Saturday, 25 May 2013

Radda in Chianti, a classic Chianti wine village

Today I would like to introduce you to one of the small towns located near where I live, namely Radda in Chianti, a classic Chianti wine village. Radda, along with Castellina and Gaiole, was one of the three counties that formed the original Lega del Chianti from the 15 C onwards until the league was dissolved in the late 18 C. Today, clustered around its church, it is a tranquil village that serves the numerous wineries and agriturismi (farmhouse vacation rentals) in the surrounding countryside. The area is famous for the numerous castles, both ruined and inhabited, that dot the hills.

Radda in Chianti
View of Radda in Chianti, Tuscany, Italy
Radda is a place to buy your supplies or dine out while spending your vacation in one of the many places to stay in and near Radda in Chianti. The Palazzo del Podestà is the principal building in Radda, aside from the romanesque Church of San Niccolò, which houses a venerated wooden Crucifix dating from the 15 C. Nearby is the convent Santa Maria al Prato which dates from the mediaeval period. It now houses an art museum. Another interesting sight is the "Ice House" of the Grand Duke, built at the end of the 19 C to store snow and turn it into ice for cooling purposes.

More about Radda in Chianti and its environs.

Tuscany Toscana
Don't forget to visit Elena Spolaor's
Travel Guide!

Up-to-date news on what to see and where to stay in Chianti and all of Tuscany & Umbria.

Chianti Travel Guide

Author: Anna Maria Baldini

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Wednesday, 15 May 2013

The new Googleplus layout is terrible.

Google had their big conference yesterday and announced changes to Google+ among several other more important things. I didn't pay attention to the details since I thought they had already done as badly as they could earlier in the year by introducing a grotesquely huge banner image requirement. I logged in today and discovered to my horror that the new Google plus layout is terrible.

The new googleplus is terrble

Firstly, the navigation is now incomprehensible even for someone like me who knows what the options are. They have taken a clear and simple navigation and made it impossible to follow - impossible to locate, in some cases. New users will probably never discover which features are available since it's impossible to find them.

Secondly, they have taken the full screen, linear post layout and turned it into the multi-column, narrow, fixed-width display that makes viewing posts a headache, to put it mildly. On my monitor, with the two column default display, I could hardly follow my own posts, which I know quite well, obviously, let alone follow other people's pages. Posts vary in height, so trying to read what's there in two column format is gruesomely nightmarish. On wider screens, it's three columns - absolutely nuts.

PS: If you go to your Home page and click on the tab "More", you have the option "Stream Layout" where you can select the single column display. However, you have no control over the public display of your page - your viewers have to know about the single column option. Furthermore, it remains in narrow format with vast amounts of wasted white space (well, grey, actually) on either side (is this format especially for mobile devices?). In addition, the "You muted this post" notice is now the same height as the muted post, meaning that you're forced to scroll past it to see the next post. Why this waste of space everywhere?

Thirdly, they have added this incredibly intrusive "complete your profile" thing that pops up everytime you go to your page, despite it having been closed in the previous page view. It's in a revolting purple colour and mine insistently asks "Are you in a relationship?", whatever that is. Well mind you own damn business!

Fourthly, the easy to use dropdown menu listing your communities has gone. It's hard enough to find the communities link and when you do, instead of a simple pick list, you're forced to confront a display of communities that you've previously made clear don't interest you.

Quadruple fail, Google!

These changes will not only discourage current users from visiting Google Plus to read or add posts, it will turn off new users and greatly slow adoption.

Author: Anna Maria Baldini

All content copyright © ammonet Web Site Promotion 2013. All rights reserved.

Wednesday, 1 May 2013

Tuscany, Europe's top budget tourist destination

Today, I'll be giving a positive answer to this question: Is Tuscany Europe's top budget tourist destination? As we all know, the dollar and, to an even greater extent, the pound have fallen in value against the euro for several years in a row. This no doubt helps US and UK exporters but it might be expected to be less than helpful to tourists visiting the euro zone, including Tuscany. The empirical evidence strongly suggests this is not the case, especially for visitors from America. How can that be?

Tuscany budget vacation destination
Tuscany - Europe's top budget tourist destination?
Your vacation costs are in essence the flight, your accommodation, your food and local transport.

Prices of flights to Europe have been decreasing steadily in real terms. (Comfort has also decreased, but that's another story.) The airlines are definitely stressed by this trend, but, in the meanwhile, tourists should take advantage of what's on offer.

