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Montepulciano Revisited

Our Apartment, San't Antonio

Our Apartment, San’t Antonio

We are back in Montepulciano, making it our base camp for exploring the surrounding hill towns of Tuscany. After renting a car in Florence and driving to San Gimignano, now here we are on Saturday evening getting settled in at Sant’ Antonio, the restored apartments on the grounds of an old monastery, in the hills around the village of Montepulciano. Late afternoon is spent meeting other guests from all over the world, who will also be spending a week here in Tuscany exploring. After our brief introduction to each other, the local maps were passed out, and we all decided to head out to the grocery store in Montepulciano before the store closes at 6pm.  The store is not open on Sundays, so we must get in and get out if we want anything to eat or cook while we are at Sant’ Antonio.  It was a mad dash to the grocery store! Parking is limited, and the store very busy, so we parked in the church parking lot and walked down to the store. A hint in the grocery store; we had to put one euro in the grocery cart to use it in the store and when we brought it back in we got the euro back. Also, do not touch the fruit or vegetables without putting on the plastic gloves that are provided! We were warned by our hosts about this!  Although, when I shopped in the smaller shops up the hill in Montepulcinao, this did not seem to be the case. In the smaller shops the attendant was quick to help me with my selections.

We explored the hill towns during the day, all the guests going in different directions in their cars.  It was fun to sit on the veranda in the evenings and over a glass of wine and nibbles find out where everyone went during the day and what they liked about the places they went to. Our neighbors to the left of us were German and Spanish.  Our neighbors to the right Canadian, and in the family apartment a group, who came here every year from Hawaii.  There were other guests in apartments here as well, so we were a large group of 25 or so. On one evening, during the week, we all came together to share an evening meal, prepared and served by our hosts, in the large meeting room on the premises.  There was also a pool here in case you didn’t want to do a thing but relax. The other option is staying in the village of Montepulciano itself. Sant’ Antonio now offers apartments in town as well.

Another time I stayed in the Politian Apartments, when I came to Montepulciano to study Italian at the Il Sasso Language School.  At that time, I didn’t have a car.  The Politian Apartment was in the village.  It was a huge two bedroom apartment with all the amenities, (washer, dryer, microwave, big stove and oven) and tastefully decorated with antiques. There was a beautiful walled garden that I enjoyed sitting in to do my homework. The owners were on the premises and more than helpful.  There were other guests staying in other apartments, but I was up early and off to school so didn’t get to know them. We all seemed to have different agendas as they only stayed a few days and then were gone and replaced by new guests. The shops and restaurants are plentiful and the locals very friendly. Parking is LIMITED and outside of the village.  The streets are pedestrian-only, but a tiny, tiny bus goes through town from the bottom of the hill to the tippy top. It only stops at the bottom of the village, (the entrance), a designated place in the middle, and the very top of the village. If you stay in the village be prepared to haul your luggage up, up, up the hill at some point!  Pack light! For more highlights of Montipulciano see past blog posts about the Politian Apartments and the Il Sasso Language School. These are some reflections if you want to make Montepulciano your home base for visiting Tuscany.

Next we are off to the hill towns!

For More information about Sant’ Antonio Apartments see: http://www.santantonio.it

For more information about Politian Apartments see: http://www.politian.com

TTT, Traipsing Through Tuscany

Today starts a new Series in Italy, called TTT, Traipsing Through Tuscany.  Traipsing through the hill towns to be exact. Getting off the beaten track has been some of our best excursions! A bit of advice, we flew into Florence where we took a cab into the city. So we will begin in Florence. After spending a week here we went back to the airport and got a rental car to drive on through Tuscany and the hill towns.  We spent  a week in Montepulciano. As a home base it was perfect.  We explored surrounding hill towns, always coming back to Montepulciano in the evenings, and then we drove on to Rome. We dropped the car off at the Rome Airport and took a cab into Rome, where we stayed another week.  Much easier!  You could not pay me enough to drive in the bigger cities and spend a great deal of time just looking for a place to park.  There aren’t any parking spaces to be found! Save yourself the headache!

Florence, by far is my favorite biggish city in Italy.  It is easily walkable, with museums, restaurants and shopping galore. If museums are not your thing, there is plenty of beautiful outdoor art such as sculptures, icons, buildings, bridges and churches to keep you interested. One of the rituals, near our hotel, was a woman artist who sketched daily with colored chalk on the pedestrian-only street. This was truly a street scene because her sketching would cover a large section of ground. She would work on it all day. It was beautiful!  Very early the next morning between 4am and 5am the street cleaners would come through with their brushing machines and  brooms and wash it all away. Around ten in the morning she would start again with a new scene. Unbelievable!

