A Travellerspoint blog

Day 16

The other end of Florence

semi-overcast 19 °C
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Took a very long walk to the west today, across Ponte alla Carraia to Oltrarno and the San Spririto neighbourhood and further west then back over the Arno at Ponte della Vittoria to the biggest park in Florence, Parco delle Cascine where there's a flea market every day. There's not much of a story to tell, so I'll just caption each photo (though I did find the very best gelato in Florence (lemon and mango, smooth & creamy - nom nom, nommy nom), just the other side of the Ponte alla Carraia!).

Ponte alla Carraia, from Ponte Santa Trinita

Ponte Santa Trinita, from Ponte alla Carraia

Now this is a classy barbecue!

There are beautiful entrances to residential buildings all over Florence

Crystallised fruit stall at a market in Piazza Del Carmine (and yes, I did buy some)

A view of the River Arno from Lungarno di Santa Rosa - a green belt that runs alongside the Arno

Fisherman - didn't see him catch anything

Arty farty reflection shot

View to the east down the Arno from Ponte della Vittoria

Parco della Cascine

Flea market

I met my first wolf today, & he was very cute, even though he tried to eat me!

I've been very restrained, and this is my first knocker shot - couldn't resist though!

Do you think that's her real name?

Actually, I do have a little story... I was walking happily down a very nice street called Corso Italia, taking photos of the buildings and some of the doors. One door in particular, near the end of the street, was very nice, with the arch at the top in wrought iron so I snapped a pic. As I walked to the end of the street, I heard a whistle being blown a couple of times, and turned to see a military policewoman quickly heading my way - no gun, thankfully. Naturally, I pointed to myself with a questioning look on my face, and she nodded. Turned out, the door I had just photographed was the back door of the US Consulate, so I was briefly suspected of being an international spy! I had to delete the photo while she watched - though it was only the damned door!! But I got my own back by snapping the other side of the building after I walked away - haha so there!

Mother & Father Goose

Weir on the Arno

More reflections on the Arno

I left the edge of the Arno to explore a bit and ended up at the Basilica Santa Maria Novella, where there was a guy playing and singing. Interestingly, the first one I heard him sing was Hotel California (with an Italian accent of course), which was kind of weird considering we were right in front of the church! Later on he sang Alleluia, which kind of made up for it! His guitar playing was fantastic.

Well, that was my day today. Back at school tomorrow, with classes changed to the afternoon for this week.

Posted by judesbucketlist 21:49 Archived in Italy Tagged italy florence river_arno Comments (2)

Day 15

The Golden Bowl

sunny 22 °C
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I finally relented yesterday and bought myself a puffer jacket, expecting a cold wind at least on the tour in Chianti. And I have never been so happy to be so wrong!

To be fair, I did wear it to the station to meet up with the tour, considering I left home at 7:00am & it was a bit chilly. Unlike the trip to Eurochocolate, we took a public bus so no fancy schmancy tour bus for us today! It took an hour to get to Panzano, a small town in Chianti and we were able to have a coffee before heading off on our hike. At the start, we walked down through the town a bit, and this was the first sight (other than what we saw on the bus) of Chianti's supremely beautiful landscape.


The tour leaders were two guys, Luca and Frederico - Luca spoke better English than Frederico so he often translated for him from the Italian. They told us about the area, and how, hundreds of years ago, that the area became known as the Golden Bowl because of how rich the owners became from wine and olives. I reckon it's a great name for it right now, considering it's autumn and the leaves on the vines are turning yellow.


We began walking long the "white road", an old road that was used centuries ago that they've preserved because of what it means to the area. At first, it was pretty easy going, and Frederico told us we were going to walk down into the valley and back up in a circle.


As you can see, there was an amazing vista at every step!

As luck would have it, we came upon a family starting to harvest some of the olives, so we stopped and spoke with them and watched them for a few minutes.


It's a little early in the season, but that valley gets plenty of sun so some of the trees have fully ripe, purple-black olives.

I just couldn't resist taking more photos of vines!

Then we arrived at a shed, and Frederico told us there were cows in it, and that we could go and have a look

The shed

And the cows - aren't they gorgeous - and huge?!

These cows are used primarily for meat, particularly the Florentine bistecca, a T-bone that's sold in restaurants by the 100g, usually 800g per steak, and served sangue (bloody) - which is more blue/raw than rare. Every tourist is challenged to eat one at least once, but that much meat is just too much for this tourist, so I'll stick to fillet!


