Tag Archives: beauty

A day in Florence, Italy

Our walking tour in Florence began on top of a hill outside the city.

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We walked through the Rose Garden, and even though it was November, roses were still blooming. The garden is maintained by volunteers, and I imagine in summer it is full of color and scent.

Given my love for whimsy in the garden, I could not resist cozying up to the man on the bench (our tour guide said this man was known for bringing luck in love–still waiting).

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Our Overseas Adventure Travel (O.A.T.) tour group posing with a whimsical suitcase photo frame.

From the Rose Garden, we walked down the path and through the gates into Florence.

Italian marble quarries

Our first excursion outside Lucca was to the Carrara Marble Quarries, about an hour’s drive northwest. I had never given any thought to where marble comes from, so I was awestruck when I learned that what I thought was snow on the mountain top was actually a mountain of marble.

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We were greeted by the company’s owner and given hard hats.

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And then we walked inside the quarry. As in the limestone quarry in Les Baux, I was entranced by how high the quarry walls are. In this working quarry, we learned about the history of marble and watched marble being cut into huge slabs.

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Looking up along the saw blade, inside the quarry.
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A wall of marble

True love lasts a lifetime

True love lasts a lifetime, Emma Thompson declares in Love Actually, (my second favorite movie) referring to her love of Joni Mitchell, a love I share.

My favorite movie, though, is Dirty Dancing, and I have loved it since it was first released in 1987. Dancing-in-the-basement was part of my teen years in my working-class neighborhood in Detroit, and, well, Patrick Swayze as a dancing, working-class hero hooked me.

Soon after the movie was released, a woman I knew through work wanted me to apply for a job in Atlanta, where she lived. Atlanta didn’t particularly attract me, but this woman had grown up in Houston, near Patrick Swayze, and had taken dance classes with Patrick’s mother. She actually knew Patrick Swayze!

I said that if she could arrange lunch with Patrick I would move to Atlanta (my decision-making criteria was fairly superficial). She could not pull that off, but a few months later, this picture arrived in the mail.

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The inscription is faded; it reads “To Madeline, Best wishes, Patrick Swayze.”

I was in heaven. A signed photo from Patrick Swayze. I have carried this picture with me through all my moves and placed it on my desk at every job. True love does last a lifetime.

All of this came back to me when I was in Lucca, Italy, buying a scarf at Zazzi Dalamano. Vladimir is one of the company’s owners, and he was in the store the day I bought my scarf. When Vladimir discovered I was from Michigan, he gasped and said his favorite singer is from Michigan.

“Who is that?” I asked.

“Madonna,” he said, with a sigh that reminded me of how I say Patrick Swayze’s name—somewhat dreamy and wistful.

The person I was travelling with, also from Michigan, actually lived near Madonna and went to the same high school although not at the same time. This information brought another gasp from Vladimir—his connection to Madonna had just gotten closer.

He then told us the story of how he has loved Madonna since he was eleven years old and how he took the train to Rome (about three hours away) to see Madonna in concert when he was eleven. He didn’t say he used his First Communion money, but where else would an eleven-year-old get money to buy a train ticket and a concert ticket?

Anyway, he told his mother he was going to Rome to see Madonna, and she didn’t believe him. I can imagine her rolling her eyes and saying, “Of course you are going to take the train to Rome to see Madonna,” her voice dripping with skepticism.

But he did it, and he has not missed a Madonna concert since then.

I offered to try to connect with Madonna and have her visit his store the next time she is in Italy.

“Oh, no, don’t do that,” he said. “I would have a heart attack and die if Madonna walked into my store.”

Okay, then, I will try to get a signed picture.

True love does last a lifetime.

Puccini’s hometown

Giacomo Puccini (1858-1924), was born in Lucca and spent a substantial part of his life there.

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Statue of Giacomo Puccini in front of the Puccini Museum

In a joint venture between art students and professional artists, twelve store shutters were painted with the women of Puccini’s operas.

