Sunday, 18 December 2011

Buone Feste!

Still alive... Think I've run out of excuses for not updating the blog and certain family members, who shall remain nameless, have let it be known that such tardiness just isn't good enough. So, what to write about...?

Weather: winter has arrived as of yesterday. The predicted overnight low for tomorrow night is -3 degrees which is chilly. It started to rain at the beginning of December... barely a drop all November which wasn't good for olive crops or truffles, apparently, but great if you're riding a bike to and from school every day. I've had some use of my poncho raincoat the last couple of weeks and it's pretty good except for the splash back from the road. Feet and lower legs get soggy in heavy rain and of course, not much can be done for protecting the face. It's not a great look if you have a fringe like me, wet hair plastered to forehead with the rest of the 'do' happily springy and dry. Anyhow as of yesterday it fined up and cooled down considerably. I'm wondering how many more layers it could be possible to add to my already onion-esque outfits.

This time last year it snowed in Florence and let's face it, if it's going to be this cold, I want snow! I'd love to see a snow-capped Duomo and David and Ponte Vecchio and everything else. Meanwhile anyhow the city is looking pretty with Christmas lights lining the streets in the historical centre and all manner of other Chritmassy things have manifested around the town... like a massive Christmas tree hauled in and subsequently decorated by crane and a life size nativity scene made with terracotta figures (with empty manger; baby Jesus is apparently whipped out from somewhere on Christmas day - of course - but then I wonder why the terracotta Mary isn't pregnant). Most shops have also made some sort of effort to celebrate the season with their own window decorations, so it's all very festive.

School is now on winter break until the second week of January and it's no great trouble adjusting to holiday mode. The hardy few of us not going home for Christmas (because we're from countries on the other side of the globe) are planning to get together to draw and share meals and things. It's a nice time to be cosy inside doing homework. The Russians are no bludgers, we've been assigned ample painting and drawing to do during the next few weeks.

My Italian speaking is still going hopelessly but I've made a name for myself since making a huge batch of ANZAC biscuits for our 'culture' party at school. There were so many left over I've been giving them out to one and all... including the bicycle man at the end of my street. I swing by his shop whenever I need my tyres pumped but he doesn't tend to overwhelm me with friendliness (at least he was pleased to help me the first time I went until I opened my mouth and he realised I was a foreigner). To save me buying a bike pump I've persisted in going back for the precious pressured air, trying my politest loveliest Italian on him to no effect. But then I had the most ingenious idea: ANZACS. Should have seen the reception I got when I picked up my bike after leaving it (along with a handful of ANZACS) for him to fix a flat tyre. He even tightened my breaks without my asking. I'm about to make a second large batch because not only do they apparently taste fab (being off sugar I haven't had one) but they are uniquely Australian which is one of the few culinary delights we can really lay claim to.

Only one week til Christmas, the year has suddenly disappeared. I'm spending Christmas day with Sarah and Andrew and their kids (Aussie missionary couple living in Florence) and possibly some other Christmas 'orphans'. So, happy Christmas and New year to all. If you're in the Northern Hemisphere: stay warm. If you're down south, enjoy your picnic sangers and don't get too burnt.

Lots of love! You can see latest pics here.

Monday, 31 October 2011

Back to school

The summer sun setting at 9.30pm seems a distant dream with the end of daylight savings this weekend. Tonight darkness had fully settled before 6pm. Winter is coming. I knew the seasons were changing when I walked into a department store a few weeks back and came across a whole section devoted to fashion gum boots. I heard that November can be wet, but... ok, clearly they're serious. I went straight home and ordered myself a 'bicycle raincoat' online. It's like a huge poncho with a visor-ed hood with clear panels to the sides for rain-free vision and ample skirtage to cover everything except the hands. Now I can't wait for it to rain so I can try it out. I'm sure the novelty will wear thin rather quickly but it's good to know I'll be able get to school by bike fairly dryly during November.

Other signs of winter are the vast array of coats and woolly accessories now available in the clothing stores and the sudden appearance of street vendors selling roasted chestnuts. I really must try them one of these days. The Boboli Gardens seem to close earlier each week and the town heating has been switched on. This is something I've only just learned about. Many buildings are connected to this government controlled system of heating so that one has to rely completely on the powers-that-be as to whether one is warm or not. We have this at school and it normally goes on at the beginning of November but thankfully it came on last week as we were painting with frozen fingers the week before. Unfortunately the colder weather hasn't made much of a dent in the tourist population although it seems they are sleeping in a bit later as I have a free run to school over the Ponte Vecchio and past the Duomo each day. Getting home is another matter entirely and requires great dodging skills akin to some kind of video game. Tourists do not walk in straight lines, make random movements, stop and start at random and don't watch where they are going ever. Why would they, there are too many interesting things to look at. I sometimes wonder how many snapshots I'm in worldwide zooming past cameras just as they go 'click'.

The lurgy has been making the rounds with the change of weather so I've had a few days in bed the past week but seem to be on the mend now. The cool is a bit of a shock to the system but although the mornings are cold (around 10 degrees), when the sun is shining the afternoons are glorious. After this summer just past I'm officially no longer a summer person, I'm now an autumn/spring person. I'd prefer to be slightly cold even than melting into a summer puddle. Maybe I'm maturing. I celebrated my birthday at the beginning of the month thanks to some lovely friends to help me do so. We went out for an aperitivo during the week at a bar in town called Kitsch where you pay 8 euro for a drink of your choice and a buffet dinner. We also had a picnic at the big park just out of town on my birthday day with some close friends... Unfortunately when I updated the software on my phone I lost all the photos I'd taken in the last month so I have no photographic evidence and hardly any photos to upload for this update. Not happy Jan!

The Russian Academy is very different from Angel and much more challenging in every way. We are learning to understand form and not just copy what we see. For me this is much harder but more exciting. We've also been thrown into the deep end with painting straight away, unlike Angel where the students draw for a whole year before picking up a brush. We paint all day on Mondays, paint in the mornings and draw in the afternoons Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday, and Friday we have composition all day. We have to come up with 3 of our own designs out of our imaginations... the first, anything out of the bible, the second on the theme of 'waiting', the third is completely free. We do small sketches and work with the teachers to develop our ideas, then later find reference photos or objects to help us to paint it. We have to have something we want to communicate and use design and form and colour to do so. Not easy but something I'm very glad to be developing. We finished our first still life last week:

The school has a positive atmosphere and I love my class of 8. We are all ages (from 20 to 69) and from all different countries; Germany, France, Switzerland, Spain, Chile, America, UK and Australia. All the teachers and staff are Christians which I didn't know until the first day of school. Two of the girls in my class are also Christians so we have started a small bible study at my house with a couple of other girls we know. I haven't been part of a bible study since I've been here as the one at my church is in Italian and starts too late at night for me. I'm amazed by God's grace in all the changes that have happened and how much better this school suits me.

