After a rather upsetting check out in Siena where the desk staff wanted us to lie about where we had been so we could get some money back for the inconvenience of their broken toilet from Booking.com, we head off to Rome Airport (Fumicino) via Viterbo. Our idea is to stop at our favorite pizza place, Buongiorno Napoli, and look around Viterbo a bit.
When we get to the restaurant it is closed, closed for the holidays I guess. With our trusty phones we find a nearby restaurant, Fratelli La Bufala, and it is within walking distance. We decide on pizza as our last meal in Italy. (Duh)
After lunch we head up to the old section of Viterbo where a raucous street festival is going on. We have some hot wine and watch families enjoying the day. We also stop in at the Viterbo Cathedral museum.
Then it is off to Rome airport to return the car and check into the Hilton which is attahched to the airport. Our dinner consists of the snacks laid out in the lounge on the executive floor.
In the morning, very early, we walk over to the airport. We are checking in at British Airways and Jon and Ryan are checking in at Lufthansa. There is a mix-up and it seems like Ryan and Jon’s reservation has not been correctly changed by United to reflect a change in flights. Luckily Jon finds someone on the phone to straighten things out. It is a tense 15 minutes or so.
And that’s it. Our wonderful, long anticipated trip is over. We all get back to California with no more glitches. I am so glad we made this trip and so happy that Sarah, Ryan, and Jonathan were able to come with us. It is an experience we all will always remember!
Today we visit the beautiful cathedral of Siena. It is practically on our doorstep. First we stop for a quick breakfast at Bar 4 Cantoni where there is an array of pastries and sandwiches. Everyone picks what they like best and we all choose cappuccino, of course.
Then it is off to the Siena Cathedral. While John is buying tickets Sarah and I wandering around the outside taking pictures.
Once inside you are struck by the immense space and the amazing marble inlaid floors. Giorgio Vasari described the floor as “the most beautiful…largest, and most magnificent…that ever was made.” Early floors had figures scratched in while later ones were made of intricate pieces.
There is one large floor inlay which shows the emblems of nearby cities. We have been to nearly every one!
Hanging off the main church on the left is the Piccolomini Library which was begun in 1495 for Cardinal Francesco Piccolomini who later became Pope Pius III. Inside is a priceless collection of illunimated 15th century musical manuscripts. On the walls are frescoes depicting the life of the cardinal’s uncle who became Pope Pius II.
Another highlight of the cathedral is the Pisano Pulpit. It was carved by Nicola Pisano and his students from 1256 to 1268. The octagonal pulpit is held aloft by nine columns some of which stand on stone lions. It is full of Christian stories and symbols.
A few more pictures of the beautiful Siena Cathedral.
We have all been keeping touch with each other while we look around at the things that interest us most. Now we all head to the Opera del Duomo which holds other artwork of the cathedral.
The most significant work housed here is Duccio’s Maesta, a very large altarpiece painted in 1308-1311. There are over 40 figures on the front and over 80 on the back where the Passion of Christ is depicted.
On the upper floor are other 13th century artworks by Sienese painters.
After a long morning’s work of looking at all sorts of wonderful art, we head to Il Ghibellino where we had eaten an iffy lunch on a previous trip. This lunch also had some iffy components, especially Ryan’s.
After lunch we head back to the cathedral complex. We visit the Baptistry and everyone but I visit the Crypt. At this point I could not walk up the millions of steps with no railings on uneven stone. I head back to the hotel and give my poor knee a little rest.
I have many pictures from prior trips of the baptismal font and the great frescoes. This time I zeroed in on Sienese Andrea Vanni’s 14th century altarpiece.
I quite like the fact that St. Stephen with the rocks on his head to the left of the Virgin has the exact same head position and look as the Virgin. the elongated head and thin, slanted eyes are real hallmarks of Sienese Renaissance art.
Later we go out to the campo for some drinks and free food. Tonight we get white pizza and crostini with our drinks. It is hard to take much in the way of pictures because it is really foggy.
We are packed up and ready to go when the taxi comes to take us to the airport so we can pick up our rental car. We have rented 7 passenger Ford Galaxy that we can all, plus our luggage, fit in (but barely.) Our first stop is San Gimignano, the famous “tower” city. Encircled by 13th-century walls, the town centers on a square lined with medieval houses. It has a skyline of medieval towers giving it the nickname as the Manhattan of Italy. The Collegiate church of San Gimignano is a 12th-century church with frescoes by Ghirlandaio.
From the moment you step on the portico of the church there are fabulous frescoes such as this Annunciation.
Inside the church is resplendent with frescoes, some by Ghirlandaio and most from the 14th century.
