Leather! Gold! And Gelato with a Side of Siena!

On a day that was as perfect as could be in Tuscany, our group of travelers were all (finally) together in one place. Or rather, several of them. For this was the day we did a walking tour of Florence that included a leather factory store and the Ponte Vecchio.

ponte vecchio

Florence and the area around it are home to Italy’s largest leather producers, so the city hosts a number of leather factories and boutiques that carry the beautiful results—wallets, bags, belts and jackets—in every color imaginable. After a quick video describing  how leather is tanned and cut, we were let loose in one such factory store.

Let’s just say a number of souvenirs were purchased  (and not always for friends or loved ones).

Then it was off to Ponte Vecchio. Located at the narrowest point of the River Arno, this medieval bridge was originally home to butcher shops. The only original Florentine bridge (all the others were destroyed during World War II), Ponte Vecchio is now home to a number of jewelry shops, souvenir shops, goldsmiths, art dealers, and more jewelry stores featuring gold. Lots of gold. Unlike the wares sold in the shops, the view from the bridge is priceless. Although all the other bridges over the Arno have been built since the war, they were done as reproductions of their originals, so they retain their Old World look.

arno from ponte vecchio

Like most European cities, Florence features lots of thin streets and alleys that boast all kinds of fun finds, including boutiques, fruit stands, gelato shops, and … statue makers?

Most of the outdoor statues featured in and around Florence are reproductions. The originals are safely stored somewhere indoors, and not always in Florence, so an entire industry exists just to reproduce the priceless treasures. In the shop shown above, the sculptors use laser cutters and other fine chisels to recreate an original to exacting standards.

An Excursion to Siena

Having completed our quick morning sightseeing tour, it was time to make our way to the bus station to catch an express bus to Siena.

The center of this Tuscan city has been declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Brick buildings surround the fan-shaped central square, Piazza del Campo and include the Palazzo Pubblico, the Gothic town hall, and Torre del Mangia, which features a 14th-century tower. Stores and restaurants make up some of the other businesses that line the plaza. We had a late lunch in one of them, and the soup was amazing.

Oh, and there’s a storm drain that’s probably the most decorative one you’ll ever see.

Here’s a shot taken from inside the courtyard of the Pubblico and the entrance to the museum-like interiors.


A multitude of treasures await inside the Pubblico, including huge frescoes, paintings, sculptures and more. Shown below are Simone Martini’d La Maesta, a fresco along with some of the gorgeous architectural details, the sculpture Tristitia, commonly known as Il Doloreand, and the ceiling of the Room of the Risorgimento.


As for the gelato, we had an easy time fulfilling our goal of eating some every day. Instead of coffee shops on every corner, Florence features gelato shops on every corner.


Next up: Ancient Rome

The Palace of the Masters of Florence

1280px-Palazzo_Medici_Riccardi_by_night_01One of the little-known museums in Florence is that of the Palazzo Riccardi Medici, and yet it contains one of the most interesting and renown frescoes in Italy. The 10-euro entry fee was well worth an early evening spent touring this Renaissance-era palace and a special exhibition.

Completed in 1484 at the behest of Cosimo Medici (he was head of the banking family by this time) and designed by Michelozzo di Bartolomeo, the palace was known for its stone masonry, which includes the architectural elements of ashlar and rustication. The picture above shows how each story of the building decreases in height while a horizontal stringcourse clearly divides them. The cornice, common in Roman buildings of the time, is unique in design. The modest exterior design is intentional; sumptuary laws prevented one from openly displaying their wealth. Cosimo instead spent some of his wealth decorating the inside. The details in the interior rooms is amazing.

Completed in the 1680s, the Hall of Luca Giordano is a masterpiece of Florentine Baroque art and features panel after panel of painted mirrors topped with a frescoed ceiling, Apotheosis of the Medici Dynasty, done by Giordoano. (This space can now be rented for conferences!)

Fillipo Lippi and Botticelli both enjoyed Cosimo’s patronage. The Madonna of Palazzo Medici by Lippi enjoys a place above a huge console at the end of one hall.



Throughout the part of the palace that is open to the public, furnishings, statuary, and paintings of Medici family members are on display.

The heart of the palace is the Magi Chapel. Covering the walls are frescoes done by Benozzo Gozzoli. The scenes portray the best known personalities of his time playing the parts of the procession of the magi. Each generation of Medici partiarch features in a different panel. As with any chapel in Italy, you have to be sure to look up!

