De-Tours in Tuscany and Cinque Terre

Cinque Terre, MonterossoAs the Garden tour in Southern Italy never ran this Spring, I was rather disappointed and thought there is nothing for it but to go out and find additional work to my day tours in the Cinque Terre. So after my wonderful trip in Cuba I revamped my CV, scouted the list of jobs and sent off various applications.

A whole new world opened up again: new trends, novel ideas, and varied responses, from “awesome….but over experienced, …. consider your application and contact you,” together with no reply and two interviews! Which in the end I thought was pretty good going, in a climate of heavy competition and economic pressures.

The new trends seem to be “Food guides” or anything to do with food. Day tours, in Florence, taking tourists for tastings at the market and local delicatessens, providing them with a real Tuscan insight on the local specialities. Maybe they found out I am vegetarian… as I didn’t get an interview even though I was sure I could win hands down talking about Tuscan food despite not eating all of it!

No interview either for the day tours in the fabulous 500 Fiat ‘bambino’ as the tour guide was required to have mechanical experience and to know how to double clutch. Double clutching I was sure I could manage but had to admit I wasn’t sure if the engine was in the back or the front, let alone fix it if we broke down on a country road!

A friend and long standing lover of Florence, Penny Howard, has been doing special tours/workshops and kindly offered to promote my day tours in the Cinque Terre so I now feature on her website: Beyond the Yalla dog. She does some very interesting workshops with local experts – on fresco painting, mask making as well as beautiful day trips to gardens and villas like La Foce. So check out her website and get in touch if you are interested in any of her activities. Thanks again Penny!

Tourist Eco cartI did get an interview for driving tourists around the centre of Florence in an electric golf buggy, but fortunately declined as the pay was a pittance and with the crowds in the city these days I thought I could be ‘dangerous’! Worse still they were keen to Florence rickshawsencourage the 6 of us to drive their newly acquired rickshaws – power assisted bicycles – where I thought I would be even ‘more dangerous’ and potential tourists would take one look at me and think ‘she won’t get us very far!” So no go.

Finally I fell across a new Aussie/Italian tour agency called Tuscany Untouched who are offering day tours, weekly tours and customized tours with the slogan “Live like a local, with a local” So here I am, their new ‘local’, taking day tours and potentially weekly tours when Matteo is not available. So spread the word as we are both looking forward to a busy season ahead and you know how much I like working with tourists.

My first tour was to the Natural hot Springs at Bagni San Filippo in the gorgeous area of Val d’Orcia, near Pienza. A truly relaxing day for all of us.

Contact me directly especially if you or friends are interested in a tour in the Cinque   Terre or fill out Tuscany Untouched booking form for anything that takes your fancy or you would like us to develop for you.


 

The unexplored treasures of Casentino in Tuscany

Porciano CastleThe area of Casentino in Tuscany is rarely explored by tourists, yet it is home to ancient monasteries and parish churches, centuries old forests,  medieval castles and traditional handicrafts. A place where Dante Alighieri, father of the Italian language, found refuge after his exile from Florence, and the birthplace of Michelangelo.

The valley was once a prehistoric lake as fossil traces have shown, later home to the Etruscans and if you look into the Arno river as it flows under the Ponte Vecchio you will see a part of Casentino float by as the Arno originates on Mount Falterona.

And its not the only thing in Florence that comes from the Casentino area – as the beams inside Brunelleschi’s Dome on the Cathedral come from the forest cultivated by the monks of Camaldoli, floated down on the Arno River.

Castle at PoppiThe place is full of legends and plots against the Florentines, mostly organized by the Count Guidi family who had castles not only throughout Casentino but all the way to Northern Italy. Legend has it that they could get a message from their Castle in Poppi to the border of France in less than 8 hours using a system of flames and mirrors from tower to tower.Poppi- Castello di Conti Guidi

 

 

 

At their Castle di Romena the Guidi family hired Maestro Adamo to make counterfeit florins with the idea of flooding the market with inferior coins bringing the ruling Florentine families to their knees. But the Florentines found out and Adamo was burnt at the stake while the Guidi’s got off scot free! They were known as a blood thirsty lot, which their nicknames indicated – Guido Guerra ( the war maker), Guido Bevesangue (the blood drinker), and housed Dante at the Castle for a period of 5 years after his exile from Florence.

