Sam’s 10th Birthday. 1/11/19

Wow, can it be!? Sam is double digits today! Here is what happened at his birthday party-

We have just arrived and while Sam is busy playing with his friends…
Sarah is busy photobombing Jon in the kitchen.
Sam is enjoying treats…
And Sarah has concocted a drink in the kitchen while Rose and John H. look on.
Leigh and her Dad
John H. And Sarah toast the birthday boy.
Alex and her friend Noah stay out of the way of the younger kids.
Here is the Rainbow Pusheen birthday cake that Auntie Leigh has made for Sam!
A hug from Sam for Auntie Leigh
Leigh and Sam with the cake
Happy family and cake
Sam and Zayde
Sam blows out the candles
Time to cut the cake
Cake cutting inspection
Wow! It’s rainbow inside!
Sam and his special cake
Beeba, Jon, and Sarah at the party
Time to open presents
And more presents
At the end of the party Sam and everyone else is pretty worn out

Happy 10th birthday to Sam!!

Viterbo and Fumicino. 12/30 and 12/31, 2018

After a rather upsetting check out in Siena where the  desk staff wanted us to lie about where we had been so we could get some money back for the inconvenience of their broken toilet from Booking.com, we head off to Rome Airport (Fumicino) via Viterbo. Our idea is to stop at our favorite pizza place, Buongiorno Napoli, and look around Viterbo a bit.

When we get to the restaurant it is closed, closed for the holidays I guess. With our trusty phones we find a nearby restaurant, Fratelli La Bufala, and it is within walking distance. We decide on pizza as our last meal in Italy. (Duh)

Pizza with buffalo mozzarella
Pizza with sausage and kale

After lunch we head up to the old section of Viterbo where a raucous street festival is going on. We have some hot wine and watch families enjoying the day. We also stop in at the Viterbo Cathedral museum.

Etruscan sarcophagus, second century BCE
Column Capital, 4 A.D,
Decorative peacocks, 8 A.D.

Then it is off to Rome airport to return the car and check into the Hilton which is attahched to the airport. Our dinner consists of the snacks laid out in the lounge on the executive floor.

In the morning, very early, we walk over to the airport. We are checking in at British Airways and Jon and Ryan are checking in at Lufthansa. There is a mix-up and it seems like Ryan and Jon’s reservation has not been correctly changed by United to reflect  a change in flights. Luckily Jon finds someone on the phone to straighten things out. It is a tense 15 minutes or so.

And that’s it. Our wonderful, long anticipated trip is over. We all get back to California with no more glitches. I am so glad we made this trip and so happy that Sarah, Ryan, and Jonathan were able to come with us. It is an experience we all will always remember!

 

Siena. 12/29/18

Today we visit the beautiful cathedral of Siena. It is practically on our doorstep. First we stop for a quick breakfast at Bar 4 Cantoni where there is an array of pastries and sandwiches. Everyone picks what they like best and we all choose cappuccino, of course.

Pastries and sandwiches at Bar 4 Cantoni near the Siena Cathedral

Then it is off to the Siena Cathedral. While John is buying tickets Sarah and I wandering around the outside taking pictures.

3/4 view of Siena Cathedral
Front of Siena Cathedral
Mary in front of doors of Siena Cathedral
Close up of Mary with Judith holding the head of Holofernes whom she beheaded

Once inside you are struck by the immense space and the amazing marble inlaid floors. Giorgio Vasari described the floor as “the most beautiful…largest, and most magnificent…that ever was made.” Early floors had figures scratched in while later ones were made of intricate pieces.

A look towards the altar of the Siena Cathedral
Marble floor etching. “Hello, Mr. Wolf,” said Mr. Lion. “Let’s be friends.”

There is one large floor inlay which shows the emblems of nearby cities. We have been to nearly every one!

Floor inlay of the symbol of Siena
Viterbo
Florence
Pisa
Lucca

Hanging off the main church on the left is the Piccolomini Library which was begun in 1495 for Cardinal Francesco Piccolomini who later became Pope Pius III. Inside is a priceless collection of illunimated 15th century musical manuscripts. On the walls are frescoes depicting the life of the cardinal’s uncle who became Pope Pius II.

