Countries, Europe

Florence or Firenze?

Double-booked or double-named… Florence or Firenze?

The artistic treasure that is Tuscany’s largest city has loomed back on the radar.

Because of the generosity of Dimora Palanca who sent out an invitation to a three-night culinary trip to the city of the Medici.

Dimora Palanca is billed as the coolest new boutique hotel in town.

Cheer up Dave: The famous boy

I’ll go, for sure, although unfortunately not just yet as as is the way of it I’m double booked.

And I have already got my ski gear together for a few days in France. Merd!


All roads lead to Dome: Firenze

We’ve all been there when there are two big dates on our calendar, both on the same day.

For me you can add this to the list that already reads Seattle for Denver and Nashville for South Africa.

But back to the jewel of the Renaissance and a word to the wise to make sure you’re going to the right destination.

Not that you would but some unprepared English-speaking tourists have been known to drive past because the sign says Florence.

Gli Inglesi

Uno voce: Il Duce

Florence has in fact a shared history with England, going back to the Romantic poets, from Shelley to the Brownings.

All of which is addressed in the portrayal of the Scorpioni in the Franco Zeffirelli semi-autobiographical film Tea With Mussolini.

It’s an oldie but a goodie and not to put a spoiler on it..

But the tea-drinking English-speaking expats are put under house arrest.

When the Second World War breaks out.

Boutique living

Built for comfort: Your boutique hotel

Their original billet is down at heel but they are upgraded to a hotel which the late British ambassador’s widow believes is because of her connections.

And a meeting she had with Il Duce, her Tea With Mussolini.

The upgraded hotel is befitting the ladies but a bit stuffy, although probably not for the times.

The Dimora Palanca has the all mod cons of a modern boutique hotel, and in a Fiorentine setting which is the best, the historic Via della Scala.

Art of food and wine

Sleep of the gods: And treats too

We know, of course, about the fine art of the city but this being Il Bel Paese, the Beautiful Country, fine food and wine is always at hand.

You will be spoiled at the Mimesi restaurant and ask too about classes at the city’s famous Cordon Bleu cooking school and mixology classes back at the hotel.

While get on board the vineyard tour and wine tasting at organic winery Monterosola.

The Beautiful North

My cup of tea (or ciocolata): Il Nord

Tea with Mussolini addresses too the conflicts between the North and the South of Italy, but we don’t have to take a side.

If you’ve dipped your toe in the Venetian lagoon and its environs in Padova and also gone high and low in Bergamo alta and bassa…

Then you’ll have got a taste of the Beautiful North.

Spread your wings then to the jewel of the Renaissance.

You may ask if it’s Florence or Firenze? And if you’re not sure, do, because you won’t want to miss this.

Countries, Culture, Europe, Music, UK

Nobody sleeps until Italia sings

There’s another song at the Euros, the song of opera, and nobody sleeps until Italia sings.

In the final at Wembley on Sunday against the winners of tonight’s England v Denmark semi-final.

It seems apt then that Italy, who opened the football extravaganza a few weeks ago with Bocelli’s belter, should be there at the end.

La Duckiata

Great quack in Macerata

Of course Nessun Dorma sounds a lot more lyrical than Nobody Sleeps.

And Giueseppe Verdi better than Joseph Green or Federico Chiesa than Frederick Church.

Federico e is il figlio di Enrico, o Henry, and come suo padre nella squadra d’Azzurri.

Forza Azzurri

Il Calcio

You see everything is usually better in un altra lingua and even better in their country.

And so opera should be enjoyed in Italy, where it is not the stuffed-shirt evening out for the posh that it can be elsewhere.

Being the Bohemians that we are we look out for news on opera and are kept up to date with aria world.

My Bohemian rhapsody

A night at the opera in Prague

And so we’d like to share the imminent renewal of the Macerata Opera Festival ‘100×100 Sferisterio’ from July 23-August 13.

Mace-where? Well, it’s in Le Marche, south-east of Florence on the Adriatic Sea.

Rudy, Rudy, Rudy

And this year we’re celebrating the 100th anniversary of the first opera in Macerata.

Opera, while Italian is multinational, and Verdi’s Aida is entrusted to Valentina Carrasco, from Argentina.

And Carrasco worked with the Spaniards, rivals last night on the footy field, and the theatrical group Fura dels Baus.

Message to you Rudy

Theatrical: Macerata

The month-long festival will also celebrate Italy’s national poet Dante Alighieri with the rest of Il Bel Paese on his 700th anniversary.

There will be a homage too to Rudolf Nureyev, who loved the Macerata Festival.

Aida in 1921 in Macerata

Now we’re not going to commit who we’re following in Sunday’s final or calling a winner.

Because we all know it’s not over till la bella canta.

Oh go on then, nobody sleeps until Italia sings.



Africa, America, Countries, Europe, Music

Rainy Days and Songdays my Oscars favourite songs

In no particular order, and for the day that’s in it, it’s Rainy Days and Songdays – my Oscars favourite songs.

It was something daring, I guess, to award a Best Original Song at the Academy Awards in 1934.