To see the highlights of Florence we took walking tours that also included the museums. We tried for months to get tickets for the major museums and there were none to be had online. They were available through tour groups. In the end it worked out well because we never had to stand in line to get in the museums, and there were long, long lines. The downside is WE could have spent more time IN the museums, hours and hours. The tour group went to the major and most appealing exhibits, and that would be fine for most. The four tours we took were offered by Art Viva. They were the Original Florence Walk, the Masterpieces of the Uffizi Gallery Tour, and the Original David Tour.   These walks are long, at least three hours each with additional time added for the museums! Wear comfortable shoes! The English speaking walk leaders are very knowledgable, and we stopped occasionally for a cuppa, (wine, coffee, tea) always at good locations for people watching! We took three tours in one day and I was pooped, but from then on we knew where everything was and went back to the areas we wanted to spend more time in on other days.  On another evening we took the Original Evening Walk in Oltrarno, which included a wine and olive oil tasting!  We had a wonderful time on these walks and there are many to choose from!

On this visit we stayed at the Hotel Davanzati, a small boutique hotel located near the Uffitzi Gallery and right across the street from where the Original Florence Walk started each morning. This was good because we didn’t have to walk a great deal before we started the walk. Entering a doorway in the historical area there are a number of stairs to climb to reach a tiny elevator that takes you to the reception area and then to the upper room floors of the Davanzati Hotel.  The owner and his son were there everyday to recommend restaurants and sights to see, provide maps and answer any questions we had.   The breakfasts and late afternoon wine/happy hour gatherings were a big hit. The rooms were tastefully decorated and immaculate. After a lovely week in Florence we were in a rental car and on our way to Montepulciano, to get a taste of the countryside, the hill towns, and the slower pace of Italian life. See you in San Gimignano!

 

For more information about Hotel Davanzati see: http://www.hoteldavanzati.it

For more information about the Art Viva walking Tours see: http://www.italy.artviva.com

One Day in Milan

San Bartolomeo by Marco d'Agrate

San Bartolomeo by Marco d’Agrate

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We are on the early morning commuter train from Varenna to Milan. We are meeting up with a private local guide, Lorenza Scorti, who knows the city’s history well. We have marked off certain sights we would like to see. We are hoping Lorenza has been able to get us tickets to get into the Church of Santa Maria delle Grazie, where Leonardo da Vinci’s masterpiece, the Last Supper, is housed. One of the leading families of Italy during the Renaissance, the Sforza Family of Milan, hired da Vinci to decorate the dining hall of the Dominican monastery that adjoins the church. Ultimately, the Sforza family was bribing the monks with this gift so the monks would allow their family tomb to be placed in the church.(Which never happened) The fresco began deteriorating within six years of it’s completion due to the experimental technique used by Leonardo.  Bombing during WWII left only one wall standing in the church.  The wall of the Last Supper. Truly a miracle! In 1999 a 21-year restoration project was completed peeling away 500 years of touch-ups, leaving the masterpiece intact.

Lorenza meets us at the central train station and after going up several escalators in the fashionable shopping area of the train station, Lorenza buys tickets for the metro and we are off! It is early morning and the streets are quiet. First stop, the Duomo, with a forest of spires on its roof, is the fourth largest church in Europe, after the Vatican’s, London’s, and Seville’s. The church was built with Pink Candoglia marble, rafted in from a quarry 60 miles away. We went past this quarry on the train when we went to Cinque Terre. Marble is still extracted from the sight. Inside the church is a beautiful marble mosaic floor and looking up we see The Quadroni, (large paintings on canvas, each about 20 by 26 feet) depicting the life of St Charles Borremeo. The paintings have been brought out and displayed for a special anniversary in the church. The 1st cycle of paintings (starting in 1602), The Facts of Life of Blessed Charles, consists of 28 paintings depicting his life, and were painted by seven different artists. The 2nd cycle, The Miracles of St Charles, consisting of 24 smaller paintings of his miraculous works and healings, were all painted between December 1609 and November 1, 1610, when Charles was canonized. These paintings were displayed for the first time together on November 4, 1610, when the paintings of his miracles could be shown after he had been declared a saint. Now they are only displayed on special days in the church and we were fortunate to be able to see them.

The Duomo

The Duomo

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An impressive, detailed statue of San Bartolomeo Flayed (1562), by Marco d’ Agrate, is upfront and center in the church. That is his skin draped over his shoulder!

After the church, we are delighted to be shown a small museum in a private palazzo. I have wanted to see what was behind those big oak doors! Following Lorenza, we are lead through an intricate laid marble entryway and up the stairs to the private apartments.  Today there are collections of clothing, shoes and those little bitty one woman carriage/carriers that were lifted on the shoulders of servants to whisk one about town and prevent your dress and shoes from being soiled. Boy were those women TINY! On the outside of the palazzo is a beautiful fresco above the rim of the windows.  (See the video I made)

The Palazzo

The Palazzo

The Dress

Inside the Palazzo

Next, we walk to the La Scala Opera House and museum, the world’s most prestigious opera house!  All that red velvet! Following that we head to the Galleria Vittorio Emanuele, a four story glass domed arcade on the main square, featuring all the Italian high end shopping stores and great for people watching as well. It was the first building in Milan to have electric lighting! Oh how Italians love fashion!  Around the center dome patriotic mosaics symbolize the four major continents and the mosaic marbled floor reveals the city’s symbol, a torino. (little bull) Here locals step and twirl on the bull for good luck.

