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Venice-Cotignola, Day 15

Arrivederci Venezia – Buongiorno countryside

sunny 30 °C
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I loved Venice – if not the Venetians, who were surly & unhelpful, if not just plain rude for the most part (to any Venitians, sorry but it’s true, and it’s not just me that thinks so). The only ones that were a bit nice were either trying to sell me something or get their leg over. Of course I didn’t meet them all, and I’d probably be a bit cantankerous if I had to deal with hordes of loud, complaining Americans or aged and infirm Brits, not to mention the vast number of tour groups from Asia, all of whom seem to make up the bulk of the tourists. Venice proper (the bit on the island) is so lovely, it’s a shame to spoil it with the enormous crowds that clog its narrow streets.

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Crowd queuing in Piazza San Marco for the Basilica

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Crowd on the lovely Rialto Bridge

Once you get away from the madding crowd there, the noise disappears quickly and it’s quite peaceful.

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Santo Stefano - Venice's own leaning tower!

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Street view

Finding the same shop twice without a map is a challenge. You can’t get lost – you just keep walking, and sooner or later you’ll hit water, then just follow the streets around & you’ll meet a main thoroughfare or ferry stop. It does seem to be pretty safe, but there were a few dark streets I wouldn’t go down at nighttime if there was no light at the other end. I’ll really miss the music at night in the Piazza San Marco.

Took the ferry to the bus, which went to Marco Polo Airport so I could pick up my rental car. Got given a new model GPS so had to figure out how it worked before I left. The temperature in the airport carpark was 37.5 degrees, but later while driving the car’s thermometer said 30 deg C so we’ll go with that as the temperature for the day. I decided to take the “coast” road from Venice to Ravenna (which is 30 mins from Cotignola), expecting it to be more scenic than the motorway – and it’s fewer kms. However, I wouldn’t recommend it to anyone. The landscape is dead flat for most of the trip, and it goes: cornfield – poplar plantings – cornfield – dilapidated warehouse – cornfield – apple orchard – broken down farmhouse – poplars – cornfield – ooh, vineyard! – cornfield – well, you get the picture. All this and being in the middle of a convoy of trucks doing 10-20km less than the speed limit for about 90% of the trip and nowhere to pass because the other side of the road was equally convoy-ish. There were no photo opportunities really, and nowhere to pull over anyway.

Coming out of Ravenna, things did get a little (OK, a LOT) more exciting – and not in a good way. Yes, the GPS (Christine’s younger sister), told me to “turn right, then keep left”, so I did. What she actually meant to say was “turn right, then IN 500 METRES, keep left”. Doesn’t seem like much of a difference, does it? It does if the first “keep left” takes you the WRONG WAY up a motorway off ramp – and into the path of someone using it the RIGHT WAY (I know at least one of the people reading this knows how that feels). We both screeched to a halt (just as well I don’t understand Italian or I would have got an education in cursing!) and missed the collision by maybe 2 or 3 cm. After profuse apologies I did a 3-point-turn & headed back down the ramp, but it took me a good 5 minutes to stop shaking & I don’t know how long to swallow my heart back to where it belongs. Then I followed the cars that appeared to be going the way I needed to without further incident. Man, was I the happiest girl in the world to get to my hotel!

And it is ab-so-loot-lee gorgeous!!

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Palazzo Boschi, Cotignola

I feel like I’ve died & gone to heaven (perhaps I did have that accident after all!). I pulled up to a lovely peach-coloured plastered solid brick building in vineyard country. I was so hot – and still pretty stressed – when I got here, and the owner Samuel met me with a smile & a handshake, and let me into the wonderful, cool, calm interior of this beautiful renovated monastery.

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Reception area

It got even better than that – he showed me to my room. It’s at least 30 sqm, no, not counting the bathroom – my room in Venice would fit into it about 6 times, with room to spare (actually my Venice room would fit into the bathroom here!).

