Florence: People & Places (a photo essay)

This photo blog focuses on the offbeat people and places we encountered over 12 wonderful days of flaneuring in Florence in the Fall of 2014. It was an enchanting experience, from my favourite gelato shop waitress, to the husband and wife seamstress half a block down the street from our apartment who spoke no English, yet managed to help me find a new handmade belt. In between are photos from thrift stores to boutiques, galleries to street art, markets to churches, parking to cycling, fashion to food.

In reviewing, my photos I noticed there were two major differences from our Dublin experience.  One being the number of seniors in the streets of Florence and the second being the centuries of urban design that create a wonderful array of textures and light in its City Centre. 

We hope you will enjoy the photos and would love to hear which ones are your favourites.

If you want to see more photos and stories about our Florence adventures, click on the links below:

Window licking along Florence’s Via Tornabuoni

Florence BFFs: Best Flaneur Finds

One Night in Florence

The ugliest pedestrian bridge in the world?

Flaneuring Florence’s Markets: Flea, Food & Fashion

Public Art: Calgary / Florence / Rome

 

Busking with style.

Salvador Dali's Bike?

No wonder Picasso painted faces as he did!

Just one of many very stylish parking garages.

A Florence office building?

Lots of open doors...

I wish I could read Italian.

A work of art and very tasty! 

Magritte would have loved this photo.

Ghost busker....

Sisters sharing donuts?

Instead of tree lined streets, Florence has motorcycle lined ones. 

Would you drink out of this street fountain? Supposedly you can.

Obviously I am not the only one taking a photo of this intriguing reflection. 

My fashionista advisor. 

Florence comes alive at night. 

What was he thinking/feeling to create this drawing? 

Art is everywhere in Florence, yet there is very contemporary little public art. 

Market madness...

There is no lack of empty shoe boxes in Florence. 

Florence's finest were there to greet us when we arrived.

These ladies were moving quickly. 

Fountain of youth?

Window licking anyone?

No line up at the Marino Marini Museum...we liked that!

Once you get to the edge of the City Centre, the streets are much less crowded.

Cars, bikes, scooters and pedestrians share the road.

It was hard to go to sleep after discovering this church was open on one of our nightly walkabouts. 

Blue Man Group?

Does it get any better than this? Taken from a balcony restaurant at lunch.

Small space, narrow places...smaller is better?

People watching fun!

Innocence?

Climbing the wall fun.

Elvis? 

Fashionistas heading to the thrift store. 

Who needs wide sidewalks? enhanced streetscapes? 

My other fashionista advisor.

Who needs a car to carry a lamp home? 

Iceberg soup!

Everyone is out for their evening stroll.

That is a mighty big steak?

No dedicated bike lane? No problem? 

Fashionista at the world's most amazing thrift store. 

Now that is a tight parking spot.

This photo is not upside down.

Self serve wine - how good is that!

One night in Florence

There is something magical about wandering the streets of Florence as night.  No it isn't just the gelato!  Partly it is the vibe of the thousands of tourist and students wandering the streets aimlessly. But mostly I think it has to do with the sense of past, when humans were much more into mythical figures, the spirituality of gods and less focused on earthly pursuits.  

This is a photo tour of "One night in Florence." 

One of several fountains in Florence where people can take a drink - if they dare! We saw a young student fill up his water bottle in this one and take a drink. I believe it was a bit of a dare.  Later we found out these communal drinking fountains have been used for centuries and are a wonderful reminder of the how urban life has evolved from one of sharing to one of privacy (they are perfectly safe to use).

David by Michelangelo was completed in 1504 and is considered one of the great masterpieces of the Renaissance. At 17 ft high it is three times life size, which creates a monumental impact on the viewer. 

Medici Lion, one of two lions, one of which is an ancient lion from 200 AD that was removed from a relief, reworked and moved to the piazza, the other was commissioned in 1594 by Vacca. 

Medici Lion, one of two lions, one of which is an ancient lion from 200 AD that was removed from a relief, reworked and moved to the piazza, the other was commissioned in 1594 by Vacca. 

The rape of Polyxena, Pio Fedi, 1865 takes on a whole new meaning in the 21st century. 

The Rape of the Sabine Women by Giambologna.

The fountain of Neptune by Bartolomeo Ammannati, 1565, has a wonderful surreal blue in the evening light (this iPhone image has not been altered).  

Many of the churches are open in the evening offering a surprisingly different spiritual and surreal experience than during the day. 

You can even enjoy an free evening organ concert, that spills out onto the street. You may even feel like you have died and gone to heaven. 

Forget twitter, leave a note for God. 

Twitter notes? 

Even if you are non-religious you can't help but be impacted by the sense of life and death that engulfs you in ancient cities like Florence.

The ugliest pedestrian bridge in the world?

