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I remember the first time I saw Arundel Castle in the distance from the train. I nearly fell off my seat in excitement. Just a quick look as we whizzed past was enough to make me foam at the mouth…I HAVE to go there. That was about 6 or 7 years ago LOL Meanwhile life got in the way and work prevailed and I had so many other places to go to too! But finally, as part of my current Project 101, I set the date and squeezed in a few days between assignments. The market town of Arundel was finally on my horizon.

the Market Town of Arundel; a Domesday Book village

the Market Town of Arundel; a Domesday Book village

Oh my gosh, my excitement as we chuffed into town knew no bounds. I had booked accommodation via AirBnB and my host very kindly collected me from the station…huge suitcase and backpack…we only just managed to squeeze it all into her car!! I had arrived quite late in the day, having come straight from an assignment so even though it was too late to visit the castle, it wasn’t too late to go see it. 🙂 My host directed me towards the riverside and before too long I was on my way.

The River Arun heading upstream towards Arundel Castle

The River Arun heading upstream towards Arundel Castle

Arundel Castle is truly a fairy-tale castle. It is beautiful; turrets, and towers, hidden corners, a moat and all thin windows; you could almost expect to see Rapunzel let down her hair…it is exactly that type of castle. It also reminded me very much of the Disney castle in Florida. Just a different colour. 😉 Just wow.

arundel castle

Arundel Castle

As I walked along the River Arun drawing closer to the town the castle loomed large on it’s rocky promontory, towering over the village and river below. You can believe that it would have been an intimidating sight for travellers of old. How I longed to be able to sail into the town on a boat…how awesome that would be. The River Arun is a tidal river which I didn’t at first realise. As I walked along the riverbank I remember thinking how interesting it was that it flowed so fast….what I didn’t realise at the time was that the tide was going out. Later on after my walk I checked the mapmywalk app and that’s when I realised it flowed into the English Channel at Littlehampton and is tidal as far inland as Pallingham Quay, 25.5 miles (41.0 km) upstream from the sea. A series of small streams form its source in the area of St Leonard’s Forest in the Weald, West Sussex. It’s the longest river entirely in Sussex.

Te River Arun

The River Arun

Within 10 minutes I was in Arundel proper 🙂 whoo whoo. Oh my gosh the houses are lovely. I passed the oldest pub in Arundel; The King’s Arms C1625 wow. I popped in for a quick look but sadly it’s fairly dull with no outstanding features beyond it’s age.

King's Arms, Arundel

King’s Arms, Arundel

I decided to walk up the hill; Kings Arms Hill which is clearly a medieval street with marvellous cobblestones from top to bottom.

Kings Arms Hill, Arundel

Kings Arms Hill, Arundel

At the very top on the hill I could see what to me was an utter surprise….the cathedral!!! I seriously had not see it before..or perhaps I did but was so enchanted with the view of the castle it didn’t register at the time. But oh my word, did it ever register now!!! It is fantastic and reminds me ever so much of the Notre Dame in Paris with pointed arches, steep-sloping roofs and fancy carvings. Gorgeous!!!

Cathedral in Arundel

Cathedral in Arundel

The architectural style is French Gothic (hence the reason it reminded me of the Notre Dame), and the interior is simply stunning. I had no idea what to expect, but when I stepped in through the door I stopped dead in my tracks, my mouth agape and all I could say was wow wow wow. Not one of my finest descriptions!! LOL It is so beautiful that you can’t quite believe what you’re seeing. Not overly ornate as some cathedrals tend to be, it’s better described as exquisite….the cream stone arches soar heavenwards to a vaulted ceiling, light streaming through the windows captured dust motes dancing like delicate fairies on the sunbeams in the otherwise still air.

Cathedral in Arundel

Cathedral in Arundel

I wafted around in sheer bliss just absorbing the elegant stillness and admiring the gentle beauty of the arches and niched sculptures and the large rose window adorned with exquisite stained glass. The Lady Chapel can best be described as serene.

The Lady Chapel, Cathedral Arundel

The Lady Chapel, Cathedral Arundel

I love these churches. So simple, so elegant, so beautiful. I stopped at the shrine to St Philip Howard. Quite an extraordinary story.

St Philip Howard, Arundel Cathedral

St Philip Howard, Arundel Cathedral

I could have stayed for hours, but I had a castle to see….I was saving my first glimpse, savouring the anticipation 🙂

During my walk I noticed a fantastic 14th century church; The Parish and Priory Church of Saint Nicholas Arundel…although the church proper was closed at that time I did explore the churchyard and planned to visit the next day.

