Friday, December 23, 2011

Italy 1996 - Part II

October 19

Cool. John and I got an early start to Florence. We drove it in one hour 15 minutes – our door to the parking lot at Fortezzo de Basso. It seemed less crowded on Saturday than on weekdays. We spent three hours in the Uffizi and saw some spectacular art – all Tuscan painters pretty much and all during Renaissance years. Much or just about all is religious in nature. Our whole room of Botticelli’s, Titians, Giotto, Angelico, Lippi, Leonardo Da Vinci. It seems everyone ahs done the “Adoration of the Magi” and many Madonnas. We had lunch on the roof and had a view of the Duomo – it was practically in our soup. Then we shopped for a while and stopped before will have to buy another seat on the airplane.

Today is our goodbye dinner – two couples leave tomorrow for Venice. We leave on Tuesday, October 23. We’re going to a Country Inn – La Buca di Santé Antonio in Lucca. It was a great restaurant. The difficulty is in not knowing the language. Five courses are too many for me.

October 20

Sunny, cool. We awaken to the sound of gunshot, especially on weekends. We seem virtually alone on this mountaintop until weekends. They are hiking and shooting birds. One gentleman we talked to was wearing olive green Wellingtons, olive green pants and jacket, olive green baseball type cap, and large orange silk bow tie gun over his shoulder and a big bunch of wildflowers in his hand. These Italians are a colorful lot.

We drove to Portovenere – just up the coast toward Cinque Terra. What a gorgeous little town. The houses come right down to the sea. The town dates back to 1113 and a church St. Pietro dominates the entry to the bay. We walked up and down the narrow, cobblestone streets and up to the top where there is a small cemetery, which has the most beautiful view. Poets, artists and well-known figures have frequented these small towns – Byrnes, Shelley Dante among others.

October 21

I’ve resolved to have a day of leisure and sketching before we leave for Venice and this is it. It is a gorgeous day! I finished my villa window and Marion came up with her watercolors and we filled in a little color. It looks good on the window, but my paper is wrong for watercolor and it is rather puckered. Maybe when I get home I can do another sketch.

We went to Massarosa to look around and brought home lunch. Snookie had a fire in the kitchen fireplace and the Oakley’s and the Caldwell’s joined us and we all shared. We packed and generally enjoyed our afternoon here. The English couple joined us for cocktails at 5, which made for a long cocktail – two hours, since the restaurants don’t open until 7:30. We had our best dinner yet at “Salferino” 55056 S. Macario in Piano Telefono 0583/59118.

October 22

Sunny, warm. Venice here we come! Drove on the autostrada to Florence, Bologna, Padava, Verizia (or Venice in English). Returning the rental auto and catching the boat to the Rialto Bridge went beautifully and our hotel was really close to the boat dock. Super planning! We walked the streets with the Olson’s oohing & aahing. St. Marcas’ Square nearly blew us away – such grandeur!  Such size – such unbelievable detail on the Duomo – statues, carvings, and paintings. The shops are incredible.

We stopped for wine and went to The Madonna for dinner. It was excellent! However, you pay enormous amounts for dinner and lunch – never less than $30 or $40 each for dinner and $20 for lunch. Our Hotel Canada is passable, but for $125 a night, you don’t get much. It is clean – nice linen, private bath, small with breakfast. We had a fun evening.

October 23

We had a wonderful laugh with the Olson’s at breakfast. Don and John are having problems with the tiny bathrooms and narrow spaces we’re living in. John whacked his back and Don bumped his head. This place has struck a funny chord. The Olson’s have a room at the top of the hotel with a little roof deck. It overlooks roofs and chimneys as far as one can see. This morning it is a very busy place – on the next roof cement floor is being layed – Just above, a chimney is being repaired. All this work seems very primitive, yet they are talking on cellular phones. We are trying to imagine what is actually happening and Don and John are “Clerk of the Works” Don yells to the next roof telling them they are doing a good job. They must think we are nuts.

