The rain has stopped by 10 AM and we are ready to head out to begin our exploration of Lucca. The first church we mean to visit is Santa Maria Forisportam. Although the church is inside the walls now forisportam means that it was originally built outside the original walls of the city. But we are not off to a good start as the church is closed. It has some interesting figures on its Romanesque facade and I wish I could find out more.
This unusual Madonna, from what I can glean from the internet, is called a Byzantine Madonna and is heavily influenced by the Greek tradition. The head covering is different from how we traditionally see the Madonna.
Moving along we head toward the cathedral piazza and buy tickets to visit the complex. The front of the cathedral is awash in columns, statuary, and bas-reliefs. There is also a rather outsized bell tower.
St. Martin’s Cathedral in Lucca
In the picture above there are many differently designed columns. According to traditional lore there was a contest to see who could make the most beautiful column. Instead of naming a winner they just kept all the different columns and used them on the front of the Church!
Here are some of the early/famous works in the cathedral –
After spending time in the cathedral we make our way to the museum of the cathedral where we see illuminated choir books, various paintings and even two sculptures of John the Baptist’s head on a platter.
From here we make our way to the Baptistry, originally built in the 4th century and added onto and renovated somewhat over the centuries. It’s Roman origins can be seen in excavations within the Church. It is an enormous space with various pieces of interest.
After stopping for a quick cup of coffee to perk ourselves up we head to the Church of St. Michael in the Forum. This church is first mentioned in 795 as having been built over the old Roman forum.
It is now close to 2 PM and we are all dragging. We make our way over to the oval site of the old Roman amphitheater hoping to find some lunch but we run into the usual tourist trap restaurants.
We decide to head back towards the hotel in hopes of finding a local restaurant. Along the way we pass the famous Guinigi Tower with trees on top. The last time we were here Sarah climbed to the top. She is older and wiser this trip.
We are back to the hotel when John points out a small restaurant, Antica Drogheria, which he tells me he and I have eaten in before. I have no memory of it but that is typical. We gratefully sit down, take the mandatory beer pictures, watch the table of Asian tourists next to us dig into the enormous bistecca Fiorentinas, and try some Luccan favorites.
At this point John and I are in an achy sightseeing stupor and stumble back to our room. I fall dead asleep. Sarah takes a walk back to the amphitheater to check out some stores. We meet downstairs later for a few snacks and all agree that no one wants dinner. I manage to stay awake until almost 9 PM working on the beginning of this post and finish it when I wake up at 4AM.
Today is mostly a driving day. We are traveling from Orvieto to Lucca. I am looking around for something to do along the way when I find Museo de Masaccio in the town of Reggello. It is about an hour and a half away and only about 20 minutes off the A-1. Yelp says it has restaurants so we should be set for lunch as well.
Masaccio is an artist whose work we will see in our upcoming trip to Florence. Masaccio, Masolino, and ultimately Filippino Lippi painted the amazing Brancacci Chapel frescoes just across the Arno from where we will be staying. Although he died at 28 he had a big impact on early Renaissance art. He was one of the first to use linear perspective and fashioned his figures using chiaroscuro making them more realistic. He helped to move painting away from the International Gothic style with its stylized figures set in gold backgrounds with elaborate ornamentation.
One of his earliest known works is the St. Juvenal Altarpiece which I came across while looking into St. Juvenal (whose church we went to in Orvieto and ran into the funeral.) He painted it when he was 22. It resides in the Museum of Masaccio in Reggello which is close to his hometown.
The museum is small but along with the altarpiece there are a few other “by the school of” works that are interesting.
A group of young people come in while we are there and turn on a video detailing the restoration of the altarpiece. They even set it to English for us. For some reason or other the curmudgeonly guy at the front desk only went so far as to turn on the lights for us.
After we are done at the museum we walk over to the Restaurant Masaccio. Sunday is a big day for families to eat lunch out and we are lucky to snag a table without a reservation. At around 12:45 it is pretty much empty but by 1PM it is packed with large family groups eating oceans of seafood.
Sarah and I order strezzopreti with zucchini flowers and shrimp and John has creamy risotto scampi. Although our dishes are good, John’s is worth swooning over. Sarah and I are filled with risotto envy. It appears to be very creamy risotto made in a lobster stock with a large prawn on top.
After lunch we finish the trip to Lucca and check into our hotel. We meet for free snacks around 6 PM and decide we would rather go to sleep than eat any dinner. I am asleep by 8 PM.
Today we are visiting the Church of St. Andrew and the Church of St. Juvenal in the morning. We have saved St. Juvenal for our last church visit. It is the oldest church in Orvieto and covered in early frescoes.