What about accommodation? In Tuscany, uniquely in Europe, there has been a huge increase in the availability and quality of non-hotel vacation accommodation in the form of farmhouses (often incorrectly referred to as "villas"), farmhouse apartments, village apartments and Bed and Breakfast rooms. The increased competition due to the greater numbers of vacation rentals available together with much easier price comparison via the internet, plus the fact that agriturismi and similar rural and village vacation rentals are much less regulated than hotels, means that prices have decreased in real terms over the past ten years to the point where a couple can easily find a comfortable apartment for 65 euros per night or less. A family with children can easily find a stand-alone farmhouse with a swimming pool for under 100 euros per night. In addition, the old Saturday to Saturday minimum stay has long since vanished from owner-direct bookings and from a great many agency-mediated bookings as well. A three night minimum stay is now the rule rather than the exception. Many B&B's will let a room for a single night. The rural holiday homes are almost always beautifully-restored, traditional Tuscan structures furnished in Tuscan country style and with modern bathrooms. In Tuscany, families are reluctant to sell houses that have been in the family for generations and would rather renovate them and rent them out. Since Italy's rental laws are unreformed (meaning you can't boot someone out for not paying the rent), most Tuscans strongly prefer renting to tourists for a few months a year than risk renting to a local who might decide not to pay. This is all to the advantage of holiday-makers coming to Tuscany.

More about what to expect from your Tuscan vacation rental.

vacation accommodation in Tuscany
Tuscan country style furnishings in a Tuscan farmhouse vacation accommodation
How are food prices? There are two aspects to answering this question. First, restaurants and trattorias. During last year, I spoke to many Americans about restaurant prices which I remembered as being very inexpensive in the States. The responses were almost uniformly that it was too long since I'd been there. While quantity is always greater in the States, restaurant prices have gone up to the extent that eating out in Tuscany is now comparatively inexpensive. Competition and the structure of the Tuscan restaurant trade (mostly family run), has kept prices more or less constant in real terms for more than a decade.  I have discussed what it costs to eat out in Tuscany previously on this blog and my colleague Elena Spolaor provides current data on restaurant prices in Tuscany.

The second aspect regarding the price of food is related to Tuscan accommodation opportunities. If you rent a villa or an apartment with a fully equipped kitchen, you can prepare your own meals at home either from the abundant and inexpensive raw materials available everywhere in Tuscany or from the freshly cooked meat, vegetables and pasta available in supermarkets all over the Region. Buying a bottle of wine at a winery or in supermarket contributes to making eating at home inexpensive and enjoyable.

eating at home in Tuscany
Dining at your own accommodation in Tuscany
Lastly, the subject of local transport. There's no denying that renting a car provides the best way to see the many sights of interest in Tuscany. Nevertheless, it's possible to have an enjoyable holiday in Tuscany without a car by staying in or within walking distance of a town or village served by trains or buses. For intercity travel, the new high speed trains, Frecciarossa and Italo, are preferable to many, including me, over a car. By booking in advance, you can make substantial savings and make high speed train travel not only convenient but inexpensive as well.

More about getting around in Tuscany.

More about getting around in Chianti.

In summary - I'm totally convinced that Tuscany is the new budget destination in Europe, with undiminished (indeed, enhanced) comfort and convenience, plus the wine, countryside and art cities that have always been here for the pleasure and profit of our visitors. See you soon!

Author: Anna Maria Baldini

All content copyright © ammonet Web Site Promotion 2013. All rights reserved.

A tour of the Val d'Orcia by steam engine - the Trenonatura

This past Sunday I went on a tour of the Val d'Orcia by steam engine - the Trenonatura. I can safely recommend this excursion to all who would like to do something a little different during their stay in Tuscany. My babbo was a train nut, with the result that some of my earliest memories are of visits to obscure stations and smokey engine sheds to view huge, steaming machines with gleaming pistons gracefully sliding back and forth. This Spring, I decided it was time to go for a ride in a train pulled by one of these splendid monsters. I discovered that the Provincia di Siena and a group of volunteers organise train tours every Spring and Autumn (the risk of fire being too high during Summer). These tours usually depart from Siena and do a loop through the Val d'Orcia, dropping the passengers off for a few hours at whichever town has an interesting event or festival taking place on the day in question.

A tour of the Val d'Orcia by steam engine - the Trenonatura
A tour of the Val d'Orcia by steam engine - the Trenonatura
The Trenonatura follows a route through a variety of terrains including the classic Val d'Orcia "big sky" country with views of Monte Amiata, the Crete Senesi, the River Orcia itself and the famous cypress tree clusters and rows that are so popular with photographers. At Monte Antico, the engine is moved to the other end of the train and filled up with water. This occasion provides plenty of photo opportunities for the passengers.