 

Locals and pilgrims pass through the area stopping at the ancient parish churches like – Pieve di San Pietro a Romena……

continuing on their way to the Monastery of La Verna, that sits on a spectacular rocky outcrop. Count Orlando Cattani captivated by Saint Francis’ oratory on love and forgiveness, donated the mountain to him as a hermitage for those in need. Saint Francis loved the wilderness and spent many years in retreat here. It had a bustling atmosphere when we passed through and the friars were very welcoming.

 

 

Casentino woolCasentino also boasts traditional handicrafts that are sort after to this day. Panno CasentinoCasentino wool has been around since the Etruscans, quite distinctive for its frayed ringlets that make the wool both warmer and more durable. Originally the effect was made by

Casentino jacket

Photo credit: Jane Telford

 

beating the cloth with a stick, a process now which is done by machine. In the Middle ages the monks wore robes of Casentino wool and the House of Savoy ( the royal family of Italy) in the 19th century used the bright orange cloth as a decorative and warming cloth on their horses. The bright orange became the tradition on overcoats and jackets although not always the colour chosen, as seen here on my workshop colleague.

Stia is well know for its wrought iron work, and anyone searching for quality wooden furniture can find it here. The forests produce the most beautiful wood together with chestnuts which have been ground in old flour mills like the one below for centuries.Mulino Grifoni Open to visitors as a tourist attraction, the miller gives a great explanation on the process and the changing nature of grains, working on the reintroduction of old grain types known to be healthier for us.

Mulino Grifoni AD 1696 inscribed over the entrance!

So just when you think you have seen all of Tuscany, make sure you have incuded Casentino on that list.

 

Spring fever in beautiful Pienza

View of PienzaAs Pablo Neruda said “You can cut all the flowers but you cannot keep Spring from coming”. I have just spent a few days at my artist friend in Pienza bathed in glorious Spring weather and fields of wild tulips and cherry blossoms. The gently rolling hills of Tuscany can not get any better than this area of Val D’Orcia and I am always pleased to be back.

The area has UNESCO World Heritage status: as it is an exceptional reflection of the way the landscape was re-written in Renaissance times to reflect the ideals of good Val d'Orciagovernance and to create an aesthetically pleasing pictures. The landscape of the Val d’Orcia was celebrated by painters from the Siennese School, which flourished during the Renaissance. Images of the Val d’Orcia, and particularly depictions of landscapes where people are depicted as living in harmony with nature, have come to be seen as icons of the Renaissance and have profoundly influenced the development of landscape thinking.

PienzaThat sense of harmony prevails and I could spend hours along the walls of Pienza absorbing these views in the changing sunlight. Or, as we did, take a stroll to the ancient Church of Corsignano with its decorative monsters above the doorway from the 12th Century, although parts of the church date back even to the 7th Century!

Complete harmony in nature. Pienza too is an absolute delight with its elegant Renaissance square and harmonious buildings, as Pope Pius Piccolomini had the money and power to transform his birthplace (Corsignano) into a Utopian dream city.

But that’s not all as the strong scent of the local food speciality, namely the pecorino cheese, wafts along the street and the delicatessens display other tempting delicacies like pici pasta, dry porcini mushrooms, salamis, local honey and extra virgin olive oil.

The quaintness of the place continues with unique shops selling exquisite linen ware, and the kitchenware shop is full of copper pots and pans, basket ware, handmade knives and unusual olive oil servers.

My artist friend Enrico Paolucci is hard at work on a special ‘owl’ commissioned for a birthday surprise so I am left to wander the studio taking photos of his new work ( a homage to his father, Aleardo) and make the most of his hospitality.

After work, dinner in a quiet spot in Pienza and a late night stroll to catch the magic of the moment. Pienza never loses its charm nor the Val d’Orcia, Tuscany, its harmony with Nature.

