At sunrise we climbed the terraces above the hotel and toasted our last few hours in the Cinque Terra.  A friendly cat was our companion amongst the silver leafed olive trees. The Italian Riviera was my favorite experience from the friendly people, fresh amazing foods, and stunning natural wonders.

Back to the train and then the bus and driving down the autostrada. At the Autogrill we got a great deal on a bottle of Brunello. On the way to Florence we stopped at the Florence American Cemetery and Memorial - The United States Fifth Army liberated Rome and pushed North to free this Cemetery site on August 3, 1944. The serene hillside honors 4398 gleaming white crosses on emerald green lawns. Both of us being veterans, we were honored to stand among these heroes.

Within a short bus ride, we reached Firenze and walked through the cobbled streets to the Torre Guelfa, an historic hotel and tower allowing the most incredible views of the landscape of the city. We were only a few blocks from the Ponte Vecchio spanning the Arno River and the Palazzo Vecchio. 


The group met up for an afternoon guided tour into the Piazza Della Signoria with its fountain and loggia of statues that come to life including Perseus holding Medusa’s snake filled head. The replica of David stands here, but we are heading to the real thing. The Duomo is the heart of Florence, this grand cathedral and the Campanile – Giotto’s Tower rise up over the piazza crawling with visitors. Brunelleschi modeled this dome on Rome’s Pantheon and Michelangelo modeled St. Peter’s on the Duomo. We started and ended the Heart of Italy tour with these historic grand domed architectural treasures. At the Baptistery adorned with Ghiberti’s Bronze Doors, you gaze into golden artwork viewing the scenes of the New Testament. 

Here in this piazza there were tremendous crowds and we ended up losing one of our tour members. Later we found out the exciting story that one of our 60-year-old members fought off a 20-year-old pick pocket before the Carabinieri took them away. All was well in the end. Again, glad Pete and I were using Rick’s provided money belt. 


At the Accademia our group toured listening to Rick’s audio guide.  Entering the long hall lined by Michelangelo’s unfinished prisoner statues – bodies emerging from the marble, you feel so infinitely small as you approach the massive statue of David.  As Rick said, “When you look into the eyes of this magnificent sculpture, you are looking into the eyes of Renaissance Man.”

That evening we were on our own for dinner.  There was only one option in Florence:  Antica Trattoria da Tito – If you have seen this episode of Rick Steves’, he is fed the classic Florentine feast from Chef BOBO!  Even though we didn’t see BOBO that night we dined on the ultimate Bistecca alla Florentina – thick rare Steak, Crostini alla Toscana – liver pate, Rosso Toscano Wine, and Cantucci – almond cookies to dip in sweet strong wine.

As the sign in the window says NO AMERITALIAN FOOD HERE!



Pete and I are early risers and headed out for a walk right before sunrise. At the Mercato Nuovo (Straw Market) we checked out the loggia filled with closed stalls of the leather merchants. You will return to Florence if you rub the nose of Il Porcellino, a bronze statue of a wild boar. After an elegant breakfast at the Torre Guelfa our group was off to the Uffizi to meet up with our guides Ciara and Annie. The art, the palace, and the story brought to life the Medici and their art collection. We travelled history from Giotto’s Madonna and Child with Angels to Piero della Francesca’s Duke and Duchess of Urbino to Botticelli’s Spring and the Birth of Venus To Michelangelo’s only painting The Holy Family. This is an art lover’s paradise at a calm pace without the Vatican crowds. At the end the café terrace overlooks the Duomo and then we strolled back along the Arno River.


In the afternoon we shopped a little, toured the Basilica Santa Maria Novella, found the Profumeria, the ancient apothecary of beauty, before aperitivos at the top of the Torre Guelfe tower with our tour mates at sunset. 

The Last Supper of the Heart of Italy Tour was a feast with all of our friends.  First dish was a tasty pasta sampler.  The chef brought out the flaming beef that scared Lisa.  Topped off with a dessert cart like no other, we raised a glass of Limoncello to the wonders of Italy and all of our new tour friends. 



Keep on travelin' to see our Sienna day trip!