A Travellerspoint blog

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Day 1 (and a half!)

Clouds & silver linings

all seasons in one day 19 °C
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Well, ain’t life interesting? Uneventful flights from Auckland to Hong Kong, then on to Zurich. I did manage to get a few winks in the 12 hours or so to Zurich, and it was a night flight so that worked out OK. Still pretty whacked when we got to Zurich though. I had a couple of hours before my flight to Florence, so checked out some of the shops in the airport, including Swatch & Springli – and yes, I bought a Swatch watch & a pack of the Truffes du Jour (Truffles of the Day), which I’m going to have to eat very slowly since they cost an absolute bomb! As a matter of fact, I just had the first one, and it was definitely amazing (thanks Kate for the recommendation)!

From here it gets a little more interesting... getting close to boarding time so I head for the departure gate, check the board and… lo & behold, the flight to Florence is cancelled because of bad weather at the destination!! I join the long slow queue to sort out what to do from there, and some 45 mins later they announce that because the next flight to Florence isn’t until the evening, they will put us on a train if we want. Didn’t take me long to decide this was better than taking a chance that the evening flight would also be cancelled, and besides, I thought a train ride through the Swiss countryside – and then Italy, via Milan, would be a lovely way to relax a bit. Things got a bit stressful when my train to Zurich central got there 10 mins late, giving me just 5 mins to get to platform 8 from platform 14 to change trains, but I made it with a couple of minutes to spare.

And it was indeed a lovely way to spend the day – way better than sitting in the airport! For the first part of the journey the cloud was very low, so it was pretty grey, as you can see – though still very pretty, and very Swiss!

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I listened but didn’t hear any yodelling (sorry, that's a Dad joke!).

As we got closer to Italy the sun came out & we were treated to some lovely scenery – lakes, babbling streams, hills & mountains – and even some snow.

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Oh, George! Come out, come out wherever you are!! (or should that be "como out" tee hee)

I really enjoyed this unexpected windfall - never thought I'd get to see any of Switzerland really, and even though the weather wasn't the greatest it was moody and lovely with the autumn colours starting to come out.

We did have to change trains a few times, but that just added interest. We’d even managed to get booked on first class in the Frecciarossa, the fast train – which was very nice indeed! Man, that thing hikes along!! It goes up to 300kph, which I thought was quite a conservative figure considering how fast I thought we were going. Didn’t even slow down for the tunnels either! The little blue lights that are interspersed inside the tunnels through the Appenines were just lines outside the windows, not dots – as if someone was firing a Star Trek phaser.

Got a taxi to my apartment from the train station, and I think I’ll be very happy here. It’s one bedroom, but plenty of room.

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The street where I live - view from my door

I was veeerrry happy to jump in the shower – some 40 hours or so after I left home on Friday morning! Just had dinner – an underwhelming tortellini that tasted like old socks because of the sheer amount of porcini & weird cheese. I suspect I will be heading to bed shortly for a very long night’s sleep!! No particular plans for tomorrow yet, so who knows what will happen?

Posted by judesbucketlist 14:52 Archived in Italy Tagged italy florence firenze switzerland zurich high_speed_train Comments (2)

Day 2

sunny 23 °C
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Had a fantastic sleep & woke just before 10am to gorgeous sunshine after the rain yesterday – no jetlag at this stage, so I’m very happy indeed!

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The view out my lounge window - love that blue sky!

At 10:30 the bells started tolling at the Basilica di Santa Croce, which is just at the end of my street. It was really lovely and I watched out my window as people started leaving their homes and walking along to church, like this old fella:

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I first went to the Piazza di Santa Croce, which is just in front of the basilica, and it is lined with stalls selling scarves, Venetian masks (wrong city guys!), hats, bags and trinkets. There are quite a few leather shops around the piazza, and throughout Florence – I do aim to get a jacket while I’m here but they aren’t as cheap as I’d hoped so maybe not!

By this time I was starving hungry, considering I didn’t eat much dinner. Found a place called the Red Garter – they’ve apparently been in Florence for ages and the US students tend to hang out there. I polished off the first cappuccino quick smart and the scrambled eggs, chips and bacon were delicious, even though the eggs were very dry as if someone had minced up an omelette instead of the standard scrambling.

