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Roaring Girl
The adventures of the yacht Roaring Girl wandering the seas.
A simple ancient church
13/09/2009, Porto Capraia

On the path coming back to the port is the ancient church of the Annunciation, built in the 11th century by the citizens of Pisa. There is a plaque inside celebrating the Papal Mass held here in 1244. It was later abandoned, during the many years when firstly the Saracens and then a variety of pirate bands controlled the island. Now it houses this large statue of the Madonna, which is taken once a year in procession to the large parish church of St Nicola in the town. That must be a steep, hot walk, even on the December day dedicated to the saint!
Tomorrow, we are heading for Elba, but this has been a good opportunity to catch up on this blog. Over the last day or so we've heard from four different people who follow our wanderings, whom we didn't know about. Don't be shy: we love comments.

Places and people
It's not a water tower
13/09/2009, Porto Capraia

Overlooking the harbour, and visible from a long way if you are coming south, is this Torre del Porto. It's a restored historic monument, but of surpassing ugliness. We imagined it was a water tower when we came in, and thought was a pity it was in such a spot.
Of course, as one of the myriad fortifications of this contested islet, it makes perfect sense.
That is the birthday girl in the foreground. We didn't actually walk up the hill, but took the regular '1 bus ride. In the teeny town we found a useful little foodstore (as we were completely out of coffee), and number of extremely expensive arty-crafty boutiques. Everything here is costly; even the tourist map is '3! We did find a reasonable cup of coffee, and then wandered down the hill again, following an old Roman path which wound down the valley side through pine trees and oleander, with geckos scuttling around our feet, and ravens doing synchronised flying around us. It is a very lovely spot.

Places and people
View from the Hill
11/09/2009, Florence

We wandered across the river again and into the Boboli Gardens, as much to see the classic view of the Duomo as anything else. The gardens themselves, formal, serene, dusty, are always a pleasure to visit again.
We had a rather different cultural experience from the original plan. Shopping, of course! The Accademia too. But Patti Smith and Robert Mapplethorpe were a very welcome surprise. We decided that we will allow ourselves a mid-week trip to Florence sometime (probably from Rome), which we will plan ahead to get into the Uffizi and some of the other places. During the winter!

Places and people
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

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