The Retirees return to Florence – Uffizi Gallery

The Uffizi was originally the offices created to accommodate the offices of the Florentine magistrates. The project commissioned by Cosimo I de’ Medici, Grand Duke of Tuscany planned to display prime art works of the Medici collections on the piano nobile; the plan was carried out by his son, Grand Duke Francesco I. He commissioned from the architect Buontalenti the design of the Tribuna degli Uffizi that collected a series of masterpieces in one room, and was a highly influential attraction of a Grand Tour. Over the years, more sections of the palace were recruited to exhibit paintings and sculpture collected or commissioned by the Medici. After the house of Medici was extinguished, the art treasures remained in Florence by terms of the famous Patto di famiglia negotiated by Anna Maria Luisa, the last Medici heiress; it formed one of the first modern museums.

The Uffizi is “u” shaped running from Palazzo Vecchio to the River. You can see the connection of the Palazzo to the Uffizi to the Ponte Vecchio and then through to the royal residence on the other side of the river. As you enter you see the Medici crest to remind you of who’s boss and then two flights of stairs to a gallery running the length and back again of the building. The ceiling is ornate with picto-grams of important people lining the edge of the ceiling.

Once inside, each room is filled with the art collected by the Medicis starting with the Middle Ages and into the Renaissance. Here is a tiny sample.

Although this is off peak the crowds in the Uffizi made it uncomfortable and the guided tour seemed rushed so we handed in our radios at the end of the top floor and made our way through the lower floors without the pressure of the tour. Here we saw the unfinished work of Leonardo Da Vinci “the Adoration of the Magi” for the high altar of the church San Donato a Scopeto and the finished picture by Filippino Lippi a contemporary and competitor of Da Vinci.

The benefit of the tour is to get inside without waiting 5 hours in queues outside. Back to the Apartment again to prepare for the next day.

The Retirees return to Florence – a Segway tour

. The next morning, we were both anxious to get to our Segway tour. Ever since Prague we have been smitten with the Segway. Arriving early, we found the Gucci Museum in Piazza Signoria and it was closed. We had to walk past it to get to the Segway tour office. Three floors of Gucci was too much for me. So, we moved onto the office and we were redirected to a coffee shop as we were far too early. We went around to Piazza san Martino and the coffee shop there and found the Dante Museum, an old tower house (this is the style of the middle ages) and an interesting old church San Martino del Vescovo.

Back in the Renaissance, the poor could rely on the services of a lay charitable institution to help them with the essentials of life and death – being clothed, helped when sick, and buried when dead. This institution, was called the Confraternity of the Buonomini di San Martino; Buonomini literally translates as “good men”. In 1442, Fra Antonino Pierozzi (who later became Archbishop of Florence and a saint) recognized the need for a dignified way to help these people, who tried to “keep up appearances”. He chose 12 reliable men of the higher social classes who would identify those in need of help and discreetly offer assistance in whatever way was required. The group initially met at one of their houses, but eventually was given a room off the side of the church, which was decorated as their “oratory”. This confraternity is one of the very few remaining visible examples in Florence (another is the Misericordia, still today the city’s ambulance service). The painting in the niche shows San Martino (the patron Saint, Saint Martino of Tours) handing out alms to the poor and when the Buonomini found themselves in need of money, they light a candle above the door. The Italian expression “essere ridotti al lumicino” (literally to be reduced to the candle or stony broke) derived from this practice. In the same breath, we encountered this bicycle that had been badly parked and suffered the consequences.

The time had arrived and so had our guide Valentina and three English girls, novices at the Segway. After a few practice runs, we head off toward Republica and our guide starts explaining the different styles of architecture in the various churches and she selects a very ostentatious baroque style to start with. We weave in and out of the back streets listening to her stories over the radio each one of carried and always hearing the constant ringing of her bell telling cloth eared tourists to get out of the way. We come upon a brass boar a symbol of the city and she tells us to rub the snout for luck. Its lucky if you can get near it.

