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My journey started today at precisely 13:33 when I left the house in Oxted with Pepe (my backpack) settled firmly on my shoulders. I made my way to the station and boarded a 7000 horse-powered beast heading for London.

Arriving at London Bridge within 33 minutes I set off on shanks pony to visit Southwark Cathedral where I would collect my Pilgrim’s Passport

 and view the Chaucer window.

 I obtained my 1st pilgrim’s stamp 😀 and bought a small booklet featuring Chaucer’s story; The Wife of Bath 😉 who was one of the pilgrims featured in The Canterbury Tales. While I was walking around inside the cathedral a young lady wished me Buen Camino which made me cry. I was already feeling so emotional and overwhelmed at the journey ahead, so her greeting just tipped the balance. She had seen the scallop shell secured to Pepe. 😊😊 I was delighted.

 On the way I walked through Borough Market

and passed The Sentinel

before stopping to look at London Bridge and the Thames; “There are two things scarce matched in the Universe The Sun in Heaven and The Thames on Earth“.

Then once again using shanks pony I walked along the banks of the River Thames to my weekend lodging stopping briefly to see a favourite sculpture; The Navigators – seemed apt since I’ll be navigating my route to Canterbury.

After a few hours of sleep

 I walked back along the river upstream to Bermondsey beach to watch the sunset.

Then heading back downstream to Thameside, the intention was to have supper at The Mayflower Pub but it was so full and too noisy,

 so instead I returned to the hostel for tea and hot-cross buns, along the way passing another of my favourite London sculptures; The Sunbeam Weekly and the Pilgrim’s Pocket.

In all a brilliant start to my #Southwark to Canterbury walk #inthefootstepsofChaucer

Distance walked 8.70 kms / 5.44 miles. 16,823 steps. Temperature: wayyy too hot!!!  🌞🌞🌞🌡 

In case you were wondering, I’ve named my backpack Pepe in honour of my Mom. When I was a wee girl my Mother took me to see a film after my Grandmother’s funeral. In the film was a donkey called Pepe. Since I feel a bit like a donkey with my 7+kg load on my back and I’ll be using ‘shanks pony’ for 60+ miles, I thought the backpack deserved something more dignified than just being referred to as ‘the backpack’ 😉 Yes I know…too much time to think 🤣🤣🤣

Southwark Cathedral, the oldest Gothic Church in London is absolutely fascinating. There’s been a place of worship on this site since AD606 when it was a convent. A fantastic place to start my journey.

Famous people asdociated with the cathedral include: Chaucer, his friend John Gower, Shakespeare, Fletcher and Dickens amongst others.

Gower’s memorial; John Gower, Poet Laureate to Richard II and Henry IV.

William Shakespeare memorial.

Some of the memorials are very colourful and the stained glass windows are amazing. Definitely worth a visit.

I’ll be posting photos of my journey on instagram @notjustagranny 

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With just 73 days to go till I start walking the Camino I’m now getting impatient, I feel ready, both mentally and physically.

Titsey Hill

I’ve no doubt that once I start I’ll be tested like never before, regardless of how ready I feel…is anyone ever 100% ready? 

I had some extra time off today so took myself off for a final push for June, adding to my total for the #walk1000miles challenge. I got in 13.30kms/8.31 miles meandering around Titsey Hill, which brings my total walked to 658 boots on miles since 01/01/17.

 I managed quite well with the extra weight of the backpack; now at 6.35 kgs, although my knees and toes are not happy. With my upcoming 60+ mile walk from Southwark Cathedral to Canterbury Cathedral in just over a week’s time,

Geoffrey Chaucer’s route to Canterbury

 I’m guessing I’ll be finding out just what it’s like to walk for 6-8 hours (approximately 20 kms) a day for 4 days in a row with a fully loaded backpack.

Some of my gear…

I’m really grateful for this opportunity as it will give me a peek into what to expect for September. It’ll also give me an idea of how my feet cope and whether or not I need to consider new shoes.
I’ve bought a good supply of the FLP MSM with glucosamine & chondroitin drink which I’ll be quaffing in substantial quantities from next week till I leave for Portugal as well as their amazing Heat Lotion that works absolute wonders on my achy feet.

I thoroughly enjoyed my walk about on Titsey Hill today, mostly in my own, I only saw 2 people in 3.5 hours.

To climb, or not to climb…that was the question…I didn’t 😉

Here’s to my #Camino2017 as the days race by!!! 73 days and counting…

 👏👏👏💃💃💃👣👣👣 I took this photo on my birthday in San Gimignano. Can’t believe that was over 2 months ago!!! 💖💖 

If you’d like to follow along on instagram; @notjustagranny – these are some of the hashtags I’ll be using. #PostcardsfromPortugal #walk1000miles #caminoportuguese #PortugueseCoastalRoute #SantiagodeCompostela #SouthwarktoCanterbury #inthefootstepsofChaucer #practicewalk #pilgrimsway #traveldiaries #ospreypacks #MysticMagenta 

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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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