Charming, Quaint and Worth the stop – Spring Bluff


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After leaving Toowoomba we drove down the mountain via Crow’s Nest. It was a short trip to Spring Bluff, a beautiful valley tucked in the ranges north of Toowoomba and best known for its picturesque railway station.

It’s worth visiting Spring Bluff any time of year, just for the interesting drive down the range off the New England Highway through to Murphy’s Creek. The road meanders through lush bushland, following the path of the creek.



Spring Bluff


Spring Bluff


Spring Bluff

Spring Bluff has a quaint Railway station well worth visiting. It is a heritage listed site located on the main railway line between Ipswich and Toowoomba. Its significance stems from 145 years of railway history. The resident caretaker does an amazing job of planting beautiful spring flowers for the Carnival of Flowers.  Everything is so neat and beautifully kept.

Historical Spring Bluff is a fantastic visit during spring time with all the colour and excitement of the steam train during the carnival of flowers in September. The Railway Station features a cute cafe in the station master’s cottage or you can take your own picnic.  There are lots of picnic tables and chairs plus electric BBQ’s and a large grassy area for children to play. There are also public toilets and you can read a bit of the history of the area in the railway station.

There is no better time to visit Spring Bluff than a sunny day in September with the place a blaze with colour from the flower beds dotted all over and of course the quirky and charming railway station itself

Inner city beauty – Laurel Bank Park


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Every so often I visit a place outside of Italy that I cannot resist writing about on my blog and sharing the photos.

This happened last week when we went to Toowoomba for a mini break. Toowoomba is a city about an hour and a half drive west of Brisbane. It is in an area known as the Darling Downs which is also part of the Great Dividing Range.

On this particular day, we visited the Laurel Bank Park which is beautiful parkland close to Toowoomba’s city centre, featuring spectacular manicured gardens, a scented garden, a playground, picnic area and croquet greens.

Each year the gardens are designed with a theme.  This year’s theme for the main floral display was rock music of the 70s. This tremendous creative effort made a display about various pop and rock groups.


Music Theme

There were many clever shapes made in the flower beds including a keyboard, Michael Jackson,  a trumpet, a guitar, treble cleft and many others.


There is an abundance of green open spaces to sit on, lie on, run or play on with huge shading trees strategically placed to picnic under and the most beautiful & aromatic gardens for your eyes and noses to feast on.

Although you are almost in the heart of the city, this park and its gardens have peacefulness about them. You could easily spend the day here, bring the family to picnic and play in the park or enjoy the food from its neighbouring cafe’s.

The gorgeous Wisteria walk was one of my favourites and the hanging baskets in the trees were stunning.  Well positioned in many places around the park were perfect little statues.

Laurel Bank Park is an exquisite park any time of year but is at its best in the spring, especially during the Carnival of Flowers week showing off its beautiful display of cleverly trimmed and shaped hedges and lovely flowers in every conceivable colour.

A definite must see if you are in Toowoomba, even if you only have a little time.

“Life is Beautiful”- Piazza Grande, Arezzo


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Just a quick walk from the Arezzo train station, albeit a little uphill, is the Piazza Grande.


Arezzo Train Station

After arriving in a town or village, one of the first things I do is locate and walk to the town’s main Piazza.  This gives me a feel of the town and also the proximity of where many of the must see’s are. Also, if there is an information centre in town I will visit it.


The centre piece of Arezzo is without any doubt Piazza Grande. The piazza itself is not very big but it has so much to offer. The best way to enter is through the galleria on the east side which is filled with several (good) restaurants. On the South and West side you will find a selection of shops.



The Piazza Grande is the most noteworthy medieval square in Arezzo.

This piazza is really an interesting place to see due to the fact that it is built slanting and also it is surrounded with amazing buildings, the most noted is the Santa Maria delle Pieve.  An interesting fact of this piazza is that some scenes of the famous film La Vita e Bella were shot here.


There are no cars to deal with which adds to the peaceful, convivial nature of this spectacular place.

This beautiful piazza is framed by fine restaurants, antique shops, and an old well along its lower slope.


I chose a cafe to sit. My timing was perfect. Just as I was taking in the view, in rode a group of “veteran” cyclists who were in town for the Giro d’Italia. The atmosphere was exciting. I could see that these cyclists were from Australia and New Zealand and I soon learned that they were all ex Olympians or ex Commonwealth games participants.

The Piazza Grande is for me one of the most beautiful Piazze in Italy. I guess mainly because it is not over crowded like so many others in Italy and it is a great place to enjoy a coffee or a glass of wine.

