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Fall 2015 found me one more time in London, one of my favorite cities. It was a rather different visit. Instead of exploring the museums, sights and shops I spent several weeks ‘hunting’.

Daughter Rachael was facing down 2 weeks to ‘homelessness’, having been unsuccessful for more than 2 months in finding a new flat to move into with 2 new flat mates, Ana and Lauren. Who would have thought it would be so difficult to find a place to live in central London?

Well I was soon introduced to the challenges of London Flat Hunting!!!

It is incredibly competitive to find a flat in London. Rentals are logged with rental agencies and there are hundreds of them…check out any of the key London neighborhood corners and you will find 4-6 rental agencies within spitting distance. Those looking for a place, log their requirements with agencies—many of them!!! Or you don’t stand a chance!! Each of Rachael, Anna and Lauren were registered with multiple agencies in the 2-3 neighborhoods they were interested in living in. Oh yes, that’s another key element, narrow your search so that you can actually manage the activity…if you don’t you will be run off your feet.

Listing Checking, Agent Pestering, Frustration

Every morning, the flat hunting drill means you 1) troll your search engines (http://www.rightmove.co.uk or http://www.zoopla.co.uk) , 2) hope your agents are also searching for you and sending you emails about new listings—(they often get them before they are logged on the search sites). This later step requires ongoing pestering, as of course in the current environment the agents have many people who are looking for a flat just like you and 3) pick the flats you want to check out. So far so good. The challenge is that you need to move very quickly, almost at the drop of a hat. Getting to the new rental flats first is critical!! I found that for every flat there are another 5-10 people interested in the same space…so it is all about getting your rental offer in quickly!!!

So, as fast as you can, check out the flat, make a decision re what to offer ( at rental price listed, above, below, special requirements etc), get the offer to the agent and wait to see if the owner chooses you for the flat…and yup it is their choice and they typically have multiple offers.

Never Ending Listing Checking and Flat Hunting exhaustion

Sound easy? No, not so much. Frustrating? Yup, and increasingly more so as you make offers and time after time are not chosen!!! arrrggghh

All of the above, is complicated hugely by the fact that you have to make a living…meaning that you typically can only focus on this before breakfast, during work breaks and lunch and after work and on the weekends..in other words you have no life other than flat hunting. And naturally not being able to check out flats until after work, means that you are not typically the first offer!!!

Rachael, Ana and Lauren are all young professionals. Two weeks before they would all be out of their current housing arrangements, Ana was dispatched to Croatia to follow the refugee crisis for Reuters, Lauren was off on a long planned holiday she could not cancel and Rachael had colleagues from South Africa in for the week for a workshop… yup life gets in the way !! They of course were all now not only looking for a new flat to rent, they also needed to pack up their belongings and figure out where they are going to live in 2 weeks time…yup life is complicated and VERY STRESSFUL!!!

Packing up the belongings and storing across London at Friends

So on my arrival, I joined the house hunting task force!! The girls would do the searches early in the morning from wherever they were, send me the possibilities and I would contact the rental agents to see if I could set up a viewing. They armed me with a list of questions to ask, and a checklist of their requirements to confirm in the flats.  The best trick was to take a video of each flat I visited,  check out the flats and load my  visual and verbal observations  ASAP on our WhatsApp group, and the girls could check out the flats virtually.

Walking the streets of Clapham & Balham, checking out flats—lovely ones

WE DID NOT GET!! Aaarrrggghhh!!

I became very familiar with Balham, Clapham Junction and Clapham Common…having walked the streets and visited flat after flat. I, along with niece Madi,  experienced with them the disappointment of a flat that did not live up to expectations, of trying to decide if they would offer, of losing to another bid, and the nerve-wracking waiting to hear.

So every now and then we needed a break!!!

Cocktail Breaks to keep up our Spirits

It took  another 3 weeks to finally secure a flat!!!! But they did it!

It took seeing beyond the distressing lack of housekeeping by the current renters, begging and negotiating with the owner, and constant follow-up with the agent but the girls were successful and late October moved into their flat in a great neighborhood in Balham.

 

Happy Flatmates Ana, Lauren and Rachael in their new flat !!!

