Posted by: Debra Kolkka | September 24, 2021

Carlo the blacksmith

My friend Erica,from Sapori e Saperi, took me to meet Carlo Galgani, the amazing blacksmith in Pescaglia. He works inside a stone building filled with the tools and machinery built over the centuries by his family, a long line of iron workers. The forge in this building began in 1794, but Carlo’s family have been blacksmiths since the mid 1500s.


This ironworks is still powered by water, one of very few still operating with this system. It uses something called tromba del vento or tromba idroeolica. A canal brings water to a pool above the building and it drops down a pipe, which somehow (don’t ask me) brings air to the charcoal fire and powers the machinery. I did look it up on Wikipedia, but it was in complicated Italian. I invite you to find more information.

It was a pleasure to meet this engaging character who was delighted to show us is creations and the tools used to make them. He is much more than a blacksmith, he is theatre, and I love his hat.

 

He took us outside to show us the pipe for the water and where it enters the building.



 

The workshop is a treasure trove of wonderful iron things. It reminded me in a small way of my grandfathers’ workbenches. They were both carpenters and I loved to play with the vices and tools on those benches. One grandfather had a macadamia nut tree and the vice came in handy for cracking those tough nuts.

Anyone interested in gadgets, tools and bits of iron could get lost here for hours.

 


Carlo was happy to lead us through the making of a pizza paddle.



At one point a machine wasn’t working, even after being hit by a hammer, which usually fixes everything. We offered to go for a short walk to give him time to sort it out.

We walked up behind the workshop to see the canal which brings the water to the pipe and further up the track leading to the creek.

 



By the time we got back everything was operating as it should and the demonstration continued.

 

I think it is wonderful that this business has survived for centuries and I hope it will continue. It will if people keep buying the things made here. One of our little party bought an impressive machete and I ordered a mezzaluna which will have beautiful carved olive wood handles.

I recommend a visit to meet Carlo if you are nearby. He is great fun and watching him work is special. I feel privileged to have been able to see him in action and look forward to my own hand made piece. Thank you Erica for taking me there.

All this watching made us hungry so we went on a bit further to Gombitelli to have lunch at Ristorante Lucese. We had delicious cervo, fried artichokes and potato chips. The restaurant is in a beautiful forest setting and is run by a friendly young couple. I will happily return…perhaps when I go back to collect my mezzaluna.

 

Carlo Galgani

Localita San Giuseppe

Convalle/Piegaio

Pescaglia

(39) 3465123385

 

Bar Ristorante Lucese

Via Lucese 2002

Gombitelli

(39)0584971891

 

Sapori e Saperi

http://www.sapori-e-saperi.com

Posted by: Debra Kolkka | September 20, 2021

A piazza in Bologna

I recently visited Bologna for a few days. It is one of my favourite cities in Italy and I love wandering in the historical centre to discover new things and revisit familiar places.

There is a wonderful piazza in front of Santo Stefano church. The porticoes along the street in front are filled with cafes and bars. They are great during the day but really come alive in the early evening for aperitivo.

I like to arrive just before sunset and watch the light change as people come and go on their way home from work or before heading out for dinner.

 


 


 


There are more cafes in the streets surrounding the piazza.

 


This cafe caught my eye because of the stunning flower pot in front.

I went to Piazza Santo Stefano every night that I was in Bologna and on the last night I had dinner at Pappagallo at the beginning of the street leading into Piazza Santo Stefano. I went there many years ago and while I liked it, I found it a bit formal. (Here is a post from my first visit… Pappagallo)

They now have outdoor dining so I chose a table and sat to watch the passing parade.

 

There is lots to love in Bologna. It was a bit overcast and drizzly for some of my visit, but it didn’t stop me from walking around the city. There is always time to say hello to Neptune and friends…The Maserati Trident


I have written about the food market in Via Drapperie and Via Pescheria  a couple of times. There are not quite as many stalls as there once were but it is still excellent…The food market in Bologna revisited

Two lovely flower shops are there too.


This is one of two of the remaining towers in Bologna.

