Dove Vai? – La Foce, Tuscany Meets England in the Garden

For garden-lovers and those who just enjoy the vistas of the classic Tuscan countryside, an afternoon touring the gardens of the famed La Foce estate, two hours south of Florence, provides the impetus for many that brings them back to stay in one of the many renovated farm houses or even in the villa once occupied by the author Iris Origo.

La Foce lies on the hills overlooking the Val d’Orcia, a beautiful valley in southern Tuscany. Midway between Florence and Rome, it is also within easy reach of Siena, Arezzo, Perugia, Assisi, Orvieto.

From Etruscan times (a burial-place dating … Read More

Tuscan Traveler’s Tales – Mapplethorpe, Michelangelo & Patti Smith

Visitors to Florence this summer should keep an eye out for special events in special places.

Update (9/11/09):

Patti Smith came back to town this past week for her i. was in Florence tour – a tour limited to the city limits, including unannounced stops to sing on street corners and small piazzas. She spoke to a large group of NYU students at Villa La Pietra and rocked the house in the Salone dei Cinquecento in the Palazzo Vecchio where, to an invitation-only crowd, she recited Ginzberg’s footnote to HowlHoly, Holy, Holy (a glance at the lyrics makes … Read More

Tuscan Traveler’s Tribute to Ellen Reavis

The fish tank was back.  The same week that the huge colorful aquarium was returned to its place in the waiting room of the UNM Cancer Center, Ellen Reavis left this world for a new adventure. Ellen didn’t know that in a life of both big and little causes, she was the victor in her last skirmish – the fish tank was back.

Ellen was a regular at the Cancer Center.  Everyone knew her as the Jolly Buddha, dressed in either tie-dyed or exotic Hawaiian shirts.  She had the largest repertoire of hats to cover her pink bald head.  When … Read More

Tuscan Traveler’s Tales – Wishing for Snow in Florence

Snow in Florence is rare. But it does frost the Duomo every few years for a day or two.

While Tuscan Traveler was enjoying the sun on the Pacific Ocean on the coast of Chile in 2005, snow fell on Florence.

Again in 2008, this time the sun, but not the warmth, was in Santa Fe, NewMexico, and snow amazed tourists on the Ponte Vecchio.

Of course, the locals say, “This is nothing like the time in 1985 – the Arno froze solid that year, you know.”

Now in the first days of 2009, Tuscan Traveler is waiting for snow … Read More

Tuscan Traveler’s Tales – The Wine Portals of Florence

The wine portals, buchette del vino, are unique to Florentine architecture. An observant visitor on a walk through Florence can find dozens of these small, once useful, doors.

Those who have traveled to Rome, Venice, Milan, or even the small hill towns of Tuscany know that Florentine palaces built during the Renaissance were designed to resemble the bank vaults of their owners. (The city was once the home to over one hundred banking families, serving all of Europe.) The palaces had few windows in the exterior walls and the central courtyards were closed behind massive fortified doors to all … Read More

Tuscan Traveler’s Tales – Duomo Clock Keeps “Italian Time”

Most people don’t know that modern clocks run on “French Time.” There is only one clock in the world that runs on “Italian Time” and it is in the Duomo in Florence.

“Paolo made the colored sphere of the hours above the main door within the Church, with four heads, painted in fresco.”  Giorgio Vasari, in his “Lives of the Artists” (1550), goes on to tell us that Paolo Uccello was paid 40 lire in February 1443 when he finished the face of the clock, decorated with the heads of the four Evangelists, on the inner façade of the front … Read More

Tuscan Traveler Goes to Matera – City of Stone

To escape the tourist-packed streets of Florence and trendy Tuscany, going south to the Amalfi Coast or Capri doesn’t give much relief.  To find a different Italy, the adventuresome traveler goes to the southeastern region of Basilicata and the unique town of Matera and tours the Sassi (Stones) of Matera.

History Made Matera a Cultural Jumble

Almost everyone across Europe and the Mediteranean claimed Matera at some point in time.

Palaeolithic findings and Neolithic and Bronze Age underground settlements have been uncovered in the stone caves in the ravines below and across from the city. The original town center above … Read More

Four Other Museums in Florence

The noise, the traffic, the heat, the dust of 600-year-old buildings and the exhaust of motor scooters and Pullman buses; the squadrons of German and Italian tourists dutifully following the high-held umbrella or long stemmed plastic rose; “too much ‘David’,” ditto the Madonnas with Child –  so why does anyone venture to Florence, Italy anymore, much less return again and again?

italia-firenza-pedestriansNoted author, Mary McCarthy enumerates each of these complaints and about one hundred more in the first ten pages of her narrative guide The Stones of Florence.  The amazing thing is that she wrote the book forty years ago. … Read More