Dragon Fever in Florence

Dragon Fever has spread amongst the population of Florence as the place prepares for the Dragon Boat Festival 2018. It’s the first International festival for breast cancer survivors  to be held in Europe and the Florentine organizers from ‘Firenze in Rosa’    (Florence in Pink) have been working non-stop to coordinate  preparations for the event.

Bilingual volunteers were called upon from the expat communities in January, which  dragged loads of us out of the woodwork to be ‘Ambassadors to a Team to ensure they have all the information and assistance they need to make their stay in Florence and their participation in the event a successful one. Meetings and emails have continued to circulate ever since as we begin to know our Team members and travelling supporters and answer their various queries. There was a bit of a kerfuffle when we saw the uniform included shorts…..as many mature age volunteers are not ‘shorts’ people!?

Fierce Dragon boat waiting for paddlersAnother massive call to the general community for other volunteers to help at arrival/departure, registration time,  people traffic control, assembling tents, manning Red Cross boats, medical services on land, embarkation and debarkation….the list is endless. And delighted to see a large group of African refugees volunteering and much appreciated since they are strong young men, speaking French, so can handle more of the physical jobs and translate for the French speakers.

Florentine dragon boat team +supportersOver 4000 participants from around the world – a major participation from Australia of 900, America, Canada, some South American countries –Argentina and Brazil, many European countries with single teams and 1 Team from Singapore.

I had never heard of it, nor even knew what a Dragon Boat looked like and it has been a fun time understanding what the Festival is all about. An amazing bunch of courageous women who have survived breast cancer and showing their strength and vitality in paddling Dragon Boats – that has to be an inspiration to us all!

There are 22 team members per boat – 20 paddlers, a drummer to keep the paddle rhythm and the ‘sweep’ or  steerer standing at the rear of the boat.

Last Saturday Florence held it’s own Dragon boat festival which was something of  a test run to the major event to be held in the first week of July. It was on the Arno river next to the Cascine Park which is the largest green area of the city and a favourite place for joggers, cyclists and dog walkers.

Dragon boats were off loaded and the various teams began warm up exercises before Dangerous launch of a Dragon Boatlaunching, somewhat precariously, these sleek long boats onto the Arno.launching Dragon BoatTeam warm up

 

Dragon Boat judges from LILTThese teams were mixed sexes and not necessarily breast cancer survivors however the judges of the event were the pink ladies from LILT  – Italian League for the Fight against Cancer, and it was a fun day. Lots of hilarity, the rhythmic  ‘tum, tum, tum…’, a few lost paddles and a couple of wet paddlers!

I am excited about the coming Dragon Boat Festival and looking forward to meeting my Dragons’  from Dragons Abreast Team Inspiration…..and of course will be doing a follow up blog after the event.


 

 

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Hiking Val D’Orcia – Tuscany

A hike in Val d’Orcia amongst the poppies and spectacular views is relaxing despite the heat. The endless rolling hills of Tuscany, a patchwork of vineyards, olive groves, and fields of hay ready to be baled is an inspirational sight.

Val d’Orcia is is in the Southern part Tuscany past  Siena. 

Poppies Val d'Orcia

The area is home to delightful medieval villages like Bagno Vignoni, Pienza, San Quirico d’Orcia, Castiglione d’Orcia with views across the valley to the hilltop  town of Montalcino  famous for its full bodied Brunello wine.

Our hike was to start at San Quirico d’Orcia, but we sneaked in a quick stop at Pienza in time to catch them decorating the main street with ginestra (broom) petals for the Corpus Domini celebration later that day. A welcome touch of normality in a town that attracts many tourists.

Fortunately the Val d’Orcia is far enough away to avoid the mass tourism intrusion that is a constant battle in the bigger cities like Florence and Pisa and more accessible coastal  areas like the Cinque Terre.

We move on to San Quirico d’Orcia, the lesser known neighboring village which has it’s own attractions – the medieval Cathedral which incorporates an earlier 8th Century parish church and an example of a plague door next to the main entrance used to take out dead bodies in the superstitious hope the disease would leave with the body.

San Quirico Central CafeSome local humour at the central cafe with a sign – “We organize recovery courses for teetotalers” and the  inviting fragrance of jasmine draws us into the beautiful linen ware shop.San Quirico d'Orcia linen shop

 

 

 

 

 

 

Our local environmental guide  calls us out as after all we are here to hike to the hot Springs of Bagno Vignoni. The hike take us up and down dale through vineyards, woods and hay fields, surrounded by magnificent views at every climb: a full immersion in Nature relatively unchanged for centuries.

It reminds me of hearing tourists respond to their limo driver when asked were they going  to San Gimignano and Siena – “Yes San Gimignano, Siena and Tuscany!” The limo driver rolled his eyes and politely led them to the car…..during the day he would have to explain that Tuscany is the whole region. Yet if an area depicts Tuscany as tourists picture it, it would have to be the scenery of Val d’Orcia.

It’s an area I know well having stayed at Bagno Vignoni on tour with many of you and Studio Enrico Paoluccicontinue to visit regularly to see dear old friends, Isabella and artist Enrico Paolucci. 

While it’s still Spring, the day is hot and the sound of Hot Springs is not too enticing but then our guide knows of the pools below the village where the water is a little cooler  and it’s to be our lunch spot.

 

Bagno VignoniThe village of Bagno Vignoni remains magic and a popular place for locals and tourists all year round.

The view of Castiglione d’Orcia dominates and there is a sense of peace and freedom……before hike back!View to Castiglione d'Orcia


 

 

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