Several years ago I climbed to the top…498 steps to the top

Bologna is a vibrant city with much to offer. I will return…Back to Bologna

 

Posted by: Debra Kolkka | September 9, 2021

Lovely Lucca

I probably should write more often about Lucca.  It is one of my favourite towns in Italy and I live just 30 minutes away.

Its most famous and most loved feature is the 4.2 kilometre wall that surrounds it. No trip to Lucca is complete without a walk along the wide, tree lined street along the top.

Soon the leaves will change colour and it will be spectacular. Here is the wall in autumn last year.  Autumn in Lucca

Lucca is an ancient town, but is it also a lovely modern place to be. Covid has made a big difference to activities, but things are beginning to return to normal.

Last week Murabilia, the garden show took place on the wall.

As well as an excellent selection of plants and garden supplies there were food and craft stalls. I happily spent an afternoon wandering there. I left with a few things for the garden at Casa Debbio.


Right now the town is dotted with stunning paper sculptures, part of the Lucca Biennial, formerly known as Cartasia. It is currently in its tenth edition. It began on 1st August and continues until 26th September.

Here are a few installations I found in various places around town.






Yes, they are all made of paper. I still have time to find the others.

I spotted this cute post vehicle, perfect for navigating the narrow streets.

I could not finish without a food photo. This was my first course for lunch at San Colombano, a great restaurant on the wall. It almost looked to pretty to eat, but I did.


Now that the weather is cooling and the days are more pleasant there will be more Lucca visits.

Lucca wall walking

Melting snow in Lucca

Sunset on Lucca’s wall

Posted by: Debra Kolkka | September 1, 2021

The end of summer

Summer is at an end and I am delighted. I dislike hot weather at home in Brisbane and here in Italy. I like the long days and the lovely evening temperature, but the stifling heat of the afternoons wears me out. It is OK as long as I am happy to stay at home since my apartment is quite cool, but staying home is not really what I like to do everyday.

It seems such a waste to be in Italy and not be travelling about to new and favourite places, but for me it is just too hot, and in normal years it would be crowded as well. I am very happy the days are beginning to be cooler.

I decided to fit in a swim at the seaside before autumn arrived. Last year I went to Lerici and stayed beside a gorgeous cove in Fiascherino,between Lerici and Tellaro. I returned for my first and probably only swim of the summer. The hotel I stayed at was solidly booked and I had to wait for a week night to be free.

Finally I arrived to find the weather cloudy and cool, but by the time I checked into the hotel and walked down the many steps to the beach the sun began to come out from behind the clouds out and it was a perfect afternoon for swimming.

I stayed in the water for more than an hour until my fingers looked like prunes, the sign of a good salt water soaking. I really miss glorious Australian beaches with white sand and surf, but this lovely cove has its own charm.

Here is the view of the cove from the steps to the top.



I stayed at Rosa dei Venti, as I did last year. It is well positioned near the steps to the beach and has a car park. The road along the coast is narrow and car parks are as scarce as hen’s teeth. It also has a good restaurant where I enjoyed a seafood feast, anchovies followed by a perfectly grilled branzino.

 


The next day on the way home I called into Forte dei Marmi for a walk on the pier. Clouds were the star of the day.



The main reason for my stop in Forte dei Marmi was to visit Peck, a recently opened outpost for the famous food emporium in Milan, a three level food treasure trove established in 1883. Its little brother is much smaller but stacked floor to ceiling with delights.

 


I took home a very expensive selection beautifully wrapped and tied with ribbon. I will return, if only for the amazing cheese that is in that package.

There is more on Lerici in the post I wrote last year…A swim in Lerici

Rosa dei Venti…http://www.hotelrosadeiventi.it

Peck…http://www.peck.it

Posted by: Debra Kolkka | August 22, 2021

Hannibal was here

A few days ago I went with friends high in the mountains above Bagni di Lucca to Foce a Giovo or Passo al Giovo. At 1674 metres above sea level it is the highest Apennine pass in the Tuscan-Emilia Apennines. It is on the border of Tuscany and Emilia Romagna. The pass is surrounded by stunning mountains, including Monte Rondinaio (1966 metres above sea level) and Monte Giovo (1991 metres above sea level).