There are three tiers of fresco stories on the side walls. The top lunettes are creation stories, the middle register has. Old Testament stories, and the bottom tier is New Testament. I have pictures of everything but I will just put a couple in.
Speaking of the last supper, it is past time for lunch and we eat at Antica Marcellaria.
We all take a look at the museum of the church, then Sarah goes to get gelato, Jon and Ryan climb a tower and find an interesting museum, and John and I take a leisurely stroll and find an overlook to take a picture of the beautiful Tuscan countryside.
We proceed to the car park and make our way to the garage outside of Siena where we will shed ourselves of the car and be driven to the hotel by the garage attendant. There are few cars allowed in Siena old town and we are right in the midst of it as our hotel is right across the street from the Baptistry.
Later we head to Siena’s campo for drinks and snacks under the outdoor warming lamps
On our last day in Florence we go to the Brancacci Chapel at the Church of Santa Maria del Carmine. For your ticket you get to see a video of why the Chapel was built and what was going on at the time, an iPad mini with a video and audio description of the frescoes, and access to the courtyard and church. I really like the iPad presentation because they zoom in on what they are talking about as opposed to you trying to figure out what people or events are being described. The frescoes were painted by Masolino, Masaccio, and Filippino Lippi in the early 1400’s. The Chapel’s frescoes depict Adam and Eve and the expulsion from Eden and the story of St. Peter.
After our visit we head over to Osteria Santo Spirito, our go-to eatery when we are on the other side of the river.
In the rest of the afternoon John, Sarah, and I organize our packing and meet again with Mikki and Franco to organize transport to the airport where we will pick up our rental car. Late in the afternoon Sarah and I have another tea session at Gilli’s. Jon and Ryan spend part of the afternoon at the Medici Chapel and climbing to the top of the Duomo dome.
Ryan and Jon also took some pictures of various “Do Not Enter” signs.
And here’s a cute picture of Ryan looking into a mirror in the hallway of our apartments.
Tomorrow we are off the San Gimignano and then to Siena for a two night stay.
Sarah, Ryan, Jon, and I have a plan. We will get up early and after a stop at Caffe Megara proceed to the Uffizi Gallery when it first opens. This way we will beat the crowds. The first part of the plan goes well.
We hurry over to the Uffizi and there are lines everywhere. Lines to possibly get in at some part, lines for people who have assigned times, and a line for people who want to buy tickets for an assigned time. We stand and wait in the line to get in and after 45 minutes of no line movement we decide to change lines. We stand in the line where we can buy tickets to get in later in the day for about 20 minutes when we are ushered in. We choose 3PM to get in. We figure that most of the people will have given up by then.
Jon and Ryan decide to go to the Palazzo Vecchio and Sarah and I decide we need a decompression break and stop at Gilli’s for tea.
We meet back up around 1 PM and go in search of lunch. We try Trattoria Marione which is just downstairs from our apartments but it is full. Then we try Buca Mario which is closed. We are starting to get worried. Finally we find an unknown restaurant, Pensavo Peggio, and luckily it is open and has room. With the exception of Jonathan we all order cacio e pepe and he has papardelle with boar ragu.
Now we have enough energy to tackle the Uffizi once more. This time with John in tow. (He had been doing laundry in the morning.)
There are a lot of people at the Uffizi. We are hoping they want to look at different art than we do. We start in Room 1 which was not open in any of our previous visits. It holds really old pieces. Oh, happy day!!
It was too crowded to take a lot of pictures but here are a few highlights-
By the time we get to Titians and Caravaggios I am petering out. There is an interesting room in which all the subjects have been beheaded. But I am too tired of being on my feet to enjoy much more.
We return to the apartment for snacks and drinks and turn in early.
Merry Christmas to all especially to family who are celebrating at home. Thank you to Auntie Leigh, Gram, and Gramps who have made this trip possible for Ryan and Jon by giving Alex and Sam a special Christmas at home.
This morning in lieu of our usual Christmas breakfast we are enjoying the sweetness of pastries and a traditional panettone. We have a unique way of warming the pastries – a radiator with a built in warming oven. It works great!
We have mimosas and beer with our panettone and pastries. The panettone is so delicious, sweet and yeasty. Sarah promises to make one for next Christmas!
While Sarah works on the lasagna and John and I loll about Ryan and Jon take a walk through the quiet streets of Florence and enjoy the architecture.
In the early afternoon we all meet to go visit the beautiful Santa Maria Novella church full of early Renaissance frescoes. It is a favorite of mine.
