Relaxing in the Boboli Gardens in Florence

On our tour through Florence we saw many museums and before we had our tickets for the Uffizi we definitely needed some rest in a ‘non-too-city-like-environment’. I thought the gardens of the Pitti palace would be perfect. They are still in the middle of the city but give you also the feeling to be away from traffic and chaos.

The Pitti palace was built by Luca Pitti, an ambitious Florentine banker, to contrast the so hated de’ Medici family. It’s a vast Renaissance palace that looks to me like a fortress. It’s located on the south side of the Arno river and not far from the Palazzo Vecchio. Later the de’ Medici lived here, Napoleon used it as a base and it housed shortly the authorities of the new Kingdom of Italy. Today it’s a huge museum. The Boboli Gardens where we wanted to relax, is on the backside of the Renaissance complex.

It was one of the first 16th century Italian gardens with long axial developments, alleys, a lot of fountains and statues and also public and private spaces. We saw a grotto, some garden temples, a Kaffeehaus and a museum. The particularity for these gardens is that no one had access into the area and no parties (very unusual!) have been held here.

The first thing I noticed is the amazing view towards Florence inner city with the cathedral, the bell tower, in the background the rolling hills of Tuscany.

The garden’s land was bought from a family called Bogoli and so the name for the gardens refers to that family. The gardens were wanted by Cosimo I de’ Medici for his wife Eleonora di Toledo. The construction started shortly before 1550 by Niccolò Tribolo and was continued by Bartolomeo Ammanati. Some sculptures are by Bernardo Buontalenti, like also the Grotto (which is very interesting).

In front of the palace there starts the amphitheater surrounded by high statues. From here a wide open staircase leads up the hill to the fountain of Neptune (by sculptor Stoldo Lorenzi). Because there is no water on the land, it was built a conduit from the Arno river to the garden.

In the 17th century the Boboli Garden was enlarged to be 45.000 sq m/111 acres. During the time it became an outdoor museum of sculptures of different periods and Roman antiquities.

While walking through the gardens (which are pretty big with a variety of different landscapes), we passed the Kaffeehaus situated on a hill. It was closed unfortunately. It’s a Rococo style building in white and light green. For some reason the cupola looks to me like a lighthouse.

We visited the porcelain museum, too. It is located in the Casino del Cavaliere on the highest point of the Boboli Gardens. It was opened only in 1973 and displays more than 2.000 pieces. It is a porcelain collection of a period of more than 250 years, from the end of the Medici until the unification of Italy. We saw porcelain from Capodimonte in Naples (one of the most famous porcelain factories in Europe), from the Tuscan Ginori in Sesto Fiorentino, porcelain from Vienna and from Meissen in Germany. I didn’t know when visiting the museum that it is one of the most visited museums in the world.

The Boboli Gardens in Florence are very easy to reach. You need a ticket to enter and unfortunately the line is long to get one. Maybe get one the day before or early in the morning. But they are definitely worth seeing, especially after a long walk through museums like the Uffizi, the cathedral with the baptistery and/or the bell tower. We spent a couple of hours in the place and enjoyed sitting in the shade of high trees and amazing statues, listening to bubbling water and having a nice visit in the porcelain museum. We didn’t see the whole garden, it is really big!

Florence, Tuscany/Italy:

For further information:
official website of Florence
Website of the Florence Art Museum (Pitti Palace)

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Past and Future seen by Pang Maokun

When I was in Florence this summer, I visited also the Palazzo Medici Riccardi. As it turned out there was an interesting exhibition of a famous Chinese artist: Pang Maokun.

The Palazzo Medici Riccardi is originally from the Medici family but was later acquired by the Riccardi family. It is a Renaissance style palace in the heart of Florence in one of the many streets around the main attractions.

Designed by Michelozzo di Bartolomeo for the head of the famous Medici family that ruled Florence and the Tuscany area for long time, Cosimo de’ Medici, was built during the years 1444 to 1484, 40 years. The walls have two different surfaces: the more rustic style (rustication) and the very finely leveled style (ashlar). In this case it is a symbol for order, elaborate and down-to-earth, human. The palace is also decorated from inside and should be visited. Shame on me, I didn’t, because of lack of time and tiredness of a whole day walking through Florence and sight-seeing. The palazzo was used as a museum for the may artifacts the de’ Medici collected, and they have been famous for.

