Posted by: Debra Kolkka | September 27, 2014

Winter windows in Florence

It was a beautiful day in Florence yesterday, warm and sunny and there weren’t too many tourists around. The shops are full of winter clothes and we have had enough cool mornings lately to think they might be necessary soon.

It is a colourful season, which is good to see. There can be far too much black in winter. Come for a little walk around the shop windows of Florence with me.



In the Fendi window the mannequin is holding a miniature head of Karl Lagerfeld as a key ring. Who knew we needed one of these?



Moving on…










Dolce & Gabbana is a favourite again this season. Just as well nothing in the shop would fit me or I might be tempted.




Of course, the accessories fit anyone.


Luisa Via Roma is a riot of colour and fur, both real and faux.




Valentino is always elegant.




Sorry chaps, the menswear was mostly suits and I can’t get excited about those.

I had lunch at the wonderful Obika, the mozzarella bar in Via Tornabuoni. I will tell you all about that some other time.

Posted by: Debra Kolkka | September 24, 2014

Hand made in Lucca

I think it is great to see beautiful things made by hand. There is a shop in Via della Fratta in Lucca where a father and son team make great items from leather. They do handbags, wallets, belts, books and photograph albums.

I met them recently and they happily posed for me.



The day I was in their shop they were doing a roaring trade, which is good to see. Have a look at some of their lovely wares.

They assured me that everything was made by hand. They have help, I think a few other family members are involved. If you are in Lucca, drop in and say hello.


Officina della Pelle…Via delle Fratta 29

There is another shop in Via Filungo at number 196.


Posted by: Debra Kolkka | September 21, 2014

Faded glory at Villa Bottini

Lucca is full of wonderful old buildings. I have passed Villa Bottini in Via Elisa many times, but on a recent rainy day I wandered through the old door to the gardens. The Villa was built by Paul Buonvisi in the second half of the 16th century, so it can be excused for looking little old.

The entrance is quite imposing.


The roses in the garden were recovering from a heavy shower.

The house is a box shape with a loggia on top.


The gardens have some wonderful old trees and empty fountains.

After the rain there was more water outside the fountain than in it.



There are a couple of lovely old doors in the wall around the garden.

Best of all,  the crumbling archway leading to an even more crumbling fountain.


The poor old fountain on the back wall has seen much better days.



The area must have been very beautiful in its day, and a delightful, cool retreat on a hot summer day.


Technically Villa Bottini should be a Palazzo, since it is inside the walls of Lucca. (A villa is a country mansion and a palazzo is an urban mansion). However, when it was built it was outside the wall…this wall.



The town expanded and the current outer wall is now on the other side of Villa Bottini and it is within the town boundary.

At the beginning of the 20th century the villa was owned by the Marquis of Bottini. It passed through a couple of other families until it was bought by the Region of Tuscany and was given to the town of Lucca.

The house is open to the public, but the day I was there a private function was about to begin and my visit wasn’t encouraged. I will have to return.

Posted by: Debra Kolkka | September 18, 2014

Lunch and a hermitage

We are spoiled for choice here in the Bagni di Lucca area for interesting places to eat. Not far from our village, in the Garfagnana, is an amazing hermitage built into a rocky cliff above the town of Gallicano.


The hermitage, Eremo di Calomini, has been around since 1000AD. The grotto and the church are carved into the rock and have been expanded over the centuries. The double colonnaded facade was added in the 18th century.

The Calomini hermits took care of the sanctuary until 1868 and now it is in the hands of the Lucca Capuchin Fathers. It is open sometimes (usually between 9.00 – 12 and 15.00 – 17.00) and you can take a look inside. (phone 39 0583 767003)

There used to be a small restaurant in the grounds of the hermitage, but a few years ago the owners built an agriturismo and restaurant a few hundred metres away, just up the hill.

You can park in the car park beside the hermitage and walk up.


In warm weather it is delightful to sit outside on the terrace and enjoy the mountain views.

The menu is short and offers fresh, local produce. I can’t go past the crepes filled with ricotta and spinach and covered with a delicious ragu.


Also good is the trout (you know it is fresh because there is a trout farm nearby).


There are some pretty walks around the restaurant along leafy paths.

