The old adage says that “Beauty is in the eye of the beholder,” but the folks at the Bata Museum in Toronto, Canada, would probably say it is in the foot.

The Bata Shoe Museum, whose tagline is “For the curious,” houses an astonishing 12,500 shoes and shoe paraphernalia covering over 4,500 years’ worth of human history.  From chestnut-crushing shoes to high heels for the men of the French court, the expansive collection is continually growing as a result of shoe-hunting excursions conducted by Bata Museum staff on a regular basis.

What makes this museum of interest to this blogger is the sheer amount of information and time they have invested in their website.  In the “All About Shoes” section the web visitor can select several different collections to view, from footwear of the Native Americans to a history about elevated shoes to wedding wear and more.

If you would like a shoe expert or curator to spend some time talking to you about the who, where, what, why, and hows of the shoe world, check out their dozens of podcasts on a variety of topics.  From dance shoes to wartime footwear and, yes, Justin Bieber’s sneakers, the Bata Shoe Museum has something for almost everyone (even Napoleon’s socks).

With hundreds of detailed and colorful photos, this visitor learned that high heels used to be closer to the center of the foot because early models did not have reinforced heels.  When they placed heels on the actual heels, the shoes kept snapping off at the arch.  I also learned that men used to wear high heels ostensibly because they helped them better keep their feet in the stirrups while horseriding.  I also found interesting that early heeled shoes came with sled-like clog contraptions that you could tie on to your shoes.  Why?  Because heeled shoes were invented before roads were paved, and wearers in heels would get stuck in the mud without them.

The Bata Shoe Museum is definitely “for the curious,” but I would also say that their website is so well done and so engaging that they could even claim that their museum will make you curious.

Maybe its the element of risk or the fear of commitment, but I’m still skittish about buying shoes online.

There is definitely a larger selection and you can sometimes save a few dollars — especially now as they blow out old stock in the fall to make way for new styles.  As far as getting a gander at them, all the online merchants seem to have them mandatorily photographed from a half dozen angles.   But what if the dang things make you feel like one of Cinderella’s ugly sisters when they arrive by mail?

Major player Zappos tries to assuage that fear by offering free and unlimited returns.  You’re not supposed to notice that they build about 5 bucks back into the item cost.

Take this one for example. Looks like something I could abuse, cover in winter rock salt and be too lazy to polish for the next 4-5 years.   But what’s a Stonefly Milano?

After straw polling my peers, I’ve been told an excellent way is to know how a certain brand fits and count on that manufacturer’s internal controls to be consistent.    In other words, once a size 11 New Balance, always a size 11 New Balance.  In that event, it might not be a bad idea to go to a shoe store with a notepad and number two pencil to build an extensive brand dossier for your feet.

Comment with your shoe tips and favorite merchants, as well as any woeful tales of goofing on a size and getting stuck with $6.95 return shipping each way.  Hey, sometimes you roll the dice and lose.  That’s life.

This sequel to Adriana Trigiani’s Very Valentine continues to follow custom shoemaker Valentine Roncalli and her vibrant Italian family.  Brava, Valentine opens with the romantic wedding of her 80-year-old grandmother in Tuscany, then segues back to their shop in Greenwich Village where Valentine must learn how to deal with her brother as a freshly-ordained business partner.

The most interesting scenes, however, take place in Buenos Aires, where Valentine discovers a long lost cousin who coincidentally operates a similar business.  At first cousin Roberta appears reticent and a bit defensive, actions which appear reasonable once the full, scandalous story is told.  Plus, Buenos Aires is where she passionately reunites with sexy Italian tanner, Gianluca.  True to Trigiani’s usual form, this new novel is both heartwarming and humorous.

The author, earlier known for her Big Stone Gap series, has also written an entertaining cookbook, Cooking with My Sisters, which includes many memorable anecdotes and photos of her colorful family.