The walk uphill was pretty full on, and as you can see it was very sunny - and it was really, really hot in the valley without a breeze! That killed me more than the hill. Thankfully the guys stopped relatively often, but of course they never waited long enough for me to catch my breath fully.

We did finally make it back up the top, and were able to check out an olive oil facility and taste the fresh oil as it poured out of the machine, still warm; tasted great too. Talk about liquid gold!

Old olive grinding stones - they used to use donkeys to turn these, now they use modern machinery

Old olive grinding stones - they used to use donkeys to turn these, now they use modern machinery

Olives ready for the hopper

We did need to walk up a little further into the village to where we would have our wine tasting and lunch. So an opportunity to take photos upwards, not just into the valley.


But also down into the valley again (sorry, couldn't help it)

We had a little talk from Vincenzo Sassolini, who has re-enlivened his family's 500 year old wine business, who showed us where they make their wine and explained the process. They are one of the licenced Chianti Classico makers, and this is their villa, where we spent the afternoon:


First tasting was a Chianti Classico, of course

Not being a red wine fan, I didn't hold out a lot of hope, but it was pretty good actually and low in tannin (which is why I liked it). As you can see, they also fed us, and the ham you can see was outstanding! The ham and bread were followed by warm crispy toasted crostini drizzled with fresh olive oil - mmmm yum (and even more delicious with the ham)! They also gave us a couple of pasta dishes - one with a tomato sauce and the other with pesto stirred through. We had two other red wines - the second one smelled like sewage, and wasn't good at all, and the last was their reserve Chianti Classico, which was OK but my favourite was the first one. To finish, we had some Vin Santo, which is a strong dessert wine, with biscotti to dip in it. And that is a very nice way to finish a meal, I can tell you! They also gave us a dash of grappa, which tasted like paint stripper to me so I left mine in the glass!

And a final view of Chianti from the villa's backyard:

It was an amazingly gorgeous day, with some nice people in a lovely setting. Despite the exhausting hike, I had a great time and loved the region with its unequalled views and the air that feels different to anywhere else.

On my way back to the apartment from the station, I walked through the Duomo piazza which was really busy. A man who passed me turned and called "Mi scusa, signora". He asked in Italian if I speak Italian - when I said only a little, he asked if I speak French (also only a little!). He asked where I'm from then proceeded to tell me he stopped me because I have a beautiful face and he couldn't resist talking to me. He asked me how long I'm in Florence & why, and told me he lives outside the city. I don't think he was your bog-standard Italian guy who tries to cotton on to solo women - he had his shopping with him, after all. To cut the story shortish, he asked me if I would go to a cafe with him. He was a bit creepy and desperate (and obviously needed new glasses) so I thanked him and said no. Thankfully he only begged once, then kissed me on both cheeks and went reluctantly on his way. Maybe I missed out on the romance of my life, but somehow I think not. Poor chap!

Posted by judesbucketlist 17:12 Archived in Italy Tagged italy vines florence vineyards chianti olive_oil Comments (4)

Day 14

A tale of a city

sunny 19 °C
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Yes, Florence is amazing, there's no arguing that fact. Just like any city, it has its good and not so good points, and ordinary and extraordinary sights. I spent this afternoon just wandering around, taking photos of "ordinary" things so you can see behind the scenes, as it were. I'll leave out the street art for now, because I took about 40 pics of the various graffiti and art that adorns the walls in many streets - I'll probably do a piece on that another day when I haven't got much to tell you.

This is going to be a loooonnng post - not much writing but lots of photos.

One of the issues for many of today's cities is rubbish and what to do with it, when people live in close proximity to each other. Florence has one solution that seems to work quite well - communal rubbish receptacles, like this:

There are some for recyclables and some for unsorted rubbish - you just open up the door and drop your bag in, and it drops down under the street where presumably there is some mechanism to carry it away and sort it (I actually imagine there are people down there who have the worst job in the world!). You often see people walking along with small bag of rubbish to drop in these. There are also big bins in a few places, but these things are never too far away from most parts of the central city.

Because the streets are so narrow here, tons of people have motorbikes or scooters to get around easier - and of course they need somewhere to leave them when they're at work:


Or teeny tiny, incy wincy cars:
This photo is just about bigger than the car! It actually has two seats across, believe it or not.

