Monday, March 10, 2014

March 9th 2014

Been very remiss in keeping up the Blog - apologies.

In summary, here are the headlines of our latest adventures (we will try and expand on them later):
Fiesole Amphitheatre

1. Took a bus trip to Fiesole to see the Roman Amphitheatre and Museum.

2. Lunched with our delightful landlord family and met some new expat friends.

3. Went to see a live stage production of "The Rocky Horror Show" put on by local drama students to a pre-recorded music background, with dialogue in Italian, and all the words of the very familiar songs in English. A really good night's entertainment.

Andrew and Carol Medici

4. Had a visit from Andrew and Carol

5. Visited the Medici Chapel.

Vecchio Torre

6. Went up Vecchio torre (Old Tower) and enjoyed magnificent panoramic views of Florence.

Michelangelo's Doni Tondo

7. Toured the Uffizi Gallery.

8. Toured the Pitti Palace.
Pitti Palace

Santa Croce
9. Toured the Santa Croce Church and Museum - which has the tombs of many notables, including Galileo Galilei, Michelangelo Buonarroti, Dante, Napolean's relatives among others.

10. Looked over the city at Piazzale Michelangelo and visited the Rose Garden (sadly no roses yet)

11. Visited the local Mercatino (second hand market), very down market and very unprepossessing, until you walk through the foyer into the most remarkable domed vaulted ceilings with beautiful frescoes on walls and ceilings.

12. Visited the Leather School of Florence.

13. Visited Coleen and brother David near Asti in Piedmont province. Inspect mausoleums, wine making factories, eat great Piemontese food and wines.,_Piedmont

14. Spent a couple of days in Verona, visiting Castel San Pietro, the Vecchio Chiesa de San Fermo, visiting the Roman amphitheatre and Arena and booking tickets for the Opera "Aida" in July, which is staged in the old Arena itself.

As we get time, we will expand on these doings.     Maybe. 

Anyway, we recently found a good English package tour company that has a lot of interesting tours that we would like to take.

In particular: 

  • Northern lights - 6 day group tour in Iceland looking at the Northern Lights
  • Train journey - 14 day package tour on a private train retracing the "Silk Road"
  • Tour of Moscow and St Petersburg.

As the packages are based out of London, this means flying back and forth from Florence. And seeing as the "el cheapo" direct flights offered by Vueling Airlines are being withdrawn at the end of March, we have decided it is time for some new scenery and that we will relocate our base to London. 

So, after three months - yes! three months, doesn't time fly - we fly to London on March 17th. 

Its packing-up time again. I better go and start. Catch you all later.

Monday, February 17, 2014

Where's Dr Who when you need him?
February 1st 2014   We take an (eventful) trip to England.

We decided we would go to England to see some friends - Carol and Andrew in London, and Joan and Ross in Cleethorps, (up on the coast, north-east of London near the old Tioxide Grimsby plant). 

After some research on the web, we planned the following trip:

01. Saturday morning, taxi from apartment to Florence SMN railway station
02. train from Florence to Pisa Central
03. bus from Pisa station to Pisa Airport
04. plane from Pisa airport to London Gatwick
05. Gatwick express train from Gatwick to London Victoria Station
06. tube from Victoria Station to South Ealing

Saturday night with Andrew and Carol.
Sunday with Andrew and Carol, and Sunday evening with Jonathan.
Sunday night with Andrew and Carol.

07. Monday morning, tube from South Ealing to Kings Cross Station.
08. train from Kings Cross Station to Cleethorps

Monday evening through Wednesday morning with Ross, Joan and Martin

09. Wednesday morning, train from Cleethorps to Kings Cross Station.
10. tube from Kings Cross Station to South Ealing.

Wednesday evening with Andrew and Carol

11. Thursday morning, tube from South Ealing to Victoria Station.
12. Gatwick express train from Victoria Station to London Gatwick
13. plane from London Gatwick to Pisa airport
14. bus from Pisa Airport to Pisa central railway station
15. train from Pisa Central to Florence SMN station
16. taxi from Florence railway station to apartment.

All planned with my usual military-trained attention to detail!

The trip may look a bit complicated, but I had checked all the timetables, booked and paid for bus tickets, train tickets, and aeroplane tickets. Everything was in place.

We got up early on Saturday morning, packed the last of our bits and bobs, and caught the taxi to the station.

"Take the last train to Clarksville"
We found the train and hopped on. It was a "locale" train, which means we stopped at every station from Florence to Pisa, and would take about 90 minutes. But, I wasn't worried, because we had plenty of time. Otherwise, we would have taken a "Rapido" which goes direct from one major station to the next, missing out on smaller regional stations.

It was during this Step 2, about half an hour before arriving at Pisa railway station, that I realised something was wrong... 

Where was my passport? I couldn't find my passport.

I checked every place it might be. Pockets, hand luggage, hold luggage, manbag... everywhere. Nothing!

I knew I had packed it somewhere in my luggage this morning, but I couldn't find it anywhere. Su searched everything. I searched everything.  Su searched everything again. I searched everything again. Nothing!

