Archive for category fun facts/day trips
Every year I get more and more excited as Christmas approaches. It’s just that feeling you get as people whisk through the street in the crisp air with their shopping bags and smiles on their faces. It’s really the build up to Christmas that I love. The gorgeous decorations that fill your city’s streets and the insides of your home, the Christmas music playing that can be heard from restaurants and bars as you pass by, and all the chocolate and christmas treats you wait all year for that are very specific to the season.
I’m all about tradition and since living in Italy, it seems as though I could be loaded with them. With a tradition for just about everything. there is definitely one tradition that I feel particularly lucky to be a part of. Every year in Florence for Christmas the well-known German Christmas Market in Piazza Santa Croce, also known as the Heidelberg Market, comes to the city and dresses up the square brilliantly. The wooden stands are set up with their red and white striped covers displaying all the wonderful goods they’re selling. This German market brings brings loads of German Christmas confectionaries, wurstel, strudel, and my favortie, vin brulee (hot mulled wine). Beyond the stands with traditional German food, there are handmade toys, traditional ceramics, and articles of clothing and accessories to make the winter weather a little easier to enjoy.
I spent part of my day at the picturesque market and enjoyed all it had to offer. I set off from home bundled up to the brim and headed out towards Santa Croce. Within 15 minutes I was in the midst of the market shopping and searching for goodies to buy. My first stop obviously being the vin brulee, I mean a girls got to stay warm in this weather afterall. So while I delightfully sipped (or guzzled depending on your interpretation) my hot spiced wine, I browsed the stands, one by one. I ate the traditional wurstel with sauerkraut and bought a pretzel for later in the day. After I was properly stuffed with delicious food I bought a few Christmas gifts, most of which were handmade.
The Christmas market is always something to look forward and feels even more whimsical by night, lit up to the tee. So if you’re in town, come celebrate, stroll by the market and find me hanging close to the mulled wine.
I’ve been in Florence long enough to casually walk around the city as the Italians do, forgetting the fact that I’m walking by monuments and architecture hundreds of years old, visited by millions of people every year. But every now and again, it hits me, you live in Florence. It’s a city filled with absolute beauty and art that can be found in even the simplest of surroundings.
One thing is for sure, no matter how long you have lived in Florence there is always a view of the city that you have yet to discover. Whether you’re enjoying the magnificent view of the city from Piazzale Michelangelo, a must see for tourists, or wining and dining atop the Grand Hotel’s new terrace, the views are always different and always spectacular.
Last night was another one of those discoveries when I saw the evening views of the city from Hotel Baglioni for aperitivo, a luxurious mix of happy hour and dinner. The evening was just right. After a swelteringly hot day, I sat on the rooftop with a fresh breeze, delicious italian food, and great live music, not to mention the sparkling panaramic view of every historical site in the city center of Florence. Just take a look at the Duomo by night, picturesque and perfectly lit up, like from and old black and white film. Florence truly never stops surprising me with it’s history and incomparible beauty. Day or night, from rooftop to rooftop Florence is truly one of a kind.
When I was working in tourism, I found that many people came to Florence with the romantic idea of horseback riding in the vineyards on their free afternoon. The idea is charming, however finding information on “how to” and then the practicality of getting there was all a bit daunting for the causal tourist. Most of the good information is in Italian, which of course doesn’t help anyone who speaks anything else. Another small, however influential factor, is that though the Italians can be quite friendly, and they have a unique manner of resolving problems in a most creative way they also have an annoying habit of (as the Italians themselves would say) Mette le mani avanti – which translates into putting their hands out so they don’t fall flat on their face. It’s pretty much a way of saying, hey I can’t guarantee you anything but we’ll try.
I will give them points for trying, but in order to get to a workable solution you need to be quite persistent, unusually patient (as you repeat the same thing over and over and over again) and pretty much fluent in Italian. Where does this leave you? Sticking around the city center of Florence buying leather handbags and eating gelato instead of horseback riding in Chianti.
