Prato. 12/20/18

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.
Prato Cathedral with unusual outside pulpit designed in part by Donatello
closer look at the pulpit
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.
Next to a window we find a small St. Anthony the Abbot holding a torch and accompanied by his devil-pig
This fresco over a sarcophagus shows the regard that Jesus, Mary (?), and St. John the Evangelist have for the deceased
In the vaults we also see “The Stoning of Saint Stephen (l.) and The Madonna with Saint Stephen and Saint Lorenzo” by Pietro and Antonio di Miniato, 1420. St. Stephen was martyred by stoning is often seen with rocks on his head
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.
Original panels from the outdoor pulpit with happy dancing little figures (1434-38)
Panel attributed solely to Donatello
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.
Marble carving of the BVM handing the belt to Thomas
Side panel of the belt being handed to a Marist priest
Here are a couple of other outstanding works from the Museum of the Cathedral.
Madonna and Child (1365) birds are often a sign of the Resurrection. I love the smiles in this painting!
Altar panel with the Funeral of Saint Jerome, Filippo Lippi, 1453
Annunciation, 15th century. I can’t help but thinking that if Mary stood up she would bang her head!
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.
The church, dedicated to St. Stephen, has three aisles and the striping so prevelant in this part of Tuscany.
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.
Here is another lovely annunciation. In the upper corner God is with an angel and has another small person in his hand. Is this Jesus? Mary appears taken aback as she looks up from her reading.
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 stoning of St. Stephen, Paolo Uccello, 1435-36
Here is John the Baptist being beheaded, Filippo Lippi, 1452. The faces painted by Lippi have a very Botticelli look to them.
John the Baptist’s head being presented to Salome
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.
St. Margaret of Antioch being beheaded, 15th century, unknown Florentine artist
St. James the Greater being 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.
Yum, a nice selection of breads and hush puppy type fritters
Our favorite crostini – fegato (chicken livers)
Oh no, what is this that I ordered? It was listed as Ravioli Baghino, a specialty of the house. Under the green slime is a large ravioli. It was horrible. Also pictured are Sarah’s tepid gnocchetti with Gorgonzola, and some beans in oil. John had seppie with chard and polenta (not pictured)
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.
Madonna and Child altarpiece with Saints Catherine, Benedict, John Gualberto, and Agatha by Lorenzo Monaco 1424
Another Madonna and Child with Saints, Mariotto di Nardo, late 14th to early 15th century
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.

Sick day. 12/19/18

I have a bad cold and rather than push myself I take a day off to lounge about in bed. In my history of traveling there was an unfortunate incident of getting a cold on a cruise and that turning into pneumonia so I am extra careful these days. John and Sarah go out sightseeing though. John brings me back some pictures as well as cold medicine and lunch. He and Sarah spend the morning at Museo Nazionale di Villa Guinigi. The museum only lets people in at proscribed times in order to control the crowds and accompany the tourists. Today John and Sarah are the sole tourists and no one accompanies them. If I had gone we would definitely have been accompanied because three’s a crowd!
This a capital from the 11th century. I know John must have taken this picture because I have mentioned how much I love the odd, squat figures of the Longobard period
Even though this is from the formulaic Gothic period, I think you can feel a connection between mother and child, Lucca 1200s
This predella panel from around 1440 still shows a lot of trouble with perspective. The subject matter is the miraculous Volto Santo which we saw in the cathedral here in Lucca arriving on a crewless ship from its hiding place in the Holy Land. The Bishop of Lucca had a dream that it was arriving and went down to the sea to meet it.
Lastly John has found another Saint Anthony the Abbot with his devil-pig. This is a late 15th century painted wooden sculpture.
At this point Sarah and John look for a grocery to buy the medicine but cold medicine is not sold in groceries only in pharmacies where you have to have a big conversation with the pharmacist about your symptoms and then he picks out what he thinks is best. I imagine that John and Sarah did their best with limited medical Italian and hand gestures. In their wanderings they pass the Conservatorio Boccherini, the music institute here in Lucca. There is a statue of Luigi Boccherini, the famous Luccan cellist and composer of the 18th century so of course Sarah needs her picture taken beside it.
Sarah and Luigi Boccherini
They stop back at our room, drop off the meds, and proceed out again to have lunch at da Nonna Clara, a restaurant I have checked out on Yelp.
I see from John’s notes that these lardo bruschetti get three smiley faces
This is Sarah’s chestnut flour tagliatelle with duck sauce dish. John has pici with sausage and mushrooms (not pictured)
On the way back they pick me up a salami and cheese sandwich and a focaccia with sausage and cheese. They want to make sure I am happy. Now we have enough food for dinner! Later they go out to visit the Basilica of San Frediano, named for an Irish bishop of Lucca who built the church in the first half of the 6th century. It was later enlarged and modified in the 12th century.
Basilica of San Frediano, Lucca
13th century mosaic on exterior of San Frediano
Of interest is “the fresco of the Transportation of the Volto Santo from the port of Luni to Lucca by the Blessed Giovanni, bishop of Lucca.” Wikipedia This is the same tale told by the painting at the Museum Guinigi this morning!
The Volto Santo being taken to Lucca
We meet downstairs at the hotel later and share the rest of my lunch. We make plans to visit Pistoia and Prato tomorrow. Hopefully Sarah and I will be on the mend from our colds by then!

