Saturday, October 26, 2013

Strange ship and its surprising cargo

Last Sunday was another beautiful, warm day thanks to lovely hot southerly winds. Looking out from the terrace we spotted a very odd sight, a big ship in fairly close to shore, seemingly standing still. We are quite far from the shipping lanes and it is only occasionally we see the odd freighter far out at sea. What was this strange ship that from a distance almost looked like a ferry?

Just beyond the village we looked out to where the bay meets the sea and there was the mystery ship with huge mounds of hay on the deck. With the help of binoculars we made out the name, Youzasif. Back home we checked on marinetraffic.com and discovered that Youzasif was a livestock carrier, which explained the hay. The ship came from Sete, further up the coast in France but before it left there it did the same thing going back and forth hardly moving. This was quite disturbing given the fact that the ship was carrying livestock. A quick look at the ship's website showed how hundreds of goats, sheep, cattle or even camels might be crammed into pens on the ship. We found it it disgusting although it is apparently a normal means of transporting livestock around the Mediterranean.

Finally, the ship moved on at a slow pace down the coast and then picked up speed. It passed the Balearic Islands, Sardinia and sailed through the Straits of Messina between Calabria in Italy and Sicily to an unknown destination. Just think of those animals on that hot boat for at least a week.

With all this excitement over, the village returned to its tranquil state. Visitors are still arriving to spend some time enjoying the warm weather. In fact we have had a few other people joining us swimming at the beach this week. We aren't the only crazy people here. The water has been warm and as we enjoy ourselves we do feel lucky that we are still swimming at the end of October.

Wednesday, October 23, 2013

Food with friends and a little balcony climbing

Our last full day in San Stefano was not without adventure. Once again we took a leisurely stroll along the promenade to Riva, where we found our friends paddling in the sea. We enjoyed the bright sunshine sitting on one of the huge rocks by the shore. Then it was off to their apartment for lunch.

After lunch our friends came out to the open air hallway to wave goodbye to us. Meanwhile their door blew shut with the lone key to the apartment inside. Even the estate agent renting the property didn't have a spare but we couldn't get in touch with her anyway because our friends' cell phone was also inside. Normally, this wouldn't be such a problem but in a four story apartment building, they were the only people staying there. Panic started to set in.

Seamus assessed the situation but it was impossible to climb up to their first floor balcony. The good news was that they had left the door to the terrace open. We sent our Italian friend over to the school next door to see if he could borrow a ladder. The answer to that was no.

I discovered a nearly intact old gate in some scrubland nearby. The only problem was that at one side the wiring part had come away from the pipe but the other side was still good. Thank goodness for Seamus, who moved all the plants from the high wall of the main floor apartment below before scaling the wall. He took down their satellite wire and the clothes line as well as moving the table and chairs on the patio. Then we lifted the rickety gate over to him. Eventually it was leaning against our friends' terrace and Seamus started to climb. I must admit my heart was in my mouth. I had visions of the flimsy gate just falling straight backwards but slowly, slowly Seamus made it to a point where he could climb on to their balcony. The day was saved. Our friends returned to their apartment vowing to put a shoe in their door to stop it closing on future occasions. Everything was replaced and Seamus and I headed off for a well deserved beer at least well deserved for Seamus.

Later in the afternoon we took the forty-five minute drive up the twisty road to the hill town of Ceriana. We were greeted like long lost friends by Antonia and her husband at Pellegrin's bar. The hill town Ceriana, which dates back to the 1100s and probably before, is in a beautiful spot surrounded by mountains and picturesque valleys. Unfortunately, unlike other neighbouring small towns it doesn't seem to benefit from money from either Italy or the EU or perhaps no one has bothered to apply for it. As a result it is not in great shape with old cobblestone pathways in poor disrepair. There are lots of abandoned houses. Now immigrants from Albania, and US and European expats have bought a few houses and fixed them up beautifully. It is difficult though, as the young people want to live in the cities, where there might be work but certainly they would be more lively. The population is in a slow decline leaving more unoccupied houses.

There are five bars but not one restaurant in town. It's a shame because there is a lot of history dating back to Roman times, that is if you can find it because even with a map in hand some of the places are almost impossible to find and aren't marked. It could be a lovely little tourist destination, a short drive from San Remo and a real slice of authentic Italy but petty jealousies seem to hold the town back. Even if you came to hike for the day you could get a coffee, glass of wine or even a gelato but no meal. The good news is that the several-hundred-year-old bake shop has reopened again with the third new owners in 18 months.

