Town Hall Meeting – 4/22/17

Today Sarah and I attend our Congressperson’s Town Hall. Eric Swalwell is our representative. There is a large crowd at Dublin High School. Most of the people there are Democrats, I think.

Rep. Swalwell starts out by relating his experiences growing up and how his parents sacrificed to make sure that he had a good education and could have a better life than they had. Then through a random draw he takes questions from the audience. He tries to insure that what he answers has policy content rather than political content. People ask a wide variety of questions from taxes to immigration to their frustration with government. At one point Rep. Swalwell takes a question from a Boy Scout who is trying to earn his Citizen Badge to become an Eagle Scout.

Rep. Eric Swalwell answers a Boy Scout’s question

It is reassuring to go to this meeting. After all the political posturing and anti-everything policies of the current administration, it is refreshing to hear from people who want to do positive things for the state and country. The crowd is mostly patient and respectful and there is very little yelling out of turn.

Rep. Eric Swallwell

Nathan’s band concert – 4/20/17

John, Sarah, and I drive over to Palo Alto to see and hear Nathan’s band concert. He’s been hard at work this year learning to play the clarinet. We really don’t know what to expect. Early learners of musical instruments are often hard on the ear. However, we are quite impressed by how focused and musical the students are. We see that Nathan is carefully watching the music and looking up to get cues from the conductor.

Nathan playing clarinet

Jonathan tells us that Nathan has been intent on his practicing. The kids are even able to play harmonies and count the rests to come in at the right place. We tell Nathan how much we enjoy the concert and congratulate him mightily. The students are very celebratory at the end of their concert. Probably a little more than I hope for given that they are holding instruments.

Clarinet players show off their instruments

Passover celebration – 4/15/17

As usual we are not quite on the right day for our Seder but better a delayed Seder when the whole family can get together than no Seder at all! As usual I really enjoy getting the table ready.

Table almost ready for the Passover Seder

When the family arrives I have a special task for Sam. A few years ago we had made the ten plagues out of a paper bag kits. We put them on the mantle as decoration. This year I scramble them up and ask Sam to help me out by putting them in the right order. He can find the correct order by looking in the Haggadah. He is very enthusiastic about his job.

Sam getting started with the plagues

Sam checking the Haggadah for the order

Close to getting done

Sam is having too much fun to do this alone!

After Nathan and Sam finish it is family picture time.

Ryan, Jonathan, Nathan, and Sam

Time to get started!

Family at the Seder table

Nathan and Sam take turns being the basin holder and towel distributor for the two “washing of the hands”

Nathan holds the basin while Zayde washes his hands, Sam is behind with the towel

This Passover is the first time for Sam as the youngest participant to ask the Four Questions. He does a great job!

Ryan helps Sam with the reading of the Four Questions

We had a great time going through the ritual, singing songs, and having a delicious dinner. I look forward to this every year.

Last day, amazing artwork at a recent UNESCO site – 4/5/17

Cannot believe we are at the end of our trip. Three weeks ago the time strectched out in front of us now it is all compressed into one final day.

We leave Verona and head toward Milan. We are staying at the airport tonight and the last place we are seeing is not far from Milan Malpensa.  Castelseprio was the site of a Roman fort in antiquity, and a Longobard town in the early Middle Ages. It was destroyed and abandoned in 1287. So the archeological site is mostly of ruins which are interesting but not the main draw. There is a small intact church, Santa Maria foris portas, that holds some really unique frescoes. The site was rediscovered in 1944 and became a UNESCO World Heritage site in 2011. According to UNESCO –

“The frescoes decorating the central apse of the church of Santa Maria foris portas constitute the finest early medieval pictorial cycle in terms of artistic quality, and are considered unique in early medieval European art.”

Here are some of the ruins.

Ruins of the abbey at Castelseprio

Luckily the small church escaped destruction and inside are some unique Middle Ages frescoes. The people look like real people with expressions and there is perspective. All the things that happened in the Renaissance were already in place at least in this artist. It is stunning. I am thinking back to the early almost stick figures that we saw in Cividale dei Fruili and the Byzantine thickly outlined Madonnas from the early 13th century. Finally Giotto at the end of the 13th painted his stolid but real Madonnas. But these 9th century frescoes are on a whole different level.

Church of Santa Maria foris portas

Here are the frescoes –

Mary passes the test of the bitter water held out to her in a jug by the priest, Zachariah

The Angel appears to Joseph to allay his doubts over the Divine Maternity

The journey to Bethlehem

The adoration of the Magi

The Presentation in the Temple

The nativity and the announcement to the shepherds

All I can say is “WOW!” These are frescoes found under plaster and dated to the beginning of the 9th century. There are people standing in front of other people, Mary actually sitting on a lifelike donkey, and lying on a bed. There are small trees and animals in the background. It is amazing. This is a perfect way to end our trip.

After this we head to our hotel for the night, MOXY at Malpensa. The rooms are small and the AC is not turned on. We need to leave the window open so the room will not be stifling. We are treated to planes taking off on a nearby runway and DHL putting cargo on its trucks all night long right under our window.  From the sublime to the ridiculous in a few short hours.

The trip home is fine. Take-off from Heathrow and landing at SFO are delayed so we enjoy driving home during an unusally heavy rush hour.  We arrived home Thursday late afternoon and it is Monday now.  We are just emerging from the haze of jetlag.

Finding more old churches in Valpolicella – 4/4/17

I cannot believe how great the weather has been. Only one rainy afternoon in Venice during the whole trip! Today we awaken to another beautiful day and head down to breakfast. The Grand Hotel Verona has a very nice spread with sweets, meats, breads, cereal, and eggs. I particularly like the hotdog-like breakfast sausage. We make our plan for the day and go and get our car which is showing low tire pressure in the right rear tire. This is the second time and we wonder if it has a slow leak. In any case we will have to find a service station and get the tire filled, always an adventure. I suggest we make the sound “pfft” and point at the tire. John and Sarah are interested in using way too many words!

Today we are going to the Valpolicella area northwest of Verona. Our travels will take us up to Lake Garda where I have promised at least partially a normal tourist day with lunch overlooking the lake and perhaps a little gelato.

Our first stop is at the Church of St. Florian in San Pietro in Ciriano. It is an early Christian church at least dating back to the 700’s. Interestingly some of its building blocks are obviously recycled Roman buildings. The Roman inscriptions and carvings are still on them.

Recycled Roman building materials

Unfortunately the inside has been mostly redone in a more 19th century style. The Stations of the Cross are definitely 20th or 21st century.  They have, to me, a very appealing modern vibe.

Modern Stations of the Cross

All the churches we want to see are in a straight path away from Verona along a 28Km vector to Lake Garda. In no time at all we are up atop a nearby hill to find the Church of San Giorgio. Once found, it is not easy to get into. There is a sign on the door telling us (in Italian) to go through a door in the cloister. After hunting around we finally find our way in. It is too bad that we have only two .50E coins to illuminate the church.

