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Palazzo Pitti was quite frankly just extraordinary. I think I went a little mad with my camera and photographed every inch of the walls and ceilings, the displays of treasure, those fragments of clothing from 500 years ago take your breath away. Finally after I had explored every inch I could, I left via the main entrance on Piazza Pitti and looking back quickly took a #selfie…I just couldn’t believe what I just seen and felt like I needed to record the fact that I had actually been there….it was so surreal. And I hadn’t even mentioned the Grotto!!

palazzo pitti Buontalenti grotto florence

Palazzo Pitti and the amazing Buontalenti Grotto in the Boboli Gardens, built by Bernardo Buontalenti between 1583 and 1593, commissioned by Francesco I de’ Medici

Florence truly is a city of opulent architectural gems and the centre highly deserves it’s listing as a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

Where to next? I didn’t think I could see anything else that was so amazing, but I was wrong!! Making my way back to the river I crossed over Ponte Vecchio again and within a couple of minutes I entered the Palazzo Vecchio. Well!!! What do you say when you are stopped in your tracks by something that is so amazing you almost have to pinch yourself to make sure you’re not dreaming….what I saw in front of me was someone’s dream, and it was magical.

palazzo vecchio florence

the magnificent Palazzo Vecchio, once home to Cosimo Medici and his wife Eleanora of Toledo

On the Visit Florence website they talk about time-travel and walking through these extraordinary buildings it seriously is like stepping back in time: “Palazzo Vecchio offers Roman ruins, a Medieval fortress and amazing Renaissance chambers and paintings” Do visit their website for more information. This building, now the Florentine Town Hall is magnificent, influenced by Moorish architecture, if you blinked you could be in Morocco. I’ve seen similar crenellated buildings in Gibraltar. It’s amazing! During the mid 16th century the Medicis; Cosimo and his wife; Eleanora of Toledo (the clothing fragments in my previous post belonged to her) turned this into their residence and much of the paintings and decorations you can see today were influenced by them. Sadly I had a very strict daily budget and if I wanted to eat…so I didn’t get to visit the interior, which is such a shame since the rooms are decorated by people like Michaelangelo and Donatello. I guess I’m going to have to go back LOL

palazzo vecchio florence

the sculptures in the courtyard are stunning

The courtyard; Piazza della Signoria is equally as impressive with a towering replica of Michaelangelo’s most famous ‘David’ along with some other stunning sculptures. Ohhh so beautiful. If you’re a fan of art, then seriously Florence is a must.

palazzo vecchio Piazza della Signoria in Florence

Palazzo Vecchio overlooks Piazza della Signoria. The Equestrian Monument of Cosimo I is a bronze equestrian statue erected in 1594 in the Piazza della Signoria in Florence

After satiating my appetite for ‘amazement’ I went walkabout again, just meandering here and there, aiming for towers I could see towering above those gorgeous red roofs. Plunging into the warren of streets I slowly but surely make my way towards my goal: Cattedrale di Santa Maria del Fiore – Florence’s main cathedral.

Along the way I discovered the Oratorio dei Buonomini di San Martino founded in 1441. Closed, but the history looks well impressive. Then the Museo Casa Di Dante….only Dante’s home. I mean seriously!!! Dante Alighieri was born in Florence in 1265, on the site where the Museo Casa di Dante stands. Poet, politician, writer; author of The Divine Comedy, one of the greatest masterpieces of world literature, Dante is considered the father of the Italian language. Again I had to bypass = (bigger budget next visit I guess LOL). Discovering all these places, of people I had learned about in school was truly awe-inspiring. Never in my wildest dreams/imagination did I ever envisage actually visiting.

casa di dante and oratoria dei buonomini

amazing discoveries; Casa di Dante and Oratorio dei Buonomini di San Martino, Florence

Next discovery was The Badìa Fiorentina; an abbey and church, now home to the Monastic Communities of Jerusalem, situated on the Via del Proconsolo, was founded as a Benedictine institution in 978 by Willa, Countess of Tuscany. Dante grew up nearby and would likely have heard the monks singing the Mass and the Offices here in Latin Gregorian chant. It looked totally intriguing and stepping through the door you are transported to another era. Chiesa Della Badia Fiorentina; place of silence, eucharistic adoration and liturgy  – I couldn’t believe what I saw….at the front of the church were a number of nuns and monks kneeling on the floor in front of the altar!!! I have never in all my years of visiting churches around Europe and the UK seen such an ethereal and other-worldly scene. I sat down with a bump on one of the pews, just stunned into overwhelming amazement. It was totally surreal. I felt like all my sins were emblazoned on my forehead and that I should immediately ask for forgiveness. It didn’t of course stop me from taking as many photos as possible, although I did feel like I was intruding on a very special moment. The church is filled with wonders: the altarpiece showing the Virgin appearing to St. Bernard painted by Filippino Lippi between 1482 and 1486, the funerary monuments, and the magnificent elaborately carved wooden ceiling, made in 1631 by Felice Gamberai, looking up before I left I had noticed this extraordinary ceiling; solid looking and elaborately carved it looks way too heavy to remain in place!! Wonderful place. I love churches and visit them often, but I can honestly say this is the first time I felt so insignificant. Seeing those nuns kneeling in supplication…..wow.

church 3

Chiesa Della Badia Fiorentina; place of silence, eucharistic adoration and liturgy

Slipping quietly out the door I continued on my way. Okay so there is an abundance of churches in Florence, and I was in my element….I learned my lesson in Venice, where I mostly ignored the churches, except for St Mark’s obviously, until the last day of my visit….at which time I ran around like a chicken without a head trying to visit as many as possible….I had never realised how magnificent they are; the paintings, the treasures, the ghoulish relics venerated in their elaborate ossuaries. To be able to stand on the exact same space where the old masters had stood, transferring their extraordinary talent onto the actual walls of the building is just mind-blowing!! Not canvases painted elsewhere and hung in the church, but painted right there onto the actual wall…..so now, I never pass a church that’s open without stepping inside, especially not in Italy that must surely be the birth-place of extraordinarily magnificent art!

Chiesa di San Firenze/San Fillipo Neri Florence

Chiesa di San Firenze/San Fillipo Neri Florence

Anyway, before I wax too lyrical, the next church I stumbled into was the huge, massive and very imposing Chiesa di San Firenze/San Fillipo Neri. The size and facade of this church are overwhelming (yes, I was overwhelmed quite a lot in Florence LOL). On the website they describe the building as huge…uhm yes rather. I spent only a few minutes exploring this enormous cavern of a church; the altar is just amazing, since it was just on 6pm and they were about to close. But I saw enough to be well impressed.

Chiesa di San Firenze/San Fillipo Neri Florence

Chiesa di San Firenze/San Fillipo Neri Florence

I continued my meanderings and passed the ever so delightful and quirky Pinocchio shop; Bartolucci!! Oh the temptation to buy something….Too cute. They’re located on Via della Condotta, 12, 50122 Firenze.

Pinocchio shop; Bartolucci

Pinocchio shop; Bartolucci

After wandering around some more getting closer and closer (or so I thought), photographing all the street names as I went, I found myself suddenly impatient; not wanting to delay any longer….I instead found myself back in the Piazza della Signoria, I have no idea how…seems I had walked in a circle LOL. So catching my bearings (yay for mapmywalk) I made my way with determination now, past Piazza della Repubblica then followed Via Roma and suddenly, as I walked around the corner into Piazza S. Giovanni, there it was….OMG!!! Cattedrale di Santa Maria del Fiore – the Virgin of the Flower. Writing about it now I’m in tears. I cannot explain in words the emotions that rushed over me.