50 years on – Florence flood

On the 4th Nov, Florence called for the Mud Angels of the tragic flood of 1966  to return to Florence to participate in the Anniversary commemorations. The most dramatic flood to hit Italy since 1557 with flood levels reaching 5m high. Level signs along many streets and above shop windows remind us of the drama.

A flood that no one had expected or could imagine. Santa Croce was the worst hit area and the wooden crucifix by Cimabue (c1265), while restored, still bears massive scars from the flood.

A symbol of the 50th anniversary was the restoration of another masterpiece – Last Supper by Giorgio Vasari ( 1546) only just finished in time for the local and overseas visitors to admire. Paula Deitz, now an Editor of an Arts Journal, and curiously in Florence at the time of the flood, gives details of her experience and the restoration process here.

35 people died, 17 in Florence, 18 in Province, 70 horses at the race course and a favoured dromedary from the local zoo. Around 5,000 people remained homeless and  6,000 business were damaged. Prisoners in the city prison were released and housed by locals in upper floors of buildings, most of whom returned on their own volition to local authorities after the flood subsided!

Florence was without electricity, telephones went down and the city remained isolated for 3 days. Florentines had to rely on each other for assistance and passed requests along by shouting from window to window  ” in via di Fico” all the way to the Town Hall for the Mayor to respond back, ” Received Palazzo Vecchio, Over ”  Emergency supplies and teams gathered in the Soccer stadium and with whatever means – rubber dinghies, fishing waders, shutters laced together with paddles, brought basic supplies to those afflicted. For months after the city was nothing but slime and sludge with a disgusting smell of naphtha and sewage.

It mobilized the biggest international volunteer movement to save the city and its artistic heritage. Mud Angels, poured in from everywhere, personalities, clergy, art lovers and thousands of young students from the rest of Europe came to clean up the sludge from books and documents, and move artworks to safer abodes. It became a catalyst for new techniques in restoration, of which Florence is now famous.

Theatre performance on Florence Flood

‘Sotto una Gran Piova d’Acqua” Theatre

I relived the experience of the flood at a performance by an Itinerant theatre group – Teatro delle Seggiole who read from 3 diaries of the period: the Mayor of Florence, Piero Bargellini; a 16yr old lad; and the Director of a national newspaper, Enrico Matteo. It was a gripping account of the reality faced by Florentines before the arrival of outside assistance.

An excerpt:

The Lad looks on from his window:  “4.30am a crash. The course of the Arno, shortly after is in Piazza Mentana , curves right and rushes under the Ponte Vecchio. The lights of the Old Bridge are low. The current and its overflow has dragged tree trunks and rubbish which transforms the bridge into a dam. The violent water finds vent on the right, causing the collapse of the parapet and the road. Now the furious Arno pours throughout our part of town.”

The Mayor announces to his city by radio. “At this time I have been informed of the sad news that the Arno water has arrived in Piazza del Duomo. In some areas the flood reaches the first floor. And it is that area that needs our most urgent help. I invite everyone to stay calm and minimize your circulation. Any owners of rubber boats and amphibious vehicles, even in plastic, please make your way to the Palazzo Vecchio, to assist with immediate sanitary, food and rescue relief ”. In the days following he continued to protest loudly to the TV and newspapers indicating the gravity of the situation seemingly underestimated, and to the political institutions with a special plea to the Prime Minister to understand the scale of the tragedy “the damage is immense”. 

The Journalist: “On arrival I found along with the Florentines who were not affected – that unforgettable night spent in mournful vigil on the edges of the another city, a city that water had separated from us, mysterious, inaccessible like a world inhabited on another planet, and that touched us with its breath, with  a dank breath – a scene of total despair ”  It was largely due to his reporting of the dramatic tragedy to Rome, together with the Mayor, that forced the mobilization of military and others to the aid of Florence.

Also completed just in time  for the 50th Anniversary was the road alongside the Arno which had collapsed in May due to a burst water pipe,  devouring a number of parked cars in the process!. The worksite was operative 24hrs a day and only asphalted in time for the President of the Republic to walk down it on 4 Nov 2016. The next day following days of rain, the Arno level rose to alarming levels again and equipment from the worksite had to be hurriedly craned up.

