The NutBrook Nuptials

Our 3 days at the Castello di Modanella have been wonderful. The Tuscan scenery is stunning and just what I imagined it to be, the sun shone, the skies were blue and it was lovely and warm.

Tuscan landscape

Tuscan landscape

We had a brief stop in Siena for lunch and a quick wander – another very ancient city that is full of character and well worth a longer visit another day.

Duomo in Siena

Duomo in Siena

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Siena – amphitheatre

Piazza del Campo

Siena – Piazza del Campo

Lazy days sitting in the shade, the sun, by the pool……leisurely lunches with friends eating Italian cheeses, breads, olives, tomatoes and supping Italian wine. A dinner at a local restaurant was booked for the Thursday night; a barbecue organised by the groom’s family on the Friday night with a plentiful supply of Chianti – so plentiful that were a number of sore heads the next day! My head was okay as I have still been struggling to shake off this cold and chesty cough so my appetite for wine was limited. A local young fox also got a sniff of the BBQ and hung around for quite some time until he was thrown the leftovers from the BBQ – presumably a regular occurrence.

Our friendly fox

Our friendly fox

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Saturday was NutBrook nuptials day with the wedding service scheduled for 5.30pm. Kirsty looked absolutely stunning in her beautiful wedding dress, Tom looked equally handsome in his blue 3-piece suit. The service was lovely and held in the chapel at the castle, and followed by drinks and canapés in the castle grounds. The wedding breakfast was open air in the castle courtyard and was splendid. A band from Florence opened the dancing with Tom and Kirsty’s taking to the floor for the first dance with a well-rehearsed formal dance that would not have been out of place on Strictly! They had apparently been having dance lessons for 3 months in preparation for this moment – very special.

Tom and Kirsty - Strictly! (Photo anon)

Tom and Kirsty – Strictly! (Photo anon)

Sunday morning and time to pack up, with a final breakfast down by the swimming pool and then sad good-byes to our hosts, and in particular Tom and Kirsty who fly off to Kenya tomorrow for their honeymoon – a Kenyan safari and then Zanzibar. Mr L was the designated driver and we arrived back at Florence airport in good time following a much less stressed journey back than the outward drive to Siena had been on Thursday!

Total steps walked on Italian soil = 143,053 / 103.4km / 64.2 miles

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St John the Baptist Day

Wednesday was our last day in Florence or Firenze as it is called by Italians; it was also a national holiday day in honour of St John the Baptist.  According to Wikipedia………..the Gospel of Luke states that John was born about six months before Jesus; therefore, the feast of John the Baptist was fixed on 24 June, six months before Christmas Eve. This feast day is one of the very few saints’ days which commemorates the anniversary of the birth, rather than the death, of the saint being honored.  The feast of St John the Baptist has been celebrated in Florence from medieval times. St John the Baptist is the patron saint of Genoa, Florence and Turin where a fireworks display takes place during the celebration on the river.

Mr L and I spent the morning revisiting the Central Market with its meat, vegetable, fish and deli stalls.

Central Market stalls

Central Market stalls

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A bright and cheery indoor market where we spotted the baby lamb who had donated its skin to make my leather jacket!

Spot the baby lamb!

Spot the baby lamb!

We ventured upstairs not expecting much, but found a huge food hall/restaurant area full of both locals and tourists eating lunch and drinking wine.  Up in the far left hand corner is a cookery school with budding Italian cookery chefs having their lesson. All in all quite an amazing place.

Spot the baby lamb!

Spot the baby lamb!

I wanted to revisit a lovely little clothes shop just over the other side of the Ponte Vecchio as I had seen a summer dress and a few other bits in there that I had my eye on. Mr Lo was sent off to amuse himself for 10 minutes so I could have a little browse. Once in the shop I bumped into Miss A and Mr D – well Miss A and I managed to completely ignore each other despite walking by one another, it was Mr D who spotted me! Mr D then went off to find Mr L so Miss A and I could shop……..I got the summer dress and a t-shirt I wanted and Miss A is now the proud owner of 2 gorgeous Italian dresses for her bridesmaids. A most successful shop!

There was a firework display planned for 10pm because of the holiday so we ate early at our local trattoria before walking back into the city centre. I managed to trip on an uneven paving stone and broke the thong on my glitzy silver flip flops which meant I had to hobble around and hang onto an arm for the rest of the evening. We made it down to the Arno just in time for the firework display which started at 10pm and went on for 30 minutes – it was a long display of distinctly average fireworks, a shorter display with bigger fireworks would have been better.

