Friday, 24 January 2014

Tuscany gem

I thought I'm done but I couldn't really sign off on Tuscany without mentioning our accommodation during that amazing week.  Thanks to a referral from a friend, we stayed at a 14th century villa which used to be part of a country residence.  This is a real gem.  

The Castello di Pastine sits on an estate atop a ridge that gave us some of the most amazing views of the country side near Barberino Val D'Elsa.  One magical morning, the towers of San Gimignano emerged from the fog that had rolled in overnight.   You can see that incredible view below.  It was like fairyland.

The living area of our villa - the dining room used to be the bread baking oven!

The lovely terrace outside from where we could see San Gimignano

 Our villa had its own entrance gate and was located in the lower part of the estate but within a short walking distance of the main complex - a group of renovated apartments around the main courtyard.  One of our party stayed in one of the second floor apartments that had its own private terrace - almost the size of the apartment.  They also had a professional kitchen, as you can see. This was where we had the professional chef Giuseppina of the Cucina Giuseppina cook for us. She also gave us a cooking lesson before dinner. What a treat! 

This terrace is higher than the one in front of our villa and is shared by the group of apartments in the upper compound.  Gorgeous views from here too.

The swimming pool area - each apartment has its own area around the pool

Nice view from the hot tub

Well-kept grounds

Gorgeous sunsets!
I'd come back any time.  Thanks, Nancy!

Thursday, 23 January 2014

Florence - Two more on the last day

It poured on our last day in Florence, so we spent a whole morning at the Bargello, the oldest public building in Florence.  This used to be a palace for the chief magistrate in the 13th century, then it housed the police chief in the 16th century and was a prison - executions used to take place in the yard. Now it's an art museum, and a good one, well worth the time. It housed important works by Michelangelo, Donatello and Giambologna - all very enjoyable.

The courtyard of the Bargello with a well in the centre

Bacchus and a faun - one of my personal favourites

Gemito's Fisherboy - quite out of place here surrounded by Greek gods...but interesting nevertheless

and I don't know what to make of this...

This one's in the outdoor arcade - can't be anything too important, although I could be wrong

What an amazing dress!

Walking in the rain can be pretty tiring, we went home for a late lunch and a nap - that's the wonderful thing about living right in town.   We made it to the Santa Croce Cathedral just before the last entry.
We took the shot below from the Bardini Gardens the day before - see how huge the church is.  It is supposed to be the largest Franciscan church in the world and the interior is relatively austere as was typical of Franciscan churches.

The 19th century marble facade was the work of Jewish architect Niccolo Matas who managed, interestingly enough, to work a prominent Star  of David into the facade!


A dramatic John the Baptist at the Baptismal font

The tree of life inside the refectory

The beautiful inner cloister built by Brunelleschi

A leather school is housed inside what used to be the dormitory for the monks - goods made are in the adjacent leather shop 

the 19th century clock tower and the outer cloisters

Good night and good bye to Florence...

It took me 3 months to finish blogging about this 3 week trip!  Next stop:  South-east Asia...

Tuesday, 21 January 2014

Florence - Pitti Palace and the Ponte Vecchio

The Pitti Palace is huge, as you can see below - we could have spent a whole day in here.  No pictures allowed in most rooms and it was really tough to abstain as some of the exhibits were really stunning, especially the ivory exhibit.  The carvings were so exquisite I was dying to capture some of them - alas the guards were vigilant.  

Love the colours and patterns on this piece of embroidery

 A most exquisite pearl pendant

 An elegant art deco pin

What a stunning dress!  One of many in the Costume Gallery

Square in front of the Pitti Palace - great place to hang out 

The Pitti Palace is only a short walk from the Ponte Vecchio on the south side of the Arno.  It is quite interesting though while there were hordes of tourists on the bridge and on the north side of the river, they didn't seem to go much farther than the Ponte Vecchio.  I suspect many came just to walk back and forth on the bridge - obviously some shopped but most just gawked.   The jewelry price on the bridge seemed quite reasonable but the other tourist goods in the shops close to the bridge were much more expensive.  I noticed panna forte and porcini selling for double the price we paid in Siena.

The bridge, however, is very picturesque, rain or shine, day or night...

Monday, 20 January 2014

Florence - Gardens

The first (and only) sunny day we had in Florence, we went out to the Boboli Gardens next to the Pitti Palace.  It's an impressive 16th century formal garden laid out on the hills beside the Palace.  Full of sculptures and fountains and various gardens, it is more like an outdoor museum.  There was apparently no natural water source nearby and water had to be delivered from the Arno down below - a lot of engineering required for what was then a private garden.  We spent a good part of the day in the garden and the neighbouring Bardini Gardens (on the same ticket).  The Bardini is smaller but similarly filled with sculptures.  I prefer the Bardini - it's more intimate and seems to have more character.

View of the Boboli Gardens amphitheatre from the Pitti Palace

The Neptune Fountain - the sculpture was originally carved for a chariot 

The panoramic view of Florence from the top of the garden

The Bardini Gardens is adjacent to the Boboli affording many panoramic views of Florence

I like this bronze by sculptor Giobbe, 1934

The Bardini has a more intimate setting for its sculptures and fountains

We enjoyed this panoramic view of the city lunching on a terrace in the Bardini - you can see the Santa Croce Cathedral to the right.

We walked back to the Barboli after lunch and saw some more statues - some of them with strange poses.
A renaissance sculpture with a tai chi pose?  The ironical explanation is that this is an allergorical statue of Modesty, defending her virtue in a self-defense pose while losing half her clothing...hilarious!

Beautiful sculptures inside the grotto Venus behind Paris and Helen - the grotto only allowed entry at fixed times in the morning and afternoon.  We missed both times and couldn't get in, but got this long shot of the Bathing Venus through the grotto opening.


Some interesting symbolism attached to this status of the Court Dwarf Morgante sitting on the turtle that's supposed to be Cosimo the Medici.  Cosimo's motto - festina lente (more haste less speed0, hence the turtle

View from the garden outside the Porcelain Museum

A Meissen basket inside the museum

First time I'd seen a horse chestnut - there were plenty in the garden

Oceanus pouring water into the gigantic granite basin that represented the ocean.

End of a long day