Founded in the first half of the thirteenth century Santa Maria Novella has so many marvelous works of art to see –
After our visit to Santa Maria Novella it is time for Christmas dinner. Sarah bakes the lasagna and we all enjoy it a lot!
Ryan and Jon have fallen into a pattern of going downstairs to the cafe each morning to have a pastry and cappuccino. Jon says it is the best cappuccino he has ever had. I am happy that they are having such a good time.
Sarah and I are looking for bagels and other items for Christmas breakfast and dinner at the Pam grocery store. Once she has all her lasagna ingredients we have to make an executive decision about breakfast. We decide to buy a panettone from the bakery downstairs. It turns out to be much more expensive than the ones in the grocery store but we are hoping for a much better quality one. While we are at the bakery we also pick out a bunch of pastries. This is definitely a far cry from bagels and lox.
Jon and Ryan go to the Duomo and visit the Opera del Duomo which contains older works that are no longer adorning the church or items that were on the outside and have been brought in to keep them from getting damaged from the elements.
John heads out to find more goodies for our Christmas Eve celebration. He is a regular at the Salumeria where he buys so much chopped liver that we will have an unopened container to give to Mikki and France when we leave.
We gather at lunchtime and Jon says he wants to go back to la Bussola for more pizza. No one puts up any arguments,
Everyone orders pizza but I am afraid if I eat pizza I will be too full to enjoy tonight’s hors d’oeuvres. So I order linguini vongole, a favorite of mine.
Sarah makes the lasagna in the afternoon and I help (watch mostly) and take various taste tests. Later she and I go out for tea at a restaurant in the Piazza della Republican and take some pictures of the decorations and store displays.
Later over wine and hors d’oeuvres we sing traditional Christmas carols and then everyone is off to bed.
Today we are going to have my birthday celebration and I am really looking forward to it. I have made reservations at Il Pennello. We will meet there at 1 PM.
Jon and Ryan scurry off to the Accademia to see the David and the other earlier works in the morning.
Sarah and John spend time this morning trying to find bagels for Christmas breakfast. The website says that Mama’s Bakery is open but when they get there they find it is closed until January 7. Bummer. They go to the the Mercato Centrale and the Conrad but these stores do not carry bagels. We will have to come up with Plan B.
Back to the birthday celebrations…
We go to Il Pennello for our 1 PM dinner. We are eating early in the day because it is Sunday and the restaurants will be closing for dinner.
I get to sit between Jon and Sarah while John and Ryan sit across from us. We all order wine.
Everyone has brought me birthday cards! I love it! It is possible that I reminded everyone to put cards in their suitcases.
We order a wide variety of things to eat.
This was my best birthday ever!!!
After lunch Ryan and Jon head off for the Galileo Museum, the Baptistry, and climb the campanile. They have so much energy!
John, Sarah, and I head for the Accademia. Here are some things we enjoy-
At this point John and Sarah go upstairs to do more appreciating and I take a seat behind the statue of David appreciating his butt and watching other appreciators. They are gone a looong time. When they finally reappear I have been texting them for quite a while. Unfortunately, the texts never reached them.
Since we are all quite full from our big lunch we just pick over our salami, chopped liver, cheese, and chips for dinner.
Today we pack ourselves up and head to Florence with a side trip to Fiesole. It is a chilly, misty day and we are hoping to dodge the bad weather when it is time to do some sightseeing. We are also on a schedule to return the rental car at Florence airport and arrive at our apartment to meet the greeter at 5 PM. So many moving parts!
Fiesole is on a hill just outside Florence. If it were not for the rain and fog we should be able to see Florence from an overlook. We drive all over Fiesole looking for a parking space to no avail. Our crap rental car is straining to deal with the steep inclines. John is getting annoyed and frustrated. Finally some ways down the hill he finds a quasi-space and parks. Now we must walk up a lot of steps in the cold rain.
I am very slow on the steps and by the time we reach our goal, St. Romulus Cathedral, I am also annoyed, frustrated and wet! Happy times! And when we go inside the church this is what we see.
The church is almost entirely unlit and then the whole front area is blocked off. We cannot see what I suppose is a beautiful early altarpiece of Bicci di Lorenzo. This is about the best picture I could find on the internet.
There are a few other odds and ends.
We leave the church in a fouler mood than when we went in. I suggest we take a look at a small church that I had read about. It is only across the square. It turns out to be locked up.
We decide to give up and go find some lunch. The first place we look at has a bunch of treacherous, slippery stairs. We then head back to a cafe that John had seen on our walk around the square. We are taken aback when we are given the menus.
