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I’m a magazine founder & editor, a private food & shopping guide and watercolour artist who wants to share everything I know about the best-kept secrets in Tuscany with you.


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Natale – A Florentine Christmas

That I nearly didn’t have!

Piazza Duomo after the Big Snowfall - photo by The Florentine

Such a long time has passed since my last post and I feel that I have let my readers down.

Christmas!  Such a wonderful and important date on our calendar and I have not written one word on my Christmas here in Florence!

Snow is to blame!  Or should I say ice and certain airports’ inability to clear runways and have sufficient supplies of de-icing spray available!  I was one of the thousands of passengers stuck in London last week when the city was hit by enough snow to render Heathrow inoperable!  More on that adventure (nightmare) later but first a little bit of things ‘Natalizie’  (Chrismasy).

Emiliano surprised me by buying our first Christmas tree while I was away in New York for work.  It was such a lovely surprise to come home and see this gorgeous tree in our lounge.   We then ran out to get the decorations and lights and I must admit that I did get very excited and a little carried away!  I love the lounge when the tree is lit as it really takes me back to when I was younger.  Each year when we were kids, we would go into the city on our Christmas holidays with mum and our grandmother, Doreen where we would each choose  one new decoration fro the tree.  As the years  passed by, each decoration would bring back certain memories and nostalgia.  Our dad always bought the most impressive tree home – usually too tall for the room but that just added to the fun each year as we watched him trying to get it to stand upright.

Our First Christmas Tree

Christmas Eve

One of my favourite decorations

Before heading to London, I decided to make some Christmas cookies for my work colleagues but unfortunately the food dyes here are not as good or effective as what I would have liked.  The hot pink colour was actually labelled red!!!  There was also no green available so that was my attempt of mixing yellow and blue!  Maybe better if I had just stuck to the white and silver theme?!

Snowflake Cookies

Christmas Tree Cookies

Shooting Stars

I was in London for work originally and so decided that it would be a good idea and opportunity to stay for the weekend and have Emiliano join me for a little pre-Christmas holiday.  Emiliano had never been to London so I was looking forward to showing him around.  On our itinerary I had planned high tea at Fortnum & Masons,  the open-top, red bus city tour,  lunch with my aunt,  meeting Max Montgomery whom I had nannied many years ago and of course Covent Garden, Harrods, Selfridges and probably more shopping than Emiliano would be able to handle!

Newest decoration from London!

Emiliano’s trip did not start on a good note when his luggage did not arrive in London.  We discovered that it had never even been put on the plane in the first place and was still in Florence.  It was then put on the next flight to Frankfurt only to find that this was the end of this suitcases voyage – but certainly not the end of it’s adventure.  Snow, that evil white substance that falls from the sky in freezing temperatures had also arrived in Frankfurt, at such a heavy and sinister rate that the airport was closed, stranding  thousands of additional passengers.  On Saturday the suitcase was still in Frankfurt and as we were due to return to Florence on the Sunday, we advised Lufthansa to just send the suitcase back to Florence.

Is Emiliano's suitcase here?

Emiliano was lucky that he had left Florence on the Thursday though as on Friday, the snow plague also hit Florence, dumping a record 28cm in a few hours leaving the roads gridlocked and many commuters on foot.  One of the girls from my office took seven hours to get home – a trip that would have normally taken forty minutes.  Another walked for three hours before finally arriving at her house.  Many people also spent the night in their cars and local shopping malls as the highways ground to a halt.

Beautiful London under snow

Flights in London started to be cancelled on the Friday night and we hoped that by Sunday, when we were due to leave, all flights would be once again operational.  How wrong we were!  Sunday morning our flight was also cancelled and upon calling Lufthansa, we were told the earliest that I would get out was Wednesday the 22nd and, and worse still that Emiliano would not leave until the 23rd!  We were torn between going to the airport to speak to a Lufthansa representative face to face or just keep trying over the phone.  News reports were telling people to not go to the airport unless you had a flight confirmed.  Images on the news were also not giving us any hope of getting out of the city soon.