Firework display over River Arno (Miss A's photo - thank you)

Firework display over River Arno (Miss A’s photo – thank you)

We had aimed to try and get a bus or taxi back to the apartment but we had missed the last bus home and could not fathom how to get a taxi as you cannot hail a cab as such. We ended up hobbling/walking back for the final time – Mr L moaned a lot at having to walk back……again!!!

Steps walked = 23,534/16.7km

Basilica

Mr L braced himself for a queuing day today – today was the day when we planned to join the queue to get into the Cattedrale di Santa Maria del Fiore (Cathedral of Saint Mary of the Flower).

The queue was not too long and in fact quite fast moving so it only took us about 10 minutes max before we were in the cathedral.  I treated myself to an audio guide but Mr L didn’t so my time in the cathedral lasted just on the hour whereas he was finished somewhat before me and was to be found waiting impatiently on a bench outside the cathedral!  The cathedral is the main church of Florence and most commonly known as Il Duomo di Firenze.  Building began in 1296 and was completed 140 years later in 1436.  The magnificent dome which dominates the Florentine skyline was engineered by Filippo Brunelleschi and was the first octagonal dome to be built without a temporary wooden supporting frame.  The external facade of the Duomo is faced with pink, green and white marble and is currently undergoing a process of being cleaned and restored to its true glorious colours.

Il Duomo - looking up into the dome

Il Duomo – looking up into the dome

The Santa Maria del Fiore is the 4th largest cathedral in the world after St Peter’s in Vatican City, St Paul’s in London and the Duomo in Milan.

Next basilica to visit was the Basilica de Santa Croce (pronounced as ‘crotch’ with an ‘a’ on the end); Basilica of the Holy Cross is the English translation.  We had to pay to get into this church, €6 each, and I didn’t go do the audio guide this time.  Santa Croce is the principal Franciscan church in Florence with many famous folk buried here as mentioned in an earlier post.  Within the church there are 16 chapels many of which are decorated with frescos by Giotto and his pupils.  To the south of the church are the remains of a convent and we were able to wander throughout all of these area including the cloisters and outside gardens.  The 1966 flooding of much of Florence caused significant damage to the church buildings as well as the many art treasures within; it has taken many years to repair all the damage.

Florence Nightingale plaque - Santa Croce

Florence Nightingale plaque – Santa Croce

Santa Croce - outside area near the cloisters

Santa Croce – outside area near the cloisters

Santa Croce gardens and statue

Santa Croce gardens and statue

We then met up with Miss A and Mr D for a beer at a bar on Piazza Poggi overlooking Florence’s city beach, La Spiaggina, on the banks of the Arno.  It was our turn to cook last night so Mr L and I went home via the supermarket.  Dinner, wine and music and was followed by a walk up the road to the Gelataria Cavini for our ice cream dessert – packed as ever with people of all ages doing the same thing and eating gelato!

There was no item of the day purchase today…….yesterday’s jacket probably covers 2 days allowance…….or perhaps tomorrow I could purchase 2 items……..

Steps walked = 17,271 / 12.7km

Giardino

Monday was a hot and humid day, perfect for visiting Florence’s gardens rather walking around and exploring this historic city centre.  We were a foursome for the day, buying goodies for a picnic from a little supermarket on the south side of the Ponte Vecchio. The queue to pay was lengthy so Miss A and I sent the boys out to wait outside so we didn’t have to listen to their impatience in the queue…….so where did we find them……in a little bar a few doors down supping their beers!

Giardino di Boboli were our first gardens and picnic venue and just as we were about to go in we bumped into friends from Norwich!  We found a shady spot under a tree on the hill straight up from the entrance where we enjoyed our picnic lunch and the company of many very tame sparrows who enjoyed the focaccia crumbs that we generously shared.

Lunchtime picnic in Boboli Gardens

Lunchtime picnic in Boboli Gardens

The Boboli Gardens are a park rather than an ornamental gardens and are home to a collection of sculptures dating from the 16th – 18th centuries.  The Gardens were originally laid out for the wife of Cosimo 1 de Medici.  From the very top, up by the Porcelain Museum, we again had great panoramic views over Florence and to the Tuscan hills beyond.

View over Florence from Boboli Gardens

View over Florence from Boboli Gardens

Leaving Boboli we walked past the Forte di Belvedere and its 3 Anthony Gormley statues and into the Giardino Bardini.  The Bardini Gardens are an Italian Renaissance garden and more what we expected with its landscaped areas and stunning Lynn Chadwick sculptures (very Picasso in my opinion), and yet more wonderful views over Florence.  Lynn Chadwick is an English male sculptor best known for his semi-abstract bronze and steel sculptures.