Most of the carriages are third class and dating from before World War II. The wooden seats are very comfortable and you have to wonder how the airlines and, for that matter, modern railways have got it so wrong despite the money they claim to pour into seat design. Bring some refreshments, including something to drink, because these are not available on board. My carriage was filled with a merry crowd and a very informative volunteer who provided an interesting commentary both on the train and on the country we were passing through. He was happy to answer everyone's questions. I was surprised to see that on the return route we went a far as Castelnuovo Berardenga at the southern boundary of Chianti Classico.

Steam engine in Tuscany Italy
Steam engine in Tuscany Italy - Trenonatura

A note on reservations. I reserved my place via email about two weeks ahead of time and paid, as the agency requested, by bank transfer. They never confirmed receiving the payment nor did they send me a confirmation nor any other information, despite multiple emails from me. I phoned them two days before the trip and they confirmed verbally, more or less by chance also giving me my carriage and seat number. My name was on the list when I showed up at Siena station. If you don't receive a confirmation from the agency, my advice is to bring along a copy of your email requesting a reservation plus a copy of the bank transfer, just in case your name isn't on the list.

Val d'Orcia Tourist Information.

Val d'Orcia on Facebook.

Trenonatura timetable.

Recommended vacation accommodation in Chianti towns, villages and countryside.

Author: Anna Maria Baldini

All content copyright © ammonet Web Site Promotion 2012 - 2017. All rights reserved.

"The Springtime of the Renaissance" - a great exhibition currently showing in Florence

The Strozzi Palace is currently hosting a wonderful art exhibition under the title "The Springtime of the Renaissance" (La Primavera del Rinascimento. La scultura e le arti a Firenze 1400-1460. Palazzo Strozzi.). Everyone with an interest in the history of art, especially Renaissance art, should seize the opportunity to spend half a day (or a whole day) at this exhibition here in Florence or, from September, at the Louvre in Paris, if they possibly can. Every year there is a very good exhibition at the Palazzo Strozzi, but this year (2013), the Bargello and the Louvre have put together a truly fabulous show of early Florentine masterpieces displayed alongside equally beautiful Classical and late Gothic works of the kind from which the Florentines drew inspiration.

La Primavera del Rinascimento. La scultura e le arti a Firenze 1400-1460
The modern, the renaissance and the classical - a study in character.

The creators of this exhibition suggest that it was from sculpture more than painting that the Renaissance sprang, and they see the initial glimmer in the form of the two bronze relief panels submitted in 1401 by Brunelleschi and Ghiberti for the competition to create a set of new bronze doors of the Florentine baptistery. Sculpting scenes based on an identical biblical story, both artists combined Gothic elegance of costume and scenery with human figures inspired by classical sculpture. From this point on, the exhibition is dominated by the sculpture and spirit of Donatello, who did his apprenticeship in the workshops of Brunelleschi and Ghiberti. Donatello strongly influenced his contemporaries, both sculptors and painters, among whom we may count Michelozzo, Masaccio, Filippo Lippi, Paolo Uccello and Andrea del Castagno, stylistically and through his introduction of perspective in his low relief works.
Donatello at the Palazzo Strozzi in Florence
Single point perspective, classical depiction of the human form and draperies
- Donatello's St George and the Dragon in very shallow relief.

The spatial organisation of the exhibition is excellent, not least with the placement of a huge, 4th century BC, bronze horse's head, the Medici Protome, visible through an arch from the first room of the show. Later, when we enter this room, Donatello's Carafa Protome, is revealed, and we can easily see why it was long thought to be a classical work.
Donatello's Carafa Protome
Donatello or ancient Greek? Visit this exhibition to find out which!

At the appropriate points in the exhibition, Classical sculpture including portrait busts and sarcophagus friezes, are juxtaposed with early Renaissance works in which the artists were evidently struggling to relearn the artistic skills of the Greeks and Romans, especially in depicting the human form. At other points, the juxtapositions of contemporary paintings and sculptures emphasize how painters set out to make their paintings more sculptural

The Springtime of the Renaissance
Painters set out to make their paintings more sculptural.

During my visit at the end of April, viewers were sparse and I often had entire rooms to myself. You can also view the exhibits close up, with a magnifying glass if you wish (and have one with you). In most of their native museums, this is surely not possible. Try to attend this show early or at least in Florence. It will definitely be packed out when it moves to Paris

More about La Primavera del Rinascimento.

Recommended vacation accommodation in Chianti towns, villages and countryside.

Author: Anna Maria Baldini

All content copyright © ammonet Web Site Promotion 2012 - 2013. All rights reserved.