Cattedrale di Santa Maria del Fiore - the Virgin of the Flower. Florence, Itlay

Cattedrale di Santa Maria del Fiore – the Virgin of the Flower. Florence, Itlay

It is quite simply magnificent. Like I said to my daughter afterwards, I had seen a number of images of the cathedral viewed from the side, photos of the very recognisable dome, close up and from afar, but I had never before seen the front of the building!!! It is exquisite. From that edge of the piazza the view of the front entrance is blocked by the fabulous Baptistery; Battistero di San Giovanni, which in itself is very impressive, an outstanding building of glowing white marble with green inlays – but walk around the corner and ohmygosh!!!

Cattedrale di Santa Maria del Fiore - the Virgin of the Flower. Florence, Itlay

Cattedrale di Santa Maria del Fiore – the Virgin of the Flower. Florence, Itlay

Cattedrale di Santa Maria del Fiore – the Virgin of the Flower; this most amazing facade is so beautiful I just couldn’t believe it. I have seen some beautiful cathedrals in my life and was to see many more over the next 3 days, but oh my word….this was the creme de la creme!! I confess that I just stood and cried. And then camera in hand I proceeded to take a photo of just about every inch of the building LOL. I couldn’t wait to see the interior. That was planned for the following Friday at which time I would also climb the dome and the tower. It’s free to visit the cathedral (which I didn’t realise at the time) but you have to pay to climb the Dome and Tower and visit the Museum.

The facade of this cathedral is like an explosion of fondant icing; brilliant white, delicate pink, subtle shades of green all framed by delicate lacy carvings, exquisite mosaics and astounding sculptures. I’ve tried putting into words how it looks…but I’m afraid words desert me.  I guess you’ll just have to go and see for yourself 😉 From the website Santa Maria del Fiore, designed by Arnolfo di Cambio, is the third largest church in the world (after St. Peter’s in Rome and St. Paul’s in London) and was the largest church in Europe when it was completed in the 15th century”. Surprisingly the facade was only completed during the 19th century, and of course followed the fashion of the time.

The bell tower right next door is equally impressive, just outstanding; white marble inlaid with green and red marble fading into pink, with elaborate designs and a few sculptures. One of the 4 principal monuments on the Piazza del Duomo, the tower, designed by Giotto di Bondone, stands 84.7 metres tall and about 15 metres in breadth; a classical example of 14th c Gothic architecture in Florence.

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Bapistery of St John, Florence, Italy

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Bapistery of St John, Florence, Italy

All I can say about these buildings is that the people who designed them had the most extraordinary imaginations! If you consider they didn’t have computers and the tools we have today, their buildings mostly leave many of our newer architectural creations in the shade…and mostly they seem to last a lot longer!! Started in 1334 by Giotto, it was completed in 1359 by Francesco Talenti. I mean seriously 1334!!!! And it’s still standing!!!

After photographing my fill of the cathedrals facade and the tower I walked right around the whole building. I was sad to note that the east side (dome side) of the building was quite grubby and tatty but there is restoration going on. I’m guessing it costs a whole heck of a lot of money to maintain this magnificent building.

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Cattedrale di Santa Maria del Fiore

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Cattedrale di Santa Maria del Fiore

The Museum of Opera of Saint Maria Fiore is located in this area and proved to be a stunning place for art lovers to spend a few hours. I visited on Friday 28th, on the same day as the Dome, Cathedral, Baptistery and Tower. Combined ticket.

After walking right around the cathedral I took a closer look at the Baptistery; the Baptistery of St John, is one of the oldest buildings in Florence. Constructed in the Florentine Romanesque style around 1059, the construction of white Carrara marble with green Prato marble inlay was finished in 1128. More about this on 28th 😉

the Baptistery of Saint John, Florence, ItLY

the Baptistery of Saint John, Florence, ItLY

After I had walked around the cathedral at least 3 times, and inspected every possible angle, I popped in at the Museo del Bigallo….wow, beautiful interior. There is one other area of the museum that you can visit but they only open that at certain times of the day for a short period, so I didn’t get to go in. I finally tore myself away from the Piazza del Duomo and started to make my way back towards the station. It was already after 7pm and the sun was beginning to set. I had been walking for hours and needed some food!! But first, as I passed the open doors of the Chiesa dei Santi Michele I couldn’t resist popping in for a look. Goodness gracious. I’m sure that if the Catholic Church organisation sold all the paintings and gold and silver treasures that fill their churches they could solve world poverty at a stroke. It’s just too much! Seriously. But hey, meanwhile, I loved seeing all these beautiful places.

Chiesa dei Santi Michele

Chiesa dei Santi Michele, Florence, Italy

From there I headed towards the river…the evening was so gorgeous I wanted to see another Tuscan sunset…while standing at the bridge looking downstream I saw what looked like a group of people walking on water. After all the churches I had visited during the day, I would not have been one bit surprised!!!

River Arno Florence, Italy

River Arno Florence, Italy

But on closer inspection it turned out to be a weir that stretch across the river between the two bridges. A brilliant optical illusion.

the weir stretching across the River Arno in Florence

the weir stretching across the River Arno in Florence

Of course this needed closer observation so after walking around a bit, and crossing over to the opposite bank I finally found where I could access the lower reaches of the riverbank and the weir. As a bonus I also discovered some of the old city walls.

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City Walls in Florence

The list of Project 101 discoveries was growing!!

I walked along the river till I reached the weir and after a bit of climbing and unsteady walking, watching my step on uneven cobbles and concrete, I too was ‘walking on water’. The water level was lapping the edge and a misstep would have seen me taking a swim with the fishes. Nearby a group of gorgeous giggling girls having a celebration asked me to take a their photo…of course!! Then they did some for me 🙂 Turns out it was the birthday of one of them and I took delight in telling them that it was mine the very next day!! I got to eat a slice of heavenly chocolate cake while standing on a weir in the middle of the River Arno in Florence. Isn’t life peachy!weir 3 I took loads of photos….surprise!!! I sometimes wish I could just take one photo of any one place and be satisfied. As if!! LOL

By now it was getting quite dark, the sun had slipped behind the horizon and I had some exploring to do.  I walked back towards the old walls I had seen earlier and left the city for the suburbs, but not for long. Just to have a look. Then following the wall I walked along just looking and enjoying the night, it was sublime. I found a convent, Chiesa e Convitto di San Francisco de Sales established in 1700, now a girls boarding school.

I meandered along, the light fading and the night drawing in, just loving being alone and on my own with not a soul in the vicinity who knows me. Marvellous. I love the anonymity of travel. By now I was HUNGRY!!! It was 8pm and I hadn’t eaten a thing since 10:30 at Caffe Dei Fossi. Right find me a trattoria. I really wanted to eat at a traditional eatery, so scanning the streets I walked and walked…..finally I found just what I was looking for……Trattoria Dante – perfect!!!

Trattoria Dante, Florence, Italy

the Convent top left, empty streets, Trattoria Dante, Florence

I, without further ado, entered, found a table and by 8:30pm I was tucking into a most delicious pizza…yum yum yum!!!

