March 31, 2016 – Assisi, Italy

After you have visited all the highlights of Italy, Assisi is a place to go and spend at least one overnight.  It is serene and beautiful in the evening when the hordes of tourists/pilgrims have left. But it is pretty busy even first thing in the morning. But before everyone arrives we get to enjoy breakfast with a beautiful view.

Our breakfast room

Our breakfast room

It's 8:30 AM and already the tourists have arrived. It will be packed in a couple of hours.

It’s 8:30 AM and already the tourists have arrived. It will be packed in a couple of hours.

We walk over to the Basilica and rent the audio tour.  This is a must for anyone viewing the enormous complex. There is an upper church and a lower church and there are frescoes on almost every surface. The audio tour explains it all. St. Francis was revered in the church and treated almost as the second coming of Jesus. The frescoes show his entire life and his sainthood. We spend about an hour and a half looking at all the frescoes and listening to the commentary. There are no pictures allowed. (Not even sneaky pictures!) As we exit I take a picture of the upper church.

A view of the upper church of San Francesco

A view of the upper church of San Francesco

From here we walk uphill (this town seems to be completely uphill!) to the art museum. It has a lot of great old frescoes and paintings. Here are a few of our favorites.

I love the cartoonish character of a 1200's depiction of November.

I love the cartoonish character of a 1200’s depiction of November.

Here's an Annuciation angel frin 1341 who seems to be saying, "You are having the Son of God and I won't take no for an answer!"

Here’s an Annunciation angel from 1341 who seems to be saying, “You are having the Son of God and I won’t take no for an answer!”

Oh, St. Julian, you stabbed your parents by mistake! Early 1300's

Oh, St. Julian, you stabbed your parents by mistake! Early 1300’s

St. Sebastian, the poster boy hot guy of the 1330's

St. Sebastian, the poster boy hot guy of the 1330’s (BTW St. Sebastian was not killed by being shot by a bunch of arrows.)

Lunchtime! Our favorite restaurant is not open!!! We have just walked up a lot of vertical feet!! However, we find a nearby restaurant that has a lovely terrace overlooking the piazza. We have a tasty lunch consisting of salads and a pasta.

Left - John's stringozzi with saffron and green crema, center - Mary's taliateele with artichokes and cherry tomatoes, left - Sarah's stringozzi alla Norcia

Left – John’s stringozzi with saffron and green crema, center – Mary’s taliateele with artichokes and cherry tomatoes, left – Sarah’s stringozzi alla Norcia

Since we are trying to waste some time because Sarah is going to San Ruffino’s and it is still an hour away from opening, we have some dessert.

Vin santo with cookies

Vin santo with cookies

John and I head back to the hotel for an afternoon of doing nothing. We need a little rest. We pass by some interesting stores and some beautiful quiet lanes.

Boar's head and some other delightful tidbits

Boar’s head and some other delightful tidbits

A quiet lane in Assisi

A quiet lane in Assisi

Later on we meet for drinks and an hors d’oeuvres type of dinner.

Sarah on the terrace of nearby hotel

Sarah on the terrace of a nearby hotel

Cheese and salumi for dinner

Cheese and salumi for dinner

One more beautiful nighttime picture of the Basilica of St. Francis-

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March 30, 2016 – Cortona and Assisi

Leaving Arezzo among many kisses from the front desk, we head to Cortona.  John and I were here many years ago after reading “Under the Tuscan Sun.” The parking lots seem very busy and we have to park fairly far away from the town. And then we have to walk up, and up, and up. We actually have to stop a couple of times because it is so steep. Finally we are at the top and in the piazza.

Piazza in Cortona

Piazza in Cortona

From one of the overlooks we see the Lake Trasimeno.  It is quite large and John informs Sarah and me that Hannibal (of the elephants) won a battle here against the Romans in the Punic Wars. Hmm, I’ve heard of Hannibal and I know he battled Romans and I know there were Punic Wars.  The End. Sarah suggests that the elephants helped by sucking out the water from the lake with their trunks. I opine that maybe Moses could have used them at the Red Sea. Sometimes John just knows too much stuff that no one else knows. He could be totally bullsh%#ting us and we wouldn’t know.

In the back ground is Lake Tresameno

In the background is Lake Trasimeno

There are many people taking in the view, locals, tourists, and even an artist!

Artist painting

Artist painting

First we stop at the Church of San Domenico which was begun in the 1300’s and completed in 1438. It has a lovely Coronation Altarpiece done by Lorenzo di Niccolo in 1402 for a church in Florence and was commissioned by the Medici. The saints pictured are Laurence, Sylvester, Mark, Scholastica, and Dominic.

Coronation altarpiece

Coronation altarpiece

After this we walk over to the Museo Diocesano and Sarah poses at the overlook with the fancy cemetery of Cortona in the background.

Sarah in Cortona

Sarah in Cortona

In the museum we are not allowed to take pictures. We are following the rules but other people are not! So I take surreptitious photo of Fra Bartolomeo’s beautiful Annunciation. I need to figure out how to cancel the clicky noise on my iPhone when it takes a picture.

Annunciation by Fra Bartolomeo

Annunciation by Fra Bartolomeo

Lunchtime! Today we eat at Nessun Dorma which John tells me is a Puccini aria but truly he could tell me anything and I wouldn’t know. We all order salads and then some brown foods for our main courses.

Salad with crunchy, tasteless green tomatoes

Salad with crunchy, tasteless green tomatoes

Left - Sarah's chestnut gnocchi, center - Mary's chickpea soup, right - John's ribollita

Left – Sarah’s chestnut gnocchi, center – Mary’s chickpea soup, right – John’s ribollita

On the way out of Cortona we stop at the Chiesa di Santa Maria delle Grazie al Calcinaio (or the church of Saint Mary given in thanks by the lime makers.)  John and I tried to find this church in a previous trip and are very excited to be able to get a look inside. However, even though the front door is open, the inside doors are locked. Oh, blimey!

Chiesa di SantaMaria delle Grazie al Calcinaio

Chiesa di SantaMaria delle Grazie al Calcinaio

Now it is on to Assisi.  Assisi is such an ethereal looking city that we have to pull off the road on the approach just to take a couple of pictures.

Approaching Assisi

Approaching Assisi

The people at the hotel try to upsell us on a suite that overlooks the fabulous Basilica of San Francesco and we say okay.  The view is wonderful even though the hotel is less so.

View of the Basilica of St. Francis from our room

View of the Basilica of St. Francis from our room

Later on we go out for drinks. Apparently most of the pilgrims here are teetotalers so we are by ourselves on the beautiful terrace of the Hotel Giotto.  We enjoy a glass of wine and the interesting points of view from our server, Mido, a Lebanese emigre who is studying in Perugia to become a pharmacist.