However for those of you who wish to persevere, I have found a list of equestrian centers around Florence – it is a bit out dated, however with links to websites and phone numbers you are bound to find someone who speaks your language. What I liked best (besides the fact that it is English) it tells you how you can arrive at the different farms. Let’s face it many people who are travelling and have a hotel in the city center – don’t have a car, so “how to get there” becomes a vital part of the adventure, therefore when I saw that this list of directions using public transport (which by the way is assessable to everyone indifferent to your language skills) I felt it was one of the best I have come across.
So it was time for another outing on my precious day off from Pierotucci with my dear husband or DH is I think the new term for our other half in the 21st century. We programmed the navigator (not that we always trust her) and off we went. Stupidly DH stopped off at the tobacconists to buy a stamp and casually mentioned we were on our way to Montecatini, and the so called knowledgeable woman said most definitely to take the FI-PI-LI. This is the major road that runs from Florence to Pisa and Livorno. For once, the navigator must have been right because she was quiet when we got to the turn off at FI-PI-LI. This is because we should NEVER have come off there. We should have carried straight on. An hour later we were still driving around the country lanes getting angrier and more frustrated and giving each other glaring looks that could kill.
Eventually we arrived, starving and in much need of a cool glass of wine. We found a place and slowly began to unwind and relax from our tour of the Florence countryside which had definitely not been on the agenda. I have to say, Montecatini was a bit of a surprise. It has a Riviera feel to it that I didn’t expect. Palm trees in the town, beautiful canopied cafes, smart boutiques, and elegantly dressed men and women making sure they are being noticed. We found a simple little restaurant with tables outside and a dear Irish lady was the waitress. I hung my handbag on the chair, loosened up my collar and ordered a glass of wine from the Montecatini area, absolutely perfect. Good old fashioned customer service, which I have to admit is sometimes lacking in Florence was like a breath of fresh air to my British bones. After lunch and a stroll around the pretty shops and boutiques it was time to head back to the car before some enthusiastic traffic warden slapped a ticket on it. Needless to say, the journey took half the time going back!
The flower Giglio with its striking violet color and bright yellow center is the traditional associated with the city of Florence in Tuscany, Italy. The giglio, better know as the Iris, is a flower with five petals, three with a superior shape and two inferior and is similar to the Lilium. This antique flower was cultivated by Egyptians, Romans and Greeks and in fact the name is derived from the Greek word for rainbow. Legend has it that the name was taken from the goddess Iride, “The Messenger of Goodness”. Iris adapts well to cold weather, mountain regions and rivers and can be found in the south of Europe and parts of the Mediterranean. This flower has been used throughout the years as an ingredient to produce perfume, medicine, and interestingly enough even some toothpaste brands. This symbol not only has inspired the the town of Florence to adopt is as their symbol but also the gold craftsman who date back to the Etruscans.
Florence’s tradition of carefully carved gold pieces include excellent examples of this age old symbol in many of their creations. The people of Florence, Italy wear the symbol with pride, and when it is made in 18K gold from one of the many shops along Ponte Vecchio or the city center, then they know that they are truly wearing a piece of art. Pierotucci relys on these very same artisans to provide them with top quality pieces of jewelry for their store.
Small sized 18k engraved gold Giglio pendant and brooch
A timeless design, steeped in tradition, the “giglio” is the ultimate symbol of Florence. Every where you go in Florence you can see it emblazoned on the walls of buildings, churches and monuments. Though the flower normally comes in a variety of colors: violet-blue, yellow, red, white and brown, the Florentines use the giglio in red on a white back ground. However it is very common to see this symbol in violet or purple which is the main color of the city – so much so that their top soccer team has been nicknamed “VIOLA”. The Florence Iris Garden is open in May, and may small towns near by have festivals celebrating the Giglio, like S. Polo in Chianti. Dating back more than 1000 years, it has become one of our most popular designs. Hand carved in 18 carat gold, it has been cleverly designed to be worn either as a brooch or a pendant.