The Parish and Priory Church of Saint Nicholas Arundel

The Parish and Priory Church of Saint Nicholas Arundel

I meandered the streets, slowly making my way towards the castle. I passed a divine little cottage; the Bakers Arms Cottage, at the junction of Maltravers Streets and Bakers Arms Hill, is a British listed building with a pitched tile roof, is timber-framed and fronted with red brick. Absolutely fabulous. There are so many wonderful old houses in the town ranging from 15th – 19th century, many of which are British listed buildings. The history in those houses is just phenomenal.

Bakers Arms Cottage, Arundel

Bakers Arms Cottage, Arundel

I stopped to marvel at the Town Hall – just an amazing building that looked more like a medieval gate than a town hall.

Town Hall, Arundel

Town Hall, Arundel

The High Street is home to a darling array of wonderful old buildings, one of which had sections cut out of the facade exposing the original flint wall and beams behind. Amazing!!! I loved the configuration at the end of the street forming a V with a tiny island that played host to an amazing War memorial. I was so pleased to note that there were few of the usual High Street chains; Tesco, Starbucks, Sainsburys and so on. Although there were a few charity shops mostly it was artisan bakers or antique stores, a local butcher and a few bookshops and of course a number of antique stores.

High Street shops in Arundel

High Street shops in Arundel

From there I made my way over to the castle entrance….To my intense disappointment the castle gates were already closed but I did walk along the avenue of trees on the perimeter and managed to get a fantastic image of the silhouette with the sun setting behind. My daughter was due to visit and spend a night with me in a couple of days and we agreed to visit at that time; wow, what an extraordinary place.

Arundel Castle, Arundel

Arundel Castle, Arundel

I crossed over towards the river and noticed that it was now flowing in the opposite direction….ahhh, a tidal river 🙂 I explored the remains of the Dominican Friary and then crossed the old town bridge.

Blackfriars Dominican Priory, Arundel

Blackfriars Dominican Priory, Arundel

Arundel was registered as a port in 1071 and by the mid 19th century the Arun was linked by canals to London and Portsmouth. By the early 20th century the port was moved to Little Hampton. On another day, when the tide was way out, I noticed the remains of the wharves sticking up out the mud. Intriguing.

Arundel Bridge and the River Arun

Arundel Bridge and the River Arun

On the other side of the bridge I noticed a now well-recognised wooden stake with a couple of discs nailed to it…hah! On closer inspection one of them hinted at what looks like a brilliant walk (?) The Monarch’s Way – a 615 mile walking trail following the escape of Charles II after the Battle of Worcester in 1651. oh my gosh. I need another lifetime LOL The Monarch’s Way is one of the longest of all English long distance footpaths. The Way follows the path taken by Prince Charles II as he fled to France following the sound thrashing of his army at the Battle of Worcester in 1651 in the English Civil War. At my current pace I should be able to walk that in ….oh maybe 41 days or 2 months. Hmmmm

I had a fab view of the castle as I crossed the bridge. On my way back to the B&B I noticed the Arundel coat of arms on the riverbank ‘Antiqua Constans Virtute‘ – Steadfast in ancient virtue. In case you’re interested here is a link to the details of the coat of arms.

Arundel coat of arms

Arundel coat of arms

I waked along Tarrant Street and noticed a fabulous old building; Belinda’s 16th Century Restaurant. A friend of mine on instagram, Pete and I had arranged to meet the next day for tea and cake…this seemed like the perfect venue, and so it was. We enjoyed a delicious tray of scones with jam and cream and a large pot of tea.

Belinda's 16th Century Restaurant, Arundel

Belinda’s 16th Century Restaurant, Arundel

I had the most perfect weather that evening so decided to walk downstream along the river to the town precincts where I had earlier notice an intriguing looking house and then home to bed.

River Arun Arundel

River Arun Arundel

After a bit of a lie-in the next day, I made my way back along the river into town and enjoyed a most wonderfully relaxing day meandering around the town, taking hundreds of photos, popping in at the antique shops, the Castle Chocolate shop where I bought some delicious chocolates and met Clive with the lovely smile, then over to the castle (seriously I could not wait to visit), then made my way over to the fabulous Swanbourne Boating Lake.

Swanbourne Lake, Arundel

Swanbourne Lake, Arundel

I had just intended a brief walk, but it was so beautiful out and the lake looked so lovely, the shady green trees inviting and since I had much time on my hands I decided to walk right around the whole lake….I’m glad I did, it was wonderful. ‘Amidst a backdrop of chalk cliffs & trees you’ll find Swanbourne Lake which has been in existence since pre-doomsday and is home to waterfowl of many varieties.‘ Apparently in 1989 when the lake dried up one summer, they discovered the remnants of a WW2 plane that had been shot down over Arundel. A German Ju88A01 was shot down on 13th August 1940 at 6.30am. Two of the airmen baled out and survivied, one baled out but die and the 4th baled out but was mortally wounded and died of his wounds a couple of days later. If you’re interested here are some facts about Arundel.