They now live happily in a flat, newly scrubbed, decorated and made ‘home’. Balham is where they settled…a great neighborhood, pubs, cafes, parks and easy transportation.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Brighton by the Sea

Brighton by the  sea.. a city sandwiched between the South Downs and the English Channel—a city that is  colourful, quirky, cool and tacky !!!!

Top of the tacky list is the Brighton Pier… a very long pier enabling all to soak up the tackier side of Brighton …tons of kitsche, noisy arcades, games, lights, fish and chip shops, bars…and at the far end, an old fashioned carnival style amusement park.. horror house to roller coaster to an  old style merry go round. And at night lit up like a grand old dame.

 

 

 

 

 

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My favourite part of the pier, are the great chairs to sit in and soak up the sun.

 

The Brighton Pier opened as a pleasure pier in 1899. In world war II the pier was closed… clearly it was an easily identifiable landmark  at night.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Just down from the Brighton Pier is the rival West Pier. It was closed in 1975 and having been severely damaged by fires and storms, today is just an iron wreckage rising out of the sea. I think I prefer it to the tacky main event.

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Top of the quirky list is the Royal Pavilion…the exotic extravaganza commissioned by the equally quirky Prince Regent.

Designed by John Nash, the architect of London’s Regent Street, the Royal Pavilion is a a rather unusual, extraordinary building, boasting minarets, pagodas, twirling domes, balconies and Indian and Chinese motifs. George IV, was a huge disappointment to his straight laced father George III. The Prince Regent was anything but straight laced. He devoted his life almost entirely to pleasure….gambling, heavy drinking, dining, mistresses, racing, fine clothes …and clearly extravagant lavishly furnished homes..and in the process running up huge debts for the royal family.

George IV’s love with Brighton started in 1783. Introduced to him as a health retreat, George IV made it his “London by the sea”.  Here he  settled his mistress, Mrs. Maria Fitzherbert, whom he secretly married, and later disavoved when his father forced him to marry  Princess Caroline of Brunswick . This marriage did not last as Princess Caroline shared his father’s views about George’s lifestyle. Nevertheless having set up in Brighton , the Prince’s royal followers followed and made Brighton fashionable and racy.  He died in 1830 at 68. By this time he was king, morbidly obese, often caricatured by the press as completely out of touch with his subjects, who following the Napoleonic wars suffered famine and high unemployment. The times summed up his passing as follows “ there never was an individual less regretted by his subjects than this deceased king”. 

Interestingly, he clearly left a strong mark on Brighton. I had always planned to visit the Royal Pavilion but was always waiting for a rainy day.. as i barely had any rain when I was in Brighton, I never did go in to see the interior extravaganza..I will probably live to regret this.

Top of the Colourful Cool List …Brightons eclectic vitality  Today Brighton  continues to have a  bohemian vitality. It comes from artists,writers, musicians and other creatives and a thriving gay community. During my month there, it was the comedy festival, so regrettably I was not able to participate as fully in the musical cultural events.

Brighton  has a charming inner core —known as the Lanes and North Laines. Generally car free, it is  a maze of little alleyways crammed with shops and boutiques—lots of jewelry places. I loved to wander the Laines, check out the shops, pop in to a coffee or wine bar and quite lovely restaurants. My favourite was Riddles and Finns, a champagne and oyster bar which also served fabulous sea food. If you are in Brighton check it out.  There are two one on the beach and one in the Laines. I loved the one in the Laines. Tiny venue, open kitchen chandeliers, candelabras on long tables where you are seated family style—a great way to meet people —and sure enough in Brighton, of the artistic sort. One evening my guest and I met a heavily tattooed and pierced young woman from Australia who was a producer of electronic music and her friend a film producer.

Another favourite walk was of course, the one along the seaside on the promenade. Brighton has a long wide pebbly beach ( which is actually very comfortable to sit on—who knew? )  you can walk for quite a distance along the coastline. People flock to the beach in the summer…but even throughout my time there in October it was well populated with people taking in the fall sun rays and simply strolling or cycling along. Lots of places to stop for coffee, a snack or wine or beer. In the first few weeks it was still quite warm and I loved to grab a comfy couch at the outdoor bar, with glass in hand sit in the sun and listen to a wonderful female singer singing jazzy tunes.

