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Posts from the ‘Travel Italy’ category

Weekly Photo Challenge: Converge

Converge; to come together and meet. The statues are meeting up to see all the cars converging into Florence, Italy! Where are they all going?

Are We there Yet?

Are We There Yet?

Travel Themes: Horizon

Venice is the most magical of places on earth! Won’t you join me in Venice on the AIT Tour? (Austria, Italy, Turkey)  We’re exploring Venice the next few days! Enjoy! Look for other Travel Themes here.

A Look at the Horizon in Venice, Italy

A Look at the Horizon in Venice, Italy

When In Rome………….

 

Rome

I Loved the Umbrella Trees!

As we finish up the Traipsing Through Tuscany tour, I learned two things on this trip to Rome. First, always ask how many flights of stairs there are to the abode you plan to stay in and two, never cut in line when it is raining and there is an older Italian woman waiting in an informal queue or in the shadows. Well, it is never proper to cut in line, but first know if there is a line and where it might actually be. I did witness the results of such a blunder or was it simply a tired wet Italian woman not to be put off?

Arriving in Rome, we took a cab to the B&B.  Pushing open the heavy oak door, after being buzzed in, there were immediately two flights of stone stairs to reach a plateau area of tables and chairs on the roof of the building we had just walked up. The hostess met us here and took us to our room, in a remodeled villa, up another four flights of stairs, in another building. So everyday in Rome it was up and down six flights of stairs twice and sometimes more. I did not look forward to the end of the day and since we had opted to stay out a little further in the “burbs” there was also a trek each day to the metro station before the exploring began.  The B&B room was new, elegant and very chic, but I would take the room with the nuns at Santa Brigida Convent over this. (See “Off to Roma” post)  https://cadyluckleedy.com/2013/04/30/off-to-roma/

We took several walking tours with Art Viva; “Rome in One Glorious Day,”  the “Masterpieces of the Vatican and St Peters Tour” and “The Original Walking Tour.”  BEWARE, wear your most comfortable walking shoes! We walked well over ten miles, the first day, during the tour alone! I would also take the tours over several days with rests between. They were EXCELLENT and we learned a lot, but we were really pooped at the end of the day and then there were those “STAIRS” to look forward to! 

After one day out, exploring, touring, eating, and walking, it started to pour.  We looked to hail a cab and got in a queue behind a group of six at a taxi stand.  A cab stopped, the six piled in and out of nowhere an elderly woman flung herself at the back cab door, pulled it open and in no uncertain terms, in rapid fire Italian and gestures, ordered the occupants out of the cab. When they didn’t get her message she flew to the front door of the cab and told off the cab driver as well. The cab driver told the occupants they would have to get out, and they did.  The old woman with her wet, soggy pull-cart of groceries jumped into the cab and off it splashed. We left the queue and walked in the rain to the metro station, realizing it might be easier just to take the metro. Soaked through and through, my shoes squeeking, I again had the STAIRS ahead! We did enjoy our time in Rome, but would to do it differently the next time!  Live and learn! That’s what traveling is all about! Here are some of my favorite pictures of Rome!  Enjoy!

 

For more information on Art Viva Tours Look HERE!

Traipsing Through Tuscany- San Casiano dei Bagni

Today head south through the beautiful Tuscan hillside to the village of San Casiano dei Bagni.  The village was discovered by the Etruscans and known for the abundant (42) thermal springs which were later developed by the Romans. There are still  5 star spas to be found here!

The Drive to San Casciano dei Bagni

The Drive to San Casciano dei Bagni

 

San Casciano dei Bagni, a hill town overlooking the Val di Paglia, springs from a thick woods of oaks, chestnuts and ancient pines. The medieval village reveals a labyrinth of narrow roads winding around a church. Today the main entrance from the south, the “Porta,” leads to the Piazza Matteotti, where there are spectacular views of the valley below. There is also Ristorante Daniela, located right on the piazza. I was drawn to the charming cave-like ambience. Greeted by Daniela herself, we were delighted with the specialties of the house. Our meal of Tuscan ham, cheeses, homemade soup and pasta, was washed down with good local wine. Enjoy a day in San Casiano dei Bagni!

 Ristorante Daniela is located at 6 Piazza Matteotti, San Casciano dei Bagni, Italy.

 

Traipsing Through Tuscany- Montefollonico to La Foce

Our day trips from Montepulciano continue.  Today we explore the village of Montefollonico, a small medieval hamlet surrounded by thirteenth century walls of fired bricks. In ancient times the village was called Monte a Fullonico. The Romans called “fullones” people that worked the cloths, so  Montefullonico was the mountain of the cloth workers. The first noted people that lived here settled near the Benedictine Monks Abbey in the 8th Century.  The monks raised sheep and dyed the wool.  These small Tuscan villages give you a variety of views of the Italian countryside and life here.  Enjoy!

The Sheep!

The Sheep!