After my lakeside walk I crossed over the road and decided to walk back to town along the riverbanks. From the river, across the fields of green, you have the most amazing view of the castle on it’s hill with the town nestling at the foot.

Arundel Castle West Sussex

Arundel Castle West Sussex

I met up with Pete in the early afternoon and we had that most enjoyable tea and a lovely conversation at Belinda’s after which I walked him back to his car….for which I was rewarded with a lift back to the town 😉 After saying goodbye I set off downstream of the river once again and walked and walked, leaving Arundel far behind…such a gorgeous day.

Looking back upstream towards Arundel Castle

Looking back upstream towards Arundel Castle

After a very late start on the 17th I set off once again to explore the town and to visit the 14th century church; the Parish church of St Nicholas. Phenomenal. I’m always amazed that these places survive for so long and often remain a hive of activity in the community. The church was hosting a number of sculptures when I visited; part of a week’s events with sculptures around the town – a trail you could follow. The Priory Alms Houses next door were stunning and I was dying to get behind the gates and into one of them to see!! The Domesday Book records that a Church, dedicated to St Nicholas, existed during the reign of Edward the Confessor between the years 1042 – 1066.

Parish Church of St Nicholas, Arundel

Parish Church of St Nicholas, Arundel

I spent a fascinating 30 minutes exploring the church. There are remnants of some fabulous medieval paintings on the walls, which like many others I’ve seen in the churches on my Southwark to Canterbury walk, are quite simply amazing.

Parish Church of St Nicholas, Arundel

medieval paintings and brasses Parish Church of St Nicholas, Arundel

It’s incredible that they have survived at all. From inside the church you can see through a full-length glass wall into the The Fitzalan Chapel which is only accessible via the castle grounds and wherein are buried family members of the Dukes of Norfolk and Earls of Arundel. (we visited that side of the church during our visit to the castle).

Parish Church of St Nicholas, Arundel and the Fitzalan Chapel

Parish Church of St Nicholas, Arundel and the Fitzalan Chapel

My daughter arrived later that night and after a cup of tea and a chat we went into town for supper. It was so much fun having her there with me. We visited the castle the following day and bought the Gold ticket which gave us access to the gardens, the Norman keep, the Castle and the bedrooms.

Arundel Castle in one word : amazing!!! Sadly we were not allowed to take photos inside the castle, but I managed to slip in one or two before being told off LOL The grounds of the castle are huge with incredibly beautiful gardens you can lose yourself in.

Arundel Castle, West Sussex - home to the Dukes of Norfolk and Earls of Arundel

Arundel Castle, West Sussex – home to the Dukes of Norfolk and Earls of Arundel

We saw a most extraordinary sight in one of the formal gardens; The Collector Earl’s Garden – conceived as a light-hearted tribute to Thomas Howard, 14th Earl of Arundel (1585-1646), known as ‘The Collector’ who died in exile in Padua during the English Civil War, the gardens are beautifully laid out with the grand centrepiece a rock-work ‘mountain’ planted with palms and rare ferns to represent another world. This supports a green oak version of ‘Oberon’s Palace’, a fantastic spectacle designed by Inigo Jones for Prince Henry’s Masque on New Year’s Day 1611. Flanked by two green oak obelisks, the rock-work contains a shell-lined interior with a stalagmite fountain and gilded coronet ‘dancing’ on top of the jet.

Oberon's Palace and the Dancing Crown, Arundel Castle

Oberon’s Palace and the Dancing Crown, Arundel Castle

Arundel Castle has been the seat of the Howard’s ancestors since 1102. A snippet of interest: Queen Victoria and Prince Albert stayed in Arundel Castle from December 1 to 3, 1846. Victoria notes in her diary for December 2 that year: “After breakfast, Albert and I sallied forth by a back way and walked along a path below the castle, commanding an extensive view, which put us in mind of the slopes at Windsor. The garden is very pretty and full of evergreens, which made Albert extremely jealous for Osborne House.”

We spent a few hours meandering around the gardens, visited the Fitzalan Chapel, the Norman keep,

views across West Sussex from the Norman Keep of Arundel CAstle

The Norman Keep, Arundel Castle

where you have the most amazing views across the castle grounds, the town, the river and far across the fields. Stunning.

views across West Sussex from the Norman Keep of Arundel CAstle

views across West Sussex from the Norman Keep of Arundel CAstle

The castle is still home to the Duke of Norfolk and most of the rooms are used on a daily basis…except when visitors are about. The private chapel is absolutely astounding, the library was incredible and some of the bedrooms just fabulous. We even saw the bed and bedroom where Queen Victoria slept during her visit. The halls and rooms are filled with paintings, statues, a Faberge sculpture, magnificent tapestries and some of the most interesting artefacts. There is a photocopy of a letter from Elizabeth I and some absolutely fabulous treasures.

a peek inside Arundel Castle

a peek inside Arundel Castle

Although not very big, and easily managed in a day’s sightseeing, Arundel is chock a block with oodles of history and you must set aside at least 3 hours for a visit to the castle, there’s so much to see.

