I must admit I didn’t really know quite what to expect when I returned to Florence recently following a break of about two and a half years due to the global pandemic. I remember seeing images on Instagram of a deserted city devoid of tourists and reading about restaurants that had closed at the height of the pandemic. Some Florentines apparently were actually even lamenting the absence of tourists from the city centre.

Florence is an art historian’s dream so I knew that all would be perfect in that respect but would I still feel the buzz from everything else that Florence has to offer?

Well, we did still encounter the usual chaotic ‘ora di punta’ (rush hour) traffic whilst driving into the city (not that this is fun but it did at least give us a sense that normality of sorts had returned).

As always we entered the city from its southern side and on seeing the Porta Romana I really had to pinch myself that we were back. Naturally I just had to take a photo with my book outside the Hotel Annalena and outside several other monuments linked with Annalena Malatesta (after all this was my very first visit back to Florence since my book had been published!)

The city was comfortably full of people and with the exception of hearing some American students who were probably studying in the city, we only heard Italian voices. Fortunately, our favourite restaurants and cafes were still thriving and some new eating places and shops had also opened up. It was still a delight to window shop along the Via Tornabuoni with its smart designer shops and lust after those luxury items that one dreams about.

What better welcome back to Florence than a 'blockbuster' exhibition. The Donatello exhibition at the Palazzo Strozzi and Bargello museum didn’t disappoint and if anything will draw back the crowds then this is it. I wasn’t quite sure how I would feel being back in the presence of crowds at a major exhibition however, with timed admittance, verification of green passes and ample space to view the art works I felt quite at ease.

Of course the beauty and magnificence of Florence still exists in all of its glory: beautiful views, seeing the sunset from the Ponte Santa Trinita , climbing up to the church of San Miniato al Monte………...

Donatello La Speranza (Hope), gilded bronze, 1427-1429, baptismal font, Siena baptistery

We are at the start of a brand new year and hopefully the beginning of much better times following a difficult two years as a result of the global pandemic. Life is peppered with both good times and bad and although some memories may be best left alone, it is lovely to recall some of the most treasured moments of our lives.

I remember with great fondness when we first bought our little house in Tuscany over twenty years ago. It needed a fair bit of work to be done on it and we hadn’t any furniture or appliances. I had to cook on a two-ring camping stove until we were able to get a cooker and wash everything (including huge bedsheets) by hand in the kitchen sink.

Despite this, the joy I felt at returning to a much simpler life was immense and even pegging the laundry out to dry in the fresh mountain breeze filled me with happiness.

I was determined that we would retain an element of traditional simplicity within our Tuscan home.

Our Tuscan neighbours were so friendly and welcomed us with open arms. Many of them were elderly and I encouraged them to tell me about village life as it would have been many years ago. I listened to their stories with rapture. Life had indeed been hard for them and I tried to imagine what it must have been like. There was no running water in the houses, nor gas or electricity. Menfolk would have to walk miles to work, women would carry mounds of laundry piled high in baskets upon their heads to the ‘lavatoio’ (communal wash house). There were also some good memories to share: of dances and helping to gather in the grapes during the ‘Vendemmia’ or enjoying a ‘merenda’ (snack) in the woods.

I remember my neighbour Giuseppina telling me that “….you were rich if you had necci and ricotta” …. (necci are Tuscan pancakes made with chestnut flour) and have become quite trendy today. She even demonstrated how to make them using the traditional ‘testi’ (special wrought iron plates with long handles).

I gleaned recipes and took note of traditional customs and ways. I learned so much about the Tuscan countryside from one dear neighbour Stefano who sadly is no longer with us. I also complimented another lovely neighbour Pietro (who also is sadly no longer here) on his skill at making some of the last traditionally made haystacks to be seen in the village.

We also visited local festas where often one could gain a glimpse of ‘I bei tempi’. I would mentally collect ideas for trying out in our little Tuscan abode whether it be decorative or useful. I made simple room fresheners: simmering lemon rind and rosemary in a pot, simple natural mosquito repellents using lemon wedges studded with cloves. I also made delicious jams using fruit from trees grown in the village. I even volunteered to look after our neighbour’s chickens for a few days just for the experience!

Ahhh….. the good times both in the past and to come!

I bei tempi!

  • Dawn Cumming

Every year on the first weekend of September on the city walls, Lucca holds the Murabilia an event dedicated to flowers, plants and gardening. This year marked the twentieth edition of the Murabilia and I can’t believe that it was my first visit to it in as many years that we have had our house in Tuscany. What took me so long!

This year was perhaps a little different in that even although it was an outdoor event you needed to have a Green Pass to enjoy it. Despite queuing for longer than I would have liked to buy a ticket it was well worth it in the end.

You really don’t need to be green-fingered to appreciate the Murabilia since, beside plants and horticultural products there was so much more to see with stands brimming over with fresh produce including honey and cheese as well as a display of traditional skills and crafts such as basket weaving.

The Lucca Pumpkin/Squash Club (Club Le Zucche Di Lucca) stand especially caught my eye with its variety of colourful pumpkins and squashes in different shapes and sizes. I also really enjoyed the stands with natural botanical based skincare products.

The ticket price for the Murabilia also included entry into the Orto Botanico (Botanical Gardens) in Lucca and we spent a lovely afternoon there exploring the garden and viewing an exhibition.

September really is a lovely time to visit Lucca and I have now put the Murabilia event firmly in my calendar.