Friday, December 23, 2011
October 7 – October 8 Rome and Pisa
The Caldwells, the Doughterys, the Olsens, the Fearens and the Merrills arrived by 10:15 a.m. at Bryce Road. The Oakley’s flight is on U.S. air out of Philadelphia, but Marion came to say goodbye and wish us well. Our limousine arrived at 11 and we were on our way. The limo was very comfortable – leather armchairs or all, refrigerator, bathroom and T.V. available. We arrived in Newark with over two hours to spare, but airports swallow up time. We left about 30 minutes later for our flight to Rome on Alitalia. We have to pinch ourselves as the day is finally really here.
Wow, what a long day and night – good smooth flight, but we didn’t sleep and are dog-tired upon arrival. First day difficulties are magnified by being so exhausted but we kept going, finding out way to Pisa and seeing the leaning tower and then to Lucca for lunch – spaghetti – delicious, but we must do better with out language so we will have a better and more diverse diet. So far we haven’t found many English-speaking Italians. We struggled in the super markets and it took hours to buy a few breakfast items. John’s limited Italian is helpful and people keep saying “bravo” as he struggles for the Italian words.
Our villas are unbelievable. When we found the sign for Campignano off 439 on the road to Viaraggio, we started to ascend a steep, steep hill with switchback after switchback – views to our right were astounding as we looked down on steep terraced hills of olive groves – up, up, up until we arrived at this large, ancient villa with bright green shutters on the top of the mountain. It is so picturesque – a tennis court and gorgeous pool but the views defy description as we can see all the way to the Mediterranean Sea from our sky top perch. Wow!!! Every room is unusual. I’ll describe our bedroom: We are on the second floor of the Campora Villa. The floor is red tile and white stucco walls about 20 x 20. The furniture is painted antique white with colorful flowers of red and blue tulip. A very large armoire – ceiling about 20 feet high with exposed beams. I feel like I’m in a castle. The windows have an inside solid shutter that opens in – then a glass window that opens in and a shutter with screening that opens out. It must be very hot here in the summer. Wildflowers are all around – it has a very natural look but it is magnifico.
Showery in Italy – puddles everywhere from recent rain.
We overslept – 10 o’clock was our first awakening. We made up for our lost sleep. We had a pleasant breakfast with lots of running back and forth to see each other’s views. By noon we were in Lucca. It is a very nice town, but everything closes from 12-3:30 p.m. We visited the cathedral and walked the city wall. The wall is about 4 miles and surrounds the old city and provides a beautiful park for the pedestrians and bicyclists. The wall is about 100 yds wide so this is very generous for all activities. We stopped for lunch and ate in the sunshine at an outdoor café. The food is fairly expensive. Diane and Snooky prepared dinner and you couldn’t beat the ambiance or the dinner – salmon on the grill – oven roasted potatoes – a salad fabulous – dessert dime tosse and biscotti. The best!! The cocktails overlooking the pool and dessert by the open fire. To bed by 10:30 – tomorrow more fun!
Sunny. 9:30 start at Sassella Villa but it was a shotgun start – no one knew where anyone else as going. We drove with Katie and Craig to Rio Maggiore to start he Cinq Terra hike. The road into Rio Maggiore from La Spezia was spetacular with views of the ocean and cliffs from the side of a mountain. It seemed scary on coming into Cinq Terra, but easy going back. These five towns are the most picturesque I’ve ever seen. The houses are built into the hills and go down to the sea. There is a walkway along the ocean cliff and every one hiked it. We didn’t want to leave Katie and Craig so we only walked the easy one on the first town. We ran into a friend – June from San Diego painting on the walkway and she came with us for the rest of the day. She is quite colorful – attractive, grey-haired lady – model, actress, etc. She speaks good Italian and was very helpful at lunch and she and her husband have been living on the Cinq Terra for a week and know their way around. It was a super day – warm (about 75). We left in time to get over the mountain before dark and it was much easier coming back. We found the H12 in Spezia to A11 to Massarosa where we stopped for dinner. My first really good Italian food. Ravioli stuffed with Spinach and Ricotta with a basic sauce – yummy. Heir white wine and crème caramel for dessert – great day.
Friday, October 11
Sunny – spectacular. We drove to Florence with the Olsens, but didn’t get into the parking lot until 12 noon. We walked to the Duomo and Campanile – it is truly spectacular – the façade is pink and green and white marble and the detail and statuary incredible. It does seem they turned it inside out with all the design on the outside. We visited the Duomo Museum and saw Michelangelo’s Pieta that he designed for his own tomb with the face of Nicodemus – a self-portrait of Michelangelo. It is a small museum, but very interesting. The Donatello Mary Magdellan, although shocking, is beautiful work. We walked through the Ufizzi Courtyard to Pont Vechio. The bridge was very busy, but the jewelry stores are quite grand. It was a fun day and we left Florence about 6 and drove to Lucca for dinner at DiGigoli’s – great wine, fair to good food. We’ll be back next Tuesday.
Today we slept late and enjoyed a leisurely breakfast. I picked flowers for the house and did some laundry. The washing machine takes three hours. Snookie helped me shop for tomorrow’s dinners – no small fete where you don’t speak or read Italian. We are going to have fruit, cheese & crackers for hors d’voures – ravioli/ricotta and spinach in a pesto sauce and sage and butter dressing – tossed green salad, Swiss chard from our garden – Italian bread – Italian cookies for dessert. After enjoying a great lunch under over pergola, we went to a winery and olive mill outside Lucca in Matroia called Factoria Calle verde. Dinner at Sassala was prepared by marion and Nan – great!!! Wonderful day!