We were in Ceriana to visit friends and have a light dinner after all our eating. This is always a special treat since most of their food comes from the land. Both our friends work but he is very traditional and still harvests his grapes to make his own wine and olives to make olive oil as well as growing fruits, vegetables and  raising chickens. We enjoyed his wine along with jars of olives his mother had prepared. Tonight the delicious bread came from San Remo. In Italy bread is always sliced and placed right on the table for you to eat. We helped ourselves to tomatoes stuffed with tuna in olive oil. The beautiful creamy, home-made, green borage soup was delicious. Lots of red wine was flowing until dessert when we switched to our friend's slightly sweeter white wine. I had a tiny piece of macaroon followed by a piece of Parmesan Reggiano that I chipped off a huge block of the cheese. I really enjoyed this Parmesan. It wasn't too, too strong. I learned from all my Italian friends that Parmesan is aged for 22 to 30 months or more causing the change in the taste. Who knew? A lovely simple meal and such an interesting learning experience.

Tuesday, October 22, 2013

Market day in San Remo

Photo by Jens Juhl
Tuesday is market day in San Remo and today was the day. We walked through the fish market that is open every single day. On display were piles of shrimp, sea urchins, mussels, clams and fresh fish including swordfish, sea bream, sea bass, cod, hake, sole, sardines and every other Mediterranean fish imaginable. Next we walked through to the massive fruit and vegetable market, all the displays beautifully arranged to entice you to buy. Of course there were loads of porcini mushrooms, the Italian favourite, and beautiful ripe orange persimmons. For years the locals boycotted the persimmons as there was a widely believed urban myth that they caused cancer. Years ago the myth had been started by a local hotel that got tired of fresh persimmon marks on the white table cloths that could not be cleaned. Only in Italy.

The outdoor market held three days a week is extremely popular with bus loads of people coming from France to shop. It has the usual knock-offs of any market but it also has some lovely cashmere sweaters on sale for reasonable prices. For any of you who are fashionistas, sweaters with zips at the neckline are popular this year. There are lots of leather stalls with handbags, wallets and shoes for sale. We managed to leave the market without making any purchases.

There are a lot of high-end and haute couture shops in San Remo. Seamus was looking for a scarf and we spotted an exquisite one in a shop window with shades of blues, greys and pinks. We asked to see it and the assistant carefully spread the beautiful cashmere scarf in front of us but at a staggering €350 we exited rather quickly. I was fortunate in finding some black jeans I had been looking for and as a bonus they shortened them free of charge. All I had to do was return in a few hours. This was a plus as everyone here just rolls up jeans that are too long for them.

With our shopping expedition over and the jeans picked up, we once again walked from San Stefano to Riva. Tonight dinner was pizza at a local restaurant. Mine was a simple margarita but delicious. At the end of the meal the server offered us a digestivo. Seamus had a limoncello and to everyone's disgust I had a Fernat Branca. If you have never tasted Fernat it is a type of amaro, a bitter, aromatic spirit. Fernet is made from a number of herbs and spices which vary according to the brand, but usually include myrrh, rhubarb, chamomile, cardamom, and aloe. Let me say that it is an acquired taste but I like it. A perfect way to end the day.

Looking for family roots in hill town Verrandi

We took a trip to the small hill town, Verrandi to see where our friends' ancestors may have originated. The village is north of Ventimiglia, which is very close to the French border. We parked by a church and walked into town. Since it was Monday the two restaurants were closed. Alas, no coffee.

Verrandi was like a ghost town. We passed trees laden with the local tagascan olives. Some were even beginning to turn from green to black. We climbed up some narrow stone stairways and through ancient, stone arches to reach the top of the town. All the buildings were in excellent shape with stones that had been cleaned and repointed. Outside the houses were lots of beautiful flowering plants. There was even some washing hanging up but no signs of any people. Utterly charming but so quiet.

Walking back down the main pathway a lady opened her door to talk to us. She couldn't really answer any questions as she had moved from Torino only eight months before. She did try to point our friends in the direction of the parking lot. If there was a car there it belonged to an old, old lady, a Verrando, who knew the history of the town.Unfortunately, the car wasn't there.

Verrandi's full-time population is only 31 people but there are more summer visitors, especially people from Northern Europe. The locals speak the same dialect, with lots of French in it, as the people in Ceriana, where our friends come from. This is quite unusual as dialects can vary within a few miles.