View from the terrace of the Giotto Hotel bar

View from the terrace of the Giotto Hotel bar

Lastly we head to a restaurant that we’ve been to before, Il Frantoio. Unfortunately soon after we arrive a large tour group of Americans arrive. They are really loud and we ask to change our table so that we can at least hear each other.  Their meal consists of spaghetti with tomato sauce, a piece of pork, and strawberries with lemon sugar. It’s totally not Umbrian. Anyway we have some tasty primi and secondi.

Primi of Cacio e pepe, strangozzi with mushrooms, and minestrone

Primi of Cacio e pepe, strangozzi with mushrooms, and minestrone

Sausages, lamb chops, and cod

Sausages, lamb chops, and cod

Back in the room, I take a photo of the Basilica at night.

View of the basilica at night

View of the basilica at night

And then we fight with the Internet. Finally the front desk gives us their proprietary password and if I sit within 50 feet of the front desk, it works (slowly.)

March 29, 2016 – Arezzo

(Internet back up in the morning!)

This will be a short entry due to the terrible Internet at the hotel. I have managed to transfer a few pictures from my phone to my iPad and will attempt to write a post from here. Doing it on a computer keyboard is so much easier!

Our main goal here is to see Piero Della Francesca’s fresco cycle, The Legend of the True Cross. We arrive at the church of San Francesco and get in immediately and although they tell us we can only stay for half an hour no one shooes us out. We are in the church for an hour enjoying the PDF frescoes as well as other early ones.

Altar area with The Legend of the True Cross by Piero Della Francesca

Altar area with The Legend of the True Cross by Piero Della Francesca

Central panel shows St. Helena identifying the true cross by raising a young man from the dead.

Central panel shows St. Helena identifying the true cross by raising a young man from the dead.

After this we stop in to see the Cathedral San Donato. It is at the top of a really steep hill and we are totally winded before we see that now we have to climb all these stairs! My Fitbit registered that by the end of the day I had gone up 37 flights of stairs – a new record! Inside there is a beautiful marble altar, some early paintings and a fresco of a saint. He obviously has been through something horrible but we don’t know who it is.

Cathedral of St. Donato, Arezzo with tiny Sarah in front

Cathedral of St. Donato, Arezzo with tiny Sarah in front

Marble altar in the cathedral

Marble altar in the cathedral

Unknown saint

Unknown saint

Next we visited the Museum of Medieval and Contemporary Art. Of course we are only interested in art prior to the 17th century. So right off the bat I do something naughty. There is this stone which is inscribed with two peacocks from the 10th century. Ooh, the 900’s, I need to touch this! So I just very lightly touch it with my index finger. Another old thing I have touched! And did not get caught! Sarah and John are of course appalled.

Two peacocks from the 10th century

Two peacocks from the 10th century

There’s also a great Madonna and Child painted in 1262 by Margarito di Arezzo. (And no, I didn’t touch it!) Margarito has signed his work! There are very few signed pieces from the 13th century.

Madonna and Child by Margarito di Areezzo 1262

Madonna and Child by
Margarito di Arezzo 1262

Actually signed by the artist!

Actually signed by the artist! “Made by Margarito”

A couple of days ago we went to the Piero della Francesca (PDF) exhibition in Forli. Roberto Lounghi claimed in his 19th century book that PDF was a founding father of Renaissance painting and probably he was. But here are three Madonna della Misericordia painted before his. The first one here is especially reminiscent of PDF’s painting.

Madonna Misericordia,1414 Giovanni d'Agnolo di Balduccio

Madonna della Misericordia, 1414, Giovanni d’Agnolo di Balduccio

Madonna Misericordia, 1435-1437, Parri di Spinello

Madonna della Misericordia, 1435-1437, Parri di Spinello

Madonna Misericordia, 1456, Neri di Bicci

Madonna della Misericordia, 1456, Neri di Bicci

Time for lunch! We eat at a fairly fancy place at the Piazza Grande. Sarah has the prettiest dish, tortellini and fresh peas.

Sarah's lunch is the prettiest, tortellini con piselli!

Sarah’s lunch is the prettiest, tortellini con piselli!

After a brief siesta we are back to sightseeing. Arezzo is home to Guido Monaco or Guido d’Arezzo, the father of modern musical notation.

Sarah in front of the statue of Guido Monaco

Sarah in front of the statue of Guido Monaco

Mary and Sarah in front of the statue of Guido Monaco

Mary and Sarah in front of the statue of Guido Monaco

Mary and John in front of the statue of Guido Monaco

Mary and John in front of the statue of Guido Monaco

Lastly we visit the Basilica of San Domenico. We stopped here earlier but there was a funeral going on so we thought they probably wouldn’t want us in there oohing and aahing over the old art. There’s a lot of great old frescoes here as well as a Cimabue crucifix.

Basilica of San Domenico

Basilica of San Domenico

Saints performing miracles and getting martyred

Saints performing miracles and getting martyred

Cimabue crucifix, 1268

Cimabue crucifix, 1268

After our big lunch we decide to just have some Tuscan appetizers in a street cafe.

Bread and Tuscan appetizer plate

Bread and Tuscan appetizer plate

Looks like Mary and Sarah have had enough picture taking for today!

The end of the day - some people are tired of having their pictures taken!

The end of the day – some people are tired of having their pictures taken!

 

March 28, 2016 – On the trail of St. Francis and Piero della Francesca

So far we have been very fortunate with the weather. We had a little rain on the drive from the airport to Viterbo and that’s it. Today is payback day. Luckily we are prepared for rain and it does not keep us from pursuing our agenda.

We are now in St. Francis and Piero della Francesca (PDF) territory. Our first stop today is at the LaVerna Sanctuary where St. Francis received his stigmata. It is a long and twisty drive up to the mountaintop through the rain and fog. And golly, is it cold when we get out of the car!

John and I came here years ago and we were almost the only people visiting. It was lovely and serene. This Monday after Easter is anything but. There are hordes of people and busloads of kids turning this serene place into a St. Francis World theme park.

The placard as you reach the sanctuary - be quiet and respectful, no dogs or cell phones

The placard as you reach the sanctuary – Hey, there are people praying here! Be quiet and respectful and don’t talk on your cell phones. For bus loads of young people a placard instead of a text alert does not resonate.

Needless to say the visit here is not the serene encounter we are hoping for. We visit the sanctuary of the stigmata where there is a della Robbia ceramic sculpture.

della Robbia ceramic sculpture where St. Francis received the stigmata

della Robbia ceramic sculpture where St. Francis received the stigmata

After this we venture outside where one can go to the Sasso Spicco, an overhanging rock where legend has it that St. Francis sought refuge from the devil.

Sasso Spicco

Sasso Spicco

I do not join Sarah and John down the slippery stairs.  I figure there is no reason to tempt fate (or the devil!) Instead I remain in the courtyard where I can take some misty pictures.

