Natalia and I took the opportunity of her 10 days off at Easter to head to Europe and
show her some of my favourite parts of Italy. We went to Florence, Siena, parts of Tuscany,
Pisa, and Cinque Terre.


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So, due to a combination of my excessive amount of travel and the amount I spend on my SPG
credit card, we had the luxury of staying at the exquisite Grand Hotel in Florence. Here is
Natalia sitting on the huge canopied bed in our room.


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This is the beautiful roof in the room. The colours match the outside of the Florence Duomo.


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The view from our balcony was really pretty as it looks onto the Arno River and towards
Ponte Vecchio - the bridge with the gold and silversmiths on it upstream of our hotel.


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This looks downstream from the balcony. We arrived mid-afternoon after a long day of travel, but
we decided to go for a walk and have an early night so that we could try to adjust to the time
zone.


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This is the hotel key for our hotel. I thought it was ridiculously over-sized and it was only
after that I determined that we were supposed to leave the keys with the concierge, not in
my pocket!

Here is a video of our hotel room



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This photo shows the height of the room. It was pretty relaxing actually, however, I can't ever
justify the 500 Euro a night they normally charge.


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Here are Natalia and I in one of my favourite poses. This is very near to our hotel on our first
afternoon of exploring the beautiful city of Florence.


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Natalia in front of Ponte Vecchio. Florence's most famous bridge is lined with shops that have
traditionally sold gold and silver. A bridge has been across the narrowest part of the River
since Roman times.


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Natalia's major plan for our trip was to eat as much gelato as she could. On this day, we learned
a valuable tourist lesson, having paid 10 Euro for a giant tub of ice cream. Look at the smile on her
face and you'll see why food is such a big part of her happiness. There was clearly stomach space
for this much ice cream!


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We wandered into one of the prettiest squares in Europe - near the Palazzo Vecchio. You can see
Natalia's smile from the gelato.


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Since it was Easter Saturday when we arrived in Florence. As such, there were loads of chocolate
eggs and chocolate bunnies in all of the shops. Here, Natalia is smiling since she found her new
favourite chocolate shop. It's called Rivoire and we'd be back soon enough.


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Natalia with the Palazzo Vecchio behind her. You can't be upset about the weather. The palace is
actually officially called the Palazzo della Signoria, but I really just like the turret.


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Here I am trying to stick my finger in Neptune's bum.


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After catching up on our sleep, we started the day the way Natalia likes to start her day. Slowly
and with a cup of hot chocolate. Yes, this is back at Rivoire near the Palazzo Vecchio.


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Natalia loving her hot chocolate.


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Oh, and this was actually breakfast somehow.

Galileo Science Museum


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Because I'm such a dork, our first tourist stop was actually checking out the Galileo Science
Museum. It's still undergoing renovations so not all of it was open, but I wanted to go
nonetheless. This is actually Galileo's finger although I don't quite understand why someone
would keep it, let alone in a bottle.


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A bust of Galileo Galilei at the museum.


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This is a double cone which looks like it's rolling up the ramp.


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I continue to love cardboard cutouts I can stick my head into.


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Nice painting of Tycho Brahe. I remember reading about him in my high school physics text
and being somewhat amazed that even with such a large contribution to astronomy, what was first
noted about him was that he lost his nose in a duel at a wedding dance when he was young and
foolish.


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The Renaissance man - Leonardo da Vinci.

Touring Florence


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Here is a somewhat dark photo of Natalia in front of the Duomo in Florence. We wondered why the
colours in our hotel were so odd but they were imitating the Duomo's colourful facade that dates
from the 1870s. The Duomo's most significant feature is the beautiful dome designed by
Brunelleschi, which was erected in the 1400s.


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These doors face the church from the Baptistery and were carved by Ghiberti in the 15th century.
It took him 27 years to complete these doors and the depth of carving was some of the first of
its kind.


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Some of the depth of the carvings. You can also see that the carver carved himself - a balding
guy in the centre of the door frame, atop the second row of panels.


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It is said that the Renaissance began in the year 1401, when the city of Florence staged a
contest to find the best artist to create the Baptistery's north doors. 25 year old Lorenzo
Ghiberti won and his doors are here.