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My room

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Out my window

For the first time, I’ve uploaded pics of the hotel & my room. Not exciting for you guys I’m sure, but I couldn’t be more thrilled. They own their own vineyards, have a restaurant on site, and Samuel’s mum makes jams & preserves under their brand. If I didn’t have to get the car to Florence in two days, I’d stay here instead.

Their restaurant’s closed tonight, so I headed into a nearby town called Faenza for dinner, and on the way back the sun was setting. I’ve never seen a sunset that colour. The ball of the sun was such a bright, brimstone salmon-red, I tried to get a good photo, but I was a bit late by the time I could pull over & the colour didn’t come out very well. Maybe it’ll do it again tomorrow & I’ll have another go.

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I have two nights here, and will head out to have a look around the Romagna region tomorrow. Hopefully will get a bunch of good photos.

I’m sitting here right now, and all I can hear are crickets & the last of the birds (there’s a cuckoo out there somewhere), and the knocking in the walls, caused by the house cooling down. At least, I hope that’s what it is.

Posted by judesbucketlist 23:27 Archived in Italy Comments (1)

Cotignola, Day 16

Ceramics, sunset and great food.

sunny 30 °C
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Yet another brilliant, sunshiny day, and uneventful so this blog will be short and unexciting, I’m afraid.

Went to the International Ceramics Museum at Faenza, a town which is well-known in the world of ceramics. The museum is a lot bigger than first appears, with all manner of platters, urns and sculpture from centuries ago to now. Many of the old pieces weren’t terribly attractive, and many had been broken and repaired.

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Outside the Ceramic Museum, Faenza

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Ceramic sign, Faenza

The new stuff was varied and more about sculpture than utensils. Some interesting pieces, but no photos allowed.

Had a quick lunch there in a park, then came back to Cotignola to look for a monument to a New Zealander who helped them in the war with the Nazis. Cotignola was right near one of the battle fronts. Didn’t find the memorial but I’ve now found out where it is and will check it out tomorrow on my way to Florence. I did get to the cemetery, which is where I thought the monument was, and next door is a lovely church, Chiesa di San Francesco (see photo).

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Before dinner I watched the sunset from my room and took a ton of photos. Again, unfortunately, the colour just didn’t come out right. The bright, deep salmon red – like lava – is hard to imagine, but do your best when you look at the pic.

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Had dinner here at Palazzo Boschi – absolutely delicious. Imagine, if you will, light, flaky, crisp vol-au-vents, filled with soft, snow white, delicate flavoured cheese, topped with a few tasty strips of what they call fatty bacon (really more like fatty ham)… mmmmm. Accompanying that was warm, freshly made bread. Then came the home made lamb sausages (tasted better than they looked – lumpy and dark as if the family dog had helped make them!), perfectly seasoned and really meaty, with fried potatoes on the side. Yummo!!

Will be sorry to leave tomorrow, and will certainly give this place a 10/10 on TripAdvisor.

Posted by judesbucketlist 14:47 Archived in Italy Comments (0)

Cotignola – Florence, Day 17

A war story & bellissima Firenze!

sunny 32 °C
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Yet another bright, hot, sunshiny day. I’m sure you’re sick of reading that, but I’m not yet sick of writing it! Does get a bit much when you’re lugging luggage (hah, had never realised those two words could be related), but I can’t expect you guys to feel sorry for me!

After a delicious breakfast, with cakes & preserves made by Samuel’s Mama, I reluctantly checked out & went to find the NZ war monument I mentioned yesterday. Without realising it, I had passed it every time I drove into the township. It turns out it was for the 2nd NZ Division, commanded by Lieutenant General Bernard Freyberg, for their part in the storming of the Senio line (the Senio River is right next to the town) in the Italian campaign near the end of WWII. He was actually a “Sir” as well at the time, and became our Governor General after the war.

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Seeing this was quite an emotional moment for a slightly homesick Kiwi!

