The Retirees return to Florence – Palazzo Vecchio


Its Sunday and the city is hosting a half marathon and we are hoping to beat the crowds and get to the Palazzo Vecchio ahead of the crowds. The race is starting at Santa Croce which is on our way to Piazza Signoria and the Palazzo Vecchio. Kerry stops to consider competing but changes her mind. The pre – race queue for the toilets deters her.

We arrive at the Palazzo and as we planned there is no queue so we purchase tickets for the tour of the palace exploring the secret passages and the tower with a guide for the palace museum. We could have also visited the archaeological dig underneath the Palazzo but we have seen roman ruins.

The Palazzo Vecchio is the town hall of Florence, Italy. It overlooks the Piazza della Signoria with its copy of Michelangelo’s David statue as well as the gallery of statues in the adjacent Loggia dei Lanzi. Originally called the Palazzo della Signoria, after the Signoria of Florence, the ruling body of the Republic of Florence, it was also given several other names: Palazzo del Popolo, Palazzo dei Priori, and Palazzo Ducale, in accordance with the varying use of the palace during its long history. The building acquired its current name (meaning the old palace) when the Medici duke’s residence was moved across the Arno to the Palazzo Pitti.

The original ground floor courtyard is remarkable for its artwork on its walls its view of the tower and the statue of a nymph in the centre. The newer parts of the ground floor is decorated with large tubs of flowers.

Our guide Molloy turns up and is a 20 something US student studying Art History in Florence and doing the guided tour to fill in. The first stop is the room of the Five Hundred being the meeting hall for the city delegate until the Spanish installed Cosimo as the Grand Duke and he took over the reins of government. This is an enormous hall decorated by the Medicis with wall panels and ceiling panels to justify their importance and position. Passing from the hall we entered the palace proper. I have included my photos below. We visited the deck (altana to the Italians), saw the crest of the Medicis in the Dukes room and the joint crest in the rooms used by the Duchess. In the map room we were shown the secret door (through a map) which led to a veranda to which was later added a room for the mistress of one of the dukes who was interested in alchemy (prohibited at this period) and her presence was not welcome at court so the room included a secret panel (on the left) so she could view the goings on in the Room of the Five Hundred.

After visiting the apartments, we passed into another stairwell to access the tower. To my surprise, we had to go to the end of the queue for the tower despite having done the tour of the apartments. Fortunately, the queue was short but it soon grew as they limit numbers as the staircase is narrow and I am not that certain the tower is designed for thousands of tourists to be hanging off it. Once we were allowed to climb the 418 narrow stairs to the top of the tower we were given an extraordinary view of Florence. One of the views is the umbrellas on the Uffizi veranda and the Piazza Signoria below that.

The climb down was a little more harrowing but less fatiguing.



The Retirees return to Florence – a Walking tour


We had a disappointing lunch (some Italian bread is made stale) a short rest and then back on the road again walking back to Piazza Santa Maria Novella arriving far too early for our tour – a miscalculation of the time needed to walk and our new knowledge on traversing Florence. What to do? A sign caught my eye. At one end of the Piazza was an old building we were to learn was originally a hospital and now an art gallery. It had a display on northern art – Estonia and the collection of Enn Kunila’s Collection including early 20th century Estonian artists (Ants Laikmaa, Elmar Kits, Villem Ormisson, Endel Koks, Nikolai Triik, and Herber Lukk) progressing to impressionism. The collection included a special section on Konrad Magi. I have included some photos of some of the pieces of Konrad Magi and in particular showing an image of the previous occupants of the building.

From here we walked across to the pavilion and met our guide. Our tour started at San Maria Novella and the Piazza. This church was called Novella (New) because it was built on the site of the 9th-century oratory of Santa Maria delle Vigne. When the site was assigned to Dominican Order in 1221, they decided to build a new church and adjoining cloister. Hence the name. The exterior of the church had a curious sundial on the front of the church. The church, the adjoining cloister, and chapter house contain a multiplicity of art treasures and funerary monuments. This had been home to a Dominican order of priests and friars which the guide described as the knights of San Maria who fought heretics for control of Florence. The Piazza which was the scene of many orations by the Dominicans over the centuries but know it is an open piazza with two obelisks supported by the Medici turtles.