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I found the same apron that Avie Meadows bought me when she was in Italy. Thanks again Avie!


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My wife with terrible taste LOVES black licorice. Her husband does not. Here she is after
finding a candy store to sell her licorice. See how happy she is! She also enjoyed breathing
heavily on her husband to let him know that she was eating black licorice.

The Accademia


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Michaelangelo's David is one of Florence's treasures. 17 feet tall, gleaming white, and looking
like he's going to kick the crap out of Goliath, you're not actually supposed to take photos of him.
Riiiiiigggggghhhhhhtttttt.


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David, looking down the hall of the gallery. The other statues here are called 'The Prisoners',
also by Michaelangelo.

The Uffizi


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The next stop we made was the Uffizi Gallery, which has the greatest overall collection of
Italian painting anywhere in the world. Of course, we couldn't take photos, so you'll have to
take my word for it. This is a photo taken from inside the gallery looking back at the Palazzo
Vecchio and the Duomo.


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And from this window of the Uffizi, you can see the Ponte Vecchio and some of the Oltrarno
neighbourhood of Florence. Natalia's favourite painting in here was the Birth of Venus
by Botticelli or Venus on the Half Shell. You can see the painting HERE


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After our tour, we strolled out onto the terrace and I snapped a photo of Natalia looking up
at the tower of the Palazzo Vecchio.


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From the terrace is a reasonable view of the Dome as well.


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Natalia and I with Florence and the Arno river behind us.


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Here's a sign I found that I thought quite funny. Too many American students here for sure!


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Even with braces, Natalia managed to try a lot of gelato. Here she has a cone with dark chocolate
and cherry cheesecake I think. She also managed to have at least one gelato a day and even got to
three in one extra-special day!


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The hotel actually put together Easter bags of chocolates for us. They were waiting on our pillows
when we got back from touring.


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Natalia's loving husband went downstairs and found her croissants, jam, and cafe au lait for breakfast
on Easter Sunday. Who says romance is dead?

Scoppio del Carro - The Explosion of the Cart


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The Scoppio del Carro or the Explosion of the Cart is a folk tradition in Florence, where they
fill a cart full of fireworks on Easter Sunday outside the cathedral and light them on fire.
More about this strange event HERE . We decided to go check it out and got standing room seats towards the back of the square by the
Baptistery.

A first video of some of the explosions



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Some of the smoke from the exploding cart is filtering out towards us.

Another video of the cart exploding and billowing red smoke


Video of the procession after the exploding cart. The last security guard at the end of the video
looks like a guy I went to school with named Leland.



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Here's another shot of the guy I think looks like Leland.


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Some of the ridiculous 15th century outfits in the procession.


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More silly hats and costumes.


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I liked this guy's moustache.


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The cart has apparently been blowing up for over 500 years.


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The white oxen pulling the cart away.

Video of the actual cart



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A close-up of the cart, showing the dead fireworks. As a former member of the University of
Saskatchewan Pyrotechnics Enthusiasts Club, I clearly enjoyed this a lot!

More wandering around Florence


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As we made our way back to our hotel from the festivities, Natalia spotted these chocolates in the
window of a shop for Easter. I thought the dog sort of looked like a Mr Potato Head.


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Natalia liked the eggs and the colourful confections.


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A Ferrari Formula One car sitting in a shop window.


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The Piazza Ognissanti and the church by the same name were right next to our hotel.


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Natalia's new favourite luxury hotel - the Grand Hotel in Florence, Italy.

Off to Siena


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Since we both prefer taking trains to buses, we took the long way to get to Siena. Here we are
having a coffee in Empoli and I bought Natalia a Kinder surprise to celebrate Easter.


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Natalia playing with her new game.


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After a long day getting to Siena, we checked into our hotel - the Palazzo Ravizza, and received
another ridiculous key. Again, as it turns out, you're supposed to leave them with the concierge.


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When we arrived in Siena, it was raining, but we decided to go for a walk anyway. This is the
view from our hotel window looking out towards the Duomo.


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Natalia found a piece of chocolate-covered meringue within 2 minutes of stepping out onto the
streets of Siena. She calls it a 'gift' to find bakeries so swiftly.