I lived in the area of the Seven Dials. Lovely homes, nice pub nearby ( The Cow) and a great Coffee place ( Small Batch Coffee) . My flat was really wonderfully decorated…french provincial country style. Again I booked through AirBnB…my go to place for great flats. The owner was a british airways stewardess and clearly an experienced home decorator. It was a cosy and delightful spot to come home to after a day in Brighton or on the downs.

All in all I enjoyed my time in Brighton on the Sea. A part of which was the hiking in the South Downs, which will be the subject of my next blog.

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Hiking in Exmoor National Park : September 2015

I will begin my 2015 blogs describing my recent visit to Exmoor National Park. My daughter Rachael, currently  working in London UK, had given me a hiking trip for my 65th birthday. She organized it through HF Holidays. Our destination was Holnicote House, a National Trust Home operated by HF Holidays near  Selworthy, a small village within the Exmoor National Park in Somerset.

It was a tremendous 3 day retreat. HF Holidays is one of Britain’s largest walking and outdoor leisure holiday specialist.  They have been in business over 100 years and every year over 50,000 guest travel with them in the UK and other destinations beyond. In the UK they operate 20 Country Houses. Holnicote House was one of them. Although a very old house, the rooms had been completely renovated and updated. Our accommodations were first class.

Holnicote House : A National Trust House

Holnicote House : A National Trust House

Holnicote House

Holnicote House

The holiday included full home cooked board and most importantly guided walks in the area.

All of the HFHoliday guides are volunteers..many of them for a long time. Both of our guides had been doing multiple walking trips with them for well over 10 years. The house was full ( I think about 40 guests). Every night the guides would go over the next days walking trips ( easy, medium and hard) and Rachael would rule that we were there for a challenge so ‘hard’ it would be for us.

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The guests with the exception of Rachael were all 50+. You can imagine how delighted they were to have a ‘young’ person in their midst. Rachael quickly figured out that in this crowd, I should have no difficulty with the ‘hard’ walk. And indeed I did not, although there were several guests much older than I who easily surpassed my ‘walking capability’. Our ‘hard’ walk each day had about 8-10 in the group—a perfect size in our view. We met 2 wonderful women from Denmark whom we hit it off with on the hikes. They also were always game for a drink in the bar after the days hike.

Moor Sheep

Moor Sheep

IMG_4495The hikes were outstanding!! the scenery spectacular, the spots along the way of interest both geographically and historically. Each day was a full day. Day one we walked down to Lynmoth. In Lynmoth we took a cliff rail way. It was a funicular cliff lift powered by water.  From Lynmoth climbed to the Valley of the Rocks and then on to Lee Bay.IMG_4567

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We ascended to a high level path above Lynto and then over to Cleaves to Watersmeet. The walk was 11 miles ( 17.5 km)  in total with 2000 feet of ascent ( whew) and 2400 feet of descent ( hard on the knees)

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The next day we hiked directly from Holnicote House ( day one we had taken a bus to our starting point) from Alleford to Bossington and along a long pebble beach to join the South West Coast Path, and then up to Selworthy Beacon and finishing at the lovely tea house in Selworthy.

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While we had full days, there was still so much more to see and do. I am sorry I missed the town of Selworthy. It is a small picturesque village of thatched cottages. owned by the National Trust ( more on that later). We glimpsed Dunster Castle on our way but did not have time to explore.

So a little about the National Trust. As noted above the National Trust owned the house we stayed in ( although operated by HF Holidays), it owned the village of Selworthy and Dunster Castle. I had also seen several signs along our hikes denoting National Trust, so my curiosity took me to the web. It turns out that the National Trust is a charity that works to preserve and protect historic spaces and places – for ever for everyone.

They were founded in 1895 by three passionate victorians interested in preserving outdoor spaces. Today they look after historic houses, gardens, mills, coastlines, forests, farmlands, moorlands, islands, castles, nature reserves, villages and pubs.. Here are just a few of the interesting facts about the National Trust.