San Giorgio is of Romanesque architecture built in the 1100’s over previous religious houses. There are a few 11th century frescoes and column bases made from Roman altars.

Weird fresco of God expelling Adam and Eve. Adam has no hands coming out of his sleeves but a pair of hands further down his body.

Fresco in the apse of San Giorgio

This 11th century Last Supper is quite damaged, sadly

Now it’s time to be regular tourists! Well, almost regular, we do manage to find an old church while walking around. We stop at Lazise, a walled city, for lunch. The unusual crennelated walls date from 14th century but the town is much older, dating to at least the 800’s. It is situated on the eastern shore of Lake Garda.

The walled town of Lazise

Lake Garda is quite large and is looking sparkly and blue today. There are several swans swimming around.

Lake Garda

Swan on Lake Garda

We dine outside looking at the Lake at Trattoria Tropical.

John has pepata di cozze

Sarah orders Pizza Vulcano!

I have my old standby, spaghetti con vongole

We find an old church to look in on, the Church of San Nicolo. It’s from the 12th century and has frescoes!

White-bearded San Nicolo

Madonna and Child

After having the promised gelato we head back to the car and make one more church stop in Bardolino, about 5 km north along Lake Garda. San Severo is a 9th century church which must have been resplendent with frescoes but now they are quite faded and damaged.

Church of San Severo

Faded and damaged fresco in San Severo

It seems like we have done a lot today and I am tired but we are supposed to go to the Verona Cathedral on the way home. I am sulky and want to be dropped off at the hotel but I manage to mess up the navigating and it seems easier if we all go to the Cathedral instead.

Miraculously we find a parking space and go into the cathedral. It is pretty fancy but not in the way that I like. It has obviously gone through a style change at some point and looks 18th or 19th century-ish. Boo.

Interior of Verona Cathedral

The drive back to the hotel is exciting. John is driving in the zones where you are not allowed to drive. He is following a bus in the bus only lanes. We make it back to the hotel pretty quickly. We are taking wagers on how many tickets we will get this trip!

It seems like we’ve stopped getting dinners. We have big a lunch and then a snack or a sandwich for dinner. Sarah volunteers to go out and get sandwiches. She is gone a long time. I am getting fretful. Just as John is about to go out to look for her, she arrives back. She has been walking all over Verona trying to find the combination of sandwiches we wanted.

Tomorrow we make our way back to Milan airport for the trip home on Thursday. We still have one more exciting stop to make.

The One Gentleman and Two Ladies of Verona – 4/3/17

We are spending the next two nights in Verona, home of Juliet’s balcony but that’s a different play. On the way to Verona we are stopping in Padua to see the Basilica di Sant’Antonio.

Saint Anthony of Padua (not to be confused with Saint Anthony the Abbot) is a much revered and petitioned Saint. He is buried at this Basilica and his relics and cassock are displayed here. Lots of people are here to ask Saint Anthony to intercede for them and assist them with some woe. It is a pretty amazing, highly decorated place. Here’s a look.

Outside of the Basilica of St. Anthony

Interior of Basilica

Fresco of people gambling for Jesus’s clothes by A. Da Zevio, 1378, in the Chapel of St. James

Below are other frescoes about the life of St. James in the chapel. St. James was decpitated by King Herod. After his martyrdom his remains were taken to Compostela, Spain. His shrine the Santiago de Compostela is the most frequently visited place for pilgrims after Rome and Jerusalem. These frescoes appear to have something to do with his death and subsequent removal to Spain.

Relics of St. Anthony

Vocal chords and tongue


Beautiful Basilica

On the way out of Padua we stop at McDonald’s for a quick lunch and a safe bathroom.

McD lunch

We arrive in Verona and check into our hotel. Plans are made to visit the Coliseum there and go to the Museo Castelvecchio. I am really tired and my back hurts. I make the executive decision to send John and Sarah out on their own. I would be a drag on the party this afternoon. They leave around 3:30 and return around 7. I spend three and a half delicious hours taking a little nap, catching up on my posts, doing crossword puzzles, etc. Our vacation has been full every day and I just need a little down time. (Plus I have been to both these places before.)

I tell John to be judicious in taking photos. He takes a zillion. Here are some of his favorites.

Verona’s Roman Coliseum (Sarah in the foreground)

After visiting the Coliseum, John and Sarah go to the Museo Castelvecchio. The Castelvecchio is a medieval castle within the city of Verona. It was the most important military construction of the Scaliger dynasty that ruled Verona in the Middle Ages. It was restored and repurposed as a museum between 1958 and 1974. It houses a great deal of art and sculpture.

Sarcophagus of Saints Sergio’s and Bacchus, Unknown sculpture around 1179

St. Catherine with her wheel sculpted by Maestro di Sant’Anastasia in the first quarter of the 14th century

These next two Madonnas were painted about 50 years apart. You can see how the style as gone from cartoonish to actually looking like a person.

Unknown painter of Madonna allattante (nursing Madonna) circa late 1200’s

Madonna and Child Enthroned beginning of 1300’s

The next photo is of a sculpture of a smiling Cangrande on his horse. Cangrande was an Italian nobleman who was the sole ruler of Verona from 1311 to 1329. He is best known for being the leading patron of the poet Dante Alighieri. When he was not out conquering Vicenza, Padua, and Trevino, he was known for his joviality.

Smiling Cangrande on his horse

Two Giovanni Bellini Madonnas

The Boi polyptych by Cerchia di Altichiero (a contemporary of Giotto)

Descent from the Cross by Paolo Caliari known as Il Veronese 16th century

On the way back from the museum John and Sarah buy some chips and we have a chip and wine party in our room drinking our Pilato Teran for dinner and then everyone has an early night.



Back to Italy – 4/2/17

We are heading home on Thursday out of Milan, and today is Monday and we are in Croatia. It is time to start the trip back to Milan much more quickly than our leisurely pace that has characterized most of our trip.

We say goodbye to our hotel friends with their terrible internet and no hot water. But they are so nice and helpful that it will a seem a shame to give them less than a stellar review. Today we are stopping in Cividale dei Fruili to see a number of things.

First up the Museo Cristiano. This museum concentrates on Christianity in the area and in particular the influence of the Longobards. Longobards were a tribe that came to the area from Southern Scandinavia and ruled parts of Italy from 568 to 744. The came first as pagans but over time adopted the Christian faith and assimilated with the Romans.

Interesting story – the Longobards used to be known as the Winnili and they were set to do battle with the Vandals with far fewer soldiers. One of the head women sought help from the goddess Frea who advised that all Winnili women should tie their hair in front of their faces like beards and march in line with their husbands. When Frea’s husband Gotan (Wotan/Odin) saw them he said who are these long beards. Frea said you have named them and now give them a victory. Ever after the Wannili were known as the longbeards or Longobardi.

