March 9, 2014 – Nathan’s birthday celebration

Yesterday was Nathan’s birthday. He was eight! Wow, time surely does fly. He had his “friends” birthday party yesterday and today we go over to give him presents and take everyone out to brunch. Nathan likes his presents and especially likes the giant coffee cake at Hobbee’s.

Nathan looks at his present from Aunt Sarah while Jon looks on

Nathan looks at his present from Aunt Sarah while Jon looks on


Sam gets a consolation un-birthday present of Legos

Sam gets a consolation un-birthday present of Legos


Sam and Nathan busy themselves with Legos while waiting for brunch

Sam and Nathan busy themselves with Legos while waiting for brunch


Yay for coffee cake!

Yay for coffee cake!


Nathan builds his Lego craft intently

Nathan builds his Lego craft intently


The creations are very complex

The creations are very complex

February 28, 2014 – Hookslide Concert at Rancho Mirage High School

Today, under threatening skies, we head south to the Palm Springs area. Jon’s band, Hookslide, has a benefit concert at Rancho Mirage High School on Friday and are opening for Joan Rivers on Saturday at a nearby casino. The wind is howling and the skies are dark as we depart I-15 at Nipton Road and head off through the Mojave Desert Preserve.

Stormy skies at we enter the Mojave Desert Preserve

Stormy skies at we enter the Mojave Desert Preserve


After a while we reach the Kelso Depot, an historical train station built during WWII. It is our plan to eat lunch at their 40′s lunch counter. Unfortunately the lunch counter has closed and we are now hours away from anywhere we can find some lunch. We take a few pictures and look at their small museum. Back in the car, we pass the singing sand dunes of Kelso. They should be singing in all this wind but there is too much sand blowing around to open the car windows.
Kelso train staton

Kelso train staton


Another view of Kelso train station

Another view of Kelso train station


Kelso "singing" sand dunes

Kelso “singing” sand dunes


Finally after wind and rain we reach our hotel in Indian Wells. In short order we head off to the concert. The venue, a new auditorium in a new high school, is impressive. The high school kids sing a couple of songs and then Hookslide takes to the stage. They do an amazing job and the kids are really receptive. They follow up the concert with a Saturday workshop for the choral groups which goes really well. Their opening for Joan Rivers on Saturday night is equally impressive. But we must be on our way home early on Saturday.
Hookslide on stage

Hookslide on stage


Hookslide at Rancho Mirage High School

Hookslide at Rancho Mirage High School


The view out our hotel window in Indian Wells

The view out our hotel window in Indian Wells

February 23-27, 2014 St. George

The rest of the time we are in St. George, we play tennis, get the house ready for Ryan, Jon, Nathan and Sam’s visit at the end of March and go pottery shopping. We have been looking for a pot for a particular spot in Pleasanton. Finally we find one at Worthington Gallery. it is a favorite of mine to shop at. We also loll around a lot watching the birds out the window. Towards the end of our stay the weather turns stormy.

Ducks on the pond

Ducks on the pond

Ducks in the backyard

Ducks in the backyard

Our new pot

Our new pot

Stormy skies over the pond

Stormy skies over the pond

February 16-22, 2014 – St. George

We leave for St. George on Sunday, February 16. Since there is no reason to rush, we decide to stay over in Barstow, CA and complete the trip on Monday. We have fun having dinner at Chili’s at the bar while watching the Olympics.

Reaching St. George the next day, we go to the grocery store. Luckily, though, we had made some lentil soup and frozen it before we left last time so dinner is taken care of. The next few days are filled with puttering around the house and one afternoon of playing our limited mobility tennis.

On Thursday we have an off-road adventure going on the Joshua Tree Loop Road. Everything is so dry here much like at home. But we have a good time and get enough fodder for a Clark and Lewis adventure story. I have written two of these now and they contain pictures of what we have been doing.

