Posted by: Debra Kolkka | May 22, 2016

A walking tour in Florence

I was invited to take a walking tour in Florence by The Roman Guy, a group doing guided tours of Rome, Venice, Milan and Florence.

Even though I know Florence quite well I thought it would be fun to see it from another point of view.

We met at 8.00am in the Piazza San Marco, underneath the statue.

Walking tour Florence

Our guide was Chiara, a delightful young woman brimming over with enthusiasm.

Walking tour Florence

The first stop was the Accademia museum to see its most famous resident, Michelangelo’s magnificent David. First up is the concrete model of the sculpture we would see later in the Piazza Signoria. It is rare for these to still exist.

Accademia

I see the copy of David in front of Palazzo Vecchio regularly, but there is nothing like seeing the real thing in this beautiful setting. David takes your breath away just by standing there.

David

Chiara’s knowledge is extensive and we could sense her love for her subject. She had some great stories about Michelangelo and his work in Florence.

There are lots of other things to see in the museum and we were given some time to wander about. There are lots of religious paintings and a gallery of faces.

We then walked towards the Duomo and once again Chiara had some tales to tell. She showed us the spot where David was supposed to be placed. I think he would have been completely lost up there on the roof…at the bottom of the slide bit.

Duomo Florence

We stopped to admire the gorgeous doors to the baptistery, and Chiara pointed out some of the fine detail. The doors are copies of the original doors which are now kept in the Duomo museum.

Baptistery doors Florence

After the Duomo we headed for the medieval section of Florence, with a quick stop at the workroom for the Duomo, where we could see where repair work is carried out.

It was fun to walk through the narrow streets, with a reminder from Chiara to look back for glimpses of the Duomo.

Florence

Florence was once a town of tower houses. Residents competed with each other to have the highest tower. The more money you had, the bigger the tower.

Florence tower house

Most have been reduced in height, but the communal tower is still original. This was the city office and nobody’s tower could be higher than this one.

Florence tower house

Nearby is the house where Dante Alighieri was born. It is now a restaurant.

Dante's house Florence

There is a Dante museum in the area as well. Perhaps a visit is in order to find out why he always looks so stern.

Dante Alighieri

Orsanmichele was our next stop. It is the fabulous church which was once a granary. It is possible to see where the open arches were filled in when the building was converted.

I have often wondered why the statues sit in the alcoves on the sides of the building. The building renovation was paid for by the various guilds, the equivalent of today’s unions. The more money they gave, the more elaborate the alcove and the better the position. It was a form of advertising.

The best spots were beside the doors and these alcoves had bronze statues instead of cheaper marble ones.

Orsanmichele Florence

Inside is the beautiful Gothic Tabernacle by Andrea Orcagna (1355-59) built off centre because the columns were already in place. It is made of beautiful carved marble, yes, even the curtain around the Madonna is marble.

Orsanmichele Florence

Orsanmichele Florence

It is still possible to see the chutes where the grain would come down from above.

Orsanmichele

A little further on is the Straw Market. This is what Orsanmichele looked like before the conversion.

Straw Market Florence

No visit to Florence is complete without patting the snout of Porcellino, the bronze of a wild boar. (beside the staw market) If you place a coin in his mouth and it falls into the grill below good luck will be yours.

Porcellino Florence

Piazza Signoria is the big and impressive piazza filled with giant sculptures. There is the David copy beside the door of the Palazzo Vecchio, where the city administration operates today…the old tower would not be big enough now.

Palazzo Vecchio

Behind the sculpture opposite David…

Palazzo Vecchio

…is the graffiti said to be done by Michelangelo.

Michelangelo graffiti

The Loggia opposite is like an open museum and lovely Chiara had more takes to tell about these. The bronze by Cellini (1545) of Perseus beheading Medusa has a face at the back…who knew? The photo is taken with the light in precisely the wrong place, which is why it is fuzzy.

Piazza Signoria Florence

Piazza Signoria Florence

Here is the finished marble sculpture of the concrete one we saw in Accademia.