An hour later I was on the streets again and heading back to the apartment. The night was wonderful, Florence looked so pretty all lit up and I so enjoyed my walk through the now much quieter streets.

The River Arno, streets at night, my square, Chiesa Santa Maria Novella

The River Arno, streets at night, my square, Chiesa Santa Maria Novella

I was tempted to go have another look at the cathedral nut managed to resist…I had an early start on the morrow….a visit to San Gimignano for my birthday. Yayyy. Besides which, my bed was waiting – 12.5 hours after I set off in the morning it was time for sleep. Goodnight.

my bed...calling me

my bed…waiting for me

Connect with me on instagram as I continue my travels. I’ll be writing about San Gimignano in due course; come back soon.

Website links you may interested in:

Dante’s House

Badia Fiorentina

Chiesa di San Fillipo Neri

Bartolucci

Cattedrale di Santa Maria del Fiore

More on the cathedral

Baptistery of St John

 

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The title may be a bit misleading; ‘one day in Florence’, because I was there for 7 days in total, 3 days of which I used to take days trips to San Gigmignano (via Poggibonsi), Siena and Lucca. But today (22/04/17) was my first full day in Florence and I was ready to explore!

the wonderful streets of Florence

the wonderful streets of Florence

Quite tired from all the travel, and extensive walking I had done in Pisa I slept in, had a leisurely cup of tea in bed with a biscuit, then up and dressed and by 09:30 I was out the door. I avoided going down in the lift, I just didn’t trust it really (although by the time I got back in that evening 9.5 hours later, I didn’t have any such qualms!! After all the apartment was on the 3RD FLOOR!!! LOL

one day in florence

the hood where I stayed; gorgeous weather! Love the street names; Via Ventiquattro Maggio – sounds so romantic

The day had dawned bright and blue; such blue skies on a regular basis…what bliss! I took a photo of the street where I was staying just so I’d have some reference for my return, and with mapmywalk on I set off at a brisk pace – I had a city to explore.  By now of course I knew my way, and within 25 minutes I was back at the train station. (platform 16 led down to the street next to the fort where the buses congregate, and is enroute to where I was staying – in case you wondered 😉 )

Before too long I was back in front of the wonderful Santa Maria Novelle Church, and couldn’t believe my eyes at the crowds! By now, feeling a tad peckish, I looked around for somewhere to eat. To my delight I found a tiny little cafe just a few minutes walk from the church piazza; Caffe Dei Fossi which then became my first stop every morning I was in Florence.

one day in florence

Santa Maria Novella, scenes of the square and Caffe Dei Fossi

Una cappucino e croissant, mille grazie 🙂 See I can speak Italian hahahaha Just don’t answer me in Italian….. Actually jokes aside, their croissants were A.MAZ.ING!! Filled to bursting with pistachio creme or Nutella (OMG!!) or custard creme, the next day I had 2 instead of just one. Btw, this cafe was excellent value for money. One cappucino and a croissant = 2 euro!!! Wow. Highly recommend. Of course, as I was soon to learn, they don’t do ‘grande’ in Italy!! I suspect that the selection of sizes that we get in USA & UK are a popular American coffee chain’s (no names mentioned) marketing ploy to make bigger profits. So yeah, no grande, but we did eventually agree on a bigger glass cup for an extra 0.50 cents.

Moving on. After the heavenly delight of the croissant I set off for the river.  I had thankfully found the direct route and now I reached it within a few minutes. Oh how beautiful it is.

one day in florence

the River Arno, Florence on a stunning day looking downstream. looking upstream = clouds!! and behind me, looking different to last night, what became ‘my point of reference’ – Piazza Carlo Goldoni

My curiosity was piqued by a tower I could see ‘towering’ above the buildings that lined the banks of the river on the opposite side so putting on my navigating hat I set off. I seldom use any form of map or GPS, preferring instead to get lost…hahaha. But oh the places I found on my meanderings. But first I made my way upstream towards the Ponte Vecchio. I was keen to see if I felt differently about my impressions from the previous night….sadly I didn’t 😦 Ohhhh, such a disappointment. It’s a lovely enough bridge, but nothing at all that I was expecting. Lined with gold and silver and jewellery stores, it just seemed…ordinary really. The centre of the bridge is terrific, quite beautiful really and the ‘shops’ that make up the rest of the bridge are quite intriguing. But I have to say that it wasn;t at all what it looks like in photos. Perhaps the photos have been photoshopped!!

ponte vecchio florence

The world-famous Ponte Vecchio that bridges the River Arno in Florence, Italy

Now, if we were talking about the view…….well, what more could you want? Stunning.

river arno florence

stunning view downstream of the River Arno from the Ponte Vecchio in Florence, Italy

Still, here I was, in Florence standing in front of one of the most famous bridges in the world, so without further ado I crossed over and into the maze of streets beyond. Oh how I love the architecture in Italy. They really have got the colour scheme and shabby chic down to a T!!. Stunning.

florence italy

shabby chic. I adore the architecture in Italy. France is lovely, elegant and cold, but Italian architecture feels like a warm embrace.

I made my way through the streets, meandering here and there. I love the scooters that whizz by…so Italy. The buildings are enchanting, and so very old. Oh the stories they could tell. Eventually I found myself at the edge of a massive piazza and realised I had found the church with the dome I had noticed earlier further down the river. This turned out to be the fabulous Chiesa di Santa Maria del Carmine.

piazza del carmine and santa maria del carmine

Piazza del Carmine and the Santa Maria del Carmine Church which belongs to the Carmelite order. Est 1296 it suffered a devastating fire in 1771. Now restored.

I bought a ticket to see the Cappella Brancacci; a small chapel within the Santa Maria del Carmine Church, with absolutely no idea what it was I was about to see. Wow, sometimes it pays to just not know. That way you form no perceptions. Breath-taking, mesmerising, exquisite…oh I could list so many superlatives, but none of them would come close to describing the sheer beauty of these frescoes…

The Brancacci Chapel in Santa Maria del Carmine

The Brancacci Chapel in Santa Maria del Carmine, Florence, Italy

I spent ages here just looking. So much detail, such beauty. Amazing. I have inserted a link here to their official website which gives you more details, opening times and cost. I can highly recommend that you visit if in Florence, especially if you enjoy the exquisite art of the old masters. These are quite simply exquisite. Besides the chapel, there is the evocative Room of the Last Supper just off the courtyard….

santa maria del carmine florence the last supper

Room of The Last Supper by Alessandro Allori – Santa Maria del Carmine, Florence.

The rest of the church’s interior is just beautiful. There was a service going on while I was there and sadly I missed visiting. Nonetheless what I could see was wonderful.

the painted dome and interior of Santa Maria del Carmine, Florence

the painted dome and interior of Santa Maria del Carmine, Florence

At last I tore myself away and set off back through the streets and along the riverbank back towards the Ponte Veccho.

the streets of florence italy

strolling the streets of Florence in Italy

When I got there I spent a short time walking around in a circle (yeah I know LOL) and kinda like north, south, east, west which way should I go? I eventually settled on up!! Never one to take the easy route to wherever it was I was going, I started waking along Costa S. Giorgio and street the went up and up and up and up some more!! Whew!!

exploring florence italy

as I climbed higher and higher, little did I know what I was to discover at the top…ever heard of the Baboli Gardens? LOL I hadn’t….