The first thing we see in the museum is the tomb of Rachis. This 8th century tomb has some wonderful carvings of religious subjects. Could not get great pictures because no photos allowed!

Picture of the Tomb of Ratchis from the internet

I especially like the angels giant hands and tiny feet. The side panels are pictures I took myself because I enjoy breaking the no photo rule.

The Magi bearing gifts at the Nativity

The Visitation

Then it is time for lunch. John remembers the name and exact location of the restaurant we went to the last time we were here. (Of course he does. It is La Speranza.) Sarah and I are in need of a restroom and are glad to eat lunch at this point. Uh oh, the bathroom contains a hole in a flat porcelain surround. Really not American friendly. So Sarah armed with her best Italian asks, “You have toilet with chair?” After some confusion they figure out what she is talking about and escort her to a bathroom in another part of the restaurant. Yay, for bravery!

Smoked fish appetizer for the table – I think this is mostly good although the swordfish is kind of fishy. Eating it with some of the grapefruit really helped. Other tastier fishes are smoked tuna and salmon.

John has fish cooked in parchment.

I have spaghetti with lobster.

Sarah orders our go-to dish, spaghetti with clams.

After lunch we visit the Archeological Museum with its many, many displays of grave goods from the Longobards.

Mosaic of Neptune

Grave goods of a high status Longobard woman

Then we go in search of the Tiempetto Longobardo or Longobards Temple.

Longobards Temple with enigmatic female statues

We have had a long day learning about the Longobards or Lombards and now it is time to drive to Udine for the night. We check into the rather downscale Hotel Suite a Inn. The room have a dormitory feel to them but it is only one night. In its favor, though, it has a Sky TV channel that is showing the Federer/Nadal final of the Miami Open. Federer wins! Yay! There is not much open on a Sunday night but we find Fredda’s Pizzeria down the street. I am getting tired of pizza. Since John has a pepperoni pizza and I order sausage, and Sarah gets sausage and pepperoni , I am just posting a picture of Sarah’s pizza.

Sarah’s pepperoni and sausage pizza


Namesake winery and other old stuff – 4/1/17

Busy day today! First the Euphrasian Basilica, followed by a trip to the Pilat (I mean Pilato) Winery, and then to Pula to visit a giant Roman amphitheater.

The present basilica, dedicated to Mary, was built in the sixth century during the period of Bishop Euphrasius. It was built from 553 on the site of the older basilica that had become dilapidated. For the construction, parts of the former church were used and the marble blocks were imported from the coast of the Sea of Marmara. The wall mosaics were executed by Byzantian masters and the floor mosaics by local experts. The construction took about ten years. Euphrasius, holding the church in his arms, is represented on one of the mosaics on the apse, next to St. Maurus. Wikipedia

Overview of Euphrasian Basilica – oldest parts on the left

The Bapistry, one of the oldest existing parts of the basilica is the dark projecting semi-circular building and has an octagonal baptismal pool and is decorated with many fragments from the earlier church.

In the 5th-6th century Baptistry early Christian secret fish symbols were found

We look around the Bishop’s palace. In one of the room are three large 13th century crucifixes.

Outside you see the earlier footprint of the 4th century basilica with its mosaic floor.

Footprint of older church

The 6th century basilica is ablaze with mosaics! On the main apse mosaic, St. Maurus proudly holds his basilica (on left.)

Basilica from 6th century

Although the altar canopy blocks some of the mosaics from view, there is a wonderful Annunciation on the right.

Annunciation from basilica

On the corresponding left side, there is a mosaic of the Visitation.


Next our travels take us out to the countryside to visit the Pilato Winery. We were here a few years ago and are greeted warmly. We taste some wines and buy a couple of bottles and some olive oil. They are sure John must be Istrian. After all everyone in the the town is named Pilat or Pilato! They give us a nice two step logo cork pull as a parting gift.

Sarah by Pilato Winery sign


Logo cork pull

Our next stop is in Pula, Croatia. First event, lunch! We have lunch at the Jupiter Pizzeria. We decide to get one larger pizza instead of three smaller ones and wow, it takes large to a new level!

Jumbo pizza

We walk over to Pula’s massive Roman amphitheater. It is huge and still used for events and concerts. Underneath where they used to keep the lions and gladiators is a small museum. The most interesting thing to us is the 4th century map of Italy and surrounds. We can see the Istrian peninsula and Aquileia clearly.

Pula Roman amphitheater

Tiny John a long way away across the floor of the amphitheater

Sarah and Mom in the amphitheater

4th century Roman map showing Aquileia and the Istrian peninsula (Pula at bottom center)

In the evening back in Porec we walk around the city looking for a hamburger. I getting nostalgic for some American food, a sure sign that our vacation is approaching its end.

Sunset in Pula. Croatia




By the Adriatic Sea – 3/30/17

We are traveling out of Italy today, through Slovenia, and ending up in Croatia. The whole trip takes less than two hours. That is enough time for a stop to see the Trieste Cathedral, have lunch in Tartini Square in Piran, Slovenia and enjoy a seaside dinner in Porec, Croatia.

Basilica cattedrale di San Giusto Martire, Trieste Cathedral dedicated to St. Justus

As is true with many old churches in Italy, the Trieste Cathedral started life as a Roman temple and then had a series of churches built on it. Between the 9th and 11th centuries two basilicas were built upon the ruins of a 6th century church. In the 14th century these two were combined into the current church. The church is aglow with beautiful mosaics.

Main altar with modern mosaic

12th – 13th century mosaic

11th century mosaic

After admiring the Trieste Cathedral we hop in the car and in no time we are at the border with Slovenia. It hardly seems like a border since Slovenia is a full member of the EU. It is definitely a photo op though.

Mom and Sarah entering Slovenia

We head to the seaside town of Piran, Slovenia to enjoy the beautiful day and have some lunch in Tartini Square. Tourist season is not yet underway and it is pleasantly uncrowded. Sarah and I try to order something local which turns out pretty meh..

Tartini Square is the largest and main square in the town of Piran, Slovenia. It was named after violinist and composer Giuseppe Tartini

Tartini himself

John enjoying a Slovenian pivo (beer)


Exploring Piran waterfront

Croatia is not very far away and after a thorough examination of passports by the outgoing Slovenian official and the incoming Croatian officials, we are allowed in. We head to our hotel, the Hotel Mauro, on the waterfront in Porec. The hotel staff is so excited that we are Pilats. They tell us, oh, so many people in Croatia are Pilats. We must be Croatian or better still Istrian. John says he is Polish. They say no difference, you are Croatian. So we are big hits.

Later we hit the waterfront for some drinks and snacks.

Porec seaside nibbles

John has moved on to Croatian pivo

We have dinner at the St. Nicholas restaurant. Tony, the very exuberant guy manning the hotel desk, tells us this is the best restuaranteur in all Croatia. With the exception of John’s grilled squid everything is not so great. I order a whole fish. It is dried out and has too many residual bones.