The Ponte Vecchio is a stone three-arch pedestrian bridge over the Arno River in Florence, Italy. A bridge at this location dates back to Roman times, first appearing in documentation in 996AD, with bridges being destroyed in floods of 1117AD and 1333AD.  The current bridge, built in 1345AD and was spared destruction by the Germans in World War II, allegedly by an expressed order of Hitler.  And, more recently, it miraculously survived the massive flood of 1966.

Close up view of the Ponte Vecchio Bridge. 

Ponte Vecchio from a little further back with reflection in Arno River.

Ponte Vecchio with garden-like river bank and on the right you can see the tourists lined up to enjoy the view of the river, buildings and bridge.

Tourist Trap

If you've seen one vendor shop window you have seen them all.

The bridge has always hosted shops and merchants (butchers, fishmongers, tanners etc.) but by 1442AD it was monopolized by butchers and the bridge stank from centuries of industrial waste. So in 1593, the Medici Grand Dukes, in an effort to enhance the prestige of the bridge prohibited butchers from selling there and decreed that only goldsmiths and jewelers could have their shops on the bridge – a tradition that continues today.

To say the bridge is teeming with tourists is an understatement.  It is also, in my mind an understatement to say the place is a tacky tourist attraction with hucksters selling everything from bad art to kitschy trinkets (not much different than panhandling) in front of the permanent shops on the edge of the bridge.

This was early morning when the hucksters had not set up yet and the throngs of tourists had not arrived - still a popular place.

The bridge’s exterior design is also tacky with its ramshackled collage of protruding house-like shops in need of a good coat of paint.  It is an awkward mix of stone, stucco and wood (shutters). While some might see it as quaint, it doesn’t have the wonderful decoration, ornamentation and quality craftsmanship of the historic stone buildings and sculptures that dominate Florence’s urban design. It looks like a tired stucco bridge from the 1960s.The shops along the bridge could also use some tender loving care.  One usually associates goldsmith and jewelry with upscale shops and elegant presentations, not flea market stalls.

Above these shops is the Vasari Corridor, a walkway that runs over the shops and houses built by the Duke of Florence in the 16th century so he could commute between his two residences (Uffizi and Pitti Palace) without having to mix with the public.

Everything about the bridge didn’t fit with our design sensibilities.  We avoided it as much as we could (and with other bridges nearby, it was easy to do).

Pedestrian bridges should be designed to offer great vistas of the river and the city. 

This is one of my postcard images of Florence. 

Last Word

My immediate thought was “this is the world’s ugliest pedestrian bridge”.  I even tweeted that out.  Immediately I got people retweeting me that they liked it.

And, since coming back, several people have asked “Did you like the Ponte Vecchio Bridge?”  When I said, “I hated it!” they were shocked.  I guess if you are into history and can overlook/see past the tacky jewelry shops and the obnoxious souvenir sellers (who place their product on the ground so you almost trip over them), it could be an attractive place. We just avoided it!

In reading others’ blog post it seemed the bridge is a popular, romantic river evening stroll. Could the Everyday Tourist be wrong!

If you like this blog, you might like:

Tale of Three Calgary Pedestrian Bridges

Window Licking in Florence

Florence BFFs: Best Flaneur Finds 

 

Parks: Calgary vs Dublin, Florence & Rome

It’s true - you have to travel to appreciate what you have back home.  After six weeks in Europe, specifically Dublin, Florence and Rome, I have a much better appreciation for Calgary’s parks, especially those in and around our downtown. 

While Dublin had several nice parks including St. Stephens Green and St. Patrick’s Cathedral Park, it had nothing to match the quality and quantity of Calgary’s urban parks.  The public parks in Florence and Rome, are in a word, “disgusting” with their uncut grass, weeds, muddy pathways, tired playgrounds and dog crap.

The river pathway in downtown Florence. 

The river pathway in downtown Florence. 

A weed infested playground in Rome.  This was the norm for public playgrounds in both Rome and Florence. 

A weed infested playground in Rome.  This was the norm for public playgrounds in both Rome and Florence. 

Not only does Calgary have great parks, but also on the verge of getting even better. Recently, the City of Calgary announced $75 million in park funding from the ENMAX Legacy Parks program for 18 parks, including mega makeovers of Century Gardens in downtown’s west end, the Beltline’s Thomson Family Park (the former Calgary Lawn Bowling site on 16th Avenue at 11th Street) and Hillhurst/Sunnyside’s Bow to Bluff Park.

In addition, to the park improvements being completed using ENMAX funds several other urban parks have been recently completed or in the process of being completed.

The site of the new ENMAX Park at Stampede.

The site of the new ENMAX Park at Stampede.

Rendering of what ENMAX Park will look like.

Century Gardens today looking from the top of the fountain on the northeast corner of 8th Street and 8th Avenue SW.

Century Gardens today looking from the top of the fountain on the northeast corner of 8th Street and 8th Avenue SW.