And thus endeth my journey to Arundel to see a castle. With this trip I have added to 4 categories on Project 101; which now brings the totals to : Castles: 39 Cathedrals: 27 Rivers: 39 and Domesday Book villages: 106. 🙂

I’ll write more about Arundel Castle, the Fitzalan Chapel and The Parish Church of St Nicholas at a later stage. I’m preparing for my Camino 2017 and must focus on that.

 

http://www.british-history.ac.uk/vch/sussex/vol5/pt1/pp10-101

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Over the past 18 months or so I have read many many articles and blogs about or relating to the Camino de Santiago. Most (95%) are positive and uplifting with the emphasis on sharing the pilgrimage with fellow walkers, getting to know them, sharing experiences both good and bad, sharing a table, helping others who are struggling, cheering on those who are doing well…… regardless of whether they are walking for religious, spiritual or bucket list reasons.

But every so often whether on a group thread, a Facebook page or a forum, you’d get that one person who had missed out on the ‘spirit’ of the Camino and makes an unnecessarily negative and judgemental comment like this one I saw on the Confraternity of St James’s page: “I don’t like the cheapening of the experience by commercializing it. I walked it 3 times and it was the most extraordinary spiritual experience. Tourists on walking holiday, as long as there aren’t too many, will hopefully not ruin it for pilgrims“. I’ll leave you to make your own decision on that comment.

I remembered a thoughtful post, 10 Commandments of the Santiago de Compostela, I’d read some months ago on the Camino de Santiago forum and I’m sharing it here in it’s entirety; these are not my words, but rather the words of the writer on the forum ( I’ve added the link below):

“There are many articles offering tips for walking The Camino. This selection is one pilgrim’s views and I do not apologize for any you disagree with or for not including any you believe should be included. This is my Camino:

I. Thou Shalt Do Your Own Camino: This is a personal journey and you walk, ride, crawl for your own reasons. Walk 5k or 20k or 40k per day. There is no right or wrong. Follow your heart and soul.

II. Thou Shalt Not Judge Others: Just as this is your Camino, theirs is theirs. Big pack or no pack, 30 days or 1 day, 3000k or 10k. One man’s 40k day may be another’s 5k as there are many people on The Camino with health and other issues.

III. Thou Shalt Be Humble: Lose your ego. For many this is a life changing journey. For others a bucket list item or just a fun walk. The Camino has a Spirit and she loves humbleness and gratitude. Look for ways to be of service to other pilgrims and anyone else in need. For example; offer to carry the pack for a struggling fellow pilgrim, give a hug to someone who needs one, listen and be compassionate when a fellow pilgrim talks to you. Pick one day to give back to the Camino and carry a plastic garbage bag and pick up trash.

IV. Thou Shalt Not Overplan Your Camino: She will communicate with you via signs, people, animals, music, etc.. There are no coincidences on The Camino. Be alert. You may come across angels. Anything and everything is possible on The Camino. So be ready to veer from your plan because The Camino will provide what you need. Open your heart and she will show you your soul. The more you follow Commandment III the easier this will be.

V. Thou Shalt Open Up to Fellow Pilgrims: Of course if a Camino of solitude is your choice it is your Camino after all. However, the Camino is a special place and a key part of it’s magic are your fellow pilgrims. You will find that you keep seeing the same people and very likely The Camino wants you to connect. Get out of your comfort zone and just go introduce yourself to anyone who you have a feeling about or see more than once. By following this Commandment you will make lifelong friendships or more.

VI. Thou Shalt Start and End Wherever One Chooses: Many do The Camino in stages perhaps a week or two at a time and take years to complete it. Many start from St. Jean Pied de Port, others from Pamplona or Le Puy En Velay or Seville. Some Europeans start at their own homes. While many end at Santiago, some go on to Finisterre or Muxia at the edge of the world. Some believe if you are religious ending in Santiago is appropriate, but if you are spiritual walking on to the sea is special. A few do as the pilgrims did prior to the 1900’s and walk back home. Again there is no right or wrong.

VII. Thou Shalt Travel Light: While it is your choice the lighter your burden the easier it will be on you both physically and mentally. There are many writings on what to bring and not to bring.

VIII. Thou Shalt Stay Wherever Thy Chooses: From a tent, to a municipal auberge, to a 5 star Hotel. Remember it is your Camino. Though I agree with the purists that the auberge’s are special and put one in better position to connect with other pilgrims.

