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Roaring Girl
The adventures of the yacht Roaring Girl wandering the seas.
Ghiberti's doors
11/09/2009, Florence


The lack of crowds meant we could really look at the east doors of the Baptistry, which normally you can't get near. Even though these are replicas, they are stunning in the perspective and the naturalistic detail, with whole stories packed into each panel.
Of course, our photos don't really do such work justice!

Places and people
The great Duomo of Florence
11/09/2009, Florence

The next morning we got up really early (to Pip's disgust) to see the Duomo in lovely early morning Tuscan light, without the crowds. The building itself is not open till later, but we walked all round it taking photos.
The hotel we found was the Hotel Scoti, in a very central position and good value (by Florentine standards). It is on the second floor of a palazzo, and the lounge contains a wonderful, newly restored set of frescos. The owner is an Australian-Italian and good English is spoken. (This was an unanticipated but welcome advantage.) Contact via www.hotelscoti.com.

Places and people
Passion and rage
10/09/2009, Florence

Patti Smith played in Florence exactly 30 years ago, and is quoted on-line as saying it was the most passionate concert of her career. It was certainly a hot one this time.
The crowd loved her and she loved everyone right back. She had a very funny new song about her return, in which she described the mayor stopping his car and getting out to say 'Ciao, Patti', and she gave a wonderful recitation of Ginsberg's Footnote to Howl, which includes the lines

'Everything is holy! everybody's holy! everywhere is
holy! everyday is in eternity! Everyman's an
angel!'

Which seemed particularly appropriate outside the beautiful façade of Santa Croce. She also, of course, played old faves such as Gloria and Power to the People, to which the whole crowd sung along.
A great night. We wouldn't have felt as comfortable staying in Florence on the spur of the moment if Roaring Girl had been at anchor, so the gig alone made it worth the cost of the berth.

Places and people
The ever-beautiful
10/09/2009, Florence

The next day we got up early, with the vague intention of beating the queues. Bus to Pisa, a rather slow train to Florence, and then into the tourist information at the station to pick up a better map.
No map, as the queue was horrible, but a stunning realisation. Patti Smith was playing live that night, in Piazza Santa Croce. Wow! That required a radical rethink. We set off via the central market for breakfast, and got waylaid by scads of beautiful leather objects. But eventually we discovered that yes, she was playing, yes there were tickets, and yes we could find a reasonable hotel room. So we got all that sorted - the two tickets costing us less than '30! The hotel room (plus clean knickers and toothbrushes) cost rather more, but hey! It saved on train fares and was a one-off opportunity.
We wandered around the lovely streets for a while, including taking this pic of the classic down-river view from the Ponte Vecchio. We also discovered that in the summer months, the Accademia opens for free for two hours on Thursday evenings, from 1900. That was a major bonus. We reacquainted ourselves with the immortal David and the heroic, unfinished Slaves.
The Accademia was also hosting a retrospective of Robert Mapplethorpe, the American photographer who was so controversial. When you see his (less sexually explicit work) alongside Michelangelo, you can see how he was occupied with many of the same challenges, about form and shape and movement.
His famous picture of Patti Smith was there, together with a very odd film of her. It was ingenious and long-range planning to bring them together in Florence at the same time, or sheer luck. Certainly Smith knew about it because she referenced Mapplethorpe on stage that night.

Places and people
Hurrah for Haring
09/09/2009, Pisa

Tucked away round a corner from the rather shabby bus station is this fab mural by Keith Haring. It was his last work; he painted it in one week in June 1989. He was already ill and he died eight months later. It's often overlooked but we thought it was great.

Places and people
Of Fiacres and …
09/09/2009, Pisa

Horse drawn trips round mediaeval towns never lose their tourist allure. (We had fun doing the whole thing with Sarah's mother in Seville two years ago). The problem is always what to do with the horse manure, if you don't just want it lying in the street. In Pisa, they supply a rather clever chute behind the horse, which doesn't stop the use of the tail as a fly whisk, but captures almost all the muck before it hits the pavement.

Places and people
More of the Campo dei Miracoli
09/09/2009, Pisa

The entire Field of Marvels, as you might translate its name, is full of architectural wonders. Even the more severe walls of the surrounding palazzi are graceful and proportioned. This is the ornate Baptistry, the largest in Italy, begun n 1152, but uncompleted till late in the fourteenth century.

Places and people
The Duomo
09/09/2009, Pisa

The great cathedral of Pisa is heralded as the greatest building of its type, and it is indeed very beautiful. The external walls are ornately carved, and inlaid with patterns in marble and other stone. The carving is, as you would expect, astonishing in its detail and mastery; the inlay is beautiful but not nearly as precise or ornate as that of the great Mughal buildings such as the Fort at Jaipur or the Taj Mahal.
Inside, the Duomo holds several treasures, including a stunning mosaic over the altar, finished by Cimabue in1302, and a lovely Madonna. The highlight is the pulpit, of which this is a detail, sculpted by Giovanni Pisano. It was packed away after a fire in 1595 and only emerged again in 1926. The subtlety and complexity is fascinating - you can see the flare of the horses' nostrils - and the entire object would repay hours of study.