Take the road towards Castelnuovo, turn off at Gallicano, drive through the town and follow the signs towards Vergemoli. About 1 kilometre past Gallicano you will see the sign for Eremo di Calomini.

Posted by: Debra Kolkka | September 14, 2014

Ponte a Serraglio

It has been a while since I have taken you for a walk around Ponte a Serraglio. After a few days of rain the sun came out…perfect for a little stroll around the village.

The geraniums are still growing on the bridge.


Colle watches over Ponte a Serraglio as usual.


The river is a little higher than usual for this time of the year because it has been a wet summer.


Early in the morning the reflections on the river are quite lovely.

Our resident heron waits patiently for a fish to swim by.


If he looked above the weir in the still water at the edge of the river he would find lots of baby trout, but perhaps they are too small to interest him.


The walking bridge, built about 4 years ago, has been a great addition to the village.


The views from the bridge are excellent.



The park at Villa Fiori is benefiting from the wet summer. Everything looks green and lush.


Villa Fiori is still in need of some love…any takers?


The tiglio tunnels leading to Ponte Serraglio are starting to turn yellow.


A walk up the hill towards Bagni Caldi offers great views of the village.



You can see our apartment beside the bridge. (The one with the tiny balcony) Tomorrow it will be covered with scaffolding because our balcony is about to be renovated.


Higher up the view is even better.




This inviting path leads the way even higher up the hill…next time.







Posted by: Debra Kolkka | September 10, 2014

Return to Casa Debbio

I am back in Italy for a couple of months. I couldn’t wait to get to Casa Debbio to see how my growing garden survived the summer.

I arrived on a glorious sunny afternoon.


My geraniums are still doing well.


The garden beside the house is looking good. Some of the plants have grown very well.




The Chinese lanterns did particularly well.


The lavender is past its prime, but still looking and smelling divine.


I took some inside just before I left.


There are still a few tomatoes, strawberries and raspberries in the garden.

The plants at the back of the house didn’t do quite as well and the mufloni (wild goats) ringbarked a couple of trees and they will probably die. They didn’t eat the bark, just chewed it off and dropped it to the ground. Perhaps they don’t like cachi and magnolia trees and just wanted them dead.


The sun always hits Vergemoli just before it disappears behind the mountains.



That was yesterday. It rained last night and I woke to heavy mist which has remained for most of the day. It is another kind of beauty.

The lavender is sodden and drooping.



The Chinese lanterns are covered with raindrops.



My little bird enjoyed a bath.



The weeping cherry is thriving, although I think its lower branches may have been trimmed by the goats.


The wisteria growing on the fence at the entrance is doing well, but the ferns around it need a serious trim as they threaten to take over everything, including the Japanese maple hiding there.


Vergemoli appeared on and off during the day.





…the sun finally came out late this afternoon.





I am very keen to plant lots of fruit trees and dozens more dafodils for next spring and to watch the autumn unfold in the mountains.

Posted by: Debra Kolkka | September 8, 2014

A Helsinki stopover

I love Helsinki. I always stop for a day or 2 on my way to and from Italy. I know the city well and feel at home there. Join me on my day in Helsinki.

I started bright and early in the pretty Esplanadi park.

The late summer gardens are still thriving.


I walked on to the pop-up hotel at Havis Amanda.


Clever people have built a temporary, one room hotel around Helsinki’s mermaid. Here is what she usually looks like.


See more about the hotel here.

The markets beside the harbour were full of delicious produce.

The latest addition to Helsinki harbour is Bad Bad Boy by Tommi Toija. He is bound to start conversations.


Some of the boats in the harbour are put to good use.


Most just sit waiting patiently for their owners.




The gold one was creating the most stunning reflections.



I had an amazing dinner at Ask restaurant.


I wandered back to the hotel past the magnificent Tuomiokirko.


There was a display of lovely old cars in Market Square.

And some ghostly figures in the bandshell in Esplanadi.



Then it was off to sleep to get ready for an early morning flight to Italy.

My Finnair Plus membership once again made my day by upgrading me to business class for the flight to Italy. I have had memberships for years with other airlines and have been offered nothing. Finnair is a great airline and their loyalty programme is wonderful. I am glad I changed over to Finnair Plus.

