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.