Just wandering around Florence without being in a hurry to see everything in a short few days is fantastic – you can just enjoy it and take everything in.

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Looking down the Arno towards the Ponte Vecchio

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Across the Arno

The Piazza della Signoria is lined with statues, including the fake David and a brand new, shiny gold one by Jeff Koons, an artist who was allowed to add a piece amongst the old classics. His is Pluto & Proserpina, inspired by the classic style, but with the modern twist of a brilliant coloured finish on stainless steel - so shiny you could do your makeup in it. It sure stands out next to the various shades of grey!

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The statue along the way seems to be staring, wondering who the heck that is!

I wanted to check out where the Scuola Leonardo da Vinci (the language school I’ll be attending) is, so I would know where to go tomorrow. Went via the Duomo and was gobsmacked again by the sheer beauty of it.

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Of course the piazza around it was crowded with tourists and peddlers of knock-offs and cheap souvenirs. It’s quite funny because the police drive through every 5-10 minutes and the guys who aren’t supposed to be there are very quick to pack up their painted canvasses and casually pretend like they’re just hangin’ – I ain’t doing nothing wrong, Officer!

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Here comes the fuzzoli

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Ain't doin' nuthin' Officer!

And yes, I did find the school, so all good for the morning.

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It was pretty warm so I had my first gelato of this trip – yum!

And between the school & home is a supermarket, which is great to have nearby and I picked up a few provisions. I also found a department store like Smith & Caughey’s and paid far too much for a pair of comfortable sneakers which I needed & had planned to get here (they ARE leather, and they ARE comfortable and pretty styley too!). When you spend more than a certain amount, you can claim the 12% tax back at the airport when you leave Italy (not much of a discount, but it helps).

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This was not in the department store, but I thought the guys would like this one...

Went for another wander late afternoon before having dinner – a promenade, if you will! Tried on a few leather jackets – one felt like satin, it was so soft & light, and extremely tempting! That reminds me, I’d better buy a Lotto ticket this week…

By this time I noticed the clouds were pink and I was near the river so raced over to check out the sunset over the Ponte Vecchio. As you can see, I was not disappointed in the least! So stunning and a pretty magical place to watch the sun go down.

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Had a lovely dinner: crostini topped with white beans, liver mousse (sounds and looks unappetising, but it was delicious) & tomato, followed by steak in a green peppercorn cream sauce. Sooo much better than the ‘old socks tortellini’ I had last night! Oh yeah, plus a glass of prosecco – also very yum.

So a lovely day all up – sun shining and still warm with a light breeze - even though I did twist my ankle on the edge of a kerb (and I’m feeling it a bit now). Looking forward to class tomorrow & seeing what’s in store for me there.

Posted by judesbucketlist 21:40 Archived in Italy Tagged statues sunset florence duomo piazza ponte_vecchio Comments (1)

Day 3

overcast 21 °C
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Woke early to make sure I would get to class on time for my first day. Grabbed a still-warm pain au chocolat and a large coffee to eat on the way. The pastry was heavenly & won’t be my last - and fortunately (or unfortunately) the place I got it is just on Piazza Santa Croce, close to home and on my way to class! Arrived at the Scuola Leonardo da Vinci (yes, that's the real name of the school) with time to spare, along with a dozen or two other students. In our beginners class are a myriad of nationalities – Jorg (pronounced ‘yoik’) & Karlo from Germany, Jane from the UK, plus Japan, Brazil & Aussie are all represented. I gave Jane my condolences on the Rugby World Cup situation. Some are only taking lessons for a week, and others up to 9 months.

It turns out that Italian is quite hard. No joking – it’s really hard! Well, at least on the first day. All this feminine & masculine nonsense – whose dumb idea was it to make a pen feminine & a book masculine? And worst of all, THERE ARE NO RULES when it comes to the masculinity or femininity of an item – you just have to remember them. Gelato is masculine & pizza feminine – should be the other way round, don't you think? Terrific. Hopefully it will get easier as I tune in a bit more, and I do remember a similar issue with French. Our teacher, Monica, is so very patient and does her best to get the point across – I know I can learn a lot about teaching to foreign students from her, but I was just too busy trying to understand!