We moved on to Via delle Belle Donne, the street of prostitutes where the heretics and Dominicans fought their battle and the column remembering their victory. We then walked to the Palsso belonging to one of Florence’s richest families the Strozzi. The construction of the palace was begun in 1489 by Benedetto da Maiano, for Filippo Strozzi the Elder, a rival of the Medici who had returned to the city in November 1466 and desired the most magnificent palace to assert his family’s continued prominence and, perhaps more important, a political statement of his own status. A great number of other buildings were acquired during the 1470s and demolished to provide enough space for the new construction. Filippo Strozzi died in 1491, long before the construction’s completion in 1538. Duke Cosimo I de’ Medici confiscated it in the same year, not returning it to the Strozzi family until thirty years later. The palace faces the historical Via de’ Tornabuoni the street with all the expensive brands in Florence. My photos include the sculpture by Henry Moore “Warrior with Shield” which had been intend for the Terrace of Saturn in Palazzo Vecchio moved to the Basilica of Santa Croce until 2015 when the Strozzi Foundation obtained it for Palazzo Strozzi

Our tour continued along to Piazza di Santa Trinita (one block away from Ponte Santa Trinita) where there is a church of the same name and a street ensemble entertaining us with rag time music. Our guide stated this was the only church in town that did not charge tourists an entrance fee. Beyond the piazza, we passed this extraordinary shop – the original supermarket. Unfortunately, my photo also captures one of our fellow tourists scratching her arse. Nearby is a church in a small piazza which claims to hold a relic – a piece of the cross. It was closed but I took the photo. Every tour has to include the Ponte Vecchio which is the oldest bridge standing in Florence (even the invading German Army did not damage the bridge). Formerly the home of butchers and bakers (who discarded their waste into the river), one of the Medicis (Cosimo Ist, I believe) drove them off the bridge and replaced them with the goldsmiths we see today. The Duke built a passage from Palazzo Pitti to Palazzo Vecchio (the seat of government) over the bridge to avoid assignation and did not like the smell. Thank you, Cosimo. My photos shows, the oldest building on the bridge and the sundial on top, the bank below with the rowing club entrance and the Duke’s passage running into Ufizzi.

We then ventured into Uffizi with Palazzo Vecchio in the background and onto the Duomo, Giotto’s Bell Tower and Baptistry. The Cattedrale di Santa Maria del Fiore; in English “Cathedral of Saint Mary of the Flower”, is the main church of Florence. Il Duomo di Firenze, as it is ordinarily called, was begun in 1296 in the Gothic style and completed structurally in 1436 with the dome. The exterior of the basilica is faced with polychrome marble panels in various shades of green and pink bordered by white and has an elaborate 19th-century Gothic Revival façade.

The cathedral complex, located in Piazza del Duomo, includes the Baptistery and Giotto’s Campanile. The basilica is one of Italy’s largest churches, and until development of new structural materials in the modern era, the dome was the largest in the world. It remains the largest brick dome ever constructed. The day finished in Piazza Republica where we had aperitifs and a chance to chat with our fellow travellers; two from UAE from the tour industry, a couple from Barcelona (Catalan separatists), and a young woman from Bristol. It turned out the Catalans and the UK girl had both been at a conference of illustrators in Bolonga and we encouraged some drawings from each.


That was enough walking for the day so we went to our chosen bar the Beer Hall club for dinner and made it into bed around 10.00 pm.

The Retirees return to Florence – a Segway tour


. The next morning, we were both anxious to get to our Segway tour. Ever since Prague we have been smitten with the Segway. Arriving early, we found the Gucci Museum in Piazza Signoria and it was closed. We had to walk past it to get to the Segway tour office. Three floors of Gucci was too much for me. So, we moved onto the office and we were redirected to a coffee shop as we were far too early. We went around to Piazza san Martino and the coffee shop there and found the Dante Museum, an old tower house (this is the style of the middle ages) and an interesting old church San Martino del Vescovo.

