Florence Firenze Italy

Beautiful Florence

Beautiful Florence

the Duomo

the Duomo

Arrived in Florence, or Firenze as it’s known to the Italians just under a week ago. Finalizing my arrangements proved to be more than I bargained for. Three days prior to my arrival i received word that my apartment ( booked 3 months ago) had been damaged due to construction and was no longer available. No alternate solutions provided. Talk about stress!!! However with the help of family and friends ( who told me not to despair–which i was) we scrambled around and i found the first of three alternate locations that I will now be staying at.
At this point i don’t know if the initial booking was a scam.. that story is still unfolding and will likely be the subject of a future blog.

Welcome Wine

Welcome Wine

Late September is like late summer in Ontario. Beautiful warm sunny days and slightly cool evenings.
I am living in an apartment in a residential area just north of the city centre…but easily walkable to all the sights. I have enclosed a couple of pictures of my new apartment. A lovely balcony, a bottle of local wine and antipasto dinner left by my hosts, awaited me. Rather welcome after my stressful departure and journey

I have been walking for most of the past week…walking walking walking and soaking up this beautiful old city.

Florence is the capital city of the Tuscan Region, in the province of Florence or Firenze. It has 370,000 inhabitants…and based on the tourists even in September, when they tell me it is not as busy, millions come to visit each year. Florence is OLD, ranked by Forbes as one of the most beautiful cities in the world and declared a World Heritage Site by UNESCO in 1982—as a result the inner city is largely a walking zone only…to drive in it one needs a special permit.

It started as a Roman city, became the centre of medieval trade, and eventually, the birthplace of the Italian Renaissance. The powerful Medici family, one of the most important noble Italian families who reigned in the 16th and 17th centuries, called it home . Noted for its architecture, as it was the ‘cradle of the Renaissance, the most notable site in Florence is the Duomo, the domed cathedral of the city. 600 years after it’s completion it is still one of the largest brick and mortar dome in the world.




The Arno

The Arno

Michelango Gold on the Ponte Vecchio

Michelango Gold on the Ponte Vecchio

The Arno is the river that runs through the centre of Florence and the Ponte Vecchio the most famous bridge—incredibly not destroyed during the 2nd world war. It houses shop upon shop selling gold and Italian jewelry!!!!

Over the next 2 months I hope to highlight a number of key experiences and sights…there are so many to visit and write about…hopefully this first Firenze blog gives you a bit of the flavour of what is to come.


Living the Dream, London to Paris
Paris for the weekend. Just a few hours away.
Hop on a train, travel through the chunnel.. one barely notices the short half hour under the English channel and presto out the other side and before you know it you are at Paris Gare du Nord.
A beautiful warm October weekend. Spent hours walking through the city. Paris is beautiful!!
Paris Afternoon Paris Afternoon[/caption]

Gorgeous buildings, engaging cafes, lots of parks and green space and of course at the heart of it all the Seine.

Renee a good friend from home had rented a great apartment just across from the Luxembourgh Gardens. Vibrant neighborhood .. St Germaine de Pres…. One immediately experiences the essence of Paris. Lots of cafes filled with people drinking coffee and smoking..one of two elements that did not attract me… I was quite shocked how enthusiastically French people still smoke…strong cigarettes at that . No longer allowed inside but everyone smokes on the outdoor patios….

The second disappointment was that I found Paris considerably dirtier than London… on reflection I think that London works very hard at keeping itself very clean. When I returned I noticed street sweepers everywhere.. I think they spruced up for the Olympics and the Jubilee and have maintained the standard.

Paris not so much.. lends some substance to an old dutch saying my mother used ‘de franse slag’ . I don’t wish to offend so will just leave it at that.. my family will understand.
A weekend was hardly enough time, so this is definitely a city I will want to return to and live in at some point. Checked out some possible neighborhoods to live in. Given the good weather, I walked and walked.. the Sacre Couer…(was not able to take in a service, but it is on the list), the Marais, Place des Vosges, the Tuilieries Gardens, stopping for wine of course.

A highlight which I would recommend for all new tourists to Paris is the cruise we took on the Seine as the sun was setting. Embarked at Pont du Neuf, we headed towards the Eiffel Tower..great views as the sun set behind the tower , then turned around and back into the centre of Paris, as the lights of the city lit up…beautiful!!!
Dinner in the evening with Jane, friend from KPMG Holland days.. you may recognize her of Amsterdam Queen’s and Veuve Clicquot fame.