Misty picture from the parapet

Misty picture from the parapet

 

Basilica of San Francesco

Basilica of San Francesco

After our visit to LaVerna we head down the mountain to Sansepulcro, home of PDF. It is pouring rain! We walk around a bit through the bedraggled market and find a place for some sandwiches for lunch.

Wet Sansepulcro street with market in the background

Wet Sansepulcro street with market in the background

Our next tour stop is the Cathedral of San Giovanni Evangellista. Here we see a fine Perugino ariot with expressionless faces and we also enjoy a 14th century altarpiece.

Main aisle of the Cathedral of St. John the Evangelist

Main aisle of the Cathedral of St. John the Evangelist

John viewing Perugino's Resurrection

John viewing Perugino’s Resurrection

Sarah in front of a 14th century altarpiece

Sarah in front of a 14th century altarpiece

Our last stop is at the Civic Museum. A few of their PDF pieces have been loaned out to the exhibition we saw in Forli. It seems that Piero della Francesca is big business around here attracting tourists. We see what is left.

We see the side panels to the Madonna Miseriecordia triptych - the original center panel of the Madonna is in Forli

We see the side panels to the Madonna Misericordia triptych – the original center panel of the Madonna is in Forli

We also see a PDF fresco that is being restored.

This PDF fresco of the Resurrection is currently being restored. The fresco has become the symbol of Sanspolrco or "holy sepulchre."

This PDF fresco of the Resurrection is currently being restored. The fresco has become the symbol of Sanspolrco or “holy sepulchre.”

There are also some interesting fresco fragments from a deconsecrated 14th century church.

A rendition of the Trinity

A rendition of the Trinity

 

Poor St. Catherine being martyred on a wheel

Poor St. Catherine being martyred on a wheel

Tonight’s dinner consists of stopping into a beer pub and having some crostini.

Tuscan crostini (mmm... chicken livers!)

Tuscan crostini (mmm… chicken livers!)

Beer drinkers!

 

March 27, 2016 – Forli

I feel kind of sad that we are not in Montecatini Terme today. Marco from Hotel Puccini has promised us such a grand time with the smashing of the giant chocolate Easter egg and the special surprise inside. But, alas, we are in Forli now without our friends at Hotel Puccini.

The giant chocolate Easter egg at the Hotel Puccini in Montecatini.

The giant chocolate Easter egg at the Hotel Puccini in Montecatini.

However, we have exciting things to do. The main reason that we have come to Forli is to see the Piero della Francesca exhibition, “Exploring a Legend.” Who, you might say? It seems that after Piero made his masterpieces he fell into the netherworld of great Renaissance artists. He was not discovered again until the 19th century. Over the next few days we are planning on seeing a great many of his masterpieces. But, back to the exhibition.

Banner outside the San Domenico Museums advertising the exhibition

Banner outside the San Domenico Museums advertising the exhibition

The idea behind this exhibition is to show how Piero della Francesca (PDF) influenced painters for hundreds of years. I mean, seriously, everyone from Giovanni Bellini to Edward Hopper. There was this guy, Roberto Longhi, who wrote a book connecting almost everyone who ever painted to PDF.

There are actually very few paintings by PDF in the exhibition. Mostly it is a comparison to other peoples’ art. We walk through the exhibition wondering if we will ever see any thing by PDF. Aha! Finally a room with some of PDF’s masterpieces. And at least one reasonable comparison.

A comparison between Piero della Francesca's Madonna della Misericordia (1460-62) and Felice Casorato's Silvana Cenni (1922)

A comparison between Piero della Francesca’s Madonna della Misericordia (1460-62) and Felice Casorato’s Silvana Cenni (1922)

Then the narrative skews back to comparison of light, or color, or the static-ness of the figures, or the fact that there is a landscape through a window. I am afraid that my art appreciation is not quite subtle enough!

The final comparison is to Edward Hopper. Here the our guide admits that any connection is just tenuous and it is not even clear that Edward Hopper knew about PDF. The fact that PDF had static light imbued figures does not compare with the isolation felt in Hopper’s paintings IMHO.

Example used as a comparison, Manhattan Bridge Loop by Edward Hopper (1928)

Example used as a comparison, Manhattan Bridge Loop by Edward Hopper (1928)

We break for lunch to discuss our impressions of the exhibition. We are afraid that we will not be able to find anywhere open on Easter. But it is no problem. We order some homey, Forli food at the Petit Arquesbuse. In addition to a salad we have…

After lunch we go back to the picture gallery at the San Domenico Museums where we have just seen the PDF exhibition. We enjoy looking at our usual fare of 13th, 14th, and 15th century paintings and sculptures.

The first martyr Saint Peter Martyr with a sword through his head

The first martyr Saint Peter Martyr with a sword through his head

Saint Anthony the Abbot's pig - a represntation of the devil(temptation) that is frequently shown with pictures of the Saint

Saint Anthony the Abbot’s pig – a representation of the devil (temptation) that is frequently shown with pictures of the Saint

Dinner tonight is a sandwich and some snacks in the lounge of the hotel.  As usual we are on the early side and almost no one joins us.

Panini for supper

Panini for supper

March 26, 2016 – to Forli

Before we put Montecatini Terme behind us, I have to say one more thing about our hotel, The Puccini. The staff there, all of them, were the nicest, most hospitable people we have ever met. They made us feel special and I think we all parted feeling like friends. So, big hugs to Elena, Steffi, Rosa, and Marco.


Then we get on the road to Forli. Although it is on the other side of Italy, it is only about a two hour ride. After checking in at our hotel we ride downtown to see if we can get tickets for the Piero Della Francesca exhibit on Easter. We find out that the exhibition will be running on Sunday and that we can get our tickets tomorrow.

We spend a little while walking around the old part of the city and checking out various churches. Unfortunately most of the churches have been totally redecorated and have obliterated all of their early frescoes and statuary. Too bad.

A piece of modern art called Trachea at the San Sebastian Oratorio

A piece of modern art called Trachea at the San Sebastian Oratorio. John says maybe it is St. Sebastian’s trachea with arrows sticking in it. St. Sebastian is always depicted with arrows since that was the way he was martyred. Sarah is skeptical.

The outsized tower at San Mercuriale

The outsized tower at San Mercuriale

Tonight for dinner we go to a local restaurant that is highly rated. At first the hostess says, sorry, no reservation, no table. We turn away saying we’ll find somewhere else to go. What? Fast eating Americans who order and pay for more than they can possibly eat? The staff seems to have a change of heart and someone comes running after us as we enter the parking lot. Apparently they have found a table for us. Hmmm…

I think I am getting tired of heavy food. We order a plate of bruschette, then some pasta for a primo and then I have vegetables and John has rabbit for our main entrees. The portions are enormous and I leave over half of everything. It makes me feel guilty. Starting tomorrow I have to order only exactly what I want and not feel pressured into ordering too much.