But it was probably a dancing shoe-in for Hollywood superstars Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers’ The Continental.

Dance away

If Fred and Ginger were around today then they’d glide easily down the fabled stairs of the Dolby Theater.

But they are there out front in the Walk of Fame.

All of which we can channel, and which every waiter dreams of aspiring too, in Los Angeles and his environs.

The Continental is one of my Oscar favourite songs and set the standard for every Best Original Song to come.

And in truth for every Over the Rainbow and White Christmas there is a Chim-Chim-Cheree and an I Just Called To Say I Love You too.

Gong with a song

The standard is off the chart which is why the usual Fab Five becomes a Top Ten this week for My Oscars favourites.

10 When You Wish Upon A Star, Pinnochio (1940): 

Pure Disney, and what’s wrong with that.

But this is the craftmanship of Florentine Carlo Collodi so let’s give the Tuscans a shout-out as ‘anything your heart desires will come to you.’

Take it away Cliff Richards as Jimmy Cricket.

9 Zip-a-Dee-Doo-Dah, Song of the South (1947): 

One of Disney’s more forgettable films and ‘containing outdated language’ though I just dwell on the Deep South music.

James Baskett’s deep anthem is about as happy a song as you’ll ever hear.

And in a cutesie overload Mr Bluebird’s on James’s shoulder too. Everything truly is satisfactual!

8 Three Coins In The Fountain (1954): 

No me neither, nor the singers Clifton Webb, Dorothy McGuire and Jean Peters who each sang the titular song.

But anyone who has ever been to the Trevi Fountain in Rome will either hear someone singing it there while throwning coins over their head into the water.

Or they will be encouraged to do so.

Singing Cowboys

7 Raindrops Keep Fallin’ On My Head, Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid (1969):

And if you love the Wild West  then you’ll love the scene where Paul Newman (Butch) and Katharine Ross (Etta) mess about on the bicycle in Utah.

And Burt Bacharach’s velvety lyrics and BJ Thomas’s smooth delivery set it all off.

6 The Time Of My Life, Dirty Dancing (1987): 

The beauty of a good song is trying to recreate it in your bedroom which is what hairbrushes were made for, although Patrick Swayze’s quiff just came naturally.

But if you truly want to channel your inner Johnny and Baby then you’ll want to get out to Lake Lure Inn & Spa in North Carolina.

And have Bill Medley and Jennifer Warnes on the boom box.

5 The Streets of Philadelphia (1993): 

You’re probably exhausted after that (I know I am) so let’s slow it down with the Boss’s evocative and powerful Streets of Phladelphia.

Of course, the actual streets of Philadelphia aren’t as gut-wrenchingly emotional as this song and are actually fun-packed as this vid shows.

Better still if you go to Philly the City of Brotherly Love, and find out for yourself.

Drum roll please

4 Born Free (1966): 

And another to pull on your heartstring with the story of Joy and George Adamson, played by real-life couple Virginia McKenna and Bill Travers.

They released Elsa the Lioness into adulthood and released her into the wilds of Kenya.

All of which brings back warm memories of meeting our lioness out in the Eastern Cape in South Africa.

And yes, I sang Matt Monro’s classic in my head then… I didn’t want to stir my lioness.

3 White Christmas, Holiday Inn (1942):

Many of us are probably unaware of Irving Berlin’s inspiration for the best-selling song of all time (I was).

Berlin, a Jew, who didn’t celebrate Christmas had all the more reason to get maudlin on December 25.

His three-week-old son died on that day in 1928. Bing Crosby gives it a timeless uplifting feel.

2 Over The Rainbow, The Wizard of Oz (1939):

And the ultimate in what Daddy’s Little Girl so beautifully puts it, a Happy Sad Song.

And layering on the sentamentality it was the first movie my Dear Old Mum saw in her nearest big city, Derry.

She recalls the switch from black and white to colour seemed like magic to an 11-year-old country girl.

A country girl like Kansas lass Dorothy.

And the winner is…

1 Moon River, Breakfast At Tiffany’s (1961): 

Tiffany’s in New York is no more magical than any other jewellery store methinks.

But perhaps that’s because I’m an alpha male bloke, while Breakfast to me is a bagel.

Put them together though and Breakfast At Tiffany’s carries you off to a wonderful escapist world.

It’s the adventurer in me andyou had me Audrey Hepburn at ‘there’s such a lot of world to see.’

So these are my Oscar favourite songs. Now what about you? 




Here comes Frankie, Siena and the Italian cavalry

Ciao tutti… and they’re off.

We bring you good news from Italia courtesy of Frankie Dettori, Italy’s brand ambassador for their new promotional campaign.

Race time in Siena

Frankie is Italy’s most famous horseman since well, ever.

Only the most devoted racing fans, or Italians, though would be able to name you another Italian jockey.

Medieval jewel: Siena

But, in truth, Italy has a rich tradition with the cavalli.

It goes back to the days of the Romans and the superstar chariot drivers.

Champion jockey Frankie is a proud Sardinian and waxes lyrical about his island, particularly the beaches.

While he also extols the virtues of Rome all of which I share.