My Italian has fallen by the wayside because I've been BUSY and also realised that I've come here to draw and paint so that has to take priority. Ah well, I get by ok in the street so it has to do for now. It's recently come to my attention that the Italians aren't big on mash potato and I only know this because I've been on the hunt for a potato masher (to mash my winter soups mainly). Interesting... I will continue my search and keep you posted..

You can check out my measly offering of photos here.

Bye for now! =)

Thursday, 1 September 2011

Umbria and Venice

It's been a long summer break but this is the last few days of it as I start a 3 week portrait workshop at my new school on Monday before the term begins on 26th September. I survived the Florentine heatwave (38-40 degree days) by laying naked on the tiles for 2 weeks without moving. Worked a treat.

I also escaped the city for a week in Umbria with some friends who came to Italy for a holiday; Nic, Karen, Sarah, Mike (and baby Alexander). We all met at church when I lived in Drummoyne while I was studying at Wesley Institute. We rented a villa in the mountains about 20 minutes east of Assisi (as in Francis of..) where it was cooler and the countryside incredibly beautiful. We spent our days exploring the near-by cities, such as Orvieto, Todi and Gubbia (although I opted for a couple of days at home to soak up the serenity and recover from eating the wrong thing for lunch one day). We had a taste of Italian culture with the Festa at Costa del Trex (the nearest village) which we were invited to by our hosts Mary and Brian (who live next door to the villa for the summer months every year). The local nonna's cook mountains of food and everyone eats a great meal for a bargain price, accompanied by live music and later, apparently, dancing (which we didn't manage to stay long enough for after a long day out exploring - it was after 10pm by the time we left though!).

What luxury to be in the fresh mountain air with ripe figs to pick, a cat to pat and friends from home! Also to be able to pray and share God's word with other people which I haven't had much of since I've been here. It was a much needed break from the furnace in Florence and the feeling of abandonment (!!) as the last of my Florentine friends had just left town for their summer holiday. As Nic and everyone were staying in a villa in Tuscany for a week afterwards, we were able to meet up for the day in San Gimignano, which was HOT (and hotter out of the shade) so perhaps we didn't give it the fullest energy it deserved, but for me it was just great to see everyone again before they headed back to oz.

Last weekend I spent 3 nights in Venice for my birthday present from mum (it's a rather big birthday so it was a particularly special present). Venice is just as romantic as it sounds aside from the tourists. Everyone knows that you shouldn't go in August, but off I went as here I am with all the time in the world and soon I'll be back at school without a minute to scratch myself. Never-the-less! There are plenty of quiet back streets in which to lose oneself, and the city seems to have been designed for that very purpose. It's truly a wonder how it can function without land vehicles of any sort, bicycles included, when you think about things such as garbage collection, furniture delivery or even the simple act of doing one's shopping! It's certainly no place for the eldery or disabled with its endless narrow streets and interconnecting bridges with many steps up and as many back down again. But could there be anything more romantic than a stripey shirted gondolier paddling his reclining customers along quiet canals lined with magnificent edifices adorning flower boxes spilling with bright red geraniums for all to enjoy? It's truly one of the wonders of man's creation, set smack bang in the middle of God's creation... the sea! Well, maybe you would call it a lagoon, but whatever, the ocean breeze was heavenly and the smell of the salty air constantly reminded me of Manly where I grew up.

The highlight of my visit was seeing the opera at La Fenice (ironically meaning The Phoenix) which had featured in a book I read before I came to Italy so I was very keen to see it. The theatre, built in 1790, was burned to the ground and rebuilt a number of times, the last in 1996. It was rebuilt again by the end of 2003 as closely as possible to the previous design which was/is quite stunning (see pics, which sorry don't do it much justice). I saw La Traviata which had a huge cast and accompanying orchestra and went for 3 hours with 2 intervals. I read up on the story before-hand so followed along despite the old Italian being sung where no average voice would go. I was in a box on the 3rd floor not far from the stage which meant leaning forward on the lovely velvet barrier from where I had a fine view of everything. The nice Italian man next to me (wife in next box) lent me his binoculars and reassured me that I looked only 20 (it was dark), so we quickly became firm friends. The 2 Americans behind couldn't see a thing but when I found out they paid only 10 euros for 'listening only' seats I stopped feeling bad for them and enjoyed the show.

I'll let the pics do the rest of the commentary: click here.

Monday, 25 July 2011

Grand European Tour

Here's my new look blog. I decided if I was to write so much it's only fair on those who'd like to read it that they not have to do so with reverse type which is hard on the eyes. So here is the more friendly black text on white...

I've gotten a bit carried away and written rather a lot, so if you'd like a more condensed pictorial summary, please go directly here where you'll find the pics. For those who are more your details type of person, please read on...

After the Grand European Tour, I'm full of inspiration and the possessor of much time in which to do inspired things. After fretting excessively about returning to the mid-summer heat in Florence, turns out we're having a week of unseasonally cool weather (probably the coolest 4th week of July since 19-somthing-or-other) and it's a fresh 25 degrees today with a cool breeze that even comes close to being chilly. Thrilling!

I had a fab time in England, spending 4 nights with Uncle Full Up and Jane (and Robbie and Liv) before heading to London. It was different to visit Bridge Farm in the middle of summer when the garden was a bloom, tortoises well and truly out of hibernation and (gasp) the sun shining. Such a refreshing change also from the melting pot of Florence that I relished the fresh country air and tranquility, taking Darci for walks and wandering around the countryside with Phil (who knows EVERYONE within coo-ee). We had lunch at an old pub on the canal where we watched boats traverse the locks, and one day spent the afternoon at the splendidly grand Waddesdon Manor (refer to pics). Treat of treats was our outing to the theatre to see Jekyll and Hyde in Milton Keynes (where it's all at), which was brilliant even with the understudy playing the main role (the lead actor had a few days prior been biffed in the nose by an over zealous dancer and carted off to hospital mid performance with said appendage properly broken - now that's entertainment for you).

Morning of departure for London I was struck by a migraine so left a little later than planned which meant I missed catching up with my friend Vivien and family who were also visiting London. Disappointed! I started feeling well enough to venture out of my lodgings about 3pm so went for a boat ride down the Thames all the way to Greenwich. I had no idea the ride was 3 HOURS return until I was boarding, by which time I was committed and wondering how I'd cope with post migraine head for so long. Turns out it went in a flash with a highly amusing cockney commentary from one of the crew which had me hanging off every word and turning left to right to check out the referred to features. Fascinating! eg. Did you know that WHARF stands for Warehouse At River Front?.