March 25, 2016 – Prato, Pescia

Although the staff here at the hotel have warned us that we probably won’t like Prato, we go anyway. We find it delightful. Since it is Good Friday there are a lot of religious goings-on so we have to carefully plan our itinerary so as to be respectful. Our first stop is at the Museum of the Cathedral since a service is being held in the church.

Duomo San Stefano, Prato

Duomo San Stefano, Prato

Annunciation - 1320, School of Giotto

Annunciation – 1320, School of Giotto (Museo dell’Opera)

Mary gives her girdle to St. Thomas

Mary gives her girdle to St. Thomas, from duomo interior altarpiece (Museo dell’Opera)

Girdle is given to the duomo in Prato (panel from outdoor pulpit)

Girdle is given to the duomo in Prato (panel from outdoor pulpit) (Museo dell’Opera)

Donatello original work for outside pulpit now in the museum

Donatello original work for outside pulpit now in the museum

Unusual outdoor pulpit

Unusual outdoor pulpit

Frescoes in the museum of original artwork showing St. Stephen to the left of the BVM with rocks on his head and the panel next to that the manner of his martyrdom

Frescoes in the museum of original artwork showing St. Stephen to the left of the BVM with rocks on his head and the panel next to that the manner of his martyrdom

And now that the mass is over, we take a look inside the duomo dedicated to St. Stephen.

Frescoed altar area of the duomo

Frescoed altar area of the duomo

John taking a picture of the Lippi frescoes

John taking a picture of the Lippi frescoes while Sarah uses binoculars for a closer look

Lippi frescoes were in made between 1452 and 1465. This one is the presentation of St. John the Baptist's head

Lippi frescoes were in made between 1452 and 1465. This one is the presentation of St. John the Baptist’s head

Leaving the duomo, we stop at the Church of San Francesco where we see this amazing painting from 1235. Painted by Berlinghiere, it is the first depiction of St. Francis completed only nine years after his death.

From the Church of San Francesco a painting done in 1235- the first painting done of St. Francis only nine years after his death

From the Church of San Francesco a painting done in 1235- the first painting done of St. Francis only nine years after his death

We stop at one more church but unfortunately they have redecorated and there is nothing left from the early days of the church. It’s time for lunch. We decide on a small place that we’ve seen in our walk around the city, Il Barrique. The lunch, except for the wonderful crostini di fegato (chicken liver on toast), is meh.


After lunch we head back to the hotel for a little siesta while most of the sites we want to see are closed as well. We head out again around 3 PM to the nearby town of Pescia where we see…

 

...the tiny church of St. Anthony the Abbot with...

…the tiny church of St. Anthony the Abbot with…

...a small frescoed chapel from the 1300's

…a small frescoed chapel from the 1300’s

We are too full to eat dinner so John picks up a sandwich and chips for us to share. Sarah decides to skip dinner entirely.

March 24, 2016 – Pistoia

We are visiting many smaller towns in Italy on this trip. It seems like you can pull off the road almost anywhere and walk into the cathedral or main church and find something amazing. Today we are going to Pistoia which is halfway between Florence and Lucca.

 Pistoia was a centre of Gallic, Ligurian and Etruscan settlements before becoming a Roman colony in the 6th century BC. Pistoia’s golden age began in 1177 when it became a free commune. During these years it was an important political center, erecting city walls and several public and religious buildings.

After being carefully watched by an elderly gentleman while we park the car, we are informed that it is not necessary to pay any parking fees (or at least that is what we hoped we understood.) We decide that he must be the unofficial car watcher for his block and wonder if upon our return we should pay him instead.

Our first stop is at the Basilica of the Madonna dell’Umilita so named because its most prized possession is a Madonna with the Christ child sitting on the floor. All artwork in this format are known as the Madonna of humility pictures because she has humbled herself by sitting on the floor (or a pillow on the floor.)

Basilica of the Madonna dell'Umilita has an odd looking facade. We wonder if its black and white marble striping has been taken off at some point and used for something else. Churches here are often built with bits and pieces of other older churches.

Basilica of the Madonna dell’Umilita has an odd looking facade. We wonder if its black and white marble striping has been taken off at some point and used for something else. Churches here are often built with bits and pieces of other older churches.

Madonna and Christ child sitting on the floor

Madonna and Christ child sitting on the floor

Unusual more modern ceiling with a shell motif usually an attribute of St. James

Unusual more modern ceiling with a shell motif usually an attribute of St. James

After stopping for some delicious coffees along the street (we drink coffee whenever we need to use a restroom somewhere), we head to the duomo dedicated to Saint Zeno with its Baptistry across the piazza. All the church workers are scurrying about getting the church cleaned up and decorated for Easter. There are not many tourists which is a blessing.

Cathedral of Saint Zeno (we could not find much evidence of St. Zeno)

Cathedral of Saint Zeno (we could not find much evidence of St. Zeno)

Interior of St.Zeno

Interior of St. Zeno (no doubt all the blank masonry used to be covered with frescoes)

13th century crucifix

13th century crucifix

13th century side chapel

13th century side chapel

After wandering through the produce market we settle on a place for lunch called La Botte Gaia. It turns out to be an excellent find because although our three dishes look like brown glop they are all excellent.

After lunch we pay a visit to the Museo Civico where there are few “watchers” and we can really get up close to the various paintings and sculptures.

13th century lunette

13th century lunette

Close-up of the grief-stricken Mary with Jesus

Close-up of the grief-stricken Mary with Jesus

I love it when the artists sign their work. This one is says "This work made by Gerinus of Pistoia, 1408"

I love it when the artists sign their work. This one is says “This work made by Gerinus of Pistoia, 1509”

A picture of St. Julian who killed his mother and father after he thought his mother was sleeping with another man (who turned out to be his father) and STILL became a saint.

A picture of St. Julian who killed his mother and father after he thought his mother was sleeping with another man (who turned out to be his father) and STILL became a saint.

Strange looking little angel with hands and feet sticking out of its wings

Strange looking little angel with hands and feet sticking out of its wings

Dinner tonight is back to the Donchisciotte for full price pizza this time. John and I get the pizza “verace” style which is still thin crust but with puffy edges. Sarah opts for thin crust all the way. I don’t know if this style has a name or not. In any case it is delicious and reminds me of the pizza of my youth on the Jersey shore.

Foreground - pizza margherita verace, thin crust white pizza with proscuitto behind

Foreground – pizza margherita verace, thin crust white pizza with proscuitto behind

 

 

March 23, 2016 – Lucca

Happy Birthday to Sarah!

Today we try to tailor our sightseeing and activities to our birthday girl. By the end of the day we had walked about seven miles and seen a lot!

Lucca is a very approachable walled city. It is easy to navigate on foot and we see many churches and a museum. Since I ran out of steam last night and did not get around to writing this post, the narrative today will be on the pictures.