Huh. So we turn the menu over and read it back to front. It seems that they have a lampredotto risotto. John is eager to give this a try. I figure, it couldn’t be worse than yesterday’s slime so I order it too! Oh, don’t know what lampredotto is? It is a tripe-like meat made from a cow’s fourth stomach. And it is delicious!! However before we have the lampredotto risotto we start with bruschette with cavulo nero (black cabbage.)
We have a wonderful discussion with the cook about how she seasons the lampredotto. It turns out that it has nutmeg and cinnamon in it. We will never have such a dish at home and I am glad that I tried it.
After lunch with nothing left to do we head to Florence airport to return the rental car. The traffic is horrendous and it is difficult to figure out where we are supposed to go. We fuel the car up and manage to make the correct turn to get us to the rental return. We are so glad to be rid of the car.
We call our greeter and hop in a taxi to take us into the old city part of Florence. We meet Miki and Franco whose apartments we are renting. After being chastised for being early and having every aspect of the apartments explained to us, we are on our own in Florence.
Since this is the third time staying here we know where everything is and what stores are nearby. John hurries out to buy some chopped liver and bread for our dinner of hors d’oeuvres tonight.
Tomorrow Ryan and Jon arrive. I am nervous about their needing to catch trains and get to Florence. Everyone assures me that they will be fine. (And they did great!)
I feel better today so I rejoin the rest of our little group for a trip to Prato and possibly Pistoia. Prato is a walled city so parking is pretty impossible. We drive around and around in and out of the old city. Finally after another full parking lot we find a space on the street. We wonder if we are parking in an allowed space. (Later in the day…Yes! Our car is still there when we return and there is no ticket on it!)
People are scurrying about buying their Christmas presents and there is something going on in Duomo Piazza. We never do figure out what. The Prato Cathedral is unusual in that it has an outdoor pulpit hanging off an outside corner of the church.
We decide to take a look at the Museum of the Cathedral first. It closes at 1PM while the church is open all day. After paying our ticket fee it seems that we have a personal Italian watcher to make sure we do not touch anything. He asks us in Italian whether we speak Italian and John says, a little. This is a mistake. Now he wants to talk to us continually about paintings that we are really not interested in. Plus he is talking so fast that we cannot fathom his Italian.
In the vaults underneath the cathedral where the museum resides there are several interesting mid to late 14th century frescoes.
In the next room we see the original sculptured pulpit from the outside of the church. Donatello and his students executed the low-relief panels which were brought inside in the 1960’s to keep them from being further weather damaged. Although a priest might be preaching gloom and doom the little figures on the pulpit are happily dancing about.
Our watcher keeps wanting to steer us into 17th century paintings and we keep trying to be polite. We are more interested in earlier art.
One item which is very important to the Prato Cathedral is the so-called “girdle of Thomas” handed down to the Apostle Thomas from the Virgin Mary. There is a marble box, casket dedicated to the belt.
Here are a couple of other outstanding works from the Museum of the Cathedral.
Done with the museum we bid our watcher arrevederci and head up to the church. It is one of the most ancient churches in the city, built in the Romanesque style, and was already in existence in the 10th century. Although modified over time there are still a great many early frescoes.
One of the first things I see is a lovely Annunciation fresco by Agnolo Gaddi, an artist who worked in the 14th century and 15th centuries.
There are several chapels isurrounding the main altar with frescoes explaining the stories of various martyrs. This is a rather blood-thirsty array. With the exception of St. Stephen who was killed by stoning, all the other saints have had their heads cut off.
The next chapel is dedicated to St. Margaret who, it is said, was swallowed by a dragon but was spit out unharmed. Also she refused to give up her Christian faith and miraculously survived many tortures before being beheaded. In the same chapel is the story of St. James the Greater who was beheaded by a sword.
Luckily the beheadings have not dampened our appetites and we leave the church in search of lunch. John’s roommate from MIT, Barry, has suggested a place we might find a good lunch in Prato, Baghino. I see that it has gotten 5 stars on Google. We did not have a 5 star lunch. In fact my dish was THE WORST of the entire trip. It all started off well enough with some delicous hush puppy type breads.
Sarah had some vin santo with cookies and shared the cookies with us but there was no saving this lunch!
After my horrid lunch we go to the Palazzo Praetorio Museum which was opened in 2013 in a building built in the 14th and 15th century that served as the City Hall for Prato. I am still feeling not so good and am really tired. I know we went here because I have some pictures of beautiful altarpieces but I really do not remember it much.
As tired as we are from all the walking, viewing, and eating awful food, we decide not to try to do Pistoia today. That will have to wait for another trip. We are departing Lucca in the morning to head to Florence with a side trip to Fiesole. No one is hungry for dinner. We spend our time packing in the evening.