A Travellerspoint blog

February 2015

A Short Stay in Florence

sunny 70 °F

For Thursday, May 15th, we're going to take the train from Venice to Florence, and make a day out of it, staying overnight and departing the next morning for points south. We're not big on Renaissance art, so we're skipping the museums during this trip.

The train from Venice to Florence is, as usual, a breeze...I really enjoy using the Italian train system for transportation. We've booked a room at the Hotel Laurus Al Duomo, and it's really very nice and centrally located. Here's the view from our room:

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After a light snack, we head over toward the Duomo complex. Our plan is to climb both the dome and the bell tower. To do so, you first need to stop at the ticket office, on the south side of plaza, opposite the Baptistry. The ticket is now a combined fare for all of the Duomo complex.

The Baptistry itself is currently undergoing exterior renovations, and is covered with canvas.

The Baptistry is covered with a tarp for restoration

The Baptistry is covered with a tarp for restoration

We do, however, get to see the replica of the "Gates of Heaven":

The bronze doors of the Baptistry (actually replicas)

The bronze doors of the Baptistry (actually replicas)

First up, the climb to the cupola of the Duomo. Brunelleschi's dome is an engineering marvel, and architects are still trying to figure out how he managed to accomplish the construction of this vast dome without the use of timber forms or concrete. This journey is foot powered, all the way. Your first ascent is through spiral stairs ascending through the transept of the church.

The Duomo

The Duomo

Fine mosaic work

Fine mosaic work

Entrance for the stairs to the dome

Entrance for the stairs to the dome

Narrow spiral stairs

Narrow spiral stairs

Eventually, you reach the base of the dome itself, where you have an incredible view of the fresco. You're also surrounded by a plexiglass wall, which inhibits photography somewhat.

Reaching the fresco at the base of the dome

Reaching the fresco at the base of the dome

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171 feet down

171 feet down

The Last Judgement

The Last Judgement

The next phase is a circular climb between the inner and outer shell of the dome. It's dark and crowded, and you often have to squeeze over to make room for groups of people descending, but eventually, you reach the hatch to the cupola, and rewarding views.

Climbing through the hatch

Climbing through the hatch

View from the cupola

View from the cupola

View from the cupola

View from the cupola

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The Bargello

The Bargello

Even up here, attention to detail

Even up here, attention to detail

375 feet to the rooftops below

375 feet to the rooftops below

After a while, we squeeze back down through the hatch, and navigate the stairs back to ground level. So, what to do after you've seen an engineering marvel from the inside? Hey, let's climb a bell tower!

The Campanile has four platforms, so you have an opportunity for breaks and views at each level.

View of the Baptistry from the top of the Campanile

View of the Baptistry from the top of the Campanile

View of the Cupola from the Campanile

View of the Cupola from the Campanile

The climb up the Campanile has 4 terraces.

The climb up the Campanile has 4 terraces.

3/4 of the way up

3/4 of the way up

The views aren't much different as those you can get from the cupola, but you have the added bonus of seeing the dome from the outside. If tight, enclosed spaced bother you, I definitely recommend the Campanile as an alternative to the Cupola.

Weak-kneed from our back-to-back climbs, we wander around Florence for a bit, catching some of the iconic views.

Palazza Vecchio

Palazza Vecchio

Rowers on the Arno River

Rowers on the Arno River

Ponte Vecchio

Ponte Vecchio

We decide to have dinner at Trattoria San Lorenzo. Normally, I would expect a restaurant in such close proximity to a major tourist site to be mediocre, but this was an unexpectedly nice meal. We both chose Papardelle pasta with Cinghiale, a broad ribbon pasta with a wild boar sauce (our first time eating boar). Delicious! Intense pork flavor with the al dente pasta was a great combination, and worked well with the house red.

In the morning, we'll be taking the long commute on a fast train south to Salerno.

Posted by Zukini 15:04 Archived in Italy Comments (0)

South to Amalfi

semi-overcast 69 °F

Thursday morning, we get ready to depart the Hotel Laurus Al Duomo in Florence, but not before stopping at the rooftop restaurant for breakfast. The hotel provides a rather nice buffet with a definite European slant. One of the items on the buffet is a wonderful cheese, very similar to the type we've enjoyed on our many lunchtime panini. I'm curious about what type of cheese it is, so that I can attempt to find it in the USA, so I stop by the prep area and ask one of the servers. She obligingly shows me the wheel it was cut from, and explains that it really doesn't have a name...it's just their "local cheese". As we learn through the rest of our trip, that's pretty typical. Each area we stay in has it's own local cheese...the only cheeses that have names seem to be those (gasp!) imported from other areas.

