This site is all about how stories add spice to our ideas and feelings about the cities we love. And often we only know cities through the stories we've read. My favourites have long been London, Venice, and Florence and so I made this site, where I list and review all sorts of novels and films set in these three cities. Each city has its indulgent side pages too. These deal with subjects like
Venice's cats, London's cakes and Lost Florence.

I've also been casting my net wider of late and posting reports on my trips to other European cities, as a service to travellers who share my enthusiasm for art, cakes, cats, and ice cream.
Fictions feature here too.
You'll find the trips listed in the handy Trips Menu

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into the box as usual and then type in

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The Friends of Fictional Cities
and the Churches of Venice and Florence

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click on the word NEWS
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click on the titles and trips to read all about them

When the coronavirus situation improved in the summer, and lockdowns were eased, it looked like a September or October trip to Italy might be possible. But Autumn is bringing new restrictions and measures and it's looking increasingly unlikely that I'll be getting my ass to Italy this year. I have been working on pages devoted to Pisa and Ferrara for my church sites, but they need more church and photos to be presentable. Three art-historical guided trips, to Siena, Lucca and Parma, have been postponed from this year to the first half of 2021 and I really hope that they, and some solo church research trips, happen. I'm getting around England, our cathedrals are grand, and empty museums are a treat, but I'm definitely suffering gelato, gilded-altarpiece and fresco-cycle withdrawal symptoms. Life goes on, though, and hope helps.

Not sure how I missed this one coming, but there's a new Sandro Cellini novel by Christobel Kent just out. It has the uncharacteristically short title of The Viper, it's the first one since 2014's The Killing Room, and it bills itself as the last. This latter fact makes Marco Vichi the only writer of a Florence-set crime series still running.

My plans for an Autumn trip to Venice are a bit discouraged by the increase in cases in Italy, due to young people coming back from holidays, so it may end when holiday season ends. New measures involve closing nightclubs, which will impact my holiday plans mightily, of course, and you now must use face protection between 6pm and 6am in outdoor areas where the public might gather. Weird, says the man usually in bed by 10.00. The number of flights from London is very reduced, presumably because of lack of demand, and cancellations seem rife, with fewer flights to then transfer to.

But if I become braver I'm now toying with Pisa and Florence, as I've just started making a Pisa churches page and it'll be good to visit a crowds-free Pisa Duomo and the Uffizi and Accademia in Florence. Almost booking flights for late September there seem to be only about 12 people on them so far. Also my new blue passport is on its way.

Just back from four days in Norwich. Getting the hang of the new normal as far as hotel stays go, and cathedral visits, was reasonably plain sailing. Everything has to be booked in advance, rooms are serviced only if you ask, breakfasts are waitress-served, and cathedrals have a set route and you have to wear a mask. But it seems that new-normal group travel to Italy is not to be, for me, as my art-guided trip to Lucca next month has just been cancelled, presumably due to not enough people being willing to go ahead with it under current circs. It's been postponed to next March, by which time, fingers crossed, we might be back to normal normal.

I just got an email saying that my next-up guided art trip, to Lucca, Pistoia and Prato in September, is going to happen, which will be exactly six months since the deeply unsuccessful trip to the Ghent Van Eyck exhibition in March just as lockdown began. I must admit to having felt a bit trepidatious about being a guinea-pig for socially-distanced group travel, but the company's email was reassuring. I feel the need to support them too, as well as the tour guide and the tour manager, who are now friends. And I flipping need a holiday.

The past couple of weeks have seen my first trips on public transport into central London since March too. First I went to get bagels in Brick Lane. The steamy-glasses mask-wearing on the tube wasnt as bad as Id expected, but everywhere was spookily empty two or three people in most tube carriages, no queue of tourists in the bagel shop, no lunching workers, and Spitalfields market a howling waste. The emptiness is much more noticeable in the centre of town than in residential Tooting. This was even more of a thing when I went to the London Library, which had just reopened. Presumably as its even more reliant on tourists the West End was even more post-apocalyptic hardly anyone walking along Piccadilly, maybe three customers in total in Fortnums and Hatchards. And the huge Waterstone's (which used to be Simpsons of Piccadilly when my dad worked for them) I had almost to myself. And absolutely no stupid Yoda buskers outside the National Gallery maybe they all caught the virus. Silver linings indeed. And I have a visit to the National Gallery booked for next Tuesday. The new normal?

The easing of lockdown is coming, even if the whole process is fraught with confusion and suspicions of economic considerations outweighing safety concerns. Donald Trump and Boris Johnson are both happier with the self-serving macho posturing and war metaphors than they are with compassion and good sense, as ever. A joke, usually - less so when people are dying. So travel to Europe for us Brits is looking possible this year, even if the US's still-rising figures look like leading to a ban on travel from the US into the EU. Also the reopening of galleries and museums in the UK from the 4th of July opens up the possibility of comfortable visits next month, with few tourists and no school parties. Shall we risk a bit of optimism?

old news here

October 2020
Us Venice TV

September 2020
Christobel Kent The Viper Florence

August 2020
Norwich Trips

July 2020

Chris Beckett Two Tribes London
David Hewson Shooter in the Shadows Venice
Dorian Gerhold London Bridge and its Houses
David Mitchell Utopia Avenue
Charles Dickens Dombey and Son

May 2020

David Whittaker Mindful of Venice Reflections and Meanderings

April 2020

Christopher Bollen A Beautiful Crime Venice
Philip Gwynne Jones Venetian Gothic

March 2020

Van Eyck in Ghent and Bruges Trips
Donna Leon Trace Elements Venice

December 2019
Jon Clinch Marley London
Hallie Rubenhold The Five:
The Untold Lives of the Women Killed by Jack the Ripper
The Books That Made Me Self indulgence
Some 2019 Tintoretto books

November 2019
Hisham Matar A Month in Siena Siena
Susanna Clarke Jonathan Strange and Mr Norrell Venice

October 2019
Ferrara and Bologna Trips


Venice // Florence // London // Berlin

Copyright Jeff Cotton 1998-2020
Twenty-two years? Blimey!