On the plus side, the school provides the opportunity to go on trips and tours, including a city tour today which I didn’t do since I’ve already been to most of the places they were going to. Great for people new to Florence though. On Thursday evening, we have aperitivo (happy hour) with our classmates & teacher to get to know each other, and on the weekends they offer trips out of town to different places such as Chianti, Perugia, including Montepulciano, a Tuscan tour, Venice or Cinque Terre. The Chianti one includes vineyards, and I suspect the same for Montepulciano. Some are by train but most by private bus, and the prices look OK, so I will do some at least.

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I'm always surprised when the Duomo shows up around a corner or at the end of a narrow street

Class ended at 12:15 so I grabbed a burger for lunch next to the Duomo and took a roundabout route back home. Florence isn't all about the ancient, and it can be easy to forget that it's a modern city. I found myself in the upper class shopping district, with all the designer shops, such as Hermes, Gucci, Roberto Cavalli, Tommy Hilfiger, and many others. It’s the best-smelling street in Florence, by a long shot! And the juxtaposition of these upmarket brands in historic buildings is weird, even a little off – inside the shops are shiny, modern and sparkling clean, while outside – well, not so much (though pretty clean by Florence standards!).

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Tommy Hilfiger store right next to Palazzo Strozzi - I was standing right in front of the Hermes store when I took this!

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Gucci & Roberto Cavalli

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Louis Vuitton on the left

I did get my daily dose of culture by visiting the Museo Bargello, where there’s a few of Donatello’s & Michelangelo’s sculptures (no, not the Ninja Turtles, boys!), among many other priceless pieces including bronzes and glass cases full of beautifully carved ivory, some tiny and so fragile it’s surprising they are still intact. Unfortunately when I saw those, all I could think of were the poor elephants! I do quite like the dark bronzes - they always look so pristine, and usually have all their bits intact, unlike a lot of the marble, where certain appendages are often missing! I mean toes & fingers of course...

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Mercury Volante (Flying Mercury) by Giambologne

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Ganymede, by Benvenuto Cellini - I love this one

Everywhere - and I mean everywhere - in Florence are shops selling leather - jackets, shoes, bags, shawls... Most of them are very similar, with only a slight variation in style, and often a larger variation in quality but not so much in price! However, I did stumble across one with some really different and lovely styles - with the appropriate price tag though of course! This one had 2250 euros on it - though to be fair I was to take 50% off for the sale that most shops have on at present. A steal at 1125! It was lovely, though not my style & is all leather - the floral parts are not fabric.

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Gorgeous

Weather today was overcast & warmish, with a very few drops of rain, not enough for an umbrella though.

Thought you'd like to see the Basilica Santa Croce, since it's just at the end of my street:

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And right next to it is a statue of Dante Alighieri, who wrote Dante's Inferno:

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It has been suggested that I should hire a Maserati & go for a blatt, but I think this one is more my speed - I especially like the fact it's a convertible!

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Will have a relatively early night I think – all that thinking is tiring!

Posted by judesbucketlist 18:12 Archived in Italy Tagged florence tuscany michelangelo museo_bargello donatello italian_language_course Comments (0)

Day 4

A Santa Croce Kind of Day

rain 20 °C
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Second day on the course & while there have been some "aha" moments, much of it isn't sticking. Like English, it seems that Italiano has some very illogical "rules"! For example, with options of la, le, l', lo, il, i and gli for "the", it's no wonder some people take Italian lessons for years!! Still it's great fun and our teacher has a great sense of humour when it comes to her native tongue.

Very grey, muggy and raining for most of the day, although the forecast thunderstorms never eventuated, and it wasn't cold. Umbrellas were the order of the day, and I decided not to travel far afield so thought it was a great opportunity to do some people watching in the piazza and to spend a good length of time in the Basilica Santa Croce, since it's at the end of my street.

So here's a bit of a photo essay of the day - not much to say (which some of the blokes on here at least will be happy about!)

