Tuesday, 26 February 2019

Italian lessons in Tuscany, Italy

Taking Italian lessons in Tuscany can and should be both practical and fun. There are multiple approaches, all of which have strong positive points. One approach to learning Italian is to use an online Italian language beginners' course or CD course and then to follow that up with intensive Italian lessons with a professional Italian language teacher, either in a group or one-to-one. Another approach to learning Italian is to start from the beginning with your professional Italian language teacher, taking your lessons at an easy pace, and backing them up with taped or CD lessons. Both of these approaches are enormously enhanced if you have the chance to take your Italian lessons in Italy so that you hear the language all day long and, of course, have the opportunity or the necessity to use your Italian language skills, rudimentary as they might be at the start.

Italian lessons in Tuscany
Lorella Federico, certified Italian teacher
If you have the chance to study Italian in Italy, I can strongly recommend Lorella Federico who is a professional Italian language teacher who gained her qualification at the University of Siena and who is based in Panzano in Chianti. Lorella is a skilled teacher - no doubt about that - and Panzano and its environs are a great base for your vacation in Tuscany. And they say that Siennese is the purest and most beautiful dialect of Italian.

Italian lessons via Skype
Italian lessons via Skype

If you're coming here on vacation, you can even take a single lesson with her so that you can pronounce places names correctly and apply a few useful phrases. Those are her beginner-level Italian lessons. She also offers a highly popular programme where you can continue your Italian lessons back home via Skype. And she also offers an intensive Italian course for those who, for one reason or another, must or wish to acquire good Italian conversational and reading skills in a short time.

More about Lorella's Italian lessons in Tuscany.

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Author: Anna Maria Baldini

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Wednesday, 20 February 2019

How to visit the Vasari Corridor in Florence

Update 20 February 2019: Tours of the Vasari Corridor.

IMPORTANT: there are no legitimate tours of the Vasari Corridor being offered currently and no date has been fixed for tours of the corridor to recommence.

Eike Schmidt, the director of the Uffizi Gallery, has announced that the Vasari Corridor will officially become a part of the Uffizi after reopening in 2021. Visitors will then be able to enter the Uffizi, stroll through the Vasari Corridor and then explore the Boboli Gardens or the Pitti Palace. Tickets will cost €45 in high season, €20 in low season and will be free for students.

Route of the Vasari Corridor in Florence
Route of the Vasari Corridor in Florence

One disappointing aspect is that the many excellent self-portraits currently hanging in the Vasari Corridor will be removed because it won't be possible to climate control the corridor suitable for paintings on canvas and wood.

The Vasari Corridor from above
The Vasari Corridor from above
According to the official Uffizi website, no tours of the Vasari Corridor are now available, and anybody who offers such a tour is committing a fraud:

"False information concerning nocturnal visits of the Uffizi and Vasari Corridor
The Administration of the Uffizi Galleries confirms that these promotional contents are totally unfounded. From 1 December 2016 until further notice the Corridor remains closed for works of safety regulatory compliance. Consequently no bookings will be accepted.
False information is spreading on Facebook about nocturnal openings of the Uffizi and Vasari Corridor on various dates with visits organized by associations/groups which are unknown to us, such as Firenze Vista di Notte. The Administration of the Uffizi Galleries has already filed a lawsuit against the fraudsters and confirms that these promotional contents are totally unfounded."

The official website for the Uffizi tickets is https://www.uffizi.it/en/tickets - once again note that many other official-looking web sites offer Uffizi tickets at enormous markups.

Vasari corridor Uffizi Florence
Interior of the Vasari Corridor in Florence as it was until closed in 2016.
The corridor was lined with paintings, the more interesting ones being an amazing series of self-portraits by famous and not so famous artists, including a surprising number of the Pre-Raphaelites - for example, a very fine self-portrait of William Holman Hunt. These pictures will now be displayed elsewhere in the Uffizi and will be replaced by thirty ancient sculptures along with a space dedicated to 16th century frescoes. 

Empty interior of the Vasari Corridor

The corridor had a doorway and still has a window opening into a balcony high up in the church of Santa Felicita so that the Medici family could attend mass privately, without being seen or subject to attack. The especially large windows overlooking the Ponte Vecchio were specially created for a visit by Mussolini in the late 30's. Part of the corridor snakes around the Torre Mannelli which belonged to the only family that Cosimo I was unable to buy out. Instead of building through the tower, Vasari built around it using a system of supporting brackets. Cosimo was quite sanguine about this - every man is king in his own house, he reportedly observed. The meat market on Ponte Vecchio was moved to avoid its smell permeating the passage, its place being taken by the goldsmith shops that still occupy the bridge.

More about the Vasari Corridor in the 19th and 20th centuries.

More about what to see and do in Florence.

More about Florence Museum Cards and Florence Museum Passes.




