Happy Festive season


Florence nativity scene

Nativity scene in front of Florence Cathedral

It’s that time of year again and I wish you all a Merry Christmas and a Wonderful 2016 ahead, full of happiness, good health and new ventures!

I hope it has been a good 2015 for you with lots of travels, stories and good memories to share.

Florence Cathedral


Florence is even more beautiful at this time of year and the English magazine ‘The Florentine’ has some interesting Christmas stories and events to tempt  you in case you are in the area.

Florence Baptistery




Christmas reindeer




Florence Ponte Vecchio

Ponte Vecchio – Florence







Christmas Il Rinascente

Il Rinascente Department store






Christmas Tree Florence


Baptistery Christmas









I am off to Oz for a month so will catch up with you all again in February……Ponte Vecchio








….and leave you with a little Leunig wisdom!

Michael Leunig Christmas

Reproduced with the kind permission of Michael Leunig


A Family of Foodies

Laura and I

Laura and I, Airey’s Inlet pub

From the look of me you will not believe that I come from a family of foodies! Or at least this wonderful food tradition came with my sister-in-law being the most fabulous cook ever, lending her talents over years to many schools and organisations, even recycling of food for charities. That food tradition has passed on to my niece, Laura Jane who after retrenchment from Lonely Planet launched into her new venture in May this year – Gourmet Kitchen Cooking school.


As a family we have been thriving on many of her dinners, especially the desserts and I am sure if I stayed in Australia any longer on my return trips I would become a real ‘Foodie’! To tempt you with just a few of the dishes we have been blessed with:

Potato dumplings and saladLaura cake

So while I don’t normally do promos or publicity I thought I could just sneak this post in, as an exception as:

The Gourmet Food Store is having an ‘open night’ on Wednesday December 9 from 6pm to 8pm. Come in and enjoy a glass of bubbles while you have a look around and maybe even leave with some of your Christmas shopping sorted. As a special offer I will be giving a $10 discount on cooking class gift vouchers purchased on the night (in store only). The discount applies to full gift vouchers and masterclass gift vouchers.

Come in and check out our quality range of products including:

  • Christmas hampers
  • Recipe books
  • Mad mille Cheese & Cider making kits
  • Molecular gastronomy & mixology kits
  • Specialty patisserie equipment
  • Spanish ingredients, tapas dishes & paella pans
  • A taste of Paris gourmet mustards, oils & vinegars
  • Soda Press Drink Syrups
  • Soltoro Mexican spice mixes
  • And much more…

The store is stocked with some beautiful and unique products and I am really excited to open the doors!Laura's dessert


So if you happen to live in Melbourne, and are in the Moonee Ponds area, do drop by the Food Store or if you are in need of a boost to your cooking try one of her cooking classes in the New Year. I guarantee you will be inspired!


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.