On the way up, near the Orrido di Botri, we stopped to let some goats with their herder and dogs pass on their way home from foraging in the forest. They live close fo the entrance to the Orrido and you can buy the cheese made from their milk at the house near the path. The canyon is a popular place for adventurous climbers brave enough to take on the cold mountain stream water.




The road up to Foce a Giovo is known as Strada del Duchi or Via Ducale. In 1818 Maria Luisa di Borbone, Duchess of Lucca and  Francesco IV, Duke of Modena, wanted to build a road across the Apennines to connect Lucca and Modena without having to go through the Grand Duchy of Tuscany. It was a great deal of work to avoid taxes.

Construction began in 1819, starting from Fornoli (one of the villages that make up Bagni di Lucca) at the bridge over the Lima river. The road was completed in 1829. It proved difficult to maintain, particularly in winter because of the heavy snowfalls, when it became passable only on foot and even then only on clear days. It was largely abandoned in 1847.

The paved road towards the pass ends at the Rifugio Casentini. It then becomes rocky, full of holes and is extremely difficult to drive on. I think a 4 wheel drive car would be necessary. In places it is possible to see the cobblestones probably from the original road. It must have taken lots of strength and fortitude to build the road without the use of modern equipment. I feel for the people who did it.

We drove through beautiful beech forest.

The views from the road once out of the forest are spectacular. The day was a bit hazy and clouds came and went, but it was wonderful to look over this beautiful part of Tuscany.



You can see the steep edge of the Orrido di Botri below.



As we came towards Foce a Giovo we could see the stone building, Casello del Guardafili. It was once occupied by the men who looked after the electrical lines before they were abandoned because the fierce wind and bad weather made it too difficult to maintain them. My friends told me it is now privately owned.

 



There is a very cute statue on the roof.

On the pass is a small chapel dedicated to the Madonna del Giovo.


There is a gravel road going towards Modena and several paths branch off taking walkers to the mountains. You can’t see them in the photos, but there were walkers dotted along the mountain tops.

 



Wild blueberries grow on the hillsides…they are tiny but delicious.

We spotted some thistle like flowers growing as well.

There is a walking path up to Passo di Annibale, Hannibal’s Pass. According to some scholars Hannibal of Carthage might have crossed the Apennines here in 217BC from what is now Modena, with his troops and the last of his elephants.

If my good friend Tina is correct they went from there down to the Lima river and spent some time in the thermal waters of Bagni di Lucca…long before it was Bagni di Lucca. I like to think she is correct. I can see the path they would have taken from my apartment.


While we were on the path towards Modena there was an accident. A man fell from his bike and broke his collar bone. Getting an ambulance up there would be difficult and taking the poor man down the bumpy road would be painful. (I know about this) We watched as a helicopter arrived. He was carefully placed in the back and whisked off to hospital.

On the way back my friends pointed out some shallow holes in the ground in the forest. Before refrigeration these holes were dug to collect water which would freeze into solid ice. It was then cut into blocks and sold to people further down the mountain to keep their food cool. Once I was shown one I spotted them all over the place.

I am delighted I was able to visit Foce a Giovo and see Hannibal’s pass. Thank you my friends for including me in you day out…and the picnic lunch. Despite the bumpy drive up there I am very keen to go back in autumn to see the change of colour…there will be photos.

Posted by: Debra Kolkka | August 13, 2021

Dante goes to Poppi

Poppi is a delightfully named town in the Casentino area in the province of Arezzo, in Tuscany. It is about 40 kilometres east of Florence and 30 kilometres north east of Arezzo.

The impressive Poppi castle sits high on a hill and has its origins between the 7th and 8th centuries when the first wooden buildings and a cistern were built. The castle was built by the Guidi family in the 10th century. The architect of the castle is said to be Arnolfo di Camaiore who also designed the Palazzo Vecchio in Florence. It is easy to see the similarities.

It is everything you would expect of a castle. It has a tower and steep walls enclosing a courtyard with a well. The walls were once surrounded by a moat and had a drawbridge with a stone building at the entrance. It is still there and is now the ticket office for the castle.

