Three Coins from the Fountain

Walking through the backstreets of Florence, we found ourselves away from the rest of the tourists. 

A man emerged from a rundown block of flats and walked a little in front of us, his long straggly white hair giving him an appearance of being slightly less than salubrious. 

As we walked into the next palazzo, a small fountain stood to one side, a slow trickle of water filling the trough. 

The man bent down and scooped his hands through the water, gathering the coins foolishly dropped as wishes into the water by unsuspecting tourists. 

There was something a little shocking about it as robbing a fountain just seemed wrong. 

Three coins from the fountain, not quite the same.

Postcards from Florence

Saturday morning and we were off like greyhounds (or whippets) out of the trap. We decided the only way to beat the crowds was to get out early. Surely no other tourists would be out at 9am?!

We started with a coffee and then headed to the Duomo to get in early. Good plan, except it wasn’t open. And so we decided we’d go up the Campanile (the bell tower) as it was open and there wasn’t a queue. 

The Duomo, Florence

I was pretty sure there’d be a lift (there was in Milan) but it seemed Florence was more traditional and so 84.7 metres later up a very narrow staircase (or four) and we emerged on the roof of the Campanile overlooking the red roofs of Florence. 

It was a breathtaking view, the history of Florence immediately visible and relatively unchanged over centuries.

View of the dome from the Campanile

Descending from the top, four hundred and fourteen steps later, we emerged back at the base of the cathedral and after a second coffee, joined the queue of early bird tourists to go inside.

The inside of the Duomo was strangely austere compared to the almost gaudy marble-covered exterior. Devoid of decoration with the exception of a beautifully painted dome, it was a dichotomy of design.

Rooftops, Florence

From the Duomo we walked around the rest of Florence but all roads seemed to end back at the Duomo as we repeatedly found ourselves back at the great marble icon.

After the fourth or fifth time, we decided we needed to get off the tourist track and venture beyond the immediate centre. With map in hand we explored every piazza and sculpture and then went in search of a non-touristy restaurant for dinner. 

Perhaps the greatest challenge of all!

A Hill with a View

After a dubious and disappointing breakfast, I set off to the biggest kids’ fashion trade show of the season to see the latest collections. 

Housed in an old fort, the setting was a welcome change from the usual convention centre. We walked for several hours absorbing the fashion, reviewing the competition and looking for inspiration before unfortunately lunching in the cafeteria due to time constraints. 

I was getting concerned about the food. This was Italy after all and I’d had three bad meals. Where were the delicious fresh ingredients I’d had on previous Italian adventures? The delicious fresh pasta, pesto and bread?

After lunch we had free time for a little sightseeing so I set off to meet Letad at the Boboli Gardens. 

I walked from the fort, past the main railway station, crossed the river at the Ponte Vecchio, an ancient bridge lined with jewellery shops and thousands of tourists, passed the Palazzo Pitti and eventually found a gate to the gardens. It was very hot and I was feeling a little overwrought. 

Climbing up the steep hill, I finally found Letad and we spent a couple of hours relaxing on the grass with a glorious backdrop of Florence. I still had no sense of the city having been by taxi from the airport to the hotel. 

A calming breeze soothed away a little of the stress and we decided to head back into the fray before dinner with my colleagues. 

A restoring glass of cold white wine (a familiar theme) was very welcome and we had a relaxed and much earlier dinner than the night before. Delicious food was still proving elusive but at least the dinosaur steaks were missing. 

And so with the work commitments honored, it was time to join thousands of tourists and explore Florence for the rest of the weekend…

A weekend in Florence

Arriving in Florence at 7pm, it was hot. I did a quick change at the airport, quick check-in at the hotel and jumped in a taxi to go to a reception at the Four Seasons. 

As luck would have it, I was just in time and managed to see the recent apparel collection. The hotel was stunning and Florentine society were out to mingle. 
After a reviving glass of Prosecco, we set off for a team dinner. The packed restaurant was hidden away on a backstreet. Local knowledge. 
Despite having a 9:30pm reservation, it was almost 11pm by the time we sat down and exhaustion was setting in. Enormous dinosaur steaks appeared to be a Florentine speciality as they were on almost every table. A surreal sight. 
By 1am I staggered into the hotel room. Letad had arrived and after a long journey was asleep. I collapsed but sleep was elusive, exhaustion prevailed. 

Not going to Florence

Apparently the French have decided that France is closed and no one can fly through their air space. Very unsporting of them. 