Back in the Renaissance, the poor could rely on the services of a lay charitable institution to help them with the essentials of life and death – being clothed, helped when sick, and buried when dead. This institution, was called the Confraternity of the Buonomini di San Martino; Buonomini literally translates as “good men”. In 1442, Fra Antonino Pierozzi (who later became Archbishop of Florence and a saint) recognized the need for a dignified way to help these people, who tried to “keep up appearances”. He chose 12 reliable men of the higher social classes who would identify those in need of help and discreetly offer assistance in whatever way was required. The group initially met at one of their houses, but eventually was given a room off the side of the church, which was decorated as their “oratory”. This confraternity is one of the very few remaining visible examples in Florence (another is the Misericordia, still today the city’s ambulance service). The painting in the niche shows San Martino (the patron Saint, Saint Martino of Tours) handing out alms to the poor and when the Buonomini found themselves in need of money, they light a candle above the door. The Italian expression “essere ridotti al lumicino” (literally to be reduced to the candle or stony broke) derived from this practice. In the same breath, we encountered this bicycle that had been badly parked and suffered the consequences.

The time had arrived and so had our guide Valentina and three English girls, novices at the Segway. After a few practice runs, we head off toward Republica and our guide starts explaining the different styles of architecture in the various churches and she selects a very ostentatious baroque style to start with. We weave in and out of the back streets listening to her stories over the radio each one of carried and always hearing the constant ringing of her bell telling cloth eared tourists to get out of the way. We come upon a brass boar a symbol of the city and she tells us to rub the snout for luck. Its lucky if you can get near it.

Next is Duomo, Bell Tower and Baptistry followed by two statues of architects and builder of the dome. On to Santa Croce and the statue of Dante, past the first Medici Palazzo onto the Basilica San Lorenzo, one of the largest churches of Florence, situated at the centre of the city’s main market district, and the burial place of all the principal members of the Medici family from Cosimo il Vecchio to Cosimo III. It was consecrated in 393AD and it stood outside the city walls. San Lorenzo was also the parish church of the Medici family. Our guide told us that the façade of the church was never finished as Michelangelo took 3 months selecting the marble and in that time the Medicis changed their mind.

We toured around for 3 hours stopping for a gelato and thoroughly enjoying the freedom of the Segway. Then we returned to the apartment put our feet up and rested until it was time for the Uffizi tour.

The Retirees return to Italy – Florence and Tuscany


We flew out of Gatwick South but I don’t recall much of the flight as I slept most of the way. Our landing was smooth but I was surprised about the Florence International airport. It is small and appears nothing more than a domestic airport for a small town. We disembarked onto the tarmac and entered the immigration area with a queue out the door because there was insufficient space. Clearing the terminal, we went looking for a taxi as it was after 8.00 pm by the time we got our luggage and got out. Very few taxis and a queue a mile long so the shuttle bus to the railway terminal was the next best thing but everyone was thinking the same so a jammed packed bus took us to the terminal where we caught a taxi through a maze of streets to the hotel which was closed. Our phone had proven to be out of date and useless so we had no means to contact the hotel to let us in. Kerry went to an adjoining hotel and after some begging contacted the hotel and gained the various codes to the “front” door in the lane behind the hotel, the elevator and the front door to the rooms on the 4th floor.

Suffice it to say we made it and settled in for the night to start our Florentine adventure the next day. The apartment was reasonably spacious with a kitchen dining room bedroom and bath/ensuite. Our only window gave a view over the Arno river to Porta San Nicolo, a part of a city wall of the past and Piazzale Michelangelo (a copy of the statue of David stands in the Piazzale). Below on the sand bar of the Arno, Florentines lay sunbaking (too damn chilly for us).

We needed to get orientated so we headed off for the old city on foot passing the central library and taking our lives in our hands as cars scooters bikes and trucks battled with pedestrians for use of the road/footpath. We were looking for the Segway tours office and the tourist information office to make our plans of where to go and what to see. We had a brochure for the Segway tour office and a map provided by someone pointed out an information office and we set sail to negotiate the streets and book a tour on a Segway.

We found the Segway tour office in the lanes behind Piazza Signoria and Palazzo Vecchio and booked our 3hour tour for the following Saturday morning and turned our attention to finding the Tourist Information Centre. After a short walk we arrive at a gate (a Roman looking gate) which we later learnt was part of Piazza Republica, created for the period that Italy did not include Rome and Florence was capital.