Entering the walled city of Luccathrough the Porta Santa Maria

Entering the walled city of Lucca through the Porta Santa Maria

First stop is at the Basilica of San Frediano, a 12th century church with a mosaic facade

First stop is at the Basilica of San Frediano, a 12th century church with a mosaic facade

Close up of the mosaic

Close up of the mosaic

The stark interior of San Frediano - it once had frescoes covering the walls as can be seen by a few remaining pieces

The stark interior of San Frediano – it once had frescoes covering the walls as can be seen by a few remaining pieces

One of the few fragments of the frescoes that used to cover the walls

One of the few fragments of the frescoes that used to cover the walls

12th century baptismal font

12th century baptismal font

We stop for a cup of espresso in the Antiteatro. The buildings are built on the foundations of a Roman ruin.

We stop for a cup of espresso in the Antiteatro. The buildings are built on the foundations of a Roman ruin. The “square” is in the shape of an oval.

Here's the birthday girl sipping an espresso.

Here’s the birthday girl sipping an espresso.

John and I with a bit of foolishness - a selfie!

John and I with a bit of foolishness – a selfie!

John and I take a pass while Sarah climbs the Guinigi Tower.

John and I take a pass while Sarah climbs the Guinigi Tower.

View of Lucca from the top of the GuinigiTower (courtesy of Sarah)

View of Lucca from the top of the GuinigiTower (courtesy of Sarah)


Next church is the cathedral or duomo, San Martino.

Next church is the cathedral or duomo, San Martino. The church was consecrated in 1070 but has been renovated especially in the 14th and 15th centuries.

This church is dedicated to Saint Martin who gave his cloak to a poor man as illustrated in this 13th century sculpture.

This church is dedicated to Saint Martin who gave his cloak to a poor man as illustrated in this 13th century sculpture.

San Martino is much more highly decorated than San Frediano

San Martino is much more highly decorated than San Frediano

There are many important works of art in here including a Last Supper by Tintoretto

There are many important works of art in here including a Last Supper by Tintoretto

Even the ceiling is beautiful

Even the ceiling is beautiful

Some works are too precious to be put out in the open such as the Volto Santo, awooden crucifix from the 11th or 12th century whaich wawsthe symbol of the town and of the Republic of Lucca. Its image appear3ed on the town coins.

Some works are too precious to be put out in the open such as the Volto Santo, a wooden crucifix from the 11th or 12th century which was the symbol of the town and of the Republic of Lucca. Its image appeared on the town coins.

Lunchtime! We have lunch at the Caffe del Mercato. I have risotto carciofi while Sarah and John have the signature soup of Lucca , Zuppa di Farro.

Lunchtime! We have lunch at the Caffe del Mercato. I have risotto carciofi while Sarah and John have the signature soup of Lucca , Zuppa di Farro.

Sarah celebrates with a lunchtime beer. John and I stick to water.

Sarah celebrates with a lunchtime beer. John and I stick to water.

 

After lunch we head to the Villa Guinigi Museum, home to artifacts from the Etruscan civilization to paintings from the 17th century. We concentrate on the 13th to 15th century artwork and sculpture such as this paleo-Christian capital.

After lunch we head to the Villa Guinigi Museum, home to artifacts from the Etruscan civilization to paintings from the 17th century. We concentrate on the 13th to 15th century artwork and sculpture such as this paleo-Christian capital.

For some reason these feet were saved.

For some reason these feet were saved.

There are many crucifixes from the 1200's. It is amazing to look at something so old.

There are many crucifixes from the 1200’s. It is amazing to look at something so old. The inscription at the bottom says “Berlinghiero did this” in Latin.

Odd painting

Odd painting

For Sarah's birthday dinner we took her to the La Pecora Nera which translates into "the black sheep." Truly we did not think of the name referring to Sarah!

For Sarah’s birthday dinner we took her to the La Pecora Nera which translates into “the black sheep.”  Truly, we did not think of the name referring to Sarah!

 

March 22, 2016 – San Miniato

Today is an example of what happens when I don’t carefully plan things out.

We leave Siena around 10AM bound for San Miniato. San Miniato is named for the first martyr of Florence. After becoming a Christian hermit in the Florence area in 250 A.D., he was arrested by the Roman emporer who demanded that he make sacrifices to the Roman gods.  Miniato refused and was then put through numerous torments –he was thrown into a furnace, was stoned, and was thrown to a wild animal at an amphitheater. He was unharmed. Finally, he was beheaded but his legend states that he picked up his own head.

There are quite a few of these head carrying martyrs known as cephalophores. Here’s a song by They Might Be Giants about cephalophores, “You Probably Get That A Lot.”

But I digress. Our plan is to go to San Miniato visit the cathedral and especially the museum attached. There are a lot of really excellent art objects in it.

We get to San Miniato. I figure, small place, we’ll see the cathedral easily. But, no. First it is on the top of a hill and you cannot park in town. You must park outside the town and walk up. We reach what appears to be a town square but there is no cathedral.

Here I am wandering around the square

Here I am wandering around the square

We stop in a church. It is not the church we are looking for. We walk down hill and up hill. We stop in another church. Wrong church again. We walk really uphill and then up a bunch of stairs. Finally we are at the right church. But all the good stuff that we have come to see has been removed to the museum. We find the museum only to find out that it is only open on Friday, Saturday, and Sunday. It’s Tuesday. Sigh.

Duomo dedicated to Sant'Assunta and Santo Genesio

Duomo dedicated to Sant’Assunta and Santo Genesio

Interesting old stuff has been removed and replaced by Baroque decoration

Interesting old stuff has been removed and replaced by Baroque decoration

There’s a big tower on the top of this hill that we’ve climbed. It’s called the Frederick II tower. Frederick II was the Holy Roman Emperor and came from Swabia, the southwest area of today’s Germany. The tower was built between 1217 and 1223. Unfortunately the Germans blew it up in WWII but it was rebuilt in 1958. John and I have no desire to climb the rest of the hill or the 400 steps inside but Sarah is eager to take a look.

Frederick II Tower

Frederick II Tower

View from the Tower

View from the Tower

Next we decide to have lunch in a palazzo that has been turned into a hotel. It is near the Tower and is supposed to have interesting frescoes. It is closed for renovations. Can anything go right today?!
Closed for renovations

Closed for renovations

We walk almost all the way back to the car before we find a place that is open for lunch. We are the only patrons. I guess Tuesday is not a day for eating lunch out in San Miniato. We are handed a piece of paper with four choices that you can have with either rice or penne. It’s nothing fancy but we are hungry from all our hill climbing.


After lunch we head to our next hotel in Montecatini Terme. We will be here for four nights while we tour several small surrounding towns.

We spend some time doing a little hand laundry and then go out to find our new drinks and snacks place. As we sit in an empty lounge we figure out that Montecatinis have happy hour later or not at all. We decide that pizza will be dinner tonight. Our friend at the desk hooks us up with a Tuesday special in what she says is the best pizza in town. $1 for a pizza! What a deal!

$3 worth of pizza!!

$3 worth of pizza!!