Pendant: Medium Heart in 18 K gold
The Florence Iris Garden is open in May, and may small towns near by have festivals celebrating the Giaggiolo, the name of the flower in Florentine slang, like in the town S. Polo in Chianti. Dating back more than 1000 years, it has become one of our most popular designs. Though many would confuse it with the French symbol, which is known world wide but it is actually easy to tell them apart. The French symbol has only three petals where as the Florentine giglio has five – three principal petals and two smaller that appear on either side of the top petal. Hand carved in 18 carat gold, you can see the small petals in the image to the right. It’s easy to appreciate the line of the engravers chisel as it cuts to give depth and glitter to each piece. These featured pieces are available in one of three wonderful colours: classic yellow 18 K gold, stunning white, or the increasingly popular rose gold.
It was a most wonderful day off from work at Pierotucci Leather Factory! I headed out with my dear friend Suze from Australia. In the seven years that I have been living here in Italy, can you believe I had never visited this extremely pretty town? The main purpose of this visit, however was not to pick the abundant grapes that almost spread onto the road from the amazing vineyards, but to take advantage of a very special offer that we got off the internet for some therapeutic spa treatments at the Montepulciano Terme. I have become a bit of a Groupon addict and this offer was just too good to pass up. Having had a wonderful lunch first at Il Grifon D’Oro, where we supped a superb glass of Nobilo Montepulciano 2009, we headed off carefully to the spa which was only a 10 minute ride away, fortunately.
First we were taken into the grotto like cave with the thermal waters. Water jets cascaded from above and already I was feeling wonderful. Next was the massage. A very experienced woman called Antonella was my masseuse and she certainly knew what she was doing. As well as the normal massage maneuvers, she pulled my toes, pulled my fingers, pulled my head upwards, applied pressure to the brow bones, moves I have never experienced. At the end of it I don’t think I have ever felt so light as if I was truly walking on air.
Then a purifying clay mask was applied to my face, left for 20 minutes and sponged off. The final part was relaxing on a heated ceramic bed for 20 minutes before reluctantly getting dressed and heading home. This experience is something I will always treasure as I am not normally a person who indulges herself too often. I think I should definitely treat myself to another fantastic day out very soon.
Pierotucci works on the assumption that everyone should travel to Tuscany, and when they do – they should be travelling in comfort with the perfect companions. In fact these travelling companions should let you rest easy while admiring the medieval squares in Siena, getting lost in the winding streets Lucca or market shopping in Florence.
While in Siena you can’t miss the lovely Piazza del Campo where you will find the Torre di Mangia, which to this day remains a beautiful combination of simplicity and elegance in its design. The curious name of the tower derives from its first bell ringer, Giovanni di Duccio, who was nicknamed Mangiaguadagni and who was commissioned to ring the hours in 1347. If you had an Italian Grandmother you would have heard the word Mangia often , it means EAT! – the second half of his nickname was “earnings”.
We are not sure if this means Giovanni ate his way through his earnings OR since he was paid to simply ring the bell – maybe the name comes from the fact that he ate up the taxpayers earnings… in either case we are sure that his travel bags were made of the same type of leather that are used in the Toscanella designer handbags.
It’s a simple idea but when you are travelling in another country with all those strange coins, it is absolutely the most perfect idea. This coin case below is the ideal container for storing all that change you get back while haggling in the market place. Most people let them fall to the bottom of their handbag but when you think that a 1 Euro coin will get you a cup of coffee and a 2 Euro coin will buy you breakfast – They are really worth keeping track of them. Great to know that you can put your vacation rental key on this key ring and always keep that safe and secure.
But for those of you that prefer to keep all your documents, travel ID, bank notes, credit cards and credit card receipts organized then you are probably looking for something just a bit larger than the coin purse. This bill fold has all the extra compartments you will ever need to hold all those little pieces of paper that you accumulate while travelling abroad.