Ceriana has a lot of Verrandos. The question is did they come from Verrandi or did they leave Ceriana and move to Verrandi, which was founded in the 1700s while Ceriana's history goes back to the 11th century. I'm sure the parish priests could answer those questions. Our friend thought that perhaps the Verrandos moved to Verrandi because of a falling out in Ceriana. It's quite possible since there do seem to be some ongoing feuds and very long memories even today. Whatever the answer Verrandi is a lovely spot.

Saturday, October 19, 2013

Mangiare! we survive Sunday lunch Italian style

The next morning we met our friends halfway along the cycling track at the old Stefano al Mare train station, now a coffee bar. There is no such thing as bad coffee in Italy and we enjoyed our espresso and marmellata croissant.

We meandered back to the promenade. what a day for walking under the crystal clear blue skies. The beaches here are really well maintained and in fact are designated Blue Beaches, the EU’s best rating. There is a huge breakwater that cuts down some of the waves for any swimmers, along with areas of sandy beach, which trucks were replenishing while we were there. Perhaps best of all, they bring in flat rocks for people to lie on. I can only imagine what they look like in the summer with every one occupied by a suntanned body.

It was lunchtime and time for us to meet our friends from San Remo for lunch, at an agritourismo just a little bit inland. It used to be a frantoia, where the olives were crushed. Now it was the site of a beautiful bed and breakfast and restaurant. Today would be one of my favourite Italian meals, where they just bring food. You don't order off the menu.

Jugs of wine and water were brought to the table as well as delicious bread. The Italians are so good at making bread. Plates of salami, proscuitto and a few other meats were brought to the table along with plates of focaccia, deep fried focaccia and sardenara, a typical Ligurian pizza baked in squares, usually with olives. Then we each got a plate with: bresaula, cured thinly sliced filet, with raspberry sauce; mushrooms and sauce in phllyo; stocchifishce, salted cod, soaked for a few days and cooked; and a Waldorf salad with apple, celery and walnuts but creamed together in a little scoop.

Next came a small dish of risotto with pumpkin followed by a dish of pasta with mushrooms and chestnuts. Two big plates of loin of pork with roast potatoes were placed on the table along with thinly sliced filet cooked on hot stones. By this time I was beginning to fade. It is an art to pace yourself through Sunday lunch in Italy. For dessert I had apple in a light pastry with cinnamon ice cream topped off with an espresso. It is common in Italy for the restaurant to bring a digestivo, something like limoncello or Fernat Branca but I had to pass on these.

We returned to Riva, where everyone walked us back to San Stefano. It was a slow walk along the promenade with lots of laughter, some Latin dancing and then sitting down on the benches for a rest. Back in San Stefano, two of the group had some delicious hazelnut and pistachio gelato. How could they?

Later we walked back to Riva for a very light watercress salad and some beautiful Bel Paese and the creamiest Gorgonzola for dinner. So much food!

Friday, October 18, 2013

Benvenuti in Italia - we go on a road trip to visit friends

Last Saturday we made the trek from the village to visit our Canadian friends in Italy. We drove beneath beautiful blue skies, which made the Central Massif in France clearly stand out with its stark grey stone and black streaks filtering through it. Some trees were beginning to change colour, a few spots of red leaves here and there.

Finally we arrived in Italy. You can always tell right away by the smoke-black tunnels that you drive through. Then up in the hillsides as far as you can see are the huge but now often dilapidated greenhouses.Today we were not going up to Ceriana, the hill town north of San Remo, but instead will stay on the coast at Santa Stefano al Mare.

We were a little unsure of our hotel. It had received good reviews on Tripadvisor, but the locals knew it as a place where rooms were rented hourly. I suppose the bright red bed cover and mirror all down one wall may have raised our suspicions, although the residents seemed just like us.

Our friends were staying in the next village down, Riva. We walked down the beautiful promenade right by the sea to their apartment, taking one diversion up to the cycling and walking track. This track was made from the old railway track that ran along the coast and it goes for 24 kilometres. There are lots of apartments in this area but most of them are empty at this time of year.

Our friends took us to dinner at one of the local restaurants on the front. We started with a plate of cold meats including wonderful salami with fennel, which was delicious. For main course we had sea bream cooked in parchment paper with fennel, local black tagascan olives and cherry tomatoes. We were too full for dessert. Our friends advised us not to as the restaurant would give us a surprise. The server brought a big jug filled with soft lemon sorbet that we spooned in champagne flutes and topped with as much or as little vodka as we liked. I didn't have much vodka but went for seconds of the sorbet. What a delicious meal and what a nice start to our holiday.

