Monday, April 20, 2015


  Monday morning we woke to bright sunshine again; but it is cool weather outside.  By nine o'clock we'd finished our breakfast at the B&B in Churchdown, a small village outside of Gloucester, and found our way to the M5 heading northeast towards the very ancient town of Lincoln. 

     We had a three hour drive ahead of us but we were taking the long route that kept us on the motorways ninety percent of the time.  That translates to freeway like driving on dual carriageways.  With "Daisy"leading the way I actually took time to take some photos of the wonderful scenery that we were passing through.  You'll find some photos of Daisy in the slideshow also.  She's truly a brilliant machine except that when we tried to put in the Bishop's Palace Hotel when we arrived...she didn't understand!   We'd initially directed her to take us to the Lincoln Castle which she had no problems with. 

  Entering the very small and old village with very tiny, one way streets we became as confused as Daisy and finally parked the car on the street next to the Cathedral as we knew that was close.  We got out and walk around the corner and found the hotel rather easily but there was no "hotel" in the name!    It is called the Bishop's Palace in the Minster Yard.   They checked us in even though we were early and gave us a very detailed map to follow to take the car to the secure parking lot behind the building.  Easier said than done; it took us half an hour to do what we could have walked in fifteen minutes if we'd known the layout of the streets better.  But, the landmarks they'd indicated soon began to appear and thanks to about three different people...we found the car park.

      We are in the main building in a very old section of the hotel that has been remodeled in recent years.  We have wifi and all the conveniences.    Our view from the window is of the Cathedral and I think that I'll wear some earplugs tonight.  Beautiful bells that chime regularly.  We sorted things out and headed out to visit the Castle which is just past the Cathedral through the village. 

    We walked through the village and into the Castle that was built on Roman Ruins by William The Conqueror after he defeated the English in 1066 at Hastings.   It has been the scene of two major battles through the centuries.   One of the prime treasurers of the City of Lincoln is possession of one of only four original Magna Carta that was signed in 1215 and was the cornerstone of English Law and our United States Constitution.  It is kept in a vault inside of the Lincoln Castle.  Absolutely no photos were allowed.   They are celebrating the eight hundred anniversary of the signing in June and much preparation is being made for the celebration.  Princess Anne of the Royal Family will be attending the festivities. 

    In 1939 the document made it's first visit trip abroad to the New York World's Fair.  Then the war began and the decision was made to keep her in the United States for safety and she spent the war years with the original U.S. Constitution in Fort Knox.  

     We enjoyed a walking tour of the Castle with a very knowledgable docent by the name of Mike; a fountain of knowledge and very personable with wonderful stories to spice up the history.  We then did a walking tour of our own before heading over to the Cathedral to make sure that we had time to visit there before it closed at five o'clock. 

     The Lincoln Cathedral was built in 1092.  Beautiful and stately, a joy to walk through.  Very reminiscent of Westminster Abbey in London and the lovely Cathedral at Canterbury in the south.
Tempting to return for evening service but it's been a long day for both of us.  After the Cathedral we returned to the Castle to visit the Magna Carta which we'd originally skipped....there is a facsimile of the original on display in the Cathedral (the document actually belongs to the church) that I was allowed to take a photo of and you'll see in the slideshow.    Mike, our docent guide, was in the village as we came out of the church and he encouraged us to take the time to go back and see the original in the Castle.  After seeing the document and visiting the old prison that the vault is inside of we climbed up the steps and walked the rim of the Castle on top of a beautifully restored wall.  Within the walls of the castle keep (the last defense position) there were graves; when people died in battle they were always buried within the keep.

     There is also a fully functioning Royal Court inside of the Castle and they were having a jury trial today.  It's one of the few in England that still is actively used.  Back to the village we walked the streets to find the old Roman Gate that is still standing, one of many Roman Ruins within the town.  Then we decided to stop at The Lion & Snake Pub (since 1834) for an early bird dinner.  Delicious and more than we could eat for only nine pounds!   We also walked back around the Cathedral to view the finished flower display that was being construction on the lawn this afternoon when we arrive. 

     We're in our room waiting for it to get dark so that we can go back outside and take some night photos for you.  I will add them tonight to the slideshow.   If there are not there now; be sure to come back later as I'm hoping for some great photos!   Tomorrow we go further north to see Castle Howard.

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Sunday, April 19, 2015


  Where did the time go; it's been several days since I've put my words on paper for my Armchair Travelers.   The following includes our day of travel plus yesterday that was spent visiting the two referenced Estates in the title to this Blog.   It's Sunday here in England and we've just returned from the Mass at the local Catholic Church, Our Lady of Perpetual Succour, that is less than a mile for our lodgings.   We're taking a day off....this driving on the wrong side of the road is stressful for us old folks; and Jim wants to watch the Formula One Race in the middle of the afternoon.  I just plain and simple need a day with my feet up.  I may only be the navigator but it's a really tough job.   I've never had an ulcer but I may by the time I get to Paris!   But back to our journey....

