Thursday, January 6, 2011

Buone feste! (happy holidays!)

This video is in Sherbourne, a village near Rosie's house.

Today was yet another religious holiday in Italy, Epiphany! The day the 3 wise men visited baby Jesus, I'm told.

I returned to Florence from England on the morning of the 31st, just in time for capodanno (the new year). I took the bus back from the airport in Pisa, about an hour and a half ride from Florence, and beautiful. My breath was almost taken away looking at the views. The charming, crumbling homes, sitting on the organically sloping Tuscan hills with irregular divisions of garden and grapevine land. Then, deep in the background was the alps! However I actually had a closer view of these on my plane ride back from england, wow!!! My ride TO the airport was on the train which didn't offer any comparable view.

A few days prior to departing there was an extraordinary happening in Florence, NEVE (SNOW)! Actually it should no longer be considered SO special in that it happened almost on the same date last year. However I understand there was even more snow this year and it occurred in many areas of Italy and Europe, interrupting travel plans for many people. For me, it meant buying new boots as my current ones had a hole in the toe and there was no sign of my package from Canada containing replacements. I trudged to the train station in my sneakers and found some cute grey rubberboots for 27 Euro, on sale from 55. Lucky for this desperate shopper. These boots kept my feet dry all through the holidays, to Great Britian and back to Italy.

England was beautiful and awe inspiring in it's own ways. London is such a grand city, and that word really sums it up. Classy, statuesque, functional, GRAND! I was expecting it to be more 'westernized' in some ways, like new york, but alas it is a city with so much history it makes us north americans grovel. Or at least it made me do so. Big ben and westminster abbey are a sight one must see in reality, pictures and movies just don't suffice. There was really so much to see and I did my best although I believe I still have some unfinished work there.

I went to tons of galleries and art lovers are truly fortunate that most of the galleries in London are FREE! That suited my budget perfectly. I saw many masterpieces from some of my favorite impressionist artists and many paintings by John Singer Sargent, hands down AMAZING! This man had godly abilities. I was so happy to see 2 exhibits on fashion illustration which profoundly inspired me and I also passed by 'The Cartoon Museum' which made me smile, especially after seeing some original Ronald Searle illustrations. I also got the most amazing book there on Lifestyle Illustrations of the 1960's. If I can only own 1 art book for the rest of my life, let it be this one. AND I got 5 Pounds off because I pointed out the large crease in the cover, YESSS.

My hostel was right in the middle of the action in Piccadily Circus, similar to Times Square in New York, so it was convenient for me to go exploring on foot in the evenings and it was coincidentally just around the corner from Whole Foods! Of course London is renowned for it's stage shows so I inquired about some discount tickets but they weren't quite discounted enough for me so I caught a musical movie instead. 'Burlesque' with Christina Aguilera and Cher. Loved it, 'nuff said. Apart from my gallery hopping and sightseeing, I also checked out some organic and vegetarian restaurants, although I missed out on some due to holiday closings, scoped out the alternative neighborhood of Camden Town (London's huge version of Toronto's kensington market?), and did a bit of shopping which in the end I could not resist thanks to the fabulous holiday sales:) I bought a dress at H&M in London for 10 Pounds which still costs 30 Euros at the H&M in Florence!

Although it was sort of a break to be in an english speaking country, there were some other things to get used to, most notably, besides the accents and yet another change of currency, the cars driving on the left. Jaywalking is a dangerous feat for those unaccustomed! Of course this also means pedestrian traffic flows on the left too. Although it's english, I was still confused at first that instead of 'exit' the signs say 'way out' and instead of 'yld' they say 'give way'. Is it possible the british are more wordie than north americans, using 2-worded signs?

I took the 2 hour bus ride out to the english countryside to meet Rosie and her family on the evening of the 23rd. Unfortunately it was dark both times I traveled as apparently the bus went right past Stonehenge! I had a wonderful time eating, doing puzzles, sightseeing, and tobogoning (they called it 'bogging' or 'sledging') with Rosie and her family. This included her mom and dad, her 2 sisters and their husbands/fiances, their dog, Truffle, and the newest addition to their family, Clementine, Rosie's 5 month old niece. They have a beautifully renovated farmhouse in the village of Oborne in Dorset with a huge kitchen and walls full of art and collectibles from their travels, like a museum, I told them.