With absolutely no idea of what I would find, as my feet took me further and further until suddenly there before me was Forte di Belvedere!

fort belvedere florence

The Forte di Belvedere or Fortezza di Santa Maria in San Giorgio del Belvedere (often called simply Belvedere) is a fortification in Florence, designed & built by Bernardo Buontalenti over a 5-year period, between 1590 & 1595, by order of Grand Duke Ferdinando I de’ Medici

Well well well. Who knew. I guess it makes sense to do real proper research before visiting instead of a cursory sweep of ‘things to do in Florence’….however, I find it thrilling to discover these places by accident! What I was discovering more and more was the influence of the Medici family on Florence in particular and how far-reaching their empire.  I remember learning about the Medici in school, so it was fascinating to be finding these places….little did I know what was just around the corner…..

Palazzo Pitti - home of the Medici family

Palazzo Pitti – home of the Medici family – The House of Medici was an Italian banking family, political dynasty and later royal house that first began to gather prominence under Cosimo de’ Medici in the Republic of Florence during the first half of the 15th C

The Baboli Gardens and the Palazzo Pitti. A location that turned out to be not only the home of the Medicis but is listed as a UNESCO World Heritage site, OMG!!! I was thrilled when I discovered that. Now I could add another UNESCO site to Project 101…Bonus!!!!

Come this way as I show you more about Palazzo Pitti and the Medici….post to follow soon.

P.s. if you’d like to follow my travels around the UK and Europe, connect via instagram and say hello.. My next adventure is Belfast and the Giant’s Causeway in Co. Antrim. N.Ireland.

 

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Finally, and with great difficulty, I tore myself away from Pisa. Collecting my bag from the Pensione Helvetia (where quite frankly I could easily have stayed…I love it so much), I said goodbye to the cat and started my walk to the station.

pensione helvetia pisa italy

the house cat at Pensione Helvetia

It’s a mere 25-30 minutes walk and although Michel had said I should get the bus, there was no way I was going to pass up the opportunity for another walk through the streets of Pisa 🙂 So much to see!!

a walk through the streets of Pisa

a walk through the streets of Pisa

First I walked past the Piazza de Miracole to say my good byes to the Tower (gosh I really love that building!) and then heading south (I think) I made my way to the river and onto the station. The buildings in Pisa are so beautiful. Worn and tatty with paint peeling, shutters loose on their hinges, the plaster falling off the walls in chucks, it has the aura of an ancient Dowager, her beauty fading as she ages, the creams and lotions she applies no longer hiding the sagging lines of her skin.  But oh how pretty she is with her gaily decorated walls and flower boxes filled to the brim with brightly coloured flowers dancing in the breeze. I was truly enchanted. Perhaps I was wearing rose-tinted glasses!

pisa italy

some of the fabulous and very old buildings in Pisa

I reached the station in no time at all and since I had already bought my ticket previously I made my way to the platform and onto the train. I love those double-decker trains. I remember we first encountered them in Amsterdam. Super cool to sit on the top deck…brilliant views as you travel.

Statzione Pisa Centrale

Stazione Pisa Centrale

Florence…I’m on my way. I was really keen to visit the Ponte Vecchio and watch my first Tuscan sunset……I was not disappointed.

I finally arrived at the SMN Florence Stazione and that’s when the stress began. The host at the AirBnB had said to take the Number 33 bus and after about 10 minutes and 4 stops to get off. Well thankfully I had mapmywalk on and I was able to watch our progress in real time….it was more like 25 minutes and 10 stops!!! Urgh. Seriously. I bet he never uses the bus. Anyway we had ‘le grand tour’ of Florence, although I was way too stressed to appreciate it. Finally we reached the point where I was meant to get off but the driver didn’t stop!!! He’d forgotten about my request. Seriously dude!! Anyway, I reminded him and voila, he just stopped right where we were, and with no further ado opened the doors and I got off. hell would freeze over before a London bus driver would do that!!!

And there it was the road where I would be staying and before long I found Number 77. Oh gosh!! LOL. I wish you could have seen the lift!!! It was ancient. You could probably fit 3 people in with a hell of a squeeze, but no suitcases. Gladly I was on my own. It’s one of those lifts where you have to first open the gate that slides back and then you have to open the two interior doors, step inside and the do the reverse. Hilarious.

The apartment was terrific. My bedroom to die for. I had the most marvellous bed that proved to be so comfortable that I slept like a baby every night.

florence italy

I used AirBnB again for my stay in Florence. This bed was amazing

Huge kitchen, wide passages and then horror of horrors….a communal bathroom with only 2 basins and 2 toilets and the smallest shower I have EVER seen in my life… to accommodate up to 10 people. The apartment had 6 double bedrooms.!! And when I say the shower was small…I mean VERY small. I couldn’t even undress properly there was so little space. Oh well. Since I am preparing for the Camino…this would be good practice. Getting used to communal bathrooms and tiny showers. LOL

I hardly put my bag down, tested the bed, took the obligatory photos and then after trying to extricate myself from my AirBnB hosts most appreciated, very useful and kind, but long-winded explanation of ‘places to go and what to see’ I finally managed to get myself out the door. Finding my way back to the station was easy peasy. It was no more than a 20 minute walk and fairly direct. If only he had given me proper directions…. anyway. I was here, in Florence and on my way to explore. There was a seriously awesome fort just across the way from the station, but for some reason I just never got to visit it!!

my route to the station

my route to the station

Wow, what an amazing city. Firstly, never just plunge into the maze that are the streets of Florence. They do not go in a straight line, they twist and turn and while you may think you’re going in one direction….you’re probably wrong.

florence italy

the streets do not always go in a straight line, and even when they do…not necessarily in the direction you want to go

Well I was, I did and I got so muddled. It took ages to find the river….

But finally!!! There it was. Just as the sun was starting to sink into the horizon I reached the river.

sunset  in florence

sunset in Florence – not the Ponte Vecchio

And there, just upstream from where I was standing and finally…Ponte Vecchio. Hoorah!!! I had wanted to see this bridge for ever such a long time, it was one of the main reasons I wanted to visit Florence at all.

ponte vecchio 1

Ponte Vecchio, Florence – that most famous of bridges

As I got closer I noticed that there was a massive crowd in the middle of the bridge; all waiting to watch the sun set. Apparently this is the ‘done thing’. Well, as it turned out, sometimes the dream is better than the reality. The bridge was not at all what I had expected (?) and was sadly quite a let down. The Rialto Bridge in Venice was so much more than I had expected, but I’m afraid the Ponte Vecchio did not live up to my expectations. But, hey I was there, the sun was going down and I made my way up and onto the bridge. I managed to squeeze into a tiny space at the front when some people moved off and there it was…my first Tuscan sunset. Stunning.

ponte vecchio 2

Ponte Vechhio, Florence

After that I made my way back along the river to the bridge/piazza where I had first exited the maze and this time found a more direct route back to the station. And there it was that I discovered the fabulous Santa Maria Novella Church. OhMyWord!!! I could only stand and stare. It is so beautiful. Closed by then of course, it was already after 8pm, but I determined that I would be back as soon as possible to visit it.

santa maria novella florence

The ethereal Santa Maria Novella, Florence

Walking the streets of Florence was amazing. I felt so safe and never threatened in any way, despite the lateness of the hour. Although there are a lot of North African touts around selling those ubiquitous selfie sticks and various other bits of fake tat, I just walked boldly on and with a cursory No, grazie and made no eye contact. I’m pretty good at just staring ahead and walking on. They left me alone.