Next morning hopped on the tourist bus and took a wee spin around London, seeing the sites with the wind in my hair and an interesting and informative commentary. Hopped off for a picnic lunch on a nice patch of grass in the perfect possie to study Buckingham Palace, where I could contemplate things like had the Queen had ever done such a thing in her life as sit on the grass eating a take-away salad from Tescos? I think emphatically not. Said Queen wasn't about (she was in one of her other houses for a wee 'oliday), but sitting before the palace I was struck by an overwhelming urge to get 'in' somehow. The best option (on account the ferocious looking guards in their bear hats at the gate), seemed to be a visit to the mews. Quite impressive all those 'orses and lovely carriages. I was particularly fascinated by the surrounding servants quarters... did you known She has about 600 servants! Can't rightly imagine what they're all doing, but there you have it.

Next day I met up with Dianna at the National Portrait Gallery which was showing the BP prize (similar to the Archibald in Sydney). We also came across the die hard Harry Potter fans camping out in Trafagar Square for the premier event of the final film which was happening in 2 days time. Some had been out in the elements for days already. By the time I came back the day of the event, there were so many people it was a major feat to squeeze my way into the National Gallery and it's possible the entire British Police force had been enlisted to keep things under a semblance of control.

Post lunch we navigated our way via tube to Harrods which we explored in a wide-eyed-gob-smacked kind of fashion for what seemed like ever (not a born shopper this one) and still didn't make it through the vastness. What an extravaganza. The entirety drips expensiveness leaving me to wonder really how many people could afford to shop there. Still, we enjoyed gawking at the outrageous price tags on the outrageous stuff under the outrageous ceilings.

Was very sad to take leave of Dianna as it was our official farewell since she's left Florence now. My last morning I went to the Tate Gallery and National Gallery again before heading to St Pancras to hop on the eurostar to Paris. Loved London, it's easy to navigate and everyone speaks English (a constant surprise), and they're ever so friendly. Not to mention the galleries are free!

Training through the French countryside I marvelled at the comments of a French guy at school about how civilised the French are compared to the Italians. He went as far as to say Italy is third world (bit extreme) but seeing how neaty-pin everything looked between the English channel and Paris I was tempted to agree with him. So, full of expectations, it was somewhat unexpected to walk with Heidi from Paris Nord station to her house through what might have been the middle of South Africa. Clearly the French guy is from the countryside, and clearly he's never been to Paris! I admit it took me some days to recover from my false expectations and accustom to the dirtiness, the homeless people, the crowds, the beggars and the men peeing where-ever they please. But I think by the end of my 5 day sojourn it had became more of an organic entity, pulsing with life in all it's colours, joys and hardships, laden with culture and best of all, a genuine passion for the arts.

The French love their art. The Louvre is no small testament to that. I set aside a whole day to do it, which happened to be the day after Heidi showed me around Paris on foot (all the way to and a bit beyond the Eiffel Tower, which is a sight to behold)... Since I am more your cycling everywhere type person, I was feeling a bit sorry for myself morning of my Louvre day. Anyhow, wouldn't be deterred and I set off with the rest of the population to see me some art. I didn't expect to have a one-on-one bonding moment with Mona or anything, but sadly I had to jump up and down behind the papparazzi just to get a glimpse. Outrageous... really, what are all those people doing there anyway? The Louvre is a VAST museum and I somehow sniffed out a deck chair in the park nearby after stopping for lunch and for the gathering of strength for part 2. In the end I think I did see all the paintings, as well as Napolean's apartments and some of the artifacts at the bottom (only because I couldn't find an exit at one point and walked 3 miles underground past mummies and other things creepy til I found it, sweating with frustration and crowdaphobia). Tick, Louvre.

Over the next few days I did the Orsay Museum (which had a temporary Monet exhibition on) - wonderful in every way, Siene river cruise (in 6 languages, 5 of which were somewhat trying after the first 10 minutes), private home and studio of Gustav Moreau - fab, Montmartre and Basilica, Pompidou Centre with its awesome views of Paris, Luxumbourg Gardens and a farewell lunch with Heidi. I had a terrific time and was surprised at how helpful and willing to speak English (for the most part) the French were as I'd been warned otherwise. Was wonderful to be able to stay with Heidi and have a real home to come back to each day too.

Next stop Holland via fast train. Somehow fumbled my way through peak hour madness at Rotterdam station to arrive safely at Den Bosch where Marije and Sander were waiting for me with big hugs. The first couple of days were cold (down to 12 degrees), raining (as if Holland needs more water) and blowing an umbrella turning gale. Not quite what I'd had in mind. But not wanting to waste a moment of my Dutch discovery time, Marije and I braved the elements for the love of art to explore the Mauritshuis and Gemeentemuseum in Den Haag. I'm sure the city is usually quite lovely but it wasn't that day... we fought unruly umbrellas every step and puffed wetly with relief whenever we were safely re-ensconced in a building or mode of transport. Despite the hardships we saw some wonderful masterpieces, the best know being Girl with a Pearl Earring.

Finally a wonderfully sunny day and we all 3 went to see the windmills in the Heritage Listed park Kinderdijk. This is when I started to understand that the windmills weren't just there to give the Dutch something to be known by and also when I came to realise just how much water there is in Holland. Canals, rivers, lakes, the sea, dams and puddles! They needed the windmills to stay on dry land. (Still the case but now they use more modern thingies). I was fascinated by the working windmill that was set up as a family household as it would have once been. Later we went to Gouda (as in cheese), a quaint little village with wonderful town hall and square, and of course a canal!

We spent a day in the Hoge Veluwe national park where there is the house and museum of Helene Kroller Muller, an avid art collector in the early 1900s. The house is a work of art in itself and her private art collection is extensive including a whole room full of Van Gogh paintings. The park provides bicycles at various points for visitors to use to ride between points or just enjoy the park. I spotted a deer but there are apparently many other wild-lifes living there too. A fab day out.

I was totally taken with the Dutch love and appreciation of cycling. There are even undercover parking stations for bikes, special lane-ways all over the place and of course the absence of hills makes it the choice mode of transport...

Sander and Marije live in a really cute town with little laneways, old buildings, water and blackberries growing wild. It was such a thrill for me to be able to visit them in in their natural habitat and enjoy their hospitality. I spent my last night in Amsterdam after Marije and I spend the day together at the Van Gogh museum and the Rijksmuseum. I wasn't expecting to be so inspired by the work of Van Gogh. I was completely taken by his drawings and it's set me on a mission to draw and draw. It was also fascinating to see the progression of his work and see how some pieces were successful and others weren't as much. I've got more drive to not sweat the failures because the next one might be a winner. I'm loving having time off to draw and perhaps get a few paintings done too. I'm also chomping at the bit to start back at school in the first week of September.

To save you scrolling back to the link up top, you can see pics here.

Thursday, 23 June 2011

Ju and Vic in Florence

First Vic and Ju did an 18 day tour around lovely bits of Italy and now they have come to stay with me in Florence for 12 days. We're having a lovely time shopping and oohing and aahing at the abounding splendors of the city, trudging home for a siesta when even the die hard shoppers can no longer push through the pain. We are staying together in a nice (but rather noisy) apartment near the Ponte Vecchio with a glorious outlook of the Arno. The heat is slowly building after a couple of weeks of cooler wet weather. In fact 2 weeks ago we had more rain in a few days than we've had since I've been here, including one spectacular storm complete with wind, driving rain, thunder, lightening and flash flooding in the street below me (see pics).