After breakfast, we gather are belongings and make the short trip uphill to the train station at Santa Maria Novello. We've prebooked our tickets for the fast train to Rome, where we'll switch over to the Frecciargento to Salerno. As we reach Naples and Vesuvius, heavy clouds have moved in, and it's beginning to rain.

Rain over Vesuvius as we arrive by train

Rain over Vesuvius as we arrive by train

From the train station in Salerno, it's an easy 10 minute walk down to the harbor and our boat to Amalfi. We're thankful once again that we've learned the art of minimal packing...we each carry a 17" suitcase and a small backpack, making travel incredibly easy. Our boat is about half full, so we head up to the upper deck, but the drizzle is persistent, and we ultimately seek shelter below. The trip from Salerno to Amalfi is pretty, even in the rain.

Taking a rainy boat ride from Salerno to Amalfi

Taking a rainy boat ride from Salerno to Amalfi

We're renting an apartment in Amalfi, so we're met at the dock by a rental agent from TechnoCasa to escort us to the apartment. We've rented this through FlipKey, and we're very satisfied with the experience. The apartment, Dolce Vita A, is perched at the south end of Amalfi beach, up a flight of about 70 steps. It has two long but narrow balconies overlooking the beach, and the views just speak for themselves. We couldn't be happier.

Our apartment is the second balcony up

Our apartment is the second balcony up

View from our balcony

View from our balcony

Our apartment balcony

Our apartment balcony

Dolce Vita Apartment in Amalfi

Dolce Vita Apartment in Amalfi

Dolce Vita Apartment in Amalfi

Dolce Vita Apartment in Amalfi

Dolce Vita Apartment in Amalfi

Dolce Vita Apartment in Amalfi

Dolce Vita Apartment in Amalfi

Dolce Vita Apartment in Amalfi

Just imagine waking to that view each morning! The only minor drawback is that directly below is the busy coastal highway, which means there is constant noise from motorcycles, cars, and buses until about 11pm each evening, but balanced against the beautiful views (and the opportunity to watch locals celebrate a birthday party on the beach), it's no problem for us at all.

A Birthday party on the beach below

A Birthday party on the beach below

Night in Amalfi

Night in Amalfi

Each morning we are there, a different small cruise ship is anchored offshore, using tenders to bring cruisers to Amalfi.

Star Clipper

Star Clipper

Tonight, we enjoy the ambiance of the town, and admit we've fallen in love with it already. While it's busy with day tourists, in the evening things quiet down, and you get a real sense of the place. Tomorrow, we'll start walking the trails through the hills of the coast. Stay tuned for breathtaking views and hair-raising stories!

Posted by Zukini 17:10 Archived in Italy Comments (0)

Valle dei Mulini

sunny 70 °F

We spend Saturday relaxing and visiting the town of Amalfi, familiarizing ourselves with the alleyways and the ebb and flow of daily life. We're finding this town to be utterly charming. During the day, the town is flooded with an influx of day-trippers, but most of them only stop for a short while to visit the Duomo or the seafront, perhaps stopping at one of the tourist restaurants on the square. Then, they move in a rush to see Positano or Ravello. In the evening, though, the town is mostly locals, gathering in the Piazza and going about their business.

We find a wonderful restaurant, La Taverna di Masaniello, run by Andrea and his brother Pietro. It's a small place, with a few outside tables, tucked away in the corner of the Piazza dei Dogi. There are much showier places right outside their door, but they are the real deal. Delicious food, simply and wonderfully prepared with fresh ingredients. When the present you with a plate, the pride that they have in the food they have prepared for you is evident. We felt like family and ate there frequently.

On Sunday, it's time to go adventuring again. Mrs. Zukini's knees have recovered from all the stair climbing in Florence, so we decide to head off on a hike through the Valle dei Mulini (The Valley of the Mills), named for the three ruined paper mills that once operated there. This trip starts from the far end of Amalfi town, and winds its way gradually up through the valley, eventually bringing us to the town of Pontone, high above. From Pontone, we'll take a side trip to the ruins of Torre dello Ziro, then head back down via the long stairways to Amalfi.

For the most part, the photos and captions will speak for themselves.

Valle dei Mulini - Valley of the Mills

Valle dei Mulini - Valley of the Mills

Lemon groves

Lemon groves

Apricots or Persimmons?

Apricots or Persimmons?

A private zip-line

A private zip-line

Ascending to the upper level of the valley

Ascending to the upper level of the valley

Ruins of paper mills

Ruins of paper mills

Valle dei Mulini

Valle dei Mulini

As we wind our way through the valley, we are seldom far from the sound of rushing water from the stream. Periodically, we get glimpses of the many cascades and waterfalls, and the icy cold, crystal clear mountain water.