Piccolomini Library with frescoes by Pinturicchio and his pupils 1502-1508
Detail from an illuminated choral manuscript

Another highlight of the cathedral is the Pisano Pulpit. It was carved by Nicola Pisano and his students from 1256 to 1268. The octagonal pulpit is held aloft by nine columns some of which stand on stone lions. It is full of Christian stories and symbols.

Pisano Pulpit

A few more pictures of the beautiful Siena Cathedral.

Main altar
More floor carving and inlay. In one piece of floor is Crates who preached virtue of poverty.
A naked lady, a personification of Fortune,  just under Crates is balancing one foot on a sphere and the other on a boat with a broken mast with a sail in one hand and a cornucopia in the other ????

We have all been keeping touch with each other while we look around at the things that interest us most. Now we all head to the Opera del Duomo which holds other artwork of the cathedral.

The most significant work housed here is Duccio’s Maesta, a very large altarpiece painted in 1308-1311. There are over 40 figures on the front and over 80 on the back where the Passion of Christ is depicted.

Madonna and Child enthroned with angels and saints
Last Supper from the black of the altarpiece

On the upper floor are other 13th century artworks by Sienese painters.

Early Madonna and Child
Madonna of the Large Eyes,, Sienese master 1200’s

After a long morning’s work of looking at all sorts of wonderful art, we head to  Il Ghibellino where we had eaten an iffy lunch on a previous trip. This lunch also had some iffy components, especially Ryan’s.

Ryan’s malfatti which turned out to be giant spinach and ricotta dumplings

After lunch we head back to the cathedral complex. We visit the Baptistry and everyone but I visit the Crypt. At this point I could not walk up the millions of steps with no railings on uneven stone. I head back to the hotel and give my poor knee a little rest.

I have many pictures from prior trips of the baptismal font and the great frescoes. This time I zeroed in on Sienese Andrea Vanni’s 14th century altarpiece.

Andrea Vanni’s 14th century altarpiece in the Baptistry

I quite like the fact that St. Stephen with the rocks on his head to the left of the Virgin has the exact same head position and look as the Virgin. the elongated head and thin, slanted eyes are real hallmarks of Sienese Renaissance art.

Later we go out to the campo for some drinks and free food. Tonight we get white pizza and crostini with our drinks. It is hard to take much in the way of pictures because it is really foggy.

Fog on the Campo

San Gimignano and Siena. 12/28/18

We are packed up and ready to go when the taxi comes to take us to the airport so we can pick up our rental car. We have rented 7 passenger Ford Galaxy that we can all, plus our luggage, fit in (but barely.) Our first stop is San Gimignano, the famous “tower” city. Encircled by 13th-century walls, the town centers on a square lined with medieval houses. It has a skyline of medieval towers giving it the nickname as the Manhattan of Italy. The Collegiate church of  San Gimignano is a 12th-century church with frescoes by Ghirlandaio.

Medieval houses
Sarah in the square
Ryan and Jon and towers
Collegiate church of San Gimignano

From the moment you step on the portico of the church there are fabulous frescoes such as this Annunciation.

Annunciation in portico, by Sebastiano Mainardi and dated 1482.

Inside the church is resplendent with frescoes, some by Ghirlandaio and most from the 14th century.

Overview of church
Left wall
Right wall
Back wall – the Seven Deadly sins

There are three tiers of fresco stories on the side walls. The top lunettes are creation stories, the middle register has. Old Testament stories,  and the bottom tier is New Testament. I have pictures of everything but I will just put a couple in.

Lunette- Creation of Eve
The Last Supper

Speaking of the last supper, it is past time for lunch and we eat at Antica  Marcellaria.

I have a delicious plate of tagliatelle with truffles, Ryan has pici with tomatoes, and Jon orders papardelle with rabbit ragu
Sarah, every adventurous, orders rabbit cacciatore while John has osso buco

We all take a look at the museum of the church, then Sarah goes to get gelato, Jon and Ryan climb a tower and find an interesting museum, and John and I take a leisurely stroll and find an overlook to take a picture of the beautiful Tuscan countryside.