We returned to the hotel on the cycling track. It was really interesting seeing the backs of many very old buildings. Back in the hotel we were reading in bed but getting very fed up with a man, with a big voice, pacing up and down talking on his cell phone for at least an hour. What to do? Seamus had the perfect solution. He climbed out of bed "nuda" as the Italians would say. He fully opened the door and said in Italian, "Eh! Basta," Enough. There was a muffled, "Mi Scuzi," and silence. I must admit I couldn't stop laughing.

Thursday, October 10, 2013

We enjoy final swims as village settles into autumn routines

Life in the village is taking on a slow rhythm of its own. The water is still warm, so most afternoons we go swimming. We have to be careful because we have spotted a couple of "fried egg" Mediterranean jelly fish, which are about 25 centimetres wide and, worse, they swim on their own. Yesterday, after I spotted one I tried to stay away from the area where it was swimming, only to find it back in my area.

Today it was very rough so we decided to go for a walk instead. Our walk started at four and we could have been comfortably at home by just after five but we rewarded ourselves with a beer. Then we were joined by people we knew and others stopped by. As a result it is nearly eight and we have just arrived home but are now up-to-date on all the happenings in the village: who died; who has been thrown out of the house and whose restaurant business is failing because they are so lazy.

The village is extremely quiet now. As one friend told us the last person out of the village on September 30 shuts out the lights. How true. Many shops and restaurants are closed. The feral cats that are very healthy as people drop off food for them at their home near the river or a few lucky cats eat the fish thrown by the fishermen on the fishing boats. It seems there are always some kittens appearing in late September. I think these must come from cats that were left behind from summer visitors.

Autumn is the time of year when tiny, tiny little ants invade the house. Sometimes they want protein, such as dead moths, at other times they are after sugar. Once a can of coke burst in the garage and by the time we discovered it a twenty-foot long trail of hundreds if not thousands of ants led to the sticky mess. It is extremely difficult to get rid of them as they are quite cunning. We also get visits from baby, flesh coloured lizards. We don't mind them and hope they eat the ants but of course they would need huge appetites. Huge green praying mantises hang around as well. One stayed on a laundry rack for a few days and was quite indignant, swinging it's head in our direction every time we hung out any laundry. So far they have not been the solution to the ant problem.

I don't think that we can complain since neither the jellyfish not the ants can really spoil the beautiful tranquility of the village at this time of year.

Saturday, October 5, 2013

A day in Pisa before flying home

On our last day in Italy, we made our way by train to Pisa. How different from Florence. It was easy to walk up the pedestrian stradone, again window shopping but without hordes of people. Of course the shops didn't quite have the style and attraction of Florence.

Meandering up a side street, we found a restaurant whose customers all seemed local. With a bit of a wait we secured a table. It was refreshing to not see the same menu as we had in so many of the restaurants in Florence. An Italian friend of ours, who is a superb chef, would call the food of Florence, "old fashioned Italian." Our appetizer was a little pumpkin soufflé. different and delicious. Not wanting pasta or any more veal, we chose the duck breast and ordered some roast potatoes to go along with it. The Sangiovese wine added a beautiful finishing touch to the meal.

Like all the other tourists in town, the purpose of our visit was to see the leaning Tower of Pisa. I hadn't been here for several years. The first view of the Tower sparkling in the sun was quite magnificent. It is just one of the buildings rising from the emerald green lawns of the Campo dei Miracoli. All the buildings have a Moorish influence and all of them lean because their foundations were set in sandy soil. The Tower was started in 1173 and began to tip sideways before the third story was completed. It has been corrected by 38 centimetres quite recently.

We saw lots of people having their pictures taken with the tower in the background but adopting strange poses. It seems the thing to do is have your photo taken so that it appears that you are pushing the tower over or holding it up. We visited the opulent Duomo with it's marble walls and vivid frescoes. At the far end of the park there was quite a commotion going on. The riot police, in full gear, were holding back a group of shouting students. The population of Pisa is around 100,000 with 60,000 being university students.

We took a different route back to the station walking along the Arno admiring the splendid buildings dating from the 11th to 13th centuries, when Pisa dominated the western Mediterranean. The city went into decline when the river silted up creating a salt marsh that separated it from the sea.

Finally, we were back at the train station for a five minute trip to the airport for our plane home. Even the small airport had places to have pasta and wonderful panini, which we were glad of, especially when our plane was an hour and a half late in arriving.