My flight was cancelled and the ensuing debacle of having to come sadly back through immigration, unused boarding pass in hand, security which meant I couldn’t leave the airport until all luggage was returned and everything else in general meant it was a fairly frustrating and pointless waste of time. 
Basically I went to Gatwick airport for the afternoon. 
I’m booked on another flight tomorrow afternoon but to be honest, I can’t really see the point of trying. The dispute is scheduled to go on until at least Sunday. 
It would seem I’m not going to Florence. 

Business or Pleasure?

I’m off to Florence to go to a trade show. 

Letad is driving to Florence from France as he’s homeless (the house being rented out) and so we’re spending the weekend there. 

It seemed a shame not to take advantage of the opportunity! 
And so we’re off to Florence!

London by Bike – Walthamstow and the Waterways

We’d been hearing a lot about Walthamstow, an area of North East London which is always ripe for development but somehow seems to have avoided it so far. Friends are buying a house there and so we thought we’d go and see what all the fuss is about. And of course we thought we’d go by bike.

We set off on Sunday morning and arrived in Walthamstow Village in time for lunch at The Nag’s Head. We rode through seven and a half miles of suburban sprawl on another hot and sunny day and so, spotting the first pub in the village, we downed bikes and downed pints.

A pint of cider on a hot day starts as a lovely thing but soon becomes a force to be reckoned with and sure enough, it went straight to my head. Perhaps a second pint wasn’t such a good idea.

Walthamstow was a strange mixture of twelve century village surrounded by low income housing. The village itself was a tiny pocket of loveliness surrounded by all things horrible. We decided it wasn’t fur us.

Leaving Walthamstow we decided to come home a different way and as luck would have it, we discovered the bike path along the River Lea.

The River Lea runs down to the Thames through Hackney Marshes. We had a gorgeous ride along the river where dozens of swans lazily dozed on the surface of the water and dozens of people filled waterside pubs.

We passed the River Lea Weir, a brilliant feat of Victorian engineering where water gushed through metal sluice gates, passed the old sewage filtering system, now a well fertilized nature reserve and wound our way towards Stratford where we saw the Olympic stadium and red Helter Skelter sculpture before turning right and heading back along the Regents Canal.

We headed west along the canal, winding our way among tourists until we arrived back in familiar territory.

Another six hour bike ride. Good for the Whippet, challenging on the Purple Duchess!

The Chalk Farm Whippet

Riding our bikes from Chalk Farm to Bethnal Green to go to a barbeque (a speedy half an hour ride past Kings Cross and up Pentonville Road), Letad announced that all the recent cycling had turned him into a whippet. From the Kilburn Supermodel to the Chalk Farm Whippet.

I’m dubious, I don’t see a rib cage but it could be a well covered whippet.

There’s no doubt though, we’re definitely fitter as a result of extended flat hunting and cycling through London has become a much enjoyed pastime.

We rode back several hours later having enjoyed a fun day out with friends. Riding along Regents Canal we stopped briefly to paddle in the fountains outside The Grain Store at Granary Square, a recent development near Kings Cross and arrived home just as dusk fell at 10pm, a late dusk on the longest day of the year.

And for our next excursion…

London by Bike – The Golden Triangle

Coined by Letad’s best man, we set off on Saturday to look at six flats all within our golden triangle of NW5. From Prince of Wales Road to Kentish Town Road, up to Highgate and back down Hampstead Heath, it’s the area we feel the happiest. I felt that after seeing six more flats if we didn’t like anything, we might be the problem.

It was Mid Summer’s Day, the weather was glorious and even the dodgiest parts of K-Town sparkled in the sun. We were optimistic and it seemed as though luck might be finally on our side.

The first flat seemed ideal and we were about to plonk an offer on the table when a herd of elephants ran overhead. It turned out a very loud family lived upstairs, loud enough that the seller had asked the estate agent to mention it as an issue. Not for us it would appear.

Another flat, for the bargain price of half a million pounds, had a bathroom made of glass bricks in the hall and had a curtain instead of a door. Call me old fashioned but I tend to prefer walls and a door with my bathroom. Not for us it would appear.

And then there was Castlehaven Road. A nice flat with a garden, just down the road from The Grafton pub and the Kentish Town pubic baths and a lazy five minute walk to work for me. It needed work and had potential. Seemed ideal. We knew it would be popular but we emailed our offer in and now we wait (again). Offers will go to “Best and Final” tomorrow, a wild card lottery system we’re very familiar with where one randomly offers the largest amount possible to outbid the other parties and the biggest fool wins!