Tuscan countryside as seen from the hill town of San Gimignano

We proceed to the car park and make our way to the garage outside of Siena where we will shed ourselves of the car and be driven to the hotel by the garage attendant. There are few cars allowed in Siena old town and we are right in the midst of it as our hotel is right across the street from the Baptistry.

View of the Baptistry from our room

Later we head to Siena’s campo for drinks and snacks under the outdoor warming lamps

Ryan, Jon and Sarah at Bar Il Campo
Mary and John

Last day in Florence. 12/17/18

On our last day in Florence we go to the Brancacci Chapel at the Church of Santa Maria del Carmine. For your ticket you get to see a video of why the Chapel was built and what was going on at the time, an iPad mini with a video and audio description of the frescoes, and access to the courtyard and church. I really like the iPad presentation because they zoom in on what they are talking about as opposed to you trying to figure out what people or events are being described. The frescoes were painted by Masolino, Masaccio, and Filippino Lippi in the early 1400’s. The Chapel’s frescoes depict Adam and Eve and the expulsion from Eden and the story of St. Peter.

Brancacci Chapel, Florence
Ryan and Jon at the Brancacci Chapel

After our visit we head over to Osteria Santo Spirito, our go-to eatery when we are on the other side of the river.

In the rest of the afternoon John, Sarah, and I organize our packing and meet again with Mikki and Franco to organize transport to the airport where we will pick up our rental car. Late in the afternoon Sarah and I have another tea session at Gilli’s. Jon and Ryan spend part of the afternoon at the Medici Chapel and climbing to the top of the Duomo dome.

Michelangelo sculptures in the Medici Chapel
View of Florence at dusk from the top of the Duomo dome

Ryan and Jon also took some pictures of various “Do Not Enter” signs.

And here’s a cute picture of Ryan looking into a  mirror in the hallway of our apartments.

Ryan through the looking glass

Tomorrow we are off the San Gimignano and then to Siena for a two night stay.

 

 

Uffizi Day! 12/26/19

Sarah, Ryan, Jon, and I have a plan. We will get up early and after a stop at Caffe Megara proceed to the Uffizi Gallery when it first opens. This way we will beat the crowds. The first part of the plan goes well.

Ryan, Sarah, and Jon having breakfast at Caffe Megara
Mmmm, so good!

We hurry over to the Uffizi and there are lines everywhere. Lines to possibly get in at some part,  lines for people who have assigned times, and a line for people who want to buy tickets for an assigned time. We stand and wait in the line to get in and after 45 minutes of no line movement we decide to change lines. We stand in the line where we can buy tickets to get in later in the day for about 20 minutes when we are ushered in. We choose 3PM to get in.  We figure that most of the people will have given up by then.

Too many people!!!

Jon and Ryan decide to go to the Palazzo Vecchio and Sarah and I decide we need a decompression break and stop at Gilli’s for tea.

Interior Palazzo Vecchio

 

Smiling Jon
Tea with Sarah at Gilli’s

We meet back up around 1 PM and go in search of lunch. We try Trattoria Marione which is just downstairs from our apartments but it is full. Then we try Buca Mario which is closed. We are starting to get worried. Finally we find an unknown restaurant, Pensavo Peggio, and luckily it is open and has room. With the exception of Jonathan we all order cacio e pepe and he has papardelle with boar ragu.

Foreground-Cacio e pepe
Behind- Papardelle with boar ragu

Now we have enough energy to tackle the Uffizi once more. This time with John in tow. (He had been doing laundry in the morning.)

3 PM and the Uffizi still looks packed

There are a lot of people at the Uffizi. We are hoping they want to look at different art than we do. We start in Room 1 which was not open in any of our previous visits. It holds really old pieces. Oh, happy day!!

13th century crucifix
St. Frances receives the stigmata. Painted 1240-50 which is only 14 to 24 years after St. Frances died. So he was a Catholic rock star pretty quickly.
Old Annunciation – Mary is not looking too happy

It was too crowded to take a lot of pictures but here are a few highlights-

John’s favorite Filippo Lippi, Madonna and Child with Two Angels
Ryan and Jon in front of a Botticelli
What it looks like in front of a more popular Botticelli. Jon is tall person center-right
The turn at the end of the hallway and an opportunity to takes a sunset look at the Ponte Vecchio
Michelangelo Doni Tondo

By the time we get to Titians and Caravaggios I am petering out. There is an interesting room in which all the subjects have been beheaded. But I am too tired of being on my feet to enjoy much more.