I forgot to mention that yesterday an old guy came up to me and started talking to me in Italian – I said “non capisco” (I don’t understand) and said I was from Nuova Zealanda. Though I didn’t understand most of the rest of what he said, I did pick up “guerra” (the war), “monumento” and “Nuova Zelanda”. It was quite a moving tribute to come across in a little town in the backblocks in Italy.

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View of Cotignola from the park

Then I headed off to Florence, via the autostrada. After Bologna, the flat terrain starts climbing into the hills. It’s not as rugged as the gorge in France, but some of the vistas are just as stunning. Again, unfortunately, there are no places to pull over where the views are best. There are a lot of tunnels too, some really quite long, most well lit, though some are “non illuminati” & a bit scary at 100km. There were a huge number of trucks on this route, but they stuck to the outside lane for the most part. Made it to the airport to drop off the car without incident, but I’ve gotta say, even driving on the outskirts of a major Italian city has its heart-stopping moments.

I’m worried for the cyclists here. Just as in France, they have no helmets & whiz around corners & through intersections without even looking – and they’re allowed to go the wrong way up one-way streets. The sheer numbers & the fact that they share the road with Italian drivers must surely mean there are a lot of injuries, or worse.

I took a taxi from the airport to the hotel, and as it was for Paris, it could be any other city until you get to the historic centre. The taxi couldn’t go up the street my hotel’s on because there’s a huge street market there every day, so it was quite a walk for me with my bags on bumpy cobblestones in 32deg heat (I know, your heart bleeds for me!). The hotel looks like nothing special from the outside, or the reception, but the room is really nice, and a good size, with a king size bed, aircon (thank God) & looks down to an internal courtyard so is nice & quiet. You also get included some bottled water, a bottle of bubbly (Prosecco) & a bowl of fruit – how cool is that?

Once I’d cooled off with a shower, I headed down to check out the market.

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Leather goods are over-represented, and there are tons of souvenirs, cheap jewellery and artworks. Oh, yes, and I got one proposition – woohoo! Then I just walked, and found the Duomo. Wow, my mouth just fell open!

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I’d seen photos of the dome, but I had no idea the building itself was so ornate and colourful, or so huge! The stone is green, white and red (which is actually peach) marble.

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It is really dirty, but if you can see past that you just know it’s a really spectacular building, something extra special. It was too late to go inside, but I’ll check it out at some stage, though I know there will be enormous queues since it’s free to enter.

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On the way back to the hotel I saw a carabinieri car (they’re the military police) – a new model Alfa Romeo – looked a bit strange with the lights on the top & the paintwork, but hey, our cops are stuck with crappy Holdens! I’ll try & get a pic of one for the album, as long as it won’t get me arrested.

Dinner was pizza (not as good as the one I had in Venice) & a glass of Chianti. The market had packed up and the street was covered in rubbish – the cleaning crew got started with brooms & the sweeper truck, but I’m not sure how successful they are each night.

Tomorrow will do some decent sightseeing, assuming my feet don’t file for divorce & I don’t melt away in the heat. It’s 25 deg right now, and forecast for 31 tomorrow, with a slight chance of rain. We’ll see.

Posted by judesbucketlist 13:35 Archived in Italy Comments (2)

Florence, Day 18

Walking for 6 ½ hours ain’t no joke. If I’m not thin & fit after this, I’m suing someone!

semi-overcast 28 °C
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You’ll be glad to know that although the day started out clear & sunny, it soon clouded over & could be described as overcast for at least some of the time. Didn’t rain though and I have no idea what the temperature was, guessing about 28deg so still hot.

Started out late, at 11am to check out the nearest place of interest, the Basilica di San Lorenzo. First went next door to the Biblioteca Medicea Laurenziana (try saying that 10 times fast!) to look at the courtyard, which was free to see (unlike most things in Florence). It’s a lovely space with an orange tree in the middle, as you will see by the photo. It was built in the 1520s by a Medici pope, and Michelangelo designed the library. Not something I was terribly interested in so I saved my euros.