The buildings of the old town of Florence have a charm and design that is Florence and many carry the crests of the important merchant families of the city. Where there is a footpath some of the streets are decorated in flowers. A particular variety of small azalea was often the preferred choice. Our walk took us down many an alley until we arrived at the Piazza Santa Maria Novella with its two obelisks and named after the church of the same name and convent run by the Dominican order until disbanded in the 19th century.

According to our map the information office was here, but all we could see was the Basilica and a tourist pavilion selling tours and trinkets. Unable to find any tourist information centre, we went to the tourist pavilion and found the staff to be very helpful and booking a walking tour that evening at half price and a visit to the Uffizi. Without knowing it we had walked almost back to the train station and exploring around Santa Maria Novella we found the station hidden by the church and hidden within the walls of the church the Tourist Information Centre. We decided to return to the apartment to rest for our evening tour so we walked back to the river and found we were four bridges away from our apartment. We had literally weaved diagonally across the city from our apartment. First, we came upon Ponte alla Carraia, then further along Ponte San Trinita then Ponte Vecchio and finally Ponte alle Grazie and then “home”.

The Retirees return to Nottingham – Fellow Travelers and Old Friends


Wednesday, we will travel by car to Manchester to meet Martin and Chris who we met on our river trip from Cologne along the Rhine in Germany. The trip to Manchester would normally mean heading for Stoke on Trent then onto the M6 and a dreary drive fighting the traffic and road works so we decided we would head out through Derby and follow the rim of the Peak District around to Leek and then across to Warrington and Newton where we would meet them.

As usual the Peak District was beautiful and green. We stopped for morning tea at Leek another historic market town. The town square had some market vendors and a lovely cake shop where we stopped for coffee and a lolly shop for something to suck on whilst driving to Newton. As we left I noticed the Police station although I suspect the building has a different use today.

We met at a Toby Carvery which is a franchised pub built in an early 19th century style with a carvery buffet. Nice food and lashings of it. It was wonderful to catch up again but Martin has been “in the wars” falling 18 feet off a ladder although you wouldn’t know it to see him now.

Thursday and our time in England has come to an end. Pack the suitcases and head for the M1 back to London Gatwick. The trick when travelling the motorways is to avoid major delays otherwise no matter how well prepared you maybe, delays can take hours to clear and planes will be missed. The M1 was free flowing until we stopped in Northamptonshire for morning tea. Unbeknown to us there had been a severe motor accident on the north bound lanes and when that occurs emergency vehicles will use the lanes on the opposite side of the highway to access the incident thereby stopping traffic in the opposite direction. We had planned for that eventuality and despite languishing somewhere between Northamptonshire and Hertfordshire on the M1 we made it to the dreaded M25. I say dreaded because delays will most often occur on the M25 just because of the volume of the traffic and as usual we had some minor delays. After all was said and done we arrived with time to spare to have lunch and prepare for the flight to Florence.


The Retirees return to Nottingham – Old Neighbours


One of the things we wanted to do was catch up with our old Long Eaton neighbour, Pam Fowler. Pam and her husband John lived across the hall from our flat 41 and we regularly met and they shared their knowledge of the counties with us to help our explorations. Just before we departed Long Eaton we took John for his last walk around the lake at the University of Nottingham. John was determined despite his ill health to do the circuit and enjoyed the outing very much. We returned to Australia and learned that shortly after John had died. Now we wanted to catch up with Pam and see how she was getting on.

We walked from the Novotel to Oxford St (about an hour walk) past one of the many garden beds full of spring flowers and there was Pam waiting at the gate for us to arrive. Pam had planned that we have lunch at Bennett’s Hotel, a site which had been under redevelopment for the whole of the time we were living in Long Eaton. The hotel has been renovated internally in a modern style and it has a simple menu for seniors like us. Lunch was very pleasant. We returned to Pam’s flat, flat 40 a very familiar scene for us from the myriad of visits we made to John and Pam. Over coffee we reminisced about John and Pam spoke of life after John. It appears that Pam has come to terms with John’s passing and is now comfortable living on her own. We will continue to keep in touch.