  Friday, April 17th, we were awake early and ready to leave our studio apartment by eight o'clock but we'd told the owner nine o'clock so we watched our big screen television and waited.  Checked out and deposit returned; we walked a block in bright sunshine to the bus stop.  The bus was very late so we stood there for about half an hour before we were settled in with all of our luggage and on the way to the Tube Station at Tooting Broadway.  There we used our Oyster Pass again, just enough money left on the card, and stayed on until the stop at Elephant & Castle where we had to deal with two sets of stairs to change lines from the Northern to the Bakerloo Line that took us all the way to Paddington Station.   We had a few more stairs here but both managed well.  Finally in the train station where we purchased tickets on the "milk run" train to Heathrow Airport, half the price of the faster "Express Train".   We arrived before noon instead of the planned eleven o'clock but the Enterprise people were waiting for us.  We used this company because of the age restrictions on most of the other companies.  They are wonderful; gave them our name and she had all of our information at her fingertips.  We had to change to my credit card and therefore I became the primary driver because of Jim's stolen wallet in Rome; Jim
became the second driver because they accepted his AAA International Driver's License that he'd gotten before we left home.  That and his Passport were the only identification items not in his wallet.   WOW...I'm off the hook...he can drive.  We debated on two items:  automatic gears and the GPS.    We got both of them...thank goodness.  They have been lifesavers.  The Garmin is new and has all the bells and whistles.   It took us several round-d-rounds  to finally get to the Motorway but we figured it out and were on our way.    I hold the Garmin and am the navigator....what a marvelous improvement over the paper maps.

Our first stop was to see if Highclere Castle (Downton Abbey) and or grounds were open; we knew they probably were not but wanted to see the area.  Sure enough, they were not open to the public but took a few photos and then went back on our route through the Cotswolds to our home for the next three nights in Churchdown.   We are staying in a private home; upstairs bedroom with a private bathroom off the hallway.  She lays out a beautiful breakfast for us each morning.  Our room has a lovely twenty-one inch flat screen television that Jim is going to enjoy this afternoon.  Yes...all in English!

     Saturday, April 18th:   Yesterday!   After breakfast we were out the door, set "Daisy" (our name for the Garmin) to take use over the hill and through the dale to Blenheim Palace, located just north of Oxford.  FYI...Oxford is a big city and we've decided to drive around traffic congested headaches since we've seen the cities and town and villages before on previous trips to England.  It took us about an hour and a half and we were there.  This is my second visit and Jim's first to the birthplace of Sir Winston Churchill.  It is one of the largest and finest Estates in England and is home to the Duke of Marlborough and majestically set in a two thousand acre park.  We arrived at half past ten and enjoyed our visit until half past one.   There were guided and self-guided tours of the Palace on both the first and second floors.  We chose to go our own way and wandered upstairs and down after an unusual small group tour that told the history of the house as we went from room to room with live people from the back looking into mirrors/computer screens that showed the face of the character who was telling the story.  All very modern in an old fashion sort of way; but well done.

   We spent a brief time in the gardens but still had another adventure so we left the Estate as I mentioned at half past one; you could easily spend an entire day and I'm sure many people do.  Locals are members of the National Trust, including our landlord, and go regularly to visit various Estates throughout England for one annual fee.

     By two thirty we'd arrived at Waddesdon Manor.  A little further north and east of Blenheim Palace. 
It is set in the Village of Waddesdon, from whence it received it's name.  Built in 1875 in the style of a 16th century French chateau for Baron Ferninard de Rothschild to entertain his guests and to display his vast art collection.  The building is very reminiscent of Chambord Chateau in the Lorrie Valley in France.   Set in another huge park, so large that we were transported by bus from the parking lot to the Manor House.  This is one of the busiest Estates in England and has a parking lot that will hold one thousand vehicles.  Known worldwide for the unusual and beautiful Victorian gardens; the
variety and designs were hard to leave even when it was time for our timed entry into the Manor House.  There were docents in every room to answer questions and offer tidbits of information but you were allowed to wander through all three floors at your own pace.  This one would be a good one to purchase tickets before going in the busy summer seasons.  We almost didn't get in for a tour!

     We were back in the car for the long drive back to Churchdown before four o'clock.  Arrived about five thirty and headed into Cheltenham for dinner at our new favorite restaurant called The Redgrove, a Harvester Restaurant.   Tried to get gasoline after dinner but waited until this morning when the machines gave us problems with our credit cards.  Called the card company after arriving home; no problems they said.  We waited until this morning after Mass and had a live body who walked us through the process.  I do hope you've enjoyed our day yesterday, we certainly did.

     We're going to be moving every night for the next several days so don't be surprised if I do one of these every few days.  We're heading north and some wonderful Castles around York.

Thursday, April 16, 2015

Laundry Day in London

     Today was scheduled to be another museum day but Jim took pity on me and made it a day off.  Me thinks he was also ready for a down day.  It is dry but much cooler today than it has been this week.  We packed that bags for an early nine o'clock departure tomorrow morning; we go by Bus, Tube and train to Heathrow to pick up the car that we've rented for the next eleven days for our driving tour of northern and the southwestern corners of the United Kingdom.

  We also decided to do a load of laundry at the laundry mat we'd seen across the street.  Got everything ready to go and discovered it is permanently closed!    Back to the room and each of us on our computers we discovered one that was about a five minute walk from the Tooting Broadway Tube Station.  There was a telephone number so I went on Skype and called the number to make sure he was open.  He was very irate and demanded to know how I'd gotten his phone number!

     After I'd assured him I was not a telephone solicitor trying to sell him something; his tone changed and he was very nice.   So off to the bus and our local tube station.  From there we walked about five minutes, just as he'd said, and found a great local laundry mat where we could wash our own or he would do it for us.  He was ironing shirts the whole time we were there when he and Jim were not having a none stop conversation about everything in the world.  It was a fun and entertaining two hours while the machine washed and dried our clothes. 