This apartment, while noisy, is certainly at the heart of Florentine action at the moment and there has been much happening here the past week. It seems that the Italians will take any opportunity to 1. make noise, 2. stay up late, 3. make noise while staying up late. We have bells ringing, cars and mopeds motoring, ambulances ambulating, fireworks, live street entertainment and people everywhere being people noisily. On the street below us we've had a city fun run, the celebration of San Giovanni (patron saint of Florence) and Oltrano Notte Bianca (White night in Oltrano) where all the shops stay open until the wee hours of the night and there is entertainment in the streets and squares, with restaurants spreading their tables out onto the road (see pics), streets blocked off from cars and everyone staying up all night. It's all go and I can only say hallelujah to the person who invented earplugs!

It's been so great to have mum and Vicki here and to see so many parts of Florence I haven't seen before and go everywhere on foot as opposed to whizzing past everything on my bike.

I have finished 2 trimesters at Angel Academy and have some more drawings to show for it including a charcoal cast drawing of an eye (I've forgotten to photograph it so will upload the photo next time) and a 5 week charcoal life drawing. The method is quite laborious - charcoal on a textured paper needs to be highly sharpened in order to fill in all the 'holes' in the paper - so I was pretty glad to be done by the end of 5 weeks but quite happy with the result. Next term I'm starting at the Russian Academy of Art instead, which is a 'structural' method of drawing and painting as opposed to the 'visual' method at Angel. It has been a big decision to change schools so hopefully I have made the right one.

I have 3 months off for the summer and need to work on a 10-point plan for surviving the heat which is purported to be intense. The Italian models at school call this 32 degree heat 'fresh' compared to the heat of summer. After mum and Vicki go I am heading for the UK for a week to see Philip, Jane, Livy and Robbie as well as a wee poke around London, then to Paris to visit Heidi and the Eifel Tower and the Louvre and then on to Amsterdam to visit my friends Marije and Sander for a week.

Then I will be back to battle the heat until some friends from my old church in Sydney come and we will stay in a villa in Umbria for a week. Then more heat in my little towering inferno until school goes back in September.

For latest pics go here.

Thursday, 19 May 2011

Final Bargue & The Leaning Tower

Here is the final Bargue copy drawing finished. I took a photo every day (except when I forgot to) and made it into a time-lapse video which you can see here:

Now we have moved on to charcoal cast drawing. Roxanna and I are working on the same cast of an eye. Dianna has an ear. I'll take a photo of our set up and post it soon. Charcoal is very different to work with than graphite... messier and the dust gets into the nose and mouth and no doubt the lungs. (We invested in some face masks and started a bit of a trend with some of the other students. Really only needed when sharpening the charcoal as the dust goes everywhere. We look more like medical students than art students... anyone need a bandaid??). Charcoal has a far greater tonal range than graphite though (ie. you can make a very deep black which is not possible with graphite) and I'm seeing how it's a great foundation to understanding how to paint. We also started a new 5 weeks long life drawing this week which is also in charcoal. It's a lovely pose and I'm beginning to see some improvement in my ability to get the shapes more accurate, more quickly.

Last weekend Dianna and I decided we needed to broaden our horizons and headed for Pisa, primarily to see the Leaning Tower. There's not a lot else to Pisa. The Arno River runs through it on its way to the sea, which isn't very far away, so it has similarities to Florence with it's bridges... but completely lacks the charm of the historical centre of Florence. As Pisa was largely wiped out in WW2 it is architecturally newer and we all know that people lost the knack of making beautiful buildings and edifices somewhere along the line. What other bridge could possibly compete with the Ponte Vecchio let's face it.

Anyhow the leaning tower is gorgeous. I was expecting it to be bigger, but wasnt' disappointed with the lean. It really leans. To the point where one wonders if this might not be the moment when gravity wins and the whole thing flops to the side. It was recently restored and scrubbed clean so it's sparkling and very petite and ornate. We would have climbed to the top if it didn't cost an arm and a leg, so after oohing and aahing for a suitable duration, we gallantly worked out how to get the bus back to the station where we could get another bus to the coast. I did a bit of research before we left and discovered that Marino di Pisa is the closest coastal town, just 20 mins by bus from Pisa and not touristy as there are better beaches down the coast a bit. What more could a girl longing to sniff the sea air ask for? Again, a feat of charades and broken Italian and we found the bus and the ticket office and finally Marina di Pisa.

Well, the beaches down the coast must be good because here is a pristine stretch of coast with aqua waters and not a wave to be seen. That's if the beach was really a beach. I mean, is it really a beach if it doesn't even have sand? I don't think so. It had big pebbles actually but this didn't stop anyone sunning themselves as if they were at the beach. The surrounding rocks were also draped with people just like a colony of seals. Curious!

We found a seaside restaurant with outdoor seating at which to share an enormous pizza with thin crispy crust... didn't feel so great afterwards but it was extremely GOOD! Especially with the sea breeze blowing fresh salty air through my whole being. Refreshing for the soul. It was like being in Manly without all the tourists (or the shops, or the beach... ok nothing like Manly except the coastal 'vibe').

You can see more pics here...

È tutto per oggi!

Tuesday, 26 April 2011

Buona Pasqua

Buona Pasqua means 'happy easter' and it's very much on everyone's lips here at the moment although in actuality it doesn't mean much more than "have a nice long-weekend". Even though this is a predominantly Catholic nation, it seems now that most Italians don't practice their religion and very few people have a personal relationship with Jesus. The easter celebrations in Florence have been passed down over the centuries and are an exciting event for Italians and tourists alike. My first thought was to avoid what would certainly be a moshpit around the Duomo for "Lo Scoppio del Carro" (The burning of the Cart), but at the last minute I decided that it was too much to know that this once a year event would be happening senza me, so off I went.

I parked my bike on my side of the river and walked across the empty Ponte Vecchio thinking to myself, maybe I have the wrong day, where is everyone? As I made my way through the empty streets I thought, ok weird, where's the parade? where's the streets lined with people? where am I? what day is it anyway? Finally reached the Duomo and behold, the moshpit. Every person in Florence was right there squeezed into the space surrounding the Duomo and over the tops of the heads I could make out some waving flags and hear the drums and the church bells, and feel the excitement in the air. Clearly I had to make my way closer to the action, which was a challenge, but I got a fair way in, finally laying eyes on the said 500 year old cart, lined with fireworks and surrounded by firemen and pyrotechs in all manner of safety gear. Alright, this might be the only time when I'll agree with you that it's nice to be tall. Add tippy toes to that, combined with intermittent leaps into the air and one can afford oneself some kind of view of the action (I find).