Being a tourist in Aquileia – 3/30/17

We stop at the information spot and rent headphones and a map which will take us all around Aquileia supplying us with endless facts about ancient and paleo-Christian times. Our first stop is at the Paleo-Christian Museum.

Here are a few facts about this museum. They are only open on Thursday mornings, they have very few visitors and hardly any Italians we are told, the museum is not on the audio tour, and there are no signs in English. There is, however, a sweet lady who is willing to talk your ear off in slow Italian. Sarah says she has taken a student course (Rosetta Stone) in Italian so we get a LOT of Italian commentary. Sarah does a great job but the Rosetta Stone Italian course does not deal with intricacies of our subject matter. I wander away after a while but John and Sarah keep saying “si” and nodding their heads. I know that at most they are picking out one or two words per sentence. Anyway, it is all interesting in a sort of garbled Italian way and we surely make the docent’s day. She and I even commiserate about our ginocchio (knee). That is one Italian word I know!

Ruins of 11th century monastery built over 4th century monastery, built over Roman building

Mosaic of a phoenix

Floor near presbyteria

Poignant grave marker of a father to his son – poor people could not afford professional carvers so they made the markers with pictures drawn by themselves

Finally we disattach from the docent and go over to the Patriarchal Basilica. It is built on a Roman house in the 4th century AD and rebuilt after Attila’s invasion in 452. Then rebuilt again after a series of earthquakes and consecrated in 1031. Some of it was rebuilt again in the late 1300’s after another earthquake.

Patriarchal Basilica with later bell tower.

Interior of Basilica with its vast mosaic floor.

We are no longer allowed to take pictures but I have some from a while ago and ancient things tend to stay the same.

Along with the mosaic floor there are some other great things to see…

12th century bas-relief of Christ between St. Peter and Thomas of Canterbury

Crypt below church showing the patron saints Ermagora and Fortunato being beheaded and buried

All these ruins have made us hungry so we stop in at L’aquileia Nera, a nearby cafe. We start with a big salad and then have various local dishes.

After lunch Sarah goes exploring on her own while we relax. We meet up again at 3:30 to explore the Archeological Museum. The audio tour does a poor job explaining the collection and one floor is closed so we do the best we can with the Italian and spend some time in their vast gardens of Roman ruins.

Beautiful decoration from a Roman house.

Stone cinerary containers chiseled to look like baskets

Roman hipster

Unfortunately much of the collection is like this (cinerary lids)…

or worse just a jumble like this.

Dinner tonight is at Al forno. It is not as good as we remember.





Morning in Portogruaro and afternoon in Aquileia – 3/29/17

This morning instead of hurrying out of Portogruaro we take advantage of our 11AM checkout and have a look around. Our first stop is at St. Andrew’s Mill in a pretty park known for its nutria. Nutrias are horrible looking rat things with orange teeth that swim. It is hard to understand why they would have statues of it.

St. Andrew’s Mill

Mill Park with statue of nutria

Nutria or water rat

After enjoying the water rat we move on to the fish market. Much of the day’s offering looks like Sarah’s lunch yesterday.

Mantis shrimp and cuttlefish at the market

We also view the leaning tower of Portogruaro.

Leaning tower next to St. Andrew’s church

After this we head to the Museo Archeologico. The ticket that we bought in Concordia Sagittaria also gets us in here. We are immediately greeted by a 14th century Madonna and Child.

14th century Madonna and child

There are many interesting Roman fragments and also a small piece of pornography.

Mayoral guards

Man enjoying himself in 1st century B.C.

Now we travel to Aquileia, a town that once had 100,000 in habitants and was the fourth largest city in Romana Italia and the ninth largest in the entire Roman Empire. We arrive around 1 PM and pull into the Information station where we get lots of maps, recommendations of eateries and hotels, and information about the sights to see. We decide to have lunch at a nearby restaurant where we order way too much pizza. For 4E we figure that the pizza will be small but no, it is quite large. There are four pages of pizza types including one called Pizza Americana. It has French fries on top.

Sarah has the special pizza Aquileia (sausage and onions)

John has pizza diavolo (pepperoni)

Mary has pizza Margherita (missing basil)

Although we have ordered three giant pizzas we notice the people around us are eating way more. No wonder they need a siesta after lunch.

And speaking of siestas that is what we do next. We check into the very nice Casa Del Neri and have a little lie down until 4PM before heading out to the Basilica. (I will write more about the Basilica tomorrow when we go through it again doing a thorough job with the audio tour that we were too late to rent through the Information station.

We are much too full from our enormous lunch for dinner so we just meet on the patio and have a glass of wine and meet the hotel’s orange cat who takes a liking to Sarah much to her delight.

Sarah and the orange cat

Little churches in the Veneto countryside – 3/28/17

Our departure from Venice goes very smoothly. The water taxi arrives right on time, no one falls in the water getting into or out of the boat, and it cost less than the trip out from the train station. So win, win, win.

We get our car with no problems. It is an Opel Insignia diesel with an automatic transmission! Ever since we had the problem with John getting sick while on the road in Spain, we have been suggesting it might be a good idea if we got a car that all three of us could drive in a pinch. So, yay!

Our first stop is the Abbaye Santa Maria Maggiore in Summaga. It is a little 11th century church out in the countrside. Although many of its frescoes are damaged, they are still pretty charming.

Apse of Santa Maria Maggiore

Fresco of St. Florin with his attributes of a pail of water and a burning building. It is unclear why there is a cow.

Next we head to Concordia Sagittaria, an old Roman town. First stop is the Cathedral of St. Stephen. The church has been pretty much renovated but holds a few frescoes and Roman pieces.

Old Roman fountain used as a holy water basin in the Church of St. Stephen

Next to St. Stephen is the footprint and remains of the original basilica from the 300’s. Through a door in the museum you can access the old basilica. There are tessellated floors and the site of the old apse with a trichorum where the bones of ancient martyrs killed by Diocletian were buried.

Old basilica


Ruins of ancient basilica


There is also an old Baptistry with the remains of its frescoes.

Inside of 13th century Baptistry

St. George on his horse

We are close to the Adriatic Sea and think it might be fun to have lunch at a seafood restaurant near the water. The beach town of Caorle is still pretty quiet in March but the sun is shining and it is close to 70 degrees out.

Adriatic Sea at Caorle

Along the main drag we find the seafood restaurant, Antica Patronia, and settle in for lunch. (I must put in full size pictures of this picturesque lunch.)

Mary’s scallops

John’s shrimp in saor (pickled)

Sarah’s seafood crude (raw)

Sarah and I both have fried seafood hers was mixed and mine was all calamari

John’s sautéed baby octopus

Finally we stop at the Benedictine Abbey Santa Maria in Silvis. It is oldish (15th century) and has some frescoes. Against the rules I take some pictures and get yelled at. It is a stupid rule and I intend to keep breaking it. There is a massive fresco of the Final Judgment and the people who get to Heaven on one wall and a fresco of hell on the other.  The hell fresco is very damaged but heaven is still in good shape.