This charming town was not crowded even though the Giro d’Italia was arriving later that day.

Steeped in history – a beautiful place to find a cafe.  

Relax.  Enjoy.

Cute, bumpy train ride around Verona


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It had been many years since I last visited Verona so I thought it was time to return when I was in Italy recently.

I had booked a room in a BnB close to the main entrance to the the old wall city. After checking in to the bnb, I grabbed my camera and headed in to the city.  I walked through the main entrance in to the popular Piazza Brà.  Mama mia, I was not prepared for the crowds that were there.  After spending most of my time now days in the regional areas and smaller towns and villages of Italy, Verona was a shock.  But, of course, that is to be expected of Verona.  It is popular, as it is so famous and so very beautiful.

On my previous visit to Verona, I had visited all of the most popular places including the Arena/ Anfiteatro and Casa di Giulietta, so this time I spent time just wandering around the city exploring and visiting whatever was in my path.

After my leisurely lunch in the Piazza della Ragione I walked up to the Ponte Pietra and sat on the wall taking in the loveliest views of the river Adige and the surrounding hills.


dscf9007Late in the afternoon I returned to the Piazza Brà where I spotted the cute little tourist train getting ready to go for its next tour of the city. I was tired so this was a perfect opportunity for me to see more of Verona and rest my legs at the same time.

The 25 minute train ride cost 5 euro and I can easily say, it is the best 5 euro I have spent in Italy in a long time. Sure, it was a very bumpy ride on the old cobblestone streets but it was fun.  I took lots of photos and also laughed a lot as we hit many big bumps just as I was clicking the camera. The train does look a little goofy and touristy but I am so pleased that I went on it.

This Tour of Verona by train provides a good orientation of the city to enable you to plan what you want to see. Sit on the left side if you want to take photos as most of the major sites are on this side. However, you don’t get long to see the sites as the train goes past most of them quite quickly. Nevertheless, there are some quite nice views as you cross the river.

It is an interesting journey passing close to all major monuments, the most beautiful squares, and famous places including the Castel Vecchio, Porta Borsari, Duomo, Piazza Erbe, Balcone di Giulietta, Chiesa di San Fermo, and the Arena.

After a very interesting and fun excursion we returned to the Piazza Brà

This ride around the central city is a great way to get a feel for the town and see some major attractions.  

The alternative is the hop on/off bus which does go further afield however most is accessible by foot, so save the cash and have a little fun on this cute little train!

A Fun Day out – Markets in Lucca


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The markets in Lucca are on every Wednesday and Saturday morning, in Via dei Bacchettoni.


Lucca Markets

I am a big fan of the local markets in Italy and always make a point of visiting them if my visit coincides with the days they are on.  Sometimes, I buy lots of different items, sometimes I buy just some lovely fresh local produce, and sometimes I just go to enjoy the local atmosphere and sit centrally and enjoy a locally made delicacy.

On this last trip to Lucca, we headed out from our apartment early to not only enjoy these rather large markets but also to beat some of the crowds. After wandering and exploring for a while, we took time to sit on some “child-size”chairs to enjoy our first coffee and dolce of the day, and, of course, people watch.

These markets set up in the early morning and start taking down about 1 or 2 pm, so remember to go early.  The area around the markets is total chaos so make sure you walk to them as finding a car park is just about impossible.

The majority of the stall-holders make their living from the markets, so in general, the prices and quality are good, and there are bargains to be had.

Get a real taste of the local culture while watching the bustling shoppers banter with vivacious vendors. But most importantly: Don’t forget the food! Seasonal fruits and veggies, farm-made cheeses, fresh fish and meats, and local wines are to be found in the friendly stalls. Italy can boast some of the best food in the world and that food is at its very best in the local markets.

Lucca markets are really very good with an array of everything from shoes to bedspreads, clothes, fruit and vegetables, household items and hardware and everything in between.

dscf8504dscf8507dscf8510The markets are usually cash-only so you should always carry enough cash to get you through the day, and don’t expect vendors to accept credit cards or any other form of payment.

Although visiting the local markets is a great outing they are specifically for the locals and by no means oriented towards tourists so very little of the “cheap” imported products are to be found. However, you will find some items from China etc.

A visit to these local markets, can be a fun, inexpensive day out.

People Watching – Piazza dell’ Anfiteatro


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It wasn’t till my last visit to Lucca did I discover Piazza dell’Anfiteatro.  I must have walked through this piazza on previous visits to Lucca; however, I did not “see” it.