Once we almost completed our tour (almost, because it was closing time, and we were the last ones inside, and we really wanted to take just one last look around), we found ourselves locked in the palazzo’s main atrium! The entrance gates at both ends of the Courtyard of Michelozzo were closed and padlocked. A police station is located just off the atrium, though, and the officer on duty let us out by way of his office.

Being stuck inside this particular courtyard would not have been a hardship, but it is better viewed in the daylight. At one time it was completely open and colonnaded at the far corner of the palace but was walled in during the 16th century. Three-hundred pieces of ancient art have been placed on the walls of the courtyard. Potted orange trees, statuary and a fountain make this an oasis right in the middle of the city.

courtyard fountain w mosaicsmedici courtyard statue

We made a quick trip to the hotel before meeting with the others at the Cosimo statue in Palazzo della Signoria. Then we headed to a local restaurant for a traditional Italian dinner. Later that night, the rest of the tour group finally arrived in Florence. We could hardly admit to all the sights we’d been able to enjoy when there would be no opportunity for them to do so. Out of thirty, we were the only one to visit the Uffizi.

And if you’ve ever wondered how Italian women keep their figures, we know the secret. According to our iPhone, we walked 8.6 miles on this day. Time for a glass of prosecco.

Next up on our itinerary—a walking tour of Florence.


This entry was posted on April 23, 2019. 1 Comment

An Afternoon at the Office

uffuzi ext

One of the great things about Florence on a Sunday is that the museums are free. However, you have to have a ticket to get in, and tickets for the Galleria degli Uffizi (which is “office” in Italian) sell out quickly. Not knowing all this turned out to be a good thing. When we finished taking pictures of several of the statues that decorate the exterior of the building—a series of famous Italians are mounted at the second story level, including DaVinci, Michelangelo, Galileo and Amerigo Vespucci—we approached a ticket-taker asking where tickets might be obtained. We were told they were out. “How many are in your party?” the agent asked in broken English.


Being alone for the afternoon proved fortuitous. He gave us a ticket!

One of the world’s top museums, the Uffizi features art from the Italian Renaissance. The building didn’t start out as an art gallery, though, but was commissioned by Cosimo Medici in 1560 as offices for the magistrates of Florence. As with any Italian building, it’s important to look up. The ceilings are works of art.

The top floor originally featured Roman sculptures and was a gallery for family and guests of the Medici. Now the entire floor, which forms the shape of a U, is lined with statuary. Those shown here are Venus, Leda, ApolloNeriad on a Seahorse, Centaur and Pan, and Amore and Psyche.

Cosimo’s son, Grand Duke Francesco I, commissioned the architect Buontalenti to design the Tribuna deli Uffizi, an octagonal room to display series of masterpieces in one room, including jewels. Completed in 1584, it became a highly influential attraction of a Grand Tour. Although you can look into the room, you cannot go in as the entrances are cordoned off.

When the house of Medici died out, their art collections, including these two works by Botticelli (Birth of Venus and Primevera), were gifted to Florence by Anna Maria Luisa, the last Medici heiress. In 1765, the Uffizi was officially opened for the public to tour, although visitors could request entry as early as the sixteenth century.

Renovations in modern times increased the number of rooms and the space for displays, most of it payed for by the Ferragamo family. (Shoes are their works of art.)

Michelangelo’s Doni Tondo has its own alcove.

doni tondo


Virtues by Botticelli and Antonio del Pollaiolo takes up an entire wall in one of the galleries. Pollaiolo’s La Carita is shown in close-up.

And what’s a gallery without a bunch of busts? Shown here are Constantine, Nero, Agrippa, Augustus, Titus, and Tiberius.

When we finally finished this masterpiece of a museum, we treated ourselves to a gelato. The museum’s restaurant is located on the roof of the Loggia della Signoria and has the most interesting view. We were told the man on the ledge is a temporary installation as he’s not real popular with the locals.

man on ledge

Although the light was starting to fade, we still had one more museum to visit before we were to join our tour guide for dinner. Next up: Palazzo Riccardi Medici.

A Trip for Education Rather Than Vacation

Two years ago, we flew to England to spend twenty-four days in pursuit of more information about the time in which our books take place. To visit the places we had already used as settings and to research new ones for future books. And to take photographs. Lots of photographs. (That trip is detailed on this blog in posts dated April 2017 and May 2017.)