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So, since my wife thinks me buying a stupid number of roosters isn't really that funny, I have to
content myself with taking photos of them. This is a creamer.


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I liked the old school ping pong game, especially since it has my initials!

Dinner at La Taverna di San Giuseppe


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On the recommendation of our hotel concierge, we went for dinner at a great place called
La Taverna di San Giuseppe. This is looking down to their wine cellar.


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We got some kind of mushroom dish for an appetizer.


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Natalia had pasta with seafood for her prima patta.


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I love eating gnocchi, even better with mushrooms!


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While the idea of purse hooks seems to make sense to me, baby purse chairs?? Really??


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Our main course was sliced beef. The presentation was quite something as the carver came out to
our table, carved the beef and placed it so that there was beef covering the entire plate.


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Natalia had tiramisu for dessert. It definitely was not my favourite. I had an apple torte,
which was good and had sprinkles!

Looking around Siena


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I love narrow passageways. In this case, this passageway heads to one of the most beautiful squares
in Italy - Il Campo.


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Here we are waiting out some rain in Il Campo.


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How do you go wrong? Beer AND gnocchi!


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We took a tour inside the Duomo Museum, which was pretty neat and had a lot of medieval art inside.
We went up the panorama, which is where I saw this sign.


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Natalia, with the hills of Siena behind her.


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Natalia, with the 1315 tower of the Duomo behind her. The striped bell tower is a tribute to the Virgin
Mary


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This is looking down at Il Campo from the top of the panorama. An interesting time to visit
Siena would be for the Palio - a horse race done twice a year where the citizens of each contrada (neighbourhood)
of the city find one rider to represent them and that rider races a horse around the outside of il Campo
three times.


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Natalia and I and the tower of the Duomo.


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The problem with asking someone to take your photo is that inevitably, you wind up with fingers
in your photos. It's too bad too since this photo is actually quite nice of us looking out
to the hillside.


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Another great sign.


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The grand archway leading back up to the Duomo from the Baptistery.


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The incredibly ornate facade definitely beckons you in.


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This is an inlaid marble pavement panel on the floor inside the church depicting the
Slaughter of the Innocents - when King Herod ordered all male babies slaughtered. A side
note about this panel is the beautiful yellow marble, a Sienese specialty.


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The interior of the church is a smorgasbord of fun. I love the striped columns right down to the altar.


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This is the interior of the Piccolomini Library, inside the Duomo. These gorgeous frescoes have never
needed to be touched since the room itself has so much light, they didn't need candles - which normally
add soot to the air and then wreck the frescos over time.


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The ceiling of the library. This library was built to honour Aeneas Piccolomini - who became
Pope Pius II.

Video of the inside of the Piccolomini Library



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A sweet inlaid skull inside the Baptistery at the back of the Duomo.


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Me, looking back up towards what would have been the outside of the church had the Sienese not run out
of money, gotten the bubonic plague, and in general just ran out of energy. Siena was once a grand
city, the arch-rival of Florence, but they lost out due to the plague, and now, like Bruges in Belgium,
they're a medieval city stuck in a time warp.


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Here we are trying to do a little mullet hunting, but I don't think the shot turned out as well as we hoped.


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Somewhat cool shot of us looking through an arch to il Campo and Torre del Mangia - City Tower.


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Here is Natalia after finding yet another sweet bakery! Mad skills I tell you.


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Cool shot looking through a narrow passageway.


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What do you know? Natalia found more gelato!


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Here are some exceptionally gay shoes I almost bought for my brother Denis.


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Il Campo, looking through an archway.


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A little over-exposed, but Natalia inside il Campo. The grey is where the horses actually race
and the red brick is where people stand to cheer.


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Yes, I like taking pictures of towers. Eat it.


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The sun on the facade of city hall remembers St Bernardino of Siena, who designed it to attract
crowds, making him the patron saint of advertising.


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Some of the shops around il Campo. A lot of people believe this square to be the nicest in
all of Italy. I definitely think so.


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Aha! Natalia found some more chocolate gelato (her favourite!). In fairness, Natalia's single mission
on this trip was to find her favourite gelato in Italy.

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