We start each day and end each day on their roof to check out the activity. The bell for a local church is so close to this tiny deck, it could deafen you if they rang it. It is good we will be gone before Sunday. We had a good day – went to the top of the Campanile at the Duomo. What a spectacular view of Venice. This is a must as you can see all the islands and relate to the red rooftops, domes, churches and bridges.

We met quite accidentally for lunch in Campo Saint Vidal and sat in the sun. Then we walked the back streets after crossing the Ponte dell’ Academia. We went on the pub-crawl after cocktails on the roof. We drank too much wine, but it was a fun way to eat dinner for a change. Early to bed.

October 24

Don and John are off to check the train station for tomorrow morning. Nan and I will meet them at St. Marco Square, where we will sketch until they arrive. We got ripped off, as we needed a place to sit – always a mistake in Italy. Our cafe latte was 16,000 lire for two = $11 or $5.50 per coffee. It we stood up to drink, it would have cost 1500 lire each or about $1. We went to visit the Ducal Palace after John arrived. It is very impressive with the water lapping at its foundation. There was quite a display of Venetian glass and the Venetian Chandeliers are fabulous in clear and also done in multi. Maybe for a contemporary space?!? It is a bit gaudy to me. The art is very large on ceilings and walls, but I’m a bit OD’d on religious art and Rome yet to come, so we spent the afternoon walking and this is really the way to feel the charm.

We saw the Carnival Destiny – ready to embark on its maiden voyage to the US and the Caribbean. The largest ship in the world and 20,000 tons heavier than the Queen Elizabeth II. It is huge, about 7 stories high – takes over 3,000 passengers. It would be too large for me. It was just built in Triest.

We bought a painting of a street, or I should say – canal scene – with the bridge to remind us of Venice and Italy. We resolve not to buy another thing – again! We went to the roof for cocktails with the Olson’s. We are quickly drinking up their wine to lighten their load. It is cool out on the roof. Nancy and Don found our restaurant – it was terrific. I had veal and they do a good job with veal – Tratorria Vash Vagon.

October 25

Nice sunny day – we’re up early 5:30 and ready to leave La Canada by 6:30 a.m. We wheeled those suitcases down the Venice alleys before daylight and onto the boat to the train station. Upon arriving we found no train listed to Rome, as there was a train strike. We dashed to catch a train to Bologna, hoping to catch a train to Rome there. We hadn’t had breakfast and only had 10 minutes before getting the Rome train only to find it so crowded we stood off and on for over three hours. We did finally get some breakfast about 11 o’clock in the dining car but the bays never had anything until after 3 in Rome. IT was an exhausting day and has taught us to distrust train travel. When we got a seat in Florence as some people vacated, people with seat reservations bumped us. This was in spite of having first-class tickets. We love our hotel in Rome. La residencia is lovely and quite elegant. A big bowl of fresh fruit in our room and a bottle of mineral water was a treat.

We left immediately for lunch and then the Spanish Steps, Palazzo del Papolo, the Borghese Gardens, then back in time for cocktails and dinner at a little nearby Truttoria. It was good “Tempo di Bacco” and reasonable. We are so tired it had to be close by. Reasonable is $50 for two in Italy.

October 26

Breakfast in this hotel is superb. As a matter of fact, this hotel is great in every area. The people on the desk and in the bar are very pleasant and helpful, always sending us to wonderful restaurants that aren’t on the tourist agenda and offering extras free of charge such as champagne before you leave for dinner, etc.

We took a bus to the Coloseum and the Forum and spent the morning in the ruins – Trajan’s columns and Trajan’s Forum. It doesn’t make a lot of sense, but it is remarkable that this has all been uncovered. We visited the Pantheon, which also dates back to 120 AD and it is now a basilica. Raphael and St. Catherine of Siena are buried here (except Catherine’s head, which is in Sienna). Hadrian rebuilt the Pantheon on an earlier one in 120 AD. It is in perfect balance – the height of the walls equals the width of the dome. The use of mathematics made it possible for them to construct these long-lasting structures. The center top of the dome is open to the sky and I’ve read it is beautiful when it rains. There are 24 holes in the center floor to absorb the rain that falls.