Sunday morning the skies were overcast and a slight rain..so museum day.. Off to the Georges Pompidou for a Roy Lichenstein exhibit. The exhibit was excellent..gained a real appreciation for his art.
And of course the Pompidou centre itself a colourful building with a great history. Initial reaction to the Pompidou centre design was not pretty… a leading news article stated “Paris has its own monster, just like the one in Loch Ness”. Two decades later the design of the centre “turned the architecture world upside down” and the designer has earned a reputation as a high tech inconoclast.. the buildings skeleton is exposed.. lots of tubes, bright colours…it reflects the modern art that is held inside… escalators on the exterior walls covered in glass tubes.. offering a great view of the city as you move to the top of the centre.. the view from the top floor of the city is amazing… too bad, it was rainy and dreary..just another reason to return on a sunny day!

One of the other reasons to check it out is the whimsical Stravinsky Fountain.. sixteen works of colourful, very colourful sculptures that move and spray water. Created in 1983 by sculptors, Tinguely, and Saint Phalle the works represent the genius of the composer Stravinsky. Very Cool!!!
Lunch, and then back to London.
A quick visit but oh So Worth IT.

href=”http://gmarkvoort.files.wordpress.com/2013/10/img_8808.jpg”&gt;Stepping Out from 45 Chepstow Road Stepping Out from 45 Chepstow Road[/caption]

Chat line…..Rachie and I
Rachie: yeah mom …..LTD
Me: LTD??
Rachie: Living the Dream mom!!!
Me: Yeah …..Rach love your definition.

LTD used to mean Long Term Disability to me in my world. Now it means Living The Dream
Rachie’s version of the acronym suits me to a tee right now.
Living the life in England! A weekend in Paris! All is good.
Loving London. Visiting all my favourite places. Stepping out!



Boroughs market for lunch with Sister-in-Law who came to visit. This has got to be the BEST Foodie Market. So many great marketers.. Jenny Dawson of Rubies in the Rubble, who brought disadvantaged women together, using local produce, produces great chutneys and of course employment! Lloyd Hayes who used to be a drug dealer and now a chef due to Jamie Oliver’s Fifteen Foundations course and a regular demonstration chef at the Boroughs in his old neighborhood.Ronnie Hancock of Wright Brothers Oyster and Porter House..who brought back oysters from the Thames and serves them with Porter. Porter was a drink that emerged out of London, had a connection with the markets way back and a favourite of the workers…hence its name. Apparently the chocolate notes of porter balance very well with the salinity of oysters….alll fitted well with the borough.
Now me, I still prefer just having a Borough’s glass of proseco…nothing like it at 11 in the morning with the multitude of smells in the market.
My favorite purveyors Pieminster Pies..nothing like them …..Moopie, Chicken Funghi, and about 10 more. The Cherry Trees jams and chutneys..Spicey Tomato and Caramelized Onion, my current favorite and cheeses ..so many places.. but Neal’s Yard Dairy right at the top..a must see shop. And for coffee the Monmouth Coffee shop…be prepared to line up though!!
Great Shows… latest was Once. An Irish busker, a Czech pianist and some fabulous musicians make for a great experience.
And of course real live busking at Portobello market!!!

Pub crawls along the Embankment,

cocktails at Sofitel and other swanky hotel bars
. High Tea at the Park Lane Hotel,
lunch at the food court in Harrods,
and of course popping into Prince Bonaparte..fav pub across the road after a day on the town.. eating and drinking one’s way through all London has to offer.
Sunday service at St Paul’s Cathedral
and a walk through the parks… glorious sunshine
A city for all the senses!!!

Amsterdam, the ‘Venice of the North’ has one hundred kilometers of canals, 1500 bridges, and about 90 islands. Three main canals or grachte are the ‘Herengracht’-the pratricians canal , ‘Keizersgracht’ –the emperors canal and ‘Prinsengracht- the princes canal. All three were contstructed for residential development.
The homes along these canals are magnificent. Beautiful architecture!! In 2010 the canal district was added to the UNESCO World Heritage List. Visited one , the Museum van Loon, http://www.museumvanloon.nl/eng/home.php ,that reflected the inner décor and furnishings of the 17th century.


