Another Side of Florence

Florence isn’t all renaissance palaces, griffre shops and beautiful paintings of course. There is another side to the city; it’s often near railway tracks or under flyovers. The fact is that an increasing number of people living in Italy are relying on markets and second-hand stalls to buy their food and clothes .They just can’t afford the prices charged in many places.

At the same time there are some great bargains to be had in these locations and there are some colourful characters to meet.

These photos were taken at such a lesser known Florentine sight outside the historic centre and near a railway track flyover. It seems a far cry from the guide-book city but it’s still Florence….

Nearby is an excellent period hi-fi shop even selling a Garrard SPII record deck (anyone remember those). Further away there’s another of these shops. The owner said that trade was good these day for such equipment.

I’m so glad things are being recycled this way in Italy. Such market-stall owners and shopkeepers should get more government incentives for doing such ecologically sound actions.

Of course, there’s nothing to beat central Florence at Christmas time:


Mr Brown Closes Shop

It’s always sad when a shop closes down in Bagni di Lucca, especially if that shop has been there for half a century.

Signor Marroni (Mr Brown in English…) has ever been a courteous shopkeeper always keen to satisfy his client’s requests and give advice on house repair matters. I’ve used his hardware shop for such items as paints, nuts and bolts, nails and various D. I.Y tools.


Finally, Mr Marroni has decided to close shop for the last time and the ‘liquidazione’ signs on it clearly mean ‘closing down.’


There will be other hardware shops and stores within reasonably easy striking distance but none of them will be able to replace the personal service and the politeness so characteristic of these increasingly rare shops, so many of which have closed down in the last few years. (I still remember the one in Ponte, for example).

We wish Mr Marroni a long and happy retirement although we realise that closing his shop will clearly take so much away not just from Bagni di Lucca’s life but also from his own abiding interest.


A Dynamic Evening at Pian di Coreglia and Ghivizzano

The question to ask about one’s car is not so much when it will break down: this is surely bound to happen at any inopportune moment according to Murphy’s Law but where it will break down.

Although our little road from Bagni di Lucca to Longoio is not of the same calibre as some dirt track in the upper Mongolian steppes it’s still a little scary when the car suddenly conks out on a stretch of narrow unsafety-barriered road verging onto a ravine in pitch darkness just before a bridge and a couple of bends, with pelting rain and mountain fog to add.

It’s even more worrying when a new battery has just been installed in the car and suddenly refuses to provide energy. The problem revealed itself when the red generator ‘spia’ or warning light was switched on. The battery wasn’t charging and with lights and wipers on the engine died rather quickly.

Fortunately we are members of ACI, the Italian automobile service who have a very good rescue service (if one is patient enough to sometimes wait more than an hour.)

Fortunately, this time the rescue van arrived in a little under an hour’s time. With a special booster the battery was recharged and our little Cinquina sprang into enough life to get us home. Grazie ACI!

The following day, however, we had to sort out why the dynamo wasn’t working. We took the car down to our trusty mechanic, formerly near Conad in Bagni di Lucca but now in a smart new warehouse at Pian di Coreglia. I’ve mentioned our mechanic at my post at and have now updated his address in that post.


The dynamo brushes were well and truly worn out and the whole unit had to be dismantled and new parts found which, fortunately they were, cannibalised from other parts. It would be a two hours work, however, and what were we going to do in the meanwhile?

Get a haircut perhaps? Our mechanic suggested a female and male hairdresser at nearby Ghivizzano which was just a fifteen minute walk away. Their facebook page is at

The hairdresser certainly took our mind away from the delicate surgery being inflicted on our Cinquina’s dynamo and my wife especially was well pleased with the results. The advice given was excellent and the price which included shampooing was very reasonable. We exited from the venue as transformed people and hoped our car would emerge, in its own manner, in the same way.

Success! The reconstructed dynamo worked and was now able to charge the battery. In fact, last night it took us to the circus (more of that later). So don’t moan if you’re stuck at a mechanic’s garage for two hours in a remote location: there could always be hairdressers nearby!

A Baker Passes On

Sad news. Shortly after the death of a well-known and much-loved person at San Cassiano another noted figure has left us. He’s Albano Fini who died in his sleep. Albano ran the delicious bakery and pizzeria at the forno described by Debra Kolkka in her post at

Albano’s bread was certainly the best in town and he and his bakery will be much missed. Although Albano did say that he was thinking of giving up the business, having been there for over twenty years, higher forces regrettably made the decision for him.

In a smallish community like ours it’s all the more sad when someone leaves us and when they’re just fifty-one it’s even worse.

There’s an obituary at




Books Galore?

Now what would you rather do? Curl up next to the fire with a real book whose pages can be turned by hand and which has the feel and perfume of real paper. Or switch on an e-book reader and start clicking the pages only to find that the blessed machine’s battery is flat?

You decide.

Where can one buy real books in Bagni di Lucca? For guide books, local history and author and maps Petri was the place and it is to be hoped that, again, his successors will carry on Renato’s great encouragement of our area through the books he stocked about it.

