Italy

Jo’s Monday walk : Dizzying heights!

Did you wonder why we deserted lovely Lucca so early to catch a train?  And did you spot those Medici balls again?  Hard to miss them in this part of the world.  When we landed at Pisa airport I was immediately smitten with the soft light, over the backdrop of mountains that I somehow had not expected.  The sun was sliding down in the sky, bathing even the unromantic Ryanair flight in opalescence.  I knew that I could not come this near to one of the wonders of our world without taking at least a fleeting look.  So Lucca was left behind, and that man Garibaldi took centre stage.

I think that faded grandeur best describes Pisa, though it was obvious that modernity was making a comeback.  I found it a ‘gritty’ kind of place, on brief acquaintance, but I’m sure that there are many more treasures to discover.  It’s an easy walk from Pisa Centrale station, crossing over the River Arno and heading up medieval Borgo Stretto, with its straggle of cafes and shops.

Very soon I was back in the company of Giorgio Vasari.  As well as Palazzo Vecchio and the Vasari Corridor in Florence, he was responsible for Piazza dei Cavalieri, the magnificent  Knight’s Square in Pisa.  In front of Palazzo della Carovana stands his former master, Cosimo 1 de Medici.

Following Via Santa Maria, a familiar sight soon appears.  “Look!  It does!  It leans!’

And then, ‘Are you going up?’  It’s a quarter to 4 in the afternoon and there is no queue.  What am I waiting for?  Of course I’m going up!

It’s a bright blue day, but with a brisk, cold wind.  The marble steps inside the tower are well worn and there’s no hand rail.  As expected, the ‘lean’ has a slightly disorienting feeling, but there is plenty of time to negotiate them.  At the top the wind is blowing fiercely and I step into the space between the bells for a brief respite, 55 metres up in the air.

The views are wonderful and I notice, almost for the first time, the sturdy walls of the city.  Still, it’s a relief to be back in the stairwell, making my way cautiously down the steps.  ‘Did you wave?’ I ask.  No, he didn’t.  Apparently at that moment the chief of police had appeared in a shiny new Lamborghini in the piazza below, thrilling the crowd.  It’s Italy, after all!

Piazza dei Miracoli, the Square of Miracles, is a UNESCO World Heritage Site which lives up to its reputation.  I wandered around the huge green (albeit with a slight ‘list’ in my step) and was grateful that this beautiful tribute to the maritime might of Pisa had survived.

The Cathedral of Santa Maria Assunta and the Baptistry complete the miracle.  The doors alone, resplendent with Pisan history, are worthy of a visit.

Youngsters sprawled on the grass- it almost seemed sacrilege to me!  Out beyond the walls, life goes on.  I smile and shake my head at the traders, and head back along the outside of the walls, through Knight’s Square, for a tired return to the station.

What I could have done with a little more time, but that’s the story of my life!  This itinerary with Discover Tuscany would have been perfect.  They also have suggestions for 5 Days in Tuscany that might be of interest, Gilly and Jude.  You don’t need to drive to see most of it.

This completes my rambling in Italy, though there are many photos as yet unshared.  What a time I had!  As many of you will know, I’m in the Algarve when this hopefully appears.  My WiFi access is limited, and deliberately so, as it’s my ‘chill’ place.  I will attempt to keep up with you, but apologies in advance for anyone I miss.

I hope to return to walk with you on Monday, 10th April.  Many thanks for your company on Jo’s Monday walks.  Kettle on, it’s sharing time!

This man surely knows the way to my heart!  Many thanks, Drake :

Glimpses of Paris

Staying close to home, Eunice takes us on a fact finding mission in the West Pennines :

A walk up Winter Hill and some interesting facts

Anabel meets a very friendly chipmunk this week.  Maybe a touch too friendly!

Deer Mountain

Lady Lee extends her Philippines visit to the island of Sabtang :

Batanes Trip, Day 2 – Sabtang Tour

Still in Mexico, Jackie’s moved up the coast a little :

La Noria

Meet the Lucerne Lion this week, with Woolly :

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Couldn’t miss this one out!  Viveka is always so colourful and I love the donkey photo!

Walkabouts in Marrakech

Vertigo sufferers beware!  Becky’s ‘on top of the world’ :

Walking across the ‘tallest’ stone arch in the world

Just one more of those places I’d like to see for myself, Jaspa :

Sam’s Ses Challenge#13 Water 

So lovely to have Lisa around again, though her life is anything but smooth sailing!

