October 1, 2023

The cruise ship usually departs at about 7:30 p.m. for the next port and it being spring into summer, daylight is long as the sun would set only between 9 and 9:30 p.m.
Nena makes it a point to watch the magnificent sunsets usually at the ship’s stern. In fact, a sunset bar is set up there where sunset lovers could lounge and sit, and watch while sipping their cocktails. At the port side, by the balcony of our cabin, we could watch the moonlight on a cloudless sky and its bright sheen reflected on the deep blue sea at nightfall. As the vessel started to leave the Portofino harbor towards La Spezia, our next port, the vessel left a track of aqua velvet waves on the waters.
The cruise ship arrived on the port of La Spezia very early in the morning. It had already docked when we woke up. It is a coastal village on a rocky promontory overlooking the sea.
Brightly colored houses dotted the hillside accessible by narrow winding paths of cobbled stones, creating a picturesque atmosphere. It has a marvelous city center, but there are shore excursions to Tuscany where one can visit the Unesco heritage site of Cinque Terre (five villages) famous for preserving their environment and ecology.
An excursion to countryside Lucca where artists like Monet, Degas, and Van Gogh were inspired and entranced by its beauty, not to mention the variety of wines produced here, to do their masterpieces, but was not the reason for Van Gogh to cut his ear, is an entertaining tour. But for arts, culture, and history lovers, the two and a half hours ride to the City of Florence is fulfilling. A visit to Pisa famous for its leaning tower is also a good and enjoyable treat.
We joined the excursion to Florence City, so we hopped on the bus for the two and a half hours ride to Florence passing through the very scenic La Spezia and Tuscany countrysides with annotations of a knowledgeable and entertaining guide, Andrea.
As we were cruising on the highway, we could see yonder the snow-capped Italian Alps. Closer, we saw the Carrara marble mountains, the source of the finest marbles in the world, which were mined since the Ancient Roman times and where Michelangelo personally chose the marble blocks that he used to sculpt his world-famous masterpieces.
Andrea told us that the quarry had been owned by the Vanelli family for the past two centuries. From afar, we could see how the mountains had been carved and mined of their precious marbles and could just imagine how huge and massive the mining could be if we went near them.
For centuries, especially during Mussolini’s time, millions of tons of marbles had been extracted from these mountains, despite the loud protests not only from the Tuscany population but also from the environmentalists in Italy and around the world, Andrea annotated. Passing along, Andrea pointed to the lines of trees on the nearby mountain where pine nuts would be harvested, most of which are used as a basic ingredient of pesto.
Also, there were rows upon rows of olive trees from which olive oil is extracted. Horticulture fields of basil herbs are also vast. No wonder Italy makes one of the best pesto used for their pasta recipes, like lasagne and of course, spaghetti.
When our bus arrived at the city center of Florence, capital of the Tuscany region, we were dropped off at a parking lot where Andrea guided us on a walking tour towards the awesome church of Santa Maria del Fiore or more popularly known as the Il Duomo. Andrea showed the historic buildings along the way including those where Mussolini had occupied or used during his dictatorship and how Italians used the water spouts of their buildings to hang and dry leather hides that were freshly dyed.
Italians are known for their leather products from shoes, jackets, bags, belts, etc. and many shops sell these products side by side with souvenir shops along the streets of Firenze and the square.
As we approached the Il Duomo, we saw the kilometric line of tourists towards the entrance. We knew then that we could not enter the church because it would take hours before we could enter and we had not purchased our entrance tickets. So, we had lunch at a restaurant that was famous for its lasagne which was, indeed a gustatory treat, especially with a Moretti beer to go with it and a gelato, for dessert.
As a second choice, we visited the Franciscan Basilica of Santa Croce, one of the best-loved sites in Italy for “its immense artistic heritage and the civil value of its monuments and memorials to some of Italy’s greatest figures” and is called the “Pantheon” of Florence because it had many funerary monuments, notably of Michelangelo, Niccolo Machiavelli, Galileo Gallilei, Rossini, Vasari, and Dante. One of the 16 chapels inside the Basilica is the Bardi chapel, which is ongoing urgent restoration work.
The chapel shows frescoes of The Stories of St. Francis, a great work of art painted by Giotto, considered as the father of Italian painting, which absolute masterpiece by Giotto are the utmost expression of the artistic, cultural, and spiritual heritage conserved in Santa Croce.
Another interesting chapel is the Pazzi Chapel credited as the work of Fillippo Brunelleschi and considered to be one of the masterpieces of Renaissance architecture. There are so many things to see and to do in this birthplace of the Renaissance – its stunning architecture, rich history, world-renowned museums, and iconic cultural landmarks, so the few hours that we visited the city was so greatly inadequate.
As suggested by Andrea, we should spend two or three days in Florence to satiate our soul and spirit with its rich history and culture; and stuff ourselves with delicious Tuscan food. A return visit we shall schedule soon (To be continued).