The iron gate to Calgary's historic Calgary Lawn Bowling field. 

The iron gate to Calgary's historic Calgary Lawn Bowling field. 

Plans for renovations of Century Gardens Park (image credit: City of Calgary)

Plans for renovations of Century Gardens Park (image credit: City of Calgary)

Information panel informing residents of plans for new park space with a mix of uses. 

Information panel informing residents of plans for new park space with a mix of uses. 

Information panel.

Information panel.

Concept plans developed by Ground3 Landscape Architects for the old Calgary Lawn Bowling site.  This is just one of several information panels on the fence allowing everyone to know what is being planned. It doesn't get more transparent than this.  

Concept plans developed by Ground3 Landscape Architects for the old Calgary Lawn Bowling site.  This is just one of several information panels on the fence allowing everyone to know what is being planned. It doesn't get more transparent than this. 

New Urban Parks

This past May, the City completed the new Barb Scott Park on the west side of the Calgary Board of Education headquarters on 12th Avenue at 9th Street.  It has added much needed green space to Calgary’s most densely populated community and is home to the popular “Chinook Arch” public artwork.

The City is also in the midst of creating a new park in a somewhat strange location - Macleod Trail and 11th Avenue SE.  Enoch Park will incorporate the historic Victoria Park Queen Anne house built by clothing entrepreneur Enoch Sales in 1905. The new park will hopefully become a meeting space for the many new condo dwellers surrounding the park.

Aerial view of Enoch Park looking west. 

Aerial view of Enoch Park looking west. 

Signature Urban Parks

Prince’s Island is currently Calgary’s signature urban park, but soon it is going to have to vie with St. Patrick’s Island for that stature.  St. Patrick’s Island is getting a seasonal beach, an outdoor amphitheater, tobogganing hill, firepit and picnic areas as well as a wetland area. Calgary Municipal Land Corporation, after extensive public consultation, has delivered on almost everything on Calgary’s wish list for this park.  

And let’s not leave out Fort Calgary, which is in the middle of multi-million dollar upgrade and expansion. Shaw Millennium Park too has to one of the most unique urban parks in North America as a combination festival/skateboard park.

Kudos to CMCL for its community engagement and ability to incorporate almost everything on my wish list for St. Patrick's Island. 

Kudos to CMCL for its community engagement and ability to incorporate almost everything on my wish list for St. Patrick's Island. 

NoBow Parks

The north side of the Bow River also has its fair share of urban parks.  Riley Park is over 100 years old and is unique with its cricket pitch. Plans for the Bow to Bluff Park will see the public corridor along the Sunnyside LRT line from the Bow River to the McHugh Bluff transformed into a linear urban park.

Also in NoBow is the 6th/5th Avenue Parkway, from 10th Street to 26th Street, where there is a park/playground space every few blocks – Riley Park, Hillhurst/Sunnyside Community Centre Park and Community Gardens, Queen Elizabeth School Park, West Hillhurst Park/Bowview Pool, Grand Trunk Park and Helicopter Park. 

Bow to Bluff Park along the Kensington/Sunnyside LRT line. (image credit: City of Calgary)

Bow to Bluff Park along the Kensington/Sunnyside LRT line. (image credit: City of Calgary)

Detail of one of the nodes of the Bow to Bluff Park (image credit: City of Calgary)

Detail of one of the nodes of the Bow to Bluff Park (image credit: City of Calgary)

Playground Parks

It is crazy how many cool urban playground parks there are in the greater downtown.  I expect there are over 30 vibrant relatively new playgrounds in the schools and parks from Mission to Crescent Heights and from Inglewood to Parkdale.  

Did you know that there are over 1200 playgrounds in Calgary - that averages out to about 6 per community.  Since 2010, the Parks Foundation of Calgary through the Playgrounds and Communities Grant Program, has funded over 100 new playgrounds valued at $15 million.

Last Word

These are only some of Calgary’s awesome array of urban parks.  I haven’t even mentioned lesser-known parks like Humpy Hollow Park, the tiny Paget Park, Chinatown’s Sien Lok Park, the Nat Christie (sculpture) Park along the Bow River. Indeed, when it comes to parks and playgrounds, Calgary doesn’t take a back seat to any city in Canada or around the world.

Our beautiful parks are a big reason Calgary is the 5th Most Livable City (Economist Intelligence Unit’s 2014 Global Livability Index) in the world and Canada’s Best Place to Raise Kids (Money Sense Magazine, April 2014).

When it comes to making Calgary a better place to live, work and play (downtown or in the suburbs), the investment of $75 million into new and improved parks across the city will pay dividends for decades to come.  I think it is wise for a city to build on its strengths.

By Richard White, January 11, 2015

If you like this blog, you might like:

Dublin: St. Stephen's Green vs Cathedral Park

Beautifying the Beltline

Calgary: Dog park capital of North America

Rome: A Surprise Playground Lunch