16. Handbags, Knockers, this and that


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Apr 29th, 2011
16. Handbags, Knockers, this and that

Never mind the artworks and architecture: the city of Florence is a wonderland for the window shopper. The old part of town, the centro storico, is protected by decree of the city authorities (and now by UNESCO), thus any chain stores, MacDonalds, KFC, big supermarkets etc. are not allowed. So the specialist shops and small restaurants still remain in their charming and original small spaces, traditions intact and physically unchanged by housing and retail developers. This way, the historical centre keeps its character and romance, the shopkeepers keep their shops and livelihoods, and there is no inner-city decay.

Traditional Florentine Greengrocer

I think it’s something UK (and RSA) should have done. In the UK whole villages have died because the Tesco or Asda moved in nearby.
So in Florence you go to a bakery for bread, a sweet shop for sweets, greengrocer, butchery, cheese and deli shop, wine & olive oil shop, etc. and there is far more choice and variety in each, than in a supermarket.

Handmade Sweets Shop. Drool, nougat lovers....!

It’s the same in the clothing sector: small boutiques (that then may grow to become famous designer names) often make and sell their own fashions. There are hat shops, scarf shops, even mask shops.

Spring Fashions... can't go wrong if it's a Miniskirt

Take Note, Kim: fashions for the well dressed Servant

And a thousand handbag shops. I have never in my life seen so many handbags and leather jackets and shoes on sale. In addition to the handbag shops there is an entire daily street market around the St. Lorenzo cathedral, with stall after stall of leather goods. The leather industry is huge, and on chatting to an old lady in her shop, it seems that they even export to China…  because the Chinese are not very good it seems, at tanning and staining the leather properly. But there are many Chinese students at the Florence School of Leather now.

Finest Florentine Handbags, they're everywhere

This one had (my niece) Amy's name on it. Fabulissimo!

With all these speciality shops it was quite hard to find an ordinary mini-supermarket for simple items such as washing powder, bin liners and mozzi-mats. (Yes, mozzi-mats! The mosquitoes in Florence are of a singularly vicious breed; the Mafiosi of mosquitoes. While a normal African mozzie bite brings me out in a large bump, the Italian ones created swollen limbs and 3-day itchy blisters… we battled the toxic bloodsuckers in the BatCave…… but I digress).

Noddy's electric car....... can I take it home please?

Many many Florentines use a bicycle with a shopping basket on the front. Loads of people cycle. It is perfectly normal to see an elegantly dressed middle aged lady of the kind one would normally associate with a Mercedes, cycling along sedately. And of course scooters & motorbikes are also v. popular and practical. Cars and coaches are a pain in the narrow streets.
We also saw ELECTRIC cars too, tiny little Noddy-type vehicles built for one person & the shopping, together with their plug-in recharge points at a couple of spots around the city. Couldn’t figure out how they worked – did one feed coins into the slot for electricity, or just pitch up and plug in? There are small electric-powered eco-buses running about the city, and a lot of the municipal vehicles are electric as well, sneaking quietly up behind one, then hooting.

Electric Cars plugged into their Public Recharging Station

The post office in Florence (and I suppose elsewhere in Italy), is pretty civilised. Several manned or womanned counters, each have a large digital readout on top. Ranged in front of these are rows of seats for customers. On entering the post office you are invited to punch a button on the machine which serves you a choice of tickets, depending on if you want postal, savings bank or pension services. Then you sit comfortably and wait a few minutes for your number to come up. To one side is a bright little open-plan stationery shop where you can also buy the latest bestseller or a coke. The staff are happy to help you out in their schoolbook English if you try out your schoolbook Italian first.
I became fascinated with the door-knockers in Florence. Many grand and not so grand buildings have wonderful tall, wide double-doors, capable in the old days of admitting a horse-drawn carriage to an interior courtyard. The doors are adorned with either a pair of ornate doorknobs or knockers. The knockers, usually of age-blackened bronze, are particularly whimsical and imaginative, often fierce looking. To one side of the doors you could sometimes find the bricked-up remains of a long-disused spy hole or small window, through which the gatekeeper would no doubt have checked out whoever was pounding on the door. I found myself hunting different designs of knockers with the camera, and now have a collection of dozens. Including an unusual find, on the INSIDE of Santa Croce cathedral…between the main church and the convent buildings.

Just a few of my captured Knockers and Knobs!

There is a popular belief that the pizza didn’t originate in Italy, and was in fact re-imported from America. It is true that a pizza-like concoction called a galetta – saucer-sized flat round bread baked with cheese and maybe onion on top – has been part of Italian and French peasant food since time out of mind. But you would never think that pizza was not the national dish of Italy today. There are more pizzerias than gelaterias, if that is possible. Plus every restaurant has pizza on the menu in addition to the typical Tuscan specialities. By the way, “Primi Piatti” means first course or entrée. James is a pizza connoisseur and was therefore in his element in Florence. The Florentines don’t pile on all sorts of mixtures of ingredients, they are fairly restrained in the combinations of toppings, and the bases are saltier, thinner and crispier than those in SA. Every pizzeria seems to make its own dough, maybe that makes the delicious difference.

A shop just for Masks .... note the Banana-leaf mask top centre! Ok that's enough speciality shops.



  • Gillian

    07 May 2011

    Love the Knockers ‘n Knobs!
    Hugs xxx

  • Allen.

    08 May 2011

    Go on, be honest! After all that pizza how much do you and James now weigh? x

    • Jan

      09 May 2011

      We would be several kilograms heavier but - all the walking for miles and miles has helped keep it level!

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