In Fornoli the bookshop continues to supply the latest guides of the area and will, in addition to its substantial Italian language stock of books, obtain any English language book one wishes.

For a long time Jackie’s book exchange supplied ample reading matter but, alas, that place has been no more for some time now

The little library in BDL’s public gardens is an excellent place to find (and exchange please!) books in various languages. (See my post on it at

Now, it seems that another bookshop will open in BDL, right on the corner of the road leading to Montefegatesi (and Longoio into the bargain). The bookshop will also include an art gallery.

These are signs I saw in the shop window the other day.

It’s clear that Bagni di Lucca erst-while resident Percy Bysshe Shelley’s works will be among the volumes for sale.

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The previous shop of a boutique character described in Debra Kolkka’s blog has moved to Fornoli.

As a part-time book-worm I look forwards to the opening of the new bookshop cum art gallery and wish it the best of luck in an increasingly competitive market.

A New Gossip Corner at Bagni di Lucca Villa

More hopeful signs for Bagni di Lucca Villa: another closed down bar re-opens! It’s the one next to the police station and ICI payment centre. So it’s handily placed if you need a stiff drink after an encounter with bureaucracy.

Bus tickets can also be bought at the bar as before.

I was there at its re-opening last Sunday and greatly relished the fruit sticks after having just returned from singing at a wedding with our choir.

The interior décor has been spruced up and the bar, which will be known as “Le Comari”, is now fully in business.

What I particularly like about the bar is the extensive outdoor space where you can sip your morning cappuccino and meet your friends.

“Le Comari” doesn’t just mean godmother or next-door-neighbour in Italian. It also refers to gossipy women. So, men, beware!

Closed for Ever or Re-opening in Bagni Di Lucca?

What’s open and what’s closed in Bagni di Lucca? So many retail outlets have closed in the area since I first moved here ten years ago that I have become used to the sight of shops’ closed shutters and sale signs.

However, not all one sees is doom and gloom.

We’ve welcomed the re-opening of the Circolo dei Forestieri restaurant this year and the Borghesi has re-opened too and is fast becoming the meeting place for a morning coffee (and lunchtime meal) it traditionally used to be.

So is this place open or closed? Unfortunately Daddo’s shoe shop doesn’t seem to ever open again. There’s an ominous sign which translates as “closed for bereavement”, the usual end of trading sale signs and the interior displays a depressing sight of dusty stock.

I was always pleased with Daddo although on one occasion I suffered a slight embarrassment when I bought a pair of shoes there, admittedly at rock-bottom price, for a wedding I was to attend by Lake Garda. We decided to stop to visit the beauties of Mantua and, entering the gardens of that magnificent confectionery of a summer pleasure-dome, the Palazzo del Te, the whole lower area of my left shoe peeled off leaving me with just the sides. Should I take the other shoe off as well and walk around barefoot? That was an option but only for a short while. Fortunately, we did find a shoe place nearby, were able to continue our scooter journey and attend the wedding.

Is the following place closed now? It was a bar I particularly liked as it has a nice open air space in which to savour one’s morning cappuccino. It also sold bus tickets.

Fortunately, this bar is re-opening soon under new management and will be refurbished in the process.

To rephrase a saying “not everything that seems closed is closed for ever.”


Florence’s Magical Toyland

Florence is, of course, known not only for its beautiful buildings, wondrous art collections and its historical importance as the birthplace of the renaissance but also for its wealth of interesting shops. One of my favourite shops, combining toys with model-making, is in Via Cavour. It’s called Dreoni and started out in 1923.

The shop is a veritable Aladdin’s cave and continues to open out into ever more unfolding chambers and unexpected galleries. It’s a great place to bring families of all ages together since there is bound to be something which will interest both the most anti-shopping hardened male and the most discriminating female shopper.

(Lego my hand you croc!)

I was particularly intrigued by the train sets which comprise those elite items: Rivarossi (now combined with Lima and Hornby) and Marklin.

Here is a 00 gauge Rivarossi version of the iconic “Settebello” train which used to run on Italian railways between 1952 and 1992.


No other country had, at that time, known such style and comfort in train travel. The greatest designers and architects were involved in Italian State Railways’ project, including Gio Ponti and Giulio Minoletti and, apart from the luxury, top speeds of 160 km were reached on the main run between Milan, Florence and Rome.  Particularly in the antiquated and under-invested British railways of the fifties and sixties it must have been a time-travel-experience for British passengers to journey in the panoramic lounge of the “Settebello” (the winning card, incidentally, in that popular Italian card game, scopa)!

At least we can now recapture that excitement in these finely wrought models. I feel like I really want to buy myself another train set after my mum ignominiously gave my own away when she considered I’d outgrown it!

There is something in Dreoni’s for everyone, from the smallest children to those who still conserve a child-like spirit within themselves. From Meccano to Lego, from Pinocchio to the latest fantasy characters it’s got it.

Indeed, while in the shop we almost forgot the serious business of why we came to the city of the lily yesterday – the visit to an important exhibition at the Palazzo Strozzi.