Next is Duomo, Bell Tower and Baptistry followed by two statues of architects and builder of the dome. On to Santa Croce and the statue of Dante, past the first Medici Palazzo onto the Basilica San Lorenzo, one of the largest churches of Florence, situated at the centre of the city’s main market district, and the burial place of all the principal members of the Medici family from Cosimo il Vecchio to Cosimo III. It was consecrated in 393AD and it stood outside the city walls. San Lorenzo was also the parish church of the Medici family. Our guide told us that the façade of the church was never finished as Michelangelo took 3 months selecting the marble and in that time the Medicis changed their mind.

We toured around for 3 hours stopping for a gelato and thoroughly enjoying the freedom of the Segway. Then we returned to the apartment put our feet up and rested until it was time for the Uffizi tour.

The Retirees return to Italy – Florence and Tuscany

We flew out of Gatwick South but I don’t recall much of the flight as I slept most of the way. Our landing was smooth but I was surprised about the Florence International airport. It is small and appears nothing more than a domestic airport for a small town. We disembarked onto the tarmac and entered the immigration area with a queue out the door because there was insufficient space. Clearing the terminal, we went looking for a taxi as it was after 8.00 pm by the time we got our luggage and got out. Very few taxis and a queue a mile long so the shuttle bus to the railway terminal was the next best thing but everyone was thinking the same so a jammed packed bus took us to the terminal where we caught a taxi through a maze of streets to the hotel which was closed. Our phone had proven to be out of date and useless so we had no means to contact the hotel to let us in. Kerry went to an adjoining hotel and after some begging contacted the hotel and gained the various codes to the “front” door in the lane behind the hotel, the elevator and the front door to the rooms on the 4th floor.

Suffice it to say we made it and settled in for the night to start our Florentine adventure the next day. The apartment was reasonably spacious with a kitchen dining room bedroom and bath/ensuite. Our only window gave a view over the Arno river to Porta San Nicolo, a part of a city wall of the past and Piazzale Michelangelo (a copy of the statue of David stands in the Piazzale). Below on the sand bar of the Arno, Florentines lay sunbaking (too damn chilly for us).

We needed to get orientated so we headed off for the old city on foot passing the central library and taking our lives in our hands as cars scooters bikes and trucks battled with pedestrians for use of the road/footpath. We were looking for the Segway tours office and the tourist information office to make our plans of where to go and what to see. We had a brochure for the Segway tour office and a map provided by someone pointed out an information office and we set sail to negotiate the streets and book a tour on a Segway.

We found the Segway tour office in the lanes behind Piazza Signoria and Palazzo Vecchio and booked our 3hour tour for the following Saturday morning and turned our attention to finding the Tourist Information Centre. After a short walk we arrive at a gate (a Roman looking gate) which we later learnt was part of Piazza Republica, created for the period that Italy did not include Rome and Florence was capital.

The buildings of the old town of Florence have a charm and design that is Florence and many carry the crests of the important merchant families of the city. Where there is a footpath some of the streets are decorated in flowers. A particular variety of small azalea was often the preferred choice. Our walk took us down many an alley until we arrived at the Piazza Santa Maria Novella with its two obelisks and named after the church of the same name and convent run by the Dominican order until disbanded in the 19th century.

According to our map the information office was here, but all we could see was the Basilica and a tourist pavilion selling tours and trinkets. Unable to find any tourist information centre, we went to the tourist pavilion and found the staff to be very helpful and booking a walking tour that evening at half price and a visit to the Uffizi. Without knowing it we had walked almost back to the train station and exploring around Santa Maria Novella we found the station hidden by the church and hidden within the walls of the church the Tourist Information Centre. We decided to return to the apartment to rest for our evening tour so we walked back to the river and found we were four bridges away from our apartment. We had literally weaved diagonally across the city from our apartment. First, we came upon Ponte alla Carraia, then further along Ponte San Trinita then Ponte Vecchio and finally Ponte alle Grazie and then “home”.

