Feeds:
Posts
Comments

Posts Tagged ‘writing’

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.

Slide1Slide2Slide5Slide3Slide6Slide4Slide7Slide8Slide11Slide9Slide12Slide14Slide16Slide13Slide15Slide21Slide18Slide10Slide20Slide22Slide17Slide19Slide23Slide24Slide28Slide27Slide25Slide26Slide33Slide34Slide29Slide37Slide30Slide36Slide38Slide39Slide42Slide44Slide48Slide50Slide46Slide47Slide51Slide31Slide32Slide40Slide41Slide45Slide43Slide49

 

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.

Read Full Post »

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.

 

Read Full Post »

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

 

Read Full Post »

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……

 

Read Full Post »

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 🙂

 

 

Read Full Post »

“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!

 

 

 

 

 

 

Read Full Post »

‘Pilgrimage’ What an evocative word. When you hear the word pilgrimage it has so many meanings and connotations, different meanings for each person. You can go on a religious pilgrimage, a spiritual pilgrimage, you can take a pilgrimage to a previous home or favourite place. A pilgrimage can be something you go on or aspire to.

Since medieval times, the main connotation of the word pilgrimage has been in relation to monks or religious persons making a journey to one place of worship or another, either as a desire to gain more knowledge or in penance. Most of these pilgrim ways have followed main route of transportation; routes well-worn and familiar, travelled by many – creating routes of pilgrimage; corridors towards a shrine.

As with the thousands of people who traversed these routes, the paths used, varied over time – always flexible, always changing to accommodate one change or another. Perhaps a muddy field needed to be avoided in one particular year of bad weather and so ‘pilgrims’ found a ‘way’ around it and formed a new path. Towns sprung up along these ‘ways’ to accommodate the pilgrims who were needing shelter and food or rest; albergues and hospitals were opened, relics were discovered and distributed to tiny churches along the way and so a path was beaten to that door.

I remember my delight on discovering a Pilgrim’s ‘hospital’ on one of the many visits my daughter and I have made to Canterbury.

pilgrimage

The Pilgrims Hospital in Canterbury, Geoffrey Chaucer and the River Stour through Canterbury

Perhaps some hardy monk or another decided he needed to test his mettle and climbed higher than before and so a new path was created.  Perhaps a pilgrim grew old and tired on his journey and so sought an easier way around the hills and mountains; found obstacles in his way and so created another new path……

And yet, despite these many paths, both old and traditional or new, some still to be forged, the pilgrims always found their way to where they were headed. In this case the road to Santiago – also known as The Way of St James.

I love the idea of this, different paths for different folks; isn’t this true of life as well? Traditional is great, but one thing I’ve learned in life is that we each walk our own path. We can create new traditions. Nothing is original. If we went back in time to when St James first walked and preached the gospels in Spain, the paths he travelled along then are probably very different to what they are now. And after he died and was buried, then found and his relics installed at the Cathedral in Santiago, and eventually pilgrims first started walking to Santiago, even the ‘original’ paths, of which there are many, would be vastly different to what they are today. Certainly more well trod!!

And let us not forget one of the most famous of all pilgrims; Geoffrey Chaucer

pilgrimage, geoffrey chaucer, canterbury tales

Geoffrey Chaucer; author of The Canterbury Tales – a pilgrimage (journey) to Canterbury

In September of this year I’ll be walking the Portuguese Coastal Route to Santiago de Compostela, and I’m planning on following my own path with an eye on the general direction towards Santiago. From Tui I expect I’ll be following more traditional routes, but I’m not going to stress too much about the exact route, after all, it’s the journey that’s important and what we learn along ‘The Way’.

pilgrimage the way to santiago

finding my way to Santiago

Santiago de Compostela is the capital of northwest Spain’s Galicia region. It’s known as the culmination of the Camino de Santiago pilgrimage route, and the alleged burial site of the Biblical apostle St. James. His remains reputedly lie within the Catedral de Santiago de Compostela, consecrated in 1211, whose elaborately carved stone facades open onto grand plazas within the medieval walls of the old town.

I follow the blogs, instagram profiles and facebook updates of a number of people who are either currently walking or have walked one or another of the many many routes to Santiago, and I often read how they got lost, lost the path or were misdirected and again you can so easily relate this to life.

I travel a lot with my job and I love to travel in my off time between jobs, and when I lived in London in particular, people asked ” aren’t you afraid of getting lost?”. My answer is always the same…..you can never be lost, you are just in a place you are unfamiliar with and it’s not where you had planned to be. Jump on a bus or a train, look at a map, you will find you are not lost at all. I remember when I first lived in London back in 2002/2003, I had a conversation with my Father about how big London was and how much it terrified me to travel around that vast city. He replied: “just think of London as many small villages all linked together by the network of the tube/underground system. You are never more than a few meters from either a train or a bus, you can never get lost.” It changed my perception of London completely and from then on I was never afraid to go out and explore the many ‘villages’ of London; often getting ‘lost’.

As I walk the Camino in September, I will have my handy wee app ‘mapmywalk’ switched on, and with an eye on the east to my right and the west to my left I will follow my own path north till I reach the Minho river that separates the north of Portugal from the south of Spain. From there; at Caminha, I will head inland with the sun in my eyes in the morning and at my back in the evening till I reach Valença and finally cross over into Spain to Tui.

looking east

Looking east at Broadstairs; sunrise

looking west

Looking west at Florence; sunset

From Tui I will follow the more traditional routes as I traverse the final 100 kms to Santiago so that I too may gain my ‘compostela’. A pilgrim.

Footnote:

The Minho divides the Spanish Tui and Portuguese Valença do Minho, towns that guarded an important bridge for road and rail. Both towns preserve fortifications and are national monuments.

Addendum: you can even go on a pilgrimage to a famous place to see the final resting place of a King; Richard III (thanks Beth 😉 your facebook update was most timeous).

http://leicestercathedral.org/about-us/richard-iii/richard-iii-tomb-burial/

a pilgrimage to visit the tomb of Richard II at Leicester cathedral

Read Full Post »

Older Posts »