Piazza Signoria Florence

We walked past the Uffizzi with its huge lines of people waiting to get it and walked via a back street to the Ponte Vecchio. On the way Chiara pointed out the olive tree planted to commemorate the bomb set off my the Mafia in 1993 that killed 5 people. There is also a recently erected memorial on the side of a building above.

Olive tree Florence

Bomb memorial Florence

The Ponte Vecchio was the perfect place to end our tour.

Ponte Vecchio

Chiara had lots of excellent suggestions for things to see and do in Florence.

I had a great 3 hours revisiting old friends and learning new things about them. I think a walking tour is the very best way to see a city, especially with a knowlegeable local who loves her subject.

Thank you Chiara…and The Roman Guy. Look them up if you are visiting Florence, Rome, Milan or Venice.

For Florence Tours click here.

Click  The Roman Guy for details of all their tours

 

Posted by: Debra Kolkka | May 19, 2016

Lunch with Luisito

My favourite place to eat in Lucca is Paris Boheme.  It is owned and run by the delightful Luis, front of house, and Davide, in the kitchen.

They redecorate the restaurant regularly. This is the latest. Soon there will be a new summer theme.

Paris Boheme Lucca

They change the menu often as well.

Local cheese with their own preserves is a great starter.

Paris Boheme Lucca

Ravioli with strawberries and champagne is delicious.

 

Paris Boheme Lucca

This one is excellent too.

Paris Boheme Lucca

 

The erotic salad is always on the menu.

Paris Boheme Lucca

They do great things with potatoes.

Paris Boheme Lucca

This chicken was heavenly.

Paris Boheme Lucca

Here is Luis doing his thing.

Paris Boheme Lucca

I go regularly to Paris Boheme because the food is great, an freshly prepared with what is in season…and I know I am always going to see a friendly face.

Don’t miss Paris Boheme in the Piazza Cittadella in Lucca. It is beside the statue of Puccini sitting in his chair.

You should book if you want to go in the evening…say hello to Luis.

Posted by: Debra Kolkka | May 16, 2016

Pentedattilo, ghost town

Pentedattilo is a ghost town in Calabria. The name comes from Greek, meaning five fingers (penta daktylos). The town sits 250 metres above the sea below, on Mount Calvario, which used to resemble a hand holding up its 5 fingers.

Pentedattilo

The town was founded as a Greek colony in 640BC. It continued to flourish during the Roman era, but declined in the Byzantine domination when it was sacked by Saracens. Normans conquered the town in the 12th century and several others controlled the town over the years until an earthquake severely damaged it in 1783.

Pentedattilo

Pentedattilo

Much of the population moved to nearby Melito Porto Salvo. Pentedattilo remained uninhabited until 1960 – 1980 when it was partially restored by volunteers.

The day we arrived there was a howling wind blowing through the deserted streets. If that wind was a regular occurrence I can’t imagine why anyone would want to live there. It was truly miserable…come for a walk anyway.

Pentedattilo

Pentedattilo

Of course it isn’t completely deserted these days. It draws quite a few tourists and there are a couple of shops and a little museum.

Pentedattilo

We were dragged into the museum by a very vocal woman who shouted information while thrusting objects towards us at speed. We couldn’t get away until an unsuspecting couple came in and we made our escape while she was distracted momentarily.

Pentedattilo

We saw a bride and groom posing for photos and later saw the beautifully decorated church.  I wonder if being married in a ghost town is really a good omen…time will tell.

Pentedattilo

Pentedattilo

One thing that is thriving in Pentedattilo is prickly pear. It grows all over the hillside.

Pentedattilo

The wind eventually blew us down the hill and into our car and we happily sped away.

Pentedattilo

If you visit Pentedattilo (it really is worth a visit) don’t plan on staying in the area. It is not attractive in any way, wind or no wind.

Posted by: Debra Kolkka | May 14, 2016

Civita di Bagnoregio

Bagnoregio Civita’s isolation has been its downfall and its saviour. The former Etruscan town sits on a slowly eroding tufa plug in the Tiber valley. The town began to disintegrate around the 16th century for a couple of reasons. The clay base below the tufa subsided and the constant removal of stone from the sides of the cliff to build houses weakened the edges.