  • they are one of the UK’s largest farmers, with more than 618,000 acres of land and 2,000 tenant farmers
  • they own and run 61 historical pubs, 49 churches 9 monasteries
  • they own 59 villages
  • they look after 775 miles of coastline—some of the best beaches and coastal paths in England, Wales and Northern Ireland
  • they have over 60,000 volunteers contributing 3.1 million hours of their time—equal to 1590 full time staff.
  • they have over 4 million members

Quite the organization I would say!!!

Exmoor  was designated a National Park in 1954, in recognition of the outstanding beauty, wildness and tranquility of the moorlands which dominates its landscapes. The moors and heaths of Exmoor are wide open areas overlooking the whole of the West Somerset, North Devon and the Bristol Channel Coast. But Exmoor National Park is not a wilderness. It is a living and working landscape with many settlements from small towns and picturesque villages to tiny hamlets and isolated farmsteads.

The coastline within the National Park stretches for (59 km) 37 miles. It is outstanding for both its scenery and its wildlife and was one of the prime reasons for the designation of Exmoor as a National Park. Exmoor has the highest coastline in England and Wales with coastal hills rising to 433m (1421ft).

Seeing wild ponies on the moor is a highlight for many hikers.IMG_4504

We saw both feral goats and the Exmoor ponies on the moors. The Exmoor pony is one of a number that are native to Britain. I learned that they are only wild in so far as the the herds roam freely on the moor. In fact they all belong to someone.  A number of years ago there was a fear that the ponies might become extinct. Today there are 11 privately owned herds that run on the Exmoor National Park

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The National Trust Holnicote Estate is located in Exmoor and makes up 12,000 acres of the  Exmoor National Park. All of the National Trust estates, and cottages in Exmoor are easily identifiable by their yellow painted walls.. a lovely colour making the homes quite distinguishable.

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All in all a really terrific start to my fall time in the UK.

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Visiting Florence one cannot help but cross, re-cross, walk and walk again along the banks of the River Arno which cuts through the centre of the city. Having crossed or walked along it daily, I found myself constantly shooting pictures of the River, its banks and bridges—it was constantly mesmerizing….there were days when I simply sat by the river, glass of wine in hand or leaned for hours on the river walls spellbound by the interplay of river, buildings and light.

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It is clearly central to the identity of Florence.

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Since ancient times, the Arno river has been the transit route between the mouth of the sea and the Apennines when wood was needed for architectural works. It is 241 kilometers long. Over time the Arno greatly influenced the economic development of Florence. However drought and periods of low water reduced its navigability and with the construction of railroads in the 19th century, it was no longer a commercial transit route.

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Almost immediately one notices there are no tour boats, no water taxis or commercial craft. The only boats I saw were the local rowing club members out for their sculling practices. I very calming form of boat traffic. One Sunday I was entertained by a two teams of 6 players in kayaks that seemed to play a sort of waterpolo / waterbasketball at the rowing club just below the Ponte Vecchio.

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Even though the river is often low and calm, it has flooded. The worst in the history of the city since the flood of 1557 was the 1966 Flood. It had a lasting impact on Florence. 5000 families were left homeless and 6000 stores were forced out of business. Immeasurable damage was done to the art and the ancient book collections in the city. People from around the world, including experts (named by Florentines subsequently as MUD ANGELS) came voluntarily to help clean the city and retrieve the works of art and books. Restoration efforts continue even today. In 1984 a dam was built and the river banks were raised to protect the city from future disasters.

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The Ponte Vecchio ‘Old Bridge’ is possibly the most well known and most photographed of the bridges. Oltrarno or ‘other Arno’, meaning the other side of the Arno, is the neighborhood across the river. A wonderful area, in which you will find the Pitti Palace and the Boboli Gardens. I spent 2 weeks in a loft apartment in Oltrarno and loved this neighborhood. It is the home of many students and working Florentines.
The Ponte Vecchio was, until 1218, the only bridge across the Arno in Florence. In World War II, it was the only bridge not destroyed. It withstood the weight of the tons of water and silt when the Arno burst its banks in 1966.