We return to the apartment for snacks and drinks and turn in early.

Christmas in Florence. 12/25/18

Merry Christmas to all especially to family who are celebrating at home. Thank you to Auntie Leigh, Gram, and Gramps who have made this trip possible for Ryan and Jon by giving Alex and Sam a special Christmas at home.

This morning in lieu of our usual Christmas breakfast we are enjoying the sweetness of pastries and a traditional panettone. We have a unique way of warming the pastries – a radiator with a built in warming oven. It works great!

Warming oven in radiator
Ryan and Jon on Christmas morning waiting for breakfast

We have mimosas and beer with our panettone and pastries. The panettone is so delicious, sweet and yeasty. Sarah promises to make one for next Christmas!

Our Christmas breakfast spread
Main attraction – panettone
Inside the panettone

While Sarah works on the lasagna and John and I loll about Ryan and Jon take a walk through the quiet streets of Florence and enjoy the architecture.

Ryan and Jon on their walk

In the early afternoon we all meet to go visit the beautiful Santa Maria Novella church full of early Renaissance frescoes. It is a favorite of mine.

Ryan and Jon in front of Santa Maria Novella

Founded in the first half of the thirteenth century Santa Maria Novella has so many marvelous works of art to see –

Beautiful Annunciation by unknown artist ~1370
Crucifix by Giotto 1288-89
From the Strozzi Chapel, Filippino Lippi 1489-1502, St. Phillip the Apostle at the Temple of Mars in Hierapolis
Altarpiece by Orcagna, 1354-57
Jesus leads redeemed souls to Paradise, Spanish Chapel

After our visit to Santa Maria Novella it is time for Christmas dinner. Sarah bakes the lasagna and we all enjoy it a lot!

Sarah photobombing a picture of Ryan and Jon before dinner
Lasagna out of the oven!
John serving
My slice
Sarah, our wonderful chef for Christmas Day!

This is a Christmas I shall always remember!

Christmas Eve. 12/24/18

Ryan and Jon have fallen into a pattern of going downstairs to the cafe each morning to have a pastry and cappuccino. Jon says it is the best cappuccino he has ever had. I am happy that they are having such a good time.

Jon and Ryan’s favorite breakfast

Sarah and I are looking for bagels and other items for Christmas breakfast and dinner at the Pam grocery store. Once she has all her lasagna ingredients we have to make an executive decision about breakfast. We decide to buy a panettone from the bakery downstairs. It turns out to be much more expensive than the ones in the grocery store but we are hoping for a much better quality one. While we are at the bakery we also pick out a bunch of pastries. This is definitely a far cry from bagels and lox.

A 1 kilo panettone should be big enough for the 5 of us

Jon and Ryan go to the Duomo and visit the Opera del Duomo which contains older works that are no longer adorning the church or items that were on the outside and have been brought in to keep them from getting damaged from the elements.

John heads out to find more goodies for our Christmas Eve celebration. He is a regular at the Salumeria where he buys so much chopped liver that we will have an unopened container to give to Mikki and France when we leave.

Salumeria

We gather at lunchtime and Jon says he wants to go back to la Bussola for more pizza. No one puts up any arguments,

La Bussola, our spot for pizza

Everyone orders pizza but I am afraid if I eat pizza I will be too full to enjoy tonight’s hors d’oeuvres. So I order linguini vongole, a favorite of mine.

Sarah makes the lasagna in the afternoon and I help (watch mostly) and take various taste tests. Later she and I go out for tea at a restaurant in the Piazza della Republican and take some pictures of the decorations and store displays.

Piazza della Republica
Window display at Gilli’s
Decorations in the nearby street

Later over wine and hors d’oeuvres we sing traditional Christmas carols and then everyone is off to bed.

