Weatherwise, it was a bit of mixed month although I will remember it as very hot, for I left a rather changeable UK for a week in Italy, where the temperature was ’36 degrees, feels like 46 degrees’ for pretty much the whole time. First stop was Pisa, for the obligatory leaning tower photos and a wander around the Baptistry and Cathedral.
Next stop Florence, by train the following morning. We had a room with quite a view (top), but we spent little time there – too much to see and too little time to see it. We lunched from the very busy collection of food stalls above the central food market, on a mix of arancini, burrata salad and Italian-style dim sum before visiting the Basilica of San Lorenzo, where key members of the Medici family were buried (below left and centre). After a while spent wandering the streets, the crowds and the heat made me glad of the sanctuary of the church Santissima Annunziata – a highlight of Florence for me, for we stumbled into it unawares from the baking hot piazza outside. It was not only a refuge from the sun but quite spectacular – there’s a simple atrium (although not without frescoes), then we stepped into a totally ornate space, baroque and gilded at every turn and scented with incense (below right).
An Aperol Spritz nearby did little to help me lose my resemblance to a lobster, so it was back to the hotel for a shower before venturing out again for a pre-booked evening slot at the Accadamia, to see David (can’t seem to upload the photo – censored by the blog site, perhaps…) and a seemingly huge collection of blonde Virgin and Child images, as well as many Annunciations. It was an early lesson that with so much art to see in Florence, it is perhaps best to view it in small, focussed chunks.
Our guide on a walking tour of Florence the next morning said much the same thing – she gave us a run-down of the early history of the Medicis while showing us the key buildings of their reign (Duomo and Palazzo Vecchio interior below), and the fascinating corridor that crosses the city from the Palazzo Vecchio, across the Ponte Vecchio (surely destined to collapse into the Arno under the sheer volume of tourists), ending at the church of Santa Felicita. She advised us that it was best to prioritise in the Uffizi, another pre-booked slot for the afternoon – deciding on the main things we wanted to see and sticking to them.
After lunching in the Piazza Santo Spirito, we rather lost sight of that advice and mounted a whistle stop tour of the gallery, torn between admiring the wonderful ceilings and the art on the walls.
The crowds in front of Botticelli’s Primavera and Birth of Venus, intent on taking selfies rather than looking at the paintings, might have been chastened on reaching the lower floor where an installation featured a smartphone video of tourists in front of the Botticelli, and their antics with their phones. I felt a little embarrassed at having snapped some of my favourite images, but I’m glad I did as it allowed me to look at them again in a more peaceful setting. Less laudable is not always being sure who painted them – but the young man below is by Botticelli, the lady in the white gown is Flora by Titian, (or Tiziano) and the rather severe lady in the red gown is by Bronzino.
Florence continued to delight, with a morning spent learning how to make fresh pasta (and gnocchi) in the company of 8 other delightful novices and a few glasses of prosecco. We ate our creations, accompanied by more wine, before heading back to the hotel for a lie down. We ventured out later to struggle (in my case) up to the Piazzale Michelangelo to watch the sunset, accompanied by several hundred others.
After Florence, we moved on to Bologna and had a quieter couple of days. On our first evening we explored the streets then, as darkness fell, settled down to watch the open air cinema set up in the Piazza Maggiore: ‘Girl with a Suitcase’, a black-and-white film with Claudia Cardinale. We eked out our Aperol Spritz and sat on in a bar with a prime view – the temperature was just about perfect around 11pm.
On a walking tour the next day we discovered the canals of Bologna as well as churches and a kind of merchant’s hall tucked in around the streets – I returned later for a peek inside.
I sampled Tagliatelle Ragu – the original spaghetti bolognese – and very delicious it was, too. It was only the third dish of pasta on the holiday, and I failed to eat any pizza (although I did manage a couple of ice creams…) Although pasta was the main offering everywhere, we ate quite an eclectic mix including Indian food and delicious humous and salads in Florence, aperitivo snacks instead of dinner one evening in Bologna – and drank some interesting wine (a Vermentino that I never managed to surpass on Via dei Conti in Florence.)
Back to the UK and some changeable weather, but it was lovely to spend some time with the grandson both at home and then, a few days later, in London.
Returning from London with a guest who was coming to spend a few days in Kent, we stopped off at Wisley on a day that saw the start of a very hot spell.
The weather was perfect for a trip to Margate and the Turner Contemporary the next day, followed by Deal and Walmer the next.
We watched an evening performance of ‘Sense & Sensibility’ performed in the glorious setting of Goodnestone House, accompanied by a picnic, while dragonflies swooped over us, followed by bats and even an owl as dusk fell.
The heat hung on for a few days longer but Autumn seems to have arrived quite suddenly and as I’m writing this, I’m wondering whether it could be time to start putting the heating on …