Since then, we’ve finished six Regency-era books and one based in ancient Greece and Rome. We were in the midst of deciding where (and when) to place the rest of the books in the Stella of Akrotiri series—stories about an Immortal couple who first meet on a Greek Island—when the opportunity to tour with a local college group came up. We signed on for EF Tour’s “Intercultural Studies in Italy and Greece” the day after we learned of it. Since EF allows travelers to delay their return, we arranged our own travel plans to add that Greek island to the itinerary. By doing so, our flights to the first stop on our multi-city tour were different from the rest of the group.

We wouldn’t discover just how fortuitous that arrangement was until we reached Florence.

Although twenty-one of us flew on the same plane from Billings, Montana to Denver, the rest of the group were scheduled to fly to Florence by way of Frankfort while we were routed through Munich. Scheduled departure times out of Denver were about the same, although our flight left first.

By over eight hours.

We reached Munich on a Sunday morning and met up with the eight students and a  faculty advisor from the University of North Carolina’s School of Arts who made up the rest of our tour group. Our flight to Florence was quick—too quick for our luggage to make the plane, but with an overnight bag, we were set for a full day in Florence.

Our EF tour director, Katia, met us at the airport, informed us of the delay for the rest of my group, but assured us they would arrive later that night. After a short bus ride to Hotel Athenaueum, we checked into what had to be the largest room in the hotel and had a few minutes to freshen up before we hit the ground running.

studentshotel room

Or walking, rather. The 1.4 kilometers from the hotel to the Piazza della Signoria takes only 17 minutes. On the way, we stopped at the Duomo, also known as the Cathedral of Santa Maria del Fiore or the Florence Cathedral. Begun in 1296, it wasn’t completed until 1436, when the dome was finally erected. The exterior of the basilica is a masterpiece of detailed artwork, faced with polychrome marble panels in various shades of green and pink and bordered in white.

For a dramatization of what it took to finish the dome, check out the first season of Netflix’s Medici: Masters of Florence TV show starring Dustin Hoffman and Richard Madden.

The Baptistery of St. John is opposite the Duomo. Constructed between 1059 and 1128, it is one of the oldest buildings in the city. This octagonal minor basilica boasts three sets of bronze doors. The east doors shown here were designed by Lorenzo Ghilberti and were dubbed the Gates of Paradise by Michelangelo.

Then we were off to the Piazza della Signoria, where statues of David, Hercules and Cacus, and Cosimo Medici share the backdrop of Palazzo Vecchio, the townhall of Florence.

The Loggia della Signoria, also known as the Loggia dei Lanzi, can be seen in the far corner of the Piazza della Signoria beneath part of the Uffuzi Gallery. The open-air Loggia houses an impressive array of statues, including Giambologna’s Rape of the Sabines (1579-1583). Installed in 1583 at the behest of the son of Cosimo I, Francesco I, this statue
is over 4 metres high and was made from the largest block of marble (and an imperfect one at that) ever transported to Florence. It’s the first group statue representing more than a single figure in European sculptural history to be conceived without a dominant viewpoint, meaning it can be viewed from all sides equally.

The other statue shown here is Menelaus supporting the body of Patroclus, originally discovered in Rome. From the Flavian era, it was copied from a Hellenistic Pergamene original of the mid-third century BC.

When our tour of the piazza was complete, our guide released us with instructions to take in as much as we could on our own and meet at the Cosimo statue later that evening to head to dinner.

Next up: Free time means an afternoon at the Uffuzi.


Stella of Akrotiri: Deminon Blog Tour

Stella of Akrotiri: Deminon
by Linda Rae Sande
Genre: Fantasy
Love can last a thousand lifetimes when you’re an Immortal… or so they thought.
What’s become of the Immortal Darius? His wife, Stella, worries about his
fate as she rules over their city-state of Deminon, especially when
she learns he’s been the victim of treachery. She’ll do anything
to get him back.
Enslaved as a traitor to Rome, Darius is forced to fight gladiators as part of
the funeral rites of powerful Romans. His years of experience on the
battlefield serve him well in the arena—until he’s forced to
fight Marcus—a younger, stronger gladiator who is unaware of his
own immortality.
Sure he’s about to suffer a defeat by the hand of Marcus, Darius is
forced to make a decision that will change his future and
Stella’s—preserve his essence by allowing his body to die so that
he can live on in Marcus. His two-thousand years of memories and life
experiences should be powerful enough to overcome the essence of the
untested Immortal. Allow him to return to Stella and resume their
life together, even if she won’t immediately recognize him.
But Marcus isn’t giving up so easily. Especially when he meets Stella.
Will Marcus help Darius take revenge on the one whose deceit led to his
arrest on charges of treason? Or will Darius’ essence slowly be
subsumed, the memories of his nearly two-thousand-year lifespan—and
of Stella—fading away in the mind of Marcus?
These Immortals once had all the time in the world.
Now it’s suddenly of the essence.
**On Sale for only $2.99!**
A self-described nerd and lover of science, Linda Rae spent many years
as a published technical writer specializing in 3D graphics
workstations, software and 3D animation (her movie credits include
SHREK and SHREK 2). An interest in genealogy led to years of research
on the Regency era and a desire to write fiction based in that time.
A fan of action-adventure movies, she can frequently be found at the
local cinema. Although she no longer has any fish, she follows the
San Jose Sharks. She is a member of Novelists, Inc. (NINC) and makes
her home in Cody, Wyoming.
Follow the tour HERE
for exclusive content and a giveaway!