Folks who make it into heaven

From here we head to our stop for the night, Portogruaro. Everyone is tired and not interested in dinner. I had the least odd lunch but I am the one who ends up getting sick.

Last day in Venice – 3/27/17

Here it is our last day in Venice. We need to finish up the churches on our Chorus Pass. I am planning on being with the team until after lunch and then I’ll stay in the apartment for the afternoon and finish up my posts.

A word first about Venice. It is beautiful and quaint but I cannot imagine living here and having to put up with the inefficiency of having to get everywhere by water or on foot. Even the garbage collectors have to come by boat. There is a main garbage boat and then some collectors get off and have hand carts. Then they go door to door ringing doorbells and collecting the garbage and the recycle. They do this six days a week.

There is a water garage for the fire department and the police where if you call for them I guess they get there eventually. All the traffic moves really slowly because of not being able to make wakes.

Saw this garbage boat idling as we crossed the bridge to San Pantalon

Our first stop today is at San Pantalon where we have been looking forward to going the whole time we have been here to see the Vivarini “Coronation with Saints”. And when I say with Saints I mean every saint in existence at the time standing around with their attribute. Sarah and I are going to spend some quality time identifying everyone. We rush into the little chapel and uh oh no painting. We ask the docent where is the picture and find out it is in a special exhibition at the Accademia. We skipped the special exhibition when we were there last week. We cannot go today because it is Monday and museums are closed on Mondays. Sigh.

There’s a nice crucifix though. The docent does not know when it is from or who painted it. He shrugs and says maybe 14th century?

Maybe 14th century crucifix by somebody

Next church on our list San Giacomo dell’Orio. We have visions of Saint James surrounded by cookies but John tells us that orio means marsh. Right off the bat Sarah is naughty and touches a baptismal font from the early thirteenth century. I think this is because on our last trip I touched a carved stone from the 9th century. Roman ruins do not count in this competition.

Baptismal font from 13th century

Other works we enjoy in San Giacomo dell Orio –

Saints Lawrence, Sebastian, and Roche by Giovanni Buonconsiglio, 1500

Crucifix by Paolo Veneziano 1350

The Martyrdom of St. Lawrence by Palma Il Giovane, 1581

Our next stop is at St. Stae. I guess I didn’t take any pictures here. But John likes one that is a martyrdom of St. Bartholomew by Tiepolo, 1722.

Martyrdom of St. Bartholomew, Tiepolo, 1722 (Thanks, internet!)

We also stop at San Giovanni Elemosinario before lunch but I am dragging and losing interest.

Lunch time! We have pizza at Pizzeria San Aponal. It’s pizza. It’s good but not great.

Pizza Diavola and beer!

It is mid-afternoon by the time we are done and we are eight bridges away from the apartment. I decide to tackle the eight bridges and then collapse for the rest of the afternoon (except for writing blogs) while John and Sarah continue on to see three more churches. I have asked John to write about them next.

John writes –

Later in the afternoon Sarah and I visit three more churches across the Accademia Bridge in San Marco.  First we visit San Vidal, mostly used as a concert venue.  There are displays of old string instruments and a 1514 altarpiece by Carpaccio showing San Vitale and 8 other saints.

In San Stefano we see several works by Tintoretto including another action-packed Last Supper, and a St. Lawrence and a St. Nicholas of Bari by Bartolemeo Vivarini.  There are also very interesting bronze side doors that turn out to be from 1991.

Finally we visit Santo Maria del Giglio.  In addition to the only Rubens work still in Venice, the Madonna, Child and Young St. John the Baptist (looking every bit like a 17th century Dutch mom and two kids), we also see a 1470 relief by Nicolo di Giovanni of St. Jerome in the Cave, complete with lion.  By chance Sarah notices that behind the altar are works by Tintoretto: 2 paintings each with two evangelists.

We head back over the bridge to rest up for dinner at Ai Artisti.

Since today is Monday, the fish market is closed.  Ai Artisti serves a meat menu instead.  If they cannot get absolutely fresh fish, they do not serve fish.  We respect their commitment and integrity.

Our wine is a 2013 Valent Hombra Sporca Rossi made from Carmenere grapes from Pramaggiore in the Veneto.

Mary and Sarah start with beef tartare with tempura asparagus, fricco and mustard mayonnaise foam.  Then they have bigoli pasta with a sausage ragu.  I start with a pea soup with a whole coddled breaded egg, fresh peas and anchovies.  Then I try the fried sweetbreads (“animelle”) on a bed of interesting lettuces, some passion fruit, and green sauce.

Every dish is a hit.  Mary and I finish the wonderful meal with glasses of golden grappa.  Maybe since we have been recognized as repeat customers, the grappa is comp’ed!   Everyone says grazie and arrividerci and then we head back.  Bonus: NO BRIDGES!



St. Mark’s Basilica – 3/26/17

This morning is a quiet time for Ma and Pa. Sarah has scooted off to the Rialto Bridge to find some gifts for her friends but John and I are content to stay at the apartment fighting with the internet and sipping tea.

In the afternoon St. Mark’s Basilica is open and lighted for viewing and we make our way over to stand in line with lots of other tourists. I remember in the past we’ve gone in and enjoyed a leisurely look around. Not so this time. We are herded like art-struck cattle through the basilica. The guidebook says that the average length of a visit is 10 minutes which is enough time to see basically nothing. We are also not allowed to take pictures which is sad because the mosaics are lovely and certainly are not harmed by non-flash photography. I manage a few shots before I am caught and yelled at.

St. Mark’s is the cathedral church of the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Venice. It is the most famous of the city’s churches and one of the best known examples of Italo-Byzantine architecture. It lies at the eastern end of the Piazza San Marco, adjacent and connected to the Doge’s Palace. Originally it was the chapel of the Doge, and has only been the city’s cathedral since 1807. Wikipedia

Basilica San Marco

The interior of St. Mark’s is resplendent with mosaics. There are many scenes and people from both the Old and New Testament set against a golden background. Even though some lights are on, it is still difficult to make out many of them.  Plus we are not given much time to look at anything before we are carried on by the surge of the crowd.

Some pictures from the interior –

Overview of interior of St. Mark’s

Tiled floor


Golden Altar

Detail of Golden Altar, King Solomon

Mosaic of Christ enthroned

When we depart the church the sky is looking threatening. Sarah decides to walk back and John and will take the vaporetto. After making this decision it starts to rain and we and hundreds of other people also decide to take the vaporetto. It is very crowded and we have to wait a while to get onto one since they are too full. Luckily we have made it to an enclosed portion of the stop. Once we get to our station Sarah is waiting for us with an umbrella. What a sweet daughter!

View towards St. Mark’s Square from the vaporetto

Tonight’s dinner is at the Osteria San Barnaba. We have salads and pasta and finish up with biscotti and zibibbo, a dessert wine.