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Tuesday, 12 February 2019

Open gardens day in Florence: Cortili e Giardini Aperti a Firenze

As my faithful readers will remember, I am an enthusiast for the formal gardens of Tuscany, especially those of the larger villas of Tuscany. I therefore always look forward to Open gardens day in Florence (Cortili e Giardini Aperti a Firenze) which in 2019, takes place on 19 May, when the private gardens of Florence are open to the public. In 2018, I took the opportunity to visit some gardens in the Oltrarno which I either hadn't seen before at all or only a long time ago.

The one I want to describe in some detail is the Giardino San Francesco di Paola which extends upwards and away from the former home of Harry Brewster, "the last of the cosmopolites of Florence". Brewster, a descendent of William Brewster of the Mayflower, was also the grandson, on his mother's side, of the German sculptor Adolf von Hildebrandt, whose studio occupied part of the former Minimite convent of San Francesco di Paola. The convent is located at the foot of Bellosguardo, the beautiful hill that dominates the Oltrarno. It was an evocative experience for me to walk up Via Villani to the circular Piazza San Francesco di Paola. Although there are 19 C and modern buildings on two sides of the piazza, the old church and the wall and gate of the convent are still there, just as described by Brewster. The main structure was long ago divided up into apartments and, alas, the building is looking much the worse for wear. Indeed, so are some of the remaining Hildebrandt sculptures standing in the loggia at the back of the villa.

Villa of San Francesco di Paola
The loggia of the Villa of San Francesco di Paola - much in need of some restoration
However, the garden is beautifully kept up, as is the hay shed (fienile) which Brewster converted into a neat, strangely English-looking, cottage covered in roses and surrounded by a small lawn, where he himself lived in frugal simplicity writing his books. One continues up a series of irregular steps to Brewster's beloved belvedere from which there is a beautiful view of Florence, which because of its lower altitude, is almost more beautiful than the vista from the top of Bellosguardo.

Giardino San Francesco di Paola
View of Florence from the belvedere in the Giardino San Francesco di Paola
Next I walked to entrance of the Giardini Torrigiani not far from the Pitti palace. I have often passed the fine iron gates of these gardens - little did I know that there are 17 acres of gardens hidden behind the walls in the centre of the Oltrarno. In fact, the Torrigiani gardens are the largest private gardens within city limits in all Europe.

Torrigiani gardens in Florence, Italy
A view of a small part of the Torrigiani Gardens, In Florence
The Torrigiani gardens were originally planted by the founder of the Italian Botanical Society, the oldest such society, and the garden still has an uncommonly wide variety of trees, especially exotic species, in keeping with its 19 C “English Landscape” style. The gardens were designed at the height of the Romantic movement in the early 19 C, forming an idyllic oasis of green around the original 16 C villa. The garden hosts rare tree species, wide English-style lawns, herb and vegetables gardens, sculpted lions, a beautifully restored greenhouse and remains of the city walls built under Cosimo I in 1544. The layout of the garden is also profoundly symbolic and I strongly advise visiting it with a good Tuscan garden guide book in hand.

Giardino Torrigiani a Firenze
The astronomical tower in the Torrigiani gardens
Last but not least, I visited that exquisite jewel of a garden, the Giardino Corsi Annalena, nearby on via Romana. This garden is located on land formerly owned by the monastery of San Vincenzo which was founded in around 1441 by Countess Anna Elena (Annalena) Malatesta. During the long struggle for supremacy between Florence and Sienna, the area was dominated by the fortifications created by Cosimo I de’ Medici, including an underground passage that until this day connects the Boboli, Corsi and Torrigiani gardens. Following the destruction of the fortifications in 1571, the area was left abandoned for many years. In 1790, the Marquis Tommaso Corsi purchased the land, then known as the "Moors’ Garden", and the architect Giuseppe Manetti designed what can be considered the first English garden in Florence. It was completed during the years 1801 to 1810. If you have the chance to visit this beautiful garden, please don't miss it.

Giardino Corsi Annalena in Florence
The Giardino Corsi Annalena in Florence

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

Tuscany Travel Guide


vacation accommodations in Tuscany

Author: Anna Maria Baldini

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Monday, 11 February 2019

How to get from the airport to central Florence

Many first time visitors to Tuscany ask me how to get from the airport to central Florence. And of course I have to ask them to specify which airport. Florence is served mainly by Pisa Airport (Aeroporto Galileo Galilei - code PSA) and to a lesser extent by its own small Florence Airport (Aeroporto Amerigo Vespucci, often known as Peretola - code FLR). I have heard but cannot confirm that sometimes long distance passengers have tickets specifying Florence as the destination when in fact they will land at Pisa. Be sure to check that and to check whether subsequent ground transport is included.

The Pisamover light railway from Pisa Airport to Pisa central railway station.
The Pisamover light railway from Pisa Airport to Pisa central railway station.

There are three different ways to travel from Pisa Airport to Florence - by train, by bus or by taxi


By train: The new, fast and fully automatic PisaMover light rail runs from Pisa Airport to Pisa Central Railway Station every 5/8 minutes every day, from 6 a.m. to midnight, and the journey takes 5 mins. The airport stop is in via Pier Giorgio Ballini, 40 m from the Passenger Terminal, and it arrives at platform 14 in the Pisa railway station. It has an intermediate stop at San Giusto/Aurelia station, where you’ll find two parking areas with about 1,400 spaces, open 24 hours a day, every day.