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While today goldsmith shops are housed in every nook and cranny of the bridge, the shops were owned by butchers in the 13th -15th centuries. As the Pitti Palace was ‘oltrarno’ they had to use the bridge to get into central Florence. The noble Medici did not like walking amongst the lower society nor the smell of the meat cutters,they built a corridor above the shops as their personal passage to the Palace—the Corridoio Vasariano. The original butchers, fishmongers and tanners were banned in the 16th century (probably due to the rank smell that accompany these businesses) by Ferdinand I. He decreed only goldsmiths and jewelers could have stores on the bridge.

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As you can see from my photos ( and I took many more) I loved taking a passeggiata (stroll) along the rivers and across the bridges. Ponte Santa Trinita lay at the bottom of my road, a stones through from my loft apartment. It led straight to the Ferragamo and best gelato shop across the river.

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You will see from many of the river and bridge pictures, that the other element which fascinated me was the amazing skies in Florence. I read ( can’t remember where I picked this up) “ Italy celebrates an endless vocabulary of light on landscape that change from morning to evening, north to south and season to season. The luminous vistas recorded by Leornardi da Vinci in his paintings can still be seen when travelling any Tuscan Road”.

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Certainly I was constantly drawn to take photos of the skies. I hope you enjoy the pictures….they will long be a wonderful memory for me.

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I am always attracted to green spaces…I love walking the belt line in Toronto, hiking in the Rockies, golfing as much to hit the ball, as to take in the scenery. It is no different in cities. I always seek out the parks and gardens.
Initially walking the streets of Florence is was not easy to see a lot of green..narrow streets with high walls, but I soon discovered that the city blocks of high walls held hidden gardens…most of which regrettably were private. With front green gardens not being a norm in Florence, I checked out the Florence city map and indeed found green slices for exploration.
062The first of these was close to my first Florence apartment and I found I was skirting this large green space without my knowledge as I made my way to the old city. The map indicated it was Giardino Della Gherardesca…but as is typical in Florence it was surrounded by walls or homes. At 4.5 hectares it is one of the largest private gardens in the city and has been in existence since the 15th century…and like most things of value was owned at one time by the Medici family. Constanza de Medici married Count Guido Alberto della Gherardesca hence the name. I discovered walking the block where the map indicated the garden was located, it was flanked on two sides by entrances to the Four Season’s Hotel… and so I had my entrance.
Years ago, traveling with my friend Mary in Paris she shared with me a great traveling tip. In the great cities of the world, research the famed hotels, dress up and of a late afternoon, stroll in, make your way to the bar, and experience some of the best cocktails and wines in the most beautiful bars of the world and simply enjoy!!! the surroundings, the drinks and the people. So that is what I did in Florence.

The Four Seasons

The Four Seasons

Of a late Sunday afternoon I strolled into the Four Seasons and asked to be shown to the garden bar.
It was delightful!! First of all the terrace, the impeccable service and to my delight the garden was filled with art!!! All in all a priceless day, a lovely glass of wine and the experience of a beautiful garden museum.

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068I also got a glimpse of the beautiful hotel… a 15th century palazzo and a 16th century convent beautifully restored over seven years—original frescoes, bas reliefs and stuccos. Stunning!!!!!

Boboli and Pitti Palace

Boboli and Pitti Palace

The second garden is the famous Boboli gardens—a park behind the Medici’s Pitti Palace.

Boboli

Boboli

Entrance to the Pitti Palace includes entrance to the Boboli. It is 111 acres!!! In Medici times it was for the exclusive use of the Medici family—no entertainment or parties ever took place in it. A shame for as far as I am concerned, it would have been an amazing venue for a grand event.

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The Boboli were laid out for Eleonora di Toledo, the wife of Cosimo I de Medici. The gardens had no natural water source, so a conduit was built from the nearby Arno to feed water into an elaborate irrigation system.

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Even today the gardens are elaborate. I can only imagine what they must have been like in the Medici times. Statuary, an Egyptian obelisk, an ampitheatre, a hippodrome—a classical race course, garden temples, an orangery, fountains, Neptune, the Grotto of Vulcan and Bacchus.

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Vulcan Grotto

Vulcan Grotto

Bacchus

Bacchus

The Boboli Gardens are situated on a rise over theFlorence so in addition to the gorgeous park surroundings one gets an amazing view out over the city of Florence.140

Both these gardens were definitely worth the hours spent wandering through them.