IX. Thou Shalt Not Obsess About Blisters: If you read any of the books various former Pilgrims have written, many mention suffering with blisters. Just as with traveling light there are many publications on how to deal with blisters. Focusing on prevention and applying some lubricant such as Vaseline is best but be prepared with compeed or your treatment of choice. Wear shoes or boots that YOU are comfortable with.

X. Thou Shalt Have Fun on The Camino: Perhaps for some the walk is long and arduous but for others including this peregrino it is pure joy. As you begin walking each day, concentrate on your breathing for ten to twenty minutes, in and out, to clear your mind of any worries and you will find yourself in a happy rhythm. After a long hard day, if a waiter places a whole bottle of vino tinto in front of you, drink and enjoy the company and conversation with fellow pilgrims. Don’t take yourself too seriously or these Ten Commandments. The Camino shows you how precious the gift of life is. Make the most of it.

Buen Camino! Ultreia!” From the blog of www.thesenioradventurer.com

I loved these 10 commandments and plan to keep them in mind when I’m walking.

Of course I’m definitely guilty of #4 – I’ve planned my trip almost down to the minute LOL but I’ve left some days where I’m just going to go with the wind. My biggest issue has been securing accommodation. I haven’t yet managed to just go and let the Camino provide, so to that end and keeping #8 in mind, I’ve booked all the nights of my first 6 days and the last night on the route before I get to Santiago. Mostly because I really don’t want to rush to get to an accommodation by a certain time and I found from my research that in order to get a bed at the cheapest alburgues you have to get there early and wait. I don’t to stand around waiting, I have places to explore and things to see enroute. So for me, on most days, I’ve booked ahead. I have conceded though to stay in hostels in many places, to get some of the sharing experience. Although of course I use the YHA a lot so I’m used to sharing….anyway it’s just a bed and a pillow for the night 🙂

The Camino Provides - 2017

The Camino Provides – 2017

#7 has been a challenge. When I first started researching what to pack, I read that it’s best to stick to 10% of your body weight. Okay so that gave me at that time 8 kgs to play with. So once I had decided what I ABSOLUTELY had to take with me, things I REALLY couldn’t live without, I weighed everything and packed my backpack. 7.5kgs brilliant I still have .5kg to play with. Then I did my pilgrimage from Southwark to Canterbury!!!By Day 2 I ditched 1.5 kgs of stuff, packed it in a box and sent it home LOL Jeez! How heavy can 7.5kgs get anyway? I never realised the impact that weight would have on my body. So lesson learned; pack light. However I suspect this is still going to be a challenge. I’ll do my final pack on Tuesday next week and then see how I get on.

packing for the camino de santiago

Packing for the Camino de Santiago

As for #9, ahhh yes. Blisters. The bane of any walkers life. I learned a very hard lesson during my pilgrimage to Canterbury in July – I walked with wet socks and the resulting blisters were horrendous and brought my journey to a screeching stop on my penultimate day. Walking with wet socks is NEVER a good idea. So in order to protect my feet I’ve bought an extra 4 pairs of the best out of all the socks I’ve tested so far and they will be my luxury item for the Camino 🙂

This experience is going to be very interesting for someone who has mild OCD and loves to plan things down to the last item. I suspect there will be a lot of challenges ahead, I have no doubt I am going to learn some interesting life lessons, once of which will definitely be about being with people. I’m very much a loner and love being on my own for hours and hours, so it’s going to be interesting to see how I communicate on this journey.

pilgrimage

finding your way to Santiago

Buen Camino

Previous blogs about my impending Camino 2017

Countdown to my Camino 2017

Walking with wet socks

Harassment on the Camino

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St Augustine’s Way from Ramsgate to Canterbury.

The Way of St Augustine aka St Augustine’s Way – I first learned about this particular walk on one of my many Camino 2017 practice walks between Broadstairs and Cliffsend last year. Frankly I’d never heard of St Augustine before then but by all accounts he was quite an adventurous fella. I did some research and decided to do the walk.

way of st augustine

St Augustine

I’d made a list of walks I wanted to do in the UK so added this as it was quite short at 19 miles from Ramsgate to Canterbury and seemed eminently achievable.

As it turned out I actually walked 28 miles (?) and the hours are only my walking hours, not rest periods during the day. I was able to tag the walk on after my Southwark to Canterbury finale that ended on 29th July.