  By the time we finished it was after four o'clock and since our favorite pub, J. J. Moon's, was on the way back to the station we stopped and had an early bird dinner of fish n chips with a tall beer. 
We were back home by six o'clock and tucked in for the night.  I think we'll play some cards.  The few photos that I took are all here on the page for you to see.  Enjoy.  The young man you see in the photos was another client .  He seldom got a word in edgewise!  He was from Venice and is now living in England; his dream is to go to California.   Tomorrow we're driving around the Cotswolds and then landing at another AirBnB apartment; a private room and bath in a private home; our new apartment for the next three nights.   We're looking forward to getting to know June and Roy, the owners, who have been great with communications on the Internet.

Wednesday, April 15, 2015

Museum Day: Britian Tate and National Gallery

   Out the door earlier this morning, we headed to the bus and then the Tube for our first visit to the British Tate Museum.   Today is Jim's day and I'm tagging along as his guide through the maze of directions for Tubes and Buses.  The first one was easy; we got off at Pimlico and had a well marked seven minute walk to the British Tate Museum.  This is the sister museum to the Modern Tate that Jim visited yesterday afternoon.  This one had an extensive collection of Turner, along with a nice selection of other famous artists. 

     While Jim was in the museum I also looked at some of the art work and spent time in the gift shop looking for an item that was requested by a good friend.  I found them; there were several choices.  Tough to make decisions for someone else. 

     In less then two hours we were back on the street finding our way by the bus system to the National Gallery which is also next to the National Protrait Gallery.  But, today, we're only visiting the National Gallery.  Jim picked up an audio guide and entered the museum and I left and walked back to the visit Trafalgar Square and then on to the Whitehall where guards on horseback were guarding the entrance.  They were mostly there for photo opportunities for the tourists; the real guards were the multiple policemen carrying heavy duty guns at the ready. 

     After an hour I walked back to the Museum, found a good seat and worked on my Sudoku Book that I always carry with me.  I also had free wifi there in the museum.    It's interesting, most of the museums in London are free (with a suggestion donation) and you pay big time to enter the churches.  We thought about going to St. Paul's again since it's been a while since we were there....but at eighteen pounds each that's a hefty price.   We've been here many times and seen the traditional tourist exception is Buckingham Palace but it's always closed when we are here.  The other change on this trip is that we're not showing someone else the sites; it's just the two of us doing what we enjoy. 

    By two o'clock Jim was back at the meeting point as agreed.  We went outside and talked to a bus driver who recommended that we catch bus # 11 if we were interested in a cross town ride.  Off we went and enjoyed our ride until we saw Westminster Cathedral, the Catholic Cathedral in London.  We hopped off the bus and enjoyed Jim's first visit; I'd seen it in 2013.  Then we caught the same bus line and continued to the end at Futham Broadway.    From there we found the Tube Station, boarded and started our journey back to our apartment.

     When we arrived in Tooting Broadway about four thirty we walked across the street and had another early bird special, this time chicken, the same neighborhood bar that we ate at last night.  Another good dinner, then back on the bus and home before six o'clock.  It was a good day!

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Tuesday, April 14, 2015

First Day in London: Shakespeare Globe Theatre

Yesterday was a long day that started slowly and ended on a good note after hours of problems.  But, traveling on your own gives you lots of opportunities to solve problems.   We left our apartment in Florence about eleven o'clock, walked the half mile to the taxi stand where we caught a ride to the airport.  We had to be out of our apartment and with all of our luggage....yes...we need to travel lighter....we decided to spend several hours at the airport with our luggage instead of dragging it around the city.

     We were flying on Vueling Airlines, a Spanish version of Southwest.  Good service and great flight.  We lost an hour on the clock as England is an hour behind the continent.  We left Italy at 4:25 and arrived in England at 5:45 pm....but it was a two hour flight.  I'd purchased tickets for the Gatwick Express train from Gatwick Airport to Victoria Station in downtown London.  That was perfect and we patted ourselves on the back for that one has we passed the Que lines for people purchasing their ticket.   Before getting on the train we used an ATM to purchase some English Pounds...ouch...the value of the pound is about 1.5 to the dollar. 

      Slow ride into London; problems on the track said the conductor resulting in reduced speed.  Arrived in Victoria Station.  Went to purchase our train ticket to the suburbs and discovered I should have been in the line to purchase an Oyster Pass but since I didn't want to wait again we paid for the one way ticket to Tooting Broadway.   We'll address that problem tomorrow.   By now it was after seven o'clock.  Thank goodness we'd gotten a sandwich in the airport before we boarded the plane.
First the Victoria Line to Stockwell and then the Northern Line to Tooting Broadway.   We were able to contact the landlord at that point and she said to catch the bus 127 and the apartment was directly across the street.

     We found the bus stop but when I asked someone about purchasing the ticket on the bus she said "no, I'd have to purchase it before" and gave me directions to a tabacco shop across the street.  When I went in he asked for my Oyster Card, I said I only wanted a bus ticket...he didn't sell bus tickets.   We discovered that without the Oyster Card your options are very limited.  So I spent the five pounds for the each card and added money to them.  Back to Jim who was standing with the luggage as it was getting darker and darker.  We waited and waited but no Bus 127 came.   Suddenly there was a bus 333 and I showed Jim on my directions that this bus was another way but would entail a five minute walk.  We climbed on board.  After a while I went up to the driver asking for help.  He was as lost as we were as to where we should get off. 

