Florence

Quite a view!

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One of the best views of Florence is available from Piazzale Michelangelo – this sits high up above the river on the south bank. We have climbed up here before during the day (not a pleasant experience in the heat), but have never been up at night to look at the lights – until this visit. I have always been told that it is a fantastic view at night, and it is, and the walk up in the cooler (still over 30) night air is much more pleasant!

Being a bit of a photography geek I wanted to try and get some night shots – to include the Duomo which is fully lit up and night. Considering I was using a micro 4/3rds Olympus EP-1 I and the Duomo is probably half to three quarters of a mile away I don’t think the result is at all bad?

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The Medici Chapel

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This is our fourth visit to Florence as a family and we are still discovering things – this year it has been the Medici Chapel at San Lorenzo. We almost managed to see it two years ago but arrived just as it was closing – so this year we booked tickets in advance – an excellent idea as it allows queue jumping!

20120813-123909.jpgFirst impressions aren’t great as the lower area is just a museum of artefacts and a shop and is almost ‘crypt’ like. However once up the stairs and into the main chapel with its Vasari painted ceiling and marble walls and floor one becomes quite ‘blown away’ (but no photographs are allowed)! It is bigger than I expected (although as the rest of the family pointed out to me, it is that big externally so what did I expect!). The sarcophagi are massive and it looks like a building more akin to Royalty than a family of bankers (certainly not current bankers)!

20120813-124012.jpgThe second chapel is much less grand but has the Da Vinci sculptures that are pretty impressive even to my eye, the Madonna and child being particularly nice. This area is actually unfinished as Da Vinci got a ‘better offer’ and moved to Rome during its construction so it is not actually finished as Da Vinci designed it, there are drawings on the wall of what he planned which is quite an interesting addition as well.

So as I say, it has taken us four visits to Florence to get to see this, but it is definitely worthwhile and recommended to anyone planning a visit.

What did the Romans ever do for us?

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I am a big Monty Python fan and although the Holy Grail is probably my favourite film, I do have a soft spot for the Life of Brian – probably their most ‘accessible film’. One of the classic sketches from the film revolves around a meeting of the Judaea Popular Front (or is it the Popular Front of Judaea).

20120812-102553.jpgAny way the question posed is ‘what did the Romans ever do for us’? Unsurprisingly there follows quite a big list of achievements including sanitation, heating, water – you get the idea.

As I was looking out of my window in Florence this morning I realised what a massive impact the humble pan tile has had on the world – you can’t go anywhere in southern Europe without seeing them. Their red wavy form defines certain city vistas (including this one) and they are such a simple form – pure genius.

So this is certainly something positive from the Romans!

A clever approach to rubbish collection

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I am always on the look out for something clever when I am away on holiday, other countries often have a different take on things, a more effective way to deal with a common problem. A couple of years ago we visited a car park in Parma which had bright little LED’s over each space – red meant it was occupied, green it was available. A simple but very elegant solution to a problem.

20120811-215742.jpgThis year I had not come across anything like this until today in Florence. I have not visited this beautiful city for a couple of years and in my absence they have made quite a few improvements! Much of the area around the Duomo is now pedestrianised, a great improvement. This has given the city the ability to add in new rubbish bin systems – to replace the old ‘wheely bin’ units.

The new system has some very neat and clean hatches that sit over a sunken skip – it is very elegant and doesn’t smell or look a mess – frankly it is brilliant and something that cities in the UK would do well to copy.

Nottingham’s electric buses

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Apparently Nottingham is the ‘least car dependent’ city in the UK – an excellent accolade in my view, and something that can be built upon further by the news that the electric buses proposed last year are still coming!

A Florence 'mini' bus

The £1.7m scheme will see eight battery-powered buses on Nottingham’s roads by this autumn, and this is not just about reducing emissions (although obviously it will) it should also save some cash! It is envisaged that the lower energy costs and maintenance needs will make annual savings of £8,000 compared to existing diesel buses.