Inside the Galleria

Inside the Galleria

Il Torino

Il Torino

We go to a local pizza restaurant and I am so glad to sit.  The one person pizzas are HUGE (enough for three people) and we wash it down with good red wine.

Afterwards, we make our way to the Sforza Castle, previously the residence of the Sforza family. It is now a museum of ancient art which features the last and unfinished Pietà, by Michelangelo and the Sala della Asse, frescoed by Leonardo da Vinci, who worked for the Sforza family as a painter, sculptor, and hydrologic engineer. Seventeen layers of whitewash are slowing being removed to reveal the entire mural by da Vinci, sections having been discovered on the walls as late as 2013.

The Sforza Castle

The Sforza Castle

The Pietà

The Last Pietà

The Pietà

The Last Pietà

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Our last stop of the day is Santa Maria della Grazie Church and we are thrilled to find admittance tickets waiting for us! The church is now hermetically sealed, so you go through sections of air filter stations, filtering the air from the outside, until it is deemed pollutant free and we are admitted.  At last, a group of twenty, is turned out into the refectory for 15 minutes at a time. In the Convent, where the work on the end wall was started in 1495, the mural, measuring 180 inches by 350 inches, represents the scene of the Last Supper of Jesus with his disciples. Completed in 1498, the mural specifically portrays the reaction given by each apostle when Jesus said one of them would betray Him. Working a new technique, dry plaster rather than wet, and choosing to seal the stone wall with a layer of pitch, gesso and mastic, da Vinci painted the sealing layer with tempera. Due to this method the piece began to deteriorate a few years after he finished it. As early as 1517, the painting was starting to flake and by 1556 it was deemed “ruined” and so deteriorated, the figures were unrecognizable.  In 1652, a doorway was cut through the painting, so the monks could get to the kitchens easier.  This door was later bricked up, but can still be seen as an irregular arch shaped structure near the center base of the painting.  In 1768, a curtain was hung over the painting to protect it; but instead it trapped moisture on the painting’s surface and whenever the curtain was pulled back, it scratched the flaking paint. In 1821, Stefano Barezzi, an expert in removing whole frescoes from their walls intact, badly damaged the center section of the mural before realizing the work was not a fresco.(Painted on wet walls) He then attempted to reattach the damaged sections with GLUE.  From 1901 to 1908, Luigi Cavenaghi completed a thorough study of the structure of the painting, then began cleaning it. On August 15, 1943, the refectory was struck by a bomb, but a protective structure of sandbags and an additional wall in front of the painting protected it from bomb splinters. Pictures of the damage to the church line the walls upon leaving.  It was the only wall left standing. We leave Milan and return to Menaggio by train and then ferry, weary but so thankful we have been able to see some of the greatest art in the world.

For more information on a private tour of Milan contact Lorenza Scorti at lorenza.scorti@libero.it

A Boat in Bellagio

Bellagio Water Front

Bellagio Water Front

Bellagio Ferry Dock

Bellagio Ferry Dock

Bellagio Waterfront

Bellagio Waterfront

Today we are off to Bellagio for a day of boating fun. Bellagio is by far the most touristy of the three villages we have spent time in. Walking to the right from the ferry, we find souvenir shops and tourist traps galore. These shops are not so much my cup of tea so we walk on to the beautiful Villa Melzi Gardens, filled with exotic plants and flowers and Neoclassical sculpture right along the lake front. We walk the entire length of the garden, to the concrete pool that now sits empty. The walk along the white pebbled garden path is outstanding!

Villa Melzi Gardens

Villa Melzi Gardens

Villa Melzi Gardens

Villa Melzi Gardens

Villa Melzi Gardens

Villa Melzi Gardens

Our next stop is the Enotecha Cava Turacciolo, for a wine tasting. (to boost my nerve to get on the speed boat you see)

Enoteca Cava Turacciolo

Enoteca Cava Turacciolo

The Wine of Enoteca Cava Turacciolo

The Wine of Enoteca Cava Turacciolo

The Food at the Cave

The Food at the Cave

At the Piazza Mazzini dock, where the wooden boats of the Bellagio Water Taxi are docked, we check in with Jennine and Luca.

Luca's Boat

Luca’s Boat

Luca’s boat is immaculate and gorgeous. Take off those spiky-heeled shoes please, do not mar the brilliantly restored mahogany wood! We zoom to the villas along the lake; past Richard Branson’s villa, (Virgin Airlines owner) past a huge sign in front of a villa that reads “No George”, meaning this is not the villa of George Cluny, as some believe. Villa L’Oleandra, George’s villa is located in Laglio, Italy, on the western shore of Lake Como.