     Long story short, it was after eight o'clock and we were on a strange street in one of the more ethically diverse neighborhoods we've been in.  But, the people were wonderful and really did try to help us; several going out of their way to lead us in the direction they thought we should go.  It was getting cold and we were both tired.  I called the landlord again and she said, "oh're on Streatham High Road instead of Streatram Road"  She was trying to tell us how to get to her place when I finally asked her to please call a taxi to pick us up and bring us to the apartment.  At this point I would have paid any price they wanted to charge. 

  We waited and waited with narry a taxi in sight.  Suddenly one appeared and Jim hailed him down.    We didn't even ask the cost just gave him the card with the address.  I thought it was the one that the owner had called for us....but when we received a call over half an hour later from the one she'd called; we knew that someone was watching out for us to send the taxi we used.   We were thrilled to pay him ten pounds for the ride; and there is no way we could have possibly walked it with the luggage at night.  It was nine o'clock by the time we were in our apartment.  Fortunately the supermarket below us is open until eleven o'clock so we did a bit of shopping before calling it a day.  Darling apartment but definitely in the suburbs.   Our windows face the backyard so we don't have any street noise.

  We slept late this morning and enjoyed a leisurely morning before heading out the door about noon.  We easily found our way back into the city and exited the Underground at Westminster.  Walked out into warm sunshine and Big Ben.  We walked the Queen's River Walk pass the London Eye, the lines were long and it is very expensive for something I've done before.  We walked all the way to Shakespeare's Globe Theater.  A recreation of the original as best as they could do.  We had a wonderful tour guide by the name of Jeremy who was easy to understand, extremely knowledgeable and entertained along the way.    He even quoted parts of Shakespeare's plays to emphasis the information about the plays and how they related to the building and people at the time they were written.  This theater is a direct result of the work of an American actor by the name of Sam Wanamaker who believed that it was important to have this built and worked most of his life to make it happen.  He died in 1993 and this opened in 1997.   A new theater in the complex has just been completed and is named The Sam Wanamaker Playhouse.  Totally enclosed they give performances here during the months that the original is closed because of weather. 

We walked back towards the Modern Tate Museum and Jim enjoyed over an hour there while I enjoyed people watching as I sat across from St. Paul's Cathedral on the Queen's River Walk.  Then we went into the very new Blackfriars Station to catch our transportation towards home.  It was now after four o'clock in the afternoon.  When we departed the Tube at Tooting Broadway we decided to get an early dinner.  We selected J.J. Moons, it looked like a bar from the outside but the sign said that they had fish n chips and served meals all day long.

     We had a wonderful dinner and even had an elderly gentlemen from the neighborhood join us at our table.  Not uncommon in Europe to share table space.  He was definitely a local and we could not lure him into conversation of any length. 
Ate a full meal including a huge glass of beer for only 6.25 English Pounds each; their earlybird special.  We walked to the stop for Bus # 127....yes, the one we should have caught last night, and it took us right to the apartment.  We only had to walk across the street.   We walked in the door at six o'clock and are enjoying our evening with a huge television with English Language!

      Hope you've enjoyed our tale of woe that had a happy ending and a moral to the story:  take a taxi from the train station when you're arrived in a strange place!

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Sunday, April 12, 2015

Last Day In Florence

    I woke up this morning with a definite clogged head.   Jim turned on the television sans sound since it was all in Italian; and watched the Formula One Race taking place in Shanghai China today.  I was soon out of bed and off to the nine o'clock Mass at St. Felicita's where we attended mass on Easter Sunday.   BE SURE TO READ THE ONE PRIOR TO THIS AS I'VE POSTED TWO BLOGS TODAY.

     As I was walking towards the church that is next to Ponte Vecchio; a runner came at me wearing a number pinned to his shirt.  Then I remembered the Half Marathon that is being run today; apparently he was warming up as I never saw another one.

     We had an interesting visitor at mass today.  A small dog on a leash with his owner; kept us all entertained but we never heard a sound from him.  After he returned to his pew from communion I noticed that the dog was doing some deep stretching after enjoying the movement of walking to and from the priest.   Again, there were only about thirty of us in the church that was built to hold hundreds.  Such a shame that their attendance is so poor here in Italy.  

   After mass I noticed that the street on the Ponte Vecchio was cordoned off to keep the pedestrians out of the way when the racers cross the bridge.   I soon discovered they were running along the Arno River at this time on the North side.  I expect them to run down the South side at some point but I'm  not planning to camp out on the street to watch!

      Jim's race was finished when I arrived home; he was busy on his computer and eating breakfast.  I joined him and then did my post of yesterday's blog.  I'm starting this before we head out to catch the bus for another excursion and hope to finish it tonight before bed.  I'm still trying to dry the laundry that we washed by hand yesterday.  It's hanging on the lines outside the bathroom window.   Yes...very European!  

   About two o'clock we headed out on another adventure:  a bus trip up the hill behind us to visit the church of San Miniato above Michelangelo's Overlook.   We took the long way of getting there by climbing aboard Bus # D and riding it all the way to the train station.

  There we waited a bit for Bus # 13 and it took us through entirely new area.  We saw a Russian Orthodox Church and some beautiful and expensive looking homes before we once again crossed the Arno River to the south side.  Up the hill we went and he dropped us off at the Michelangelo
Overlook parking lot.  We walked from there to the top of the marble steps that lead into the cemetery and the Monastero di San Miniato.  When I went up last week there were many priests wandering around and everything was open.  Today many of those areas were closed.  But Jim did enjoy his visit to the church and cemetery.   From there we walked down to the Convent and Church of San Salvatore al Monte Alle Croci....a church that was under repairs last week and partially closed was open today and we were able to visit the church.