People leave their bicycles just about anywhere...

Which can make the footpaths even narrower than they already are...

So you have to walk on the road alongside the cars...

Bicyclists have it pretty good actually - they're allowed to ride both ways on one way streets. Though I'm not so sure it's a benefit when you consider how narrow the streets are...

But the rough street surfaces are not kind to bicycles:

Sometimes bicycles are used as decoration, in the nicest way...

And speaking of narrow streets, some buses are full size & have big side mirrors, which means you need your wits about you, even when you're walking on the footpath...

Street vendors abound, but I've not seen any regular fruit & vege stalls other than this one on the way to school:

There's a myriad of different shops and stores throughout Florence. This osteria sells a range of goods, and a little alcohol!

8/12 = alcohol!

This glassware store really caught my eye:

I thought the display windows either side of this upmarket accessory store were cute with the bow ties and neck ties displayed in them

There are a lot of designer stores around Florence

And you can design your own flat shoes - only flats!

Here's something you never get in NZ any more, and I love the juxtaposition next to the ATM machine!
The tobacconists don't just sell cigarettes, but the machines are outside the stores for use after hours.

This is an enoteca (wine shop) that also sells a range of different smallgoods - cooked meats, cheese, etc:

This shop owner has some very strong views about the mafia, but I can't make total sense of the translation. It says something about a constitution being destroyed that was written by free women and men, that they are the shame of the Italian mafiosa, and something about a conspiracy.
I can't tell whether the shop owner is pro or con the mafia!

But this is my absolutely favourite shop! It's all on its own in a street that is relatively bare so it really stands out. It's owned by a man called Michele (pronounced meek-e-le: not Michelle, but the Italian version of Michael), and he makes all the wooden items - spoons, chopping boards, more spoons, forks, salad & pasta servers. He also sells a myriad of things that do and don't go together - ornaments, parma ham, bread, fruit, veges - you name it. I had to buy something of course, and he kindly posed for a photo for me:

Shop frontage

Inside the door

Michele & his shop. I should have asked him if he puts all that stuff out every morning and brings it in every night - somehow I doubt it!

Italians are very patriotic, and you often see flags on the side of buildings - sometimes it's a hotel, sometimes it isn't
The Italian, European and Florentine flags

There's art of some kind around every corner...
Column with one of the Cossimos atop

Private entry and garden for a gallery

Hotel Art - Spoon - I Eat Earth. Huh? I hear you say... this is an installation that has spoons attached to the front of the building, a large spoon standing in front of the restaurant, and (lower right of the photo) a horizontal spoon that's been made as a seat for contemplating the artist's work.

Church of Orsanmichele

There are a lot of dogs in Florence, but I've only ever seen any with their owners. They're allowed in most shops it seems, including supermarkets and caffes...
They mostly seem to clean up after their dogs, but there is the odd brown sticky "present" around!

Today I saw my first cat in Florence. I was beginning to think that there was some law against them, and there are definitely no wild ones around as far as I know. The cat I saw today was out on its daily walkabout and its owner wasn't far away. They keep their cats inside in the city because it's safer for them, which is nice but I'm not sure the cats understand!

Speaking of animals, there are plenty of rats with wings - er, I mean, pigeons - in the piazzas and all over the buildings. There are plenty in the Piazza Santa Croce just around the corner:
People seem to like them, and the pigeons sure know when they're onto a good thing!

And speaking of pests...
Selfie stick, madam?

And general negative points...

One of the many street beggars

Gorgeous, but imagine if it was clean!

And just for a laugh - you do see some interesting sights. Not sure if this guy was going for the "merman" look that briefly did the rounds!

But all in all, Florence is a beautiful place, warts and all - the good outweighs the bad a thousand to one.

Tomorrow, I'm off on a tour in Chianti for a hike across the countryside, and lunch and wine tasting on a family estate. Should be awesome!

Posted by judesbucketlist 15:51 Archived in Italy Tagged italy florence transport florence_shops florence_streets Comments (0)

Day 13

Arty farty

sunny 16 °C
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As the weather has improved to gorgeous, sunny days, so the temperature has dropped suddenly - and the wind doesn't help much either! It does mean it's a great opportunity to do things inside, so I decided to hit the Uffizi Gallery today.