 

Birthday celebration. 12/23/18

Today we are going to have my birthday celebration and I am really looking forward to it. I have made reservations at Il Pennello. We will meet there at 1 PM.

Jon and Ryan scurry off to the Accademia to see the David and the other earlier works in the morning.

Ryan and Jon on their way to the Accademia
Look who is there!

Sarah and John spend time this morning trying to find bagels for Christmas breakfast. The website says that Mama’s Bakery is open but when they get there they find it is closed until January 7. Bummer. They go to the the Mercato Centrale and the Conrad but these stores do not carry bagels. We will have to come up with Plan B.

Back to the birthday celebrations…

We go to Il Pennello for our 1 PM dinner. We are eating early in the day because it is Sunday and the restaurants will be closing for dinner.

Il Pennello

I get to sit between Jon and Sarah while John and Ryan sit across from us. We all order wine.

Mary with Jon and Sarah
John inspecting some antipasti
Ryan with a glass of white wine

Everyone has brought me birthday cards! I love it! It is possible that I reminded everyone to put cards in their suitcases.

Birthday cards!

We order a wide variety of things to eat.

clockwise from left: Ribbolita, spaghetti with spicy tomato sauce, pici with sausage, onion soup, penne straccicate
Also from bottom: braised beef, white beans, fried veggies, trippa Fiorentina, veal scallopine with artichokes
Here we are outside after lunch and we have not exploded!

This was my best birthday ever!!!

After lunch Ryan and Jon head off for the Galileo Museum, the Baptistry, and climb the campanile. They have so much energy!

Astrolabe from the Galileo Museum
Interior of Baptistry dome
Ryan and Jon at the top of the Campanile
View of the Duomo from the Campanile

John, Sarah, and I head for the Accademia. Here are some things we enjoy-

Nuptial parade painted by Scheggia, the younger brother of Masaccio, circa 1450
“The Virgin of the Sea” painter may be Botticelli or Filippino Lippi, 1475-80
Annunciation, Neri di Bicci, 1465
“Tobias and the Three Archangels” painted in the International Gothic style by Domenico di Michelino, 1465
John, Sarah, and other art lovers admiring Michelangelo’s “Prisoners” and heading toward “David”
Can there be too many Davids in one post? I do not think so.
Who doesn’t love these old Byzantine paintings! Unknown provenance, circa 1250

At this point John and Sarah go upstairs to do more appreciating and I take a seat behind the statue of David appreciating his butt and watching other appreciators. They are gone a looong time.  When they finally reappear I have been texting them for quite a while. Unfortunately, the texts never reached them.

Since we are all quite full from our big lunch we just pick over our salami, chopped liver, cheese, and chips for dinner.

Ryan and Jon arrive in Florence. 12/22/18

I have been up half the night worrying about Ryan and Jon. Will their flights go smoothly? Will they make their connection okay? Will they figure out getting train tickets? Are the trains to Florence sold out? Although Jon has been texting me all the way and things seem fine, I will not calm down until I see them. John and Sarah go to the train station to meet them. I stand at the window watching for them until I realize that I don’t know which street they will come down. Finally I hear the elevator. Yay, they are here!! They look at their rooms. They seem okay with them. I think they find all the nooks and crannies absurd but enchanting. We decide to go out to lunch as soon as they are settled in.
Ryan and Jon’s living room
Ryan and Jon’s bedroom
We head off to La Busola, our preferred pizza place, for lunch. It is such fun having everyone here. We order our own personal pizzas and beers all around!
Sarah, Jon, and Ryan at La Busola
Ryan and John having a beer
Yum, pizza!
Afterward we take a walk by the Duomo. Florence is really bustling with people! I thought it would be fairly empty this time of year. Maybe too many people took my advice to come in the off-season!
Sarah, Jon, John, and Ryan in front of the Duomo in Florence
Sarah, Jon, Mary, and Ryan in Florence (plus soldier with big gun!)
Ryan and Jon decide to explore the surrounding area while the rest of us have some food shopping to do. We meet back later for hors d’oeuvres and wine. It will be our dinner since we are still pretty full from lunch. I am so happy that Sarah, Ryan, and Jon are here to help me celebrate my birthday and Christmas!!!