The Leaning Tower. 12/18/18

Amazingly we have never been to Pisa. For years we have heard, “Don’t go to Pisa. there is nothing there but the Leaning Tower.” Wrong. Not only is there the Leaning Tower but also a great Cathedral, Baptistry, and a fabulous museum. (Especially if you are into 13th and 14th century art.) After assuring each other that we would not take silly pictures of ourselves with the Tower that is exactly what we do. It is such fun!
Walking into the Piazza Dei Miracoli in Pisa
Sarah supporting the Tower
Mary trying to straighten the Tower
So you totally do not feel like a fool doing this because everyone else is doing it too! And even though it is really difficult to capture in pictures how leaning the Tower is, it is really leaning. Amazingly so.
Definitely leaning
M and J with Tower
Selfie
The Tower has been leaning ever since it was completed in 1372. And they have kept trying to fix it ever since. It has an inadequate foundation in ground that is too soft on one side to support its weight. Through efforts in th 1990’s the tilt has been reduced from 5.5 degrees to about 4 degrees and the building has been stabilized. You can buy a ticket for 18Euro to climb to the top. We choose not to. Instead we buy the much cheaper ticket to see the Cathedral, Baptistry, and Camposanto. We start our touring at the Cathedral. It is a beautiful building inside and out.
Front facade of the Pisa Cathedral
Interior
As we begin our exploration of the church we are struck by how few people are inside. Outside there are hundreds or more taking their silly selfies but in here maybe twenty? Good for us! Over the altar is a mosaic of Christ Enthroned between the Virgin and St. John completed in 1320. The style is not quite as Byzantine as the mosaics in Monreale or Cefalu on Sicily. Sarah and I think it is nice that Jesus has a tummy in this mosaic.
Apsidal mosaic
There is also an early 14th century pulpit by Giovanni Pisano depicting episodes in the life of Christ.
Pisa Cathedral pulpit
To the left of the altar there is a Madonna and Child painting from the 1200’s attributed to Berlinghieri.
Madonna and Child by Berlinghieri, 13th century
Next we visit the Baptistry which is beautiful and ornate on the outside and rather austere inside. Most of the Baptistries are dedicated to St. John “the Baptist”, duh. The building was started in 1152 and completed in 1363. The shape of the building is reminiscent of a Pope’s hat.
Pisa Baptistry
Inside, as I said, it is pretty devoid of decoration. The baptismal font and statue are from 1246 and the pulpit completed in 1260. There are tombs in the floor. The chamber is said to be acoustically perfect. The info on it says that visitors go in and sing every day. Since there are just the three of us in here, there is no singing. Too bad Jonathan is not with us for this part of the trip, he could have beat boxed!
Interior of Pisa Baptistry
Lastly we visit the Camposanto Monumentale or Monumental Cemetary. It is walled in and said to have been built with a shipload of soil from Calvary. There are tombs in the pavement and various Roman artifacts. There is also an enormous fresco titled the Triumph of Death by Buffalmacco, 14th century.
Vision of Hell – looks pretty gruesome!
Judgement
John next to monument to Fibonacci
Mary touching something old
We have finished our visit to the Piazza dei Miracoli and drive over to the National Museum of St. Matthew. But first we must find some lunch! We walk around assuming we will find a restaurant. They are pretty few and far between. The first one we try is full. Finally we find a pizzeria and spaghetteria called La Tombola, which is an Italian game similar to Bingo. Finding a good restaurant is often just a game of chance. We have happened upon a pizzeria which makes an odd form of pizza. I look up afterwards to see if there is a special type of Pisan pizza. There is not.
Odd pizza from La Tombola
After our strange pizza lunch we head over to the museum. Heading up to the second floor to our area of interest, we are gobsmacked by the extent of 13th and 14th century art. Usually there is like one thing from the 1200’s in a museum. Here there are rooms dedicated to the first half and second half of the 13th century. There is a whole room of crucifixes from the 1100 and 1200s. We should have come here first! Now we are tired and have only until 3:15PM on our parking ticket. Here are only a few of the awesome works –
This interesting painting from the late 15th century was commissioned by an Italian family and painted by a Flemish artist. St. Catherine does not look at all Italian. She has the pale complexion and dress of Northern Europe.
In the predella below the St. Catherine painting and painted by some local Italian artist is the real way St. Catherine was killed- not on the wheel she always carries but by beheading.
Here is our old friend Masaccio painting St.Paul in 1426. You can see by the modeling of the figure that Masaccio is definitely leaning towards the Renaissance but the gold background and embossed halo are definitely Gothic.
This 1422 Madonna of Humility (sitting on the floor) who appears to be having a staring contest with Jesus is painted by Gentile da Fabriano in the flamboyant International Gothic style with its elongated and elegant figures.
Cannot pass up the opportunity to take a picture of St. Anthony The Abbot with his little devil-pig
These figures of Christ with the Virgin Mary and John the Baptist along with Saints Catherine and Sylvester are from the mid-1200s. There is nothing Renaissance about them. They are on gold backgrounds with Byzantine faces, elongated boneless hands, and ornate folding of their garments.
Room with 13th and 14th century crucifixes
13th century crucifix with imagined musculature
It has been a big day for us and once again none of us wants to eat dinner. John and I catch up on news on CNN International and BBC World. Tomorrow we should be almost over jet lag ( I hope)!

