Piazza della Repubblica

Piazza della Repubblica

Untitled photo

The Hotel Regency overlooks the pleasant Piazza Massimo D'Azeglio, which is some way from the main "sights" of Florence, and with bus services disrupted by long-term road works, we did plenty of walking. Nor is it in a restaurant district, but we did eat out on one evening, discovering what became a familiar theme of our holiday, namely that Italy's boast to have wonderful food everywhere is a bit of a myth. It is often quite stodgy.

Our hotel was an exception, though, with excellent food but mixed service, brilliant when Emanuele was on duty, a bit slow at other times, particularly the evening Laura and June, Anne's Californian friends, came to dinner, the night before the three of them went off to the French Escapade sketching tour, so a late night was not really wanted. On another evening there was a loud, drunk Spaniard in the restaurant, but the staff "managed" him out of the hotel.

Another slight negative, which again turned out to be true of several of our hotels, was having the shower over the bath, sometimes without hand rails to prevent slipping and falling. Access was sometimes quite hazardous.

Piazza Massimo D'Azeglio

Wednesday, 19 Sept.

Historical Florence isn't a big city, although it is estimated that in the early 14th century it may have had a population of around 100,000. The nearest of the major attractions (a little over a kilometre from our hotel) was the Basilica di Santa Croce, so we headed there on our first morning.

Walking there gave us the flavour of the narrow streets, mad driving, small squares, and uneven cobbled pavements, which were to become familiar. At Santa Croce, Anne sat on the steps at the side of the building sketching the houses and shops opposite, while Paul investigated the interior.

Churches vary in their attitude to photography - some forbid it entirely. The most common allows photography, but no flash, no tripods. That was the case here, so many of my shots are blurry, despite the fact that I was using an f1.8 lens.  I just didn't increase the ISO enough.  So you are probably better off going to http://www.santacroceopera.it/en/default.aspx

Don't be confused by their use of the word Opera - it means works or artifacts, nothing to so with singing!

  • Approaching Santa Croce

  • Basilica di Santa Croce di Firenze

Anne has a great knack of sussing out good eating places, and as we walked home we found a treasure - La Divina Pizza, (Via Borgo Allegri 50R). Just a small corner shop, but the absolutely BEST, sourdough, pizza base.

  • Divina Pizza, the best pizza in Firenze, the proprietors Graziano and Roberta Monogrammi in front. Via Borgo Allegri 50R

  • Basilica di Santa Croce di Firenze

  • Basilica di Santa Croce di Firenze

Unfortunately the Smugmug platform doesn't accommodate audio files, which are often useful ways to convey the atmosphere of a place, in this case one of the most distinctive sounds of Florence, an ambulance siren.

So I've had to cheat, by creating a video file comprising one still image with audio accompaniment.  Hope it works!  The controls (start, full screen, pause, etc) are at the bottom of the image.

Today's photos - tap/click to view

Thursday, 20 Sept.

Undoubtedly the major single tourist attraction in Florence is the Duomo, properly known as ​Cattedrale di Santa Maria del Fiore, which translates as Cathedral of St Mary of the Flower.

It certainly is an amazing building, topped by its magnificent dome, which is best appreciated when viewed from a distance. The downside of its popularity, of course, is that its surrounds are swarming with tourists, many of whom are standing in long queues waiting for admission. So we didn't get to see the interior. It was the same later with St Mark's in Venice.

But what one might term the "B-list" Italian cathedrals and churches are also impressive and fascinating, and there are plenty of them. As well as Santa Croce (yesterday), Florence also has the Basilica di San Lorenzo and the Basilica of Santa Maria Novella, and many others, as you will see later.

You'll be familiar with the term "pub crawl" - this holiday became something of a "church crawl".

  • The Duomo, Florence

  • The Duomo, Florence

We walked on in a southerly direction, through a more modern area with up-market international brands, but also a couple of street markets, with the intention of visiting the Ponte Vecchio, but as we approached, the solid mass of people ahead caused us to have second thoughts, and we turned around and took the slow way home. Here are a few shots from along the way.

  • The Duomo, Florence

  • The Duomo, Florence

Today's photos - tap/click to view

Friday, 21 Sept.

Today was moving day. Anne's French Escapade group was to meet at the airport at 2.00pm. Paul stayed on for another 2 nights at the Regency, but changed rooms. So the morning was taken up in packing, and we then arranged a taxi to take Anne to the airport, dropping Paul off en route at the railway station, which was the start point for an afternoon coach tour of Chianti.

It was lovely to get out in the wonderful Tuscan countryside, even if it was in a packed tour coach, and with narrow country roads to demonstrate another mad aspect of Italian driving. We visited two wineries, Panzanello and Il Molino di Grace. ('Molino' means windmill (cf. French 'moulin'), and Grace is the name of the American family which owns the estate.) Both specialise in organic, Sangiovese-based red wines, mostly with the Chianti DOCG registration. In fact, when we reached Greve, the self-styled "capital of Chianti", at the end of a long, hot afternoon, the first thing I had to do was to find a long, cold beer!

You'll have to forgive the quality of some of these photos, as they were taken through the window of a moving coach.

  • Chianti by coach

  • Chianti by coach

  • Chianti by coach

Today's photos - tap/click to view

Saturday, 22 Sept. - Pistoia

Today Paul went for a day trip by train to Pistoia, 33 mins west of Florence by 'Regionale' train. They are the ones which stop more often than the high-speed trains, and which have only one class, and where your ticket is valid for any seat on any train that day. But you have to remember before boarding to "validate" your ticket in a little machine on the platform.

Why Pistoia? It's a bit of a long story. The prescribed text book for Paul's Italian lessons at WEA Sydney was called Nuovo Espresso 1, each chapter of which included a video demonstrating some aspect of the language.

In Chapter 8, entitled "Sapori d'Italia" (Tastes or flavours of Italy), the video was about "the perfect panino". In it, the young lead actor Frederico goes into a salumeria (delicatessen) to buy the components for a picnic, only to end up rather shame-faced when the shop-keeper explains exactly how a panino should be made.

On Googling the salumeria's name, "I Sapori della BotteGaia", it turned out to be located in Pistoia, whereas all the other videos in the series had ostensibly been based in Florence itself.

"Bottegaia", by the way, means a female shopkeeper.

This was another example of something that tricked us all through our stay in Italy - "siesta". Many shops, and even some churches, close in the early afternoon. In the case of I Sapori della BotteGaia, their opening hours are from 8:00am until 1:00pm, and then from 4:30pm until 7:30pm. So it was closed when I got there around 3:00pm. But thankfully the gelateria next door was open!

Piazza dello Spirito Santo

Not that this was the sole reason to go to Pistoia, far from it. Like most towns in the region, Pistoia in the middle ages was a city state in its own right, sometimes independent, at other times subject to some other power, for long periods Florence. Wikipedia says of Pistoia, rather blandly, "it is a typical Italian medieval city, and it attracts many tourists, especially in the summer. ... ​Although not visited as much as other cities in Tuscany, Pistoia presents a well-preserved and charming medieval city inside the old walls"

By way of an experiment, here is the full gallery of photos from Pistoia presented in the form of a video slideshow, complete with music, although if/when I revise it I think I might replace the Haydn string quartet with something lighter!I should also point out that in some cases blurred shots (mostly indoor, hand-held) have been retained as being better than nothing in order to record some of the amazing ornamentation in many of these churches.

You can control the video by the bar at the bottom, which will disappear if you don't move the cursor.  Then you'll be able to read the captions.  Try the Full Screen  option!

Pistoia slideshow

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