I heard that the cart was going to go off at 11am so I had 45 minutes to endure being squished on all sides and hoping to have no kind of urgent need of any sort for at least the next hour. The burning of the cart is supposed to represent Christ's ressurrection and new life. I really had no clue what to expect but there was a pulpable building of tension as the drums beat and the bells donged and a priest (or at least someone with a very tall hat on) paraded around a bit - couldn't see, there were probably other things going on... and then the moment arrived. Something came whizzing along a string coming out of the main door of the Duomo, hitting the cart and setting off the fireworks display. It was the most dramatic, exciting and altogether terrifying fireworks I've ever experienced. So loud one might even have thought world war 3 had broken out and we were being bombed. I decided that photos wouldn't do it justice so took some footage (see below). Obviously the footage does it no justice either, but if you put your volume on full you might get an idea. Note the little boy in the red jacket in front of me who keeps putting his hands over his ears. I felt like doing the same only I had my arm high above my head trying to capture it on camera (when in Florence do as the Florentines do). Unfortunately my battery ran out just at the crucial moment... at the end, the three little bits whirling around at the top each drop down a flag one by one, to everyone's delight. Sorry I missed that bit. Then of course I also missed documenting the ensuing parade of people dressed in medieval clothes, drummers, flag wavers etc. How excitement!

My lovely friends Cristina and Colin (from Spain and England respectively - I met Cristina at Angel Academy), came around later for afternoon tea so they could admire my new place and go ooh aah at my wonderous view and then we popped over the road to the Boboli Gardens with our annual passes to soak up the greenery. Here's me and Cristina...

I'm very much enjoying school and should have some drawings to post soon.

È tutto per oggi!

See latest pics here.

Friday, 8 April 2011

Spring has sprung

Here is the view from my new apartment at sunrise the other morning. I've moved up in the world! Spring has sprung and the people of Florence have thawed out. There is a cheeriness around town, more smiling, more people striking up random conversations with me. This is a different Florence to the one when I arrived, and now that I'm in an apartment on the 4th floor, flooded with light, I have to say, I'm also feeling lighter of heart.

There are 80 narrow stairs to climb to reach my new abode but the mantra "it's worth it, it's worth it" is all the impetus required to get me up them because there's a stunning view to the south and to the north I can see the Palazzo Vecchio tower in the distance... the trees of the Boboli Garden to the east and the sunset to the west, (slightly leaning out the window). With north and south windows open there's a lovely cross breeze which will be handy for enduring the summer heat up here which may climb to extreme levels but lets not think on that right now. Right now, I'm thrilled with it all... somewhere to hang clothes in the sun, a fridge with a freezer, a bed without a footboard (not what one wants when one is long) and much less noisy at night. It's also rather amusing to greet sweating, red-faced visitors, gasping for air by the time they've made it up the stairs... with a good 5 minutes before they can utter a coherant word. Depending on the person's level of fitness I also have a good amount of time to put everything in place if anyone decides to drop in without warning.

It was an interesting process dealing with an Italian realestate agent and signing a lease (which I didn't have to do at the other apartment). Actually the agent was extremely helpful and obliging and I was very blessed to have my friend Becky come and translate for me. She studied at Angel Academy for 4 years and has decided to stay on with a Christian ministy at the local universities working with Sarah and Andrew from Australia. Needless to say her Italian is excellent. Everything is more challenging when one doesn't speak the language. My new landlords are 2 brothers in their 40s who have also been very welcoming and have gone out of their way to give me all the things I've asked for in regards to the apartment (it didn't have towels/bedding etc like my other place did - but it does now).

I'm in the second week of our school break too so it's been good timing for moving and settling in. Apart from moving, I've been taking some private Italian classes which if anything have exposed the great distance I still have to go with the language, but I suppose progress is slowly being made. On Tuesday I spent the day in Siena with Roxanna which was my first time out of Florence since I arrived. The overall impression of Siena after being in Florence for 3 months is how quiet, orderly, clean and well maintained it is. It was a breath of fresh air, but perhaps it doesn't have the same pulsing energy as Florence... there is certainly a lot more going on here. The rolling green hills of the Tuscan countryside are as lovely as they look in the movies and we passed many small towns that I'm sure would be worth stopping off at some time. Roxanna brought along her little dog Preenie and we enjoyed a spectacular spring day exploring the ancient town and enjoying the amazing views of the whole countryside from a lookout near the Duomo.

Last night I had dinner at Sarah and Andrew's place with their four gorgeous kids Ezekiel, Jemima, Oscar and Matilda. It's so nice to hear the ozzie accent, to talk about familiar places and be able to whip out out some of my favourite lines from The Castle... "this is going straight to the pool room!" (Ezekiel's drawing he did at school), and to drop all the endings off words like arvo, mozzies etc. Yep, we sure know how to talk proppa. Ezekiel and Jemima have been going to the local school for a number of years and their Italian is amazing... no problems with pronunciation or pesky things like that. Jealous! Oscar has just started this year and finding it very difficult. I'm sure his young brain will pick it up in no time. It's the perfect age to learn a second language.

È tutto per oggi!

To see the latest pics click here.

Monday, 28 March 2011

Heidi comes to Florence

My first term at Angel Academy has come to its end and this last week has also been such a treat with cousin Heidi here from Paris working on one of her projects. We ate and talked and then talked some more about how well we were eating, went out for pre-dinner drinks and ate some more. I feel inspired now to enjoy being a foreigner and (gasp) a tourist in Florence, so that I might experience more that life has to offer here (which is largely about food)… and especially to let myself make linguistical bloopers for the sake of connecting with the locals in my ‘hood’. I have to confess to avoiding many of the small interesting food shops because of my lack of Italian and my VANITY – not wanting to be another stupid tourist – but after enjoying the fruits of Heidi’s shopping and zest for discovery I see the necessity for courage to venture into unknown territory. Pickled lettuce, huge green olives (incredible), tender veal from the local butcher, cheeses, ETC.

My own greatest discovery of late is rabbit. I tried my famous lemon chicken, except with rabbit, for dinner one night and we both declared it most excellent and worthy to be the focal point of many future eat-fests. It’s readily available in butchers, supermarkets and restaurants at no great expense, is similar chicken only more tender and less fatty, and works very nicely with lemon, potatoes, tzaziki and salad (write to me for the recipe).

Last night Heidi and I walked around the streets of Santo Spirito and I took her to see where my new apartment will be, in a little ‘tower’ in Via Santa Maria. Then we strolled along the quiet late night streets, admiring the Florentine architecture, the grandeur of the Pitti Palace, little ornamented door handles, ancient torch holders along the sides of buildings, the juxtaposition of a quaint stone church hundreds of years old beside a brightly lit hotel with art deco interior, the Ponte Vecchio lined with jewellery shops closed for the night, looking like a scene from a movie set in the 1500s. If only I could have a glimpse of what those old stones have seen!