The Retirees go Abroad – Viareggio and a day at the beach

Florence had been such a hot day and we had enjoyed our swim at Monterosso al Mare so when Kerry learned of a beach at Viareggio from Robert’s sister in law Jane, we knew how we would be spending that day. Jane has been living in Lucca for a number of years and when we called upon her, her sister from the UK was visiting. Jane will be moving back to Australia and her sister was quite upset that distance would make their catch ups less frequent. We had a relatively peaceful drink at the Mercato Cafe of the dead chook except when any one squeezed the “dead chook” which then emitted a squealing sound. Kerry learned about Aperol, ginger ale and prosecco that afternoon.

Our drive to Viareggio was very pleasant. We avoided the toll roads and saw some of the villages on the way. There were pleasant river crossings, typical villages and reminders of the past along the most circuitous route imaginable. Nevertheless we got to the beach.

Along the road in front of the beach was an enormous market then a line of shops then the little kingdoms. Again the beach was divided into little kingdoms. The day was hot and getting hotter so we wasted no time in selecting Narcisa to set up camp. Narcisa is a family run business with lovely flower gardens to greet you and grandma on the front desk who “no speaka de English” but her son does. The son, grey haired and about our age, comes over in his DTs (dick togs) and gardening gloves and gives us the sales pitch and throws in some extras (two lounges instead of one) which was very nice. We agree to rent the umbrella and go to the designated change rooms (a store room most of the time) to change into our swimming gear.

We made our way to the designated umbrella and settled in. The beach was sandy and at least 100m wide with umbrellas as far as the eye could see. We were comforted to see the life guard at his post. We strolled into the water. It was a little warmer than Monterosso but not as clear and not as deep. We walked out about 20 m and the water was barely above my waist. Even so we were in the water for about 5 minutes and a fish jumped from the water. It looked about a kilo in size and the shape of a mullet. This was to happen at least half a dozen times whilst we were paddling and lolling in the water. Then I noticed that something in the water was bumping into us. Jellyfish! Blue with a small black fringe, they danced between our legs. Some the size of a twenty cent piece and others up to the size of a man’s fist. I managed to catch one or two for a closer look.

After swimming we went back to the office to get money for lunch at the café on the premises. We ran into the son again and told him of the sighting of the fish jumping and he looked at us in complete amazement and said “what out there – fishes jumping”. He then said “I don’t know nothing about fishes you ask my brother the life guard he knows about fishes”. Well I thought it hilarious. The astonishment that something lived in the water and the fact that the life guard was as old as us – not that there was much rough surf for him to contend with.

After lunch we thought we would go back to the markets and stroll through and eat an ice cream. No such luck. The markets had finished and the shops had closed for lunch time siesta. But we got to witness some pretty incredible technology in the way in which these stalls were set up. Most had vans with a large box on the roof. In this box was the awning and using just a remote control the stallholder opened and closed his shop. Oh and there was some other equipment caught my eye. See if you can find it in the photos.

We had heard that there was a free concert on in the amphitheatre in Lucca so that night we made our way into the amphitheatre by bus. Surprisingly the bus was free so a good start to the night. I made an error of judgment as to which stop to get off and we ended up walking through the city where we encountered a shop with a weaving loom in the front window and the weaver hard at work. No sale items though the price tags all had three digits.  We selected our restaurant Bistro Bar L’Emiliana and settled in for dinner and the show at 9.00pm. Well it was not much of a show – a jazz trio playing classical music (Puccini) – not to my taste.

We finished about 10.00pm and knowing that the last bus had long since gone we asked the waiter to organise a taxi. No problems. He told us to wait at our table and the cab would come into the amphitheatre to collect us. The amphitheatre was wall to wall restaurants, jazz band audience and kids playing on bikes etc. This I had to see. As I expected the cab was a no show. The waiter clearly embarrassed by the no show went in search of the taxi with us in tow. We found our cab with the driver trying to explain to an American with pins through his left leg that he could not just hail a cab when it had been booked. The driver made the Yank sit down and told him he would be back to get him.