Adventuring Again At Last

Off-Road Adventure

February 15, 2014 – Joe’s 70th Birthday Party

Our dear friend, Joe, is turning 70 today. It is hard to believe but I guess none of us is getting any younger. Karen and Joe have had a tough year with both Karen and Joe falling ill. It is great to have a happy occasion to celebrate. All of our close group of friends are here at Castlewood Country Club to celebrate the event. Here are some pictures –

Mary and Joe

Mary and Joe


Karen with granddaughter, Ayla

Karen with granddaughter, Ayla


Karen and Joe

Karen and Joe

Diana and Peter

Diana and Peter

Karen and Joe

Karen and Joe

Joe with his cake

Joe with his cake

Joe wearing the "Old Geezer" hat that gets passed amongst our group

Joe wearing the “Old Geezer” hat that gets passed amongst our group

February 9, 2014 – Hookslide at Club Fox

It is always exciting for us to go to one of Jonathan’s concerts. On this rainy Sunday evening we head over to Redwood City for the concert and dinner beforehand at City Pub. We are seven for dinner – John and I, plus Sarah and Ryan and also Karen and George and Allison. They have great hamburgers at City Pub and I am glad that for once I actually ordered what I wanted instead of what might be the least caloric.

At Club Fox we get seats right up front.

Mary, Karen, George, Allison and Ryan at Club Fox

Mary, Karen, George, Allison and Ryan at Club Fox


By the time Hookslide takes the stage the venue is pretty full. I have been concerned that since it is raining that people might stay away. The group is doing two sets with an intermission. They bring back some old favorites and also sing some new songs. They are always amazing.
Hookslide (l.to r.) Jon, George, Bud and Mayank

Hookslide (l.to r.) Jon, George, Bud and Mayank


Of course, a favorite part for me is when Jon does his beatbox solo. The crowd is always so appreciative of this unique skill.
Jon doing his beatbox solo

Jon doing his beatbox solo


They are singing down in the Palm Springs area at the end of the month. Joan Rivers has asked for them to open for her again and they are also doing a benefit at a local high school to raise money for their choral program and to encourage boys to sing. John and I are hoping to make a side trip from St. George to see the high school show. (Joan Rivers tickets are waay expensive.) We are very loyal fans.

January 31, 2014 – Other January doings

With some sadness we donate our piano to the Pleasanton Unified School District. We are glad it is getting a new home where it will be played but sad to see it go. Neither Jon nor Sarah would like to have it so we are pleased to find somewhere that does. We receive a really nice note from the Middle School Music director thanking us profusely.

Goodbye, old friend

Goodbye, old friend


One Sunday Jon and the boys come over. Sam builds a fire truck from the birthday present we gave him.
Beeba and Sam work on the fire truck

Beeba and Sam work on the fire truck


Beeba,  Daddy and Sam take a selfie

Beeba, Daddy and Sam take a selfie


The finished fire truck

The finished fire truck


Happy Sam

Happy Sam

January 12, 2014 – Sam’s birthday party

Sam turned five years old yesterday and today is his party. We pick up Sarah and arrive a few minutes early. The main event, other than Sam, will be Auntie Leigh’s fabulous cake. This year it is the evil emperor from Star Wars sitting down in a chair onto a whoopie cushion. I ask Sam to pose by his cake but he is too shy. However, Jonathan is not.

Jonathan and Emperor Palpatine

Jonathan and Emperor Palpatine



There is the usual excitement of opening presents.
Sam with Auntie Leigh opening his friend's present

Sam with Auntie Leigh opening his friend’s present

Sometimes the excitement is too much for Sam

Sometimes the excitement is too much for Sam


John mans the bar

John mans the bar


Finally it’s time for the cake to do its thing and for everyone to have a slice of Emperor Palpatine’s throne.
The kids and adults are ready for the cake action

The kids and adults are ready for the cake action


As the Emperor sits down his eyes light up and the appropriate sound it made

As the Emperor sits down his eyes light up and the appropriate sound it made


Sam enjoying his cake!

Sam enjoying his cake!


HAPPY BIRTHDAY, SAM!