The first term of school has flown by… above is my final life drawing. I have 2 weeks off which I’m very pleased about and which will involve sleeping in, discovering uncharted galleries and museums, perhaps a day trip here or there, some private Italian lessons, meals and cuppas with friends (those that haven’t gone home for the holidays!) and of course moving house (which is the greatest pre-occupation this week). I miss Heidi already, can’t wait to visit her in Paris in summer. Thanks for a great time Heidi!

È tutto per oggi!

(For latest pics click here)

Friday, 18 March 2011


Today is the 150th anniversary of the ‘Unity of Italy’, a bit like Australia Day, and thus a public holiday. I planned to go and see a bit of whatever is going on in town but I haven’t gotten further than the living room as I’m enjoying catching up with my domestic life and blog and things.

Above is my second Bargue drawing completed after 5 weeks of dedicated labour. I’m into the 3rd and last Bargue now which won’t be finished until well into next term. We work on our Bargues in the morning and in the afternoon we do life drawing, usually a new pose every day as we learn the technique.

Here is my first complete life drawing in graphite which was a 2 week pose. We are currently in the middle of a seated pose for 2 weeks which will take us up to the end of term.

The weekend before last I had a free Sunday afternoon so I hopped on my bike and headed South to explore the nearby hills. (I live on the southmost part of Central Florence so the hills behind me aren’t very far). I pushed myself and bike up the hilly road to Bellosguardo (literally ‘beautiful outlook’), which was soon surrounded by Tuscan countryside and little ‘farms’ (only 15 minutes from my house). The sun and exercise warmed me so much I had to shed my winter coat, hat, gloves, scarf, all squished into my bike basket… and for the first time in a while I was enjoying the Out of Doors without feeling like the Michelin Man, with the suns rays warming my skin through my clothes. With the growing inclination the view also increased in splendor until I reached the topmost point and looked back down on the city. It was hard to imagine all the people in Florence moving around in the shade of the city buildings when it looked so sunny from above.

Joy of joys was the discovery of a little park in Bellosguardo with lovely patches of sunfilled grass which I ran towards with abandon and hurled myself down upon my coat (said grass being a touch wet) to let the sun soak into bared skin of legs, arms, stomach (everywhere possible while still remaining descent!). Heavenly, heavenly, heavenly… I dozed off during my vitamin D treatment and upon waking finally resolved that I must find a new apartment with more light if not direct rays of sun. Which is actually what I’ve done in the meanwhile and I’ll be moving, all going to plan, in 2 weeks time. My new place is a little (very little) apartment on the 4th floor in a street only a few blocks from here, closer to the Boboli Gardens of the Pitti Palace. It is “molto luminoso” (very luminous) with north and south facing windows and a rather wonderful view. I’m REALLY looking forward to having that view. It also has a fridge with a freezer which now seems like a wonderful luxury.

To see photos of Bellosguardo click here.

È tutto per oggi!

Monday, 28 February 2011

Senza Parole

Winter is holding on with all it has knowing full well it will soon have to give way to Spring. Today is cold and wet and there is little incentive for me to wander the streets like a vagabond set on knowing this ancient city which I’m growing to feel rather affectionate towards. I have just finished reading a book called The City of Florence by RWB Lewis. He writes that Henry James, in reflecting on Florence, said he was struck by “a sense of history that took his breath away”. And: “Time has devoured the doers and their doings, but there still hangs about some effect of their passage”. He has really found the right words I thought to myself as I put the book down and reflected on my visit to the Palazzo Pitti last week. In Italian one might say it left me senza parole (literally ‘without words’, but in effect ‘speechless’). I’m still not sure quite how to describe this excessive palace or indeed the effect it had upon my person. Enormous, for a start, perhaps ridiculously so – I mean who needs a pad that’s that spaciously endless, or endlessly spacious? Clearly the Medici had a point to make about the superabundance of their wealth when they felt the need to make three times bigger the already huge palace built by the Pitti. One only needs to reflect on the man hours and sweat that have been poured into the creation of room after room of ornately molded and frescoed ceilings, marble statues, vast carpets, bathrooms bigger than my entire apartment, never-ending walls lined with silk and/or precious renaissance paintings with chunky gold frames... My overall impression was that it was too big for comfort and for the current sake of preservation (presumably) too dark. Admittedly, for me, the highlight was the westerly view (glimpsed through curtains adrift) from the top floor overlooking the red roofs of Oltrarno (the area to the south of the Arno River, where I live, which basically means ‘other side of the Arno’). What I wouldn’t do for such an outlook! I like to imagine that the Pittis and Medicis, and Lorraines after them, flung wide the curtains and spent many a reflective moment enjoying the sunset of an afternoon over a glass of chianti whilst discussing the next artistic commission of genius. The top floor of the palace is now a gallery of ‘modern’ art (the most modern being early 1900s), which is so unending I didn’t make it half way around. That shall require another visit or so. There is only so much I can appreciate at a time.

On the subject of breaths being taken away, yesterday Dianna, Roxanna and I decided it was time to ‘do’ the Duomo. After zipping past the cathedral countless times by now, I wasn’t really sure what to expect of its innards although I did a quick read up online so I might have things to look out for. There are a lot of facts and figures but the basics are that it took around 120 years to build, with some delays here and there… the collective design of one Arnolfo di Cambio (started in 1296), and Fillipo Brunelleschi who was the brilliance behind the dome (1420). The said dome (duomo) is 91m high, spans 41m and is the treasury of a fresco of The Last Judgment that is said to cover a surface of 6000m square. The peak of the dome is reached by nearly 500 steps which, as it turns out, is rather a lot and not for the weak-of-knee. Our perfectly timed visit saw us plodding up the ancient narrow staircases on a crisp, perfectly clear day with relatively few tourists to contend with. (It really pays to arrive early). The first note of curiosity as we set out was a sign which read ‘Please don’t write on the walls’. What a strange thing to feel the need to say, I thought to myself, until I passed a single line of graffiti (Fabio + Maria forever, or something like that) and imagined this one transgression was the impetus for the signage. But unfortunately and quite horrifyingly this was not the case and indeed as the walls became thick with ugly scrawls I felt an indignant outrage rising up in my ‘world-heritage-listed’ culturally and aesthetically protective self. What possesses so many people to think of packing a permanent marker along with camera, water and guidebook as they set out for a morning of sightseeing is what I’m really wondering. Why people, why!?? So, that off my chest… I tried to imagine the ancients carrying their fiery torches up the steep, dark, twisting and graffiti-less passages, going about their duties or perhaps a morning jaunty to admire the view? The view… again… senza parole. Unfortunately the photos will do it no justice and neither will any words. You will simply have to come and see if for yourself. Three hundred and sixty degrees of Florentine splendor to expand the mind, the heart, the emotions and the vision of what is possible for creative beings to achieve, with the magnificence of God’s creation enveloping it all.

More on daily life in Florence next time…

For photos click here.

È tutto per oggi!