Places and people
Holding it up, of course
09/09/2009, Pisa

The famous Tower, that is.
Even on a September Wednesday, the place was packed, but it's still amazing to see, and more than a wee bit ludicrous. It's wildly decorated, but there is a slight sense of 'seen it - tick!'. Especially as to go up it costs '15 each, so we gave it a miss.
It is very easy to get to Pisa; hop on the (frequent) bus for '1.60 each, each way, and get off at the bus station. From there it's 20 minutes walk across town to the Tower, or five minutes walk to the station, from which at least 3 trains an hour run to Florence.

Places and people
What do you think they're doing?
09/09/2009, Pisa

Well, there are a lot of strange people round here ...

Places and people
Berthing in the river
08/09/2009, Arnovecchio

We didn't see any larger boats anchored in the river, but we were assured that you can. Mudskipper had reported good holding. Lots of small boats were fishing, If you were going to be here for long, and leave your boat, a fore and aft mooring would probably be a sensible precaution. The river can run very fast here, especially in the winter.
Air draft has been seen as a big blocker to the Arno, because there were cables suspended across the river with more nets. These have been removed, and there is no air draft problem for at least 2.5nM into the river, making it much more accessible for cruising yachts.
The south bank is lined with small yards and private marinas. The pontoons are often pretty rickety, and some obviously wouldn't take a boat the size of Roaring Girl. We had rung Lega Navale, who had turned us away. Another yard waved us away too.
We had prebooked a space with Arnovecchio, and Sgr Orsini, who speaks good English put us in his travel hoist bay for four nights. We were alongside, for the first time since Port St Louis! Arnovecchio is primarily a yard, and the facilities are fairly basic but functional. Not very cheap at '40 a night for us. The bus-stop for Pisa is directly outside the gates, and the small town of Marina di Pisa is 20 minutes walk the other way.
We also came across another yard which would have been able to give us a space for wintering afloat, at '35 per metre per month. This is run by a German, Robert, who speaks excellent English and details can be found at www.green-ocean.de or (Italy) 327150 9609. They were very helpful in finding somewhere to get a small steel plate made (part of our ongoing arrangements for a stern anchor). We could not have wintered afloat at Arnovecchio, but Sgr Orsini quoted for storage ashore at '1560 for a 12m boat, plus liftout costs and tax. Arnovecchio can be reached on +39 -44 6260 0489 (you leave the 0 in for Italy) or via arnovecchio@gmail.com.
If you were spending much time here, it would be worth finding out where to get the work done; clearly there are lots of small yards doing all sorts of boat work, but it's a fairly opaque network to non-Italian speakers from the outside. But if you could get in, this would not be a bad place to choose, given the enormity of Italian prices everywhere you go. If you were going to be aboard very much, you would need some form of transport. For short visits, the buses are good, and there are supermarkets in Pisa and little ones (and a laundry) in Marina di Pisa.

Life afloat (containing pilotage notes)
Entering the Arno
08/09/2009, Arno River

The Arno is the river which runs up to Pisa and Florence. We've always been curious to go there as a base to visit those cities, but were nervous given reports that it can be very shallow. The only boat we found that had been there was Mudskipper, but even they had advised caution. Mudskipper anchored in the river, but we had phoned ahead for a berth, concerned about possible overnight stays away and whether we would find enough depth for anchoring.
As it turns out, changes here have made this an excellent destination, which deserves more cruiser attention.
The entrance, shown here is between two breakwaters; the northern one has several breaks in it which small boats do use. These would appear high risk for a keel boat, so don't just follow any local RIB you see. The north breakwater in particular has a lot of gantries with fishing nets that fish shallow water, presumably for whitebait type fish. Further up-river, there are many more such nets, highly reminiscent of the fishing nets of Cochin, but operated by machinery rather than muscle.
On the south side, the pilot book shows a factory building. This has been razed, and huge development is going on here. Right now it's flat, but obviously won't be for long. The next cruisers who pass this way should post updated pix. From a distance, the campanile in Marina di Pisa is the most obvious conspicuous marker.
More important is the depth. The pilot book suggests 3 to 4m on the north side at the best. We saw least depth 6.1m going in, and 5.4m coming out. We stuck well to the north side; the outer edge of the gantry nets are marked with small buoys.
We may have benefited from the long periods of north easterlies which have cleared the silt away, but we did wonder if they have started dredging here as we saw a dredger moored in the river.

Life afloat (containing pilotage notes)

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