An earthquake in 1695 accelerated the move of the residents to nearby Bagnoregio. The migration continued and today there are only a handful of permanent residents. A few home owners come and go, and in the summer the town is busy with tourists, fascinated by a town frozen in time.

Clouds were skidding across the sky on the afternoon we visited, creating moving shadows across the striking town.

Bagnoregio Civita

Bagnoregio Civita

Bagnoregio Civita

The only way into the town is via the footbridge, which replaced the original crumbling mule track. The addition of the footbridge is thanks to Bonaventura Tecchi, an Italian writer who was born in Bagnoregio Civita. He drew attention to the dying town and the resulting footbridge was its saviour. It is a steep walk up to the town.

Bagnoregio Civita

Bagnoregio Civita

Bagnoregio Civita

It may be better not to look back if you are afraid of heights.

Bagnoregio Civita

The entrance is through the stone doorway originally cut by Etruscans 2500 years ago and redecorated in the 12th century. The Porta Santa Maria is decorated by stone lions holding a human head, symbols often appearing on medieval churches.

Bagnoregio Civita

The town is beautifully preserved and well cared for. The gardens are full of flowers and the houses appear to be well loved. There are a few shops, restaurants and cafes, most of which were closed in the late afternoon when we visited.

Come for a little walk around this enchanting town.

Bagnoregio Civita

Bagnoregio Civita

Bagnoregio Civita

Bagnoregio Civita

Peering over the edge reveals an interesting landscape.

Bagnoregio Civita

We stayed in a B&B in the newer part of town. It is owned by one of Civita’s true characters, Franco, who also has a restaurant and B&B, Antico Forno, in the old town. He very kindly cooked dinner for us and told us many interesting tales of the town.

Bagnoregio Civita

He has featured in many newspaper and magazine articles and has Rick Steves as a fan. He proudly told us the Catriona Rowntree from Australia’s Getaway ( a TV travel show) had been to chat to him. I think every town could use a spokesperson like Franco to extol its virtues.

It was dark as we made our way out of Bagnoregio Civita for the long walk back.

Bagnoregio Civita

Bagnoregio Civita

Bagnoregio Civita is not to be missed. It is in the province of Viterbo, about 120 kilometres from Rome. There is a car park near the entrance to the footbridge and there is a fee of €1.50 to enter the town.

 

Posted by: Debra Kolkka | May 11, 2016

La Foce revisited

I enjoyed my visit to La Foce last spring so much I just had to return. La Foce is the exquisite Tuscan garden started in the 1920s by Iris Origo and her husband.

Last year the villa was not able to be visited as there were guests, but this year it was available. This is the original 15th century house bought by the Origos. They acquired the house and one tree, the holm oak in front of the house.

La Foce

La Foce

A limonaia has been added…and a pool.

La Foce

Gardens surround the house.

La Foce

They bought properties all over the area and brought the devastated  land back to production, giving homes and a living to many families.

Much of the land has since been sold to enable the daughters of Iris to keep the original home and the surrounding gardens. What they did with eroded, arid, rocky land is incredible.

This began with just one tree..

La Foce

La Foce

La Foce

It was a cold, blustery day when we visited. The wind blowing the clouds across the sky made some interesting shadows.

La Foce

La Foce

La Foce

La Foce

La Foce

La Foce

La Foce

La Foce

Click here to see the post…and more of the gorgeous garden… I wrote last year. La Foce…a magnificent garden in Tuscany

Posted by: Debra Kolkka | May 7, 2016

Scilla and the 6 headed sea monster

Scilla was our last stop in Calabria before crossing to Sicily. It is the home of Scylla, the sea monster of Homer’s Odyssey. The town sits in a beautiful bay dominated by an impressive castle perched on a high rock, keeping watch over the Aeolian Islands.

Scilla

Legend has it that the castle dates back to Ulysses who built the oldest part of the fort as a temple to honour Minerva. Since then the Byzantines, Normans, Aragonese and others have all added their touches. Its latest reconstructions were in the 13th century by Carlo of Angio, De Nara in 1421 and the Ruffo family in 1542. Today it houses a lighthouse and is used for cultural events.

Scilla

Scilla is divided into 3 parts. San Giorgio is the highest and is home to public offices and facilities. (We didn’t go there) Marina Grande has a long beach edged with shops and restaurants.