Most amazing is that behind these glorious and imperious facades are huge garden plots with gorgeous city gardens. One would simply have no idea as a tourist that there is another world of green in between each of the canals. I had an initial glimpse at the Van Loon house and now wish I was still in Amsterdam from June 14-16, when for 3 days during Amsterdam’s Open Garden Days, 30 of the most majestic canalside courtyards are accessible. And of course you have to go through the house to get to the gardens.. oh how I wish I was here for that weekend to get a glimpse into amsterdamer’s lives –yes you have to enter the gardens through their kitchens, living rooms and bedrooms. The dutch have passes laws to protect these gardens.


The canal houses typically have double entrances. The rich owners used the doors up the stairs, the servants and tradesmen used the doors underneath.. some of them are quite small so ducking was in order. In Holland space is always at a premium so the canal houses are long and narrow. Many have narrow stairwells to the upper floors so furniture needed to be brought via a roof hook.

The canal houses are signature Amsterdam. KLM leveraged this brand as they have handed out blue and white delft miniatures since 1952, first only to first class and since 1993 to business class passangers. The houses have achieved legendary status and there are serious collectors all over the world. Apps are available to keep track of your collection. They depict real houses in Holland.. originally just canal houses but the collection has expanded to other beautiful old homes in Holland. Serious collectors visit the houses in their miniature collection. They of course held Bols Dutch Genever ( Gin) when you receive them from KLM. Interestingly I found several KPMG colleagues who were avid collectors. If you traveled on ‘koninginnen dag’ this year you received a special commemorative delft blue royal palace. Cool eh? Kinda wish I traveled KLM.


The canal system and its homes and gardens is considered one of the most unique urban landscapes. This year, 2013, Amsterdam’s Canal Ring celebrates its 400th birthday. The canals were dug in the 17th during the Dutch Golden Age. In keeping with its history, land was also reclaimed for the new development.. Something the dutch have been at for years..the Maritime museum had a great saying on its wall

Known as the ‘grachtengordel, they are a series of canal belts —an outcome of early city planning as Amsterdam was growing by leaps and bounds in the early 17th century. The Dutch were incredibly wealthy and successful due to their key role in european trade. Amsterdam exploded at this time, hence the building of the city’s canal side estates.


The Canals provide an amazing ambiance to the city. The city celebrates on the canals.. check out my ‘orange’ blog on the canal festivities on Koning’s Dag. A similar colourful celebration dominates the canals during Amsterdam’s Gay Pride.. instead of a Street Parade it is a Canal Parade

And as I discovered on my last Saturday in Amsterdam, brides and grooms also celebrate their newly wed status on the canal.



To really experience how the city operates, a canal boat tour is a MUST DO attraction in Amsterdam. This is one tour you do not want to miss in this city!!! Take the one that tours you through the canals and the harbor..it will give you a real insight into the importance of the water routes, boats and trade. To gain a deeper understanding visit Amsterdam’s Scheepvart ( Maritime) Museum. It is an entertaining and enlightening exhibition into the history and criticality of boats in the Netherlands history. http://www.amsterdam.info/museums/netherlands_maritime_museum/
Scheepvart Museum

Another charming part of the landscape are the canal boats.. initially canal boots were an inexpensive solution to living in Amsterdam. Today Canal Boats are as expensive as apartment purchases or rentals.. they are highly prized addresses


And of course on any old day, people walk , bike and scooter along the canals taking in the ambiance ..even in the rain the canals are a wonderful place to absorb history and current reality.

Of course the best canal environment..based on my extensive research into the subject is to sit in the sun on one of the numerous canal terraces and enjoy a lovely glass of wine or beer. Hours are easily dedicated to canal traffic and people observance .


One of my favorite places is the Belhamel on the Brouwersgracht.
So a glass of wine or beer sitting on a canal terrace would be my single most significant Amsterdam Enjoyment Tip!!!! Not to be missed.. we found out it doesn’t even have to be that warm to enjoy the experience!!!

Wine at the Belhamel

Wine at the Belhamel

Brouwer's Gracht

Brouwer’s Gracht

Ever seen 7 million tulips, daffodils and hyacinths all in bloom? NO?
Nor have I.
But it was probably 5 million 4 thousand, 2 hundred and 73 tulips, daffodils and hyacinths…plus a couple thousand orchids. Even though spring was extremely late here in HOLLAND, our visit to the KEUKENHOF was in one word spectacular!!