     I took Jim on a tour of the Rose Garden that tumbles down the side of the hill and ends up very near to our apartment.  We walked down our street to find #44 San Niccolo where the artist that has made a name for himself by painting famous people (ancient and new) in diving masks. 
The artist is known as "Blub"....he or she has remained rather anonymous even now but is well known here in Florence.  There was even an article featured in our program guide at the Theater on Friday evening.  Jim is of the opinion that it has to do with the floods of Florence both  past and future. 

     One last item of interest on Florence....yesterday on the bus a couple of teenagers sat down  across from us and continued their non-stop talk...two were seated and one was standing.   The one seated across from me got out her tobacco, her paper and a funny little white thing which she held in her teeth.   She continued to talk and fill the paper with the tobacco and then rolled it but before completing the job she put the tiny while thing in one was a filter.  When finished she nonchalantly put the new cigarette in her pocket for later and put her equipment away....never missing a beat in the conversation.  It was as though we didn't exist....

       And this is one of the reasons we love to ride the buses to witness the real world around us!   Our mileage today was rather light, only 3.54 miles.  We leave tomorrow to fly to England on Vueling Airlines....will not be posting tomorrow....ciao...

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San Marco Monastery

     We spent the morning catching up on the things one has to do .... even when traveling.  It was half past twelve before we headed out the door.  It doesn't help that I seem to be catching a cold.  But, being a good trooper, we walked to the bus stop and caught Bus # D as it was the first to arrive.

     Bus # D took us along the Arno River on both sides but never venturing into the old city on the north side but retracing many of the streets that we walked through on our walking tours of the Oltrarno neighborhood.  When it stopped at the train station, we got off and got back on another bus that took us to the Pitti Palace where we got off again and got on another bus going in the direction of Santa Croce.   There we got off and walk several blocks before getting on another bus that took us all the way to San Marco Piazza.  The bus system is easy to navigate once you get the courage to take a look at the wonderful map of routes that you can pick up at the T.I. Office (tourist information).  You can purchase single use tickets for 1.50 euros or a ticket for 4.70 euros that allows you to date stamp it four different times.  Each stamp is good for ninety minutes.   The machine in the bus that stamps your tickets gives the time it expires.  We have one time left that we'll use on Sunday.

   San Marco Monastery is now the Museum of San Marco.  There were two men who lived within these walls and each had their own expression of fifteenth century Christianity.....Fra Angelico's radiant paintings, fusing medieval faith with renaissance realism; and Savonaola's moral reforms, fusing medieval faith with modern politics.   A third man who had his own private mediation room within these walls was the very wealthy, and very religious, Cosimo the Elder; he was also the man responsible for building San Marco.   He often retired here for spiritual renewal. 

     The bottom floor of the Museum features one of the world's best collections of Fra Angelico's paintings.  The upstairs contains small individual cells (sleeping quarters) for the monks.  Each cell features a different moment in the life of Christ for the monk to contemplate while he is waiting for sleep to close his eyes as he enters another world of dreams.  Many of these cell frescos are by Fra Angelico.  An interesting note; the hallo of Judes is painted black. 
The cell of Savonarola, an early church visionary often compared to Martin Luther King; features a famous painting of him in profile gazing into the darkness.  He was treated as the evil opponent of Renaissance goodness.

      By the time we finished this was hard to leave as there was much to see and digest about these religious men.  The best was last as we entered the Library, once the biggest and best in the world, to view a few of the magnificient books that were hand written by the monks.

  Out into the day I went by myself as Jim continued to enjoy the various corners of this wonderful museum.  I was walking back to the apartment, stopping along the way to pick up meat for tonight's dinner.  I also made a couple of other stops. The first at McDonald's for their carmel draped ice cream cup that I enjoyed as I walked.  When I was almost to the Duomo, three ladies standing on a corner stopped me and started to ask me by writing on a pad for directions.  I said I only speak English and they said "oh good"!   They were all from Minnesota on a tour and had been given the afternoon off.  They were looking for a particular Gelato Shop that their tour director had recommended.  I had not heard of it so whipped out my cell phone and opened google maps....the ladies were ecstatic! popped up over by Piazza Signoia.   It turns out they have no ideal where they are.  So I dug in my pocket for one of my well used maps from the TI Office.   I said you can get one of these at the TI...and they said together...what is a TI.    Bottom line is I showed them on the map where they were and where they needed to go and then gave them my map with my blessings.  Always fun to help tourists who are here for the first time. 

     Soon I was at Conad's, my favorite grocery store, for the supplies we needed.  Time is running short so we don't buy too much.  I did pick up two bottles of inexpensive wine (about $3.00 a bottle) and will probably end of leaving one of them for the next guests in our apartment.  But better two many than not enough!   I arrived home about half an hour before Jim, his second museum was already closed so he'd walked home instead of riding the bus as planned.

     About five o'clock we had an early dinner and then Jim left at 6:30 pm to walk to a church that he'd found near the Bargello Museum that had a seven o'clock Mass, St. Philip Neri.  I decided to wait an go in the morning as my tasty but far too rich McDonald's treat was giving me a bad reaction!   Plus I'd started taking cold medication and I was feeling a reaction to that also.