And so my first experience of Florence was drawing to an end as the day turned into night. How thrilling to finally be here.

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So even though I had dreamed of Florence for years, first things first….there was the magic of Pisa to discover. I walked around for a while just loving being there, then on the recommendation of Michel I went to buy my tickets to visit the Tower, the Cathedral and the Baptistry. I’m sure my ticket included another venue, but I was so enchanted by these 3 places that I spent ages in the area. First on the list, at the suggestion of the ticket office, was the Leaning Tower. Whoaaa….I was actually going to be climbing that baby! I did and it was magic. The queue was short, thankfully (apparently they only allow 15 people in at a time, so the queue (timed entry) can get quite long.

leaning tower of pisa italy

yes, it really does lean at a most alarming angle

As I stepped down into the well and across to the steps, I experienced a most alarming spell of vertigo!!! Stumbling, I nearly fell right over. Grabbing the edge of the doorway I hung on for dear life till I regained my equilibrium. It was so weird and unexpected. But as I step up into the building I could see why…yes, the Leaning Tower of Pisa, really does lean LOL The interior is vast, The stairs are steep, and there are plenty of them – 284-296 depending on which site you read. But I was determined to see the views from the top and also to be able to say that I had climbed the Leaning Tower of Pisa. I think my grandchildren, when they eventually come along, will be well impressed.

leaning tower of pisa

steps, steps and more steps…and just when you think you can’t walk up any more, yes, there are more steps

Well all I can say about the views from the top is just wow!!!! Built as a free-standing bell tower to accompany the cathedral and baptistery in the town of Pisa, there are eight floors within the tower, including the top floor that houses the tower’s bells, and those are impressive. I had hope to catch them being tolled, but time was marching on and I had to descend before the next tolling. The tower leans 5.5 degrees (about 15 feet [4.5 metres]) from the perpendicular and has done for over a century.

After huffing and puffing my way to the top (albeit not so bad since I’ve been walking so much), with intriguing glimpses of the city at each level I finally stepped out onto the 7th floor of the tower. Wowwww. Pisa was spread out before me, an enchanting view of red roofs, those oh so recognisable Tuscan cypress trees; the Italian Cypress, and in the distance the gentle sloping hills, oh and a very blue sky!! Enchanting. I spent ages walking around and around taking dozens of photos from every feasible angle.

leaning tower of pisa

intriguing glimpses of Pisa and the hills beyond from the different levels

Then I climbed the final steps to the bell chamber. Just stunning. After photographing the bells I took one last look before heading back down the stairs. I was interested to note how worn the steps are…the wear changes position as you go round and around the tower with the worn part starting on the left, then moving towards the middle and then to the right depending on which side you’re climbing on.

leaning tower of pisa

The bell chamber was added in 1372, built by Tommaso di Andrea Pisano. Fantastic views

Amazing edifice. I can highly recommend you pay the price, brave the stairs and be enchanted when you reach to top. The Leaning Tower of Pisa holds top spot of my absolute favourite things that I saw while in Italy…..and trust me, I saw a LOT!!!!!!! 🙂

Next on my list was the Baptistery of St. John. What a beautiful building. ‘Begun in 1153 in a Romanesque style and completed in the 1300s in the Gothic style, the Baptistery (Battistero di San Giovanni) in Pisa is the largest in Italy’ it is apparently also slightly taller than the tower!! That’s weird. You would never guess while standing there. Optical illusion.

The exterior belies the fairly plain interior which is dimly lit with very little decoration. Secluded within this simple interior is the baptistery’s great treasure; the pulpit, a masterpiece carved by Nicola Pisano between 1255-60.
As well as this amazing pulpit, there is the wonderful baptismal font, carved and inlaid in 1246 by the Gothic sculptor Guido Bigarelli da Como (active 1238-57). In the center of the font is a 20th-century statue of St. John the Baptist, to whom the baptistery is dedicated.

Baptistery of pisa

The Bapistery of St John the Baptist, Pisa

What I didn’t realise at the time of my visit is that the baptistery is renowned for its perfect acoustics. During my visit a lady stepped up to the centre and briefly sang….magical. I meandered about taking photos, admiring the fabulous pulpit and then ventured up the stairs to the 1st level where to my delight was a space where you could view the cathedral from an elevated height. Just wow!!

The Bapistery of St John the Baptist, Pisa

The Bapistery of St John the Baptist, Pisa. Fantastic view of the floor and the cathedral

From there I made my way over to the cathedral. Now listen….if there is one thing those folks back then knew how to do, it was to build cathedrals that take your breath away.

pisa cathedral

Duomo di Pisa – Cattedrale Metropolitana Primaziale di Santa Maria Assunta

I saw so many cathedrals and churches during this trip and yet, each had it’s own magic. Beautiful beautiful architecture, paintings, carvings, frescoes, reliefs with soaring interiors, so high they give you a crick in the neck when you look up!

Pisa Cathedral; Cattedrale Metropolitana Primaziale di Santa Maria Assunta – Duomo di Pisa, is a medieval Roman Catholic cathedral dedicated to the Assumption of the Virgin Mary, located in the Piazza dei Miracoli in Pisa. Absolutely exquisite.

pisa cathedral

Cattedrale Metropolitana Primaziale di Santa Maria Assunta; Duomo di Pisa

Even if you are not religious, and I’m not, these buildings leave you feeling quite over-awed and somewhat breathless at their sheer magnificence. They certainly evoke many emotions. Thankfully we were allowed to take photos so once again I put my camera to good use. 😉

pisa cathedral

Pisa Cathedral; Cattedrale Metropolitana Primaziale di Santa Maria Assunta – Duomo di Pisa

Walking back out into the bright sunlight left my eyes watering and I would have scurried back indoors, except……

By now my tummy was grumbling and I had to check out, so back to the hotel, packed my bag, paid my bill and put my suitcase into their storage. Directed to a delightful cafe; Dolce Pisa, just at the top of the narrow road where the Pensione was located I made my way along, enjoying the warmth of a day already heating up, shadows growing shorter by the minute. Cars, bikes and scooters whizzed by and I felt like I had landed in wonderland. Gosh, I did not realise just how much I had missed Italy. My trip to Venice in 2004 was magical and I had longed to return to Italy for ever such a long time.

Piazza Cavelotti pisa italy

Piazza Cavelotti – the lovely little square at the top of Via Don Gaetano Boschi and the Dolce Pisa cafe where I had my breakfast.

And now here I was, strolling the streets, carefree, enjoying the sights and smells and noise of my beautiful Italy. I found the cafe and ordered my pastry and cappucino, opting to sit outside and enjoy the sighs and sounds…..ahhh Italy.  After satisfying my hunger I set off to meander. Oh the joy of having no particular destination or objective in mind beyond just discovering sights and places unknown. One of my pet hates while travelling is a schedule, or a deadline, or having to be somewhere at a particular time. Obviously this has it’s drawbacks and I have sometimes missed visiting a place due to closing times…..but on the other hand, I have no need to hurry anywhere, I can just go where my curiosity and feet take me.

scenes of pisa italy

early morning wander through the streets of Pisa…what a magical city.