We depart our speed boat at Villa del Balbianello, for an English speaking tour of the villa and grounds.  Situated on a romantic promontory overlooking Lake Como, the villa, built for Cardinal Angelo Maria Durini, at the end of the 18th century, sits on the property of a former old Franciscan Church. Be sure to see the inconspicuous door inside the villa that leads to an underground tunnel, an escape route for the Cardinal, that ended up in the hills above the villa. After passing through the hands of many owners, who each placed their own personal touch to the villa and gardens, it was bought by Guido Monzino.  Today the villa consists of his vision, and art collection of landscapes painted on glass (utterly unbelievable) and his mementos of his expedition to the North Pole and Mount Everest. Monzino was the leader of the first Italian expedition to climb Mt Everest and has dedicated an entire floor of the villa to this collection. In 1988 he died, leaving the villa as it was when he owned it, to the Italian National Trust. I found especially interesting the lower floor apartment, designed for his mother, who lived with him, and the modern kitchen on the ground floor. Also, his gardeners were left stipends for the rest of their lives, with the directions to maintain the grounds as they were when he lived there. Note the tree that is so large, the gardeners must climb inside it to prune it and keep it in it’s lovely shape. The villa and grounds have also been the choice for movie directors. It was filmed for movie scenes for Casino Royale, a James Bond thriller, and Star Wars: Episode II. Truly, a must see at Lake Como!  Enjoy my video of the boat trip from Bellagio!

For Information about Villa del Balbianello and Enoteca Cava Turacciolo see:  TripAdvisor

For more info about the Water Taxi Tours see: http://www.bellagiowatertaxis.com

For more info about the Villa Melzi Gardens see: http://www.giardinidivillamelzi.it

 

Romancing the Pizza Stone III: The Cooking Class

The Wharf at Varenna

The Wharf at Varenna

I have a pasta maker/roller/flatener (my made-up word) that has been stashed under one of my cabinets and as yet, has never been used.  Making pasta looked so easy when I saw it demonstrated at the local Saturday market in my hometown!  I thought if I took an Italian cooking class that I would finally get the hang of pasta making. On this beautiful Italian day we (SB is manly enough for this) are headed to Varenna, (population 800) to a cooking class with Chef Moreno at Ristorante Il Caminetto in Perledo. He teaches the basics of Italian cooking including pasta and regional specialties. The ferry has become our friend.  Every morning we are up and out the door to the bus, chatting with the Italian nannies as we all head down to Menaggio.  Then at the dock we sip more latte, espresso or Coke (for SB) and watch the world go by as we wait for the ferry to arrive.  I could really get used to this lifestyle!

Varenna is even more laid back then Menaggio. I love the grand yellow hotel at this dock location too.  It seems very large, but when you look at it from the side, how narrow it is!  Check out the video I made! There are several groups of people mulling about the dock and soon we see a man in a chef’s apron, who has come to reign us all in. His son’s have arrived in various vehicles from the mountain village to retrieve us and take us to the restaurant. I can see why on the trip up.  I thought the drive to Menaggio was twists and turns, but this road comes in first place.

At the Restaurant Caminetto we are greeted with wine and home made cookies as we wait for everyone to make it up the mountain. Chef Moreno washes up (his hands and arms) and washes down the wooden table ( a good 20 minute scrub) while chatting along the entire time about his life in the village and life as a chef here. Then he begins to prepare the dough: flour, scant water, eggs, flour, knead, eggs, flour, knead, roooooooooll! Repeat! And repeat! Rooooooooooooll every which way with the longest, skiniest rolling pin I have ever seen! What no pasta maker?  He would never consider it!  We started at 10 am in the morning. We laughed, we roooooolled, we pinched, we patted, we made sauce with tomatoes from his garden, and we ate several servings of our makings and drank a lot of wine in between! We had the best time and then finished up with a stroll through the petite mountain village.  It was 4pm! Taxis have been dispatched to return us to Varenna. We have a woman cab driver. She  looks like a housewife who got the call to come fetch us. I can’t believe they have cab service here!

Back in Varenna, we stroll to the left of the dock, into the neighborhoods, to find the local train station.  How about that tree? Then we back track and go to the right of the dock into the village shopping and main restaurant areas. Eventually on another day in Varenna we would go to the tippy top of town and visit the local church and eat pizza under giant smooth barked trees. This is HEAVEN!

For information about Chef Moreno and Ristorante il Caminetto visit: http://www.ilcaminettoonline.com  Price includes transportation to and from the Varenna dock landing, the lesson, and lunch including wine, cookies and coffee. A must do!