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The Last Garden I want to introduce you to is Giardino Incantanto ( Garden in Bloom). This was the name of the second apartment I rented in Italy. Just outside of Firenze ( a mere 10 minute bus ride into town) near Imprunetta, this lovely Tuscan home was surrounded by an amazing garden, the love of Fiametta, mother of Lorenzo my host. I spent 3 weeks in Giardino Incantanto a marvelous airbnb location.
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The house was beautiful and large enough to host family and friends. I welcomed my daughter, my sister and brother in law, friends and cousins ..all of whom marveled at this beautiful space. We enjoyed it with coffee in the mornings and with wine in the evenings. It soon became the most photographed garden in Tuscany!!!

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Cinque Terre, five small fishing villages hugging the rugged coastline of Italy in the province of Liguria. The villages, Monterosso al Mare, Vernazza, Corniglia, Manarola and Riomaggiore.

Prior to his arrival, my brother in law had seen pictures of these distinctive colourful villages, asking if they were near Florence and could they possibly be a destination. Knowing the villages are not accessible by car, we took a full day Florence Walkabout Tour to the area. It turned out to be a great day.  We started off by hiking from the top of the hillside to the first village, and thereafter traveled between them via train or boat. It was a great day.

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The villages historically ( they date back to the 11th century ) were fishing villages, largely accessible only by boat. Train travel was introduced in the 19th century.

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The homes are very colourful as you can see from the photos. They were painted in varied bright colours so that the fishermen could see their homes while offshore. Our guide Freddie informed us that the village councils today make the decision about the colour each home is to be painted.491480

The countryside surrounding the villlages are heavily terraced, indicative of the second source of income for the villages, the growing of grapes for wine and olives for olive oil.

445Annette and I took it upon ourselves to do a tasting of the wines produced in each of the five villages. If truth be told it wasn’t our favorite wine in Italy

Gelato in the village of Corniglia is made of local honey—that we did like.

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Italy’s Ministry of the Environment established this incredible set of villages, and surrounding country and marine area as a protected natural environment  Parco Nationale delle Cinque Terre.

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Dramatic coastline and colourful villages crawling up the coastline, definitely worth the trip.497

Monterossa

Monterossa

Ferragamo Flagship Store and Museum in the Palazzo Spini Feroni

Ferragamo Flagship Store and Museum in the Palazzo Spini Feroni

One cannot come to Florence and not be intrigued by one of its more recent artists. Salvatore Ferragamo. For indeed to many women around the world to walk in one of his creations is divine. Perhaps I will purchase my first ever Ferragamo’s at his flagship store here at the Palazzo Spini Feroni. I have visited this beautiful store several times and participated in the purchase of a pair of beautiful oxblood red heels by a friend who came to visit.  The Ferragamo family purchased the palazzo in the 1930’s and a museum to Ferragamo is housed below the store.

Salvatore Ferragamo was born in 1898 in Bonito Italy ( near Naples). He made his first pair of shoes for his sister’s confirmation at the age of nine. Clearly he found his calling early. He studied shoe making in Naples, opened his first store in his parents basement, then emigrated to Boston where he initially worked in a cowboy boot factory. He moved to Santa Barbara in California and became known to celebrities as he opened a repair and made to measure shoe store. His reputation grew as he became ‘the shoemaker to the stars”.

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318316317My visit to his museum in Florence can attest to his reputation. The pictures enclosed show the many wooden shoe lasts of the ‘stars’ for whom he created shoes Ava Gardner, Sophia Loren, Rita Hayworth,  Marilyn Monroe, Audrey Hepburn, Judy Garland, Mary Pickford ( who seems to have had tiny, tiny feet).

Farragamo was however not simply happy with creating shoes. He wanted to develop a shoe that was both beautiful and comfortable to wear. Consequently he undertook the study of anatomy at the University of Southern California.

Each foot has 26 bones and each has 2 sesamoid for a total of 56 joints and hinges. The foot is an ensemble of arches in tension and compression—it is the most complex dynamic in the whole body–a remarkable example of equilibrium in nature.