January 8-9, 2014 – The (belated) Birthdays

Since we were away on our Italy trip in December, George and I missed celebrating our birthdays. Today we are making up by going to Carmel Valley to do some wine tasting, have a fabulous dinner at Marinus, and stay over at the Bernardus Lodge. Due to some misinformation about the restaurant being open when it is actually closed in January, the nice people at Bernardus have arranged to have us sit at the chef’s table in the kitchen for a multi-course tasting menu.

We start the day doing some wine tasting. We’ve never tasted wine down here in the Carmel Valley and are pleasantly surprised. We go to Talbott, Bernardus, Boekenoogen, Joullian, and Cima Collina.

Mid-afternoon we make our way to Bernardus Lodge. All the staff are very nice. Our rooms are very attractive. After a little lie-down, we get dressed for dinner and meet Karen and George in the lobby.

The four of us looking forward to dinner

The four of us looking forward to dinner


We are shown to our table. It is right in the kitchen! We are greeted by the chef, the chef de cuisine, and the sommelier. We are served some amuse bouche and champagne.

The niche that the chef’s table is in is covered by graffiti. There are some famous names here!
Julia Child ate here!

Julia Child ate here!

So did Jacques Pepin!

So did Jacques Pepin!


Here is what we ate for dinner –

It is all delicious! What a great birthday dinner. Happy Birthday to George and me!

December 29, 2013 – Going Home

It has probably taken me a month to write about the trip home because it was so horrible…

We have a lot of legs to our trip home. First we are going from Rome to Frankfurt, then Frankfurt to Houston, and finally Houston to San Francisco. The first leg goes smoothly.

Our trip to Houston is delayed. Then it is routed in a great arc trying to avoid weather over the northeast U.S. It is very, very long. Deplaning, we are hoping that we might still make our connection. Houston has a giant airport. The walk from the plane to immigration must be a mile. We hobble along as fast as we can. United has promised us that we have enough time to get through immigration and on our way because there are few international flights. Tonight, though, there are others. The line for U.S. citizens is very long. There are only three agents. While standing in line, we miss our flight. United has been kind enough to go ahead and book us on a later flight supposedly leaving at 9:30 PM. We crawl through the line. By the time we get through immigration, it is 9 PM. We still have to collect our luggage and go through customs. After getting our bags, we recheck them and then have to go through security again. At 9:15 we send Sarah ahead running to tell them we are on our way.

Sarah meets us half way to the gate to tell us that the plane is delayed until 11:40 PM. We have spent a lot of time sitting around today. We have been traveling almost a day’s worth at this point and we still have 4 hours to SFO. The United employees tell us that even though we have Business/First seats that we will have to sit in coach. Finally we get on the packed plane. Babies are crying and people are coughing for the next 4 hours. We arrive at SFO around 2:00 AM. By the time we collect our car, drop Sarah off, and make it home it is 4:00 AM. I swear I am never going anywhere again.

Of course, here it is now the end of January. Memories fade. Yesterday I said to John, “Gosh, it seems like we’ve been home forever! We need a trip!” But maybe a road trip this time.

What we did a lot of on the way home…

December 28, 2013 – Rome

Last day of sightseeing is upon us. We get up early wanting to beat the crowds at St. Peter’s. Arriving shortly before 9 AM, the lines are much shorter and we are inside quickly. We spend an excellent hour or so looking at all the interesting sculptures and tombs. By the time we leave the line is at least four times as long as when we arrived.

After successfully finding an ATM so that we can use taxis today, we walk to Castel Sant’Angelo. Built between 132 and 139 AD, The Mausoleum of Hadrian, usually known as Castel Sant’Angelo, is a towering, hulking, cylindrical building. It was initially commissioned by the Roman Emperor Hadrian as a mausoleum for himself and his family. The building was later used by popes as a fortress and castle, and is now a museum. It is also another site in the video game, Assassin’s Creed, and Sarah is eager to explore. There are way too many slippery steps here and I spend most of my time waiting for everyone to finish looking around. It’s fun, though, to watch the Roman crowd who are taking advantage of the good weather this Saturday.