It is really cold out this morning, in the low 30’s with a stiff wind. It has been years since we have experienced this much cold. Tears are actually streaming down my face. We are relieved as we step inside the Church of St. Andrew. St. Andrew was an apostle and the brother of St. Peter.
The Church was built in the 12th century and has an unusual 10-sided bell tower.
Inside you can see the stunning rose window featuring St. Andrew carrying his X-shaped cross or saltire. Traditionally it is said that St. Andrew requested an alternate cross to be martyred on since he was unworthy to die in the same manner as Jesus.
The church has a statue of St. Andrew and fragments of old frescoes.
Before I leave the subject of St. Andrew’s Church, here is one of the best ever pictures of Sarah in a church taken at St. Andrew’s, April, 2016. It is very Annunciation-ish.
Our final church visit is at Chiesa di San Giovenale or St. Juvenal. He was the first bishop of Narni in Umbria during the 4th century. There are conflicting reports of whether he was a martyr or merely a confessor. His legend suggests that he saved Narni from invaders by calling down a divine thunderstorm. He was removed from the Catholic Calendar in 1969.
Even though St. Juvenal is no longer a major saint he has a pretty wonderful church in Orivieto. It is said to have been built in 1004 on an Etruscan temple dedicated to Jupiter and we are eager to see it again.
We barge in through a side door and an entire congregation turns and looks at us. Uh oh we think, there must be a mass going on. We quickly move to some seats. The service continues. This is when we notice a casket. Oh no! We have crashed a funeral!
We cannot leave or look around at the art or take pictures. So we respectfully sit and stand with the rest of the group. We offer the sign of peace to our neighboring parishioners. Luckily there have been some other late arrivals to take the glares off of us. But we know they are thinking, who are those people? Where did our departed meet them? Boy, is he tall for an Italian!
When people start rustling around for communion we make a break for the back door under the icy stares of the undertakers whose open hearse is waiting right in front of the church. I wish we had walked around and not used the side entrance.
I can only tell you that the church looked lovely inside. We had not seen it with all the lights on. The 12th and 13th century frescoes were glowing. And to the mourners, we are truly sorry to have crashed your funeral and hope you forgive us.
We hurry away before anyone can accost us, retrieve our car, and make the drive to have lunch in the countryside near Todi at the Roccafiore resort and restaurant. So much of this trip so far has been a walk down memory lane. In 2016 Sarah discovered this wine that she liked on a trip we took and she wanted to go to the winery. We discovered that they had a restaurant and we had a great lunch there and now we are going again. Lunch at the very un-rustic Roccafiore Restaurant –
So lunch was good but not as good as we remember the first time. We did get to buy two bottles of their Fiorfiore grecchetto which is pretty yummy. I wonder if there will be any left by the time Ryan and Jon get here next weekend.
We drive the hour back to the Hotel Duomo and it is definitely time for our coma-like siesta. We will meet again for dinner.
Although the idea of bundling up and facing the frigid evening temperatures to go somewhere for a light dinner is challenging we decide to brave the elements and go in search of munchies. Not too far away is Pippo’s run by the jolly Signor Pippo. We cannot tell whether we are too early or too late because we are the only patrons. John cavalierly tells Signor Pippo to give us whatever he thinks is best on the antipasto menu. Here is what a light dinner looked like.
Needless to say, even with our best efforts we had a lot leftover. We pass up dessert.
Tomorrow we are off for five nights in Lucca. I am looking forward to unpacking, doing some laundry, and not budging for almost a week. Along with sightseeing in Lucca we will be visiting Prato, Pistoia, Pisa, and whatever else I come across while planning things to do.
Orvieto is an excellent example of an Italian hill town being built on the flat top of a volcanic plug with almost vertical sides which are topped by defensive walls. People have lived here since Etruscan times and the name Orivieto comes from the Latin meaning “ancient city.” At the highest point is Orvieto Cathedral whose first stone was laid in 1290.
When you are in the town the cathedral is almost hidden to you as you walk along narrow, cobbled streets which makes its reveal even more spectacular. It is a gem set in a large piazza. Having taken a look from the outside last night, today we explore the interior.
Although most of the walls are stripped of their original frescoes there are some still at least partially saved. Here is a beautiful Madonna by Gentile da Fabriano who was active in the early 1400’s.
You have to use your imagination to see this huge space covered with all these brightly colored frescoes. On the other side of the church another fresco erupts from the wall almost completely intact.
In fact at one time there were so many frescoes that the artists started laying one on top of the other!
Up at the altar the frescoes are basically intact and have a cohesive theme, the Life of the Virgin by Ugolino.
The last chapel we visit is the New Chapel. It was frescoed by Fra Angelico and later by Luca Signorelli. There is a stark contrast between the two styles. Signorelli’s figures are full of movement and vigor plus they are mostly naked which is kind of strange in a church.
