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April 2, 2006 - Sunday - We make our way to Florence this morning on our tour bus. Departure time is 7:30am since we are told there is a big soccer game happening today, and the driver wants to be in Florence ahead of the expected traffic jam. We travel on an autostrade (a toll expressway) which appears to be very new, since some of the rest stops are still not finished. The bus drives through automatic scan lanes at the toll booths - this makes the trip very efficient and smooth. The posted speed is 110km/h.

Lucignano, a medieval town atop a hill
- enroute Rome to Florence

Another medieval town atop a hill
- just a few minute's north of Lucignano, enroute Rome to Florence

Tuscan countryside, vineyards
- enroute Rome to Florence

Tuscan countryside, Roman viaduct in background
- enroute Rome to Florence

Porta san Niccolo (across the river) & spillway on the Arno River
, Florence

We arrive at Hotel Mediterraneo by 10:30am, so we are too early to check into our rooms. Our group splits up, and I join the group which takes a train to Pisa to see the famous Leaning Tower.  This is a bonus that was not part of the arrangements!

Galileo's first telescopeApril 3, 2006 - Monday - We are on a full day tour today. First stop is the Science History Museum, where we see Galileo's original telescopes, among many other old scientific instruments originally collected by the Medici and Lorraine families.

Sant Ambrogio Market - photo courtesy of www.florencephotos.comWe also visit the Sant Ambrogio Market, which is a very nice lunch stop. The fruit and vegetables are first rate here, so our group loads up with snacks.  There are some exotic meats, seafood and cheese sold in this market. Seating is limited, however there is a small sit-down restaurant and a few delis which serve sandwiches and soft drinks.  This market offers an excellent alternative to the rather pricey restaurants and coffee shops in the same district of Florence, however check opening hours before you go.

After lunch at the Market, we walk to the Piazza della Signoria, the Santa Maria Maggiore church, the cathedral Duomo Santa Maria del Fiore, and the Ponte Vecchio.  One of the highlights is seeing the statue of David in the piazza (a good copy, the original is inside).  Unfortunately the Uffizi is closed, so that goes on JoeTourist's list for the next visit to Florence.

Piazza della Signoria

The David, Piazza della Signoria, Palazzo Vecchio behind

The David, Hercules, Piazza della Signoria, Palazzo Vecchio and Galleria degli Uffizi behind

The Fountain of Neptune, La Foantana di Nettuno, Piazza della Signoria

The backside of Hercules, Piazza della Signoria

Santa Maria Maggiore church

Woman's face in the outside wall of the Santa Maria Maggiore church

The sanctuary, Santa Maria Maggiore church

Altar, Santa Maria Maggiore church

Chapel, Santa Maria Maggiore church

Chapel alter and fresco, Santa Maria Maggiore church

The cathedral, Duomo Santa Maria del Fiore

The tower of Duomo Santa Maria del Fiore

Two of the "Gates of Paradise" (as Michelangelo described Ghiberti's work) of Duomo Santa Maria del Fiore

Detail of one of the "Gates of Paradise" of Duomo Santa Maria del Fiore

One of the "Gates of Paradise" of Duomo Santa Maria del Fiore

Fresco in dome, Duomo Santa Maria del Fiore

Other sights in Florence

Flower stand, narrow street

Building where Michaelangelo painted the Mona Lisa

Arno River shoreline
in Florence

Ponte Vecchio, the Arno River

Two arches, Ponte Vecchio

Pedestrian traffic and shops on the Ponte Vecchio

The Ponte Vecchio has a long tradition of retail being situated on the bridge, and these retailers are almost exclusively jewelers.

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Six of us go to Trattoria Tirovino this evening for dinner.  This restaurant is a family-run operation, located a few blocks from our hotel. We have a wonderful meal of savory Tuscan food, and our friendly servers guide us to their exceptional Tuscan wines. The prices were very reasonable. 

Unfortunately, this restaurant closed a few years after we were there.  However, I have it on good authority that a new restaurant is now at the same location, and offers just as wonderful food and service as before.  Trattoria Osteria Da Quč Ganzi comes highly recommended by Dave Lane, who remarked "it was probably the best meal of our vacation, The new owner serves his customers personally and the food was excellent. A good sign is when (a restaurant is) full of Italians, not tourists!" Address: Via Ghibellina 70, Florence. Tel: 055 2260010.  Rave reviews on TripAdvisor

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