Which just goes to show we should never take it for granted, and keep an eye on the Arno and Mother Nature! Having been involved in the Vernazza  flood of 2011, the drama of Florence 1966 seemed even more credible.


 

 

Summer in full spin – Florence

And Summer is in full spin in Florence as around 500 cyclists braved the 30+degree heat to do a marathon cycle in one of the most panoramic piazzas of Florence – Piazzale Michelangelo.

 

Michelangelo’s David was aghast and had to turn away before he fainted, while us lazy onlookers enjoyed the tension, the rousing cries, and the stamina of the cyclists pounding away to the beat of the music. What a way to go!

Florence Merry-go-round

 

For the families there’s the classic Merry-Go-Round in Piazza della Repubblica that never seems to go out of fashion. And the wonderful bubble maker who delights the kids from the world over.

Florence rickshaw

To take you on a tour around town is Matteo ( and others) with his electric rickshaw from Velotours, for a quick jaunt of 20mins or a full immersion in the labyrinth of Florence while hearing its history and legends.

Past popular pork snack bars, now an all time favourite for tourists in Via dei Neri – All’ Antica Vinaio or La Prosciutteria, although I cannot understand why one would queue for a sandwich and wine to eat sitting on the pavement! Or rest tired feet under one of Florence’s most dramatic statues – Perseus while listening to a sentimental busker.

Then as dusk falls look for a place to have an aperitif – a spritz is still the most popular cocktail, although on a hot Summer day a chilled beer or wine goes down well too.

Florence Reale Cafe

Florence boasts new bars this season, one of which is right next to the train station and looking very snazzy. – Reale Firenze. I understand it’s run by the promoters of the Central Market food mall and soft music wafts across the fountains as the sun goes down.

A contrast along the Arno river is the Wood bar with recycled warehouse crates and benches, and the music is lively.

And nearby, still on the river, is the open air dance venue of Summer Suites, so if you are around on Tuesdays that’s salsa night! Free dance workshops and it rocks on until dawn.

And while some clubs are new, some things never change – like the Red Garter club, which has been the haunt of American students ever since I came to Florence 30 years ago and is still going strong by the looks of the crowd spilling out onto the street. I have to admit I have never been inside as under 21yrs pour down alcohol like water enjoying the freedom of Italian regulations….not like back home!Florence Re Garter clubHowever if you’re after some peace and quite, head for the hills outside Florence as it’s been shooting Summer moonstar time, and quite dreamy waiting to make a wish on the forever elusive meteoroid burning up on it’s way to earth!

A legendary place – Island of Montecristo

Montecristo IslandOff on a new adventure to the Island of Montecristo, one of the most wild and intriguing of  the Tuscan Archipelago. This tiny island off the Tuscan coast is only just over 10sq km and a Natural Reserve with restricted access of only 1000 visitors each year allowed to explore the 3 trails on the Island accompanied by Forest rangers and Environmental Guides. Only 50 people per visit and more than a 2 year waiting list.

It meant an early dawn start for most of us with a 2hr trip from Florence and a 2 1/2 hr boat ride across from Castiglione della Pescaia. The excitement mounted on seeing the island shrouded in clouds, exuding mystery and provoking a murmur about the treasure to still be found!

Guides Montecristo

Forest rangers to greet us, together with the custodians of the island and our Environmental guide to give us an introduction to the flora and fauna and regulations about hiking together – not wandering off the designated trail or even dipping a toe into the very inviting sea.

In 2012 Montecristo had become so infested with black rats threatening the birdlife of the sanctuary that 26 tonnes of rat pellet poison was air dropped on the Island much to the objection of many environmentalists. It has however proved to be a success, restoring the Islands’ ecosystem with the return of the Storm Petrels and Shearwater  Seabirds and various migratory birds. Wild goats, Tyrrhenian painted frogs and the Montecristo vipers are special to the island although I was hoping we would only come across the first two on our hike!

Vegetation is monitored to ensure the native Mediterranean flora, aside from the port area, Maestra Cove, which flaunts exotic imported plants, since it was the only

Montecristo Cala Maestra

inhabited area over the centuries. Years past it was a penal settlement until a wealthy English botanist – George Watson Taylor, bought the island in the mid 1800’s for a mere 50,000 lire (€ 25) and introduced different plant species and many eucalyptus. He succeeded in making a good profit when the Italian Government bought the Island back in 1869 for 100,000 lire (€ 50)!  Please note a correction to the Lira currency value in comments/replies.