Posted by: Debra Kolkka | September 2, 2014

Matteo, Matteo and gelato

Bologna’s loss is Brisbane’s gain. Matteo and Matteo left their native Italy to pursue a dream to bring perfect gelato to Australia.


Their new business in Florence St, Teneriffe is called La Macelleria, which actually means The Butchery. Their original gelateria in Bologna was built in an old butcher shop and they decided to retain the name and bring it to Australia with them.


They also brought the very best Italian equipment with them and work with local growers and farmers to source the best and freshest ingredients for their gelato.

The gelato is churned every day with no artificial flavourings, preservatives or powders. It is not on display in open containers; the individual flavours are held in Pozzetti cabinets to allow the maintenance of the right consistency and temperature.


I have done extensive gelato research in Italy and I can report that Matteo and Matteo’s gelato is excellent…every bit as good as my lovely friend Paolo’s in Bagni di Lucca, and he is a master gelato maker.

La Macelleria

La Macelleria

La Macelleria

La Macelleria

Happily, I can now enjoy real Italian gelato even when I am home in Brisbane. Thank you Matteo and Matteo.

La Macelleria, Shop 10/29 Florence St, Teneriffe.

Posted by: Debra Kolkka | August 31, 2014

Venetian faces

I continued my quest to find interesting faces on my last trip to Venice. The city is a treasure trove of these details.

Here are a few of my discoveries.

At the end of the Rialto bridge on the San Marco side is a golden head. The bronze sculpture is the sign for the apothecary “Alla Testa d’Oro” (At the Golden Head) and dates from an era when most of the population was illiterate and needed a way to identify the shop.


A reminder of an incident that happened on 15th June 1310 is on the corner of the Sotoportego del Cappello Mercerie, near St Mark’s square. A plot by a couple of Venetian families to overthrow Doge Pietro Gradenigo was foiled when informers warned the guards and the rebels were forced to retreat. An old woman was watching from her balcony and dropped a heavy mortar on the fleeing rebels, killing one of them.

She was rewarded by having her rent fixed for herself and her heirs. In 1861 the occupant of the house had a plaque made of the old woman and the mortar.


Now under scaffolding at Palazzo Maffetti-Tiepolo is the head of Hercules covered with a lion’s head. It recalls the first of his “Twelve Labours”: the killing of the Nemean Lion. He used the lion’s head as a helmet, thus becoming invulnerable.


The high relief of La Donna Onesta is on the wall of the house at San Polo 2935. There are several stories behind this face. One says that the beautiful wife of a bladesmith attracted the unwanted attention of a nobleman.

He arranged to have a knife made as an excuse to see her. He returned when the husband was not at home and raped her. She killed herself with the knife.

Another version is that the head is of a local prostitute whose reasonable rates were described as “honest”.


Dante appears all over Italy and he never looks happy.


Below is the face of Tommaso Rangone who made his fortune from a “natural” remedy for syphilis. In his hand is the plant discovered in South America from which his remedy was obtained. His sculpture is on the facade of the church of San Giuliano.


The rest I know nothing about…I just liked them.


See more faces in Venice, Naples, Florence and Rome.

Posted by: Debra Kolkka | August 26, 2014

Lucy’s eyes

Some religious paintings can be very gruesome indeed. A little known painting by Tiepolo, The Last Communion of St Lucy, in the Capella Corner of Santi Apostoli in Venice, shows poor Lucy after her eyes have been put out. They are displayed on a tray at the bottom of the painting.





Lucy was a Sicilian noblewoman born in Syracuse around 300AD. She pledged herself to God, taking a vow of chastity and poverty. The man she was promised to in marriage denounced her to the Consul, accusing her of being christian.

She was committed to a brothel, but, filled with the Holy Spirit, she became immovable, and dozens of men could not move her. Finally, after having her sprinkled with urine (said to drive out evil spirits), then boiling oil mixed with pitch and resin, the Consul had the saint’s throat cut and her eyes put out.

Miraculously, Lucy could still speak after her throat had been cut, continuing to invoke the name of God. Poor Lucy is the patron saint of opticians and those suffering from eye diseases.

The church of Santi Apostoli is in Cannaregio, not far from the Ca d’Oro or Rialto Vaporetto stop.


We were pointed in Lucy’s direction by Secret Venice by Thomas Jonglez and Paolo Zoffoli…the best Venice guide book.


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