The second city on our trip was Florence, the beautiful city on the banks of the Arno, home to great artists like Michelangelo and great families like the Medicis. We stayed in a small but beautiful hotel in the heart of the city, the Hotel Tornabuoni Beacci, which coincidentally was the same hotel my parents stayed in 34 years ago when they visited Florence (although it was only a pensione at that time).

We had some wonderful meals in our 5 nights in Florence, three of which are worth noting. The first night we at at Oliveros, recommended to us by our hotel concierge. Very classy, and classic, Tuscan restaurant. Another night we ate at Becco Fino, a fish restaurant along the Arno. And the third restaurant we especially loved was Sostanza, which had been recommended to us by some good friends of my family's, Milton and Joan Bagley, at our wedding. It is basically a small, local, Tuscan steakhouse, but the food was excellent (best steak I've had in a long time) but the dining experience is what made it special. They sat four couples together at the same table - two American, two Italian - for a communal dining experience. Between my Italian and one of the Italian gentleman's English, we were all able to converse and have a great evening.

Ellen was rather tired upon our arrival in Florence Thursday afternoon, and took a little nap when we arrived.
But she soon woke up, and we went out for dinner at a restaurant recommended by our hotel, Oliveros, a very classy, traditional tuscan restaurant. One of the better meals of the trip.
After dinner we walked over to the Piazza della Signoria, the main "town hall" square of Florence. Here we see one of the copies of Michaelangelo's David, which is in front of the Palazzo Vecchio.
A beautiful shot looking towards the Uffizi, truly one of the great art galleries of the world, which we would visit the next day (Friday)
Another spot in the Piazza, the statue of Neptune. It was recently damaged by a drunk italian who climbed up onto the statue, slipped, and broke off part of the statue's hand.
Our hotel was the top two floors of an old palazzo on the main shopping street in Florence, and had a very nice patio overlooking the city.
Friday we took a morning tour of the city. First stop was the Strozzi Palace, which is now a museum. The large central atrium was beautiful.
The Ponte Veccho (Old Bridge), the central Arno span. It was the only bridge over the Arno to survive WWII intact. Centuries ago its shops included tanners and butchers, but in the mid-1500s, Cosmo de Medici, who had a private walkway on the top level of the bridge that took him from his home at the Pitti Palace to the Palazzo Vecchio, decided that the smell and mess weren't appropriate, so he kicked them all out and today only jewelers (and one clothing store, oddly) are among the bridge's shops.
The Pitti Palace, once home to the Medicis, now home to 5 museums as well as the entrance to the Boboli Gardens.
A view inside the "U" shaped Uffizi museums, looking towards the Palazzo Vecchio.
A view through the narrow Florence streets towards the Duomo (cathedral). Duomo comes from the latin word for "house", not the word "dome".
In the afternoon, we toured the Uffizi gallery. Although you can't take pictures inside the museum, this is a view towards the Ponte Vecchio. You can see the private walkway that connected this side of the river to the Oltrarno, where the Pitti Palace is. It is the top floor over the Ponte Vecchio.
Saturday we took an all-day tour in the Tuscan countryside, visiting the ancient cities of San Gemignano and Siena. Here we see San Gemignano - famous for its 13 towers. In the middle ages the wealthy families of the city competed to see which could build the highest tower. For some stupid reason, Ellen and I decided to climb one (as seen below).
Another view of the area around San Gemignano.
We stopped for photos near a vinyard.
The grapes were very tasty.
One of the central spots in San Gemignano,
The main church in the town.
This is the only tower open for visitors. Ellen and I, despite the fact that BOTH of us are afraid of heights, decided to climb up. Yeah, the views were spectacular, but it took about half an hour for us to get down.
Does my fear show?
Truly gorgeous country around the town.
More views from the tower.
More views from the tower.
If you look closely you can see my nails digging into the stone.
Those aren't smiles of happiness.
The main square in front of the church. Under that arched area sit the local town wisemen, who basically sit there all day and observe the hordes of tourists.
The main street of San Gemignano.
Another pretty view of the countryside.
For lunch our tour group went to a local winery/olive oil farm, which has a side business providing lunch to tour groups. The food and wine (and grappa! THREE KINDS!!!) were all delicious. We bought a bottle of their white wine. In my condition I would have bought a case if allowed.
Our next stop was Siena. This is the main palazzo, which sits in front of the Campo di Fiori, which is where they hold, twice each summer, the famous Palio, the horse race in which 10 of Siena's neighborhoods compete.
The Campanille (Bell Tower). Ellen and I chose NOT to climb this one. We probably would still be trying to get up the nerve to climb down.
The famous Duomo of Siena was supposed to be even larger, but after the Plague decimated the city's population, the planned expansion was cancelled, and this is all that is left of the outer walls of the new section.
A better view of the Campo. Hard to imagine a horserace in this tight, oddly shaped area.
Sunday, despite being a bit cool and drizzly, we decided to walk around a bit, go to the Pitti Palace and the Boboli Gardens. Here is Ellen on the Ponte Vecchio.
Me on the bridge.
After touring the terrific gallery in the Pitti Palace, we went into the Gardens. Here is Ellen, behind the Palace.
For some reason, there are a LOT of Egyptian Obelisks in Italy. Here is one.
A statue of Neptune in the gardens.
A lovely view of the gardens.
A lovely view of Ellen.
A lovely view of Florence.
A lovely view of the Duomo.
A view of Ellen in front of the avenue of the Cypress trees.
After leaving the Boboli Gardens, we climed the hill to Forte di Belevedere, which offers some beautiful views of Florence and the Duomo.
View from the Forte.
View from the Forte.
View from the Forte.
View from the Forte.
On Monday we wandered around the city, and took a tour of the Duomo. On the left is the Baptistry, which dates back to the 6th and 7th centuries. Contstruction of the Duomo began in the 1290s.
The stunning inside of the Duomo's main dome, designed by Bruno Brunelleschi, which was added in 1418.
Interior view of the Duomo.
One of the things that Ellen and I really enjoyed was spotting all the unusual, small motor vehicles that are used in Italy to cope with the narrow, twisting streets that lack parking. This little three-wheeled vehicle was one that we liked.
We visted the beautiful Florence Synagogue - once for services, and once for a tour. Unfortunately, the Jewish museum was closed, but the tour of the Synagogue was fairly informative about the history of the Jewish community of Florence.
The Synagogue is undergoing restoration, like so many other historic sites we visited in Italy.

Next we traveled to Rome.