Mothers day in Canada, Liberty Day in Holland saw my colleague Tracey and I taking an early bus to the Keukenhof gardens just outside Amsterdam to take in the annual spring splendor.
The Keukenhof opens every spring for 2 months ( between the end of March to the end of May)

Keukenhof is dutch for Kitchen Garden.. it gets its name as the location was originally the castle’s( Slot Telylingen) kitchen herb garden. Baron and Baroness van Palland originally invited garden architects JD and LP Zocher to lay out the castles gardens. They had also designed Amsterdam’s Vondelpark…just 5 minutes from my apartment…a huge city park. Keukenhof was designed in the English landscape style.


The current public gardens were established by the Major of Lisse in 1949. Today the 32 hectares of garden are planted every year by leading bulb growers and suppliers ( 86 of them in fact) They come from surrounding area, which of course is the key bulb growing district of the Netherlands –Lisse. Every weekend different flower exhibitions are featured in the 3 major pavilions. It is a clever commercial for a significant dutch business.

However, it is clear that the TULIP reigns supreme in Keukenhof and continues to be the archetypal dutch flower. The first tulips were shipped to Vienna in 1554 from the Ottoman empire. In 1593 cultivation started in earnest and the dutch found that the plants tolerated the harsher conditions of the low countries. The tulip quickly became a coveted luxury item. It takes 7-12 years to grow a tulip bulb from seed. By 1636, the tulip bulb became the fourth leading dutch export after genever ( dutch gin) , herring and cheese. Prices skyrocketed and speculation on tulip futures was rife. Tulip mania reached its peak in 1636-7 and then the market collapsed in February 1637. IMG_7308IMG_7318

Today of course dutch bulbs continue to be exported across the globe. I saw some of the most amazing colors and varieties while at Keukenhof and hope to bring some home to plant in my cottage garden.

The orchid exhibition we were lucky enough to see was incredibly creative and beautiful as you will see from these pictures.
For 64 years over 52 million visitors have taken in these amazing gardens and exhibitions. Luckily while we saw millions of flowers, our early start ensured we were not surrounded by millions of people.. 4 hours later however, the crowds had followed us and we left having feasted our eyes on the rows and rows of coloured flowers.
If you are in Holland in the spring do not miss this garden!!!

Koning’ Dag Amsterdam April 30th 2013
W for Willem Alexander the new king ‘koning’ of the Netherlands. The preparation and lead up to the day had occupied the hearts and minds of this small land for weeks. Saying goodbye to a beloved Queen Beatrix and welcoming a new king… documentaries, news programs, decorative prep in the city, banners everywhere and stages and tents arising all over the city as the day approached. Dutchies get the day off to celebrate and one can tell this is THE PARTY of the year in Amsterdam ( well this and the gay parade in August apparently).
I got up early in the morning.. excited and just wanting to catch pictures of the final prep.. hopped on my bike and just toured the neighborhood.
Stopped too for some final prep myself…. Picking up an orange cowboy hat and bright orange scarf…. while I am not from Calgary, I knew it would signal both countries I care about ….and would be a big hit with niece Kimmy, who will no doubt be wanting me to send the hat along to her.

I decided that I wanted to take in one of the events at the Dam the square in front of the palace, sooo off I went, joining hundreds of people heading to the centre of Amsterdam to participate as Queen Beatrix put her signature on the abdication documents.
Large television screens and speakers enabled all to see and hear ..and then of course Queen Beatrix, Prince Willlem Alexander, Princess Maxima and their three adorable girls greeted us from the balcony of the palace. A sea of orange responding with songs of ‘bea bedankt, bea bedankt´ …. In translation bea thanks bea thanks.. bea of course referencing their queen ..
I went back home to watch the longer investiture ceremony from the comfort of my own couch, knowing as well I still had a long day ahead of me.. Thoroughly enjoyed the hours of coverage watching the royals from all over the world ( actually the royal princes and princes—no kings, queens or presidents allowed—protocol requires the soon to be king to be the highest ranking persona) it was okay with me as the royal princes and princess were gorgeous and the women wore spectacular gowns.. better than the Oscars red carpet anyday.. well and then again there was old cammilla and old Charlie..they didn’t quite cut it amongst the other ‘royals’ ..they would have been better off to send William and Kate..but no doubt that would not have been allowed..
Just after three, the ceremonies had ended and the noise from the streets and canals below my apartment windows drew me out to join in the festivities.