But we were off to find the hidden treasure protected by the ferocious dragon that had kept many pirates and fortune seekers at bay. As the legend goes the Bishop of Palermo – Mamiliano  miraculously saved from the Vandals in Africa and blood thirsty pirates was not to be deterred by a fiery dragon in finding a safe haven on the island of Montecristo. He managed to kill the monster, burn it and threw its remains into the sea and retired as a hermit in a cave – Grotto Mamiliano

In honour of Mamiliano, a Benedictine monastery was built  and here the legend of the fabulous treasure began, supposedly made up mostly of chalices, sacred and precious furnishings, gold and prized stones, which the friars were hiding.

While many sought the treasure, including Cosimo I de ‘Medici, the only one who has managed to find the fabulous treasure, as far as we know, is the legendary Edmond Dantes, in the “Count of Monte Cristo” by Alexandre Dumas.

Hikers Montecristo

 

But perhaps the real treasure is the pristine nature of the island itself, its stunning wildness, glorious views and we felt privileged to have hiked its steep ledges and crevices and were beguiled by its mystery.Isola Montecristo

Tuscan coast mapLeaving Montecristo

 

Shop till you drop – The Mall, Florence

The Mall shopperSpring is here and time to change the wardrobe and perhaps use the excuse to go shopping at The Mall, Florence one of the most popular designer outlets. Oddly enough it’s only 5mins from where I live yet I rarely go unless my overseas visitors are curious. It’s perhaps the only time many of the shoppers ever get to see the beauty of the Tuscan countryside. With around 3 million visitors each year it is not surprising that The Mall has continued to

The Mall Prada

Prada – The Mall

expand despite the economic crisis. The little local village of Leccio has incorporated the rather trendy architectural shopping blocks, though most shoppers rarely get out of The Mall precinct, since it has more than one restaurant and café area and the bus services and many private NCC taxi drivers take customers to the door.

These days the major clientele are Asian – Chinese, Korean and Japanese who come in droves, often in their own Tour coaches.

It has been a boom for the area however giving a lot of new work opportunities both inside the outlets as well as in the new constructions and surrounding landscaped gardens in need of constant maintenance. Regular bus services and additional taxi services are also a benefit to locals. And besides when it gets gruellingly hot in Summer we can all escape there into the air conditioning!The Mall expansion

 

Other outlet areas have opened close by – the Fashion Groove home to Geox shoes, Timberland, Calzedonia and others, Dolce and Gabbana at Primo Piano and the Fashion Valley.

But it has not all been a rosy picture as the closure of Fashion Valley can testify. Murky green ponds, dirty statues heighten the dismal effect of closed shop windows now in the Fashion Valley. The only place still open is the Asian restaurant – La Fenice which obviously has a special deal going as Coaches bus groups there daily for lunch.

Still a visit to The Mall is worthwhile, even without buying, as the ‘idyllic Tuscan countryside’ as described in the brochure is very relaxing on the eyes from the rooftopNike gym shoes restaurant of Gucci. And I must admit even I succumbed to a bargain in the Nike Outlet, after all how could I go past new gym shoes for only €29.50!!

Little do visitors know that they are just below the beautiful Castle Sammezzano which we hope will one day be open to the public to visit.

Tuscan countrysidePs And besides it’s safer to be out of the city these days considering what happened when the water pipe burst in Florence near the Ponte Vecchio last Wednesday!!


 

The old and new of Carrara Marble workers

As I watched the building of the antique marble arch of Palmyra in Syria I could not be more impressed by Italian creativity and talent in using the most update technology of 3D printers to recreate a work of art destroyed in the civil conflict in Syria. While never to replace the original it is still heartening to see the use of the current technology in recreating such a masterpiece. Congratulations to the company –TorArt– which has succeeded in the project, working together with the Institute of Digital Archeology.

Fascinated as I am by the new technology ( see my previous blog on Makers)  I am even more impressed by seeing it used to enormous benefits of us all.