Singapore and Beyond

And isn’t it wonderful to have chirpy friends?  Thanks so much, Paula!

How green is my home!

Many thanks to all who have shared, walked or just read.  Please take care till the next time!

Six word Saturday

Saying goodbye to Six Word Saturday

And where better to finish with a flourish than Florence?  I hope I’ve taken you on a beautiful journey, but my philosophy here has always been to please myself.  And doing just that has given me many hours of pleasure.

Cate has announced that she will be ending Six Word Saturday on 1st April, April Fool’s Day. I’m pretty sure that it’s not a trick, because my lovely friend Debbie at Travel with Intent has volunteered to take it over on April 8th.  Since I won’t be around then, I thought I’d say my farewells now. Come and celebrate with me?  There’s gelato!

There doesn’t seem to be anything that Florence can’t offer.  All the sculpture and art you could want.  Architecture that dreams are made of. Gardens and vistas to sooth your soul.  Food and wine to indulge your palate.  Have I missed anything?  Well, maybe a little desultory window shopping. I even found a cookery school in the Mercato Centrale!  Click on the gallery for a closer look?

And as I ambled back to my hotel on Via Nazionale, this little beauty!

Sad to see her go, but I wish Cate the very best of luck.  I know it’s not easy running a challenge, but if anyone can then it’s Debbie.  The lass has energy to burn.  As for me, I’m off to my lovely Algarve tomorrow. Time to relax and wind down a little.

Meanwhile I’ve scheduled a Jo’s Monday walk for next Monday. Have a great weekend and I hope to see you then.

Entering the Uffizi


Everywhere I went in Florence I was aware of the Medici balls.  Prominent on the family crest and a symbol of the power of the de Medici family, I grew quite fond of them.  No surprise then to find them here at the Uffizi Gallery.  Cosimo 1 de Medici entrusted the task of creating another grandiose building alongside the Palazzo Vecchio to his favourite architect, Giorgio Vasari.  The intention was to house the offices of the Florentine magistrates, the Tribunal and the state archive under one roof, uffizi meaning ‘offices’.

The de Medicis had distinctly magpie tendencies when it came to art works, and the top floor of the Uffizi was used to showcase these.  Viewing, of course, was for the select few.  Today it is an enormous privilege to be able to climb the stairs to see some of their collection, among the finest art in Europe.  It was with excitement and just a little trepidation that I climbed those stairs.

I am in no way a serious appreciator of art.  I like what I like, but still there is the desire to be awed by masterpieces that have world renown.  Who can not have heard of Michelangelo, Da Vinci and Botticelli?  And all under one quite amazing roof space!  Persuading one foot to follow another was as much as I could do as I gazed upwards at the ceiling, a work of art in itself.

It was early morning and the gallery was filling slowly.   I tried to keep track of the artworks but inevitably I was drawn to some pieces more than others.  The most acclaimed works swiftly attracted a small crowd, but there were pockets of peace in between times, if you were patient.  I began with Giotto and the Gothics.  The Visit Florence website will guide you much better than I can, and there is a detailed itinerary too.

So many very lovely creations, in such opulent surroundings!  Did you recognise many?  At times I did not know whether to look at the art or the ceilings.  And then there was that celebrated view from the windows.  Only the weather disappointed.

An outside terrace looks out on Palazzo Vecchio, and then it’s downstairs to Da Vinci, and some rather engaging characters.

I always did have a soft spot for Musketeers.  The Uffizi has weathered some rough times, including  major flooding in 1966 and a car bomb explosion in 1993.  A fuller history is covered here.    It took a little while to emerge into the real world, but en route I managed to purchase a stamp and send my postcard of Ponte Vecchio winging its way to Viveka in Sweden.  I know she’ll return the favour when she visits next year.

Jo’s Monday walk : A garden extravaganza

Where do you think we might be for today’s walk?  I can tell you that we have passed by the Pitti Palace and are standing on the threshold of the magnificent Boboli Gardens, in Florence.  For me, this was somewhere I was always going to go, even if it bounced with rain.

Of course, blue skies would be preferable and, on our first full day, after crossing Ponte Vecchio we beelined to the gardens, bathed in luxuriant azure.   Alas, it was a Monday, and the gardens were firmly closed.  Undaunted, we carried on up to Piazzale Michelangelo and the city walls for a feast of views.  Tweaking our plans a little, next day found us back at the palace gardens.  The skies were somewhat leaden, but there was always hope of better.  And there were grottos and sculpture to explore, while we waited for the sun’s appearance.