Day 1 : Walked 24.03 kms (15.02 miles) – 8 hours and 24 minutes
Day 2 : Walked 20.93 kms (13.08 miles) – 8 hours and 04 minutes

way of st augustine

Broadstairs to Ramsgate

 

The Way of St Augustine; my journey from Ramsgate to Canterbury started really from Broadstairs, at which time I walked from Viking Bay to St Augustine’s Shrine in Ramsgate.  I’d had some really amazing help from Hunter and John of Friends of St Augustine, who prepared maps for me and answered my questions about the route and where to stay etc.

way of st augustine

The St Augustine Trail

I’d decided to attend the Sunday morning service at the shrine and so at 07:11 on July 30th I set off with Pepe; my fully loaded backpack, heading for Ramsgate. The service started at 08:30 and I figured I had loads of time since it usually took me just on 45 minutes to walk the distance…Hah!! I hadn’t factored in the weight of the backpack slowing me down and forgot that I still had to climb the hill on the opposite side of Ramsgate Harbour and walk to the shrine…as a result I slipped into the church with 2 minutes to spare and sweating profusely from rushing to get there on time.

way of st augustine

St Augustine’s Shrine in Ramsgate

way of st augustine

Shrine of St Augustine

After the service I took some photos (of course) and then joined the parishioners for tea and biscuits and a wee chat, and at 09:44, following the map that John had kindly printed for me I set off from The Shrine heading for the 2nd of what was to be many stops; St Augustine’s Cross.

I passed through familiar territory walking along the clifftops at Ramsgate and stopped for a swing in the park…how can I not? It’s my favourite 😉

way of st augustine

stopping for a swing 🙂

From there it’s a short walk to Pegwell Bay

way of st augustine

Pegwell Bay – I wonder how it looked in AD 597

and taking the clifftop walk I soon passed the Viking Ship and Cliffs End village signboard,

way of st augustine

Viking Ship at Cliffsend

then a right turn and within no time at all I found the cross….I can’t believe I didn’t know it was there!! Managed by English Heritage, it’s free to visit.

way of st augustine

St Augustine’s Cross

After taking some photos and getting my bearings on the map, I found myself walking along secluded lanes and farmlands. One field in particular was really amazing…sunflowers as far as the eye could see.

way of st augustine

sunflowers; a touch of sunshine on a cloudy day

I had got a wee bit lost just before this as the map didn’t show the massive arterial roadway that crossed over the railway and so I missed the turn under the bridge…but thankfully some fella was walking towards me so I didn’t go too far off course. He directed me back to the bridge and mentioned that he had done this many times before!! hmmm. I also missed the crossing of the railway line, but after finding myself in a cul-de-sac of trees, I again retraced my steps and hopped across quick as a flash…I loathe railway crossings.

way of st augustine

the railway crossing I missed…

I got to chat to a lovely elderly gentleman at this point and he was quite impressed at my endeavour. Actually most people looked at me like I was quite insane when I told them what I was doing. LOL Nonetheless I was on the right track and soon I could see the spire of St Mary’s in Minster. I found the abbey quite easily. Oh my word. What a delightful surprise.

way of st augustine

Minster Abbey

Quite different to what I was expecting, but just amazing. I summonsed one of the Nuns who live and work there, and she kindly stamped my Pilgrim’s Passport for me 🙂 Of course I took loads of photos and then visited St. Mary The Virgin Church.

St. Mary’s Church, founded in 670AD is known as the ‘Cathedral on the marshes’ and is the mother-church of western Thanet. Fantastic place with oodles of history. Sadly there was no stamp for my passport.

way of st augustine

St Mary’s – cathedral on the marshes

Quite hungry by then I stopped off at The Bell Inn for Sunday Roast 🙂 A hearty meal very much appreciated.

way of st augustine

The Bell Inn, Minster

The Bell Inn was built during the reign of Elizabeth I in the year 1576 and is apparently a pub with ghosts……The earliest recorded occupant of the property is one Thomas Calfe who is mentioned in a sale document of 1611. In 1715 the rector of the parish held the first tithe supper at The Bell and in 1718 with his help and persuasion a 7 day licence was granted on condition that no liquor be administered between the hours of divine service. The penalty for doing so was a day in the stocks, a heavy fine or in some cases a flogging. In 1864, The Bell was lit by gaslight for the first time.