After many phone calls I realised that as I had bought Emiliano’s ticket with my frequent flyer points, we were not receiving any priority or assistance in having his flight changed to the same as me.  My flight was due to depart from London City via Zurich to Florence which was a much better solution to what Emiliano’s itinerary was offering – London Heathrow (nightmare, practically closed) via Frankfurt (also closed due to snow so additional nightmare.)  My fear was that if Emiliano was left alone in London, he may have been spending Christmas alone at either Heathrow or Frankfurt airport!  And let’s face it, when you are in a foreign country where the language is not your mother tongue, situations such as what was happening at Heathrow could really cause the panic to set in!

After not having any luck getting out on an earlier flight, I insisted that Emiliano accompany me to the London City Airport where I was due to fly out on Wednesday the 22nd December.  Our plan was that I would check in and then we would go and see the ticket counter to see if Emiliano could be put on standby.

So Wednesday arrives and my Swiss air flight is due to leave at 1.50pm.  Emiliano comes with me in the hope we can get him on the same flight as me.  We arrive at the airport at 9.30am, nice and early and head to the check-in counter.  Our paperwork is checked before they will even let us enter the airport.  I am in a fairly good mood and feeling rather positive that soon I will be enjoying a real cappuccino again.  I hand over my passport with my GOLD frequent flyer card, hoping it will give me some extra clout and wait for the lovely lady to give me my boarding pass.  After what seemed like a very long time, she looked at me and said, “You don’t have a booking on this flight!  It was not confirmed by your travel agent and so it was cancelled!”  At this point, I did get a wee bit emotional, no anger mind you!  I just started to feel my eyes slowly fill with tears.  ‘Great!’ I thought.  Now I’m stuck here too and with the back-log of passengers, who knows when I would finally get on a flight.  In a fit of panic, I called our travel agent who advised me that it was in fact Lufthansa’s fault and not hers.  It seems that in this whole ‘casino’ as the Italians would say (which basically translates as a big mess) my whole booking had somehow disappeared.  Emiliano and I raced to the Lufthansa service desk where we were at least placed together on waitlist for the next flight leaving London City.

Have you ever been waitlisted before?  It is the most unnerving feeling as you watch the passengers with real boarding passes file into the boarding lounge.  We had ‘fake’ boarding passes with no seats assigned that were taken off us as we arrived at the gate.  We waited as all the passengers filed through and then watched as the staff shuffled through the five waitlist boarding cards in their possession.  “Please pick us, please pick us” we murmured under our breaths……….. A lady and her young daughter were called forward and given their assigned seats.  ‘That’s ok,’ I thought.  “Better for a child to get precedence over us.”  Then the staff looked at us and said, “That’s it, there are no more seats available.”

We walked as fast as possible back to the service desk where we were then placed on another waitlist for the next flight.  This time we were very fortunate and both of us were given a seat to Zurich.  I have never been so happy to feel a plane take off and become airborne!

Once in Zurich, the Swiss staff were so lovely!  We had missed the last flight to Florence but were promised that there were seats on the first flight out the next morning.  We were given a hotel voucher for the night including dinner and breakfast and after a quick sleep, we were up at 5am to ensure there would be no further delays.  Finally, Thursday 23rd December, we arrived back in Florence after four very stressful days in London.

Lost in a London snow storm

Covent Garden

I guess I’m sounding a bit scroogey for this time of year!  We did have the most fabulous time in London and I must share with you some of the highlights.  Firstly on the Friday afternoon we enjoyed the oh so very English and incredibly delicious High Tea (including a lovely glass of Moet) at Fortnum and Masons – the pictures tell it all………………

Fortnum & Masons High Tea - Yum!

Where to Start?

I bought a dozen mince pies to take home but not sure how long they will last really……. Well Truth be told, we have already devoured them.  They were mini versions though!!

Thanks to my dear Australian friend, Simon Barfoot, who I had not seen for about three years, we had fabulous seats at the amazing show, La Soiree where Simon is working as the venue manager and set designer.   The show was incredibly entertaining and a must see if you are in London before February when the show moves on.  The show is held in a large circus-like tent that makes you feel a little like Alice in Wonderland when you step inside as the interior is nothing at all like what you expect.  It is made of beautiful carved wood, mirrors, crystal and leadlight and was very cosy compared to the snowy cold, landscape outside that had taken over London.

With Simon at La Soiree

On the Buses as the snow began to fall.