This entry was posted on February 21, 2019. 2 Comments

The Enigma of a Widow Blog Tour

The Enigma of a Widow
The Widows of Aristocracy Book 2
by Linda Rae Sande
Genre: Historical Regency Romance
Having lost her husband in the Battle of Ligny, Lady Lydia Barrymore is
determined to resume her work for the Foreign Office when her
mourning period is over. She’s spent a year solving puzzles and
assembling dissected maps to maintain her skills. Her first
assignment has her perplexed, though – do what she must to help a
fellow operative recover his sanity. Although she finds the man
rather beautiful, Sir Donald has also proved most annoying.
Newly knighted Adonis Truscott returned from the Continent with a tendency
to get lost in his thoughts. His frequent episodes of staring into
space have his sister claiming he’s a candidate for Bedlam – and he’s
not about to argue. He doesn’t always remember where or when he was
when he recovers, but he remembers he made a promise, and he’s
determined to keep it. A promise to provide protection for Lydia,
whether she wants it or not.
When a puzzle’s directions require Lydia to solve it with the help of
Adonis, she discovers the man harbors secrets that may be impossible
to reveal. With her own sanity in jeopardy – a year-long mystery
involving her late husband may be more annoying and dangerous than an
errant knight – Lydia will have to piece together a solution that
suits them both in The Enigma of a Widow.
A self-described nerd and lover of science, Linda Rae spent many years
as a published technical writer specializing in 3D graphics
workstations, software and 3D animation (her movie credits include
SHREK and SHREK 2). An interest in genealogy led to years of research
on the Regency era and a desire to write fiction based in that time.
A fan of action-adventure movies, she can frequently be found at the
local cinema. Although she no longer has any fish, she follows the
San Jose Sharks. She makes her home in Cody, Wyoming. See her
upcoming books on her website:
Follow the tour HERE
for exclusive content and a giveaway!


A Visit to the Royal Ontario Museum

Every year since high school, our girlfriends choose a city somewhere in North America and we invade it. We’re usually only there for four or five days—our work and family schedules usually don’t allow for longer stays—and this year was no different as we all flew into Toronto for the annual reunion. Armed with a CityPass and tickets for the hop-on, hop-off bus tour, we spent our four days at several attractions and did a day trip to Niagara Falls and the surrounding area. We visited the CN Tower, Ripley’s Aquarium, Casa Loma, Bata Shoe Museum, Niagara College Canada (for the wine tasting), St. Lawrence Market, distilleries, and Wayne Gretzky’s restaurant. We took a harbor cruise of the islands and later participated in Nuit Blanche. But the most impressive attraction was the Royal Ontario Museum.


Our five-hour visit allowed me to spend most of it admiring the Regency-era displays and the ancient artifacts, including a huge collection of Minoan vases and Greek statuary.


The glassware displays were amazing in that the pieces were all intact—and check out that rummer!




Entire rooms from the Georgian era had been reassembled with their furnishings and artwork.

The most impressive displays in the ROM (and certainly the ones that take up the most amount of space) were probably those of the dinosaurs, and yet the prettiest display in the building? The seashells.


Ta-ta for now!

A Visit to the Victoria and Albert Museum

One of the best benefits of visiting museums like the British Museum or the Victoria and Albert Museum is that they don’t charge admission. That means you can simply pop in for a quick look around or spend an entire day lost in the collections. We wish we’d had more time for this one, and that our battery hadn’t died on the good phone (the one we used for all the photos we took on tour—we even used up our portable battery power).