Monday evening is Rotary at Nottingham. Still meeting at the Crowne Plaza Hotel, we turned up for their AGM and surprised many of them despite having given notice to the Club Secretary. It was a great reunion and reminded us how supportive they were when we lived at Long Eaton. A surprise visitor (apart from us) was Eve Conway the RIBI President (Britain is the only country in the world where Rotary is administered outside of Chicago as a result of war time communication between Chicago and the UK being difficult during WWI). We posed for a photo with the Club dignitaries Paul Jones the President Elect on the left and Chris Spencer on the right the current President and Eve and it is posted on our Rotary website.

Tuesday, we visited Nick Smith at Direct Trimmings our former associate in the Glitter and Dance experiment in the UK. Nick’s business is on the 4th floor of an old spinning mill in Leopold St and site of the first G&D shop. Kerry had always complained that the stairs were killing her without knowing that she had a “wart” inside her heart. This time having undergone open heart surgery to remove the wart she climbed the stairs grinning about the change the surgery had made. The chimney in the yard of the mill, (formerly served the steam boilers of the old factory both now heritage listed) was undergoing some repair whilst we are there and we stared in awe at the blokes climbing the various ladders tied to the chimney to do the repair.

After chatting to Nick regarding business trends and changes around Long Eaton, we jump onto the tram at Toton and headed into the city for lunch with Geoff and Diana Bosworth from the Rotary Club. Diana is a Kiwi who lived in Australia after meeting Geoff and then in Canada with Geoff ultimately moving to Nottingham. Coming from the Antipodes we had a connection. Diana selected the restaurant in a part of Nottingham that is new to us just to show us that we have not been everywhere. Typical Kiwi always trying to out do an Aussie. Not really but we keep the rivalry going.


The Retirees return to Nottingham – Lord Byron and Hucknall


After lunch we made our way into the village of Hucknall itself. Lord Bryon appears to be the only historically significant person to have come lived in the area as there are statues to his fame and the local Church of St Mary Magdalene holds his remains in its vault along with the rest of the family. The vault has now been finally sealed. The church holds a great deal of history about Byron and his only legitimate daughter as well as glorious plantings of spring flowers and little animals. In the former High St (now being turned into a mall) is one of the few remaining towers displaying the former name of the village and a statue in remembrance to the mining heritage that brought wealth to the village.

So, after returning to our hotel I had a look at the life of Byron. Although born in London, Lord George Byron the poet made nearby Newstead Abbey his home. The Byron family’s relationship with Newstead Abbey started with Sir John Byron of Colwick in Nottinghamshire who was granted Newstead Abbey by Henry VIII of England on 26 May 1540 and started its conversion into a country house. The 5th Lord died on 21 May 1798, and the title and Newstead Abbey was then left to his great-nephew, George Gordon, the famous poet, who became the 6th Baron Byron.

Despite the Abbey falling into disrepair, he was determined to stay at Newstead—”Newstead and I stand or fall together”. However, he was cash strapped and a buyer was found, who offered £140,000, which was accepted. By spring 1813, the buyer, had only paid £5,000 of the agreed down-payment and Byron was now without settled financial means. Involved at first in an affair with Lady Caroline Lamb and with other lovers and also pressed by debt, he began to seek a suitable marriage, considering – amongst others – Annabella Millbanke.

However, in 1813 he met for the first time in four years his half-sister, Augusta Leigh. Rumours of incest surrounded the pair; Augusta’s daughter Medora (b. 1814) was suspected to have been Byron’s. To escape from growing debt and rumour, Byron pressed his determination to marry Annabella, who was said to be the likely heiress of a rich uncle. They married on 2 January 1815, and their daughter, Ada, was born in December of that year. However, Byron’s continuing obsession with Augusta (and his continuing sexual escapades with actresses and others) made their marital life a misery. Annabella considered Byron insane, and in January 1816 she left him, taking their daughter, and began proceedings for a legal separation. The scandal of the separation, the rumours about Augusta, and ever-increasing debts forced him to leave England in April 1816, never to return. He died of a fever whilst fighting with the Greeks against the Ottomans for Greece’s independence.

Ada, became the Countess of Lovelace, whose work on Charles Babbage’s Analytical Engine is considered a founding document in the field of computer science.

Photos – statue of Byron, family vault and memorial