In the 17th century the banker family Riccardi bought the palace from the Great Duke Ferdinando II. For 200 years it was in the family, and they made numerous changes inside the building, leaving the outside untouched. In the beginning of the 19th century they sold it due to their economic problems. The government was now the new owner and it is still in their possession.

The building is still used by the officials but it also often houses exhibitions of artists. I had the opportunity to see one of Peng Maokun, a Chinese artist, I didn’t know before.

Pang Maokun was born in 1963 in Sechuan in the Chinese republic. He is an artist since a very young age and had his first exhibition already at 16 years old. He studied art in the Sichuan Arts Institute and received the MA in 1988. His exhibitions are worldwide like in New York, London, Berlin, Brussels, St Petersburg or Beijing. He is one of the main artists for Chinese contemporary art.

The exhibition in Florence’s Palazzo d’ Medici Riccardi was from 8th June to the 28th July 2018 under the name “Attualità del Passato – La Pittura colta di Pang Maokun”. I was there in the end of July.

I like his interpretation of old, famous paintings like Da Vinci’s “Lady with an ermine”. Or also the “Saint Martin and the Beggar” from El Greco. He puts all these people around with a smartphone to register the moment he gives his coat to a beggar. Or Jesus with the heavy wooden cross on his shoulder and the girl with the earplugs of a smartphone. Very symbolic and a great way to put these important, historic events into a modern context. He is a great painter and I enjoyed a lot the many faces of women he depicted.

I definitely will keep an eye on him!

Palazzo Medici Riccardi, Florence, Tuscany/Italy:

For further information:
About Pang Maokun

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Walking in the Sunshine of Senigallia’s Christmas Market

Senigallia is located just a few kilometers north from Ancona, in the heart of the Marche region in east Italy. When we were visiting friends nearby, we were ‘hunting’ Christmas markets. Senigallia is a nice little sea resort with a beautiful historic center. In summer, I have been here for a few times during the weeks long Summer Jamboree. I love the fifties and sixties style and the music.

This time I came here to see the city center in its winter dress. With some little stands offering a lot of nice ideas for Christmas gifts, some mulled wine to get warm (yes, also in Italy it can be very cold in winter) and a lot of nice Christmas decoration in the streets and stores.

Come with me and get the Christmas-Feeling for this year!

Senigallia, Le Marche/Italy:

For further information:
Official website for Senigallia Tourism

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A Bridge of Jewels – Ponte Vecchio in Florence

The Ponte Vecchio is one of the symbols of Florence. It is a stone bridge full of shops that crosses the river Arno. It’s one of more than half a dozen bridges that connect Florence from one to the other side of the river. And for sure it is the best known and most visited one.

The medieval closed-spandrel and segmental arch bridge is built at a point where perhaps Romans once already built a bridge, because here the Via Cassia was going over the river. Maybe there was non because the river at this point is not only at its narrowest point but also a ford. Florence was founded in the first century B.C. For more than 1.000 years there is not much about a bridge in this point, but there has been always one. Many times for sure it was destroyed for reasons of war or also flooding.

In 1177 there was built a better one of stone but was lost in 1333 with another heavy flood. So the bridge was reconstructed in 1345, maybe after the design of Taddeo Gaddi.
A hundred years later the authorities decided to put the butchers of the city in the bridge’s shops because this way they were out of the streets with the smell and also the waste could disappear directly into the river and washed away. Smart idea, I think. The bridge this way became the market for meat. The butchers became shop owners and started to build more rooms for them which made the appearance of the bridge more odd.

In 1565 the architect Giorgio Vasari built a corridor of about 1 kilometer to connect the Palazzo Vecchio with the Palazzo Pitti, the administrative and political center with the private house of Cosimo I de’ Medici. It is called ‘corridoio vasariano’ (Vasari corridor) and goes for a part over the bridge on the top of the shops.

In the end of the 16th century Ferdinando I ordered the goldsmiths and jewelers in the shops of the bridge. The butchers had to go because the smell of the dead animals was unbearable in the corridor passing over the shops.

During WW II the bridge was the only one that was not damaged by the Germans. The latest heavy damage to the bridge was in the 1966 flood.

Today there are still jewelers and goldsmiths.

The bridge is built in three arches over the river Arno, is 30 meters at its widest point and 95 meters long. At all 4 corners there was once a tower, today there is only one original tower, the Torre di Mannelli.

