Estates: La Rocca di Montemurlo, Prato, Italy

estates, europe, italy, montemurlo, travel, Uncategorized

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When I was in Florence, I found out about a series of free tours of Prato, a neighboring area in the region of Florence, which was aimed at promoting the area as an alternative sightseeing destination to the often-overcrowded Firenze. One of the places we went to was a cute hilltop estate called La Rocca di Montemurlo, in Montemurlo, Prato.

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Our bus was too big to go up the steep roads to the estate, so the organizers actually partnered up with the commune’s emergency services (the misericordia) so we were driven up to the estate in ambulances. It was a bit of a slow process just because they had 2 ambulances that could only take a handful of people at a time, and there was a giant bus full of us. But I applauded their creativity and especially the community participation. Talk about team spirit!

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This view ❤

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This is the private villa at the top. We were given access to the garden, which was also really beautiful.

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The stuff of fairytales

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I want a mini private forest too

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The estate was also hosting a wedding reception at the time, so this would also make for a great little wedding location!

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To visit, check out if thatsprato.com is still offering the free tours

Monumental: Buontalenti Grotto – Florence, Italy

europe, florence, italy, monumental, Uncategorized

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Buontalenti Grotto, Boboli Gardens – Florence, Italy.

Accessible from Giardino di Boboli (a ticket you can purchase separately from the ticket to Palazzo Pitti), the Buontalenti Grotto doesn’t look like much from the outside, especially because it’s near the exit and you can easily miss it if you’re not looking the right way. It’s tucked away down a pebble path amid some trees and bushes, so when you’re walking down the path towards the Boboli Gardens exit, you won’t actually see it unless you know that it’s there, or unless you happen to see the tiny sign that almost blends into the bushes. So remember to look to the right before you exit the gate!

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His cave-inspired style of sculpture might not appeal to a lot of people. Honestly, I wasn’t too sure what to make of it, but they did get more interesting the closer you were and the more you looked at them. Bernardo Buontalenti was one of those renaissance type artists who were good at lots of things–he was a sculptor, architect, engineer, painter, etc. NBD.

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These rough-but-detailed sculptures remind me so much of the stone king/wizard in Return to Oz. The stuff of childhood nightmares, but ever so fascinating.

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Entrance to the grotto is limited to a handful of people at a time, and it’s not always open. Sometimes you’ll get lucky and someone will be there to let you in, and sometimes you’ll just have to poke your head as far as you can through the grills and try to see what’s inside.

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Check out these stone sheep

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Whether or not you think it’s pretty, you can’t deny that it’s definitely interesting, and that’s always better than boring!

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Estates: Palacio Real – Madrid, Spain

estates, europe, madrid, spain, Uncategorized

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Palacio Real, Madrid, Spain. April 2014.

Outside, a bit austere, and almost fortress-like. Inside, very baroque and Versailles-inspired (like a lot of palaces in Europe).

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But still (and this is just my personal beef with Spain) not very Spanish.

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Inside, photos weren’t allowed in most parts (which is always a shame for people who like taking photos -.-), but they really don’t come close to Versailles, so I don’t worry too much about it hahaha

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Read more about my frustrations with Spanish architecture here, here, here, here, here, here, and here.

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Architecture in: Bologna, Italy

architecture, bologna, europe, italy

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Bologna, Italy. April 2015.

Only 30 minutes away from Florence, Bologna is a great day trip or half day trip that won’t break the bank too much. It’s got a slightly bigger city feel than Florence (it certainly has a lot more mainstream shopping in the old town), and has a bigger airport, so a lot of people actually choose Bologna as a base camp or fly-in city when traveling around the region.

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I can’t say I was completely charmed by Bologna the way I was with Florence (I may be biased), but maybe that’s just me–I’m just generally more at ease with smaller-scale towns with a high density of sights/cultural heritage. Not to say that Bologna doesn’t have its notable must-sees. Combo architecture and interesting features are everywhere, and though it feels slightly run-down, I think it rather adds to its character and history.

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Surprisingly, I saw a lot of somewhat Venetian influence in a lot of building details. I’m not too familiar with Bolognese (and that’s boh-loh-nyeh-sze, not boh-loh-naise) history, but with Venice not too far away, I wouldn’t be surprised if there were some sort of Doge-related historical overlaps in there somewhere.

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At the same time, a lot of typical Romanesque type architecture that can be spotted around Italy (since Rome basically made their mark by building stuff everywhere they expanded their empire), and Tuscan-ish architecture (with the Medicis nearby), and architectural features that we also saw in Parma and Modena that seem typical of the Emilia-Romagna region.

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All in all making for an interesting old town that feels historical, and not generic.

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You see a lot of these porticoed walkways in Italy, especially in the northern half.

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Their duomo is a pretty good example of how the old town is in general–part medieval, part renaissance, part something else.

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You’ll also find a lot of towns in Italy with a square like this, a clocktower similar to this, and maybe a church and a fountain nearby.

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Bologna’s two towers or due torre. Didn’t have time (or frankly, energy) to go up, but the view is likely red rooftops 🙂

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I love how the towers lean and look like they’re in conversation

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The old town is a bit of a walk from the train station (about 1.5-2km on foot), but you walk through a very long porticoed shopping street, so that helps a bit, if you like to shop. It doesn’t help if you’re rushing to catch the train and you’re nearly 2km away trying to speed-walk through a throng of slow walkers and shoppers ambling about too leisurely for your liking :)) Just saying.