Scilla

Scilla

We got lucky, we stayed in the most interesting section of Scilla, Chianalea. It is the ancient fishermen’s settlement and lies directly on the seashore. Much of it can only be reached on foot.

Scilla

Scilla

We stayed at a wonderful B&B, La Veduta, run by the delightful Nella and her husband. We had the best position, right at the top of the building, with the best view.

Scilla

Scilla

Take a look at the water…it is crystal clear.

Scilla

Scilla

Our breakfast was served on the tiny terrace hovering just above the water.

Scilla

Scilla

We just happened to be there when the patron saint San Rocco did his parade through the streets from San Rocco church right past the B&B and on to the church at the end of town. The photos aren’t much good. I took them from a balcony high above the street.

Scilla

Scilla

Scilla is gorgeous. It was my favourite place in Calabria, followed by Pizzo and Tropea. (There were some pretty ordinary places in between)

Scilla’s  tiny streets along the edge of the sea are full of delights between glimpses of the clear blue sea. There are some very good restaurants enticing lots of people to visit.

If you go be sure to stay with Nella at La Veduta. She is a mine of information about her town, and she makes a great breakfast.

Posted by: Debra Kolkka | May 5, 2016

Tropea, Hercules was here

Tropea is on a section of the Calabrian coast called La Costa degli Dei…the Coast of the Gods. According to legend, Hercules, upon returning from Spain, stood on the coast and named Tropea as one of his ports.

Tropea stands proudly on a rocky headland overlooking the Tyrrhenian Sea.

Tropea

The colourful streets are lined with interesting shops and restaurants. It was here that we sampled our first granita, and became instant fans.

Tropea

The coastline and the beaches are lovely. They have white sand and clear, blue sea.

Tropea

Tropea

From the edge of town is an excellent view of the Santa Maria dell’Isola which sits on a rock outcrop jutting into the sea.

Tropea

Of course we had to go there. It is a long way down to the bottom of the town and a long way to the top and the church, but the view from there is worth the effort…then we had to walk down all these stairs and up all the stairs to the town.

Tropea

We saw a wedding party winding its way up to the church. I think some of the guests must have been cursing the bride and groom. It was a very warm day. Even the bride didn’t look all that happy.

Tropea

We spotted a well dressed wedding guest.

Tropea

The little church is very pretty, especially decorated for the wedding.

Tropea

Tropea is a great place to visit, it is lively, has some lovely old buildings and a great beach…what more could you want?  Tropea also has its very own onion…I will tell you about that later.

Posted by: Debra Kolkka | May 2, 2016

Riviera dei Cedri, Calabria

On our way to Sicily we drove along the coast of Calabria. Praia a Mare is the first resort on the coast known as Riviera dei Cedri, named for the citron that grow so well in the area.

The best view of Praia a Mare is from above, looking towards Dino Island, a rocky outcrop just off the beach. In the season you can hire paddle boats to make your way around the island and explore sea caves and grottoes.

 

Praia a Mare

Praia a Mare

 

Praia a Mare

Praia a Mare

The 2 kilometre sandy beach nearby has 50 lidos in the summer. They were just being set up when we were there, so it was difficult to get a true idea of how it looks in the summer season.

Praia a Mare

Praia a Mare

The sand is a dirty brown colour, which didn’t really appeal to me. I like the idea of the Dino Island bit, but the beach was not for me. The boardwalk area is very nice and well cared for. I think a lot of people visit in summer.

Praia a Mare

There is an old castle in the distance.

Praia a Mare

There is a church with an interesting grotto quite a long way up the hill behind the town.

Praia a Mare

In the park was this fabulous tree. I’m not sure what it was.

Praia a Mare

The town was quite pleasant, with a lovely pedestrian street, which drew a reasonable crowd for passeggiata.

Praia a Mare

I think Praia a Mare is very popular with Italians in the summer time…I could feel the expectation.

Posted by: Debra Kolkka | April 30, 2016

Progress at Casa Debbio

We were very happy to return from Sicily to find spring has been doing good things at Casa Debbio. Our plants are growing well and the garden is really taking shape.