     A quiet evening with one game of Hand and Foot cards before calling it a night.  Tomorrow is our last day and I will post this then.  You may or may not get a another one before we arrive in England on Monday evening.  Ciao

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Friday, April 10, 2015

Climbing The Bell Tower, Visiting Four Museums Plus A Concert

    We were up early and out the door before nine o'clock to start our busy day.  The first stop was at the Duomo for the Baptistry; Jim used my ticket from yesterday (one ticket for the Duomo included entry into five areas within 24 hours) and I enjoyed watching the tourists getting their day started.  I've seen everything in the Duomo complex several times and I enjoyed the people watching; even took photos for two teachers and their students while I waited.

     By 9:30 am he was back out and since his next one was not open yet we walked around to the entrance to the bell tower that had already opened.  I took the ticket and walk straight in and started my climb up the 414 steps to the top for some great views.  Even got one of Jim down below while he waited for me.  Tough part is that the up and down are on the same set of stairs and half of them are circular steps and very narrow.  No handrails provided; just hard stone walls that you can touch on both sides of you.

  By ten o'clock I was back on ground zero; I removed my jacket and began enjoying the sunshine that was beginning to heat the air.  It was a beautiful spring day in Florence.  We walked back to the front of the Duomo and saw that a line had begun for Jim's next adventure...I waited in line with him for about ten minutes and then he was in and I went to the ticket office where I knew there was 1)  a bathroom for only a euro, and 2) a bench that I could sit on in the shade and read my novel that I'd found in the apartment.  I didn't bring any books with me; only those on my Kindle app on the cell phone.  Jim had asked to borrow the cell phone to use as a camera today.  I reluctantly agreed but must admit he took good care of it and got much better photos than yesterday.

     The last museum of the Duomo collection was the inside of the Cathedrale...they'd removed all of the equipment for lighting the fire crackers in the carriage last he got a nicer view of the church and then he went downstairs to view the museum of Santa Reparata.   
This is the original church that was built in the 4th century over roman houses.  It was much smaller than the current church.  In 1412 they leveled the old church and built the new one.  In 1965 to 1974 they did a series of excavations to open us this area and it has been a museum for many years now; but one we'd not seen.  He spent an hour and then picked me up and we headed south to the Bargello Museum where I again enjoyed my book in the bookstore while he used the cell phone camera and had a ball in this much expanded museum from what he remembered.  It is almost entirely sculptures. 
Another hour and we were back on the street walking back north pass the Duomo to the Baslicia di S. Lorenzo where all of the famous Medici family is buried in the Cappelle Medicee.  There is a special chapel within the larger one that was designed by Michelangelo when he was at his greatest.  

      Soon we were back on the street where we walked north to San Marco Piazzza; but the museum there closed early today.  So we went to Plan B and hopped aboard Bus # 23 to see where it would take us.  We rode the bus for nearly two hours and went from the center to the northwest corner of Florence and then back across town to the far southeast side of the city.   We'd passed our bus stop for the apartment during the last portion of the ride and when we again reached that point, Jim got off and went home while I continued on to the grocery store to pick up our meat for tonight's dinner.  I walked home and was in the door by four o'clock.  A fun day!   But, not over.

We enjoyed a wonderful dinner with the window open to the beautiful spring day.  About 8:15 pm we dressed warmly and started the twenty minute walk to the theater.  We'd purchased tickets last week for a concert in the very old Opera House called Teatro Verdi.  The walls of this opera house has heard all of the famous singers and musicians over the centuries.   It is located just a couple of blocks past the Santa Croce Church.  As we passed the church we stopped to check out what was happening tomorrow as there were many tents set up in the piazza.  Discovered that there is a Half Marathon that starts and finishes in the piazza tomorrow.  We also noticed many people in the various restaurants that line the streets.  Most were full and flowing out into the tables on the sidewalks.

     Arrived at the Teatro Verdi about fifteen minutes before the start of the program.  The halls were full of people enjoying their evening; many at the bar inside of the theater.  We had balcony seats about half way down the side, room number 20, on the second level.  Very good seats on little red chairs; there was room for two more people but we had it all to ourselves.  The concert was classical music performed by the Toscana Orchestra, directed by Daniel Rustioni; a 32 year old man who was awarded the designation as the Best Newcomer at the International Opera Awards in 2013.   The second selection was with a french horn solist by the name of Andrea Albori.  After the intermission, our third performance was all four movements of a beautiful and haunting piece by Robert Schumann.

     By eleven o'clock we'd made our way down the very busy Friday night crowds in the streets and arrived home.  It's Saturday morning now as I sit in bed and finished this very long journal of a wonderful day in Florence.   I hope you enjoyed our day as much as we did.   We set a record today of just over eight miles on the pedometer. 

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Thursday, April 9, 2015

Uffizi Museum and climbing the Dome of the Duomo

Our day started with the two of us leaving together but parting after we cross the Arno River.  I actually made it across our bridge this morning without taking a photo of the Ponte Vecchio as I'd already taken a photo of the shadows cast on the water from our bridge before we ventured across.  The day was warming up nicely and it was about 9:30 am.