Thursday, October 3, 2013

Wet weather wreaks havoc with men's cycle race

Sunday. Race day had arrived, the day of the Men's World Championship road race. But what a day! We knew the weather was going to be bad and this was confirmed when we woke up to the rumbling of thunder. A quick check outside showed a very mixed sky, cloudy in some places and pitch black in others. We had planned several options for watching the race. It was going to be Plan A: Watch the start of the race on TV in our room and then when the race was close move to our balcony. Thank goodness the hotel had upgraded our room and we had this lovely balcony right over the route along the river.

The race moved closer and so did the rain. It started bucketing down. As the race passed the Duomo, we could see the helicopters overhead, one very low. Then the fleets of police on motorcycles raced by, several official cars and then we spotted the first few riders going at speed. Next came the peleton led by a very wet, stoic looking Mark Cavendish leading the rest of the GB team. We even had long enough to identify these riders and some others before they rode out of sight.

We braved the elements at lunchtime and found a very funky restaurant further up the Arno, where we had a lovely soup made of zofolito beans and rosemary. It was a perfect soup day. A bowl of soup, some bread and some wine. Perfect.

Back in the hotel, we watched the end of the race. There were only 68 of 208 riders remaining at the end of the race. Several crashes and the horrible weather made many disband. The race was exciting right to the end where Rui Costa of Portugal just pipped Rodriguez of Spain at the post.

We spent our last night walking past the lovely shops. One window had a beautiful hot pink purse standing all alone. Beautiful. It was a mere €850, definitely out of my league. We ended in the square, with our last admiring glances at David and Neptune. We wandered in the Palazzo Vecchio with it's many stunning frescoes glorifying Cosimo and the Grand Duchy of Tuscany. It was a lovely way to end our visit to Florence.









Elite cyclists provide added excitment to day in Florence

It was the day of the women's road race. All the barricades were in place and the police, carabinieri and volunteers wearing bright orange vests were all in place hours before the race. We wandered around town stopping for an exorbitantly priced espresso near the Doumo. There were hordes of tourists everywhere and in fact twice I was swarmed by tour groups that I had to fight my way out of.

All the shop windows, whether the designer stores or little boutiques have embraced the World Cycling championships. Ferragamo had a beautiful golden bike in the window. Other shops had new or older racing bikes in their windows. There were some interesting photos of Gino Bartoli, a three-time winner of the Giro d'Italia before World War II. One shop even had one of his old cotton cycling shirts.

Instead of opting for a small family-run bistro at lunchtime we discovered a restaurant, off the beaten track, with mainly Italians dining. For starters we shared a lovely little cheese soufflĂ© served on a bright green sweet potato mash. It was absolutely delicious. We followed this with pasta with sauce made from  cingale or wild boar. It has a wonderful flavour and is one of my favourite dishes. We had some lemon tart with strawberries for dessert. What a meal!

We walked around searching for the perfect place from which to watch the race, finally settling on a bend, where we were sure the women would be forced to slow down. This section of the barricades were manned by two very stylish forestry police. We knew the racers were on their way when we heard the helicopters. Then several groups of motorcycle police whizzed by followed by some red official race cars, then more motorbikes. A cry went up and then the cyclists were there and gone. Amazingly, they did not slow down for the curve but went by at great speed. They were followed by the support cars from each country, the ambulances; it was over in the blink of an eye.

One of my favourite places in Florence, that we walked through many times, is the Piazza Ella Signoria with the Palazzo Vecchio at one end. Savonarola was burned at the stake here. There is a copy of Michelangelo's David and a giant statue of Neptune built to commemorate Tuscan naval victories. At one end of the square is the Loggia die Lanzi, an open air building filled with Renaissance sculpture. The square is quite beautiful, especially at night, when it is lit up.

Many of the restaurants have very similar menus with lots of meat and of course loads of pasta. Although the food is really good, there is a limit to how much pasta I can eat. Tonight we were happy to find a restaurant, up a little side street, where we enjoyed a delicious salad topped with thin slices of smoked goose. Delicious.

Walking by the river on the way back to the hotel, we stopped to admire the Ponte Vecchio, which cast a perfect reflection in the Arno. A perfect ending to a busy day.



