Posted by: Debra Kolkka | October 17, 2021

New in Florence

On my latest trip to Florence I discovered a few new things, some new to Florence and some I found for the first time.

There is an excellent new hotel called Piazza San Paolino in Via Palazzuolo, in the Santa Maria Novella district. I didn’t stay there but I visited the ground floor where there is a restaurant, fitness centre, bar, open courtyard and a cafe/deli. I will definitely be planning an overnight stay there soon. http://www.25hours-hotels.com


The Jeff Koons exhibition is open in the Palazzo Strozzi. The queue to enter was a bit long so that can wait for another visit too.http://www.palazzostrozzi.org


The Sophia Loren cafe/ restaurant and bar opened earlier this year and on this Florence visit I went there for breakfast. It is situated on the edge of the Piazza Republica in the centre of Florence. The coffee and pastry were excellent and the setting is lovely. http://www.sophialorenrestaurant.com

 

 

I have been wanting to go to Nugolo, a restaurant I follow on Instagram. It is not open for lunch so I was provided with a good reason to stay overnight in Florence. We met owner Nerina Martinelli when she introduced herself and explained the menu and the reason for the name of the restaurant.

Her family grows 200 varieties of fruit and vegetables including the “nugolo”, a variety of tomato. For Nerina excellent fresh produce is the basis for her contemporary style food. She is involved in every aspect of the business and is also a charming host. http://www.ilnugolo.com

The setting is inviting.


Every dish was a delight.

 

I found a shop called Julia B. Casa in Via del Fosso 33r. It has exquisite linens and accessories for the home. The shop is gorgeous with many things I would like to take home. http://www.juliab.com


This restaurant opposite Julia B. Casa is not new and I have noticed it before. I absolutely love the facade of the building. I will eat there on another visit. It is called Tre Merli… 3 Blackbirds.I hope the food is as good as the setting.http://www.3merli.com

The shop windows are full of winter clothes, which is handy, winter has come a bit early this year.

Some things don’t change in Florence. Santa Maria Novella church is always beautiful.

The view over the Arno is always delightful.

 

The Palazzo Vecchio is definitely not new and puts on a good show at night.

I stayed at Hotel Maxim Axial in Via dei Calzaiuoli 11. It is right in the centre of Florence, the room was great and looked onto a pretty internal courtyard. http://www.hotelmaximaxial.com

Posted by: Debra Kolkka | October 7, 2021

Carnevale Viareggio 2021

The Carnevale in Viareggio is usually held in February but was postponed this year because of Covid. A slightly different type of parade has been held in October. At the regular Carnevale the audience wanders in and around the huge floats that make their way along the street in Viareggio. This time the audience were to be seated. That happened to some extent.

I went along last Sunday with some friends and after a quick shower of rain the sun came out and the parade of enormous floats began the slow journey around Viareggio. They were all stunning and I took lots of photos. There are too many for one post so I will begin with a couple of my favourites.

A brick prison opened to reveal Nelson Mandela being released. He was encouraged to come out by an entourage waiting to catch him.




This float is crowded with so many elements it is difficult to take it all in.





The next one is all about Angela Merkel.





Other heads pop up.

There are lots of extras.




The floats are incredible. The amount of thought, design and construction is mind boggling. The enthusiasm of the hundreds of costumed people involved in the parades is infectious. I imagine they are all volunteers who must put in many hours of fitting and rehearsals. What fun it would be to be part of the spectacle that is Carnevale di Viareggio.

I much prefer the unruly crowd that dresses up and adds to the chaos of the normal parade and I hope that returns next year.

Here are some posts from previous years.

The Carnevale parade at Viareggio

The big green man

Faces at the Carnevale in Viareggio 2012

2013 Carnevale Viareggio – part 2

Viareggio Carnevale 2015

Carnevale Viareggio 2019

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.