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These guys are everywhere peddling whatever's most in demand at the time

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And occasionally they make a sale

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Tour groups are everywhere - mostly Chinese, and they're out in any weather


Inside Basilica Santa Croce

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The tomb of Michelangelo

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Corridor windows

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This walkway surrounds the Basilica, just below the roofline

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This underground corridor is paved with funerary slabs - note the drinks machine at the end!

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The dome of the polychrome Pazzi Chapel

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Belltower

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The obligatory cute animal shot for the day!

Meanwhile, back in the piazza...
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Don't know if this is the same group!

Well, that's all folks! Off to dinner now.

Posted by judesbucketlist 18:52 Archived in Italy Tagged umbrellas rain italy basilica florence michelangelo piazza santa_croce Comments (0)

Day 5


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Another overcast, humid day - and not a lot to tell. Today's Italian class wasn't any less confusing - at times the teacher holds long conversations in Italian with a couple of the other students, and most of us can only pick up the general gist of what she's saying. I guess it's good practice for us to listen!

We were informed this morning that our class would be changing from mornings to afternoons for next week & the week after, which doesn't work for me at all, and wasn't what I signed up for. Of course, there is the fine print that says the class times may change - and they didn't waste any time telling me that when I queried the change. So I mentioned the fact that I didn't travel halfway around the world just to take their classes and I have other things to do in the afternoons, that I spent thousands, yada yada... and that I'm their customer! Didn't make any friends, but they came up with a compromise - next week I move to a different class which will be in the morning, but the week after that I'll still have to move to the afternoons.

Just shows you really have to read the fine print!

On a positive note, I've booked a trip/tour to Eurochocolate 2015 - yes, you read that right - Eurochocolate! It's "Italy's biggest chocolate festival", and this is the 22nd one they've held. It means a bus trip to Perugia to visit chocolate producers, including Lindt and also some smaller producers. So that's happening on Saturday. Do you feel sorry for me yet? And the following Saturday, I'm off to do a short hike and some wine tasting in Chianti.

As I was approaching my street this afternoon, I saw the Casa Buonarroti is at the opposite end of my street to the Basilica Santa Croce, and I hadn't even realised it. It's where Michelangelo's family members lived for generations. I was quite excited, being a bit of a fan of ol' Mike, and it's one of the less publicised museums/galleries in Florence. Turns out I'm not terribly surprised that it's not so well known or visited, as it was disappointing, and dare I say it, pretty boring. There are a lot of rooms, which are hard to follow as they don't provide a map. I was expecting a lot of Michelangelo's work, but there's not terribly much; a few drawings and preparatory models mostly.

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These are both Michelangelo's work - Battle of the Centaurs & Madonna of the Steps

Mostly it's art pieces that later generations collected over the years - paintings and sculptures mainly. One of the rooms was decorated after his death by various artists who painted panels on the walls and ceilings, showing Michelangelo meeting various popes and other important people. Other artists painted monochrome panels depicting what they saw as his qualities. Basically it's a room that honours his life and times, which is kind of nice and better than a sepulchre or funerary monument. These photos are of that room, as best as I could do considering you're limited to each end of the room because of the ancient tiles on the floor:

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Sorry about the reflections - I think they do the lighting like this on purpose to make you buy the books in their shop!

And a couple of shots from elsewhere in the casa:
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In the same building is the Forta Mesa, which is dedicated to the various competitions through the centuries for artists/architects to design the facade of the Basilica San Lorenzo, which has never been finished. Michelangelo won the first competition, but his facade was never built. The last contest was held in 1905 but again, never carried through to fruition so San Lorenzo remains unfinished. All in all, the display was a bit ho-hum.

So, not a terribly interesting day (sorry about that), but set up for some cool stuff at the weekend! Once the weather improves (tomorrow apparently), I'll get out to some of the best places to see Florence - across the river & up the hill, and into the gardens. There's plenty of Florence still to see, and even in the 4 weeks I still have left, there's no way I'll see everything but I'll give it a good whack! If there's nothing to report, I won't do a blog - one boring one is enough!!

Posted by judesbucketlist 17:39 Archived in Italy Tagged gallery italy museum florence michelangelo casa_buonarroti Comments (0)

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