And to think it is on my doorstep, by workers from Fantascritti quarry in Carrara, Tuscany, adds an extra note of pride for their ingenuity and craftsmanship. The arch went on display in Trafalgar Square London 19th April, and will go to New York, Dubai and then home to Syria.

Arch Trafalgar square

Arch in Trafalgar Square Photo credit Lucy Glasser

Fantascritti quarry museumIt also brought back fond memories of various tours I had taken to the quarry of Fantascritti where a retiree of the quarry –Walter Danesi, had created an outstanding museum dedicated to the difficulties and hardships involved in extracting the most beautiful marble in the world. Marble that has created masterpieces, like Michelangelo’s David and more.

The difficulties can be seen here in the photos from the quarry museum, where many have risked their lives over the centuries and continue to do so. The last unfortunate accident on site was but 10 days ago when two workers were crushed under tons of marble and a third rescued as he remained suspended in the air. Not surprisingly the area of Carrara has been known to  be a strong anarchist  haunt as Man challenges the elements of Nature and the ongoing pressure of extraction to meet today’s demands.

Walter Danesi always had lots of stories to tell of his time as a quarry worker and gave a warm welcome to my tour groups and my family. He Walter Danesi book dedicaionwrote a dedication in his book which I cherish “To lovely Susi, with admiration, Walter Danesi”Walter Danesi book

 

 

 

 

 

So if you are ever in the area of Carrara, about an hour from Pisa or Lucca, drive up to the Fantascritti Quarry to see for yourselves the marvel of marble and the incredible effort that has gone into it’s extraction and sculpting. Be warned though, it is still a working Quarry and the truck drivers don’t take kindly to visitors on the long windy road…..understandably!

 

 

 

Coasting in the Spring

Tuscany coastline

Looking towards our destination

Heading off for the Tuscan coast in rather menacing weather on Easter Monday was not enticing, but as hikers we are forever optimistic and well equipped. Besides we were going to one of my favourite beach areas in Tuscany – the Gulf of Baratti. Fairly unknown to tourists but a very popular spot for Tuscans, especially during the Summer. However the beauty of these places is often appreciated more in the off season and we were with a well versed guide who was to reveal some interesting details that I had not discovered on previous visits.

As we drove further South, lines of graceful Umbrella pinesumbrella pines came to view which is so typical of the Maremma area and would continue to shelter us throughout the hike. It was still raining when we stepped out of our minibus to head through the woods and get our first glimpse of the coastline.

Centuries ago this had been one of the most important Etruscan settlements and the only one that was made Etruscan archeological siteon the coast. The area was rich in iron deposits,  which were traded and processed well into the 20th century and the iron slag heaps buried the Etruscan necropolis for centuries – now a very interesting archaeological site to visit.

 

Baratti bay

Baratti beach

 

With the afternoon sun we would notice the glitter of iron in the ferrous sand. The sea continues to reclaim the beach each year and protective sand bags line the beach, a small measure against Mother Nature.

 

 

 

 

 

Gulf of Baratti

Baratti beach

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

But we were still in the woods and to be surprised by some unusual architecture considered well ahead of it’s time. Built in the 1960’s from designs by a Florentine Vittorio Giorgini, the House of the Whale and the Hexagonal House are unexpected in this wild setting. Fortunately after their construction no further buildings were allowed and the area remains a natural park and these eccentric structures seem at home here.

On the way to our lunch spot, the Buca delle Fate ( Fairies hideaway) more Etruscan tombs were visible, some only simple mounds, others well defined entrances into the rock, and an ancient quarry from the 2nd century with precision cut rocks that look like they were cut yesterday!

Etruscan tomb

Etruscan tomb

Ancient quarry

 

 

 

 

Tuscany Fairies Hideaway

Lunch at the Fairies Hideaway, a gorgeous little bay with a view across to the Isle of Elba, a soft sea breeze and a well earned appetite.Sue Jane

 

 

 

 

 

Looking at Isle of Elba

Looking across to Isle of Elba

 

 

Regenerated we head off for more ruins below the Etruscan town of Popolonia, the 12th century monastery of San Quirico. By this time the menacing clouds have been swept away and we are bathed in sunshine.

octopus kioskAnd like lizards enticed out by the sunshine, fellow holiday makers are everywhere in the park area, soccer balls  and Frisbee’s flying, and savouring the speciality of the area – octopus at the Il Polpo Marino kiosk, and gelati from the local café.