 

 

March 21, 2016 – San Gimignano

Just to show that our vacations aren’t all dead saints and plates of food, here is a shot of John enjoying our in-room bathtub.

Rub-a-dub-dub, John in the oddly placed in-room tub

Rub-a-dub-dub, John in the oddly placed in-room tub

Today we take a side trip from Siena to San Gimignano, the town of many towers. During the rivalry between the Guelphs and Ghibellines, a rivalry also sprang up to see who could have the highest tower. This resulted in families building tower houses of increasing height. Towards the end of the Medieval period there were 72 towers of up to 230 feet tall. Fourteen exist today.

San Gimignano towers

San Gimignano towers

More towers!

More towers!

Artsy photo of towers

Artsy photo of towers

Multiple towers!!

Multiple towers!!

It’s a rainy morning with a cold wind as we make our way up to the Collegiate Church of Santa Maria Assunta. This church is renowned for its fresco cycle depicting Old and New Testament subjects. Unfortunately there are no pictures allowed. In fact I take one of a fresco that is not even inside the church but on the porch outside and am rebuked with a stern “NO FOTO!” (so embarassing!)

Collegiate Church of Santa Maria Assunta

Collegiate Church of Santa Maria Assunta with Mary and Sarah

Forbidden picture

Forbidden picture

After touring the church with its excellent audio tour and the church’s museum we head for lunch. The manager of our B & B has recommended La Mangiatoia and we are not disappointed.

Later after returning the car to the garage we have a little lie down while Sarah takes a walk around Siena trying to stay awake. We meet for drinks and snacks at the Il Campo, toast Siena once last time while viewing the beautiful Palazzo Pubblico. It has been a fine four days in Siena!

Goodnight and goodbye, Siena!

Goodnight and goodbye, Siena!

March 20, 2016 – More Siena

First up today is a visit to the Pinacoteca Nazionale. This art museum concentrates on Sienese painters and has a large collection of 13th to 17th century art. We are mostly interested in the earlier works.

There is a definite recognizable style to Sienese painting and between the 13th and 15th centuries it rivaled Florence artistically. The Gothic-looking gold backgrounds, often embossed, and the elegant stylized figures with elongated narrow eyes are hallmarks of the style. While Florentine painters were moving towards more solid naturalistic portrayals of people in real surroundings, the Sienese remained rooted in their ethereal, other worldly figures.

We spend almost three hours enjoying the art. Here are some favorites.

Madonna and child - gold embossed background and elongated eyes

Madonna and child – gold embossed background and elongated eyes

The martyrdom of St. Catherine of Alexandria on the wheel - graphic

The martyrdom of St. Catherine of Alexandria on the wheel – graphic

The flaying of St. Batholomew - no punches pulled here

The flaying of St. Batholomew – no punches pulled here

Sarah viewing a 13th century crucifix

Sarah viewing a 13th century crucifix

Grinning horse

Grinning horse

Time for lunch! Trying to avoid being ripped off at the restaurants around the Campo we wander the streets looking for somewhere to eat. We finally settle on a place in the direction of our next sightseeing stop. It turns out to be pretty mediocre. Oh well, you can’t win them all.

After lunch we head to the church of San Domenico which houses the relics of St. Catherine of Siena. She seems a little delusional claiming she has a wedding ring and stigmata given to her by Jesus but that only she can see them. She becomes politically involved and tries to broker peace between the Papal States and Florence. She also implores the pope to return from Avignon to Rome. Ultimately she stops eating and drinking water and dies at 33.

Basilica of San Domenico

Basilica of San Domenico

During her short life she garners a following and according to legend they go to Rome to steal her remains. Not being able to manage a whole body they just take the head. On their way back to Siena they are stopped and have to open the sack. Miraculously the sack contains only rose petals but reverts back to being a head when they reach Siena.

So, we head (no pun intended) to the church of San Domenico to see St. Catherine’s head. Unfortunately no pictures allowed. You can, however, find macabre pictures of it on the Internet. I think I will stick with one of the live renditions.

St. Catherine of Siena

St. Catherine of Siena

We have one more stop to make on today’s itinerary but it will have to wait until after a little jet lag break. In our hour and a half rest both Sarah and I fall asleep. But we are up again at 4PM ready to take on the Palazzo Pubblico  with its amazing frescoes, The Allegory of Good and Bad Government.

The Palazzo Pubblico is the iconic building that you see in all the pictures of Siena. Construction began in 1297 and the building’s purpose was to house the republican government of Siena. The governing body of Siena, the Council of Nine, met in the room where Lorenzetti’s The Allegory of Good and Bad Government was painted in 1338-39.

Palazzo Pubblico

Palazzo Pubblico

On one wall Justice and Wisdom pass judgements down to Harmony seen handing them out to the people. Justice and Wisdom are advised by the Virtues. On one adjoining wall is the fresco, The Effects of Good Government. Here merchants are busy, people are happy, and Siena is bustling and prosperous. The fields outside the city are bursting with crops and healthy animals.

On the opposite wall is the fresco, The Effects of Bad Government. In these scenes a tyrant is ruling and his counsellors are greed, pride, and cruelty. The city is crumbling and the populace is downtrodden, sick, and starving.  Beyond the city walls the animals are dying and the fields lie fallow.

If you are a member of the Council of Nine you need only look up to realize what your civic duty should be.

Part of the Allegory of Good and Bad Government

Part of the Allegory of Good and Bad Government

It has been a full day. My fit bit registers over 10,000 steps and 27 flights of stairs. It’s time for some drinks and snacks at our favorite table over looking the Campo with the Palazzo Pubblico in the background.

Sarah at our favorite hangout

Sarah at our favorite hangout

 

 

March 19, 2016 – Siena

Today we visit the gorgeous Siena cathedral complex. Instead of checking what time it opens I blithely assume that it will all open by 9 AM. Turns out the ticket office opens at 9:30 and the cathedral and environs opens at 10. While John stands in line for our tickets, Sarah and I spend our time taking pictures of the cathedral and each other.

Front facade of the Siena duomo

Front facade of the Siena duomo

Front detail

Front detail

Statue of wolf nursing Romulus and Remus

Statue of wolf nursing Romulus and Remus

Mary in front of cathedral

Mary in front of cathedral

Sarah in front of main doors

Sarah in front of main doors

One ticket gets you into the church, the Baptistry, the Crypt, the Piccolomini library and the museum. Once inside the gorgeous church we rent the mini iPad guide for all the sites. The fabulously decorated floor is one of the most brilliant artworks of the cathedral. It is uncovered entirely only in the summer so we are sorry that we only get to see a small part of it but glad that we are here when the crowds are not huge. We spend more than an hour looking at and listening to explanations of statues, ceiling, pulpit, altar, windows, and some uncovered pieces of the floor. It is amazing to see the craftsmanship that went into this church which was begun in 1196, in use by 1215, and finished in 1348.