There is another chapel, the Corporal, dedicated to the Miracle of Bolsena and the reason this cathedral was built. It seems that a priest was carrying a consecrated host wrapped in a white cloth. As he was doing this he was having an inner struggle about the existence of God within the host. This doubting caused the host to weep blood and stain the cloth. The cloth is now displayed in a beautiful chapel in the cathedral. Last time we were here you could go in but now it is restricted to praying people and no pictures are allowed. Luckily I have saved a few from our first visit in 2016.
Our combination ticket allows us access to the Museum of the Cathedral where older or less loved pieces of art are displayed for the few who want to see them. Today we are apparently the only people so inclined since they have forgotten to man the desk or turn on the lights. Sarah runs back to the main entrance to get someone to help us. The admissions lady comes up the long staircase and claps her hands sharply to make the lights come on. It is a surreal scene of infomercial meets ancient art!
We are left entirely alone in this museum. I am very good and manage to squelch my impulse to touch something really old. John manages to set off an alarm by leaning in too close but no one comes running. It is raining and cold and there is a giant outdoor staircase to climb to come and admonish us so they give us a pass. Here are some art pieces we enjoy.
We have covered a lot of ground this morning. Time for lunch! We have lunch at La Pergola, a restaurant that was recommended to us the last time we were here. No other diners are here when we come in at 12:45. By 1:15 every table is full. This happened at lunch in Viterbo as well. I guess only tourist rubes do not realize that the proper time for lunch is at 1 PM. Duly noted.
By the end of lunch we can barely keep our eyes open. Hello, jet lag! We decide to take a siesta and venture out again later in the afternoon. We all sleep deeply not even moving until alarms jangle us awake.
We visit the Church of St. Dominic which is a weird church older than the 13th century cathedral. In the mid 20th century the government wanted to build a girls’ school so they cut off the whole nave and left only the transept. Then they reoriented the direction of the church. The whole thing seems out of whack. We go outside and do a little exploring. You can see where the whole back of the church has been cut off and bricked over. The girls’ school has morphed into a museum of finance. It seems like a desecration.
The streets are pretty lively with shoppers and workmen putting up Christmas decorations. Don’t they know that Christmas officially starts the day after a Halloween!! It’s December 14th! All that hyped up retail activity missed! Sights along the streets –
We decide to try out a nearby wine bar for dinner and we end up having a wonderful meal.
This dinner of humble ingredients is so good that it is hard to not let out little “yums” as we eat. Amazing! Away from the big tourist centers there is so much fabulous food!
Well, here it is 4:30 AM and I have been up since 3AM. John has been up even longer. The third night is usually the worst from our experience and now sleep should start to improve. Damn you, jet lag!!!
The best remedy for jet lag is simply time. I have tried taking melatonin, eating meals at the right time of day, taking walks in the sunshine, and all the other old wives’ tales’ remedies to cure the hazy brain and the wakefulness in the middle of the night. Time works the best. An hour adjustment a day is about all your body can handle. Living on the West Coast means we have to adjust nine hours worth. If you can do it in a week my hat is off to you. We took a nap today around 5 PM because it was impossible to stay vertical any longer. I am not ashamed to admit it.
Leaving Ostia this morning for Viterbo around 9AM put us in a lot of heavy traffic going towards Rome. On top of that our Google maps’ GPS took us over a mountain instead of some straight-forward way. Conversation in the car, Sarah,“Did you see that white stuff? Do you think it’s snow? Me, “Can’t be. Must be some powder that spilled.” John, “Could be. The temperature is only 3 Celsius.” All Californians in the car gasp. It was snow.
When we get to Viterbo we find the cathedral by driving through a pedestrian zone, a tried and true Pilat method for avoiding traffic and collecting tickets in Italy. John is very gallant and offers to drop Sarah and me off and go find a parking space. We wonder if we will ever see him again.
(Picture taken of Viterbo Cathedral on a sunny day on a previous trip)
We have unfinished business at the cathedral. The last time we were here we could not go in due to an armed forces celebration. While we wait for John to join us Sarah and I peruse the art in the cathedral. The two most notable pieces of art are a painting by Gerolamo of Cremona and a 12th century Madonna and Child. Any existing work of art from before the 14th century is pretty exciting since many are devoid of the stylized Byzantine look that is prevalent in 14th and early 15th century paintings.
John final returns from parking the car. He looks pretty frozen since it is really cold out especially with a stiff wind. After he looks around a bit we hurry to the Church of Santa Maria Nuova that John has found on his walk from the car. Usually churches are closed between noon and three for the holy lunchtime and we just make it in before the doors lock. Due to the time crunch, I just hurry around snapping pictures willy-nilly so that now I have to work to figure out what is what.