The Piazza dell’ Anfiteatro is a large circular piazza located in the north central region of Lucca Italy within the walls.  It was once the site of an ancient Roman Amphitheatre where gladiators and beasts engaged in mortal combat.


Piazza dell’ Anfiteatro



Piazza dell’ Anfiteatro is now a popular tourist destination featuring an assortment of outdoor restaurants and cafes.

The remains of the Roman amphitheatre are preserved, incorporated in the buildings bordering the present day Piazza dell’Anfiteatro

Art day in the piazza

Piazza dell’ Anfiteatro

We stopped here one morning for our coffee and knew immediately that we would be returning, which we did, again and again.

This is my favourite Piazza in the walled city, to sit and relax with a coffee, cold drink, apertivo or a meal and just watch the world go by. Any time of the day or night there is always entertainment, excitement and enjoyment.

It is rather quaint with a lovely atmosphere. It is easy to walk around and to explore the local shops. There really are some lovely shops. One that we particularly enjoyed and did some serious shopping in is Tre Sorelle.  Also,you can go through the archway, which circles around the piazza, to find many more shops, bars and restaurants.

There are horse and carriage rides available from within the circle of buildings.


It is definitely a wonderful meeting place for both visitors and locals and their best friends.

This piazza is a must visit. You cannot visit Lucca without checking out this special oval square. There are many restaurants, lively ambiance and a unique setting

Panoramic Views of Lucca


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If you persevere the view is amazing!

Panoramic of Lucca of course, with the mountains all round, and the tiny people wandering about way below.

As I have mentioned in the past, when you have the time to spend more than a few days in an area, a town or a village, we have the opportunity to see, do and experience so much more.  Rather than just seeing the sights on the top of the list of things to do, we can enjoy so many more things down the list and enjoy them leisurely.

While staying in Lucca we had the luxury of time to do exactly that. One of those experiences was climbing the Guinigi Tower.

Be prepared for a hard climb which is not for the faint hearted but the view from the top is worth it. Have a rest at the top and enjoy your achievement.

There are lots of stairs – over 200 –  but they are wide most of the way and easily negotiated. This is a fairly long climb but there are plenty of places to stop and have a breather.

The stairs

It really is remarkable to climb this ancient tower and ponder about all the people who hauled the stone by hand to build it. It is a great way to realize that there is lots of Lucca you haven’t seen yet.

This is a fantastic tower, which you can see from the walls of Lucca.  It is the tower with several oak trees planted on the top. These ancient Holm Oak trees symbolize rebirth and renewal.  It is like a little park up the top where you can see the whole city and mark where all the most famous buildings are.  The Torre Guinigi, which is a typical example of local Romanesque-Gothic architecture, is the most important tower of Lucca.

Guinigi tower 1

The Guinigi Tower is well worth the climb. The views of the city of Lucca and the surrounding areas are marvelous.

As with all Towers in Italy, get here early to avoid the crowds.

Wonderful Piazza with Pizzazz – Cortona


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Several years ago while we were driving from Florence to Le March we stopped in to Cortona, Tuscany for lunch. From that short stay and quick look around  I knew that I would return some day to spend some time there.

The day came and I spent 3 full wonderful days exploring this gorgeous city.

I took the train from Bagni di Lucca to Cortona, which took almost 4 hours with 2 changes, one at Lucca and one at Florence (Firenze). There are actually 2 train stations for Cortona so you must get off at Camucia-Cortona.

Taken from the train

I took a taxi from the train station up to the town. On the way up the views were so magnificent that I couldn’t help myself from taking many photos. The taxi driver stopped and offered for me to get out and take as many photos as I would like. Yes please.

Just when I thought I had seen it all I arrive in this gorgeous city. To say that it took my breath away would be an understatement.


The hotel I had booked in to was just a couple of metres from Piazza della Repubblica – down a small lane-way. I was greeted by a very friendly and proud local young man who was the receptionist.  He pointed out that some of the door-ways and parts of the building in this hotel were from the Etruscan era. Can you imagine being in something that old.



Etruscan Door-way

After checking in, I went to explore.  It was quite late afternoon by this time, so too late for restaurants to be serving lunch. So I chose a popular  bar overlooking the Piazza, to have my apertivo and people watch and take in the activities that were happening around me. I could have sat there for hours and I probably did as I enjoyed it so much I was not in any hurry to move on. If you enjoy piazzas, this stunning Medieval Piazza is a must seen with its terrific shops and restaurants.