Orvieto; Overground and Underground

Cinghiale (Wild Boar)

Cinghiale (Wild Boar)

SB is shaving in the bathroom. He hears footsteps behind the door. Someone is calling. The door to the bathroom flies open and a young woman is standing there in her bathrobe speaking “mile a minute Italian” and calling for me.  SB calls me too. I quickly jump into some clothes and go up the back stairway of the apartment to see what the commotion is all about.  It is Francesca.  She wants to greet me to Italy and her home. She is an animated woman with laughing eyes.  Suddenly she realizes we speak English so she speaks in English, but when she does not know a word in English she switches mid sentence to Italian, or just mixes the two together.  It could be a new language. It is one I understand. She is instantly likable and not concerned at all that she is in her bathrobe, uncombed snatches of hair going every which way, and SB is in his underwear with shaving cream on his face. She is so sorry she could not meet us yesterday, but hoped we saw the festival.  She asks us about our dinner plans for the day and what we would like to see. She wants to know if the apartment “is good.” She wants to know if we have enough to eat for breakfast.  She wants to know if she can get us anything.  Then she is off as quickly as she came. She is like a tornado.  She quickly comes and quickly goes. I look up after her as she retreats up a steep stairway that bridges the buildings together.  Between her building and our building is the wood-working workshop below. I realize the stairway is the indoor shortcut.  As we leave for the day, a truck has pulled up to the front of our building and the men are unloading wood planks. We peek in the expanded open doorway hearing the buzzing of saws and smelling the fragrance of newly cut wood.  It is a large work area filled with tables, hutches and sawdust. We are off to explore the ramparts of Orvieto. We walk along the inner edges of the massive wall and the narrow streets of new neighborhoods we have not explored yet.

The Walls of Orvieto

The Walls of Orvieto

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The Ring Around Road

The Ring Around Road

SB loves going below ground or climbing a bazillion stairs to view something. Our next stop is the Well of the Cave, an underground network of Etruscan era caves, wells and tunnels that were discovered in 1984 when a family was renovating their trattoria. We walk into a modern room roped off as if we are entering a movie theater.  An elderly man takes the money and points for SB to follow the roped edge along the wall of pictures of excavation into another room leading to the underground level.DSCN0951

Underground

Underground

Deep Underground

Deep Underground

As SB explores the caves I check out a small church across the way.  Our next stop leads us to the other side of Orvieto, through a small park where the town cats lazily lie in the sun and down a rough gravel path to meet up with a guide and other tourists to delve deeper underground into the caves of Orvieto.  I go inside the first cave, but decide I will go no further.  The cave path is very narrow and very dark and very down hill.

A Hard Place to Get To

A Hard Place to Get To

Deep and Dark

Deep and Dark

DSCN1031An Australian woman and I decide we would rather sit outside at a picnic table overlooking the Umbrian countryside while the others go on.  SB later tells me I made the right choice since in some spots of the cave the narrow openings were barely slits in the rock to squeeeeeeze through and the ground steep and tough going with boulder steps.  I had an enlightening chat about Australia with my new friend.

The Museum Palace

The Museum Palace

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The Ceiling

The Ceiling

Our last stop of the day was the Etruscan Museum, a former palace across the street from the Cathedral. The hand painted scenes on the walls and ceiling are breathtaking.  Crystal chandeliers shimmer glitters of light over the pale blue-sky color that dominates the rooms.  The ground level of the museum boasts fragments of Roman and Etruscan sculpture while Etruscan jewelry and Roman coins are featured on the first floor.

Pinocchio Again!

Pinocchio Again!

Trattoria Palomba

Trattoria Palomba

We finished up the day with a fine meal at Trattoria Palomba, a stone building, alley way eatery with a waiting line to get in every evening.  A family member seated us at a square table along the wall, covered with a red checkered cloth, and pointed to the daily special menu on the blackboard. It was just like in the movies!

Festa del Corpus Domini, May 2013

The Festa del Corpus Domini

The Festa del Corpus Domini

Following the Sound of Drums

Following the Sound of Drums

We are walking quickly, in the direction of the drum beats, following everyone else. Families, children, the young and old all seem to be on a mission; follow the sound of the drums. The late afternoon breeze is filled with the scent of honeysuckle. Mass growth of the plant sweeps the doorways, covers the walls.  You can smell it before you see it.  When I come upon the blooms they are dripping with buzzing bees. There are large nosegays of flowers tied outside the shops and houses on walls and doors; their streamers gently swaying as if they too are in the procession.

The Flowers of Orvieto

The Flowers of Orvieto

DSCN0678Hanging from the rooftop windows are giant flags representing guilds or neighborhoods. Old women, arm in arm,  softly chatter as they slowly make their way up the hill. We feel the festive atmosphere as we make our way to a street corner where a police officer stops us.  We move to the front, in a narrow gap, as SB gets our camera ready.  Between the edges of the towering buildings the narrow street is completely filled with spectators.  The drums are coming!

We are witnessing the festival of the feast of Corpus Christi. It is by happenstance that we picked this week and month to be in Orvieto. I knew nothing of Festa del Corpus Domini before we arrived, but I am so glad we were able to be part of the celebration.