Maybe I dropped it in the taxi? or, did I leave it in the apartment at the last moment? 

Nothing for it, we had to return to Florence and find it. I knew there was another flight the next day - we would be a day late, but at least, we would be able to continue with 90% of our plans intact.

Take the last train to Florence
So, we jumped on the first train back to Florence, very disappointed. It was about 10 minutes into the return journey when Su said "Did you check your around-the-neck travel wallet thingy?" 

Merde! I had completely forgotten that I'd decided to try one of those 'Around-the-neck' travel wallet things... and yes, the passport was there. I quickly calculated the timings - yes, if we got off at the next stop, grabbed the next train back to Pisa... Ripper!!


Ahh....  sorry, no you can't. A local traveller told us the next stop was Florence - this train was a "Rapido". 

So, using my smartphone (ownership of which I suspect I no longer qualify), I quickly determined that there were a couple of seats remaining on the next day's Easyjet flight, and booked them.

The next day, Sunday, felt a bit like Groundhog day.

Got up, got the taxi, caught the train, caught the bus, caught the flight, caught the Gatwick Express, caught the tube to South Ealing. No problems really.....

So, a very truncated visit to Carol and Andrew, but never mind, we would see them on Wednesday night. 
Kings cross Station

So we train-ed it the next morning, to Cleethorps.

Watch the birdie...
Great catching up with Ross and Joan, Martin and Sue... we had a lot of years to catch up on.

Then, we got news of a 48 hour tube strike in London. 3 million commuters were going to be fighting for buses and taxis, just as we were to arrive back in London, Wednesday evening. 
The calciner  Stack. All that's left of
the Tioxide Grimsy factory.

Luckily, the regional trains were unaffected and we returned to London uneventfully. What chaos in the centre of a city of 10 million people! 

The Picadilly line was completely cancelled - getting to South Ealing was going to be a nightmare. Even if we could get there, how confident were we, that we could successfully get back into the city centre the next morning, along with the other 3 million disgruntled commuters?

We had two time-interdependent, critical path events to meet - the Gatwick Express train and the Easyjet flight. 

I wasn't at all confident. So, not wanting a miss the return flight as well, we decided to stay in London and found a B&B  5 minutes walk from the station that Wednesday night. 
You're forced to aint ya!

Never mind, we'll see Andrew and Carol in Florence on the 16th of February when they come to visit us.

Lucky, Italy let us back into the country. 

Ahhhh. The joys of international travel.

Saturday, February 1, 2014

Su's retrospective, continued...

January 6th 2014 - Bifana (She who sweeps away holidays)

Su Boyle
This photo was taken in a trattoria in the Piazza Pitti where the parade started on the 6th of January. 

This is an  important day here in Tuscany for children receiving gifts. The day of the Befana. There is a legend concerning her.
(Too long to recount - best to Google it!). 

Pick the wizened, old grumpy person - er, no.....
She is also known as the one who sweeps away all the holidays. 

She's a witch of course.

January 8th 2014

Have spent the last 2 weeks looking for another apartment and will move in a few days.

Then too we were busy enjoying ourselves with a visitor from Milan whom we hadn't seen for 3 years. We first met Su in 1986 when we went to her language school in Milan. Lots of walking talking dinners and the odd vino here and there! 

The Ponte Vecchio - the old bridge
Su's retrospective: December 28th 2013

An occasional series where we try valiantly try to catch up with events that seem to be unfolding too quickly....  The problem with this blog is that posts are plonked one on top of the other, like dinner plates in a stack. Any newcomer must read the blog from the bottom post to the top, which doesn't feel quite right - normally one reads from the top down to the bottom.... and if you want to add a comment that's a bit older, (a bit like wanting to insert a plate in the middle of the stack),  sorry, you can't!. You can only put it on the top.  Thus the retrospectives... read on.

Michael Franks Live with
Crossfire in Australia.1980
Having a G&T and listening to Michael Franks "Crossfire" album. So many memories from 1980 and beyond! 

We are looking for our next apartment which will provide all 'access-ments'! We spent 4 hours yesterday wandering the streets of Oltrarno (across the river Arno)

We really like this area away from main tourist places with more local bars and trattorias. Good lunch and wander back across the Ponte Vecchio an old bridge lined with jewellery shops. 

These are protected by ancient wooden shutters. l believe this was the only bridge not to be destroyed during the war by the retreating Germans

Here and there one can see bunches of padlocks with names on them. 

Young  couples lock them to the iron railings and throw the keys into the Arno river. Very romantic! And much nicer than the graffiti that is now fading!

Thursday, January 30, 2014

New Years Eve 2013 Florence
"Honey, I shrunk the van!"

New Years Eve in Piazza Duomo in Florence, Italy.

Monday, January 27, 2014

Su's retrospective: Leaving Melbourne 

One of several retrospective comments from Su, about us leaving Melbourne. We will add more sections  over the next few days. 

12th December 2013

Ready to Rock and Roll...
Had a great dinner with Toni and Graeme at Pomodoro Sardo in Lonsdale St. They are the playmates that, since 1993 in Malaysia, have always been ready for music food wine and laughter at a moment's notice. 