Overview of the interior of the cathedral

Overview of the interior of the cathedral

A Sybil inlaid on the cathedral floor

A Sybil inlaid on the cathedral floor

Statue of St. Paul, an early work by Michelangelo - note the dynamic tension in the figure accomplished by twisting the body

Statue of St. Paul, an early work by Michelangelo – note the dynamic tension in the figure accomplished by twisting the body

Floor sculpture of the massacre of the innocents

Floor sculpture of the massacre of the innocents

Next we visit the Piccolomini Library, containing illuminated choir books and frescoes painted by Pinturicchio, probably based on designs by Raphael.  The frescoes tell the story of the life of Siena’s favorite son, cardinal Enea Silvio Piccolomini, who eventually became Pope Pius II. Painted between 1502 and 1507 the frescoes contain portraits of Pinturicchio and Raphael mingling with the crowds.

Fresco in the Piccolomini Library - figures on the left are Petrucchio and Raphael (in the red tights)

Fresco in the Piccolomini Library – figures on the left are Pinturrichio and Raphael (in the red tights)

Next up is the crypt which is not really a crypt but a meeting room for pilgrims in the old church before the current cathedral was built. It had been filled in with construction rubble and not discovered until 1999! After shoring up the ceiling of these rooms so that the ornate floor of the cathedral would not be disturbed, the crypt was opened to the public in 2003. The 13th century frescoes depict scenes from the Old Testament and from the life of Christ. What a find!

The flight to Egypt where the palm tree bends down to offer Jesus a fig

The flight to Egypt where the palm tree bends down to offer Jesus a fig

Fresco of Jesus in sepulcre

Fresco of Jesus in sepulcre

We are starting to flag and decide to find some lunch and sit down for a bit. Vacationing is hard work! We stop at a little restaurant, Il Ghibellino, across from the Baptistry and a couple of doors down from our B & B. We each have different versions of the local pasta called pici. It is like spaghetti on steroids. We all enjoy our lunches although once again I need to share my leftovers with Sarah and John.

Sarah photographing her pici carbonara with John and his pici with wild boar

Sarah photographing her pici carbonara with John and his pici with wild boar

My pici cacio e pepe

My pici cacio e pepe

The temptation now is to retreat to our rooms for a little lie down since we’ve been on our feet for hours and jet lag is catching up with us. But we can only use our iPad tour guides until 4 PM and we still have two more places to see. So off we go to the Baptistry.

The Baptistry is an integral part of the cathedral and not a separate building. Completed in 1325 it is located underneath the eastern portion of the church and its construction is probably why the so-called Crypt was filled with rubble. The main attraction is the hexagonal baptismal font, containing sculptures by Donatello and bas-relief panels by Ghilberti who also worked on the doors to the Baptistry in Florence.

The Baptistry is located right across the street from our hotel

The Baptistry is located right across the street from our hotel

The frescoed Baptistry with baptismal font in center

The frescoed Baptistry with baptismal font in center

Just one. More. Site. To. See.  As we walk into the museum of the cathedral we are told to start at the top floor and work our way down. There are so many stairs! My knee is really tired. I stop halfway up ad sit down pretending to look at something on my tour guide. Finally I struggle up the rest of the way.

Look at all this great old stuff! There are medieval altarpieces and sculptures! Just my favorite kinds of artwork! Oh, why did we save this for last?! We do our best but we are exhausted. The very last piece of art we see before crying “uncle” is the most wonderful of the day.  It is he Maestà by Duccio di Boninsegna, and was the altarpiece of the cathedral from about 1311 until around 1505.

The massive work shows the Madonna and Child with saints and angels. The back side has forty-three small scenes depicting the life of Mary and Christ. The base of the panel has an inscription that reads “Holy Mother of God, be thou the cause of peace for Siena and life to Duccio because he painted thee thus.” Duccio, not immodestly realized that he had created a masterpiece. Here is one of the founding pieces of the Renaissance! It gives me goosebumps as I view it.

The Maestra!

The Maestra!

At this point even Sarah is exhausted. We return the tour guides and head back to our rooms for some r and r. Later we meet for drinks and people watching at the campo. We play the amusing game of “Italian or not?” as people pass by. We share a pizza for dinner and make the mistake of going to sleep too early which is why I am writing this in the middle of the night. Thanks, jet lag!

Campo at night

Campo at night

Yay, pizza!

Yay, pizza!

 

 

 

March 18, 2016 – Viterbo and on to Siena Part 2

We head off to Siena around noon. The plan is to drive, find somewhere to have lunch, and end up meeting a guy at a garage just outside the city walls at 4 PM.

We decide to take back roads instead of the autostrada. Soon we encounter the large beautiful Lake Bolsena. We decide that lunch in the town of Bolsena is a good idea. The town is charming. We choose a restaurant at random and settle in for a very tasty lunch. Yay, I order well and my lunch is the best! Lucky for John and Sarah that I cannot eat it all so they get to partake in my ordering brilliance!

Sarah outside of Trattoria Pichietto

Sarah outside of Trattoria Pichietto

Yay! My taliatellini with lake fish is the best!

Yay! My taliatellini with lake fish is the best!

We wander around the town for a bit. We find out that Bolsena is on the pilgrimage trail of St. James. We see the San Rocco fountain where the Saint whose attribute is a plague spot on his thigh stopped on his pilgrimage. There is also an imposing castle high on the hill overlooking the town and lake.

Fruits being sold on the main street of Bolsena

Fruit being sold on the main street of Bolsena

Saint Rocco's foutain

Saint Rocco’s fountain

The castle above Bolsena - Sarah's giant finger on the right side of the picture

The castle above Bolsena – Sarah’s giant finger on the right side of the picture

Back in the car for the rest of the trip to Siena. Sarah zonks out but luckily John, the only one of us who can drive a stick shift, does not. We find our meeting point on the first pass and the garage owner whisks us away to our hotel, Il Battisterio, which is across from the baptistry and only minutes from the campo. Our rooms are pretty quirky. Both rooms have bathing facilities that are in the main room. Both are garishly lit. But location, location, location!

Our room...

Our room…

...with the bathtub in an alcove!

…with the bathtub in an alcove!

Sarah's room with shower in the room. Note bed splashguard

Sarah’s room with shower in the room. Note bed splashguard

One view from our terrace

One view from our terrace

Looking in the other direction

Looking in the other direction

On the way to the hotel we see that there is a chocolate festival going on in the campo where they run the palio. We have to check it out. There is every kind of imaginable chocolate. Chocolate bricks, chocolate chips, chocolate in the form of Disney characters, even chocolate clothespins, teeth, and toothbrushes. None of us really cares much about eating chocolate but it is fun to look and we finally make our way over to a cafe and enjoy the action with some snacks and drinks.

Campo with chocolate festival

Campo with chocolate festival

Chocolate!

Chocolate!

Chocolate in the shape of Pringles!