By bus: the notoriously unreliable Terravision bus is apparently still running and when there is no issue with traffic it is slightly faster than by train (around 70 minutes) and a ticket costs about 5 - 10 euros. Return and children's tickets cost less. Terravision bus timetables here. [Note March 2017 - Terravision is not running currently and their booking form yields "Not available". It is unclear whether or not this is permanent.]

Other bus services from Pisa Airport to Florence are Autostradale and Sky Bus Lines Caronna (the latter with multiple stops en route).

The choice between train and bus will very likely depend on the next train departure time but, taking traffic problems and comfort into account, along with the new PisaMover, my recommendation is to take the train.

There are other bus services from Pisa Airport to Lucca, Siena, Montecatini, Pistoia and Prato.

Beware of gypsy and other pickpockets when there is a scrum during boarding of the Terravision bus.

By taxi: A metered taxi will cost you about 150 euros or more because you have to pay the driver to return empty (that's included in the meter reading - the driver doesn't double the displayed price). There are also fixed-fare NCC minibuses that can be reserved in advance. This latter option costs about the same as a taxi base rate but the drivers are usually more familiar with country accommodations and so provide a good option if your have several people, a lot of luggage and will be staying in the country. Both people and baggage will cost extra with a taxi. NCC drivers can be booked for times when trains, buses and rental car offices are not active. Finally, you can rent a car, but do not try to drive it into central Florence (or Pisa, for that matter) where there are camera-patrolled limited traffic zones and fines aplenty.

Florence airport
Florence airport

There are three different ways to travel from Florence airport to central Florence.


By tram: Florence's new T2 tram route, which opened to the public at 2:30pm on 11 February 2019. The new line operates between piazza dell'Unità Italiana (main railway station - SMN) and Florence Airport - free rides until 24 February and 1.50 euro thereafter.

By bus: Florence airport is only 4 km from the Florence city centre and the orange ATAF Volainbus bus shuttle takes about 20 minutes, runs every half an hour and costs about 5 euros. It leaves from the SITA bus station near the SMN railway station and from near the taxi rank at the station itself. Departures from city centre are every 30 min from 5.30 am to 8.00 pm, then after every hour up until 11.00 pm. Check timetable details on the ATAF website.

By taxi: A metered taxi has a fixed price for trips to the airport (currently 20 euros), takes 15 minutes and is obviously a good choice if you are 3 or 4 people and/or want to leave directly from your hotel. Picking up and dropping off your rental car at the airport is generally a good idea because you avoid the limited traffic zones in the city centre.

A taxi will cost 20 Euros, plus 1 Euro for each piece of luggage (maximum 5 Euros). There is also a 2 Euro supplement for Sunday service and a 3.20 Euro supplement for night service (22:00 to 6:00). Consequently, the "break-even" point for using the airport bus is 3 or 4 passengers traveling together.


Some recommended fixed-fare NCC minibus drivers.

Getting around in Tuscany.

Warnings regarding limited traffic zones in Tuscany.

Recommended vacation accommodation in Chianti towns, villages and countryside.



vacation accommodations in Tuscany

Author: Anna Maria Baldini

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Tuesday, 5 February 2019

Holiday cottage vacation rental in Shaftesbury, Dorset, UK

This is my Tuscany blog so it's a bit eccentric to describe a holiday cottage vacation rental in Shaftesbury, Dorset, UK, but I've just been staying there and found it so enjoyable that I'm going to say something about it anyway. Pump Cottage is a beautiful holiday home on one of the most picturesque streets in all England, in the town of Shaftesbury. Three of us stayed there but it sleeps up to six people in three bedrooms. The cottage is fully-equipped so that, although there are plenty of places to eat in Shaftesbury, we had a lot of our meals at home. The Cottage has a glassed in conservatory as well as a large and pretty garden.

Pump House holiday rental cottage in Dorset
Pump Cottage holiday rental accommodation in Dorset
 
The sitting room of Pump Cottage vacation accommodation in Shaftesbury
The sitting room of Pump Cottage
We did a lot of sight-seeing, Pump Cottage being central to some amazing sights, among them the South Coast beaches, including the World Heritage Jurassic Coast, and major towns of interest such as Bath, Salisbury, Dorchester and Sherborne. Stonehenge, Salisbury Cathedral, Sherborne Abbey and several National Trust stately homes are all within easy reach, and it's only two hours to London by car. We travelled to London by direct train from Gillingham which is just 6 km away from Pump Cottage (taxis available).

In summary, if you're looking for a comfortable, quiet and charming vacation rental in southern England, I can strongly recommend Pump Cottage!


More about Pump Cottage holiday rental in Dorset, UK.


Tuscany Toscana
Don't forget to visit my Tuscany
Travel Guide!

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

Tuscany Travel Guide

vacation accommodations in Tuscany


Author: Anna Maria Baldini

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