In 1263, a German priest, Peter of Prague, stopped in Bolsena while on a pilgrimage to Rome.  He was described as a pious priest, but one not quite believing that Christ was actually present in the consecrated host, as Catholics believe.  While celebrating Mass he had barely spoken the words of Consecration when blood started seeping from the host and trickled over his hands onto the altar and the corporal (the napkin looking thingy)  The priest was shocked and at first attempted to hide the blood, but when it did not stop, he interrupted the Mass and went to the neighboring town of Orvieto, where Pope Urban IV was.  The Pope immediately sent emissaries for an investigation.  Pope Urban ordered the Host and linen cloth be brought to Orvieto bearing the stains of blood. Among the archbishops, cardinals and other church dignitaries in attendance, the Pope met the procession and with great pomp, the relics were placed in the Cathedral of Orvieto. The linen corporal bearing the spots of blood is still reverently enshrined and exhibited in the church.  Once a year this scene is re-enacted when hundreds of people from Orvieto and neighboring towns gather in the streets of Orvieto. People are dressed as peasants, soldiers, crusaders, farmers and land owners. There is representation from the guilds, police, firehouses, nurses, missionaries, nuns, civic groups and women’s groups.  The dignitaries follow the priests and cardinals as the relics are carried through the streets to the beat of drums. After the last person of the parade passes, the crowds fill in behind and make the walk to the cathedral where there is more pomp and circumstance before the huge tapestries and relics are carried back into the cathedral for another year.  The parade goes on for over two hours with the celebrants walking over four miles through the narrow lanes of winding Orvieto. The drums echo through the streets and the music and singing from the Cathedral are played over loud speakers throughout the town. At the end of the parade the Mass is also heard over the loud speakers for those not able to get inside the huge cathedral.  This entire scene is repeated the next day as well.  It must take months of planning. I would love to know how many people work on all those costumes. They are so intricate, authentic looking and detailed. Where do you find that many cross-bows, jousting poles and swords? How many bouquets of flowers are made to decorate the streets? How many baskets of bread and grain are carried to the church? It is truly a festival for everyone and one I will remember forever. SB caught on video over four hours of the festivities.  That is a long time to hold a camera up and stay steady as well.  I want to thank him for that. I produced a clip of eight minutes highlighting the event.  I hope you enjoy it as much as we did!

The Girls

The Girls

The Crowds at the Cathedral

The Crowds at the Cathedral

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The Cathedral in Quiet

The Cathedral in Quiet

As we followed the crowds to the cathedral we took a break and ducked into a smaller church along the route.  The entire center aisle of the church was covered in a beautiful design of flower petals. As the congregation of people walked over the petals to the black wrought-iron gate at the front of the church they picked up the petals to carry with them.  I followed suite and then sat in a pew to watch. Behind the black tall gate were rows of nuns.  As the guests recognized a nun there was hand reaching and hand holding through the gate and cries of joy to see each other.  I had the feeling these nuns belonged to a cloistered group and this was a special day to see their relatives. Very young nuns sat on the steps at the sides of the altar behind the gate and called out to young children to come see them.  It was a beautiful and happy scene.

Flower Petal Church

Flower Petal Church

After the Mass at the cathedral we decided to dine at a lovely restaurant complete with the wooden mosaic designs on the walls.  It was around seven in the evening, very early by European standards to dine, so we were one of the first to get a table at Ristorante Maurizio.  I am so glad we did because soon the entire restaurant was filled to capacity.  The lights were dimmed and the candles lit, throwing a soft light on the flax and white colored table cloths and beautiful meal. It was an end to a perfect day.

The Restaurant

The Ristorante Maurizo

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The Rooster Work

The Rooster Work

Ristorante Maurizio: Via Duomo 76, Orvieto, Italy

Way Up the Hill and to the Left

The Walls of Orvieto

The Walls of Orvieto

DSCN1004It is early morning; sunny, warm, windless with bright blue skies and today we are leaving Cinque Terre.  We snake single file down the hill, and flow through the tunnel hearing  only the sound of “clickety-clack” as  the suitcases bump  over the rough pavement to the train station.  We begin our four train adventure to La Spezia, Pisa, Florence, and then to Orvieto in Umbria. In Florence when we switch trains who do we meet? The Bag Handler approaches SB, takes one look at me and quickly turns away. (See blog “On to Florence”) At one of the many small town stops on our last leg to Orvieto an odd looking man boards.  Short haired, clean shaven wearing floor length grey robe tied with a rope belt, he is covered in pale grey.  Grey ash colored paste covers his hair, face and even his eyelashes, his hands. He walks slowly up and down the train aisle, as if wanting us all to recognize his presence. No one says a word, no words form on his lips. As he is ignored I am thinking, is this man a priest? Is he in some sort of penance? Can I take a picture of him, I think?  No, that would not be right.  What if he was a wayward priest? I want to ask someone who he is, but the travelers keep their noses in their papers or books or look away. At the next stop he departs the train. My eyes follow him into the crowd.