Tomorrow we will complete visiting the Chorus Churches and I will finish up our tale of Venice from a new hotel with better wifi, I hope.

Venice Hurts – 3/25/17 Part Two

Continuation of blog entry for 3/25/17  The internet is working somewhat better today.

We stop for lunch at Ristobar San Polo right across the piazza from San Polo, our next church to visit. Again the bathroom is unusable for the ladies. This one worse than the last. It is a good thing that women have incredible control. The ristobar is a modest eatery and John and Sarah go with the daily special which is bigoli with anchovies. I pass that up for my old standby, spaghetti con vongole. Lunch is okay.

John and Sarah choose bigoli with anchovies

Spaghetti con vongole

We head into the Church of San Polo where the big attraction is Tintoretto’s Last Supper. It’s a busy scene with the table set at an angle, a hallmark of Tintoretto’s Last Suppers.

Tintoretto’s Last Supper at San Polo

I am aching and dragging at this point and basically sit quietly and contemplate the beautiful Madonna and Child at the next church, Santa Maria Gloriosa dei Frari.

Giovanni Bellini’s Madonna and Child with Saints, 1488

I hand off the camera to John who takes the rest of the pictures in the Frari.

Madonna with Christ child, St. Frances and St. Elizabeth also the Doge and Dogess as donors 1339

Madonna Enthroned with Child, Bartolommeo Vivarini, 1482

The Assumption by Titian, 1518

St. Mark and Saints by Bartolomeo Vivarini, 1474

This is all the sightseeing I can do today. So John and I head back to the apartment getting lost along the way. Venice is such a warren of little streets some of which go somewhere and some of which end in dead ends.

We spend the rest of the afternoon doing laundry and resting. We opt for a simple dinner of takeout slices of pizza.

Venice hurts – 3/25/17 Part One

NOTE: I have been working on this post for more than four hours. I am hampered by an incredibly slow and off again on again internet. Before I turn into a crazy person, I am going to stop this post before we have even gotten to lunch and hopefully return to it tomorrow when the wifi might be more responsive.)

For me, ascending and descending stairs has been difficult due to an injured knee. Walking is fine but stairs are bad. My friend and trainer, Vernon, taught me some techniques for going up stairs which mostly work but going down is hard. So John holds on to me as I creep down the stairs amidst tourists and Venetians who need to be some place in a hurry and go much faster than I. It’s humiliating and exhausting.

That being said, we are out early this morning to see churches where much of the art in Venice lives full time. A Chorus Pass gets you into about 20 churches where you get an information card (in English!) and the church is generally lighted. Sarah has planned us a long route through most of Venice to see as many as possible.

Our first church is San Stefano. It is open. We go in. There are only janitors here. I have looked on the internet and the information says that all the Chorus Churches open at 9:30. Sarah points out that on our brochure it says they open at 10:30 and the sign in the church says that St. Stefano opens at 10. The church is unlit and it is really hard to see anything. My bad. We are off to a rocky start. Now we have to waste an hour. So we do typical touristy things. We take pictures of each other and canals and look at store windows and go in churches that appear open.

Sarah on bridge overlooking Grand Canal

M & J on bridge overlooking Grand Canal

Gondoliers on a side canal

Our wanderings take us through Piazza San Marco and past the gorgeous Basilica San Marco. St. Mark is the patron saint of Venice. The Venetians stole his bones from Alexandria.  Apparently that was a done thing in days of yore. Anyway, this is the first time we have ever seen the Basilica without scaffolding on the front. Yay! We plan to see the basilica tomorrow when the interior is lighted for two hours.

Basilica San Marco

The Basilica used to be the private place of worship for the doge, the ruler of Venice. His palace connects to it.

The doge’s palace on the right and Basilica San Marco behind

We stop at San Zaccaria since it is open and is supposed to hold some interesting art, we venture in. We are not disappointed. “Giovanni Bellini’s Madonna and Four Saints over the second altar on the left  is one of his very best. It was painted in 1505 when Bellini was about 74. This was the same year that Albrecht Dürer on a visit to Venice described him as ‘very old and still the best in painting’.” Churches of The painting is quite beautiful.

Giovanni Bellini’s Madonna and Child with Saints, 1550, San Zaccaria

For 1.5E we gain entrance to the crypt, a worthwhile investment. Here many doges are entombed and the chapels are festooned with beautiful artwork.

Madonna and Saints by Palma il Vecchio 1512

Polyptych of Saints Jerome, Sabina, and Lizerio by Antonio Vivarini and Giovanni d’Alemagna, 1443

Altarpiece, Madonna and Child with Saints, painted in part by Stefano d’Sant Agnese, 1385 and also by Giovanni and Antonio Vivarini, 15th century

After a very enjoyable visit to San Zaccaria we stop for cappuccini in a nearby cafe. Unfortunately it has a bathroom unfriendly to American women. After our little sit-down we follow our tour guide, Sarah, down narrow alleys and quiet canals to the Church of Santa Maria Formosa.

Quiet canal

“Tradition has it that the Virgin Mary appeared to San Magno, Bishop of Oderzo, in the form of a buxom (formosa in Italian) woman and told him to build her a church under a white cloud. And so this, the first church in Venice dedicated to the Virgin Mary, was built, some time in the 7th Century by the Tribuno family.”  The current church was built in 1492 on the footprint of the older one. Finally we are in one of the churches that we bought the Chorus Pass for and are rewarded by an information card and a lighted church. Three highlights of what we saw –

Madonna Della Misericordia by Bartolommeo Vivarini, 1473

Last Supper by Leandro Bassano circa 1578

Santa Barbara polyptych by Palma Is Vecchio, 1523

From here we head to Santa Maria dei Miracoli. In 1408 Francesco Amadi commissioned a painting of the BVM and placed it in a tabernacle in front of his house. It became an overnight sensation with the populace praying to the portrait and saying that it had miraculous powers. Contributions came flowing in to build a church for the painting and thus the Church of Santa Maria dei Miracoli was founded.

It is the only free standing church in Venice. The interior has a few statues and a lot of marble. The main focus is on the painting of the Blessed Virgin.

Interior of Santa Maria dei Miracoli

Miraculous painting

On our way over to the other side of the canal we pass the miracle of the three gondolas picture and the Rialto Bridge.

Wow! Along the way to the Rialto Bridge I catch three gondolas in the same picture!

The iconic Rialto Bridge. It is basically the schlock market of Venice.

To be continued…







Fabulous day from the Accademia to dinner – 3/24/17

There is no complaining about this day. The art is spectacular and the dinner is totally unlike any food we have had before in Venice. But first the art.

The Accademia houses 13th century to some 18th century art. It is not overwhelming big so that by the time you are done you are tired but not spent for the rest of the day. It is a real favorite of ours. Sarah and I make a good team figuring out who is who and when we are stuck, John usually knows the answer.

Some of the art we love from the Accademia….