Lynn Chadwick sculptures in Bardini Gardens

Lynn Chadwick sculptures in Bardini Gardens

View of Florence from Bardini Gardens

View of Florence from Bardini Gardens

Hot and tired the weary foursome trekked homewards for an evening in where Miss A and Mr D cooked dinner for us before we headed out to our local gelateria at 10.45pm for dessert – the place was packed with other like-minded folk!

By the way, today’s item of the day is a beautifully soft grey leather jacket (50% off in the sale so a bargain – really!) – the leather is so soft because it apparently comes from baby lambs……….have reassured myself that this is just a form of up-cycling – one needs to do something with the lambs skins if the meat is being eaten.

The leather shop!

The leather shop!

Steps walked = 19,306 / 13.9km

One Item a Day!

We strolled today……..but first stop was a cappuccino and pastry at the excellent Caffe Lorenzo Pasticceria about 4 doors up the road from our apartment.  Cappuccino was €1.30 and the pastries were €1.10 each – excellent value!

Breakfast venue

Caffe Lorenzo – Breakfast venue

Our next stop was the Piazza della Santissima Annunziata which had a small market of leather goods and jewellery.  The piazza is surrounded by large old buildings with stunning old works of art adorning walls and the area above doorways – art you would normally expect to see heavily guarded in a gallery.  We went through an entrance of one of these buildings into an area that was scaffolded and screened for restoration not really knowing quite what we were walking towards….we then unexpectedly entered a beautiful and incredibly ornate cathedral – we were in the Basilica della Santissima Annunziata, a minor basilica in Florence which is the mother church of the Servite order.

Basilica Santissima Annunziata

Basilica della Santissima Annunziata

All routes lead to the Duomo and I wanted to revisit the Duomo, which we did, and we walked all around its perimeter to appreciate and take in its magnifence.  We hope to be able to visit inside at some point but the queues are always very long.  My trusty guide (Mr L) had a plan so I duly followed, I was informed we were heading for the Basilica di Santa Croce.  As we strolled through the Piazza San Firenze I spied an amazing multicoloured pashmina….a brief negotiation and said pashmina was now mine. Mr L then informed me I am only allowed to buy one item a day! Yesterday’s purchase was a multicoloured Italian suede leather belt, what will tomorrow’s be?

The Piazza Santa Croce is home to a huge basilica of the same name.  The Basilica di Santa Croce is the principal Franciscan church in Florence, the largest in the world, and is the burial place of Michelangelo, Galileo, Machiavelli and Rossini and many more.  We couldn’t go in this morning as Mass was taking place so another one to revisit on another day.

Trusty guide then suggested we head south over the Arno River to Piazzale Michelangelo and up to the top of the hill to get a scenic view back across the city centre.  We crossed the river on the Ponte alle Grazie and looked west towards the Ponte Vecchio.

Ponte Vecchio

Ponte Vecchio

We climbed a hill and then many steps to the Piazzale Michelangelo to take in the view across the city centre of Florence.  It was well worth the climb with the Duomo and the Santa Croce dominating the skyline.

Scenic view of Florence

Scenic view of Florence

We then climbed more steps to the very top of this high point to yet another church, the San Miato al Monte,  to take yet another look at the scenic landscape lying below.  Florence looks like it is sitting in a bowl surrounded by the Tuscan hills – made me think of Salt Lake City and how that city sits in a valley surrounded by mountains.

San Miato al Monte

San Miato al Monte

The San Miato al Monte is a Romanesque structure with an Olivetan monastery adjoining it.  Again we were unable to go inside because it was Sunday and Mass was taking place.  We won’t be going back!  Mr L was advised to find an alternative route back down so that we could avoid the steps.  We weaved our way downwards with the final part down a very steep cobbled path – slightly tricky in flip flops but still better than all those steps!  It was now definitely time for some R&R (rest and refreshment) and we found a lovely little cafe for a light lunch – the food was good value but the drinks were a bit pricey so we felt a bit duped 😡

Today’s gelato treat was from Grom, the best gelato shop in Florence – definitely good!

Grom Gelato Shop

Grom Gelato Shop

Mr L and our Grom gelato

Mr L and our Grom gelato

A weary stroll home to meet up with Miss A and Mr D who had been out on their Florence walkabout as well.  Siestas for some, blog writing for others……..beers and then off out to the great little trattoria up the road and round the corner which we found last night.