Arrival at Train Station in Orvieto

Arrival at Train Station in Orvieto

By late afternoon we step off the train and look up and up.  Orvieto’s old town walls loom above us, touching nothing but blue sky and fluffy sheep clouds. It is warm and balmy and I begin to peel off my layers of clothes.  I don my sunglasses as we hail a cab to take us to the height of the old village, to B&B Michelangeli, the apartment we have rented in Orvieto. Winding outside the steep fortified walls we climb higher and higher, it is rather like a top spinning and we are in the mist of it. Once inside the wall we criss-cross through small cobbled lanes and arrive at a dead end street.

The Lanes of Orvieto

The Lanes of Orvieto

Via Saracinelli, Michealangeli B&B, Orvieto

Via Saracinelli, Michelangeli B&B, Orvieto

The Door and Walls of Michealangeli B&B

The Door and Walls of Michelangeli B&B

This street is far from dead.  On the old building walls are intricate wooden wall covering designs.  They are beautiful.  Why are they here?  Who does all this woodworking?  Another Pinocchio and Geppetto?

Geppetto's At it Again!

Geppetto’s At it Again!

DSCN0665We ring the bell and a tall impeccably groomed Italian man greets us. He explains Francesca, his wife, is getting the children ready for the biggest festival of the year in Orvieto, and will greet us later. There is excitement in his voice as he tells us we do not want to miss the evening parade.  He leads us next door, opening an eight foot high double wooden door to our apartment, right next to his home. We are so pleasantly surprised when we are given the grand tour of the apartment we will be staying in for five days.  It is huge, but cozy.  It is like a country cottage, only in Italy! It is lovingly cared for.

Michealangeli B&B, Orvieto, italy

Michelangeli B&B, Orvieto, italy

The Dining Room at Michealangeli B&B

The Dining Room at Michelangeli B&B

The Kitchen at Michealangeli B&B

The Kitchen at Michelangeli B&B

The Spiral Stairway to Bedroom 1 at Michealangeli B&B

The Spiral Stairway to Bedroom 1 at Michelangeli B&B

The Main Bedroom of Michealangeli B&B

The Main Bedroom of Michelangeli B&B

Looking Down from the Bedroom Loft at Michealangeli B&B

Looking Down from the Bedroom Loft at Michelangeli B&B

We remark about the beautiful wooden furniture and he explains his family has been the furniture and cabinet makers in Orvieto for centuries and all the furniture in the apartment is hand made by them in a shop right down the street.  That explains the wood carvings outside the buildings, signs of the trade. We feel so fortunate to have picked this location and apartment, it is perfect. We hurriedly unload our belongings and following his instructions scurry out to the parade route.

The Streets of Orvieto

If you would like more information on Michelangeli B&B please contact:

Francesca at http://www.bbmichelangeli.com.

Via Saracinelli 20, Orvieto, Italy, Tel: 0763-393862

By the Sea, By the Sea, By the Beautiful Sea!

The Pirate Lookout and "Pillbox"

The Pirate Lookout and “Pillbox”

We are off today to the resort town of Monterosso al Mare, the only Cinque Terre town built on flat land, with two parts: The New Town (Fegina) to the left as you get off the train and the Old Town (Centro Storico) to the right.  A long pedestrian tunnel connects the old with the new.

The Promenade

The Promenade

We stroll the waterfront promenade and can see all five Cinque Terre towns along the coast. Looking up we see the sixteenth century pirate lookout tower and down below the Nazi “pill box”, a small low concrete bunker where gunners hid in World War II. Heading into the Old Town there are dozens of little shops, restaurants and skinny, winding streets to explore.

The Village Shops

The Village Shops

Outdoor Cafe in Monterosso Al Mare, Cinque Terre, Italy

Outdoor Cafe in Monterosso Al Mare, Cinque Terre, Italy

We come to a small jewelry store and a sign outside in the window attracts my attention. It shows a necklace created “step by step” while walking the Cinque Terre.

Step by Step Charms of Cinque Terre

Step by Step Charms of Cinque Terre

There is a shop in each Cinque Terre town offering a bronze or silver charm with the name of that village, to complete a necklace or bracelet. I go inside La Gazza Ladra and the kind woman explains the procedure to collect the charms to me. I purchase a charm that says Monterosso in this shop and receive the charm and a passport, so to speak, that shows where the charms are located in the other four Cinque Terre towns.

The Step by Step Passport

The Step by Step Passport

In every town I must go to that shop, purchase the bronze or silver charm, get the passport stamped and when I am down to the last town I pay one euro for the last charm.  You can “Step by Step” the towns in any order. The necklace is lovely when completed. The shop owner shows the intricate knotting she has done between the five charms and added a beautiful clasp.  I have a small problem though.  I have walked four villages already and leave Cinque Terre tomorrow.  Hmm….. What to do.  I do the only sensible thing really.  I look at SB, who shrugs and says why not? What a guy!!!  I buy the charm, my first charm in bronze, walk out with my charm passport and go have a coffee to determine how much time it will take us to go back to all four of the other Cinque Terre villages and find these shops. It will make a lovely momento of my time in Cinque Terre.