The interior has many early frescoes.
This last one is an amateur art sleuth’s delight. Everyone in the fresco is holding or near to their attributes which makes them easily identifiable. On the left John the Baptist is wearing his hair shirt and pointing to a scroll, St. Jerome in the center appears as a hermit with rocks to beat himself with, a lion, and a red cardinal’s hat, and St. Lawrence on the right holds a martyr’s palm frond with the grill that he was burnt on at his feet.
The Church is closing and we are hungry so it is time for us to head to Buongiorno Napoli, a pizzeria in Viterbo. It is our third visit. The lunch special, pizza and a small beer is up to 7 euros this year but it is still a great deal.
After this we head to Orte where once again we navigate through twisty and narrow streets, find that the museum we want to see is closed, and get blocked in to our parking space by a truck while taking a quick look at the cathedral, all of whose artwork has been replaced by some neo-classical garbage. Alas, you can’t win them all.
We are soooooo tired and decide to give up on the sightseeing for today and check into our uninspired hotel, The Hotel Duomo, in Orvieto. We are met by a very brusque hotel manager and whisked into our rooms.
We grant ourselves an hour or so worth of napping and meet again at 6PM in hopes of seeing the Duomo lit up at night.
It is a dark and stormy night and really cold and raining. We walk over to the church and take some pictures of it and ourselves, visit a grocery store to buy tissues and water, and then head back to the hotel where Mr. Brusque serves us some cheese and chips with wine. We really do not need anything else for dinner.
Remember way back in the beginning of this post I mentioned that you can only manage but not beat jet lag? I went to sleep at 9:30PM, woke up at 12:30 AM, and have now spent 2 1/2 hours writing this post. I hope to take a nap around 3AM and sleep until 7 AM but I am not holding out any great hopes. Oh, and John just woke up too!
It’s birthdays time again and this is a very special birthday for George and me. He is turning 75 and I am turning 70. George, who is in charge of all things planning, decides on a return trip to Bernardus in Carmel Valley, CA. We are scheduled to dine at the Chef’s Table in the restaurant, Lucia, kitchen.
First, though, there is lunch and a little wine tasting. We eat at Corkscrew Cafe not too far from the wineries and Bernardus. John has a small plate of ribs and I have a personal sized mushroom pizza. I am trying not to eat too much because I am assuming that tonight’s dinner will be substantial. I give away a few slices and leave a few. Over lunch we discuss what wineries we will go to. I am hoping for not an extensive wine tasting foray since I want to have enough time for a little lie-down and a shower before dinner.
First we go to Boekenoogen where the wines are pretty meh. This is followed by a couple of sips at Jouillan, and then on to a newish winery, Idle Hour, where some ladies are playing guitars. We buy a couple of bottles and then head over to the hotel.
Ours room is great! It is spacious and has lots of little treats for us – wine, cheese, chips, and sweets. Mostly all I want to do is lie down on the too-soft bed with the too-big pillows and have a little nap.
We meet George and Karen at 6:30 and progress to an eating marathon which takes until 10PM. Unlike our meal we had last time this meal has 12 courses! With a different wine for each one! We are seated in an alcove where there are lots of famous chefs signatures on the wall.
We eat and eat and eat untitled finally we call “uncle” and skip two courses towards the end. No cheese plate or venison for us thank you. Here is what we are served.
So totally replete from too much wine and food plus reeling from the bill, we stumble off to bed. Of course we make plans for breakfast the next morning!
Happy Birthday to me!!!!
Since my birthday is a week from tomorrow, we figure that it is a good time to start celebrating early. December will be a month of celebrating and travel so there will not be a whole lot of cooking. But I am happy to include in my posts some great experiences, interesting restaurant dishes and the occasional home cooked meal.
Our day started with a stop at Jacuzzi Winery, home of The Olive Press, where we always stop to sample the olive oils and get our bottles refilled. Today we get a new pressing of Arbequina olive oil. We use these better oils as finishing oils while we use a more generic EVOO for everyday cooking.
Here’s a picture of John next to Santa at the Jacuzzi Winery and The Olive Press.
Next we stop at Imagery Winery to pick up our Wine Club allotment. For agreeing to a certain number of bottles per year you get a 20% discount. Also you get a free tasting of their recent offerings. So John and I try a few sips. It is fun as long as you do not enroll in too many wine clubs or have too many sips!
For a late lunch we try the recently opened Salt and Stone restaurant in Kenwood, CA. I think we make very reasonable choices.
After lunch we head for home trying not to get caught in rush hour traffic. Sonoma County wine country is beautiful even in late November and a nice break from the urban/suburban bustle.