Tuesday 3 May 2016

Swiftwatch 2016

So after a few weeks of wandering around giving myself neck-ache through constant staring at the sky, I finally saw my first pair of Swifts for 2016!  Well, in the UK at least.  We went to Venice for our 20th wedding anniversary a month ago, and the swifts were swooping around the skies over the Grand Canal so technically speaking I have already seen them this year but not in the UK, until today. 

I've been logging on my blog the first time I see the swifts every year since 2009 and the earliest has been 22 April in 2010 and the latest (so far) 5 May in 2014 so this year's aren't quite as late as I thought.  Then again, it doesn't really matter when they arrive as long as they get here, because that means summer's definitely on the way, and the forecast for this coming weekend down here in Surrey is for temperatures to be warmer than Tenerife!  Hooray!

Monday 11 April 2016

A Room With A View.... (Florence, 8-11 June, 2014)

Florence.  Sigh.  Who wouldn't want to go there?  It's been on my list of places to visit (which is, admittedly, a VERY lengthy list) for a long time, and so we decided to go.  We like doing city breaks and TLH had been here before as a youngster with his parents so why not?

We booked to go for a few days in June, hoping the weather would be kind, and flew from Gatwick, over the Alps and into Pisa where we discovered the weather was being more than kind as the country was having a heatwave.  Temperatures were going to top out at around 35degC/96degF for the entire time we were there!

Gatwick Airport

Flying into Italy.  Not sure where this is.

We decided we wanted to stay in a decent hotel in the centre.  We booked a very nice hotel indeed - Hotel Loggiato Dei Serviti - which is a 15th/16th century building which faces a traffic free square and backs onto the Accademia.  It is also only a 5 minute walk from the Duomo so centrally located.  It was also, thankfully, in a really quiet location.  It wasn't, however, cheap but you get what you pay for, and this was worth every penny.  They also upgraded our room, which was lovely!
 The entrance to the hotel

 View from the front of the hotel into the square

Front of the hotel

Our room was large and cool even though it was up at the top of the hotel.  Blissfully it had air conditioning!

The view from our bedroom window was gorgeous - over the rooftops of Florence and backing onto the music practice rooms and the art studio of the School of Fine Arts attached to the Accademia so we were treated to classical music and painters, as well as the sound of church bells and the excited squealing of circling swifts (and you know how I feel about them!)

Outdoor balcony studio

That evening we went out to look at the Duomo after nightfall.  The streets approaching it from our hotel were so narrow that you couldn't get a good view of it until you walked out into the square and - bam! - it hits you right between the eyes.  I found it almost overwhelming - I knew what it looked like but had no idea it was quite so astonishing! It's all white, green and pink marble -

The next day we started wandering around the city.  We headed off to the Ponte Vecchio, the old bridge, across the River Arno, and the Piazza della Signoria which has all the outside statuary and the Palazzo Vecchio (the old palace) which is Florence's Town Hall and has the balcony that Anthony Hopkins' Hannibal disembowelled the police officer from - you know, that balcony.  Below are some photos -

Palazzo Vecchio with the Hannibal Balcony

This is a full-size replica of Michaelangelo's David - the original is in the Accademia

 Someone should have paid more attention during life drawing classes....

The Uffizi Gallery - walk through the arch at the end to get to the river and this view below looking from left to right along the River Arno to the Ponte Vecchio -  

Jewellery shops lining the Ponte Vecchio

 View from the Ponte Vecchio 


 Italian nougat

We stopped at a square that had this surprisingly Spanish Mission-type church but also somewhere to eat and had pizza!

Then we set off towards the Pitti Palace, looking at the buildings on the way -

The Pitti Palace is a vast Renaissance palace built like Fort Knox and is where the rulers of Florence lived.  The Boboli Gardens are attached and have the most wonderful views over Florence but they're quite steep in places and, in 95 degree heat, not much fun to climb, although the view was absolutely worth it: 

These are some pictures of inside the Pitti Palace.  Subtle and understated, as you would imagine it to be: 

At some point we went into the Uffizi Gallery.  I prebooked our tickets online before we left the UK which seemed the sensible thing to do in order to avoid lengthy queues.  It was pretty easy to do so I would recommend it.  The Uffizi has, as you can imagine, a great deal of amazing paintings - especially the Caravaggios - but I found myself getting distracted by the really elaborate gold frames and, in fact, have since done a short series of my dramatic fruit paintings but put them in the most elaborate gold frames I could find!  Anyway, photos ahoy - 

Three Rembrandt self-portraits:

Caravaggio's Head of Medusa

Judith and Holofernes by Artemisia Gentileschi, one of the very few female painters of the Renaissance.

On our final morning, before it got too hot (so about 5.30am!), TLH went for an early morning run.  He returned to the Boboli Gardens and got these absolutely gorgeous shots of sunrise over Florence:

And that was it - Florence was beautiful although having to arrive and leave from Pisa was a bit of a drag as it was a 90 min coach transfer which, in that heat, was not a great deal of fun but leaving that aside, if you like your art 'n' culture, and bucketloads of Renaissance architecture, and fantastic ice cream, then I can't recommend Florence highly enough.

Next time - Copenhagen.