Mr L at dinner

Mr L at dinner Saturday night

Steps walked = 22,604 / 16.3km

Florence on Foot

Blue skies, occasional fluffy clouds and hot – perfect for ambling!  Mr L and I ambled into the centre of Florence this morning, we ambled south, we ambled north and then we wearily ambled back to the apartment late afternoon.  No buses for us, just Mr L and his map as my trusty guide.

We wandered around the busy daily food market in the Piazza delle Cure at the top of our street, the Viale Alessandro Volta, with all sorts of fruit and vegetables and cheeses.  Parmesan sold in great slabs, not the weeny slithers that we get in our UK supermarkets!

Parmesan cheese

Parmesan cheese

We then took the underpass with some stunning graffiti adorning the walls – not probably a route to take alone and late at night though.

Underpass and graffiti

Underpass and graffiti

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Out the other side and we were in the Piazza della Liberta which marks the northernmost point of the historic centre of Florence and hosts the ‘triumphal’ arch of Florence.  Personally, we thought this a poor man’s Marble Arch, but don’t tell the Italians!!

Florence is a beautiful city with piazzas and statues aplenty, lots and lots of wonderful leather goods, and a lady’s clothes shop that I might just have to go back too……..I made the remark that I could spend lots of money here in Florence to which Mr L replied ‘you are always able to spend lots of money’, a somewhat cheeky response I thought!

We then turned a corner onto Piazza San Giovanni and there ahead of us on Piazza del Duomo we saw the most amazing and enormous highly decorated cathedral you could ever imagine, the Cattedrale di Sante Maria del Fiore, otherwise known as The Duomo of Florence.  This photo from my iPhone really does not do it justice.

Cathedral of St Mary of the Flower - The Duomo of Florence

Cathedral of St Mary of the Flower – The Duomo of Florence

The exterior of the cathedral is covered with marble panels in shades of green and pink bordered by white. The cathedral complex includes the Baptistery and Giotto’s Campanile and the 3 buildings are part of a UNESCO World Heritage site which covers the whole of the historic centre of Florence. There was a huge queue all round the block of people waiting to go in, and no we didn’t join the queue.

Next piazza was the Piazza della Signoria home to a replica of Michelangelo’s David – the real one is housed in the Uffizi Gallery.  Again, huge queues to get in.

Michelangelo's David

Michelangelo’s David

We crossed the River Arno via the Ponte Vecchio with all its jewellery shops and hordes of tourists.  The views from the bridge were stunning.

View west from the Ponte Vecchio

View west from the Ponte Vecchio

We then walked ever onwards ending up as far south of the city centre as we had started from the north.  Mr L wanted lunch by now but there was nothing much out this far so we turned round and walked back in until we came to a little caffe for a light bite, with a beer for him and a Sprite for me.  More amblings, a stop for a cappuccino, and a gentle stroll back to the apartment – we were too weary for anything more than gentle.  This bright shiny leather clad Harley Davidson was spotted on the route home – only in Italy!!

Italian leather-clad Harley Davidson

Italian leather-clad Harley Davidson

Miss A and Mr D fly in this evening and should hopefully get to us for about 11pm.

Steps walked = 21,441 / 15.4km (Mrs L in flip flops – feet fine, Mr L in shoes and feet not fine as has blister on his toe)b

Arrived Florence!

Weary (both) and with a cold (me) we arrived in Florence yesterday lunchtime.  Good flight on a neat little chubby CityJet flight from the very smart and slick London City Airport.

CityJet at London City Airport

CityJet at London City Airport

We made all the right bus connections with no disasters and no Italian…….the Italians here have no English either but you can get by…….reminds me of Madrid – no one spoke English there but we did have a Mr G who was doing Spanish at school!

Francesco was waiting here in the apartment for us to arrive. He made us feel very welcome and gave us tips about what to do whilst here.  We needed to shop for some basics so went off towards the stadium where Francesco had told us there was a supermarket – approximately a 300-400 metre walk he said……well, an Italian 300-400m vs an English equivalent distance seem somewhat different.  More like a mile there and a mile back – the problem was the journey back was with 2 bags of heavy shopping!

Interesting graffiti art near the stadium

Interesting graffiti art near the stadium

We cooked and stayed in last night with an excellent bottle of Italian red wine.  The apartment has all the basics but clearly does not expect its inhabitants to be cooking during their stay e.g. no sharp knives so cutting up mushrooms had to be done with either the bread knife or eating knife!

Steps walked = 12,555 / 9.4km