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Went into the Basilica di San Lorenzo just across from my hotel, and what a lovely, light place. From the outside, it looks like it would be dark & dreary (Michelangelo was supposed to sort out the outside, but never got around to it), but as soon as you walk in you look up to this beautiful white ceiling with square gold mouldings. No photos allowed – isn’t it funny how the free places allow pics, but the ones you have to pay to get in don’t? Didn’t want you to miss out so I’ve included a pic from the internet so you can see what I mean.

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Outside Basilica di San Lorenzo

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Inside

The Palazzo Medici-Riccardi is close by so I went in there to see how the fat-cat former rulers of Florence used to live. Very ornate and they clearly thought a lot of themselves & lived incredibly greedily, keeping the masses downtrodden as long as they could, until the peasants revolted & kicked them out of Florence.

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Palazzo Medici-Riccardi
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In the garden courtyard of the Palazzo
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What you're not allowed to do in the garden (doesn't leave much you can do!)

Then I headed towards the Arno River to the Uffizi Museum. It sits on the edge of the Piazza della Signoria which is surrounded by some really great buildings, including the Palazzo Vecchio.

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Palazzo Vecchio

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Fake statue of David in the Piazza della Signoria - erected to save the real David from the weather

I decided not to go to the Uffizi because the queue was enormous & to get in quicker was 15 euros. So I kept walking to the street that runs along the edge of the river.

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Padlocks left by tourists along the Arno

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River Arno

The Ponte Vecchia isn’t far from there, and I'd had no idea what it looked like – as though houses had been built across the river – see photo.

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Ponte Vecchia

The shops that line the bridge are all jewellers, apparently because of a law instigated by the Medicis in the 1500s. From there, it was a bit of a walk to the gate in the last stretch of the original ancient wall that used to surround Florence, built in the 1400s.

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Florence's ancient wall

I wanted to see the Chiesa di San Miniato, which I’d read has the best views of the city. So I headed in what I thought was the right direction. WRONG! Still I got to see lots of that part of the city & very picturesque it was too, thank you very much, so you can stop laughing.

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Lovely views along the (very long when you're walking) Viale Niccolo Macchiavelli

When I finally gave up & asked for directions, I was told I was 3km away from where I wanted to be. My feet were calling their lawyer. But, stubborn cow that I am, off I toddled (tottered because of sore feet, actually) in the right direction, and finally arrived back on the map I had. Wended my way to the church, which sits on Monte alli Croce. And the view is stupendous!

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View from San Miniato

Plus the church itself is really lovely, a clean version of the same white, green & red marble that the Duomo building’s made of.

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The pretty church of San Miniato

And inside it’s just as pretty with interesting marble patterns on the floor, including one showing the Zodiac, which I thought was pretty strange for a Christian church.

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The rafters of Chiesa di San Miniato

Every day at 5:30, the monks do Gregorian chants in the church crypt, but although I would have liked to stay for that it was a full hour away & I really wanted to get back. There’s a cemetery up there too – hopefully the tenants appreciate the view as much as I did!

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The best view from a cemetery!

After stopping for a much-needed gelato, I got to the door in the ancient wall 3 hours after I’d first walked through it. Felt more like 5 hours, but the clock on the camera doesn’t lie. It would have taken me maybe 20 minutes to walk to the church if I’d gone the right way in the first place. Yeah, you can laugh! Ha bloody ha.

By this time, my feet’s lawyers had got back with the first draft of the divorce papers, so I needed to take the shortest route back to the hotel. Fell in the door about 6pm & the poor things are still recovering but we’ve talked & they’re giving me another chance (suckers!).

Tomorrow, I want to head up to the Gallerie dell’Accademia, which is where the original David statue is kept. No doubt it will take ages to get in to see him, he's a very popular bloke by all accounts. I saw fake David today in the Piazza della Signoria & he’s pretty cool, but there’s nothing like the original, so I’m told. It’s not too far away so I can stay pretty close to the hotel & maybe check out the inside of the Duomo if the queue isn’t too bad.