After our coffee we explore Monterosso. We walk to find the Church of St John the Baptist, called the black and white church, with white marble from Carrara ( the famous Leonardo Di Vinci Carrara marble) and dark green marble, which looks black, from Punte Mesco, above the village.  There is a lacy stone rose window above the entrance to the church. The church is beautiful inside and immaculate.

Saint John the Baptist Church

Saint John the Baptist Church

The Sanctuary of St John the Baptist

The Sanctuary of St John the Baptist

The Altar of St John the Baptist

The Altar of St John the Baptist

There is also another church right across the way from St John the Baptist, and it is the most outstanding and different church I have ever been in. It is called the Oratory of the Dead.

Outside the Oratory of the Dead

Outside the Oratory of the Dead

The Oratory of the Dead

The Oratory of the Dead

The Skeleton Motiff

The Skeleton Motif

Skull-and-Crossbones

Skull-and-Crossbones and Hourglass

The Black Jesus in the Oratory of the Dead

The Black Jesus in the Oratory of the Dead

During the Counter-Reformation, the Catholic Church created brotherhoods of good works, called confraternities, to compete with the rising influence of Martin Luther. This church building is the oratory of the black group, a group whose mission was to arrange funerals, and take care of widows and orphans of lost sailors. The confraternity dates from the 16th century and membership is passed from father to son.  It has a beautiful black and white haunted house decor with skeletons and crossbones, a black hand-carved paneled choir stall adorned in skeletons and skeletons among the cherub angels.

The Choir Stalls of the Black Oratory

The Choir Stalls of the Black Oratory

I have never seen anything like it. We explore another church up the hill which has ships hanging from the ceiling and a nautical themed sanctuary.   Enjoying the sunshine we walk back through the pedestrian tunnel to the promenade of the beach to New Town.

The Beach at Monterosso al Mare

The Beach at Monterosso al Mare

This beach front of the village is perfect. There are tiny outdoor cafes, a beach with sand and swimming framed with expensive looking neighborhood villas right up to the sandy shore line.

The Beach Neighborhood

The Beach Neighborhood

People are swimming in the sea, those brave souls, the rest of us are still donning our coats and scarves.  A new stone building reveals architectural additions that start on shore and flow to the sea.  At the end of the building is Il Gigante, a look alike rock formation actually made of reinforced concrete originally constructed to support a dance terrace.

Il Gigante

Il Gigante

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We walk back along the beach and eat at one of the outdoor cafes and finish up with gelato before we head back to the train station to make our stops at Vernazza and Corniglia for the charms. While in Corniglia I also decide to go back to Fanny’s Bazar and buy two fish dishes. I kept thinking I would like two small fish dishes and decided  I could stash them in my carry on so they wouldn’t get broken.

My Fish Dishes

My Fish Dishes

I buy the silver charm in Corniglia since it is my favorite Cinque Terre village. By late afternoon we are in Vernazza and I have gathered three of the needed charms. We see our Aussie friends at an outdoor cafe (A shout out to Fee, Wes and Kathy!) and enjoy their company over drinks before taking the train back to Manarola and our last evening in this magical beautiful town.

For more information about the Cinque Terre, Step-by-Step charms in Montorosso al Mare see: La Gazza Ladra di Alessandra Pampari, Piazza Giacomo Matteotti, Moneterosso al Mare, La Spezia, Italy        Phone:+39 0187 817068

Vernazza, Under the Weather

St Margherita Church, Vernazza Italy

St Margherita Church, Vernazza Italy

It’s raining AGAIN. Back through the tunnel, back to the train, we are going to Vernazza this morning.  Vernazza literally fell into the Ligurian Sea in 2011 due to a huge mudslide in October of that year.  All reports now show progress and things are slowly getting back to business.  Unless you see the flood pictures (the before and after) you can’t appreciate the tough times Vernazza and its 500 citizens have been through. Every shop, restaurant and hotel on the main street had to be dug-out, re-wired, re-plumbed and re-equipped in 2012.  Here are pictures showing what Vernazza was up against.

Vernazza During the Flood

Vernazza During the Flood

DSCN0465DSCN0464

There are three ways to get around Cinque Terre; by foot, by train, or by boat.  This week the paths between the villages are closed for the most part.  There are mudslide warnings.  The sea is not co-operating either, much too rough to pull up and moor. So we are training again.  Our look at Vernazza on this rainy cold day, with it’s natural harbor, overseen by a ruined castle and a stout stone church.

New Main Street in Vernazza

New Main Street in Vernazza

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The Harbor at Vernazza

The Harbor at Vernazza

The Remains of the Castle

The Remains of the Castle

The Hiking Path above Vernazza

The Hiking Path above Vernazza

The Harbor at Vernazza

The Harbor at Vernazza

A group of American women, who married into the community, organized a project which brought relief to their town in the immediate aftermath of the flood and is now an organization to help preserve and foster tourism.  For the latest on the town, the recovery and their activities visit. http://www.savevernazza.com.  Thanks!

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