Clear, cold, mountain water

Clear, cold, mountain water

Waterfalls

Waterfalls

Ruins of a paper mill

Ruins of a paper mill

Waterfalls

Waterfalls

Water is bursting from the rock face of this waterfall

Water is bursting from the rock face of this waterfall

Archway to the old steel mill

Archway to the old steel mill

Not a good sign

Not a good sign

Panorama

Panorama

Amalfi is far below

Amalfi is far below

As we reach this point, noon arrives, and we hear the Sunday church bells from Amalfi come drifting up through the valley.

Pontone is up ahead

Pontone is up ahead

We break for lunch at the Blu Bar in Pontone, where we get a great Neapolitan style pizza and icy cold glasses of fresh-squeezed lemonade. Fueled up with carbs, we'll be off on the side branch to Torre dello Ziro shortly.

Time for pizza at the Blu Bar in Pontone

Time for pizza at the Blu Bar in Pontone


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Posted by Zukini 16:10 Archived in Italy Tagged amalfi valley_of_the_mills valle_dei_mulini Comments (0)

Torre dello Ziro

sunny 70 °F

After lunch in Pontone, we continue or hike on the spur that leads to the ruins of the ancient watchtower of Torre dello Ziro, perched on a promontory high above Amalfi and Atrani.

Ruins on the hillside

Ruins on the hillside

Heading up to Torre dello Ziro

Heading up to Torre dello Ziro

Plenty of stairs

Plenty of stairs

The ruins are built on several terraces on the promontory of Monte Aureo. We start by climbing up the the highest level at the summit of the mountain. We're treated to expansive views of Ravello, on the other side of the valley.

Ravello

Ravello

View from the top of Monte Aureo

View from the top of Monte Aureo

Villa Cimbrone at Ravello, on the high escarpment

Villa Cimbrone at Ravello, on the high escarpment

Below us to the south is the town of Atrani.

Atrani far below

Atrani far below

Ruins of the old fortification

Ruins of the old fortification

Atrani

Atrani

The tower itself is supposedly haunted and avoided by locals, with a story about a madwoman ("La Pazza") who was once imprisoned here. That doesn't seem to deter the young lovers we find stretched out on blankets behind a grassy hill.

Torre dello Ziro

Torre dello Ziro

At this point, we realize we missed one of the terraces...the one that gives the best view of the tower. We decide to backtrack back up Monte Aureo.

We need to climb to that column to get the best view

We need to climb to that column to get the best view

Looking toward the town of Scala

Looking toward the town of Scala

The climb back up is worth it...once we reach the column, we have a spectacular view of the ruins below us, with the town of Atrani to the left and Amalfi to the right.

View from the column above Torre dello Ziro

View from the column above Torre dello Ziro

Atrani on the left, Amalfi on the right

Atrani on the left, Amalfi on the right

From here, we hike back to Pontone, and the stairs down to Amalfi.

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Posted by Zukini 16:52 Archived in Italy Tagged torre_dello_ziro Comments (0)

Spending a day in Amalfi

overcast 68 °F

Monday, it's a little chilly and overcast. The weather forecast is for rain, so, while we would like to head up to the Sentiero degli Dei, we decide to wait a day for better weather, and stick around Amalfi. We spend most of our day just strolling around, and decide to walk along the seafront from the north side of Amalfi down to Atrani.

The day is mostly overcast and drizzly, so we're glad we didn't make the hike to the Path of the Gods today.

North Side of Amalfi

North Side of Amalfi

North side of Amalfi

North side of Amalfi

Carrying lemons down from the groves.

Carrying lemons down from the groves.

View of Amalfi from the Marina

View of Amalfi from the Marina

Our apartment is in the building on the right.

Our apartment is in the building on the right.

Torre dello Ziro

Torre dello Ziro

A couple steals a few moments by the sea

A couple steals a few moments by the sea

Heading toward Atrani

Heading toward Atrani

Fishing from the jetty near Atrani

Fishing from the jetty near Atrani

Waiting for the fish to bite.

Waiting for the fish to bite.

A couple enjoys the beach, despite the chilly weather.

A couple enjoys the beach, despite the chilly weather.

The beach at Atrani

The beach at Atrani

The beach at Atrani

The beach at Atrani

The beach at Atrani

The beach at Atrani

Evening on the Piazza

Evening on the Piazza

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Posted by Zukini 20:15 Archived in Italy Tagged amalfi Comments (0)

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