Posted by judesbucketlist 14:18 Archived in Italy Comments (1)

Florence, Day 19

A fine figure of a man & archeological digs

sunny 27 °C
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A lovely day again, back to the sunshine & with a little breeze to take the edge off the heat just a wee bit, making it about 27deg. Still feels hot though.

Had another late start, yesterday really took it out of me so I just took it quietly, leaving the hotel just before 11am. Headed straight for the Gallerie dell’Accademia, where Big Dave resides; he was moved there from the Piazza Signoria in the late 1800s when he started to deteriorate after more than 350 years outside. The queue was reasonably long, but looked like it was moving so I stood there for just on an hour before getting inside.

In front of me in the queue were a couple of ladies from the US, and one of them was on the phone organizing a taxi. I heard her say her name & spell it – Chappell! I asked her if I had heard right, and I had. Her husband Stephen is English, and his folks live in Buckinghamshire, which is nowhere near where Grandad came from, but who knows, we’re probably cousins. I got her email address so we can check it out when I get home. How amazing that you can be minding your own business (OK, I wasn’t), in a queue a million miles from home & you find you could be related to the person next to you!

The gallery itself isn’t very big, but it was originally built specifically only for this one sculpture, so I guess you can’t expect another Louvre. When I first walked in, the sculpture that really caught my attention was “The Rape of the Sabines”. Not a very nice topic, but the way it’s been done in a spiral is amazing & although it’s in marble, it looks alive – and violent! Checked out a few other pieces and paintings (I was disappointed there were none of my pal, St Sebastian), but was really only there for one reason. Unfortunately, they don't allow any photos within the gallery at all, so I'm afraid there are no pics from me, but this one from the Net will have to do.

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What a hunk!

As you walk through a doorway into a corridor lined with other sculptures, there stands David at the end, under a dome in a light-filled space. Even though I had seen the plaster version of him yesterday, the real thing is simply awe-inspiring. He’s over 5m tall (so how big was Goliath??) and although he’s out of proportion (his hands & head are too big for his body because he was designed to sit up very high in a church apse, which would put him in proportion), you don’t really notice that initially. Again, no photos allowed, but the internet is full of them (I uploaded 2) & I have my memories. He is beautiful, the marble almost glows, and Michelangelo’s skill in getting the anatomical basics just right means there are veins and muscles in all the right places. And I think his face shows a little fear but a lot of determination to get Goliath. Because the gallery controls the number of people inside, it was easy to get close to him, unlike the Mona Lisa & her adoring multitudes. I stood & gazed at him for quite a while, & from all angles.

I left there very reluctantly, and just walked for a while, finding the Piazza della Repubblica, where there were a bunch of people for a 100km bike race & a run.

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Piazza della Repubblica

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Here come the cops!

Headed back to the Duomo, hoping the queue would be OK, which it was & only took about 30 mins to get in. Was able to take photos (once again, the free place allows it), and although it’s reasonably empty of artefacts (they’re in a museum nearby), it’s a lovely airy place with lots of opportunities for photos.

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The part under the dome was roped off, so no chance to get a good shot of the painting, but got some sections of it, as you can see above. Also went down into the “crypt”, where there’s a souvenir shop. It seems a bit off to have it right next to the tomb of Brunelleschi, the man who designed the dome – or is that just me that thinks so? Like moneylenders in the temple!

Down there are also the foundations of the church that stood there 1600 years ago, and some Roman artefacts the archeologists have also unearthed. You have to pay a little bit to get into that part, which I was happy to do. It was amazing to see (and walk on) the mosaic floor from all those centuries ago. I love that stuff & there will be more of it in Rome. Yippee!

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In the Duomo crypt

I check out tomorrow and pick up the last rental car, for 3 days in Tuscany, before going to Rome. Not looking forward to the Florence streets out of the airport, but won’t be far to the countryside from there, and only about an hour to San Gimignano, then 5km further south to my accommodation.

Posted by judesbucketlist 12:58 Archived in Italy Comments (0)

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