There's not a lot to say about it really, just that it's a fantastic gallery with some amazing art - paintings and sculptures by both Italian and foreign artists of yore, including Botticelli, Michelangelo, Leonardo da Vinci, Rembrandt and so on - as well as much older works from Greek and Roman times. Most of the photos I took are of sculptures, simply because they photograph better (paintings tend to reflect the light, which is aimed at making them easier to look at, rather than photograph).

Primo Corridoio

Medici Tribune room

Apollo with a Lyre

Adoration of the Magi, Dominico Ghirlandaia


Head of a Satyr

The gorgeous Sleeping Ariadne - how did they make solid marble look like the softest fabric?

Hermaphrodite - the other side of this one doesn't look so feminine!

Is it just me, or does this look like Elvis? From 430-420 BC

Here's where I got excited - one of my favourite paintings of all time (and yes, I had a little lump in my throat!)
Botticelli's Birth of Venus

This is where you learn that you must always look up in these places!
The ceiling of the Niobe room

The Niobe room holds sculptures that were found in a Roman vineyard in the 16th century, depicting the mythical Niobe and her children. They date from the 4th century BC.
Niobe's son

Personally, I think they're all looking up at the amazing ceiling!

Laocoon and his sons, Baccio Bandinelli

Hellenist torso sculpture

Silvanus with a young Bacchus

Tomorrow, I'll bring you up to speed on my Italian classes and a bit about how it is living in Florence - right now, I'm going to have dinner.

Posted by judesbucketlist 10:22 Archived in Italy Tagged art sculptures paintings italy florence uffizi Comments (0)

Day 11

Ruins, a church, a museum and a slightly ruined view

sunny 17 °C
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Today was such a lovely sunny day again, that I decided to head up to Fiesole, a hill town about 9km and a 20 minute bus ride northeast of Florence. Yesterday I could see Fiesole from the Piazzale Michelangelo:


Fiesole is renowned in Tuscany for two things - its archaeological area with Roman and Etruscan ruins, and the stupendous views of the entire city of Florence laid out at its feet. The bus dropped me at the town piazza where there's a cool modern sculpture - there's nothing to say what it is or who it's by:


Found my way to the archaeological area which is well maintained and has a well-set out pathway around it so you can't 'mistakenly' walk where you shouldn't. This also means that unfortunately it's difficult to get a picture without a sign or path in the way. The Roman theatre is nicely preserved and the Etruscan ruins and Roman baths, not so much. Still pretty awesome though!


I was very amused by this informational sign:


Why? Because it set out the information about the Roman theatre, with the points of interest - in Italian, and in braille! Not sure how the blind would be able to see what they were reading about, but there you go...

It was pretty windy today, and a bit chilly despite the sunshine - the clouds and jet streams were really being blown around.

Then it was time to take the bit between my teeth and climb up to the Terrazza su Firenze (the terrace overlooking Florence). Thankfully, halfway up the hill is a shop selling leather bags, so naturally I couldn't pass up the opportunity to have a look & get a few breaths back (and yes, I bought a nice small bag!). Up the top, I could see that the view would usually be outstanding, but for some reason a few people decided today was the day to light a fire outside - not sure what for - so it was pretty smoky and not at all clear down to the city, as you can see:


But off to the side, the views across the Tuscan landscape were lovely:

Also at the top of the hill is the tiny Chiesa di San Francesco (Church (and convent) of St Francis). It's one of my favourite churches, because of its simplicity:

This lovely garden area is just as you come to the entrance to the Missionary Museum, which houses something completely different for an Italian museum. I didn't know what to expect, but it certainly wouldn't have been anything from China or Egypt!

Sure didn't expect to see a case full of statues of Buddha in a church museum!

Chinese statue

Egyptian mummy - no doubt Egypt will want this back at some point!

The views out of the museum windows were pretty amazing too!

Fiesole from the top of the hill:

Fiesole from the bottom of the hill - piazza in the centre:

The bus ride back was a bit hairy on the windy road, and with an Italian driver of course! Fiesole is a nice quiet town but I didn't feel it had much "soul", if you get what I mean. I know, one afternoon doesn't really give much time to judge. It was nice to get back to the familiar feel of Florence though.

Posted by judesbucketlist 10:23 Archived in Italy Tagged italy florence fiesole roman_ruins tuscan Comments (0)

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