After carefully studying the map on the wall at the pensione I made my way towards the river Arno. Oh what a sight…the most important river of central Italy after the Tiber, it flows wide and lazy as it travels 241 kms from source on Mount Falterona in the Apennines, passing through Florence, Empoli and Pisa before emptying into the Tyrrhenian Sea to sea at the Marina di Pisa. Whilst admiring this amazing river that can apparently turn from slow and lazy to raging torrent in a matter of hours, I notice a charming little building on the opposite bank.

river arno pisa italy

scenes of the River Arno, Pisa, Tuscany

This turned out to be a tiny little church; Santa Maria della Spina (“of the thorn”); this small church on the Lungarno Gambacorti, built in the 1200s, features an ornate Gothic facade with a number of statues and a painted ceiling. The name della Spina is apparently derived from the presence of a thorn, a relic brought to the church in 1333, apparently part of the crown of thorns placed on Christ during his Passion and Crucifixion. Absolutely charming little church.

Santa Maria della Spina pisa italy

Santa Maria della Spina church in Pisa and the ‘You Will Go Somewhere Else’ exhibition by Wolfgang Laib.

I stepped inside (2 euro donation welcome) to be confronted with a most extraordinary exhibition ….an array of little boats! The exhibition called ‘You Will Go Somewhere Else’ by Wolfgang Laib, featured a selection of beeswax ships on the floor. The ships are a symbol of a voyage, not not of the material body, but of but a journey to another shore. It was beautiful; quite evocative.

Santa Maria della Spina pisa italy

You Will Go somewhere Else – Santa Maria della Spina

As I stepped out again into the bright sunlight I noticed across the river, looking upstream a wonderful red-bricked ruin…just begging to be explored….and off I went.

the beautiful River Arno in Pisa

the beautiful River Arno in Pisa and in the distance the Torre Guelfa

This turned out to be Cittadella Medicea with its Torre Guelfa (Guelph Tower): this red brick building with the high tower is all that remains of the old Republican Arsenal of Pisa originally called Tersanaia (Cittadella e Arsenale Repubblicano). A stunning and beautifully evocative ruin, it looked ready to crumble straight into the river. I made my way gingerly up onto the platform with a view of the river. You can apparently get a great view of Pisa from the top of the tower, but it was locked.

Citadel and Republican Arsenal, Pisa, Italy

Citadel and Republican Arsenal and Guelph Tower, Pisa, Italy

In the courtyard is a wonderful statue of Galileo Galilei looking up at the stars…. Galileo Galilei (1564-1642) n Italian polymath: astronomer, physicist, engineer, philosopher, and mathematician was born on 15 February 1564 near Pisa, the son of a musician.

Cittadella e Arsenale Repubblicano

Cittadella e Arsenale Repubblicano – Galileo Galilei

What a thrill, I remember learning about Galileo at school about 5 decades ago!! LOL I spent some time just looking and exploring, after which I went walkabout for an hour or so

things to see in pisa itlay

Walkabout through the streets of Pisa. What a fantastic city

and then it really was time for me to think about heading to Florence, after all that was the purpose of this trip and I was already 3 hours behind my original schedule eta. I was SO reluctant to leave Pisa. It’s an enchanting city.

Pisa, Italy

Pisa, Italy

 

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Today, just a month ago, I landed in Pisa, Italy on the first stage of my #Florence2017 trip! Ever since my visit to Venice in 2004 I dreamed of visiting Florence. I’d seen photos of the red roofs, the dome of the cathedral and the Ponte Vecchio….it all looked absolutely marvellous. But the years came and went and so I dreamed on.

I love to travel to new places for my birthday which falls in spring in the northern hemisphere, and since coming to live in the UK I have had the good fortune to be able to visit some amazing places; many on my South African wish list, never dreaming that I may actually get there one day.

finding firenze

Ponte Vecchio Cattedrale di Santa Maria del Fiore is the main church of Florence, Italy. Street Art Firenze – the city’s Coat of Arms Torre San Niccolò

Although Florence wasn’t as high on the list back in South Africa as what Venice had been, overshadowed by places like Antarctica, Austria, Switzerland and Japan, it was on the list. Now I’ve been to Florence and the other 4 are still on the list!! LOL

So when the time came to decide where to go this year, I put my travel cap on and tried to make up my mind; where to go? Originally I had planned on walking the English Way of the Camino de Santiago, especially since I had not fulfilled that plan in 2016! However, once again as the time drew nearer to make a decision I postponed…..just not yet. The Camino will let me be ready when I am ready. So instead, suddenly inspired by a photo I saw on instagram, my desire was kindled and the flame burned bright; to Florence I would go! The time was right.

The amazing medieval city of Florence, Italy

The amazing medieval city of Florence, Italy copyright @notjustagranny

Before my mind or budget had time to reconsider I looked at some dates, did some research on prices/times/locations etc then booked my ticket. I was on my way to Florence! Whew, my excitement levels knew no bounds! My main ambition was to see Ponte Vecchio, that evocative bridge I had seen in so many photos on instagram and in travel magazines….and therein lies a story of it’s own…more later!

But first it was time to do some research; ‘things to see and do in Florence’. The list grew and grew, and as I researched things to do in Florence other places popped up; Siena, Lucca, and San Gimignano…now that was one place I had wanted to visit. Now I could.

As is usual when I go to Europe for my birthday, I planned on staying in Italy for a minimum of 10 days. So as to make the most of the time I planned 3 day trips: first up of course was San Gimignano, in fact I planned to visit the city on my birthday 🙂 I love to take side trips when I visit Europe, you just never know what you might find. As in discovering the absolute gem of a town; Sirmione in 2004.

travel in europe

I dreamed of Florence, and Pisa, Siena, San Gimignano and Lucca 😉 all listed as UNESCO World Heritage Sites except Lucca which seems to possibly be…

Finally with a list of places to go and the top 10 things to see in Florence, I packed my bag and with passport in hand I made my way to the airport.

As mentioned in my earlier post and due to the fact that Florence doesn’t have an airport, but Pisa does, my flight landed in Pisa. Very late I might add; Easy Jet had an oil leak on one of their engines (thanks – great to hear that just before taking off, very encouraging), and after sitting on the tarmac at Gatwick for ages we were finally shepherded off that plane, bussed back to the terminal and sent over to another gate, finally to board another plane; and eventually we were off!!

travel to europe

sunset above the clouds

Eventually we took off and landed in Pisa at 11:15 pm – 2 hours late!! Whew, was I ever glad that I’d planned to stay in Pisa that night. I couldn’t imagine the stress of trying to find transport at midnight to Florence – there isn’t any besides taxis which no doubt cost a ruddy fortune. Either that or sleep in the airport – but hey!!! I had booked to stay at the Helvetia Pensione in Pisa. So my taxi only cost 15 euro instead of 100!! Yes, that was the price quoted to someone else for the trip to Florence!! Midnight robbery.

After standing in the taxi queue at the airport for 15 minutes, finally I was next in line and quickly jumping into the taxi I gave the driver my destination, and in no time at all we arrived at the Pensione. I’d had the foresight to phone ahead and advise them of the delay so they kindly stayed up till I arrived to let me in.