Needless to say, we are all pretty tired out by the time we’ve finished with St. Peter’s and Castel Sant’Angelo. Lucky thing, it’s lunch time! We find a groty place not too far away. Things are not looking too clean here but we are too polite to get up and walk away. The answer to “How’s your lunch?” is “It’s food and I am sitting down.”

Our last stop for the day is the Pantheon. The Pantheon commissioned by Marcus Agrippa during the reign of Augustus as a temple to all the gods of ancient Rome, and was rebuilt by the emperor Hadrian about 126 AD. This building is astounding. It has the largest brick free standing dome in the world. Since it was converted into a church, the Pantheon was not gutted or torn down the way most ancient temples in Rome were. It is a marvel to stand in this almost 2000 year old enormous building and look up at the beautiful coffered ceiling towards the oculus.
The Pantheon

The Pantheon


Coffered ceiling and oculus of the Pantheon

Coffered ceiling and oculus of the Pantheon


We catch a taxi (finally) back to the hotel, pick up our luggage and make our way to Rome airport for one more night before we leave. After a totally awful dinner, we pack up and we will be on our way home tomorrow.

December 27, 2013 – Rome

Sarah said that we shouldn’t make this trip longer than three weeks. Here on our three weeks +1 day we are starting to break down. John and I are aching and Sarah may have broken a toe this morning. But the sightseeing must go on!

We bid farewell to our apartments on Via Spada and catch the train for Rome. Sarah is very keen on seeing Rome and we are less so.

Only one of our rooms is ready when we arrive at our hotel near the train station. We stow our luggage in Sarah’s room and have lunch in the hotel restaurant. Then we are off! We buy an all day ticket to the Metro. First stop, Colliseo. There are a lot of people on the train. They are mostly Italian. What? Are they going to visit their historic sites? We have run into almost no visitors everywhere we’ve gone. I guess because they all decided to visit Rome.

The Coliseum is packed and the line is very long. The last time we were here, we could walk around the historic sites. Now it is all fenced off and there is a ticket into everything. We decide to walk around the outside of the Coliseum and then up the Palantine Hill. There are vendors pushing souvenir drek in our faces.


Our next visit is to the church of St. Peter in a Chains. There is a sculpture of Moses by Michelangelo here, a group of interesting frescoes and St. Peter’s actual chains.

We are pretty tired now and Sarah is limping because of her toe. We head back to the hotel. Since we are taking the Metro there is a lot of walking and stair climbing. We are all pretty sore by the time we arrive back at the hotel.

The hotel has a happy hour and we could use some happy. We have drinks, snacks and a light meal in the lounge and retire early.

December 26, 2013 – St. Stephen’s Day – Florence

St. Stephen’s Day is kind of a quasi-holiday in Italy. As far as I can tell the main activity of the day is eating a pannettone type of sweet that is dome-shaped and has raisins or almonds or chocolate bits on top. The sticking out raisins etc. on top of the dome-shaped bread commemorates St. Stephen’s martyrdom by being stoned. In art, St. Stephen is usually shown with rocks on top of his head.

Unfortunately when Sarah goes down to our bakery next door to pick up our St. Stephen’s bread for breakfast, they are closed for St. Stephen’s Day. Sigh.

Today’s sightseeing main event is the Medici Chapels and San Lorenzo Cathedral. (No pictures allowed)The first San Lorenzo was built in the 300′s, rebuilt in the 1100′s and it’s interior was redone in the 1500′s. It is the first cathedral of Florence and also the home church to the Medici.

Unfinished front of San Lorenzo

Unfinished front of San Lorenzo


San Lorenzo complex

San Lorenzo complex

The Medicis were quite full of themselves and wanted a lasting monument to their wonderfulness. All the big name art and architecture players were involved. Michelangelo won the bid for the exterior but like many of his projects, it was never completed. He also did a lot of the sculptures in their mausoleum.