The gardens were designed for Eleonora di Toledo, wife of Cosimo 1 de Medici, and have been in existence since the 16th century.  Extremely lavish for gardens intended for the sole use of the Medici family, such was Cosimo’s power and prestige in those days. Highlights include an Amphitheatre, staggering in its scale.  Stone was excavated from the hillside for their Pitti Palace home, creating the perfect arena.  Neptune with his trident sits centre stage as you climb the steps. For most of our visit he had the company of a heron, out for a day’s sightseeing.

Isolotto, a pond surrounded by romantic greenery, is crowned by Giambologna’s fountain, ‘Ocean’, on the central island.  For a twist of modern, see the ‘face’ sculpture by Polish Igor Mitoraj.  The gardens reach a crescendo with the Grotta del Buontalenti, or ‘Grotta Grande’.

Sometimes your expectations can be too high.  Or maybe it was those heavy skies, and the quantity of steps.  This bank of the River Arno can certainly be a bit of a workout.  Nor is this the best time of year for gardens.  But, as sometimes happens, there was a surprise in store.  The garden ticket included admission to the Costume Museum.  Curiosity had me pull the door ajar.

And gasp!  That morning I had been at the Uffizi, and thought my eyes had had their fill of beauty.  This was totally unexpected.  The only museum in Italy dedicated entirely to fashion, it occupies several rooms in the Palazzina della Meridiana (the small palace of the sundial).  A private residence of the ruling families of Tuscany until 1946, the ornate ceilings had me spellbound.

The funeral garments of Eleonora di Toledo are dramatically displayed within the collection, but for me the decor outshone the content.  I couldn’t help but wonder at the rest of the Pitti Palace, seeing all this grandeur before me.

Stepping out into sunshine altered my perspective entirely.  It was time to head steadily uphill again, in search of a gate.  Did I tell you this walk would be strenuous?  I’d read that it was possible to slip from the expansive Boboli Gardens into the much more intimate space of Giardino Bardini.

Not quite so simple, but we did find the gate and emerged alongside Forte di Belvedere.  The lower part of the Giardino Bardini belonged to the Mozzi family back in the 13th century, when a wall with mosaic alcoves protected the garden from prevailing winds.  In the 18th century the estate was extended up the hill to the walls of the city and a Baroque staircase was added.  In 1913 art collector Stefano Bardini bought the hillside villa, extending and adding yet more changes.  Renovation began again in 2005 and the gardens are now open to the public.

It felt like a triumph to finally reach Giardino Bardini, perched high above the city.

The lower part of the garden is still in a poor state of repair, but there is a lovely old worldly feel to the place, suspended there in the clouds.  My main regret, not being a few weeks later to see the wisteria walk in all its glory.  I had to content myself with the views down over this lovely city.

The lower entrance brings you out on Via Bardi, close by the river, and your mission is complete.  I limped home, tired but happy.  I suggest that you take it at a slower pace and sit awhile.  There are many places to admire the beauty, including a cafe on the terrace at Giardino Bardini.

Jude, I think you might like this link.  Visit Florence is an excellent website which will give you all the details you need, including ticketing information.  Do note that the Palace and gardens are closed on the first and last Monday of each month.

Thanks, everyone for reading and participating in my walks.  It wouldn’t be the same without you.  Details of how to join in are on my Jo’s Monday walk page.  Do come along!  Let’s pop the kettle on now and settle in for a good read :

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Becky reminds me of just what I’m missing in the Algarve.  I’ll be back soon!

Exploring the hamlets of the Guadiana

I’ve been bombarded with walls lately!  But in a good way.  Thanks, Jude!

Lincoln Castle : Medieval Wall Walk

A flashback to a beautiful Autumn with Eunice :

An autumn walk round Bolton Abbey

And where would we be without him?  Cheers, Woolly!

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Nobody can meander quite like Jackie!

Mazatlan Meanderings

Rosemay has been garden wandering.  I think you’ll find she’s a wonderful companion :

Strolling round the Neuer Garten – Potsdam

Susan has many interesting walks in her home city, New York.  I’m sure you’ll enjoy this one :

A Winter Walk through Riverside Park

And I’m delighted to be joined again by Tobias, where there might be cake!

Strolling

That’s it for another week!  I seem to have tempted the sun out in my part of the world.  See you soon!