After a rest (I took my shoes and socks off and revelled in the cool wet grass) and the delicious meal, I hoiked Pepe onto my back and made my way back to the abbey. While at the shrine in Ramsgate earlier I had noticed that there was a Gregorian chant event at the abbey in the afternoon, so I decided to pop in. Getting there a tad late (45 minutes) I slipped quietly through the door…LOL – I only entered right next to the speaker and with a huge backpack…quietly I was not!! However, it seems I had stumbled into what was a semi-private event and there was a fee to be paid?? eeee. Oh well… But the organiser chap kindly let me off since I had got there very late and wasn’t staying for the 6:30 event at the church…which was the chanting part of the event. Duhhhh. So I just stayed as long as it was polite to do so, had a cup of tea and a delicious slice of chocolate cake baked by the nuns, left a hefty donation in lieu of my entrance fee and at 5:30 I set off once again. Destination Plucks Gutter. Seriously? Plucks Gutter??  I thought I’d have a quick squizz at wikipedia and here is their description: “The hamlet is named after a Dutch Drainage Engineer called Ploeg, whose grave is in All Saints Church, West Stourmouth. Ploeg, being the Dutch for a plough, the hamlet takes its origins from the Dutch Protestant tradition of draining marshland by creating a ploughed ditch”. I’m really not sure how that converts to Plucks Gutter…but there it is!! Although just a hamlet it has an interesting history with links to King Alfred and the Vikings, smugglers and of course was part of what was then the Isle of Thanet on the Wantsum Channel (now built over).

Most of the Way of St Augustine walk was through farmland and along streams and what was once Saxon Shore, although I warrant that Augustine would find things very different to his time!

way of st augustine

channels of water and fields of crops

Whenever the going got tough, I reminded myself that they didn’t have it any easier…I think! The land has been pushed back so far since then that you can’t even see the shoreline from that point, so maybe they walked along the beach whilst I was dragging myself through a jungle LOL

Traipsing across farmlands and recently cut fields that left horrible spiky stalks that crunched underfoot I was in danger of being pierced at the ankles!!

way of st augustine

spiky stalks…horrible to walk in this

Barring my first misdirection, I had so far managed to follow the map quite easily with the help of some signs attached to either gate posts or barriers etc…but somewhere, in the middle of nowhere I lost the trail.

way of st augustine

signs…..here there and everywhere…and anywhere

The map indicated to head inland at one point which I did and followed a narrow channel (there were a LOT of channels and streams in this area; salt-marsh works and farmland as far as the eye could see) but the crops were so high and so thick that I simply could not find ‘The Way’. I tried walking along a particular pathway, but that was making me double back and there was no way to cross the channel which appeared to go on for miles…that I could see anyway. Eventually after walking back and forth a few times and carefully looking for the pathway, I gave up and walked back to the river. I could see from the map that it lead towards Plucks Gutter so figured I would walk along the riverbank till I reached the bridge. Hah!!Great plan….or so it seemed.

way of st augustine

sigh

Firstly the riverbank was exceptionally narrow and I walked (dragged myself) along long grass with just a few inches between me and the river. Mindful of the weight of the backpack, I was having nightmare visions of falling in and not being able to surface due to the weight of the pack…but thankfully I had my walking poles. They really came into their own at this point and saved me from many a stumble on uneven ground and a possible tumble into the river. Eventually my luck ran out and the grassy riverbank ran into thickets of weeds and nettles as tall as me!! I was confounded as to what I should do. It was getting later and the sun was setting. Fortunately said sun was ahead of me so pulling on my ‘big girl panties’ I plunged into the fields of corn! Never mind ‘Children of the Corn’ – I am ‘Woman of the Corn’ hahahaha

way of st augustine

Woman of the Corn…no snakes!!

The stalks were taller than me and for at least 30 minutes of plunging and shoving my way through, I could not see anything other than green corn stalks and a faint glimmer of the sun. Walking through these stalks was eerie and a tad unnerving. I was reminded of when I was about 7 or 8 following my grandfather through a small field of corn that he had grown on their property in South Africa. I was casually strolling along behind him when I looked up and right there before me, with head poised to strike was a thin green snake! Fuck! I can tell you that never have I been so terrified. I screamed, the snake snaked and my grandfather came up with a stick and whacked it into kingdom come…or gone! As the case may be. So yeah, walking through this particular field was rather unpleasant. Fortunately I didn’t see any snakes…but perhaps they saw me and scarpered. I was kinda hoping that like Ireland, this particular field didn’t have snakes!

After what seemed like forever, with all sorts of greenery tangled in my hair and poking through my clothes, I stumbled out of the field and voila the bridge was ahead of me 🙂 Hurrah!! Only problem was that I ended up in a boatyard of some sort so had to find my way through a maze and then do some serious climbing of fences and gates. Forget the signs that say ‘Keep Out’ …mate, I’m leaving, no worries.

way of st augustine

Plucks Gutter and the River Stour

I have also learned that I can climb a gate with a fully loaded backpack in situ!! Something I had to do quite frequently on this walk. LOL

Once I reached the bridge over the River Stour it was so much easier; tarmac! Yayyy. I was in Plucks Gutter…but thankfully not in a gutter. I stopped to read the history board outside the Dog and Duck Inn; fascinating stuff!! Then my feet hit the mac and I was off…only a few more minutes of walking to be done and I would be able to have a cuppa and put my feet up, but first I had to navigate this road. It was however quite scary since the road, if you can call it that, was narrow and had no sidewalk or place for pedestrians. Once again I sucked in my breath and set off….The Sun Inn according to the map at the pub was within a 25 minute walk.