Saluti a tutti!
Stefano the proprietor, and his staff, looked after us wonderfully, and tonight, here in Florence, I am trying a Sardinian white wine that is very similar to the one he gave us that night. Thanks Stefano, for two years of delicious Sardinian food. Hoping to try some local Sardinian delights soon.

13th December 2013 -  in the Marriott bar

Headquarters of fun
and good company.
When I wrote last, I didn't relate the episode of the spontaneous farewell drinks, that started with Helen, Con and Heike, who were toasting Helen's birthday on the night we were leaving Australia. Sally, Bill, Margaret, David and Nicky appeared soon thereafter and drinks were in order!  (We missed you Maureen and John but had to soldier on. Catch you both next time) A lovely warm gathering. Hoping to see you all over here in Florence sometime.

Half an hour before we left for the airport - there was a Xmas function with lots of people milling and mingling. Someone, walked into a waiter carrying a tray of drinks ... I was the recipient of a cascade of long tall cocktails! Soaked!

Sally and Nicky were there to sop and soothe, but all my under-things were saturated! Sally offered to whisk me away and hair-dry me upstairs, meantime, Nicky arrived with a replacement garment. Thanks girls! 

Most concerning, was the idea,  two hours later, of sitting on an aeroplane, billowing fumes of alcohol at the cabin crew as I begged for my complimentary bubbles!

We grabbed our luggage and headed off to the airport. 

Sunday, January 26, 2014

Happy Australia day to all

New Apartment...

Panoramic view from our kitchen window. Uffizi Gallery is adjacent to the tower on the right

Front door
Yes, we are finally in our new apartment...It's on the 4th floor of a 5 story apartment block, built in the 13th century on the remains of a Roman theater, thought to have been built several centuries earlier.

Su struggles with the 1 tonne door
It has been recently restored with taste and style, to a 5 star luxury hotel standard. It has two large bedrooms, two bathrooms with showers,and an open style area with a modern kitchen, dining room table, chairs and a comfortable lounge. 

 It is completely equipped with towels, bedding, cutlery, TV's, coffee machines, microwave, oven, kettle - but no toaster! 

We nipped out to the local supermarket on day two, and bought one.  (Whoa, I'm starting to sound like a Real Estate Agent - "mind the step")

Rod thinks he could be Caravaggio
 Mind you, its a little noisy, as we are in the middle of a nightclub/student area, but earplugs work wonders.

 We have actually taken options on this apartment for three months, 'till the middle of April, so better get your skates on if you want to catch us in Florence.

"We are waiting you in Florence!"
We have been a bit slow updating this blog, but after spending all the previous month struggling to find a suitable apartment, and with all the frustrations of language, the holiday season, trudging to find unknown locations of apartments, to meet with never-seen-before agents, we sort of just heaved a huge sigh of relief when we found this place, and have settled in to enjoy it.  

Anyway, we are now back on track and will endeavour to keep the raconteuring up to date.

Next week, we are off to England to see friends in London and Humberside.... a quick dash over on EasyJet. The trains from London to Humberside are more expensive than the flights from Pisa to Gatwick. More later.

Just a quick word on comments; some people have said that they have had trouble making a comment on the posting. You just need to click on the word "comments" (in small blue font) at the bottom of the post.
Love to hear a comment from you.

Friday, January 3, 2014

Here it is New Years Eve!

We awake this morning, to a brisk and crisp Florentine winter's day - the last day of the year 2013.

Our new, favourite restaurant "The Touch", is booked out for this evening "Been booked out for months!"  says our host Max. I don't know why I'd thought there would be any other outcome.  

So we decide that we'll eat at home and then wander down to the Piaza del' Duomo where all the action is likely to be.

So, off to the meat market that we found last week. The meat market is worth a para or two. 

This little piggy....
A bit like Victoria market in Melbourne, only quite compact. The covered section contains butchers and fishmongers - the most popular meat seems to be pork - and the fruit and garment stalls are located outside around the periphery of the building. Last week, I bought some slices of delicious cooked roast pork at one of the food stalls outside.

vegetarian delights
Anyway,  I bought a lovely roast pork stuffed with orange and herbs. (Su: I wasn't there!)

See what a Sensitive New Age Guy I am? I did think about Su's vegan dietary requirements - I could have bought a plain pork roast, without any oranges or herbs!

il Duomo
A change of plan - we have manage to book a table at a new pizzeria near the Piazza Duomo, down into which we will wander, after dinner, to see in the New Year. I've taken a bit of video of that evening, which I will put up on YouTube when we get our internet sorted out.

Anyway, the roast is now reserved for New Year's day. 

via Dei Bince, 19

STOP NEWS: we viewed an apartment this afternoon at Via Dei Benci,19 (check out Google maps!) It's a beauty - it meets all of our list of 12 Important Apartment Requirements, (that we should have made up before this) and we will probably, almost certainly, take it. More news later. 


             HAPPY NEW YEAR TO ALL!

p.s. Our first guest arrives on Friday 3rd Jan 2014