocents Abroad’

The most famous bridge in Florence is the Ponte Vecchio, which crosses the River Arno and like the Rialto in Venice is instantly recognisable by the thousands of tourists who visit it annually and saunter aimlessly from one side to the other and then back again.  It is the oldest bridge in Tuscany and by happy chance the only one in the city that, allegedly due to a direct order from Adolph Hitler himself, wasn’t blown up by the retreating Nazis as they abandoned Italy in 1944 towards the end of the Second-World-War.  Knowing just how much the Nazis used to like to blow things up this must have been a one-in-a-million fluke!

Shuttered Door Polignano a Mare Puglia Italy

The first bridge on this site was built a very long time ago by the Romans and was constructed of wood on stone piers.  It was ruined in 1117 and later reconstructed but destroyed again in 1333 by flooding, it was then rebuilt once more in 1345, but this time much more sensibly using stone.  Due to the high volume of traffic using the bridge, a number of shopkeepers set up shop to catch the passing trade.

florence-firenze

The first merchants here consisted primarily of blacksmiths, butchers, and tanners catering mostly to travelling soldiers but when the Medici family moved into Florence bringing with them vast wealth and an appreciation for the finer things in life they promptly cleared the bridge of all the dirty trades that were a bit of an eyesore and certainly responsible for polluting the river below and replaced them with goldsmiths and similar upmarket shops.

Today it remains lined with medieval workshops on both sides and some of them precariously overhang the river below supported only by slender timber brackets that look as though they are in imminent danger of collapse.  A number of these shops had to be replaced in 1966 when there was a major flood that consumed the city and swept some of them away but this time was unable to destroy the bridge itself.

Running along the top of the bridge is a corridor that the Medici had built so that they could cross the river without having to mix with the riff-raff below and is now an art gallery but we stayed down below and pushed our way through the hordes of tourists.  Today, as everyday I suspect, the bridge was busy with street traders and shoppers and the ever-present scrounging beggars.

Along the bridge and especially in the middle around the statue of the Florentine sculptor, Cellini, there were many padlocks clamped to the railings.  This, I found out later, is a lover’s tradition where by locking the padlock and throwing the key into the river they become eternally bonded.

Urban Wall Art Wroclaw Poland

This is an action where I would recommend extreme caution because it sounds dangerously impulsive to me; I think I would further recommend taking the precaution of keeping a spare somewhere in case I needed releasing later.  Apparently all of these love tokens do lots of damage to the bridge and thousands of padlocks need to be removed every year.  To deter people there is a €50 penalty for those caught doing it and that is a much higher price than I would ever be prepared to pay for eternal bondage!

Actually, it may be that there is some truth in this legend because according to ‘EuroStat’, even though it has doubled in the last five years, Italy has one of the lowest divorce rates in the European Union.  Sweden has the highest and although I don’t know this for sure I’m willing to bet that across all of Europe the Vatican State probably has the absolute lowest!

On the south bank of the river there is an area of the city known as the Oltrano (literally ‘Over the Arno’), which was an area of palaces and gardens developed by the Medici in the sixteenth century where they moved to get away from the overcrowding and the pollution of the old city.  The walk along the embankment took us as far as the Porta San Niccolò, a fourteenth century City gate and from there we climbed what seemed like never ending winding steps through lush mature gardens to the Piazzale Michelangelo where there were far reaching views over the rooftops of Florence on the north side of the river.

Florence Statue

The pastel facades of the buildings with their terracotta tiled roofs were just as they appear in the guide books and looked magnificent under a sky becoming ever more steadily blue.  At this location there was another copy of the statue of David and several other Michelangelo masterpieces but all of this was spoilt somewhat by the presence of the tacky tourist stalls catering for the continuous flood of day trippers arriving in torrents by coach.

The City was stretched out below and as we surveyed it and appreciated its size we knew instinctively that we had not allowed nearly enough time for the visit to Florence as we only had enough for a frantic dash around the major sites and certainly didn’t have time to visit the many museums, palaces and gardens that we would have liked to have seen.  We made a decision that we would have to come back another time.

Entrance Tickets – The Leaning Tower of Pisa

Entrance Ticket - Leaning Tower of Pisa

There are two hundred and ninety four steps up a spiral staircase that take visitors up and which due to the absence of windows, and therefore orientation, is reminiscent of a fairground wacky house attraction, especially when although you know that you were ascending sometimes according to the extreme angle of the tilt of the building it feels as though you were going down at the same time, which, believe me, is a very unusual experience.

Mark Twain described it like this: “The winding staircase within is dark, but one always knows which side of the tower he is on because of his naturally gravitating from one side to the other of the staircase with the rise or dip of the tower. Some of the stone steps are foot-worn only on one end; others only on the other end; others only in the middle.”

Read the full story…

leaning-tower-of-pisa

More Garibaldi – Giuseppe in Florence

Piazza Mentana Florence

Florence was very briefly between 1865 and 1871 the capital of the United State of Italy before, much to the relief of the taxpayers of the city, the privilege and the expense was transferred to Rome when it eventually became part of Italy in 1870.   

I was looking for the inevitable statue of Giuseppe Garibaldi but didn’t find it but but did instead come across the Statue of the Battle of Mentana  of 1867 which depicts a Garibaldi freedom fighter during the Third Italian War of Independence when with the secret complicity of the Italian government Giuseppe led a private expedition into the Papal States but which ultimately failed when defeated by French troops protecting the Papacy.  Florence had to wait another four years before transferring the capital status to Rome.

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More Garibaldi – Giuseppe in Pisa

Garibaldi Pisa

Outside it was still raining so without walking too far we turned left and walked along a busy road until reaching a hospitable looking bar in a square with the inevitable statue of Giuseppe Garibaldi in what turned out to be the student district of the city.  If we had walked on only a little further there was a lively little district with more choice but it didn’t matter, this place was agreeable and we only really wanted a nightcap so we found an empty table near the window with some precariously high chairs that wobbled alarmingly on the uneven floors and had a glass of red wine – and then we had another and the chairs wobbled a little bit more.

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