Lorenzo Medici's tomb with three Michelangelo sculptures (Figures of Dawn and Dusk and idealized Lorenzo)

Lorenzo Medici’s tomb with three Michelangelo sculptures (Figures of Dawn and Dusk and idealized Lorenzo)

Guiliano Medici's tomb with Michelangelo's Night and Day plus idealized Giuliano

Guiliano Medici’s tomb with Michelangelo’s Night and Day plus idealized Giuliano


Tourist note – The audio tour in the Medici Chapels is incredibly pompous and so filled with architectural jargon that we couldn’t figure out what they were talking about.

Our visit to San Lorenzo takes up the entire morning and afterwards we head back to the apartment to finish up yesterday’s lasagna and to start packing. My suitcase seems less full. Either I am getting better at packing or I am forgetting something.

For our final dinner in Florence we decide to go to Il Caminetto, a restaurant that we’ve been to on previous trips. Our dinner did not turn out so well. Perhaps we were less discerning ten years ago or the food has gone downhill.


We finish up with vin santo and cookies which we all enjoy.

A final walk by the Duomo and we say goodbye to Florence.

Goodbye, Florence! I hope we can make it back someday

Goodbye, Florence! I hope we can make it back someday

December 25, 2013 – Christmas in Florence

Merry Christmas!

It is our first Christmas in Florence. Well, maybe our second. A long time ago (1998?) we went on a family trip and I think we woke up Christmas morning in Florence and then took the train to Rome. But today’s Christmas was a little more traditional.

We’ve been accumulating our favorite Christmas foods since last week. Bagels are not so easy to find in Florence where their taste in bread seems to be stale and saltless. But we find them and we have our usual Christmas breakfast of bagels and lox with cream cheese, onions, and capers. Our only deviation is that John picked up Madagascar peppercorns instead of capers. It turns out that they are really tasty and add some extra spiciness.

Bagels and lox, beer and prosecco

Bagels and lox, beer and prosecco

We have a pretty lazy day. We read our books and hang around the apartment. Sarah goes out for a walk. There is some napping. Sarah makes a lasagna for our Christmas dinner. It is delicious! The Italian cheeses have a creamier texture and more vibrant flavor.

Real Italian lasagna made by Sarah

Real Italian lasagna made by Sarah

Tomorrow is our last full day in Florence before heading to Rome and home.

December 24, 2013 – Florence

Happy Christmas Eve! Usually on Christmas Eve we have a family gathering with lots of hors d’oeuvres and the grandkids, their parents and us exchanging gifts. Since we are not at home and Jon and his family are not with us, our Christmas Eve is the same but different.

John and I decide to opt out of sightseeing today. The pace has been pretty intense since we got to Italy and we figure two days in a row of down time will help for the final push through Rome. Sarah, though, has other ideas. And that’s fine.

She starts her day with a hike up Giotto’s Campanile. The views of Florence are wonderful there.

View of the Duomo from the Campanile

View of the Duomo from the Campanile


View of the Baptistry from the Campanile

View of the Baptistry from the Campanile

This is followed up with a trip to San Marco where Fra Angelico did his fresco work. No pictures allowed.

After lunch she has a trip to the Baptistry and another hike up into the dome of the cathedral. In comparison, John did a little shopping and we read books.

View of the Campanile from the top of the Duomo

View of the Campanile from the top of the Duomo


Ceiling of the Baptistry

Ceiling of the Baptistry


Late in the afternoon, Sarah and I go to the leather market and end our day on the Piazza della Republica having a cup of tea. Very civilized.
Afternoon tea

Afternoon tea

We fix our munchies and have a lovely Christmas Eve toasting and reminiscing about our trip.

HAPPY CHRISTMAS EVE! (munchies include crostini de fegato, pizza sticks, biscotti, and salami and cheese mini-sandwiches)

HAPPY CHRISTMAS EVE! (munchies include crostini de fegato, pizza sticks, biscotti, and salami and cheese mini-sandwiches)

December 23, 2013 – Day trip to Siena

Monday is always a tricky day in Italy. Most museums are closed. Some churches are open abbreviated hours. So when we see that the Pinacoteca Nazionale, the Duomo and the City Hall in Siena are open at least part of Monday, it seemes a good time to go. Added to this bounty, the rain is supposed to hold off in Siena until Tuesday.