The Resurrection of Christ in a rocketship mandorla – Paolo Veniziano 1st half 14th century

Judas kissing Christ
Paolo Veneziano, first half 14th c.

Last Supper – Paolo Veniziano, 1st half 14th c.

13th century Madonna and Child

Saints James and Stephen – James has the travelers scallop shells and Stephen has rocks on his head – Lorenzo Veniziano, mid 14th c.

Annunciation – Lorenzo Veniziano, mid 14th c.

Coronation signed by painter in 1375

Signature of painter

Last Supper from Scenes from the life of Christ – school of Venetian painters second half 14th c.

Day of Judgement – Scenes from the Apocalupse,  Jacobello Alberegno, 1397

Whore of Babylon on 7 headed beast – Scenes from the Apocalypse – Jacobello Alberegno, before 1397

Annunciation with Saints, Lorenzo Veniziano, late 14th c. (This is one of our favorites

All this great stuff is just in the first room of the museum. I think we have spent at least an hour in here. Moving on to room two and the rest of the museum, there are still a lot of great paintings but these are less exciting. There’s nothing like art from the period when they were figuring out how to use perspective and give people emotion.

Giovanni Bellini’s Madonna and Child with Saints aka Giobbe Altarpiece, 1487

And here is another great painting by Giovanni Bellini –

Madonna and Child with Saint Catherine and Mary Magdalene

From here we move into the 16th century and Mannerism –

Tintoretto’ Cain and Abel, 1550-53, lots of perspective and twisting bodies

This large painting was supposed to be of the Last Supper but it was too rowdy for such a solemn occasion so it was renamed Banquet at the House of Levi – Paolo Veronese 1573

Including this just because I find it quirky. Dinner at Emmaus by Marco Marziale 1493-1507

There’s still lots more in the museum but it is well after the lunch hour and we are tired and hungry. We walk back to the apartment and John runs out for panini while Sarah and I put our feet up. We take a break until 3 PM and then go to a couple of local churches where we see some Tintoretto masterpieces.

From the church of San Trovaso Tintoretto’s painting of the Last Supper. This painting catches the moment when Jesus tells the apostles that one of them will betray him. In their disbelief and dismay they jump up knocking over their chairs and insisting that it is not one of them.

Tintoretto Last Supper

Around the corner from San Trovaso there is another Tintoretto in the church called Gesuati –

Tintoretto Crucifixion

We are done with sightseeing for today. Tonight we are having dinner at Ai Artisti. It is supposed to be a really good restaurant recommended by critics and our Truly Venice host.

It is even better than advertised, probably the best meal we have ever had in Venice. We’ve booked again for Monday. When our server asked how we liked it we raved about how good everything was and I said it was not typical. He smiled and agreed that yes, in Venice they were unusual. Unusually good!

First courses –

Second courses –

Happy Birthday, Sarah! A Travel Day to Venice – 3/23/17

Over the past few years Sarah has had some excellent birthday adventures. Four years ago we toasted to her health and happiness in Munich, last year we were having a lovely time staying in Montecatini Terme and buying a purse in Lucia, and this year we are traveling between Florence and Venice, two of her favorite places. Happy Birthday, Sarah, and may we share many more adventures.

There is a taxi strike in Florence this morning. The taxi drivers are upset over Uber and its clones. I can only sympathize. Taxi drivers make an investment in getting their medallions and it seems unfair for usurpers to come in as they have. Since we cannot get a taxi to the train station our landlord’s son, Marco, gives us a ride to the station. We get there pretty early for our train and have to kill time. Since there is a limited seating area we end up in the food court where we buy a little something every once in a while to keep our table and seats. Really, who doesn’t love some McDonald’s fries when you are far from home?

This is an early lunch (10:30 AM) of French fries that we shared

The trains in Italy are punctual and comfortable and fast. We leave Florence on a high speed train at 11:30 and are in Venice at 1:35 PM. We are renting another apartment here in Venice. I have arranged with the agency for a water taxi which meets us and takes us to a mooring close to our apartment where a representative of Truly Venice meets us, walks us to the apartment, and explains all the details. It is a flawless experience.

Mom and the birthday girl on the water taxi

Our apartment has an efficiency apartment on the ground floor for Sarah and a one bedroom apartment on the second floor (European first floor). It seems nice and we are excited to see the router in the corner of the dining room. Maybe good wifi!?

Cozy living room in our apartment in Dorsodoro section of Venice

Our little balcony overlooking a garden in the back

John looking at a map in the dining area. Router in the corner behind him.

We decide to take a look around the neighborhood and have a drink overlooking the Giudecca Canal nearby.  As the sun goes down, it’s a little cold.  We don’t hang out too long looking at the view. Venice is probably 5-10 degrees cooler than Florence. At last all the heavy clothes we’ve brought along can be worn!

John and I have a glass of wine and Sarah has an Aperol spritz as we watch the sun go down over the Giudecca Canal.

View of the Giudecca Canal at sunset

We have dinner at Casin dei Nobili. We are looking forward to some seafood and our spaghetti con vongole (clams) fits the bill. We all order it and everyone is pleased.

Spaghetti con vongole

We have discovered that the wifi here is almost as bad as the wifi in Florence. It is in and out and only works if you sit in the dining room very close to the router. We are going to be spending a lot of time in that room!


Medici Chapel, San Lorenzo, and Santa Maria Novella – 3/22/17

This morning we are up and out early. Once again being the early birds we manage to miss large crowds. Our purpose this morning is to go to the Medici Chapel, the monument the Medici built as a tomb for themselves, and visit San Lorenzo, the church that the chapel is adjoined to.  It’s a little cooler out this morning and there is a threat of rain in the air.  On our last trip here the day we visited San Lorenzo was the only time it rained and it looks as though we may have a repeat this trip.  (As it turns out the rain holds off until after dinner when we are caught without our umbrellas at, thank goodness, a nearby restaurant.

We rent the audio tour at the Medici Chapel mostly for its humorous aspects. The architectural jargon in it is so obscure that half the time we have no idea what they are talking about. We tried to bone up on our terms last night and learned about architraves and pendentives but nonetheless when they start in on “lizines” we are lost.

We enter first the Chapel of the Princes where the Medicis are entombed. It is a grandiose octagonal space that is lavishly decorated with precious marbles, statues and even was suppose to contain the Holy Sepulchre from Jersusalem which the Medicis tried to buy and then steal to no avail.

Medici tomb

Ornate floor

The chapel itself has several statues carved by Michelangelo. There are stylized figures of Lorenzo Duke of Urbino and his brother, Giuliano Duke of Nemours. Beneath the statue of Lorenzo are figures of Dawn and Dusk and beneath Giuliano are Day and Night, all carved by Michelangelo. Both male figures are done, according to the audio guide, in the unfinished manner, or better known as just never completed.





After a cup of cappuccino to waste time until the church opens, we head to the church of San Lorenzo. The church, originally consecrated in the 300’s and reconscecrated in 1059 and then redesigned in the 15th century, is mostly whitewashed now with a few existing earlier pieces.