Monday, 7 February 2011

Fine views and pizza

Hints of spring are arriving in small gusts of warm air and rays of sun with real warmth in them. Yesterday Dianna and I caught the number 7 bus from Piazza San Marco up to Fiesole, an outer suburb of Florence up in the surrounding hills. The general architecture transformed along with the landscape as the bus gallantly wove its way up the twisty road to crisp clear air, open space and a vast azure sky. Heaven! After wandering around aimlessly for some time, enjoying the narrow streets and spectacular views of Florence, we stumbled across the info centre and hence a handy map to point us in the direction of the Etruscan remnants of Theatre and Wall as well as the park where lovers (or just friends) can while away the sunny hours high above the serious bustle of the city. There was an ugly smear of brown lurking above Florence and as we made our decent back I pushed that unfortunate discovery out of my mind. It’s a comfort to know that so much greenery and open sky exists just 20 minutes up the road!

Ok, food. I had my first real pizza in Fiesole with Dianna. It was something I had to do even though I don’t normally eat much wheat. How can one come to Italy and not have pizza? And while one’s at it why not go the whole way? “Una pizza gorgonzola per favore!” Each of our pizzas came out on an enormous plate, overhanging the edge and oozing with ‘eat me now’ aromas. I couldn’t imagine how anyone could eat a whole one (even the tourists passing by pointed and went ‘wow look at those’), but actually it turned out to be an easy task with the economy of topping and wafer thin crust… Totally wonderful. From beginning to end buonissimo!!

The Italians really know how to make cheese. I’m working my way through the entire range… parmigiano, gorgonzola, ricotta bufala (buffalo), mozzarella and other ones that I’m not sure what they are called except for yum. And hello, you haven’t tasted olive oil until you’ve come to the source… thick, green and slightly bitter and as I lavish it on everything I keep thinking, yes this is just as it should be. I’ve also found lovely pomodori (toms), slightly bigger than cherry tomatoes, that make an excellent pasta sauce. So many taste sensations to discover, I think I’ve barely started.

As I see more of Florence I like my area more and more. It’s just off the beaten tourist track, so quieter in terms of pedestrian traffic, there’s a great daily market at the Piazza Santo Spirito which is small but has different stalls each day. (And on the 3rd Sunday of the month a big organic market with all sorts of produce and handicrafts). There’s a man who sits outside his second-hand bookshop every morning, right on the street, who I say ‘buongiorno signore’ to for the pleasure of hearing him say ‘buongiorno signora’ to me as if I’m a local. There’s an asian mini mart around the corner that sells coconut milk for 1 euro a can which is a much better deal than the one in the specialty shop in the centre of town for 5 euros – yes, A CAN. I have a health food shop with a good selection of products just up the road and a number of great looking cafes and restaurants that are awaiting my discovery.

I’m coming to terms with the lack of light in my flat by making it a little brighter with accessories. I took a trip out to ikea last weekend and bought a stack of pink things to brighten up the pastel green of the rest of my décor. The fake flowers have really helped as well. I’m enjoying school and learning a lot from the lectures and daily lessons. It’s great to be here even though I have moments of craving the smell of salty sea air and lying on the green grass or cuddling my cat! Florence is growing on me now. There is so much to discover. It is rich with history and culture. But possibly a difficult place for a foreigner to truly feel at home in terms of fitting in with Italian friends. Time will tell. Meanwhile, I’m soaking it all up and learning all I can.

There’s a few new photos here.

È tutto per oggi!

Tuesday, 25 January 2011

First Bargue drawing finished

I’ve finished the first of 3 Bargue drawings that we’ll be doing this term and into the next. They are painstaking and exacting, teaching the eye to ‘see’ better. Each one will be more difficult than the last. We work on these drawings in the morning session and in the afternoons we are life drawing. It’s so great to be drawing from the model 3 hours a day, I should be improving quickly at this rate...

I feel like I’ve been here for months, not mere weeks. The weather has turned quite cold so I’m appreciating even more that my little flat has good heating. The Florentines on the whole are not very friendly or the slightest bit interested in knowing anything about me as I flounder in my basic Italian. I’m told Italians are much friendlier in other parts. I can understand that they are tired of tourists here and that many party-hard students (from certain countries) have given foreigners a bad reputation, but the Italians in Florence just generally don’t seem very happy… there’s not a lot of smiling going on and my theory is that they are suffering from Lack of Sun. The buildings have been erected too close together so that even when the sky is clear there’s not a ray of sun to be had walking down the average street. It was so wonderful to finally get to the Boboli Gardens with Dianna (from school) yesterday and sit in the sun for a while, soaking up its weak, but never-the-less warming, rays. The garden paths are steep and at the peak you can look back down on the Pitti Palace with the west part of Florence behind it and beyond that the snow-capped mountains in the far distance. It’s a spectacular vista and made me hungry to explore the country-side beyond the stony shadows of the city centre.

Dianna came to my place for lunch on Sunday for her birthday, before we went to the gardens, after which we went for a cuppa at a small bookshop/café around the corner from my place. I’ve been eyeing it since I got here but reluctant to go in by myself with my meager language skills. Success! It was cosy and relaxed and they stock a great selection of herbal teas. Unfortunately they charge 3 euro a cup (which might just be the tourist price) so it won’t be my ‘local’ but it’s nice to have taken the plunge and I’m full of courage now to try a few other cafes in my area until I find the one I like best.

They are certainly enthusiastic about their art in Florence. I went to an exhibition of works by Bronzino (poet and artist to the Medici, 1500’s) at 10am on Saturday, thinking that no-one would be there at that time of day. WRONG. Everyone was there, aside from those who hadn’t arrived yet to join the growing queue to get in. Unbelievable. Thankfully Heidi gave me a spare ticket so I was able to go straight in. It was slow getting through all the rooms because of the people. Granted, it was the last weekend of the show, but I’m even more determined now to do all my sightseeing during the winter before the masses arrive in earnest.

I’m picking up Italian words every day by having the TV on constantly. Every non-Italian show is dubbed, so we have people like The Fonze speaking Italian in Happy Days, Samantha in Bewitched, Opera is also fluent, etc etc… I saw on the program that there’s even Skippy il Canguro if you’re up early enough for it. My Italian Church is also great for language learning. Andrew (who knows my church leaders at home) speaks fluent Italian and is helping me to understand what’s going on and translating the sermon for me. It’s so great to have him and his family here – I’m really looking forward to getting to know them better. Australia seems like a LONG way away, so it’s nice to meet other people from way down under.
È tutto per oggi!

(You can check out my latest photos here).