Wednesday, October 2, 2013

Boboli Gardens, once a private playground of the powerful Medicis

It was another very hot, humid day in Florence as we made our way to the Boboli Gardens, which lie behind the Pitti palace, home of the Medici. The massive gardens were laid out for the Medici in 1550. Our first view was the amphitheater that was created from the hollow left after the stone for the Pitti Palace was quarried. Behind this are stairs that climb higher and higher into the gardens providing wonderful views of the city including the Duomo and the colourful buildings all along the Arno.

The gardens themselves provide wonderful examples of box hedges and contrasting groves of cypress trees. Interspersed among the avenue of cypress trees are huge marble statues. Once at the top of the hill we took a side trip to Fort Belvedere, the beautiful Renaissance fortress that has just reopened this summer after being closed for five years. In addition to being a fortification, the Belvedere was meant to be a sign of Medici prestige. The elegant villa inside the fort was used by the Grand Duke during times of unrest or epidemic. It was built as a luxurious palace, a sign of the Medici dominance of Florence.

The Belvedere is now used for exhibitions, and currently features the work of Chinese artist Zhang Huan. It was a little bit incongruous for us looking at giant Buddha statues in the grounds, while overlooking the city of Florence. However, it didn't stop us from having a freshly squeezed orange juice looking out at a giant bell with a golden man hanging down acting as the bell's clanger.

Back in the Boboli gardens we walked through the cypress trees ending up at a beautiful lagoon with a huge island of lemon trees in plant pots. We meandered our way past the back of the Pitti Palace to the exit passing a grotto with wonderful gargoyles with their mouths filled with moss and spewing water.

After lunch we made our way to the church of Santa Croce,  built in the 1200s. The church houses the tombs of Michelangelo, Machiavelli, Marconi, Galileo and Rossini. There is a memorial to Dante but his sarcophagus is empty. Beautiful frescoes decorate the church and there is a magnificent crucifix by Donatello.

In the evening we stopped at a local bistro for a simple  pizza with cheese, tomatoes and basil accompanied by a glass of prosecco. Once again we ended our day walking past the Duomo ending up the vast Piazza de Republica, where we enjoyed listening in as an opera singer sang well known Italian songs at one of the restaurants. Everyone in the square gave him huge applause. What a lovely way to end an Italian evening.


Florence, birthplace of the Renaissance

It was a six o'clock start last Thursday morning. We flew to Pisa then boarded a bus for Florence. It was many years since we visited Florence but we thought that the 2013 World Cycling Championships were a good excuse to make a return visit. This time we would visit places that we missed on our last trip.

Since we arrived many hours before check in at our hotel, we set off to reacquaint ourselves with the city, walking beside the brown, very still, River Arno that runs right through the city. It is uncommon to see such a wide river without any boats on it at all.  But of course who needs to look at the boats, when you have all the wonderful bridges crossing the river including the magnificent Ponte Vecchio, our first stop.

The Ponte Vecchio was built in 1345. The butchers, tanners and blacksmiths were evicted in the 1500s because of the noise and the stench they made. The workshops were rebuilt and let to goldsmiths. Today all the shops lining the bridge are jewelry shops, mostly very expensive but what selection, what design. Beautiful. The bridge as always was incredibly busy.

Our walk took us past the Uffizi, originally built as an office for Duke Cosmo I's administration. His heirs used the space to showcase the Medici family's art treasures, creating the oldest art gallery in the world. There are always line-ups outside the popular Uffizi.

We continued our walk, becoming ever warmer in the hot, humid weather. Window shopping in Florence is a feast for the eyes. Every other shop sells beautiful, bright handbags of every colour made of lovely butter-soft leather, while lots of other stores sell gorgeous, very stylish leather jackets.

The crowds in Florence are unimaginable. There are so many people and so many tour groups.You could hardly move outside the Pitti Palace. Florence is definitely one of the Italian destinations. What on earth would the Medici's, who spent so much money on making Florence such a beautiful city, make of all the tour groups? I think they would be horrified.

Dinner was some beautifully tender lemon veal scallopini with roast potatoes followed by a salad. Of course all this was accompanied by some Sangiovese wine and finished off with a lovely fruit salad.

It was much nicer walking after dinner. Many of the day-trippers were gone making the city seem quite magical, especially as we passed the Duomo, the cathedral of Florence, which was beautifully lit. Many great Florentine artists contributed to it, including Giotto and Pisano, Ghiberti and of course Brunelleschi, who designed the dome. Magnificent!

Our walking was made easier by all the barricades along the roads. Much of the traffic was rerouted because of the world championships. It was a quiet walk back along the river to our hotel.