Casa Debbio

The Italian lavender is growing like mad and I expect it to start producing flowers soon.

Casa Debbio

Some of the other types already have their flowers.

Casa Debbio

My tree peony that grew one magnificent flower last year has 7 blooms this year, and its neighbour grew 2 beautiful flowers.

Casa Debbio

Casa Debbio

The one that produced 22 flowers has more than 30 buds so far.

Casa Debbio

Hydrangeas are doing well and a couple already have small flowers.

Casa Debbio

Our wisteria is thriving. Some plants have already had their flowers and are now growing leaves.

Casa Debbio

One has unusual flowers.

Casa Debbio

This pretty bush (I can’t remember the name) has creamy white flowers.

Casa Debbio

The 2 lilacs have flowers.

Casa Debbio

The ginestre has gone nuts, and smells delicious.

Casa Debbio

Wild daisies have appeared everywhere.

Casa Debbio

There are violets and irises.

Casa Debbio

Casa Debbio

We will have lots of raspberries, strawberries and figs this year.

The cherry tree is covered in tiny fruit.

Casa Debbio

Our frog fountain is delivering water from the spring.

Casa Debbio

Best of all, we have a new pergola! Filippo and Vittorio finished it while we were away. It looks a bit stark right now, and we will have to put a bamboo cover on top this year to provide shade, because the wisteria won’t cover it for a while.

Casa Debbio

I found some 100 year old concrete tiles to mix with the terra cotta for the floor. I think they look great.

Casa Debbio

Filippo did a great job while we were away, taking care of everything. He has also planted tomatoes, which will ready in a couple of months and has mowed all the grass.

Soon the terra cotta table will be in place…and we can get on with the weeding, fertilising and a bit more planting…what fun.

Casa Debbio is available for rent this summer. We still have a few weeks free in July and August…tell your friends

Posted by: Debra Kolkka | April 28, 2016

Sicily

We are now back in Bagni di Lucca after our trip to Sicily. We drove down, stopping in a few places along the way. We covered most of the things we wanted to see in Sicily. We didn’t spend a lot of time in each place, but the idea was to find the places we liked best and we will return to spend more time in our favourite spots.

I wanted to post more while we were travelling, but we were on the go most of the time and the Internet wasn’t always reliable.

I didn’t know what to expect of Sicily and for the most part was delighted by what we saw. Taormina and Ortigia were fabulous. Of the baroque towns we visited, Scicli was my favourite. We love the Greek temples at Agrigento and Segesta. Corleone did not impress at all. The Norman church in Monreale was incredible. Cefalu was a charming place to visit and a great jumping off destination for the nearby islands of Stromboli and Lipari…we are definitely going back there. There will be posts on these places and more in the coming weeks.

The thing that we really didn’t expect was the stunning beauty of the countryside. Our lady of the GPS took us across the country, even when we didn’t want to. We were amazed by the green fields, the rugged mountains and the car high wild flowers we encountered.

Some of these photos were taken from a moving car…with very dirty windows. (Thanks to the Sirocco and the accompanying dust)

Sicily

Sicily

Sicily

Sicily

Sicily

Sicily

Sicily

Sicily

Sicily

 

Sicily

Sicily

Sicily

Sicily

Sicily

Sicily

Sicily

Sicily

Sicily

All over Sicily were hot houses…that’s where all those delicious tomatoes, strawberries and other good things come from.

Sicily

A big surprise was the number of eucalyptus trees we saw. After a bit of research I discovered they were planted at the time of Mussolini to help drain wet areas to control malaria. We also saw Moreton Bay figs and Norfolk pines…a little bit of home in Sicily.

Sicily

 

We were very lucky to be there in spring. I doubt the flowers will last into the hot summer. I was most impressed with the wild fennel, some more than a metre high, with bright yellow heads.

Sicily

Sicily

The often appalling roads, that had huge pot holes, were made enchanting with their edges of purple, yellow and red flowers.

Sicily

There were purple thistles and amazing yellow ones.

Sicily

Sicily

We will definitely return to Sicily to see some of the things we missed and to return to the places we loved…the wild flowers alone would take me back.

Older Posts »

Categories

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 5,126 other followers