Once inside the castle you enter a large internal courtyard with a magnificent stone staircase built in 1470 to replace the older wooden one.

 

 

I would love to have this lion at the foot of my stairs and the snake winding its way up the railing…perhaps I should just move in.

The walls behind the staircase are covered with the coats of arms of Florentine families that ruled Poppi in the 15th and 16th centuries.

Leading off the inner courtyard is the Guidi family chapel, covered in frescoes by Taddeo Gaddi, a pupil of Giotto. These frescoes date from the early to mid 1300s. It astounds me that they are so well preserved and still vibrant.

 

A walk outside on this level reveals the outer walls of the castle and magnificent views over the countryside below.


The upstairs balcony railings are impressive.

Upstairs on the first floor is the beautifully decorated ballroom. These rooms always make me want to go home and paint my walls. I wouldn’t mind the Della Robbia as well. This room was set up with rows of chairs. It is good to see these wonderful buildings being used on a regular basis.


Another room is devoted to war machines. All kinds of killing machines were used in fighting and sieges. There are the Roman catapult, the onagro, the trebuchet, the scorpion, the staircase and the ram.

Next door is a room dedicated to the Campaldino battle that took place on the Casentino plain on June 11th 1289. The scale model of the battle has more than 4,000 hand painted tin and lead toy soldiers illustrating the line-ups at the beginning of the battle.

A model of an earlier version of the castle is on display.


There is also the Rilliana library with a collection of 25,000 ancient books. The library was built after the death of count Frabrizio Rilli-Orsini in 1828. He donated his huge collection to the community of Poppi. Photos were not allowed, but it is a must visit section of the castle.

We climbed the 104 steps to the top of the tower which was reconstructed in the 19th century after it was struck by lightning. The tower was a prison and a lightning rod was installed in 1786.

 

The reason for our visit was to see the exhibition of art relating to Dante. The works come from the Uffizzi in Florence to celebrate the 700th anniversary of the death of Dante, poet, writer and the father of the Italian language. Dante has a connection with Poppi. During his exile from Florence he was hosted by Count Guidi for one year. He is said to have composed his 33rd canto of the Inferno during this time.

The exhibition is dedicated to the Divine Comedy. There are illustrations by Federico Zaccari  from the 1600s, one by Nicola Monte and  a couple of more recent works by Beatrice Goretti from 1903.

No matter which angle Dante is viewed from he looks stern. I have never seen a smiling statue of Dante anywhere.


We walked through a lovely park in front of the castle to the where we had lunch in the garden of the Albergo Casentino.


On the edge of the town on a wall we spotted this whimsical sculpture.

I was most impressed by this balcony garden.

And these steps ending in mid air.

Poppi is a lovely town and the castle is spectacular. Here is a post I wrote after my first visit… Pop into Poppi

I said in my previous post, it is worth visiting Poppi for the castle alone, but the countryside around it is spectacular…a great day out.

Posted by: Debra Kolkka | August 4, 2021

A big banana

It is no secret that I love Pietrasanta. It is just over an hour drive to this lovely town on the Versilia coast. There is a Marina, but I like the town itself, which is inland a little.

The central piazza is usually scattered with art pieces. It is a stunning piazza at any time and the art adds to the beauty and fun.

The current exhibition is by Emanuele Giannelli and is in place until the end of August.


A big blue banana is the centrepiece…don’t ask me why.

 

A walk around the piazza reveals other pieces.

Who is pulling Pinocchio’s strings?

Superheroes and their baby.

Snow White with a gun.

It is not every day you see the Pope on a skateboard.

Look who’s hiding.



A green man.

Tucked away in a space between the campanile and the church is this chap.


There are some excellent shops in Pietrasanta. Here are 2 favourites.

This shop is an Aladdin’s cave of treasures.

 

Next door is Memorie. Several delights from this shop have made their way to my home.

I have a couple of restaurants where I like to have lunch. Ristorante Quarantuno was the choice of the day. The food here never disappoints.

Anchovies beautifully presented.

A

Second course…chicken in a crunchy crust with vegetables and a Parmesan waffle..delicious.