Sunny. We went to 10:30 Mass at St. Rosarios in Lucca. It is a very old Chiesa (church) and it was the children’s mass; except for the Italian, it was typical of our U.S. Children’s Mass. They had folk guitars playing and the children brought up the gifts. More women than men attend church it appears. We stopped for a latte and a pastry after Mass at a sidewalk Café. The store were open – women beautifully dressed, young families with carriages walking on the piazzas – gay and happy mood. John and I stayed at the villa to prepare dinner for the 14 of us. We’re having what I explained yesterday. The evenings are cool enough for sweaters. John and I sat by the pool; It is so gorgeous and peaceful – a delightful day. Cocktails and dinner was such fun – lots of laughs. The group bought us a bicycle key holder to say “thank you” to John and me … mostly John.
Cloudy day – rained last night.
We’re off by 10 o’clock to Pietrasanta and Forte de Marmi, and Veriaggio to bicycle. Tom and Snookie checked out the rentals yesterday to be sure they had 14. These are clunkers – big heavy one-speed clunkers. We bicycled along the edge of the beach, mostly on bicycle paths or marble sidewalks. We could see the marble mountains to the East and the Tyrranean sea on the West. The Carrare Mountains are where marble is mined and Michelangelo picked his blocks of marble. We biked about 16 or 17 miles and we knew it – what a difference from our wonderful Treks. This beach resort is closed for the season, but there are beautiful shops here and hotels. The beach side is not visible as each hotel has its cabanas on the beach side blocking your view We cooked in the villa and leftover ravioli salad and hamburgers. It was delicious as we were too tired to go out. We all moved today to new rooms. John and I love our new room in the Sasella Villa with private bath. This Villa is much brighter than Campora and really lovely. There is a magnificent pool, but it has been too cool to use it.
Showery off and on all day. We left at 7 a.m. for the train in Lucca to Florence – a nice, leisurely way to get there as traffic here is wild! Motor scooters, bicycles, pedestrians mix it up on narrow 1-way streets with 2-foot wide sidewalks – disaster. We headed right for the Academia to see David (spectacular). The Rosalie Pieta and the Four Slaves – all by Michelangelo. We looked in the shops until one o’clock as we knew they would close then and by the time we had lunch it was 1:30 and there was a 2-hour line at the Ufizzi so we went to the Pitti Palace which was excellent. We were pleasantbly surprised. The Medici apartments were open for viewing and fabulous art by Ruhens, Murillo, Gitian, Vassaro. “Consequences of War” by Rubens. However, I’ll have to go again to see the Uffizzi. We stopped at Giorgios for dinner and give them only 2 stars. We’re aiming for Montacatini tomorrow.
Montacatini is on our agenda for today. It is cloudy and sunny – cool but we left about 10 with Nan & Don Olson. It is a short drive from our Villa – less than an hour. It sits on a very high hill and is visible in the distance as you come to it. What a picturesque little town – narrow streets and lovely multi-colored houses with shutters of bright gues. Our house was peach with cream trim and lovely soft greyed-down jade green shutters. We drove to the top up at 75 degree angles with views of the valley and red tiled rooftops. From the top we went beyond the Finicula to the little village where peoploe live on steppes off cobblestone streets that are barely wide enough for a car. The flower boxes overflow with color. It is absolutely charming.
We took the Finicular downt o the town at the foot of the mountain where we lunched and shopped. The stores are lovely and I bought a handsome silk scarf for myself and a woolen pair of cherubs for Susan and a triple one for Priscilla. This store was full of antique art and I would have loved to brose, but closing time at 10 o’clock prevented me from bankruptcy. We’ll eat at Campora tonight. The Campora residents did a great job of warming up that Villa. It is very dark, but they had all the fireplaces lit and fresh flowers everywhere. It was delightful – and delicious.
We left the Villa at 7:15 a.m. for Sienna. It should take 2 hrs and 30 minutes. Three cars stuck together almost until we arrived, but we met again in the Piazza Campo. We shopped some, but I still haven’t seen what I would like to buy. I love some of the Felorentine Ware but it is too heavy to carry home with all the olive oil we’ve bought. The shops were very nice, but didn’t compare with Montecatini. However, the antiquity of Sienna is incredible and the views across the hills of orchards and Vineyards is breathtaking. I hope I can carry the picture of these hillsides home with me. The Duomo is one of the most impressive we’ve seen. The floors depict in marble the stories of the bible and the frescos are magnificent after 500 years. I bought two sweet wooden (olive tree) rosary beads for Caroline and Emily in their gift shop. On our way back we stopped in Monteriggioni for lunch. Charlie Gibson of “Good Morning America” was lunching at “Il Pozzi” and John introduced himself to him. The food was the best thus far. Most outstanding for me was Ravioli as thin as paper stuffed with pumpkin in a sage and bugger sauce. Wow!! It was delicious. John loved his bean Zuppa. Those are two Italian specaitlies. Then we drove to Sam Gimignano, the best preserved medieval city in Italy. It is charming – steep up hill to the church at the top and lots of shops to tempt the tourist. We didn’t stay too long as we had a 2-hour trip to Campignano and wanted to cover the winding roads before dark. A great day – wet off and on and pretty cool, but fun. We brought two pizzas home and had them with beer at our villa.
Cool and sunny – a few showers. We need to rest a bit today as yesterday was a long one, so we decided to do some local shopping. I sketched the chapel from our poolside this morning, and we were in Lucca by 11. That gives us 2 hours til closing time. We bought two oil decanters and a gorgeous dress for Emily. Now I must get something for the others. We drove to Bini Shoes in Monsummano and John bought a pair of Fabi Shoes – very Italian black loafers. We were home in time for cocktails and a spaghetti dinner a la Dianne. She is fabulous – runs this house – cooks, shops, etc. We have a cleaning lady every other day so life is quite easy for us. It was a good day.