Tuesday, 11 January 2011

Back to school

I started school today and as the locals have also gone back to school there has been a distinct drop in the number of tourists in town. I’m glad I’m in a quieter area, the crowds are a bit much. I did venture in to town yesterday in search of the department store though, in need of a few more skivvies, and found Coin (pronounced like “go in” with a “c”) which is a wonderful shop with the most stylish clothes (and price tags to match). Labels darling. I wanted to buy everything, from shoes to cardies to wallets ETC, but just came out with a soft thin skivy on sale for 13 euro. I had actually planned a quiet day to rest my back and decided to go and check out the park right near me which looks very inviting on the map. Disappointed! I traversed the entire circumference only to find it completely walled in (said wall being about 4m high) with only locked gates around it. So much for a leisurely stroll through the greenery, hence why I ended up battling the crowds at the department store instead. I can’t wait to walk through the Boboli Gardens at the Pitti Palace but as you have to pay to go in, I want to have plenty of energy to make the most of it.

I bought a bike on Friday and felt ridiculously pleased with the world as I rode it away through the busy streets looking like a local. So local in fact that the next day someone stopped me to ask for directions. Shame I had to say sorry I don’t speak Italian. It really makes getting around easier although I’m finding those romantic cobbled stone streets suddenly a right pain in the yoo haa. Oh for a smooth road! Really not helpful for a painful back, speaking of which I have a chiropractic appointment tomorrow after school and hoping for a miracle as I’m resorting to neurofen now which I don’t normally like to do. The bike I bought was the only used bike I could find at the 3 shops I visited and it is barely used at all. I wanted something old but instead it stands out like a shiny pink jewel everywhere I park it. I bought the heaviest grade lock that the shop sells after the girl told me she’s had 5 bikes stolen in 5 years. Apparently it can only be removed with some sort of blow torch so it’s unlikely the bike will be gone in the morning but I keep imagining that I’ll find parts missing – like the seat or the front wheel. Unfortunately it has to be outside at night, so I like to check out the window every now and then to make sure it’s still in one piece.

We had an easy day to start us off at school today. The vibe is relaxed and very friendly. The returning students were all kisses and hugs for each other and it feels like it will be a really good environment to be in. There are only 4 of us new students this term, all girls, one American, one English, one Russian, and me. Last spring they had 23. So we will be getting plenty of attention although some of our classes will be combined with others. Our teacher couldn’t be nicer. If it weren’t for my back I would be feeling good about everything. Instead I’m worried how I’m going to do the long hours of sitting. Hopeful the chiropractor will be able to set me straight.

I have REALLY REALLY loved getting your emails, thank you so much, I’ll will endeavour to reply to them all in time… I’ve started a photo album because I’m finding it hard to put the labels next to the photos in blogger. Here is the link: my photos

Allora, è tutto per oggi…

Friday, 7 January 2011

48 hours in Florence

I’ve never been anywhere so old before. I keep expecting old people and perhaps old horses to line the streets rather than modern Italians in the latest winter fashions gossiping about the latest concerns (presumably) or zipping past in their tiny new cars. Florence is lively and old worldy and in this momento rather cold. The greatest asset of my little apartment in Borgo della Stella (that’s the name of the street), is the central heating powered by gas. I’m warmer here than I’ve ever been back home in winter and now that I have the right clothes for the climate I’m surprised to find myself quite enjoying the cold. Me!

In one week I’ve been in four countries (Australia, Singapore, UK, Italy) with four different time zones. My 3 nights with Philip, Jane, Livy, Rob, Darci (the dog), Poppy (the bunny), and 4 hibernating tortoises in Milton Keynes (1 hour north of London) was the perfect way to adjust GMT and experience the love of family so far away from home. They helped me stock up on warm clothes and gave me a taste of the beautiful English countryside. We went to Bambury one day (as in “Ride a cock horse to Bambury Cross to see a fine lady upon a white horse”), which happens to have a church that I designed a logo for along with signage, banners, postcards etc. This was because my boss at the time knew the pastor there I think. Anyhow, it was quite something to see my artwork in an English town.

Now at last I’m in Europe where I never expected to be. I love my little apartment in San Frediano which is close to the river and has a nice ambience. The entire trip from Sydney to Singapore to London to Rome was as smooth as can be. It was when I arrived at the Rome Terminal station by train from Rome airport that things went a little pear-shaped. For some reason I got horribly confused and couldn’t find where the platform for my Eurostar to Florence was. I went up and down and in and out lugging 2 heavy bags behind me (no wonder they call it LUGGAGE), sweating with frustration and cursing the Roman signage (the lack there-of), until a nice man in the queue at the information desk, which I finally happened to find 10 minutes before my train was due to depart, saw my face and offered his assistance – which was just as well because otherwise I would have missed the train. He personally escorted me to where I had to be and phew I made it with 5 whole minutes to spare, no worries. I’m not even confident that I’ll know better next time because I have no idea how I ended up in the bowels of the station where only the cleaners go, and then upstairs where there is a medical clinic. I know, stupid tourist. It would be hilarious if it hadn’t been for the lugging of the luggage which has left my back in a mild state of despair. But it’s difficult to just lie around a rest when there’s 20 years worth of Things To See outside my door.

Borgo della Stella is a wee little street. The taxi that dropped me off from the Florence station eased his way along the cobbled stones between wall and parked cars with only a hair-width to spare on either side and miraculously made it to my palazzo door no worse for wear. My landlords live right beside me and they had their daughter Francesca there to greet me in English and explain everything to me. Carla made me some dinner which was heaven sent as I was starving and it was wonderfully hearty and warming and welcoming.

My Italian is extremely basic but I managed to find the nearest supermarket for provisions as well as the TIM shop which sells SIM cards and internet. I got the internet sorted and will buy the SIM when someone else can advise me what to get. Meanwhile skype is taking care of my telephonic needs. Other than that, I briefly checked out the historical centre which is going to take me the whole year to explore and I’ll start that exploration as soon as all the Italian tourists have gone home (schools go back on Monday). A quick glance at the Duomo and The David and the outside of the Pitti Palace is mostly all I’ve managed so far. It’s hard to believe the amount of artistic talent that has been squeezed in to one city. Tonight I went for a short wander around the block of my apartment and found a church just round the corner (in the direction away from the town centre). It looks very plain on the outside, although clearly very old. As people were going in I decided to follow. What is heaven going to be like if little man here on earth can create something so stunning as the Cheisa Santa Maria del Carmine? It was beyond words in splendor and I stood with my mouth fully agape trying to take it in, lit with candles and lights, with people worshiping and the voices of priests in song echoing throughout the most incredibly ornate and beautiful sight my eyes have ever seen. And it barely rates a mention in my guide book! So what are the star attractions of Florence going to be like?? I would love to go back in time to see the church being built and especially watch how they managed to paint the beautiful frescoes up so high on the vast ceiling. Mamma mia!

My next mission is to buy an old bicycle. The older the less likely-hood of it falling victim to thievery, apparently.

Allora, è tutto per oggi…

The photos are as follows: my street, the door to my palazzo, my kitchenette, bedroom, Arno River, the Ponte Sant Trinita, Michelangelo's David (well a copy of it, I'll see the real one later), it's huge!

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