     Our plan for the day was to each go our own way until three o'clock when we'd meet back at the apartment.  Months ago when we were planning our trip we'd purchased a single entry ticket into the Uffizi Museum for Jim only with an audio guide.  This would give him time to really explore the museum as we were unsure about how much time would be spent there before entering the Vasari Corridor Tour last week.
We were right as the tour did not spend much time in the Uffizi.  Jim was headed there with his passport...the only personal identification item that we possess for leave as security for the audio guide.  Remember...he had his wallet stolen in Rome!    He had a ten o'clock entry time.   He took my Nikon Coolpix camera with him and you have the results of his photos at the first of the slideshow.  We'd done the same thing in Rome where he had a morning to himself in the Vatican Museum (but he had his IPhone for photos...yes, the one that was stolen along with the wallet)  and then we went together after the Garden Tour.  He really seemed to enjoy spending the hours alone with no one to hassle him about moving along at someone else's speed.  I tend to speed walk through museums.   His plan was to go to the Bargello Museum afterwards, but he was so tired by the time he walked out of the Uffizi at two o'clock he headed straight home.  The plan is to do the Bargello tomorrow now.

Me...well first of all you'll see a photo in the slide show of my doing the breakfast dishes...Jim cooks dinner but I do breakfast and cleanup for both meals.  Then I packed up the laundry into the big backpack and a bag and when Jim went left to the Uffizi, I continued straight ahead to the laundromat that we'd located last week that is only a couple of blocks on the north side of the river.  There I put everything in a large machine and in an hour I was headed back to the apartment with clean clothes for only ten euros.   I put everything away and then headed back out the door and walked to the Duomo, found the ticket office across the square, purchased my ticket for ten euros that gives me access to the Baptistry, an ancient church under the Duomo, the be ll tower and the Dome.   Today I was climbing the dome of the Duomo.

  I found the back of the line behind the Duomo by 12:15 and by 1 pm I was headed up the stairs.  But, during my hour that I waited I met a wonderful Italian family.   They were in front of me and didn't know where to get the ticket.  I figured that out watching them and listening to the Italian language.  I produced my ticket and asked if they needed to purchase tickets.  Yes....I then explained where to go to purchase the tickets.  Turns out they spoke excellent English.   They'd lived for a time in New Jersey, in fact their son was born there.  He now works in Brazil and comes home to Genoa every several months.  When he is home they visit different cities in Italy.  This was their first visit to Florence.  Wow...I'm the expert having been here five times!   So enjoyed chatting with them as we waited for our turn to walk up the 463 steps to the tiny Cupola where there is barely enough room for the closely monitored group that is up there at any given time.  Once around for photos and it's time to go down.

The climb up the Dome is easy to the first level where you walk around the inside of the church for a much closer view of the fresco ceiling portraying the Last Judgment, similar to scenes in the Sistine Chapel in Rome. You have another view of this on the way down but one level higher than when you came up.  When you climb back inside you suddenly are going round and round up inside of the double dome for over two hundred steps until you reach the top.  Several times the down line crosses the up line and it gets rather tight.

    Shortly after two o'clock I was back on the pavement and walking to our favorite grocery store for meat for dinner tonight.  A stop at the ATM for cash for France in a few weeks and then back to the apartment.  I walked in the door at three o'clock.  Jim was there having returned about half an hour earlier.  Nice to finish early and work on the photos and blog.  Dinner tonight was rice, veggies and cordon bleu chicken.   We've time for cards this evening and tomorrow is another day!

Eventually you reach the top or the bottom depending on which way you are headed.  A marvelous experience even when doing it for the third time!  It was just after two o'clock.

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Or click on the slideshow below to go to the larger photos:


Wednesday, April 8, 2015

Museo Horne in Florence Italy

My story begins with the wonderful dinner that Mr. Jim prepared for us last night; we've so enjoyed cooking our meals in our apartment.  Every other day we visit the store for supplies for two days of meals and then carry them home using our small day bags along with a cloth shopping bag that we brought with us from home.  One of Jim's treasures from Bower's Museum.

      This morning after breakfast we were out the door by 9:30 am and on our way over the bridge; stopping along the way for the daily photo of Ponte Vecchio.  The Museo Horne is only a few blocks past the bridge and we arrived just as they were opening their doors.  No photos allowed so the few that I have were on the sly.  Hebert Percy Horne, an English architect and art historian, acquired the historic Corsi building on Via dei Benci in 1911.    He used his collection of paintings, sculptures, drawings and decorations to recreate the atmosphere and setting of an authentic Renaissance home.  Today visitors are presented with a refined treasure of masterpieces but above all else it is a home, decorated with original works dating from the thirteenth to seventeenth centuries, in the heart of Florence, a symbol of the culture of the Renaissance. 

  While we were touring the building there was a group of Italian high school students with a docent from the museum conducting their tour in English.  Teaching them some English language skills.   She is an American; but as the guard whispered to us the boys and girls did not know that she also speaks Italian.  They were not aware that she could understand all of their comments. 

      One of the highlights of the tour was a video that interacted with a film on the wall; very advanced technology and fascinating to watch as the actor was made to look like Hebert Horne as he told his story of his career and friendships with other famous people that influenced him during his lifetime.

     Leaving the museum we walked back towards the Arno River all the way to the Ponte Vecchio where we crossed the bridge and made a sharp right turn into the Oltrarno Neighborhood that we'd visited last week in the afternoon. 
We had many more shops open to visit during the morning and also walked down some different streets than we did previously.  We visited the full swing this the Santo Spirito Plazza.  I saw the church was open and rushed over.  I got inside for just a couple of photos before they told us all to leave...we were not the only ones who'd come in while the doors were open to move a large painting out to a waiting truck.  It is always closed on Wednesday!  Oops.

