Saturday, June 18, 2016

The old bridge

Ponte Vecchio
The oldest bridge in Florence.
Spanning the river Arno.
And has one hell of a story.

The first bridge in this spot was mentioned in a document of AD966 and was made of stone and wood.
However it was swept away in a flood in 1117.
It was rebuilt in stone, but washed away again in 1333 (all but two central piers) in another flood.
Rebuilt again in 1345.
And remains standing to this day.

 When walking across the bridge one feels like they're in a street of jewelry shops and not on a bridge.
And there's a reason for that.

After it was rebuilt, the government of Florence rented 46 shops on the bridge in an attempt to recoup some of the money the bridge cost to build.
Various tradesmen used the shops to begin with, but in 1442 the government let them all to the Guild of Butchers.

For a while all went swimmingly until 1495 when the government sold off the shops to raise cash.
Fishmongers and tanners moved in with the butchers and the bridge became one hell of a squalid and stinky place with all that wonderful industrial animal waste lying about.

In 1593 Ferdinand I de Medici decreed the place a health hazard, punted the butchers, tanners and fishmongers, and ordered only jewelry businesses and goldsmiths could have shops on the bridge.
And they remain there to this day.

In the two photos above you can see what looks like a long enclosed corridor with windows along the top of the shops on one side of the bridge.  This is part of the Vasari Corridor, also built by orders of the Medici family in 1565.

Cosimo I de Medici felt a bit insecure walking around in public and so had an enclosed passageway created to enable him to move freely between his residence and the government palace and avoid  the smell of the meat market below as well as the possibility of getting a stiletto in the neck.
Today it is an art gallery but you will have to wait until my next visit to Florence for any photos, as we were unable to include it in this trip.

The bridge had a lucky escape during the second world war when in 1944 retreating German forces (who made a habit of blowing up bridges to slow down the advance of the Allies) for some reason only blocked the Ponte Vecchio by reducing the buildings at both ends to rubble.

In 1966 the Arno river again flooded.  Thankfully the bridge survived though there are stories of tree trunks smashing through shop windows.

Because we went in Summer the bridge was utterly packed with fellow tourists and at times it was a bit uncomfortable being surrounded by so much humanity in great need of deodorant.  I almost felt I was back in the meat market days.

In the evening after all the shops close their fabulous wooden shutters, it is nice to wander along the bridge again.  There's less tourists, more room and one can appreciate the buildings and pause to reflect on the history of this wonderful bridge.

And yes - we did buy some jewelry.

Ponte Vecchio, Florence, Italy - July 2015

Thursday, June 2, 2016

Walks of wonder

To escape the intense Italian summer heat we walked through a cool arched corridor, paid a few euros, and entered the main cloister of the Basilica di San Lorenzo.

At the far end we climbed a stairway and found ourselves in 

A magnificent library designed by Michelangelo (yes - THAT Michelangelo) for the Medici family.

I was so overcome by such history that I almost swooned with pleasure rather than heat.

The spring flowers had disappeared from the garden but the summer fruit was ripe for picking.

And one had a nice cool view of the rooftops of some of Florence's great monuments.

Inside was quiet, cool and breathtaking.

Wood paneled ceiling

And interesting tiled floor.

This later section was added in the 19th century.

 Further wandering found us back at Piazza Santa Maria Novella, which I assumed was named after the beautiful church of Santa Maria Novella (picture below) and was also 30 seconds walk from our hotel.
Time for an ice cold drink.  

The benches in the piazza were much too hot to sit on for long during the day (though a few brave souls tried), but in the evening we perched for a while and listened to a busker playing the most beautiful violin music.

Ahhhhh Florence......

Florence, Italy - July 2015

Wednesday, May 25, 2016

A sunny day in Florence

Che bella cosa na jurnata 'e sole,
n'aria serena doppo na tempesta!
Pe' ll'aria fresca pare già na festa...
Che bella cosa na jurnata 'e sole.

What a wonderful thing a sunny day
The serene air after a thunderstorm
The fresh air, and a party is already going on…
What a wonderful thing a sunny day.

Ma n'atu sole
cchiù bello, oje ne'.
O sole mio
sta 'nfronte a te!
O sole
O sole mio
sta 'nfronte a te!
sta 'nfronte a te!

But another sun,
that’s brighter still
It’s my own sun
that’s in your face!
The sun, my own sun
It’s in your face!
It’s in your face!

Duomo, laneways, Fountain of Neptune and Ponte Vecchio: Florence, Italy - July 2015

Lyrics and translation to O Sole Mio here.

Tuesday, May 17, 2016

Cable cars, cow bells and the sound of music

Another day of rest was spent climbing another mountain (though this was more of an alp really).

The easy way of course.

Cable car to "Stage 1"

Where we wandered woods
and lunched.

The only sounds were birds and cow bells.
I kid you not.

We emerged from woods into clear spaces and I had a sudden desire to belt out a rendition of Sound Of Music.
Not sure why.

Another cable car to "Stage 2" for a leisurely row on a mountain lake.

It was such a hot day - and yet there was snow!

We tried to make it to the far shore
but kept going around in circles.

It was quite tempting to take another cable car up to "Stage 3" however we didn't bring snow gear and we were all a bit tired by this stage.

Next time.............

Mount Titlis, Switzerland - July 2015

Tuesday, April 26, 2016

A rest between stops

What better way to rest from two weeks in two of the biggest, most beautiful and bustling cities in the world?

Why ascend a small mountain of course.

Ok, we didn't actually climb it ourselves.
We had a bit of help with a cable car.

Lunch at the top with a fabulous view.

We decided to walk down under our own steam,
even though we were told by about five people that we couldn't go in THOSE SHOES!!

But the path was in good condition (like everything in Switzerland).

And there were plenty of rest stops.

And within 30 minutes we made in one piece - still sporting our cute natty sandals.
We looked for our unbelievers but they had disappeared.

Next, a drive to a calm lake for ice cream and a dip of the toes in the water.

There were plenty of swans of course. 

Daughter tried to make friends with one.

But he was more interested in her toes.

To escape the toe eating swan we walked on.

And discovered - well - I'm really not sure.
A monument to the Knitters Guild of Thalwil maybe?

Felsenegg and Thalwil, Switzerland - July 2015

Monday, April 18, 2016

A day steeped in history.

Let us take a trip back in time my friends,
to a fortress built a millennium ago.

Our friendly guide will show us sights

and we will see some men in tights

and perhaps the odd crossbow.

There are many rooms to explore my friends
and accommodation is quite cosy.

Places to ponder,

Corridors to wander,

However the facilities are rather - errr - blowsy.

Such merriment to be had my friends.
Laughter, rhetoric and japes.

We can play hide and seek,

 or converse with a Queen.

All over the place we shall traipse.

But 'tis not all fun and games my friends.
This place has a dark past.

Kings have met sticky ends,

Queens have lost heads,

 And a boat ride may be your last......

The Tower Of London - June 2015


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