As hikers we are satisfied with our 20km hike and feel we have walked off the excess Easter egg and Colomba cake and are ready to put our feet up on the ride home.

Baratti park

Gulf of Baratti park

Google Map Gulf of Baratti

 

 


 

Revisiting some old classics

Ponte VecchioHaving an overseas visitor was such a good excuse to revisit some of the old classics in Tuscany, even in my hometown of Florence. To remember the stories told by friends and guides over the years and relate them to a first time visitor to Europe, bowled over by the beauty, was a very rewarding experience!

 

Florence Uffizi gallery Being Autumn the days are short and there was so much to pack into her visit that we caught some of my favourite places at sunset and evening as we dragged our feet back to the car.Flroence Neptune Fountain

 

 

 

 

Here Neptune, impertinently nicknamed  ‘the big white lump’ by locals, gazes across to the perfect body of David knowing he is but a poor imitation. The fountain has suffered a lot of damage over the centuries the last being in 2005 when local vandals broke off his hand.

Statue of DavidFlorence Palazzo Vecchio

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Beautiful David keeps a forever watchful eye towards any possible enemy invasion from the river, ready to defend Florence at all costs. And to think David may never have eventuated! The block of marble was to be given to Leonardo Da Vinci which had Michelangelo racing back from Rome to claim it. The statue in front of the Palazzo Vecchio  is only a copy as David was moved in 1873 to the Accademia and the real thing is even more stunning and hardly comparable.

Palazzo VecchioStatue Perseus

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The bronze Perseus, by Cellini, boasts what will happen to any enemy dare they risk to enter the city. The story goes that Cellini was forced to melt down his household pans and plates for the casting!  Times were tough even then!Florence Baptistery

 

The Baptistery now sparkles after its recent clean and in the dusk the entire Cathedral complex glows. Pope Francesco was suitably impressed on his visit here early November.

 

Vasari CorridorTime to explain the Vasari corridor – the passageway between  the Uffizi gallery, leading over the Ponte Vecchio and ending inside the Boboli gardens of the Pitti Palace. Built so Cosimo I Medici did not feel at risk walking amongst his populace.

 

Porcellino market

 

And before leaving Florence a trip by the Porcellino market to touch the nose of the wild boar and let a coin drop to ensure  a return visit to the  city.

 

 

 

It was now time to explore some of the other classics of Tuscany and where better to start San Gimignanothan the Mediaeval Manhattan of San Gimignano. The battle between families to build their tower higher than the other, thus showing their wealth and power gives San Gimignano a unique skyline in the midst of rolling Tuscan hills of vineyards and olive groves.

It also has the best gelati!San Gimignano gelati

 

 

 

San Gimignano piazza

 

 

 

 

 

 

Siena Il Campo
Siena Cathedral

On to Siena to walk where horses race bareback at breakneck speed around the piazza Il Campo in the magnificent Palio. A piazza where all the locals hang out especially at aperitif time, so we head for a local café to join them.

 

And as night falls we circuit the Cathedral to see the unfinished walls still leaning precariously, that were to make the Cathedral bigger and better than that of Florence.

Unfortunately the plague hit at that time and the population was halved so together with the structural problems already evident the project was abandoned.

It was not the only monumental building to suffer from structural problems, and you may wonder if it would have become as Pisa Leaning towerfamous as it has without the lean……where are we? The leaning tower of Pisa of course! The lean has now been brought back to that of 1838 after the foundations were strengthened and it spent many years drawn back by steel cables. The same innocent comment “I thought the tower stood by itself!? ” So many still have no idea that it is actually the bell tower of the Cathedral and are stunned by the, appropriately called, Piazza of Miracles.

Pisa Cathedral

Piazza of Miracles

The old classics cannot be beaten, still as awesome as ever to both old and new  visitors.