Never make rigid plans when planning a trip to Florence (or, for that matter, any other city). You’re bound to miss out on perhaps even better pleasures if you do!

While some of you may be desperately waiting to enter Dreoni’s portals you can still, in the meanwhile, explore the shop’s web site at

A Great Personality Vanishes in Bagni di Lucca

A well-known personality – indeed an institution – at Bagni di Lucca Villa has suddenly passed away. Renato Petri, the tobacconist, bookseller, hunting, fishing and trekking equipment dealer and owner of the Roma Hotel, which numbered among its past guests Elisa Baiocchi, Napoleon’s sister, and Giacomo Puccini, the great operatic composer, was so  well-known among so many of us that it is difficult to realise that we will never see him again, at least on the face of this earth.

Renato’s family had run both the shop and the hotel since 1908.

Renato, or “Renatone” as he was nicknamed, had a kind word for everybody and I remember many memorable chats with him between his serving the customers. For him I was always the “professore”.

Renato always seemed to be there and on one rare occasion when he went away on holiday he complained to me about the advanced age of his fellow holidaymakers…

I, like, all residents of (and visitors to) Bagni di Lucca will sorely miss him! I suppose, however, that the one disadvantage about living in a community where most people know each other and where I have now been a resident for ten years is that if one of us goes it is all the more noticed and felt.

Goodbye Renato you were always kind and good to me – something that is becoming increasingly rare in today’s frenetic society.

Renato’s funeral will be this Tuesday at Corsena church, Bagni di Lucca..

This photograph shows Renato in 2006 with one of his oldest customers, Sam Stych, who is still with us at the ageof  98. Then, Sam was able to walk down to Renato’s shop and Renato always had a chair ready for Sam to sit down on and spend time there before his homeward journey.


SuperDuper Supermarket at Marlia

Italy’s first supermarket was opened in 1957 in Milan. Its logo, which just said “supermarket”, was designed with a very long initial “S” – hence the subsequent name, “EsseLunga”, (which means “long S”) of one of this country’s largest chains with 149 branches, 29 of which are in Tuscany.

Our nearest EsseLunga was at the Marlia roundabout on the way to Lucca, originally opened in 1991 and the first superstore and “centro commerciale” (shopping centre) in this area. Shortly after Christmas 2013 it was closed for complete restructuring. I didn’t think the store needed it. The old EsseLunga with an entrance mall seemed OK but clearly big plans were in the offing. For a whole year shoppers at the closed Marlia store were shuttled free of charge to the EsseLunga branch near Porcari while redevelopment took place.

The results were finally visible last week when the reincarnated EsseLunga superstore opened its sliding doors to the public.  I resisted the opening but yesterday evening I decided to enter EsseLunga and see whether I’d want to shop there again.

The new superstore is quite spectacular. Shopping space has been doubled from 2,000 to 4,000 square meters and there are 32 check-out points alone. This has meant a reduction in the original car parking space but, instead, an underground park has been added with even more parking.

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A few exterior tasks were still being completed but I felt that Esselunga’s efforts at Marlia brought out the best of Italy. Projects here can be completed in time. Projects can inject a massive hope for the country’s retail future and projects can also be elegant and hospitable: elegant because EsseLunga prides itself on using Italy’s best architects, like Enzo Piano, for its stores’ design, and hospitable because here, even after a week that it had opened, for example, we received quite a few freebies at the exit.

The redesign has meant the sweeping away of the original entrance mall, which was a little narrow anyway, and opens out a much larger foyer which includes the Atlantic bar, part of the “Supermercati d’Italia group” which owns EsseLunga and also the beauty care branch “Esserbella”, (be beautiful) which is included in the new store.


For me the best new features were an improved wine section with its own sommelier and featuring some of Italy’s most sought after wines including this sassicaia at only £129 a bottle (careful not to drop your shopping basket in a hurry!) and another rare example from the vineyards at only euros 189…

The whiskey selection was particularly good, with some moderate prices.

There was also a great new bread section:

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And the fish were also well represented.

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The salumeria variety was also extensive:

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By the foyer there were also a jewellery and watch shop, a shoe shop and a hairdressers.

The best new feature, however, was the implementation of energy-renewable sources to run the whole colossus including photo-voltaic cells and a computerised micro-climate regulation system. It’s been estimated that 30 tons of oil will be saved annually by the store.

If you are political correct or even observant you might like to consider the fact that EsseLunga has fought a long battle with cooperative movement giants “Coop” and “Conad” to the extent that its founder member, Bernardo Capretti, published a book on the subject called “Il falce e il carrello” (The sickle and the shopping trolley).

However, my view is that any entrepreneur with vision in Italy’s semi- stagnation today, who has placed his bets on such a magnificent new project, is injecting the country’s economy with much needed adrenaline and, best of all, giving Italy’s younger generation, half of whom find themselves jobless today, a better chance of employment.

So, I ‘m giving at least two cheers for Marlia’s resurrected EsseLunga