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Unfortunately, the exhibit was not meant to be permanent and some of the shutters have been painted over, but here are the ones I noticed as I walked the streets of Lucca.

Next stop, Tuscany, Italy

After twelve days in France, I flew to Florence for an Overseas Adventure Travel (O.A.T.) tour of Tuscany and Umbria. The tour began in Lucca, a walled city about an hour west of Florence.

I arrived three days before the tour began, and I used those days to explore Lucca.

On my first day, I took a walk on the top of the walls and also visited the Palazzo Pfanner, a home and garden inside the walls. Even though it was November, there were plenty of flowers and lemons (I stopped counting the lemon trees at 25. I thought maybe they used all those lemons for limoncello, but I was told they just like lemons).

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Palazzo Pfanner as seen from on top of the city wall. Those are all lemon trees lining the walkways.

I stayed at the San Luca Palace Hotel inside the walls. It was a great location and a wonderful hotel. The staff was extremely welcoming and helpful. Since I was on my own those first few days, I appreciated their suggestions and directions. I highly recommend staying at this hotel because their attention to service was outstanding.

I arrived in early afternoon, and even though it was not meal time, one of the staff offered to make me something to eat (a delicious ham and cheese panini).

Then, I needed a manicure, and the Hotel receptionist recommended a nearby salon. Even though no one in the small salon spoke English, we were able to communicate through gestures, and I got the best manicure I have ever had!

Day one in Italy was the beginning of a wonderful adventure.

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St. Donato’s gate.
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Last stop in France–Marseille

After disembarking from the AmaKristina in Avignon, we went to Marseille for a couple of days. Marseille is a colorful and fairly hilly city, with lots to see and do near the Old Port.

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Outdoor market in Marseille
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Marseille Cathedral near the Old Port (not my picture)

Colorful shops and interesting decor are sprinkled throughout the City.

Lots of restaurant options and great seafood in Marseille. The first day, we had a fantastic lunch at La Brasserie de Joliette near the Old Port and the next day another excellent lunch at Nul Part Allieurs, also at the Old Port.

We did the Hop On/Hop Off bus to get a glimpse of the rest of the city and one of the most curious things we encountered was when our bus was attempting to turn right onto a narrow street, and a car was parked right at the corner so we could not get around it.

The bus driver honked several times, expecting someone to come out, but no one did. A few minutes and several honks of the horn later, a passerby saw our predicament and signaled for the bus driver to come to the car, where he pointed out a note on the front window. The bus driver read the note and called the number indicated on the note.

A few minutes later (and by now we have been sitting there for at least ten minutes), a woman sauntered to the car, casually took off her coat and got in, as though parking one’s car on a corner, blocking traffic and going about one’s business is what is done in Marseille–but the bus driver’s reaction clued us in that this was not what one usually does in Marseille. A lesson in French culture.

Provence, France

The most amazing excursion during the Amawaterways river cruise from Lyon to Avignon was to a limestone quarry in Provence which has been repurposed into an immersive art experience called CARRIÈRES DE LUMIÈRES.

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The limestone quarrey (not my picture)

When we stepped inside the quarry, we entered Venice and were immersed in images of art and architecture. Haunting music enhanced the experience, and I was mesmerized.

My photos cannot capture the magnificence of this exhibit, so I encourage you to visit the site–and visit the place.

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One of the scenes projected on the quarry walls (not my picture).

From there, we went to Les Baux-de-Provence, a 12th century village on top of a mountain.

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Narrow street of Les Baux
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Saint Blaise Chapel, built in the 12th century
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Tapestry inside the Chapel of St. Blaise in Les Baux

A visit to Lyon, France

Last spring, I spent three weeks touring France, and Lyon was my favorite city (sorry, Paris). I decided to visit Lyon again in the fall and just spent another week there. The City still enchants me. Here are a few photos:

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A florist shop in the Old Ciity

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A fruit and veggie market next to the florist shop

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Doors of Lyon’s Old City