Victoria and Albert Museum

We had just over an hour in the V&A, as some call it. This massive set of interconnected buildings houses a vast array of art, sculptures, silver, gold, stained glass, ceramics, fashions—the list goes on. We were there for the sculptures, for the V&A has not just one large gallery, but two (one of which is made up of the court casts—copies of the originals). There are also smaller sculptures up on the third floor.






Since we had some time, we checked out the gallery featuring silver and gold, and came across some snuff boxes from the 1700s.



The mosaic and inlay furniture was on our way to the silver, so we stopped to admire the craftmanship.



We were rather impressed by the largest silver wine cooler we’ve ever seen! It’s hard to tell from the photo, but this is over three feet wide.


We’ve promised ourselves we’ll return to this venue and give it the time it deserves. At closing, we made our way back to the hotel. Tomorrow will be a travel day, as our stay in England comes to an end. <sniffle> Thanks for following us on this journey. Ta-ta for now.

This entry was posted on May 17, 2017. 2 Comments

A Tour of Georgian and Regency-era Neighborhoods in London

Besides touring Regents Park with a Blue Badge Guide earlier this morning (a real treat set up by our tour operator, Across the Pond Vacations), we were taken on a tour of some neighborhoods made up of homes built during the Georgian and Regency eras. We were also provided with a history of London and why it is there are “rings” of neighborhoods surrounding the original city colliding with what used to be royal properties far outside of the city. It seems urban sprawl met itself in the middle when it came to London.

During the Regency era, the toniest address in London was Park Lane. Nowadays, Cumberland Place holds that honor. Situated adjacent to Regents Park, it’s a collection of buildings that house embassies as well as offices of royalty. And some people even live there!


George architecture is fairly easy to spot. The buildings are usually red brick or covered in “London stucco”, that cream color so prevalent in the buildings in the posh areas. Trimmed in white, they look especially smart. Some look almost Italianate, since it’s hard to tell whether or not their roofs are flat (they’re not).  Most feature columns with either Doric or Corinthian tops, and sometimes the columns are merely suggested in the reliefs found on the fronts.

Notice how the windows tend to get smaller the higher they are on the building. From the street level, it makes the building appear taller than it really is—and the taller the townhouse, the better back in the day. In addition, the servants quarters were on those top floors, so it was thought those windows didn’t need to be that large.

London professionals tend to occupy the Georgians found on Cowley and Barton Streets and Queen Anne  Place.

And of course, there are Victorians, although these aren’t the “painted ladies” you find in the United States.


Now check out these doors and their surrounding decor. Traditionally, all that carving would be painted white. But what about the double-wide door? It started out as a single-door but was modified to a double-door to accommodate a sedan chair.

As you walk the tiny streets that make up these neighborhoods, you’ll occasionally notice round blue signs mounted on them. They indicate that someone of note, dead for at least twenty years, lived in that house. Below are examples, including Sir Winston Churchill, Sir John Gielgud, TE Lawrence, and Charles Townley (antiquary and collector, best known for the Townley Collection at the British Museum).

And finally, when you happen upon the black posts in front of some pubs or other buildings, take a closer look. Chances are they used to be canons.


We said our “good-byes” to our guide and took the Underground back to a stop near our hotel. Given it was our last full day in London, we still had one more stop to make before calling it a day. Ta-ta for now!


A Visit to Regents Park


On our last full day in London, we had a Blue Badge Guide give us a half-day tour of the city with the Georgian and Regency eras in mind. Besides the many streets filled with Georgian homes and Regency townhouses, we paid a visit to Regents Park. Surrounded by the “outer circle”, the park includes an “inner circle” in which we spent most of our visit.


Commissioned by the Prince Regent as a means to generate some income to pay his massive debts, Regent Street and its green space, Regents Park, weren’t finished until well after he became King George IV. This gem in the middle of London offers a large grass area for sports and includes the London Zoo and Queen Mary’s Gardens, as well as a secret garden.


To get a sense of just how long this park is, check out the view of the walkway from about one-third into the park.


The gardens include roses of every color and a colorful assortment of flowers we’ve seen in other gardens around England.

The real surprise in this park is a little-known “secret garden”. Just pass under the arbors and you’ll emerge into a spectacular example of what used to be a mansion’s backyard garden.

Even when you emerge from this garden, ther are more surprises around the corner.

And more roses!

Although we could have spent all day in this park, we had places to be and other things to see, so we were off. Ta-ta for now!