The host Michel was super welcoming and friendly. “No problem, no problem” when I apologised profusely for the lateness of my arrival. He checked me in, copied my passport, gave me my room key, explained the layout of the hotel and about the hours the hotel’s front door would be open/locked, we agreed I would make payment in the morning. And then, to my surprise and everlasting delight and gratitude he suggested I drop my bag off in my room and even though it was so late, I should walk over to see the Tower. It’s very safe 🙂 even at midnight! And THAT is where the magic began.

Pensione Helvetia in Pisa, Italy

the wonderful Pensione Helvetia in Pisa, Italy

And so I did. And fell in love with a leaning tower. Even now as I write I can feel my eyes misting over with the memory. It was sheer magic!!!! With just a few other late nighters about it was quiet, still and magical. I was overwhelmed, entranced, delighted, amazed and sobbed my heart out. OMG the Leaning Tower of Pisa!!! I was standing just a few yards away from the Leaning Tower of Pisa. Never in all my years (and they are plenty) did I ever imagine I would actually see this place. In fact I had never really had it on my list of places to go??? Why??? I ask myself now!!!

I cannot tell you how magical the night; a gentle breeze, still warm from the heat of the day wafted by and curled around my body, the Cathedral; Duomo of Santa Maria Assunta and Baptistry of St. John appeared like ghosts in the night, seeming to float above the ground with an ethereal glow emanating from their walls; quite surreal.  Just beyond the perimeter of the Piazza dei Miracoli, the 12th century medieval walls of the city, begun in 1155, loomed high and dark, providing a protective aura – keeping the barbarians at bay. I spent ages in the area, just walking around, absorbing the magic, looking at everything and taking photos…of course 😉 The magic of Pisa!!

piazza dei miracoli unesco heritage site

Piazza dei Miracoli, Leaning Tower of Pisa, Santa Maria Assunta and Baptistry of St John in Pisa, Italy. UNESCO World Heritage Site

There were a couple of young men nearby who wanted their photo taken, so I had them take one for me too!!

Eventually I walked back to the Pensione and to my surprise, Michel was still up, waiting for me to return. Bless him!! I was so touched by his kindness. It was almost 1a.m. and they usually close up at midnight!! I gabbled away at how ‘bellisimo’ it all was…..with Michel just smiling and nodding at my very obvious joy and excitement. Saying goodnight was hard, I could barely contain my joy and gabbed away, but once I reached my bed….falling asleep was not. My eyes were closed before my head hit the pillow and I was out of it. Nevertheless I was awake early that morning, dressed and out the door by 7:30….a recommendation from Michel – to see the place before the crowds arrived. And oh my word was it ever so worth the lack of sleep.

Sheer magic. The day had dawned early, bright and warm; a bright blue sky and that gorgeous orb that I see so seldom in the UK shone brightly!! I flung back the shutters to be greeted by the vibrant colours of Italy! I love that the buildings are so brightly painted; ochre, citrus, tangerine…the colours of the sun.

Piazza dell'Arcivescovado Pisa

the sun rises over Pisa. Piazza dell’Arcivescovado – The Archbishop’s Palace today is the result of renovations under the prelate Philip de’ Medici (mid 15th century) by the architects Francione and Baccio Pontelli, who created the inner courtyard surrounded by white marble columns.

The Piazza dei Miracoli and the buildings it encompasses are listed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site. I was delighted at this discovery, now I could add Pisa to Project 101.

Piazza de Miracoli, Pisa.

Piazza de Miracoli, Pisa Leaning Tower of Pisa Duomo Santa Maria Assunta Baptistry of St John and the Old City Wall

The Leaning Tower was just as extraordinary by day as it was at midnight, a mere 7.5 hours earlier. I could not believe just how beautiful the buildings look by day; just as beautiful as they had at night. I strolled around just absorbing the magic. At that moment I felt like I never wanted to leave. I had fallen in love with Pisa.

the colours of pisa italy

The colours of the sun; Pisa in the morning

I did after all actually cut my stay in Florence by a day and booked another night at the Pensione Helvetia  just so I could spend more time in Pisa before I left. I’m ever so glad I did.

But Florence was still in the future, with all her extraordinary discoveries still to be made. Meanwhile there was this magical place to explore……

The magic of Pisa……

 

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The Spirit of The Camino and the spirits on The Camino.

When I first contemplated walking The Camino my head was filled with inspiring thoughts of happy, adventurous people all walking along; a merry band of comrades, climbing mountains and being amazing in their aspirations to reach Santiago. I had a somewhat romantic view of cosy alburgues, relaxing snoozes in the sun and the cameradie we saw in the movie ‘The Way’ (which, by the way, I must watch again before I go).  I had this notion of admiring locals who opened their homes and hearts to the ‘pilgrims’ who walked their way up mountains and down, along paths and through villages and towns, strolling into their chosen alburgue in the evening to find a cosy bed and a hot shower, of meals shared with laughter and fun.

And yes, this does in fact happen; the Spirit of the Camino.

I’ve read some extraordinary stories of people ‘rescued’ by kind-hearted locals who seeing their distress take said distressed person under their wing and guide them to a hostelaria/alburgue, or give them a hot meal, a lift in their car/truck/lorry to a place of safety. How pilgrims help each other out, lending money, clean clothes, toiletries, guidance and very often a shoulder to cry on. The Spirit of the Camino.

The Camino is also, by all accounts, tough!! Some people die. The spirits on the Camino.

There is also the dark side, a little of which we saw in The Way. People die on the Camino. People start walking and never reach their goal; their journey cut short by the grim reaper. The reasons are many: heart failure, complications from surgery, falling off a mountain, falling off their bikes (those who cycle) and some die from traffic accidents; knocked over by trucks or cars. Some people start the walk in the hopes that they will reach Santiago, but knowing that they likely won’t. It’s their final walk. Some people have reached the steps of the cathedral only to drop down dead right there at the last step.

And then there those that are murdered. Wow, I can tell you when I discovered that last year…. it came as one hell of a shock to me. The prospect of dying on the Camino had never entered my head!! I learned about this quite by accident last year when I first joined the Camino forum on Facebook. It literally took the wind out of my sails. Just a simple post to say that she, the person who made the update, had laid a stone on the cairn for Denise Theim, an Arizona lass who had disappeared while walking.  If you have the stomach for it you can read about it here.

I immediately set about investigating the story and that lead me to the reports of her disappearance, death and the eventual discovery of her body. The perpetrator as per the above article has since been captured and tried, soon to be incarcerated.

But what startled me most of all was reading the many stories of people who have died on The Camino. I often see photos on the facebook groups of memorials to people from across the world, both young and old who never left The Way; the spirits on The Camino.

I often think about these people now as I prepare for my Camino in September and of course the thought crosses my mind. Will I die while walking? Of course I have no idea, that is, as they say, and depending on which religious or spiritual belief your follow, determined by fate or the book of life…..your death predetermined before you are even born. Not sure I believe that notion, but there it is.

I have to say that it does bother me a lot. The f.e.a.r. presents itself in many ways, and I am in constant conflict with the emotions that arise from these thoughts. My daughter is getting married next year and I will be walking her down the aisle, guiding her to the man she loves, watching as she and he join their hands and lives in marriage and walk into a new future. I would be devastated if by dying on the Camino I caused her any pain and spoiled her special day by not being there. Although I’m sure she would kick my ass for saying that!! 😉  Mind you, she’s already advised me that she would be seriously pissed off with me if I die while walking. LOL We have discussions about this from time to time. About the reality of death.

