Part of the Old Royal Naval College, now the Trinity Laban Conservatoire of Music and Dance.

Part of the Old Royal Naval College, now the Trinity Laban Conservatoire of Music and Dance.

Untitled photo

This trip is built around another “French Escapade” sketching week for Anne, this time in Tuscany with Brenda Swenson as tutor.  We’ll travel together, though, and Paul will amuse himself around Florence and Bologna while Anne is with her painting group.​

​British Airways had easily the best fares when we were booking, so naturally we go via London, staying three nights there on arrival, but coming straight through Heathrow on the homeward journey. We’ll be spending time in Florence, Padua (only 26 mins by train to visit Venice), and then back to Bologna, from where we may do day trips to the likes of Ravenna, Ferrara, Modena and Parma. It’s all very exciting. Almost exactly a month, leaving on Friday 14 September and getting back early morning on Saturday 13 October. Coco will be boarding at Divine Creatures for the duration.

Paul has even been attending WEA classes to learn the language, while Anne has been studying French, with some broader objectives. ​

Our "final" planned itinerary was as follows:

Fri 14 Sept, dep Sydney, via Singapore

Sat 15 Sept, arr London

Tues 18 Sept, to Florence

Fri 21 Sept, Anne to Tenuta di Sticciano

Sun 23 Sept, Paul to Bologna

Fri 28 Sept, both return to Florence

Tues 2 Oct, to Padua

Sat 6 Oct, to Bologna

Thurs 11 Oct, dep Bologna, via Heathrow/Singapore

Sat 13 Oct, arr Sydney ​

This map may be helpful. In addition to the places mentioned above, where we stayed, you may also note the relative positions of our day-trip destinations (from South to North) - Siena, San Gimignano, Prato, Pistoia, Ferrara, and last but not least Venice.

Like the best-laid plans of mice and men, there was one major change to this schedule, but more of that anon.

Getting there - Florence via London

British Airways was a great disappointment, years behind the likes of Emirates in terms of passenger comfort and amenities. And I'd forgotten how dreadful Heathrow could be, even arriving at 5.05 am, when you would think it might be quieter. But the Heathrow Express train is good, and we got a lovely lady taxi-driver from Paddington to our hotel, even if she had difficulty getting there because the roads were closed off all weekend for filming. We had booked our room from the night before so that when we arrived at about 7.00am we could have immediate access, and collapse.

The dome of St Paul's from the Millennium Bridge

The Grange St Paul's Hotel  [since renamed] is, as the name suggests, less than 100 metres from the Cathedral, which was designed by Sir Christopher Wren and built 1675-1710. We even attended a service there on Sunday morning - not out of a new-found religious zeal but out of general interest, and certainly NOT just so that we could avoid the tourist admission charge! The service was extremely disappointing. The acoustics are so dreadfully reverberant and echoey that the music got lost, and speech, while amplified, was also terribly muffled. ​

After coffee in the Café Rouge, just across the road from the cathedral, we embarked on a bit of a shopping expedition, starting at Rochester Big and Tall in Brompton Road. The tube journey there was horrendous - lots of steps where the escalators weren't working, the platforms and trains cram packed, and not a breath of cool fresh air. So we got instructions as to how to get home by bus, which took much longer but was considerably less awful.

Dinner in the Blackfriar pub, not recommended!

We decided to spend the following day, Monday, going down the river by ferry to Greenwich, embarking at Blackfriars Pier, not far from our hotel. There is so much to see and do at Greenwich, including the National Maritime Museum and the Old Royal Naval College, designed by Christopher Wren and built between 1696 and 1712, originally as  the Royal Hospital for Seamen. The hospital closed in 1869. Between 1873 and 1998 it was the Royal Naval College, Greenwich, and today it is home to  the University of Greenwich and the Trinity Laban Conservatoire of Music and Dance. The Chapel is particularly beautiful.

  • St Paul's Cathedral

  • National Maritime Museum, Greenwich

  • The Painted Hall

  • Old Royal Naval College Chapel, Greenwich

  • The Globe Theatre

  • Looking down-river from the Millennium Bridge

Our BA flight to Florence on Tuesday left from London City Airport, which is serviced by Docklands Light Rail. Bank DLR station would have been within walking distance from our hotel, had it not been for our luggage, so we arranged a taxi. Imagine our consternation when the driver advised us that the DLR was out/down/caput and otherwise not running! So we got him to drive us all the way to the airport, where fortunately we arrived in plenty of time.

Flights within Europe appear plagued by a common malaise - the airlines don't manage the amount of cabin baggage to fit the space available. So flight departures are delayed while they seek volunteers to transfer their cabin bag to the hold, and tempers can get frayed in the process. Plus, on this flight, one woman had brought on with her some oxygen breathing machine for which she claimed to have arranged advance permission, but the crew had no knowledge of it. More delay! So we missed our take-off slot ...more delay!

Eventually we reached Florence for our first experience of what seems a fairly common Italian phenomenon - long queues for taxis, but no taxis. But finally it was our turn, and we arrived without further drama at the Hotel Regency.

Other London Photos

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