We went to Bellini’s three fountains in Plaza Novena – a huge plaza and then to Trevi Fountain, which is spectacular. We threw our two coins in; and have visited many, many churches with our three wishes. One always for our new grandchild. It has been a super day. A note as at the desk from the Oakley’s and they arrived back from Amalfi a day early. They are at the “Regina Bugglia” on Venetia, so we’re going there for cocktails – 5 star hotel. We went to Mariani’s for dinner – fabulous – best yet. It was frequented by Italians, not tourists, and recommended by our desk. We walked through the exclusion on our way back – a hotel frequented by Sheiks, etc. They are all so beautiful but I still love our residenzes, with its oriental rugs and numerous sitting rooms. It is a most comfortable, small hotel with impeccable service. It will be on our list of Best Hotels.

October 27

Sunny again!! Off to Vatican City at 9:30 after a fabulous breakfast. When we arrived at the subway, we couldn’t believe the hordes of people this early on Sunday – all going to the same place (almost). We pressed our bodies into the throng inside the car. Nancy was half out and half in and she called for help. Don took his hand out of his pocket to grab her and someone emptied his pocket of about $100. What a start! Thank goodness it was only four stops, but on arriving the line was about ½ mile long. The last Sunday of the month is free and this accounts for the crush. It moved pretty well and we were in about an hour, but it all closes at 1:30 so every hour counts. We bought tapes to help compensate for the shortage of time and John and I were able to listen to each room a bit as the line snaked along the immense Vatican Museum – room after room of sculpture, paintings and artifacts from all over the world. Upon finally arriving at the Sistine Chapel, we had a good hour left before closing and it was wonderful to have the tapes. The Last Judgment on the back wall took Michelangelo six years. His work is magnificent; his people are real and his theology excellent. It is his own creation and the meaning focuses on the human body, which is the hope of the world. The church and religion is the connection between God and man. The restoration is complete and very beautiful. The ceiling is magnificent and tells the story of creation.

We left there for St. peter’s and the square, or Plaza, is immense and Bernini’s columns incredible architecture surrounding it. They are likened to two arms embracing all peoples of all races. The interior is beyond all belief – so vast – so beautiful – all marble. Forty-two alters, each with marble mosaic on its front panel and large magnificent works of art over each altar in marble mosaic – all natural colored marbles, many colors now extinct. Floors, walls, paintings all in marble mosaic.

Upon leaving we saw a large group in tuxedoes arriving. We asked if they were a choir and they told us they were singing at 4 pm Mass. We turned and returned with the choir and has wonderful seats for Mass. It was absolutely spellbinding and a wonderful experience for me. I received communion and must admit to being quite overcome with emotion at the entire event. The size of the church with the immense throne of St. Peter over the priest’s head with the voices swelling through the church and echoing off the marble walls and floors. It was incredible. We took the subway home to our hotel in time for cocktails with Olson’s and Oakley’s and a lovely dinner at a fine restaurant named “Marche” near our hotel. Tomorrow is homebound.

October 28

Sunny! We had a fast breakfast and with help from this wonderful staff were in our cab and on the way to the airport by 7:30 Rome time. It is 18 miles, or about 45 minutes usually, but this ride was memorable. We never stopped for red lights unless someone else stopped in front us. We traveled like an electric current around all objects in our path taking any lane open to us. The seat belts don’t work in any of these cabs either. We were there in 30 minutes through Rome traffic. Our flight was smooth enough, but filled to the max – the food terrible – the worst airline food I’ve ever had. They should forget food. We’ve decided we’ll fly non-smoking aircraft in the future or not at all.

Arrived Newark at 1:28 and John drove home – very, very tired but very happy to have had such a great, great, trip. Really super!

Thoughts on Italy

They don’t know how to cook chicken.
They use cheap cuts of all meat.
Veal is their finest meat course.
Pasta homemade is what they do best.
Lupe is another thing they excel in.
Five courses is too much food.
The people are wonderful.
The country is beautiful.

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