The train to Siena runs every hour at ten after. We catch the 8:10am and are in Siena before 10am. It is a pretty rickety old train not like the sleek ultra-speedy one we took to Rome last week. But it gets the job done. We catch a taxi to the Pinacoteca Nazionale.

There are many artworks at this museum that we enjoy – a lot from the 13th and 14th century. As in many other things, Siena was competing with Florence for the best “fill-in-the-blank” and art was one of them. Here are a few favorites.

It’s already after noon and on our way to the cathedral we see restaurant Numero Unico and it’s open. Much like the museums, restaurants also tend to be closed on Mondays. It’s pretty contemporary which is unusual and it’s menu is less traditional which is also unusual. My lunch is well-ordered and is delicious. The best of all three of us. (Go, me!)

After lunch we look at the beautiful Duomo from the outside since the cathedrals here have decided to now have a combo ticket letting you see about five different things for a lot more money. We just want to see the inside of the church but are not willing to pay $50 to do so.

The Duomo in Siena

The Duomo in Siena

Our last stop is at Siena’s Palazzo Pubblico. The Palazzo Pubblico (city hall) was constructed in 1297 and its original purpose was to house the republican government. The palace is covered with frescoes. The most famous in the meeting room for the government is Ambrogio Lorenzetti’s Allegory and Effects of Good and Bad Government. It was unusual for the time since it did not deal with religious themes. Justice is on one wall depicted by a woman with other virtues around her. The effect of Good Government is on one side wall with happy prosperous people in a city and verdant fields in the country side. The other side, Bad Government, shows an evil devil like creature devouring citizens, a crumbling city and war.

Palazza Pubblico

Palazza Pubblico



We catch the train back to Florence having thoroughly enjoyed our outing in Siena. We do a little shopping for our Christmas dinner, buy some sandwiches for later from the bar next door and spend a quiet evening.

December 22, 2014 – Florence

Today we get up early so we can beat the crowds at the Uffizi. On reflection it might have been better if we had gone later. There is no line for general admission but there are a ton of tour groups. The trouble with tour groups is that they move like a large scrum from painting to painting blocking the view for everyone else. It is annoying but not fatal.

The tour groups begin to form outside the Uffizi

The tour groups begin to form outside the Uffizi

Of course there are no photos allowed here. We did not even sneak one this time. Important works here include Madonnas from the 13th-14th centuries by Giotto, Cimabue and Duccio and a lot of other early Renaissance painters. What a lot of people come to see are the Botticellis. There’s also a couple of paintings by Da Vinci and one by Michelangelo. Three hours are about my limit for art galleries. As we are leaving we discover that there is a whole new section downstairs for later Renaissance works. We give this a quick look through.

For Italians lunch on Sunday is the main meal of the day so we will make it our main meal as well. We find a trattoria that looks good and settle in. Our next sightseeing objective is Santa Croce and it does not open until 2PM so we can enjoy our lunch/dinner for the next hour and a half. The food is good although not cosmic.

Santa Croce is a BIG church. Many important people are buried here. We see the tombs of Machiavelli, Galileo, Michelangelo, and Rossini to name a few. There’s also a lot of early Renaissance art.

John and I are tired out and we leave Sarah around 3 PM to finish up at Santa Croce and see whatever else she likes. We walk through the Christmas market and back to the apartment. Sarah comes home later full of all the things that we’ve missed – perhaps some other trip with better knees, I’ll see it all.

December 21, 2013 – Florence

Since yesterday was a slow sightseeing day, we have to make up for lost time. I have made up a schedule of what’s open on what day and what times they are open. Paper in hand, we are ready to hit the streets.

First up, the Last Supper by Ghirlandaio in the Ognissanti Church (All Saints.) This is the church we tried to get into this past Wednesday only to find it closed. This morning it is open! We make a contribution to restoring the church’s works and are ushered in by a pleasant lady behind the desk. We are, of course, alone in the chapel where the work is.