We piled into the cab, gave the driver the address and settled back but not for long for this fellow took off at enormous speed through the narrow streets filled with pedestrians and bikes and then raced a scooter and another car to be the first out the city gate. Even though I sat in the front with the driver, I could feel Kerry’s grip on the cab door growing ever tighter and nervous laughter coming from Kerry and Veronica in the backseat. The taxi driver explained that he hated “romantic drivers” – people casually driving because they did not have timing issues and a family to feed from driving a cab; he said he had already had 4 expressos and there would be many more before the night was through. Well we made it home but felt like we had just got off a ride at Disney World. So the night ended on a happy note – we were still alive and on holiday.

The Retirees go Abroad – Lucca and Pisa

We thought that yesterday was hot. Well, our trip to Pisa on Sunday proved to be been hotter. The weather although fine and clear was extremely hot.

We left early our apartment early in the morning to organise our tickets for the trip to Florence and fortunately we drove down as we learned the best place to park in Lucca. At the Stazzione Kerry and Veronica entered into world negotiations with the ticket seller over two return tickets to Florence. Everything including sign language was employed. I kept well out of it by parking the car in a legal parking spot and photographing the station, the park in front of the station and the bees busy at work in the Magnolia Trees.

We were expecting a crowd in Pisa even though it was a Sunday. We were not disappointed.

We decided to use the village roads to Pisa and avoided toll roads. This meant we drove through the villages between Lucca and Pisa which included travelling through a tunnel and once we exited the hillside we had a complete view of the plane on which Pisa stands. Even its famous tower was clear on the skyline. Tommy even had the co-ordinated for the leaning tower so it directed us to the very gate in the walls of the city and to a kind African peddler who pointed out a free car park and held it for us (for a few shekels of course).

In less than 5 minutes we had walked to the monument and horsed around with the cliché tourist snaps.

It was about 11.00 am by then and Veronica found out that Mass was being held in the cathedral, so she and David went in the adherents’ door whilst the non-believers were directed to the other door. A big sign greets you “Silence whilst in the cathedral and no photography”. That is water off a duck’s back to the gaggle of tourists, many Italian, tramping through door. Cameras and IPhones were clicking and a cacophony of voices rumbled as the Priest went through the Mass. So against my better judgment I clipped off a few shots of this magnificent monument.

Beside the cathedral is the Baptistery, equally as grand and 5€ to enter so you only get shots of the outside. Similarly with the Campanile we were not spending money to enter as we had hopes of catching the hop on hop off bus. These buildings are surrounded by the ancient city walls and where there once stood other buildings of the town now is only grass and the best lawn mower I have seen – air-conditioned cab and vacuum collection of the cut grass.

Once Mass had finished and we had refilled our water bottles at the communal fountain (frequently found in towns and villages of southern France and northern Italy), we head back to a restaurant with a special for lunch. The girls were using Veronica’s fold up umbrellas as well as hats it was so hot. We had turned down an African peddler this morning selling fold up umbrellas but now seeing the value we traded with one of them beating him down to 6€ for two umbrellas. Lunch was filling and cheap after which we made our way through the African peddlers back to the tourist information centre. One peddler was doing the silent act and we have no idea how he could do it in the heat. Kerry thought he deserved something for his effort and was rewarded with a photo opportunity.

We walked across the plaza of the leaning tower to catch the bus outside the opposite gate. It was extremely hot standing waiting for the bus and when it did arrive it was very uncomfortable on the top in the sun so the tour was a bit Ho hum for me but here are some pictures.

After completing the bus ride (the bus seemed to develop a fault so we got off too hot to go on) we split up as Veronica had found some shops. Kerry and I took a slow walk back to the car via the tourist information centre where we cooled off in the air-conditioning. There was a display of scooters in relation to an old Cary Grant movie (cannot recall which one) and so Mrs Young had to pose for the camera.

A very hot Veronica and David returned to the car shortly after we arrived. With all windows wound down we drove home via the Carrefour Shopping Centre for some groceries and a cold drink. We sat in that shop for some time with the car underneath to cool it down. Cold showers all round once we got home.