Rock god

Being the rock god that he is, of course, Frankie namechecks other iconic Italian cities, fashionable Milan, Venice and cultural Florence 

Horsing around in the Circo Maximo in Rome with my Laurie

While he also bigs up the Amalfi Coast and Capri, and for the winter Cervinia 

If it’s horses you want then the Palio di Siena on July 2 andd August 16 is a horse of another colour.

The Palio like all traditions in Italy has its origins in religion with the first running of the bareback race in the mid-1600s in honour of the apparition of the Virgin Mary.

Oh, Frankie: Frankie Dettori

The jockeys are kitted out in the colours of their districts, the Contradas of Siena as they race around the square.

Our friend Frankie has his English subtitled in the promotional video which is something Scots and Irish have become used to over the years so our sympathy.

Wait for it

For the women (and the men) it’s not what Frankie says but how he says it anyway, and how he looks and the background of Italia.

But wait for it, Frankie’s pay off is Italia Wait For It. And we will.

And when we get back it’ll be with our old favourites Topflight, the Italian specialists.

Now all I need are some suitable colours.









America, Countries, Culture, Europe, Ireland

Every story tells a picture – from Caravaggio to Van Gogh

Surrounded by our four walls in lockdown one of the few ways to transport ourselves to exotic shores is through our pictures.

It is after all  what our Vincent did when he struggled for his sanity.

Van Gogh had developed a taste for all things Polynesian from housemate Paul Gaugin.

Van Gogh also had his demons to exorcise too, particularly when incarcerated.

And he would explore such existential themes in his art as the Reaper himself.

Manic twirls: Van Gogh

Now I’m not saying that I obsess on the same even during lockdown.

But a print of his Wheatfield with a Reaper hangs proudly in our guest room, hopefully not spooking out our visitors (when they come).

žCan I be trusted on a bike? In Amsterdam

But reminding us of the captivating Van Gogh Museum in Amsterdam on our tour of Amsterdam.

All of which meanderings has prompted me to share some of the finer art I’ve enjoyed on my travels.

Beheading for Malta

Lose your head: Caravaggio in Valletta.

Beheading of St John the Baptist, Caravaggio, Valletta: There’s always something a bit unhinged about artists.

And the meeting of brushmeister and subject comes together in this classic painting, described as ‘the painting of the 17th century.’

Caravaggio was on the run and took refuge with the Knights of Malta in Malta.

But he fell out with them, was imprisoned and then escaped from their dungeons.

A theory floated in 2010 has it that Michelangelo Merisi, for it is he, was killed by poisonous paints.

Caravaggio’s Malta

And suspicious has since fallen on the Knights.

Caravaggio’s masterpiece hangs in St John’s Co-Cathedral and shows real insight into the shady side of life.

Valletta with its stunning harbour is a real jewel.

And and you can picture the intrigue and the underworld of Medieval Mediterranean life.

When we’re all able to get out again then Malta should be on your radar.

Monster Munch in Bergen

Keeping warm: A troll in Bergen.

The Rasmus Meyer Collection, Bergen: And you’ll gasp at what those naughty trolls are doing in the drawings in this gallery.

Up a fjord in mystic, fabled Norway you’ll find this artistic curio.

It wouldn’t be a Norwegian gallery without a host of Edvard Munches and Bergen doesn’t disappoint.

And the story notes give you a real insight into the travails of the Great Man.

Dark Secrets: Munch in Bergen

Bergen is also the place for the travels of JS Dahl whose paintings first popularised cruising in the fjords

The Real Dahl: In Bergen

A must visit on your MSC Cruises stop-off while, of course, you simply have to pull a Munch Scream pose.

Paint the ceiling in Padua

Giotto down your ideas: In Padua

Scrovegni Chapel, Padua: And it’s doubtful you would have a fresco ceiling of the Sistine Chapel without a Scrovegni Chapel.

Well, you probably would, but it might have been the Medieval version of Dulux!

Giotto was something of an inspiration for Michelangelo and you can see his halo work here.

And yes we know the finesse of Firenze, the merits of Milan, the riches of Rome and my own recent favourite, beautiful Bergamo.

But Padua, often in the shadow of Venice, should be praised to the heavens which in fairness to Giotto he does.

Masters and Mississippi

The settlers: The Mississippi Art Museum

Museum of Mississippi Art, Jackson, Mississippi: Yes, when we think art and America we immediately focus on MOMA, the Museum of Modern Art in New York Art, the Barnes Foundation in Philadelphia and the Warhol Museum in Pittsburgh.

The First Nation: In the Mississippi Art Museum

But in truth America is a sweep of wonderful art, so take it in wherever you find it.

Which in Jackson, Mississippi is the Museum of Mississippi Art where you’ll see early Frontier art and much more.

Dirty old Lane

Art for arts sake: The Francis Bacon Studio

Hugh Lane Gallery, Dublin: And it’s the Francis Bacon studio you want to see here.

Bacon bequeathed his studio to his home city on the understanding that it would be recreated in every detail.

All of which means it is messier than any student bedsit…

To think I was probably sitting on a goldmine back in Aberdeen in the Eighties.