Ghirlandaio's Last Supper

Ghirlandaio’s Last Supper


In 1480 when this fresco was made, Leonardo da Vinci would be familiar with Ghirlandaio’s work and probably set off to make a more dynamic work when he painted his Last Supper in Milan. It’s true that the figures are more static but the painting is full of symbolism that would have been instantly recognizable to 15th century Catholics.

Our next stop is at Santo Spirito. We have been trying to get into this church for almost 20 years. The church was closed for much of this period due to problems in the scruffy San Frediano district. But today it is open! We spend some time examining all their paintings and sculptures. They have works that span the time from the 15th to the 20th century including a copy of Michelangelo’s Pieta and a crucifix by Michelangelo. There are no pictures allowed but Sarah manages one of the Pieta.

Santo Spirito

Santo Spirito


Copy of Michangelo's Pieta in Santo Spirito (original in St.Peter's)

Copy of Michangelo’s Pieta in Santo Spirito (original in St.Peter’s)

After this we look at their museum. It is mostly filled with fragments of columns and statues but has an interesting fresco covering one wall.

14th century crucifixion and a fragment of the Last Supper in the Santo Spirito museum

14th century crucifixion and a fragment of the Last Supper in the Santo Spirito museum


Two of the apostles at the Last Supper surviving from this 1380 fresco

Two of the apostles at the Last Supper surviving from this 1380 fresco

We walk along the streets of San Frediano with its many workshops. While Sarah and I duck into a cafe for cappucini, John goes in search of Mama’s Bakery for our Christmas bagels. Sarah insists that we take a “selfie” out on the square.

Marionette workshop with creepy headless puppets waiting to be rehabilitated

Marionette workshop with creepy headless puppets waiting to be rehabilitated


Selfie of Sarah and Mom

Selfie of Sarah and Mom


John's back with our Christmas bagels!

John’s back with our Christmas bagels!

Time for lunch! Our go-to place in the Santo Spirito piazza is Osteria Santo Spirito. I first ate here in 1995 while on a spouse’s tour of a Florence while John worked. We always have their rigatoni with ricotta salata.

After lunch we tackle the Pitti Palace. Sarah makes a fine tour guide for me as we go from room to room examining all the paintings and identifying saints. Our new favorite painting at the Pitti Palace? Raphael’s Madonna dell’Impannata. Jesus looks so happy here and it almost looks like Saint Catherine might be tickling him. At least I prefer to think that’s what she is doing rather than pointing to where he will be stuck with a lance during the Passion.

It’s getting late and time to head back to the apartment after a long day sightseeing. But there is still enough light to take a few photos on the Ponte Vecchio.

Dinner tonight is at 5 Amici. Although it is a humble trattoria, the food is very good and the waiter actually wants to serve us! We have a good time and head back to our apartments.


Florence is decorated for Christmas!

Florence is decorated for Christmas!

December 20, 2013 – Florence

This morning we get a slow start but we are finally up and out by 10:45. Since most things here are primarily open in the morning we have to be better about getting up and ready.

Our main event today is going to the Accademia, home to Michelangelo’s David. Along the way we pass through the Duomo square. Photo opportunity! The Duomo begun in 1296 and completed in 1436 has the largest brick dome ever constructed, a real engineering marvel of its day.

 Basilica di Santa Maria del Fiore or Il Duomo di Firenze

Basilica di Santa Maria del Fiore or Il Duomo di Firenze


Included in the Piazza del Duomo are Giottl’s Campanile and the Baptistry.
Florence Baptistry, an octagonal building begun in 1059

Florence Baptistry, an octagonal building begun in 1059


We spend a little time in the square enjoying the beauty of these buildings. They all look a little grimier since we were here last. I think the cleaning process is much like the Golden Gate Bridge’s painting schedule – when you complete the painting (cleaning), you start all over again.
Sarah and John in front of the Baptistry's Doors of Paradise