I’ve questioned myself over and over. Am I being selfish? Am I not putting her happiness first instead of my selfish desire for adventure? Should I have waited till after the wedding…? I did contemplate that.

See what I mean? FEAR – false evidence appearing real. It manifests on a daily basis and gives me palpitations – and I haven’t even started yet!!!

But after many talks and encouragement from her I went ahead and booked my ticket. Not because we are fatalistic in any way, not because we discussed it in depth and not because I have a flippant answer “it won’t happen to me” (I don’t believe in making promises like that!), but because life is life. I could just as easily step off a pavement in my day to day life and get run over by a car or bus…. I could get knocked over on the many walks I take in my day to day life, some of which are along narrow country roads where cars whizz by at 80 kms p.h. leaving dust and a shivering wreck of a walker in their wake. Or I could contract one of hundreds of diseases that abound and die anyway.

So should I not go on this walk? Should I allow the fears to win? Or should I grasp life and go anyway. Well since I’ve already booked my ticket, obviously so far, that is what I will be doing.

But it still doesn’t stop me from thinking about the people who do die. I’m sure it must be absolutely devastating for their families. I can’t imagine what it must be like for them to receive the news. I have read of one Mother whose daughter died before they started their Camino. She will be taking her daughter’s ashes along with her to distribute at special places along The Way. God, I can’t even imagine how hard that would be.

I was doing some research this morning and found this blog https://gabrielschirm.com/2016/08/22/deaths-on-the-camino-de-santiago/

Gabriel gives a number breakdown of the more recent deaths on the Camino. It’s not a macabre list, just a matter of fact observation that yes, people do die while walking the Camino.

I also found this amazing blog; a beautifully compiled memorial to Camino pilgrims who have died on the way – some on their first day, others as they completed their walk.

http://amawalker.blogspot.ie/2016/12/memorials-to-pilgrims-who-died-on-camino.html

It makes a sobering read. The spirits on the Camino.

So again it brings me back to the age-old question! Should I or should I not? F.E.A.R. But as mentioned earlier I’ve already booked my plane ticket for this year, booked and paid for some of the accommodation, bought the backpack, the badges, the clothes and equipment, the books…..and so on. And with my daughter’s blessing, I will walk the Portuguese Coastal Route in September.  I certainly plan to discover the Spirit of the Camino; but I have no plans to become a spirit on the Camino. And yes, despite the fear, I am excited 🙂

 

 

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“The journey of a thousand miles begins with one step.” ~ Lao Tzu

This couldn’t be more true of my life right now. As mentioned in a previous blog, in January of this year I joined the #walk1000miles challenge that I saw advertised on Facebook (it has it’s uses 😉 ). I’ve always loved walking and in my youth (?) I could easily walk up to 8 hours in a day, just meandering here and there…wherever my feet took me.

Since I joined the challenge, I’ve reached the ‘Proclaimer’ point of 500 miles, and of course I will walk 500 more!!

walk 500 miles

Becoming a Proclaimer 🙂

Prior to joining the challenge I had started training for my September Camino (the one I’ve been speaking about for the last 18 months LOL) at the beginning of 2016. Having this 1000 mile challenge to spur me on has been really useful and it certainly helps on those days when I simply do not have any desire whatsoever to get out and walk…although there are days when my bed wins the tug-o-war!! – mostly on days when I’ve had 2 or more night calls and I simply have to catch up on sleep or…….!!! With all the planning I have been doing, researching the route and distances between towns on the Portuguese Coastal Route, I suspect I may well reach the 1000 mile mark while on the Camino…this would be super awesome.

The last few days in Ireland have been wet and rainy, and have provided the perfect excuse to not go out! But today when I opened my emails, there to spur me on and reinvigorate my spirits was a notification to say that the Camino shells and my Camino Passport (Credential) have been despatched!

Talk about motivation to get out again LOL

Now to tackle to backpack issue. Urgh. Talk about dithering; which size to get? However today one of the ladies on a Facebook group I follow, said she is taking a 40Litre pack, so that’s me decided. I really really love the Osprey Tempest 40L Mystic Magenta (pink) yayyy. It will fit in perfectly with my colour coding – yessss, I know, colour coding should be the least of my considerations, but bear with me, I’m a woman and anyway, most of the clothes and equipment I bought in South Africa is in shades of lilac/purple…so my bag should definitely fit in with that!!! But most importantly, it weighs the least of all the bags, coming in at 1.08kgs. And since weight is one of the BIGGEST issues on the Camino; the less the better apparently, then this has to be THE one! 😉

From the website: Tempest 40 is built to be lightweight, comfortable, durable and exceptionally versatile. No matter the adventure, Tempest has your back.

https://www.ospreyeurope.com/shop/gb_en/tempest-40-17

the mystical, magical Osprey Tempest 40l Mystic Magenta Backpack 😉

Features:
– Adjustable torso length
– AirScape mesh covered accordion foam backpanel
– Base zip entry
– Designed for Women
– External hydration access
– Fixed lid with dual zippered pockets
– Internal key attachment clip
– Internal top load compression strap
– LED light attachment point
– Light weight peripheral frame
– Removable sleeping pad straps
– Removable top lid with dual compartments
– Seamless lumbar to hip-belt body wrap

– Sternum strap with emergency whistle
– Stow-on-the-Go trekking pole attachment
– Stretch front pocket
– Stretch mesh side pockets with InsideOut compression
– Stretch pocket on harness
– Top lid access
– Twin ice axe loops
– Twin zippered hip belt pockets

Not sure I will need the ice axe loops (?) unless I’m planning on climbing frozen waterfalls, which I’m not, but I’ve no doubt the loops will come in handy for hooking wet clothes to dry on the go! Trust me, when I say I’ve done research, I have! I compiled a spreadsheet with 5 columns of information comparing features/size etc of different backpacks. In the final analysis, this is the one and so I’ve just gone ahead and ordered the bag because no doubt, the ideal bag is not out there.  I could give the manufacturers some suggestions on adding some of the features from other bags….but that would likely make it quite expensive and as it is, this bag is not cheap. However since I have another 10 walks waiting in the wings for planning, I have no doubt this will get good usage.

So there it is, step by step, I’m gathering my equipment, buying the right (hopefully) items, sorting through what I do and don’t need and made some interesting observations along the way….every time I click the ‘buy now’ button on my computer I get heart-palpitations LOL.

Who knew that ‘walking The Camino’ would prove to be so stressful….before I even set foot on hallowed ground!!

On the bright side, as mentioned in an earlier blog, I’ve been following Facebook Camino page updates, reading blogs etc and besides the A.MAZ.ING scenery I can expect to see,

Arcade - Portuguese Route

Arcade, a town in Galicia along the Portuguese Way

many of the other Pilgrims experience similar twinges of fear. I guess it’s just the wtf am I doing moments that pop up from time to time as the reality sinks in and the date approaches.

So, onwards counting the days; 118 days to go!!! Whewwww!! I wish I’d stop counting the days….adds to the stress.

inspirational quotes

Sometimes we have to stop being scared and just go for it. either is will work or it won’t. that’s life!

 

 

 

 

 

 

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