  We continued walking to the church of Santa Maria dei Carmine and again being before noon; the church was open.  This is the church that has the Brancacci Chapel that we visited last week.   We could see the Chapel across the church but were not allowed to get near it without paying the fees again to tour.  From there we walked to the old city wall again; found a recommended restaurant by Rick Steves that he says is very good and very cheap!  Then we walked all the way to the River and started back towards the city to see the waterfalls near the Ponte Vespucci.  People actually walk out on to part of it on the south side of the river.

     Back into the neighborhood to walk more streets; churches were beginning to close as most do from noon until about four o'clock.  We reach the Piazza at Santo Spirito again and then walked on Via Romana to the Bobilli Garden Gate on the western tip of the massive gardens of the Pitti Palace.  Returning we found Via Maggio and walked all the way back to the river admiring the various Palazzos of the rich and famous in the fifteenth century.

Soon we were back to reality and after passing the Ponte Vecchio we stopped at the grocery store for supplies before arriving home about 2:30 pm.  We'd walked 5.88 miles today.  We had a snack and then enjoyed some down time with the window open for the warm spring air!   Yes, spring has returned and we put the gloves and hats away.  People are walking around without coats and I'm sure by tomorrow we'll see lots of shorts on many people.

     About 3:30 pm I decided to walk up to see the church at the top of our hill, a beautiful church that is visible from all over Florence called St. Miniato al Monte.   It took me about half an hour to walk first to the Michelangelo Overlook and then to the church just beyond.  It is very old and has a cemetery that surrounds it.  I enjoyed all of the frescos on the walls and the very unusual design of the church.  On my
way home I walked through the Rose Garden that covers one side of the hill from the steps of the Michelangelo Overlook.  People were really enjoying the sunshine today and the flowers are starting to bloom.  But...the rose bushes have yet to bud.  I totaled 7.79 miles for the day!

      Jim was ready to play cards by the time I arrived home at five o'clock.  We stopped mid-game and fixed our dinner but I did finally win a game tonight!  He's been winning twice as many games as I have so it was nice to win one tonight!  Thanks for joining me on our journey today.

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Tuesday, April 7, 2015

Enjoying the Gardens of Florence

     Hope you found the night time photos that we took and posted last night to yesterday's blog.  Not as great as I'd liked but the ones of the churches are especially good.   They're at the end of yesterday's photos.

Today we walked 7.64 miles by the time we called it a day.  I started the day with a walk to the store about ten o'clock while Jim researched the planned activities for the day.  We had Lorenzo, the landlord, coming at one o'clock for the used linens so it cut our day in half.  After I returned we bundled up....yes, it's still cold outside....and headed through the portal at the end of our block, took a sharp right and headed uphill along the narrow road at the base of the old city wall that runs from the ancient tower at the far end of our street all the way to the Fort Belvedere.  Most of the road is a steady uphill climb which we did without stopping.  On the other side of the wall were the gardens that we visited in the afternoon.  We arrived home shortly before Lorenzo arrived.

     We had a good visit with Lorenzo about his plans and how his new rental unit is progressing.  He has three of them and this will be his fourth.  He says he'd like to move back to England soon so that his seven year old son can experience life there for a while.  Nice man and a hard worker.

   About one thirty we headed back out and walked down San Niccolo towards the Ponte Vecchio until we reached the entrance to the Bardini Gardens.  The ticket we purchased included this garden and the Boboli Gardens of the Pitti Palace.  Also several small museums.   Unfortunately the flowers are not yet in bloom...only the trees.  But the Italian Garden plans are beautiful with lots of steps and statues to gaze at as we walked through the gardens.  It was uphill all the way through the Bardini Gardens and then we exited near the top of the hill, walked a short distance to the entrance to Fort Belvedere where we'd been this morning.

Walking around the edge of the Fort took us to the entrance to the Boboli Gardens at the top with magnificient views of the city and the Pitti Palace, the home of the Medici Family, and now a wonderful museum that we've visited several times before.  But, we'd not done the gardens on those visits so this was a real treat. 

     At the top of the gardens is a view to the south and also a small building that houses the Porcellane Museum that was included in our ticket.  Beautiful china.   The view from the garden of the Porcellane Museum includes the Michelangleo Overlook and several churches. 

     We meandered through the hedge lined walking paths until we finally reached the palace.  There we went inside for a visit to a special exhibit on costumes that was included in our ticket.  These buildings are also part of the palace but you needed another ticket to enter the area where the art is displayed in the main part of the palace. 

      We wanted to visit the grotto before leaving so slipped out the entrance to walk around the back of the palace to the far north end.  Along the way I told Jim where I'd sat that day in 2006 when I was in Florence with my daughter Jennifer, I'd gotten ill that afternoon when we were at the top of the bell tower of the Duomo and elected not to do the gardens with her.  I'd found a spot up against the wall and read my book while she raced through the Boboli Gardens by herself that day so long ago.

      Soon we were at the grotto and I blindly snapped photos with a black screen because of the bright sunlight; but, after reviewing them tonight I was very pleased with the photos of the fresco on the walls.  
There was a group of American Students sketching at the Grotto when we arrived.  Soon we were out the gate and walking towards the apartment.  It was four o'clock when we arrived home.  Time for a game of cards before dinner.  Nice evening...but we did hear a helicopter flying over and over and over the city for more than an hour.  Wonder if we'll ever know what the problem was about.

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