Exploring Lucca. 12/17/18

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

Figure of St. Martin dividing his cloak for a beggar

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 –

Tintoretto, Last Supper, 1592-94. Tintoretto’s Last Suppers are always a play of light and dark with the table presented at an angle.

Ghirlandaio’s Madonna and Child enthroned with Saints Peter, Clement, Sebastian, and Paul, 1479

Most famous is the Volto Santo which was said to be miraculously carved by Nicodemus, a contemporary of Jesus, hidden away for 700 years and then rediscovered and brought to Lucca

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.

Sculpted heads in earlier (l.) and later styles

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.

Looking across the piazza towards the Baptistry

Faded fresco

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.

Interior view of San Michele in Foro

12th century crucifix

Four Saints by Filippino Lippi

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.

Looking across the enormous oval amphitheater piazza

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.

Sarah pointing out the Guinigi Tower

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.

John and beer

Sarah and beer

Nonna’s Pezzole – crepes  filled with spinach and cheese

In the foreground is Mary and Sarah’s choice, tordelli with chianina ragu (sort of like a Chef Boyardee ravioli) and above it John’s tripe. Supposedly tordelli is a Luccan speciality.

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.

Driving Day. 12/16/18

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.

St. Juvenal Altarpiece, St. Juvenal is the guy in the right panel closest to the Madonna and Child

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.

Lunch

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.

The Funeral Crashers. 12/15/18

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.

John and Sarah in front of the Church of St. Andrew, Orvieto

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.

Rose window featuring St. Andrew

The church has a statue of St. Andrew and fragments of old frescoes.

St. Andrew with saltire
Damaged fresco of St. Julian explaining to his wife that he had accidentally killed his mother and father.   St. Julian, “See, somebody told me that my dad was sleeping with a harlot. So I rushed in and stabbed them both. My bad, it turns out it was my mom. But, no worries, I will become a Saint anyway!” Wife, “Okay then.”

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.

Hearse at St. Juvenal’s

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 –

Bread service and amuse bouche
First courses – Mary, scallop with pumpkin cream and black ink tulles, Sarah- Salumi plate with lardo, John – Cacio e pepe scrambled pasta
Seconds, Mary – Octopus with mashed potatoes and pickled ginger (?), Sarah – underdone paccheri with shrimp, John – beef cheeks

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.

Salumi, porchetta, and cheese platter with bread, tapenade, artichoke, and chopped liver bruschetti, and a jug of Sangiovese

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.

Exploring Orvieto and its Cathedral. 12/14/18

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.

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Looking towards the altar

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.

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Madonna and Child

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.

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St. Anthony the Abbot (with his little devil-pig at his feet) and St. James, the traveler

In fact at one time there were so many frescoes that the artists started laying one on top of the other!

