I found Valencia to be a beautiful and astoundingly clean city. In my pictures there is not a single piece of trash. It’s architecture is a blend of Art Deco and modern. These photos were taken from a bus and walking tour of Valencia.
Later we have our last dinner on the boat at Chef’s Table. It is new to their menu and needs some work. The lamb chops, however, are delicious.
Alex is officially a teenager yesterday and we are celebrating his birthday today! The party is mainly held in a truck that has big video screens for the kids to play various games on. We really do not see any of the party-goers until it is time to cut the cake.
Auntie Leigh has outdone herself this year with a totally edible dragon cake. She even has dry ice set up so it looks like the dragon is breathing smoke. Everyone is wowed by it.
Last weekend Jonathan and we went out trying new cars that fit our specifications. Jonathan is so great to have along. He has made up a spread sheet of candidate cars and has learned all about each one. First, though, we have to find one that John can sit in without his head hitting the ceiling. We go to ten different dealerships and sit in their SUV type cars. Only two are contenders – the Acura RSX and the Infiniti QX50.
On Friday we test drive both cars and decide that the Infiniti is the one for us. Today we go in to make a deal on a leased car. Although we are at the dealership for 6 hours we finally arrive at a meeting of the minds and come home with our new car!
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!