We also did the red double decker bus tour which I must say was fantastic.  I learnt so much about London that I never knew before and it definitely gives you a greater appreciation for the incredible history of this old dame!  It started snowing while we were sitting up top but luckily we were under a bit of cover.

Of course, I also dragged Emiliano from one end of Oxford Street to the other, through Mayfair, Covent Garden and to Selfridges and it goes without saying that we also visited Harrods.

Our trip to London would not have been the same without the hospitality of the Montgomery family, especially Max who invited us to stay in their house when our flight was delayed.  Thanks to Evelyn for the wonderful cups of tea too.  It was so nice to be able to do our washing and also eat some home cooked food.  Who could believe that this fine young man, Max Montgomery was the six year old I had nannied so many (well not soooo many  ) years ago.  He is now developing into a very impressive photographer.

His older sister, Marissa is also doing incredibly well working for Victoria’s Secret in New York.  I am very proud to have known them for such a long time and to have watched them grow into such lovely young adults!

Hyde Park

For Christmas Eve, we decided to go out for a nice quiet dinner for two.  Emiliano chose  a restaurant that I had never been to before called Il Cestello which had the most impressive display of fresh fish set out in front of the kitchen.  We chose an incredible platter to share for our first course and I’m sorry that I did not have my camera with me as the presentation was almost too good to eat!   For our main course, we each chose a whole fish which was filleted in front of our eyes but I was disappointed, once again by the Italians’ choice to not serve the skin of the fish.  To me, this is the best part!

I must go back to this restaurant though, take some photos and write some more details on the food and atmosphere because I will definitely be adding Il Cestello to my list of places to eat in Florence.

Merry Christmas! Annabella enjoying her Champagne!

Christmas day was spent with my sister Toni and her gorgeous family – husband Patrizio and children, Annabella and Joseph in Pescia at the very elegant Atman restaurant, owned and run by Chef Igles Corelli, who Toni had been mentored by during her reality ‘Scuola Cucina di Classe’ show.  The menu was amazing and we selected a set menu which consisted of the following dishes :

Terrina di fegato grasso di anatra con composta di miele / Duck Liver Terrine served on pureed apple

Risotto con ragu di pernice e fagiano con gelato d’uovo / Pheasant and Partridge Risotto with egg gelato

Next course which we unfortunately did not photograph was Pigeon breast in a Rosemary and Chocolate sauce and dessert was eaten so quickly we didn’t even have time to think about a photo opportunity.  Dessert were Chef Igles’ signature absolutely delicious Caramelised Bigne’ fritters.

In between each course, we were also offered a little taster, one being a slice of artichoke sprinkled with grated bottarga.  Even after we had finished our wonderful dessert, we were presented with a wonderful platter of mixed chocolates and panettone to be enjoyed with our coffee.  The meal was not complete of course without a delicious glass of Moscato.

What a wonderful Christmas day!

It seems that even though it is Winter here, fish is extremely popular here in Italy for Christmas and the New Year celebrations.  On Boxing Day, we went to Cecina to celebrate Christmas with Emiliano’s family and our menu consisted of a mixed seafood platter for entree, absolutely delicious tagliolini with crayfish for ‘primo’  followed by a mixed fish ‘fritto misto’.  I unfortunately had absolutely no room for dessert!

I almost forgot to mention my wonderful present from Emiliano! I am now the proud owner of a wonder new Zoom (250mm) for my Canon EOS – can’t wait to start sharing my new photos that I will be taking with this baby!

I am looking forward to a nice New Years Eve wondering around the piazzas of Florence where there will be many concerts playing.  Look forward to hopefully sharing some wonderful images here.

So as I sign off for what will be my last post for 2010, I thank everyone who has read, shared, made comments and basically just enjoyed my blog.  Let’s hope that your 2011 brings lots of joy, travel, great friends and amazing food!

Christmas 2010

Toni & I with Chef Igles Corelli - Atman Ristorante

Annabella & Joseph

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Ciao, I'm Lisa B,
I’m a magazine founder & editor, a private food & shopping guide and watercolour artist who wants to share everything I know about the best-kept secrets in Tuscany with you.

I created This Tuscan Life blog, magazine and experiences to share everything I love about Florence & Tuscany, one of the most popular and visited regions in Italy.   Add a splash of watercolour & you've got a creative mamma of two who wants to show you the true & authentic side of Tuscany.

Learn more