314313311310As he studied the foot, Ferragamo began to test his theories about weight distribution and the human skeleton. He discovered that by measuring feet while flat, shoes were being designed that supported the heel and ball only. But human feet when wearing heels, need arch support. Ferragamo began building steel arch support into his shoes and his customers were soon telling him not only did he create beautiful shoes, but also the most comfortable they had ever worn.

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He also moved from custom made to developing factory made models aligned with his designs and arch support. The beginnings of a shoe empire!! His writings indicate that he explored the importance of balance.

328This is the subject of the current exhibit “Equilibrium” at the Ferragamo museum. The exhibit,like Ferragamo, explores the importance of equilibrium/balance. It covers different perspectives on the idea of balance with contributions from historians and experts from the world of art, film, dance, paleontology and philosophy. It is a fascinating exhibition!!! I loved the divers artworks from painting, sculpture, photograhpy, video and film, from classic to current. The notion of ‘balance’ is explored in videos of a tightrope walker , Philippe Petit, a mountain climber, Reinhold Messner, and depicted in film in the evolution of Charlie Chaplin’s famous walk.

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While small and concise the exhibit gave me several hours of delight….and probably a most memorable moment in Florence. I was in the small theatre listening to Philippe Petitte, the tight rope walker, when I heard dutch being spoken. Hearing my mother tongue always pulls me and i glanced out the theatre door to see the fellow dutch museum goers. I looked initially in disbelief but soon realized that the woman, I was by now staring at, was the former queen of Holland Princess Beatrix. For those of you whom may wonder, that is how she is now known in Holland, Queen Mother is not how they address her. The same beautiful woman I had watched just over a year ago when she handed her crown to her son King Willem-Alexander while i was living in Amsterdam. Princess Beatrix was touring the exhibit with two women friends.  She was clearly quite familiar with the exhibit as she explained several features to her friends. Yes of course , I exited the theatre and discreetly stood in the vicinity of her and her guests. There were very few people in the exhibit so it was not difficult to do. While I would have loved to say hello, it was clear she was there in no formal capacity and I did not want to intrude on her as private person and also refrained from taking any pictures.. I saw no form of security at all, simply Princess Beatrix and her friends taking in an afternoon in a museum. Perhaps she had just purchased her next pair of shoes in the store above—clearly Ferragamo still fits royalty. It was quite the thrill i can tell you!!!

Now back to Ferragamo….

After spending 13 years in California he returned to Italy–to Florence and began to fashion his shoes for the most powerful and wealthiest women who flocked to his store–and clearly given Princess Beatrix’s presence, they still do. He became intimate with the feet of his clients. The museum has many pictures and films showing him holding his clients feet, examining them and understanding their uniqueness. He experimented with various shoe designs and is known for his shoe patents  (ornamental and utility)Ferragamo died at the age of 62 in 1960. His wife Wanda,barely 40 and with no prior business experience,  and later their six children ran the company. Ferragamo met Wanda who was 22 years his junior on his return to Italy. During his time in America, Ferragamo had sent money back to his home town of Bonito. A doctor from his home town suggested he visit and see all the good his donations had done. He did and met  the doctors 19 year old daughter and as the story goes immediately knew he would marry her which he did 3 months later.

324Even today Ferragamo is recognized as the visionary and his work and designs continue to inspire current Ferragamo footwear as well as other shoe designers. He is known for the introduction of the wedge heel and his most famous invention the ‘cage’ heel.  325His daughter Fiamma inherited her father’s shoe design imagination and inventiveness and she is known for having created one of the brands most iconic products the Vara Pump–the fabulous square toed chunky 3 inch heel with the grosgrain bow. The museum detailed the creation of the Vara Model,327 and the pictures here shows the various models developed in evolution to the final ‘vara’ model. It is probably the Ferragamo i most covet!!!

Today Salvatore’s children and their families still own the company and are credited with the expansion beyond luxury shoes to bags, silk accessories, watches, perfumes and clothing.

As you can see I had a fascinating and memorable day in Ferragamo’s store and museum. My curiosity led me to do more research and share the story and pictures with you. I hope you enjoyed it.319

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