way of st augustine

You are here….Plucks Gutter and Stourmouth

And what a treat Stourmouth proved to be, lots of lovely quaint houses greeted me…although frankly I was too tired right then to be more than a little impressed. Suddenly as I rounded a corner there it was….. The Rising Sun Inn – my accommodation for the night. And once again, exhausted and dusty, but not wet (thankfully), I stumbled across the portal and traipsed across the reception area. A lovely young lass showed me to my room, and brought me a much needed cup of tea. The landlady soon came by to say hello whereupon I ordered a platter of sandwiches and crisps – delicious. The room at the Inn was absolutely fantastic. A gorgeous big bed and an ensuite shower.

way of st augustine

The Rising Sun, Stourmouth

Within no time at all I had my shoes off, my very dirty hiking pants hanging up to air, and with my feet up on the comfy couch I settled in for a bit of telly. 🙂 Exploring would have to wait for the morrow…for now, I wasn’t going anywhere except into the shower and then bed!! It seemed perfectly apt for me to be staying at The Rising Sun since one of my ultimate favourite songs is ‘House of the Rising Sun’ (The Animals). I still have the 7-single 😉

A spot of history: “Originally a bakery owned and worked by the Monks of the Diocese of Canterbury, the first part of the building was erected in 1372 during the reign of Edward III. Continuing as a bakery and passing through a number of different owners, the building eventually came into the hands of Edgar Rake; baker and brewer in 1682!! Said gentleman applied for an ale and cider licence that was granted on April 4th, 1695. He carried out some building work in 1708 & 1709 but died before this more modern structure was completed. One Jeremiah Bedley; baker and beer seller took over the premises in 1709 and granted a licence to sell liquor and named the premises “The Rising Sun”….probably coz his patrons saw the sun rising after a heavy night!! LOL From 1709 onwards till 1865 all the Inn Keepers of The Rising Sun were bakers, working the old bakery and running the Inn, except for Thomas Lucke who in 1776 was described as a ‘beer seller, baker and ferryman’. The inn was for many years also known as the Ferryman’s Inn as the men who worked the ferries across the mile-wide estuary to the “Crown” (Cherry Brandy House) at Sarre, met here.”

I was hoping to see the rising of the sun on the Way of St Augustine walk and so to spend the night at a 14th century inn called The Rising Sun is superbly brilliant.

And so to bed…perchance to dream. I slept really well that night….the bed was amazing.

Day 2 The Way of St Augustine

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Hello, you’re back. This is a continuation of my one day in Florence adventure. So yes, the Baboli Gardens and Palazzo Pitti. May I just say that if you ever decide to visit this extraordinary location, enter the gardens via the Fort Belvedere entrance at the top of the hill. It’s a heck of a climb and I was puffing by the time I got there, but what I found is that the story of the place seemed to unfold before me as I walked. To think that I very nearly, and only because I had no idea of where I was and the significance of the place, didn’t go in. The entrance fee is not really that much but since I hadn’t heard of the place, I almost decided against it. The cashier gave me a flyer on request and on opening it, my decision was made…..do go, it’s fantastic.

florence as seen from palazzo pitti

the wonderful city of Florence viewed from the Baboli gardens, Florence

I have no idea where to start, there is so much to tell and see. The Medici were a very powerful family in their time and produced Popes and Princesses. Their wealth was extraordinary and they spent it well. The interior of the palace is quite simply breathtaking. The exquisite paintings that cover the walls and ceiling; just unbelievable.

palazzo pitti

interior of Palazzo Pitti; home of the Medici family

Instead of much dialogue I’ll just post some photos for you to enjoy. Suffice to say I had a marvellous few hours wandering about and admiring this fantastic legacy left for us to enjoy from 5 centuries ago! Wow.

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In one of the rooms there’s a double padded bench where you can sit to look at the paintings on the walls…much like they have in museums…well I lay across them looking up at the ceiling in one of the rooms. It was so exquisite and so breath-taking that you simply had to just lie there and look at it. All too soon I had a few companions…seems my idea took off 😉

A seriously stupendous place. I would love to go back again just to look at those ceilings. I know I took loads of photos….and I’m really glad I did. You forget the details all too soon other wise. The remnants of clothing that you can see in the images are actual clothes worn by the Medici’s in the 16th century. Now that is mind-blowing. Imagine how fragile they must be. What a terrific heritage.

The Baboli Gardens and Palazzo Pitti are a UNESCO World Heritage Site; quite rightly so.

If you’re interested to find out more about the Medici, I have located this link. Happy reading.

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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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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!!

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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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