The very same pieces of paper you want to have when you calculate your refund at the Duty Free Desk at the airport or when you add up your travel souvenirs will be easy to find when you use one of the 4 large pockets or 18 credit card slots.
Italy is a great place to visit over the Fall. A lot festivals, culture and food events take place all over the country. It is one of the place most visited by tourists. At the beginning of the fall the weather is great. In the morning and evening is a little chill along the coast but colder on the mountain especially on the northern of Italy, however, you will still see a beautiful sunny day. One of the great thing to delight is the food festivals over the fall. It is the perfect time to find and eat good truffles, chestnuts, mushrooms, grapes for wine, chocolate and torrone. visiting the regions you will have the opportunity to see markets, festivals and truffles fair in all regions of Italy.
One of the most important truffle festival
is Alba White’s truffles in Piedmont. Also, you will find other festivals in Tuscany, Umbria, and Emilia Romagna. One of my favorite festival is the eurochocolate festival in Perugia. It is the center city of Umbria the heart of Italy,well known for the Perugina Baci chocolates. it is one of the bigger chocolate producer of the world. Eurochocolate is an international chocolate fair celebrated every year for seven days over in the fall. you will find a big selection of all kind of chocolate. A lot artisans meet to create enormous chocolate sculptures that people will enjoy after been finished. Yes! you will get free chocolate and tastes.
Many of our clients who have recently placed orders for production necessary items have become aware that almost nothing, including our company, functions normally during the month of August. In fact any expat or tourist visiting during the month of August in Italy can tell you that small towns and whole parts of cities for all intensive purposes shut down. On my bus ride this morning I did a kind of inventory count of how many stores and coffee shops have close their doors and stuck up a “on holiday” signs. An American on average has vastly less vacation time than the regular Italian, and might be wondering how it is possible that companies and employees alike manage to take 3 weeks to a month of holiday time during this humid sticky month.
As with so many things in Italian culture the event of the “August Holiday” goes back centuries to the time of the Romans. August 15th is believed to be pagan holiday celebrating the end to summer planting and rejoicing in the fertility of the land. Pagan goddesses like Diana were particularly worships for their images of fecundity and nurturing. The tradition of taking the whole month to celebrate this holiday began with the reign of Roman Emperor Augustus. The time of the festivities were given the name “feriae augusti” in honor of the emperor. The Roman Catholic Church also celebrates August 15th as the Assumption of the Virgin Mary, also a figure of nurturing and fertility. So Italian Catholics with pride in their heritage, which makes up a large portion of the population, take this a sacred month as their traditional vacation. What does that leave in terms of operating procedure for small shop and stores that make up Italy’s every day commerce? Next to nill!
Word to the travel wise: if you are coming to Italy be prepared to walk a little further to find an open corner store, be aware that many places will be understaffed, and that service in general might seem a bit under par. All those who normally aid you on your vacation will also be enjoying the fruits and beauty of their own country either in mountain resorts or seaside villas. This also applies to any new expat as well. Recharging you mobile, going to state run offices, and overall public transport will not be running at normal capacity. Not to worry though, a lot of patience and a cool bottle of water will see you through it!
Something rather bizarre yet entertaining was brought to my attention by family member one day. I was looking through my email and found a message about a dam in Italy. Of course, many of my relatives like to send me little tid-bits about Italy. This time however I was shocked at what I found when I opened up this particular email.
At first it was a picture of a dam in Northern Italy. The email asked me to think about what these shadow looking blips could be before scrolling down. I thought that they were some kind of metal reinforcement meant to help support the sheer wall of the dam. But low and behold they were…
These Ibex apline goats scale the practically vertical wall of the dam in order to lick the salt deposits and algae that grow there. Wildlife conservationists say their attraction to the salt deposits is due to the lack of minerals in their diet. Our office jury is still out on whether it is instinctual or if these goats are just following the health nut craze. Either way they sure are pulling out all the stops for a balanced diet!