View of interior of San Lorenzo (with Sarah in lower left)

One of the paintings is a 1450 Annunciation by Fillipo Lippi. We learned from the audio guide at the Uffizi that Lippi was a priest who had a scandalous liaison with a nun and their  offspring was named Fillippino Lippi who became another famous painter. The beautiful face of the Madonna is a representation of the nun and the cherubic angels are his son.

Annunciation by Fillipo Lippi, 1450

This painting by Raphael has three saints with their identifying attributes. On the left is St. Stephen who was martyred by stoning. He has a rock on top of his head. In the center St. Lawrence, the patron of saint of San Lorenzo, is shown with the grill on which he was roasted. On the right St. Leonard is shown holding fetters or irons.  He is the patron saint of prisoners. During his life prisoners would invoke his name and be freed.

Saint Lawrence between Saint Stephen and St. Leonard by Raphael

We have enjoyed our morning at the San Lorenzo complex and now decide to go back toward the apartment and eat lunch at the downstairs trattoria Marone and then have a little rest before heading out to Santa Maria Novella, church and museum.

Around 3 PM we are off to Santa Maria Novella, the last stop on our Florence tour. The church, the adjoining cloister, and the museum is full of art treasures and funerary monuments. Especially famous are frescoes by masters of Gothic and early Renaissance.

Works from the interior of the church –

Annunciation, Nero di Bicci, 1455

Trinity by Masaccio, 1424

Crucifix by Giotto 1288-89

Decoration on the tomb of Strozzi, Pieta and Saints, Gaddi, 1375-95

Maggiore Chapel, frescoes of scenes from the life of the Virgin, Ghirlandaio and workshop, 1485-90

Work from the Spanish Chapel –

Christ’s descent into Limbo

Detail of devils looking on in Limbo

King David, Moses, John the Baptist and others in Limbo waiting for resurrection

From the museum –

Cloister frescoes now restored in the museum. Adam and Eve by Orcagna, mid 14th century

We have accomplished much of what we wanted to do while here. We head back to the apartment to pack and have one more slice of pizza in Florence.

On to Venice tomorrow! (And hopefully better internet!)


Battling crowds at the Uffizi – 3/21/17

Yesterday we saw a ticket office when we were at Orsanmichele where you could buy tickets for the Uffizi. You have to pay a 4€ service fee but it guarantees you a time slot and you do not have to wait in the gargantuan line to get in. Our tickets were for 9:30 AM. When we got there the regular line was so long that the crowd was cheering every time the guards let in a few people. This is March. I cannot even imagine what it will be like in the summer when there are a lot more people and it is hot!

The line extends back a long way

Anyway we get in right away but it is really crowded and hot Inside. First thing you have to do is climb a massive staircase which is the equivalent of more than 4 stories. Luckily we survive this. Then the battle begins to try and see the artworks. The biggest problem is the tour groups and the school groups. When twenty or so people set up camp in front of a painting there is no way to see around them. You must strategically wait for the split second when one group leaves and rush in to establish position before the next group sets up shop. The kids under 10 are not quite so bad because you can see over their heads and they are generally well behaved (remarkably) but the teens are busy slouching around and more coolly disinterested. The groups of adults are worse. They are busily taking pictures of one another smack in front of the paintings. Since in this situation I am not at my best I actually tell some guy that I got a nice shot of his wife in front of a Botticelli.

Well-behaved Italian kids learning about art (this does not seem like an American class trip)

Thanks lady for standing in front of Botticelli’s Primavera so we could all take your picture

Rant over. The art is wonderful and worth the waits and hassle. You truly get to see the development from the stiff Byzantine cartoon paintings of the early 13th century slowly move by the end of the century to more realistic body forms and perspective thanks to greats like Cimabue, Daddi, and Giotto. In the next 100 years art changes rapidly until you end up with real people in real landscapes.

Giotto’s Madonna and Child (around 1300)

Cimabue’s Madonna and Child (around 1300)

The paintings and frescoes are almost exclusively about religious subjects since that was really the only thing allowed. Occasionally you might see a mythical subject used in an allegorical way to underline a religious precept like a personification of a deadly sin and how you are going to hell.

The purpose of much of the religious art is to educate a populace who is largely illiterate. Going into a church is like stepping into an illustrated comic book of the Bible. Saints and their miracles are like modern day super heroes. Everyone has their favorite whom they are devoted to. Their saintly lives decorate the walls from their births to their often gruesome ends. The people of the times understand every gesture, position, and color. They know the significance of each animal, plant, and object. So what looks like the same old same old Madonna and Child, Crucifixion, or Last Supper is actually imbued with subtle meaning by a hand gesture or a peacock.

St. Cecilia went around baptizing people in the 2nd to 3rd century even after her husband and brother-in-law were executed for doing the same. She was tortured in baths of extreme temperatures by the local prefect but did not die. So an executioner tried three time to hack off her head but it refused to come off so they left her to bleed to death which took three days. In the meantime people came and collected her holy blood and were converted to Christianity.  (Master of St. Cecilia circa 1300)


St. Nicholas throws in three bags of gold to provide dowries for three young women who would become prostitutes if they had no dowries (Lorenzetti circa 1330)

St. Matthew exposes magicians accompanied by dragons (Orcagna 1370)

The crowds thin out the deeper we go into the museum. The tours and school groups only view the “greatest hits.” So there are a lot of people surrounding Giotto, the Botticellis, Michelangelo’s one painting, and da Vinci. The Perugino, Caravaggio, and even Raphael works are often bypassed. We enjoy our time at the Uffizi immensely.

Some beautiful works of art we saw –

Gentile da Fabriano “Adoration of the Magi” 1423

Fillipo Lippilippi “Madonna and Child with Angel” 1460?

Botticelli “Birth of Venus” 1485

Michelangelo “Holy Family” (Doni Tondo) 1507

Raphael “Madonna and Child with St. John” (Madonna of the Goldfinch) 1506

Leonardo da Vinci “Annunciation” 1474

Titian “Venus of Urbino” 1538

Caravaggio “Bacchus” 1596

Having been on our feet with a lot of people for over four hours leaves us pretty exhausted, thirsty and hungry. We decide that we will pick up some sandwiches on the way back to our apartments. This way we can put on some comfy clothes, take our shoes off our achy feet, and lounge around while eating lunch.

John and I tell Sarah we are opting out of any late afternoon’s activities and she can make plans on her own. She makes her way over to the Pitti Palace for some more art viewing and we do laundry, read books, do crosswords, and take naps. Hey, it’s a vacation not a total art marathon!

Later we go out to Bussola for pizza! Mmmmm, the crust is so delicious! Reminds me of the Jersey shore pizza of my youth. Here people eat entire pizzas themselves but John and I decide on a salad and to split one. We end with vin santo and cantuccini, small Florentine cookies.