If you enter today the bridge, it is still very much crowded. Meanwhile, it was once for buyers, today it is more by tourists from all over the world taking pictures, eating ice cream and having an interested look into the amazing shops. I could do only some window-shopping, but that was perfectly fine for me.

The stores have nearly all some extra room built by the butchers centuries before. These rooms are high 4 stories and in the middle – even higher than the stores – there is the corridor running. The bridge is a great subject to photograph from far away, the best maybe on a boat. On the bridge there were too many people for me and I didn’t really enjoy passing over the bridge. Evening hours will be much better or very early in the morning with fog on the river….

Florence, Tuscany/Italy:

For further information:
Ufficial website of Florence

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Gluten-free Jaffa Cakes with Lemon

Jaffa cakes I have known in Ireland. The first year I came to live here I discovered them one day on the shelf of my favorite store. And they ended up in my shopping trolley/cart. Back in the car I opened them immediately and after the first bite I knew: I have a new favorite cookie. They soon became my absolute comfort food.

Then years later I found out that I was highly gluten intolerant. No Jaffa cakes anymore. And I missed them like I (still) miss pizza. BUT: the good news is that all can have a healthier version. And that’s why I finally made some paleo friendly Jaffa cakes.

I found the recipe on Nadia’s Healthy Kitchen. But like always I made my own version. Mine has half of the sweetener, I used hazelnut meal instead of the almond flour. With ghee, I give the cookie base a richer flavor and because of the hazelnut meal I used hazelnut milk.

I did a second version with a sponge cake base. I like both versions, though they are very different. The sponge cake is more like the original Jaffa cakes with a light cookie base.

I like oranges very much in winter and the orange season is soon beginning, but this time I wanted to try with lemon. So I made a lemon marmalade, also with only half of the sweetener (I used raw honey) of what her recipe recalls. The chocolate chips for coating I mixed with just enough coconut oil to make the chocolate a little more fluid, this way it is easier to cover the little cookies or cakes.

I gave some to a friend to try and he liked them very much, even the sweetness, and he is not paleo at all.

BTW: Jaffa cakes were invented by McVitie and Price (British snack food brand) in 1927. A sponge cake with a layer of orange flavored jam and the upper part coated with chocolate. The name Jaffa refers to the Jaffa oranges. As ‘special edition’ there are Jaffa cakes with lemon or lime, strawberry or blackcurrant jam. I tried the blackcurrant and lime/lemon ones and liked them, too. Strawberry I am sure I would not like that much as the fruit for me should be more ‘bitter’. That makes it so good with the chocolate.

GF/DF Jaffa Cakes
Jaffa Cakes
Print Recipe
Servings Prep Time
18 cookies 20 minutes
Cook Time
10 minutes
Servings Prep Time
18 cookies 20 minutes
Cook Time
10 minutes
GF/DF Jaffa Cakes
Jaffa Cakes
Print Recipe
Servings Prep Time
18 cookies 20 minutes
Cook Time
10 minutes
Servings Prep Time
18 cookies 20 minutes
Cook Time
10 minutes
For the marmalade:
For the coating:
For the sponge cake version:
Servings: cookies
  1. Start with the marmalade. Put all ingredients in a sauce pan and stir well. Now heat the liquid until it starts to cook. Switch of the heat and let the marmalade cool to become jelly.
  2. Now preheat the oven to 180°C/350°F.
  3. For the cookie base: In a bowl add all the 4 dry ingredients and mix them. Now add all the wet ingredients one after the other and stir well. The batter should be creamy.
  4. For the sponge cake: Divide the eggs and with the pinch of salt whip the egg whites until they are stiff. Mix in another bowl the yolks with the water, honey and flour and fold the batter into the egg whites.
  5. For both kinds of batter proceed as follows: Grease a muffin tin and fill in every muffin form one tablespoon of batter, just half a centimeter/0.2 inch high.
  6. Bake the Jaffa cookies base for 10 minutes. Take them out of the oven and out of the muffin tin and let them cool out well.
  7. With a teaspoon put a layer of the lemon marmalade on all the cookie bases. In a small sauce pan and at bain-marie melt the chocolate with the coconut oil. With the help of a teaspoon scoop some chocolate on every Jaffa cake and let the chocolate shell get hard in the fridge.
  8. Enjoy!
Recipe Notes

Try the marmalade with Jaffa oranges (or others). Be careful with the sweetener, oranges naturally are sweet. I would omit any additional sweetness.

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