The Leaning Tower of Pisa

Cathedral of Santa Maria Assunta Pisa

So is a title even necessary for this post? Or did you miss it peeking out from behind the cathedral? The Leaning Tower of Pisa is certainly one of the most recognized monuments on the planet. It’s the perfect place to start a trip to Tuscany and Umbria, and it’s also a great day trip if you happen to be in Florence. What? Too typical, too beaten-track you say?

Travelers with a major ‘tude might write the tower off as the ultimate travel cliché. It’s not. The famous Leaning Tower of Pisa and the stunning cathedral complex, including its monumental baptistry, are serious traveler eye-candy. If you need a more highbrow motivation, it’s the perfect place to study the very unique Pisan take on Romanesque architecture and search for hints of early Gothic. And, of course, there’s the whole leaning thing.


Florence’s Museums: Making Reservations for the Uffizi, Accademia and More

 Uffizi Gallery: Botticelli's The Birth of Venus

OK, you’ve made your way to Florence – the dream of a lifetime – and you want to visit the city’s incredible works of art and architecture. You walk up to the entrance of the Uffizi Gallery and ask a guard where you can buy a ticket. And he just laughs hysterically in your face. Suddenly, you notice there’s a line with hundreds of annoyed people who have been waiting for hours.

Florence Is Not a City for the Unprepared

Before you come to Florence, you need to do some basic homework, especially if you are showing up in the peak season. You don’t just walk up to the Uffizi museum, buy a ticket, and enter. After all, Uffizi Gallery tickets are popular. And even those magic (and somewhat pricey) Firenze Cards may not be the best option for everyone. To help you out, we’ve put together some quick tips and links to get you started. In our “Plan Your Trip to Florence” section, we also included a few tour recommendations for visitors interested in an expert guide. Continue…


Walls and churches, walls and churches – so sue me! Clearly, I’m not going to come all the way to Tuscany and skip Monteriggioni, an obvious destination for someone with a walled city fetish.

Because of bus connections, I arrived in the tiny town at 8:30 AM, hours before locals crawl out of bed. I literally had the entire place to myself – not a single human in sight – for at least an hour. Judging by the Continue…

The Sator Square

Move over Dan Brown, you’re not the only one with architectural mysteries to unravel. While I was exploring Siena’s stunning cathedral, I overheard a tour guide casually referencing the fact that somewhere on the cathedral’s exterior, there was a rare Sator Square. She explained that the Sator Square is an elaborate “word square,” an especially complex type of palindrome said to possess magical properties.

Like a basic palindrome, the Sator Square is the same when read forwards or backwards. But it goes a step further. When the five words are stacked, they can Continue…

Gothic Siena

Once upon a time, cities were built with a sense of fantasy. Crazy rulers would throw out an idea like, “Hey, I know, let’s build the city square in the shape of a giant clam shell. We’ll divide the shell into nine sections where the city’s rival clans can sit. Oh yeah, and we’ll construct a race track around it where horsemen representing those rival clans can compete.”

Siena is medieval madness at its very best. Not only did that clam-shell race track become a reality, the entire city is one huge example of Gothic magnificence. Even today, the city is still fully Continue…

The Towers of San Gimignano

After several days of Renaissance splendor in Florence, we decided to venture beyond the city and explore a bit of rural Tuscany. Yay! Setting out by local bus, we made our way from village to village through a patchwork landscape of colorful vineyards and ancient olive groves. We had timed our trip perfectly to witness locals out in the fields harvesting olives.

As we approached our destination, we caught a glimpse of the impressive skyline through the fall foliage. Like a medieval Manhattan, San Gimignano with its ancient towers and fortifications is the clear superstar of central Tuscany Continue…


Florence. What can a blogger say that hasn’t been said countless times in the last millennium? Cultural mecca, epicenter of the Renaissance, food extravaganza, fashion center, art and architecture overload – if you can’t find something to love about Florence, there’s something wrong with you.

The city is simply overwhelming. Before you even step out of the train, you spot Florence’s insanely monumental Gothic Duomo towering above the surrounding buildings. The phenomenal black and white banded walls dwarf crowds of visitors. Every tourist eye is fixed on its remarkably intricate polychrome marble facade. It’s hard to comprehend what someone Continue…

Keith Haring’s Pisa Mural ‘Tuttomondo’

Keith Haring's Pisa mural "Tuttomondo"

When you come to Italy, you expect to see tons of murals – but you don’t really expect them to be by American artists. So we were quite surprised to discover the multi-story Keith Haring Tuttomondo mural on the side of the Church of Sant’Antonio just north of the Pisa train station. It’s somewhat ironic that the last public mural of the openly gay artist and prominent AIDS activist was painted on the side of a Catholic church. The work titled Tuttomondo, which means “All-world”, was completed just eight months before Haring died of AIDS-related complications on February 16, 1990.