So Nottingham City Council is making a positive statement by moving towards emission-free vehicles and offering a more sustainable form of public transport. Half of the buses, likely to be operated by Trent Barton, will be used on the Centrelink route and the remaining four will be used on the city council’s Link Bus network, which includes Worklink, Shoplink, Unilink and Medilink services.

The buses, take roughly eight hours to charge for a full day’s service, have been partly funded by a £760,000 grant from the Department for Transport. With diesel prices heading only in one direction the savings are likely to increase over the lifetime of the fleet.

Nottingham is at the front here, Durham is currently the only other city in the UK to use electric buses. However in Europe they are much more common – especially the ‘mini’ sized ones in some of the Italian cities.

Managing property

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When we go on holiday in the summer (and at other times) we invariably stay in self catering apartments or villas. We find the ability to manage our own accommodation much more relaxing. We are not tied to hotel eating times (or restaurants) and are normally located in an area with other locals and not surrounded by tourists – consequently you tend to get a better feel for your chosen countries life style.

We have experienced a wide variety of rented properties; from the very basic (in rural France) to very luxurious (on the Cote-d’azure). Most are privately owned and managed either remotely by the owners (often better), or by a local management company. Our experiences are generally excellent.

This year we have returned to the Oriuolo Apartment in Florence. It is located just behind the Duomo so ideally situated for a ‘city week’. Our experience was good last year so we rebooked happily.

Unfortunately the local management have ‘taken their eye off the ball’ – the apartment is not what it was! The location is still great, but there are a litany of small issues that really would not be an issue if the apartment was being managed properly.

1. There should be broadband connected – it isn’t anymore, but we weren’t told until we arrived (we were offered a Vodaphone pay as you go dongle – not quite the same! And at our cost)

2. Numerous bulbs were not working – we were promised new bulbs would be delivered – 4 days ago, still waiting!

3. The washing machine door handle is broken, only discovered when trying to use it, a phone call to the agent resulted in the message – yes it is, use a spoon to open it! Luckily this works – but come on!

4. There are no large glasses! I like shots as much as the next man, but come on! We need to drink!

5. The toaster is broken!

I know that sometimes I am a grumpy old man, but these small individual items add up to me and make it an issue of bad management.

As a company we have a large and highly successful management department (run by my colleague and fellow blogger Tim Garratt). It is successful because it has an eye to all issues and deals with them (even the difficult tenants like me!).

The managing company here in Florence is run by two sisters who proudly told us on arrival that they had some nice new apartments around the corner which they would love to show us (they have an office there as well) – not perhaps the best message to give to someone in one of their clients other rentals?

Time for a new managing agent for Oriuolo Apartment in Florence?

Real Cafe living

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We are always being told that a ‘cafe culture’ is taking root in the UK. Certainly in London it is common to find tables outside of coffee shops and restaurant premises in the more desirable parts of the city.

Coffee shops have also taken over our high streets, you can’t turn a corner in Nottingham without being confronted by a Nero’s, Costa or Starbucks. One of my colleagues is so attached to his favourite Starbucks that he is starting a campaign to stop its possible closure!

All very nice, but spending time in a European city like Florence really brings it home to me how we are so dependant on ‘chains’ in the UK.

Over here in Italy there are very few large restaurant chains – McDonalds is probably the most common! All the other bars and restaurant’s are small private business’s. Even in the prime shopping areas there are many privately run bars and restaurants. This creates a totally different feel to the city, a much cosier, friendly feeling. (It is also helped by the lack of bars filled with loud drunken yobs.)

Walking the streets of Florence in the evening is a pleasant experience, there is street culture – artists, musicians and a few dodgy traders. At no time do you feel threatened by drunks or large groups of youths. I accept that this is a major tourist destination, but I do wonder if our visitors to Nottingham feel as safe and relaxed when searching out Robin Hood of an evening!

As a country we have a long way to go before we get close to a European feel in our cities. In truth it is totally alien to our way of life and it will take a lot more than warmer weather and a few tables on the pavement to truly bring a cafe culture to the UK!