Chocolate in the shape of Pringles!

 

Chocolate shoes and iPhones

Chocolate shoes and iPhones

Chocolate clothespins, lipstick, nail polish, teeth, toothbrushes, and handcuffs!

Chocolate clothespins, lipstick, nail polish, teeth, toothbrushes, and handcuffs!

Later we make our way to our favorite restaurant here. As in the way of many favorites, when you go back to revisit it, the results are not the same. I get my payback from my wonderful lunch with a vegetarian dinner disaster. My main course is farro and bread meatballs in a potato sauce. Starch, starch, and more starch. Oh well, we have a great time anyway.

John and Mary at Numero Unico

John and Mary at Numero Unico

March 18, 2016 – Viterbo and on to Siena Part I

Often I am accused of over-planning. For me half the excitement of a trip is the anticipation. So I am enthused about what we are doing even before we go! There is always room for some spur of the moment adventures in any case. Today we really enjoy ourselves in two towns off the tourist beaten track.

This morning we go into Viterbo. The reason we are in Viterbo is that we wanted a stopover somewhere about an hour and a half north of Rome. I did not want John to have to drive all the way to Siena after being awake for more than 24 hours. Our chance encounter with Viterbo turns out to be a good one.

After driving into the old part of the city we find a parking lot and head off on foot up and down the narrow, steep streets. We are looking for the cathedral and the papal palace. Sarah is our tour guide.

Sarah, map inhand, guides us through the maze of narrow streets.

Sarah, map in hand, guides us through the maze of narrow streets.

We finally find our way to the cathedral where all sorts of uniformed men and women are streaming into the church. A sign says, “No turisti!” We discover that today, the one morning that we have to see the cathedral, is the day that uniformed people are having a special mass and blessing.

Cathedral of San Lorenzo on armed forces benediction day

Cathedral of San Lorenzo on armed forces benediction day

Okay, we will look around at the other buildings in the piazza. One is the papal palace. Viterbo acted as an alternative site for the papacy during the 13th century. Here’s a funny story about it.

“One of the best stories about the Viterbo popes is of an election for the papacy in 1268. 18 cardinals dutifully assembled in the bishop’s palace, but after a year and a half they still hadn’t managed to choose between candidates. The Viterbesi, exasperated, locked the cardinals in their conclave (the word comes from the Latin ‘with key’), reduced them to bread and water rations and even removed the roof of the palace. Eventually the cardinals made their decision, but it had taken nearly three years – the longest ever conclave.”

Papal palace

Papal palace with merlons

Loggia next to the papal palace

Loggia next to the papal palace

A view of the city walls from the loggia

A view of the city walls from the loggia

Finally it is10AM and the little museum that holds artworks and artifacts of the cathedral opens. We, of course, are eager to see and identify the various saints and situations in the artwork.

A reliquary claiming to hold the jaw of John the Baptist

A reliquary claiming to hold the jaw of John the Baptist

Part of a Roman statue seeming to be rising out of the ground

Part of a Roman statue seeming to be rising out of the ground

An Etruscan sarcophagus

An Etruscan sarcophagus

The goddess of abundance - according to the information card she either has a lot of breasts or bulls' testicles

The goddess of abundance – according to the information card she either has a lot of breasts or bulls’ testicles

Madonna del carbonara - painted in the late 12th or early 13th century

John reading the tag on the Madonna del carbonara  painted in the late 12th or early 13th century

St. Lawrence with his grill and St. Stephen holding a rock

St. Lawrence with his grill and St. Stephen holding a rock. St. Lawrence was martyred on a grill over a fire and St. Stephen was martyred by being beat in the head with rocks.

After finishing up the museum we find the car park and hurry back to the hotel to check out and begin our way to Siena.

Part 2 to follow

 

March 16-17, 2016 – Traveling to Italy

Today is a very, very long day. When you use frequent flyer miles to travel, you get the least optimal routings. We start at SFO and fly to Chicago where there is a 4 hour layover. Then it is on to London. Hours later when we arrive at Heathrow there is another couple of hours layover. Finally we have the 2+ hour flight to Rome where we then end up standing in line for an hour with thousands of other people waiting to get through passport control. By the time we get our rental car and get out on the road it is already late in the afternoon. Boy, are we tired!

Since my whole body is thrumming with exhaustion, I think I’ll just post some pictures from today with captions. My brain isn’t feeling at all clever tonight. Starting tomorrow when we start our adventures, I’ll do better.

John enjoying a California cappuccino before the crack of dawn.

John enjoying a California cappuccino before the crack of dawn.

O'Hare terminal

O’Hare terminal

Where we spent 4 layover hours in Chicago

Where we spent 4 layover hours in Chicago

Where we spent a couple of layover hours at Heathrow

Where we spent a couple of layover hours at Heathrow

The Alps!

The Alps!

I have to say a word about our dinner in Viterbo. We figure we will get a small salad and a personal size pizza each for dinner. We arrive at the restaurant at 7:45PM so of course we are the first people there. So we don’t really know how big the servings are. On the menu the salad is called salatina capriccioso which means a little salad of whatever. It costs 3Euros. So we figure it can’t be very big. The pizzas range from 6Euros to 8 Euros. When the food comes out we realize that we could fed the three of us for 9 Euros! There is no way we can eat all this! And yet, all around us sit slender Italians eating their entire pizzas plus starters and desserts. Yes, they walk more than we do but they would have to walk a hell of a lot to burn off all those calories! It’s a mystery!

John having a St. Benoit's beer at Buongiorno Napoli

John having a St. Benoit’s beer at Buongiorno Napoli

Insalatina

Insalatina

Personal pizze

Personal pizze

Tomorrow we start out visiting the old section of Viterbo, once the home of popes. We will find some interesting towns with old churches to see on our drive to Siena where we will spend 4 days.

March 6, 2016 – Nathan’s pre-birthday party

It’s hard to believe that Nathan is now double-digits! Before you know it he’ll be able to drive. Jonathan expressed the wish that self-driving cars would be a reality by then. But it is only 6 years away!!

Anyway to get back to his 10th birthday, since we are going to be in Italy when his birthday day party is happening (now postponed to March 19 due to rain) we thought we’d have a little pre-party. The afternoon started out with a birthday shopping spree. Nathan chose many nerf guns and ammo plus one Lego kit. Afterwards we all went to Amici’s for pizza. It all turned out really well, the pizza was delicious, and Nathan enjoyed his birthday party.

HAPPY BIRTHDAY, NATHAN!

John lights the pizza candles

John lights the pizza candles

Nathan thinking of his wish while we sing Happy Birthday

Nathan thinking of his wish while we sing Happy Birthday

Ten is a lot of candles to blow out

Ten is a lot of candles to blow out

Almost got them all!

Almost got them all!

A surprise cake arrives

A surprise cake arrives

It's a lot of cake to eat!

It’s a lot of cake to eat!

Yum!

Yum!