It was really interesting to see how people live in this part of the world. Some of the buildings are over a thousand years old! I enjoyed the english practices of having tea time everyday at 4 o'clock and learning to play Snooker at their neighbor's house. I took to it quickly and impressed everyone as I've always had a bit of a knack for pool;)

I left for London on the evening of the 27th and hit the ground running again until the night of the 30th when I returned to Stansted Airport for a night curled up on a bed of chairs at the cafe in anticipation of my 6am flight. I didn't want to pay for another night at the hostel (and the prices were really high that night) for just a few hours of sleep. Apparently many people had this same idea as it was hard to find a spot to camp for the night.
Having a break from speaking and thinking Italian has actually served me well. I studied only once on the bus back from Dorset, but other than that it was a full 10 day break. I think it has given the chance for information I've been trying to cram into my brain, to sink in. Upon landing in the Pisa airport at 10 am I turned the corner to the bus counter and immediately told the attendent 'Vorrei prendere l'autobus a Firenze' (I would like to take the bus to Florence) without having to stop and think! Yipee!! I even had an actual conversation with my landlady the other day. She doesn't speak any english and isn't so sensitive to the fact that it's hard to understand her when she talks A LOT and FAST. However I somehow understood her and was able to quikcly string together some sentences for her to understand me! (Please excuse me while I give myself a huge pat on the back here:D) I hope this feeling of ease continues.

After the beautiful bus ride to Florence I decided to catch a city bus from the train station so I wouldn't have to walk the whole 15 minutes with my suitcases on the bumpy sidewalks. I tried to get a bus map but as usual there were none available, so I just lined up for the #6, the same one I had taken to the station 10 days prior. Bad idea. In a city with tiny one way streets, the bus can't take the same route going north as it does south. I missed the stop closest to my apartment (which was actually still very far) and then proceeded to sit on the bus all the way to the suburbs and back. The scenic route, I suppose. An hour later I arrived at my apartment, unpacked a bit, and napped.

I spent the chilly New Year's Eve outside back at the piazza in front of the train station, watching a live concert and firecrackers going off unpredictably in every direction! It was crazy! There were no 'official' fireworks at midnight, just lots of unofficial ones all night long; with just slightly more at midnight...

Unfortunately the next day I was in rough shape, head throbbing, lungs ejecting. The results of lack of sleep and too much firecracker smoke inhalation. I'm STILL coughing stuff up but almost recovered I think.

I got a copy of my Wellness Daytimer printed in London (for 35 Pounds, OUCH!!) and I was so happy to see it 'in the paper' after designing it digitally for many weeks and trying to imagine how it will function in the real world. Although the printers didn't follow my wishes EXACTLY (borders, grr) and didn't consult me on paper choice (too slippery, I can't use pencil, grrr) and although the colors on the cover didn't print accurately (my fault), it's fabulous! I'm going to attempt a reprint here in Florence, fingers crossed!

My friend has told me the italian saying of 'anno nuovo, vita nuova' or 'new year, new life'. Simple and inspiring. It's going to be a good year for sure:) Among getting some concrete work done, I hope to do more traveling, there really is a whole world of amazement out there!


  1. happy new year pal! wish you the very best for 2011 !! :)

  2. wowww.... these photos are so gorgeous and moody!! Looks like you are seeing and doing a lot!! That's so awesome. I can relate to getting used to the the cars on the left as you had to deal with in England, ha! It's fantastic to hear that your Italian is feeling more natural/easier. Thanks for posting all these amazing photos and writing about what you're up to! I want to see more!

  3. Happy New Year Robin! All the best to you as well pal:D

  4. Thanks Andrea, the camera on my phone actually does a decent job taking photos and it's so convenient as I always have it with me. I forgot that they drive on the left in Australia too!!

  5. I knew you'd love London! Grand AND Overwhelming describes it best. I'll have to check out the cartoon museum next time I'm there.

    Keep warm