Being already connected to the Latin country of Italy, I was ready to relish the never before ventured city of Florence last week. Our lovely friends, Eileen and Michael Whitehead generously invited us to accompany them to their favourite haunts and we accepted....along with my sister Eileen and husband Denis, and the fabulous Frank and Lynne. We stayed in Max and Beatrice's fabulous Bed and Breakfast in the city. Residenza Casanuova is a magnificent house that has been owned by the same family for generations, and Max gave us a potted history. The rooms were themed and luxurious and we felt rather grand going to bed there...almost like being in a period drama!
Under the hot sun and Michael's knowledgeable (when truthful!) guidance, we trod the worn paths of the Medici family in complete awe of the culture and history. Climbing the almost vertical but winding steps of the dome in the Basilica di Santa Maria del Fiore, otherwise known as the Duomo, was hard.....but so worth it! We were able to take a close up view of Giorgio Vasari's much-reviled frescoes of the Last Judgment (1572-9) which was spectacular. I wasn't too keen on the artist's interpretation of Hell, so I hope I don't go there.
My special friend Katie is always alarmed at my lack of knowledge when it comes to art, but as children my sisters and I weren't really introduced to the subject outside school. But as the Uffizi Gallery hosts some of the most revered paintings in the world we spent an afternoon there checking it out. Just wish I'd researched some of the work a little more before going!
On the last day we strolled around and over Ponte Vecchio, the famous old bridge that has a history of its own. There are several jewellers shops on both sides and above them a passage, which connects some of Florence's palaces and stately buildings. The passage was built by the Medici family so that they could walk between the buildings and not mix with 'minions' on the streets below. It is alleged that the jewellers were once butchers and fishmongers, but the noble family ordered they were closed down due to the stench.
Michael and Eileen knew where to take us to dine, and from the delicious plates served in Semolina (their favourite) to the amazing taster menu at the Cibreo Cafe we were treated like royalty by some rather handsome young men....
Romantic Florence is all I thought it would be, and the best part of all was being in the company of my family and friends; boy did we laugh.
As we finished our meal the night before flying home, we heard some pretty spectacular singing nearby. The girls in our party located the spot where a teenage girl gospel choir was performing in the open air, and we rushed to take up the only four remaining front seats. We couldn't believe it...the young women's energy was electrifying, and we were spellbound as they smiled and danced whilst their voices gave us goosebumps. Song after song they thrilled the crowd and as we whooped and cheered they seemed to entertain us more. What I found most pleasing was the fact that each girl had the opportunity to do a short solo as part of the act, and every voice was as perfect as the next. It was when I heard the girls sing Something Inside So Strong that I thought of the connection with the Human Rights and Childbirth movement and I started to consider the potential for the choir to team up with One World Birth to do something.....
Eileen and I rushed over after the final song to speak to the MD, and met delightful Jennifer Yard. Jennifer humbly told us the choir was from Wallington High School for Girls in Surrey. Congratulations to you Jennifer!
So as I sit and reflect and remember the week with a smile, all I can say is thank you a million times Eileen and Michael. And who's for an ice-cream?