Well well what a party… orange everywhere, people partying on the street, in cafes, on front porches and of course on boat after boat on the canals.. at times I couldn’t see the water for the boats and partiers on the canals. The sun was shining and all of Amsterdam was out and joining in. I had received instructions from my colleagues at work to head over to NELS in a square in the old part of town and I made my way over ..took me forever of course as every turn and canal bridge crossing had me taking in the noise, the color, the songs and revelry—a very good word to describe the atmosphere. Pictures of course say it best..so feast your eyes on a sampling

IMG_7168 - Copy
Once I finally found the KPMG global group, I naturally joined right in

Some friends have already asked if orange beer was on tap. I guess it’s possible, but as you can see Jane had just returned from Paris and our ‘orange’ beverage of choice was just right for the occasion.
After several bottles I also hoped that the Veuve Clicquot had been a little more accessibly priced on the French market.
IMG_7174 - Copy

The party carried on well into the night!!! It was indeed a day to remember!!!

Tonight is the night before King’s day or as we say here ‘Koning’s Dag now.. it has heretofore been known as Koninginnedag… Queen’s day. It is a statutory holiday off course!!!!!

This evening Queen Beatrix said goodbye to her people. I have just listened to her speech… While I still struggled to understand everything in her quite complicated address, I did get a sense that she is remarkably grateful to her people for the 33 years of loyalty they have given her. She is convinced that her son is ready to take on this important duty and that his wife Maxima will be for her son, what her husband Claus was to her.

Queen Beatrix

Queen Beatrix and her family have a special relationship to Canada, as she and her sister Irene, remained in Ottawa at the Stornaway residence with their mother Juliana during the 2nd world war.
All week long I have watched documentaries on the royal family. The dutch love their queen..they feel as if she is the mother of their land. She really does come across as a loving mother. She SMILES constantly..quite a different feel to watching Queen Elizabeth . She is very personable and informal..you actually see pictures of her being kissed by an ordinary subject and she simply smiles and takes it on. She is very fond and easy going with children. She is always well coiffed and well dressed. She is warm and informal.. one sees many pictures of her hugging people whether her family, children and regular folk.

Smiling Beatrix

Her son William … W for Willem is on everyone’s lips and W banners all over the city.

W for Willem

W for Willem


The city is full of these huge banners and the dutch red white and blue flags have popped up everywhere..
I don’t think I have ever seen as many Canadian flags in the whole of the city of Toronto as I saw dutch flags on one 10 block street last night. And of course ORANGE is everywhere.. tonight already people are off partying and dressed in orange.. I have yet to get a orange shirt..but everyone tells me this will be no problem as the sellers will be everywhere tomorrow!!!! and of course it is not just tShirts..no orange pants, orange hair, orange crowns.. you name it they have it.. I will be sure to take lots of pictures tomorrow.

This morning it was raining but the rain has gone and we are expecting a sunny day..perhaps 15 degrees …so just fine!!!
Tomorrow at 10 Willem will be crowned the King of the Netherlands. Tonight they are having dinner with their guests, right next door to me at the Rijksmuseum.. you can see the sun going down behind the museum as I took this picture from my third floor living room window..their they sit tonight with royalty from all over the world.

And here a picture of the Queen, Willem and Maxima arriving at the Rijksmuseum for the dinner.
Quees and king-a

For those of you interested.. Maxima is quite fashionable.. I heard one fashion guru say tonight she is the cocktail to Willem the regular andwich… .. such a dutch analogy … they love their bread by the way!!!!So again for the fashionistas Maxima is wearing a red ruffle dress by Valentino.. Very dutch, she has worn this dress before. Last week in an tv interview with Willem and Maxima, they asked her what she would wear and she said..oh she would find something in her closet… therefore I was of course curious to see if this is what she would do..and she did.

An interesting fact, kings and queens are not invited to this event.. no for a crowning only the princess and princesses are invited.. kings and queens may overshadow the new king..so protocol has it that only those who stand in line to be kings and queens are in attendance. Prince Philipp has arrived with Camille. An interesting point of fact…this is the second time he will attend a crowning in Holland. He also attended Beatrix’s crowning 33 years ago.. I wonder what thoughts are going through his head tonight. Prince Felipe and princess Letizia of Spain are here and Danish crown prince Frederik and his wife Princess Mary. Many of them are actually friends of Willem and Maxima.

Well I am now opening a bottle of wine..time to toast the queen, her son and Maxima.. interestingly people are already filing the Dam..for tomorrows celebration.. I will not be sleeping under the stars.. I will sit here and watch across the road and listen to hear when I can glimpse their limos taking them home for the evening.
Tomorrow will be a big day..will report in a few days..feel so lucky to be experiencing this amazing day with my dutch people .


Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 54 other followers