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Mixed up media

Up at the altar the frescoes are basically intact and have a cohesive theme, the Life of the Virgin by Ugolino.

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Altar area

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Side frescoes depicting the life of Mary

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.

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Signorelli’s Hell on left and Redempton of the Bodies on the right

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The Prediction of the Anti-Christ (l.) and The Glorification of the Chosen (r.)

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The Deposition by L. Signorelli – This painting is made to fit in under the existing three brackets of the sarcophagus of Saint Pietro Parenzo

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.

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Fresco of Pope St. Gregory holding venerated host

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The actual cloth with stains

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.

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A primitive 14th century Madonna and a Chikd with Saints fresco done in the style of Orvieto

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15th century Annunciation

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Madonna and Child from the 1200’s

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A whimsical monkey in glasses drawn into a window alcove, 15th century

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.

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Clockwise from left ombrichelli in Amatriciana sauce, gnocchi with bacon, spinach and truffle sauce, and papardelle with wild boar sauce

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 –

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Fresh truffles for sale (no touching!)

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All things pork!

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A main shopping street in Orvieto, the bucket truck at the end is putting up Christmas decorations

We decide to try out a nearby wine bar for dinner and we end up having a wonderful meal.

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Bruschetti of newly pressed olive oil, tomatoes, and truffles

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Sarah and I have strezzopreti made from chestnut flour in a porcini and sausage sauce, John has beans and wine soaked sausages, and we add a chickpea side

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!!!

 

How to beat jet lag… 12/13/18

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.

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(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.

Christ blessing Saints John the Evangelist, Leonard, Peter Martyr, John the Baptist by Gerolamo da Cremona (15th century)

12th century Madonna and Child (reproduction, original in museum next to the church) flanked by frescoes of Saints Paul (l.) and Peter (r.)

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.

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The Church of Santa Maria Nuova constructed prior to the mid-11th century has an unusual outside pulpit from which Thomas Aquinas preached in the mid-1200s. Picture from Wikipedia

The interior has many early frescoes.

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Crucifixion by Matteo Giovannetti, 1340’s. Saints John, James, the Madonna and Mary Magdelan

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Fresco by Il Pastura of St. Jerome flanked by John the Baptist and St. Lawrence

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.

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My marinara pizza and John and Sarah’s pizzas with tomato, cheese, and spicy salami

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.

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Our pretty sparse room at Hotel Duomo

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Best thing about Hotel Duomo? It is right next door to the cathedral

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.

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The beautiful Orvieto Cathedral lighted up at night

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Sarah and Mary cold and wet

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Grocery shopping in Orvieto

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Sarah checking out our 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!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Buongiorno from Rome! 12/12 and13/18

On 12/11 we started our long anticipated trip to Italy for my 70th birthday. Sarah is with us and Jonathan and Ryan will join us on 12/22. I say long anticipated because if you want good seats using frequent flyer miles you have to start 330 days in advance. So I booked these tickets January 18, 2018.

Travel always involves hitches of one sort or another. While we congratulated each other for having a flight that left in the late afternoon and avoided the dreaded fog, we forgot that the plane taking us to Rome was supposed to arrive in the morning. So that plane gets diverted to Las Vegas and we are delayed enough to miss our connecting flight from London to Rome. British Airways handled the situation well and, Pilats, we handled it the best we could.

John managing the stress of waiting

Sarah productively wasting time

After securing our rental car we drive the 12 miles to a local airport hotel in Ostia and crash. Funny thing about booking a hotel in Europe is that you are never actually sure of what it will be like. For instance, I booked a single room for Sarah and a double room for us. This is what we got, two rooms!

We used the second room as an extension to our tiny closet!

Breakfast is always an adventure too. Since none of us slept past around 4 AM we were the early birds at breakfast. Maybe in Germany when they say breakfast at 7AM, it is there and ready to go. In Italy it is more of a process that starts at 7AM. But we find more than enough to eat. They even have scrambled eggs! Mostly though it is heavy on sweets and meat.

Protein breakfast

Today we are off to Viterbo and Orte before landing in Orvieto for the next three nights. We have an unfortunate rainy day. Here’s a picture from the wet balcony of the hotel in Ostia looking out over the Tyrrhenian Sea.  More later.

View from our hotel

 

Sonoma Wine Country

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.

Ho, ho, ho John at Jacuzzi winery

Wind-blown Mary in front of jacuzzi Winery

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.

John’s roasted octopus with chickpeas

My octopus salad

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.

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Leaves turning in the vineyards of Sonoma County