Cortona is a must stop if you are in Tuscany and the piazza is stunning both from its history as well as current functionality. There is so much history in Cortona and this is a perfect starting point


Piazza della Repubblica, and its nearly attached twin, Piazza Signorelli, are wonderful settings in which to become engaged with food, history, shops, but most of all people. Sitting up on the steps overlooking Piazza della Repubblica appears to be a very popular past time for tourists and locals. Of course I joined them. I was delighted to visit this very charming piazza which was less busy than many other piazzas that I have visited in Italy.

This is the view from the breakfast room which was on the top floor in my hotel.



View from breakfast room

Mama Mia, absolutely gorgeous and so ITALIAN

The Day the Giro d’Italia came to town


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Not long after I arrived in Arezzo I could feel that something special was happening.  While wandering around exploring, I saw the barricades being installed and of course all the signs and banners. The Giro d’Italia was coming to town.


I have never really been a big fan of bike racing, although I do enjoy watching it on tv but mostly for the scenery. But, it did not take me long to be caught up in the excitement of the town.

While enjoying my morning coffee in the Piazza Grande, about 6 middle-aged men in lycra arrived. They were all from Australia and New Zealand. Listening to them, I learned that they were all ex Olympians or Commonwealth games winners.  They were here to watch the race. This just added to the excitement of being in Arezzo on such a special occasion.

Everywhere I went there were flags and banners and barricades for the race and many hours before the cyclists were due, people were already beginning to line the streets. The atmosphere was electric with a party feel.

There was a big van decorated in the official Giro d’Italia colours in the Piazza Monaco Guido which was just near my accommodation.  In fact my window overlooked it all. There was a loud speaker with the constant recording announcing the race and offering Giro packs for sale.




I bought a pack for 10euro which consisted of a pink cap, a pink t-shirt and  a pink plastic “clapper”.  It was official; I was caught up in the moment.



There were several marquees and media booths set up, truck after truck of equipment and lots of police around.

The crowds were already jockeying for positions behind the temporary barricades. I managed to find myself a great spot near the beginning of the cyclists entrance in to Arezzo.  I felt as though I was probably the only Aussie, in fact, non speaking Italian standing there, but I was totally caught up in the overwhelming excitement of it all.

Suddenly a motorcade of Italian police cars and bikes appeared around the bend with sirens blaring and blue lights flashing.

Then a flash goes by, then another, then they are gone.  I had my camera poised to take the photos but they went by so quickly I was lucky to get any photos.

Apart from the slower cyclist and support vehicles it was all over.  The biggest surprise for me was the amount of team cars carrying spare bikes and parts.

I wandered off feeling so very fortunate that I experienced such a wonderful event.





Vinci – Leonardo !!! Who


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In 1452, in the little hamlet  Anchiano, in the Tuscan hills, on the outskirts of the village of Vinci  a little boy was born. He was named Leonardo.

When Leonardo was baptised in the church of Santa Croce, in the village of Vinci, he became known as Leonardo of Vinci, or in Italian, Leonardo da Vinci. This is a Renaissance Florentine name. The name da Vinci is an indicator of birthplace, not a family name.

Today, Leonardo is widely considered one of the most diversely talented individuals ever to have lived.

Vinci is a small town  located in Tuscany, in the province of Firenze.  Vinci is located more or less mid way between Pisa and Florence and right in the heart of rural wine growing Tuscany and is about 35 kilometres west of Florence.  We travelled there by coach from Lucca which took about 45 minutes


Vinci View

Vinci is surrounded by the Tuscan hills with vineyards and olive groves and amazing views

I really enjoyed our time in Vinci and wish we had more time there. In a Tuscany that has been taken over by a lot of tourism this little town still has the right mix of “real Italy” and convenience for visitors.

If you have the chance to visit Vinci be sure to take time to walk around Vinci’s small historic centre. It provides plenty of quantities of culture, scenic beauty and a taste of Tuscany.

Vinci is a very small town so moving around is fairly easy. There are only a few places to visit in Vinci which can all be covered on foot. The historic centre of the town is very compact and is not suitable for driving around in a car because of its many winding narrow streets and lanes. Around the centre there are restaurants and bars, shops, tourist information, public restrooms, parking lots, and a park with picnic area. You can also visit the small Museo Ideale Leonardo da Vinci (open 10:00 to 1:00 and 3:00 to 7:00 in the old castle cellars that has a private collection of documents and reconstructions).

The economy of Vinci is based on agriculture, production of wine and olive oil, pottery and items like paper, clothes and furniture.


View from Vinci


View from restaurant in Vinci

Vinci is a great place to browse the shops, stroll the streets, enjoy a gelato or buy some  local hand-made pottery and take in the wonderful experience of being in the Tuscan Hills