Elaine and I had been to Florence once before and, well ... we hated it. Our impression was that of a noisy, dirty place crawling with panhandlers, cheap tourist stalls and smelly hotels. Well, I don't know what planet we were on in 2003 - but we loved Florence this time. It was one of those "high points" of our time in Italy.
Because Florence tends to be about 10C warmer than Siena, we left our travels to Florence for later in our stay. By late August and early September, Florence was magnificent. We would take the morning train from Siena, spend the day in Florence and return home in the evenings.
Chiesa della Santa Croce
The Church at Santa Croce is attractive from the outside, to be sure. But its real treasure is the astounding collection of tombs within.
Walking through the main hall of the church, one comes across tombs in every conceivable location: in the walls, in the floor. Each time I stopped to look more closely, I found myself awed by what I saw. Just think for a moment of the collection of brilliance and influence represented by these individuals.
The Uffizi (offices, now, more correctly Le Gallerie degli Uffizi) was built in the mid-16th century by Cosimo I de' Medici as administrative building. Giorgio Vasari received the design commission. You might want to visit the English-language Uffizi site (regrettably, not always up).
Here are some of my feeble photos of the more widely-known pieces from the Gallerie Uffizi - take a walk.
Lucca has a scale about like that of Siena, but a very different character. Although walled, the city plan is more regular - the streets form a giant rectangle following the lines of an earlier Roman (?) wall.
Lucca seemed like a very livable city - the shops and facilities seemed more useful (and more upscale) than those of Siena. It seems that some of the land around Lucca has a reputation for being among the most desirable in Tuscany, so it is to be expected that Lucca's shops are well-stocked with luxury items.
The "tourist sights" (the duomo and Torre) are attractive, but not unusual in any particular way.
But it is a very pleasant place. Eric felt that if we were to return to Italy, staying near Lucca might be quite nice. Florence is only an hour away, and Cinque Terre (part of the Italian Riviera) Mediterranean are close by.