Sarah and John in front of the Baptistry’s Doors of Paradise


Sarah  and the large Christmas tree in the square

Sarah and the large Christmas tree in the square


We spend the next several hours at the Accademia. Once more there is no line to get in. Unfortunately no photos are allowed, not even with no flash. I can only imagine that this rule is because if you have your own pictures you won’t buy anything from the gift shop. The big draw here is Michelangelo’s David. It is truly monumental and awe-inspiring every time I have seen it. Also there are the “prisoners” which are unfinished sculptures which look like the figures are trying to emerge from the marble. Sarah and I really enjoy the vast collection of early Renaissance altarpieces and paintings displayed here.
Replica of David in the Piazza Signorelli

Replica of David in the Piazza Signorelli


At this point it is going on 2 PM and time for lunch. We stop at Ristorante Accademia in San Marco square. Because the restaurant is near the Accademia everything is 2 euros more than elsewhere. Food pictures -

So lunch is really good.

At this point John and I are pretty worn out. My knee continues to be a big problem and is swollen from all the walking about in Rome yesterday. We head back to the apartment after buying some groceries. Sarah plans to visit the Duomo complex and also San Marco. Unforunately San Marco is only open in the morning and the Duomo is now selling only a combo ticket for a bunch of attractions and she is unsure whether she should go ahead and do everything alone. So not a totally successful afternoon. Once again we are too full from lunch to have anything more than a sandwich and go to bed.

December 19, 2013 – Day trip to Rome

We’ve decided that the best way to beat the crowds at the Vatican Museums is to go there on a weekday, not during Christmas week. So although we will be in Rome at the end of our trip we’ve decided to take the train down for the day and see the museums. We were well rewarded.

We had to get up very early for our train ride to Rome

We had to get up very early for our train ride to Rome

After a thrilling taxi ride to the Vatican Museums, we arrive to find that there is no line to buy tickets. There are some Americans here and some school groups and, of course, the omnipresent Japenese tour groups, but otherwise it’s pretty empty for the Vatican Museums (yay!) First we take a look around the garden in the middle of the museums. There’s a giant pinecone here. Cast in 1 A.D!

Giant pinecome

Giant pinecome


St. Peter's dome as seen from the Vatican Museums

St. Peter’s dome as seen from the Vatican Museums


Our first destination is the pinacoteca. We enjoy the fact that they have a large collection of 13th and 14th century paintings. We spend quite a while looking at the collection until we realize that we need to get a move on if we are going to see Papal Apartments and the Sistine Chapel and then get over to take a look at St. Peter’s.
St. Onofrio with his long hair and leaves

St. Onofrio with his long hair and leaves


There is no easy way to reach the Papal Apartments and the Sistine Chapel. You have to go up and down a ton of stairs and through endless gift buying opportunities. If you had a lot of time some of this stuff would be quite interesting. I enjoy the hall of maps.

Finally we reach the Papal apartments painted by Raphael and his workshop. Here are a few of my favorites -
The angel waking St. Peter to lead him out of jail

The angel waking St. Peter to lead him out of jail


The Disputation of the Holy Sacrament

The Disputation of the Holy Sacrament


My favorite - The School of Athens

My favorite – The School of Athens

Here's a likeness of Dante in the previous painting

Here’s a likeness of Dante in the previous painting


We eat in the Papal Cafeteria and get extra helpings of eggplant parmesan from the nice lady behind the counter. Ladies like John. Then we are off to St. Peter’s. It’s a long walk around the outside of the museums to the church. There are no shortcuts. We asked.

We get there and, oh no, this is where all the people are. The line to get in is gigantic. We post John in line and Sarah and I take a few pictures.


We don’t think we will have enough time to get into the church and then find a taxi and get to our train. So we decide to leave without seeing St. Peter’s. We’ve all been there before so it is not quite the calamity it seems.

After another even more exciting taxi ride, we are back at the train station. Now we have time to kill. There are few seats so we settle into a bar/cafe and make a beer take a long, long time. Finally it is “All aboard!” or however they say that in Italian and we are zipping through the Italian countryside at 150 mph. We eat some sandwiches at home because we are way too exhausted to contemplate going out.

Sarah pours her been very slowly

Sarah pours her been very slowly