 

 

Next is one of my favorite spots in Tuscany!  I am showing additional pictures I took of La Foce, the beautiful country estate of the American, Iris Origo, and her family.  Her daughter continues to run the estate, garden, restaurant and B&B. There are tours offered of the estate and multi-layered gardens.  This would be another excellent choice for a home base while touring Tuscany by car. For more about the story of La Foce I have detailed information in the post:  https://cadyluckleedy.com/2013/04/11/war-in-val-d-orcia/.  It is a must read about this heroic woman and her life in Italy! 

For more information about La Foce see:  http://www.lafoce.com

Traipsing Through Tuscany- Montisi

Montisi

Montisi

Montisi

The hill town, Montisi, population 500, is an ancient Etruscan necropolis.  As small as it may seem, the village is divided into four communities, each represented with their own flag. The Castello is the area of the medieval castle.  The Piazza, is the flat area located near the castle.  San Martino is in the northeastern part of the village and the Torre, takes the name of the Tower of the Grange of Santa Maria della Scalla (a farming estate owned by a monastery), which was destroyed by retreating German troops in 1944.

The Civic Tower and the Colonna, in Two Different Districts

The Civic Tower and the Colonna, in Two Different Communities

Civic Tower and the Colonna

Civic Tower and the Colonna

Walking up the small hill to the restored tower, currently, the Grange is a private home built around two main courtyards, with a small theatre used for shows and concerts.  It was here that a clay hand-made map was posted on the wall to point the way around the narrow streets in a circular fashion to locate all the sites on the hill.  It reminded me of a scavenger hunt map! See the chunks of terra cotta on the wall? Following the terra cotta signs, the lane reminded me of the Stations of the Cross along a beautiful garden walk!

Pieve of the Santissima Annunziata

Pieve of the Santissima Annunziata

The Pieve of the Santissima Annunziata

The Pieve of the Santissima Annunziata

The Map

The Map

Markers on the Montisi Walk

Markers on the Montisi Walk

Markers on the Montisi Walk

Markers on the Montisi Walk

Markers on the Montisi Walk

Markers on the Montisi Walk

Mother Mary Pray for Us

Mother Mary Pray for Us

The Walk in Montisi

The Markers on the Walk in Montisi

Streets of Montisi

Streets of Montisi

Main Walk Montisi

Main Walk Montisi

Walking Montisi

Walking Montisi

The Only Cat in Town!

The Only Cat in Town!

Returning to the lower ground of the village there is now a frescoed wall playground, the ruins of castle walls, and beautiful flowers, doors and windows. We spent a lovely afternoon in Montisi!

Traipsing Through Tuscany- The Piccolomini Pienza

On Our Way to Pienza

On Our Way to Pienza

From Monticchiello we are off to Pienza, a small town that we can see on the hill in the distance. Pienza, is on a hill, but after arriving in the town, walking here is on flat ground. Unlike Montepulciano,  which is all up hill, Pienza is flat. There is a parking lot outside of town, but since it is full, we drive closer to the school and find a spot there.  Walking to the Town Gate, Porta Prato, I stop and admire a beautiful lawn and garden.  Before I know it an older gentleman came from the porch of the house and down to his gate to talk to me. He speaks Italian and when he realizes I am an American, he thanks my husband and me for saving Italy in WWII!  Then he opens the garden gate and offers me a tour of his lovely flower garden.  It was beautiful and just one of the many flower gardens in this small village.  Directly in front of Porta Prato is a public garden and the fragrance here is unbelievable!  The lawn is surrounded in a small bush hedge covered in white blossoms that are so fragrant!  I tried asking everyone and no one knew what that bush was and even my elderly gentleman friend was gone when I went back by his house to ask him, as we made our way out of town.  Darn! That’s what I will always remember about Pienza, the flowers and the fragrances.

Enea Silvio Piccolomini (1405-1464) was born in Corsignano, the small town on a hill overlooking the Orcia and Asso Valley.  In 1458, Piccolomini became Pope Pius II and when he returned to his home town, he decided to transform the town with the first humanist concept of urban design, (Renaissance) with the aid of Bernardo di Matteo Gamberelli, known as Rossellino, ingenere di palazzo, of Pope Nicholas V in Rome. Rossellino was responsible for the overall layout of the town which consisted of a main street joining two town gates.  On this basic structure he planned the major buildings around a town square, which served as an outdoor room, called the Piazza Pio II. The Piazza is surrounded by the Duomo, the Piccolomini Family Palace, City Hall with the Bell Tower, and the Bishop’s Palace.  All were designed by Rossellino in five years time. In 1464 the work stopped because both Pope Pius II and Rossellino, the architect, were dead. What we see today was completed a century later.  The town was renamed, Pienza after the Pope.  What remains now is a mixture of old stone, potted plants, grand views and a fragrance not to be forgotten.

Traipsing Through Tuscany – Monticchiello

Monticchiello

Monticchiello

Under a Tuscan Sun Road

Under a Tuscan Sun Road

Monticchiello is a very small village on the way to Pienza. I love the zig-zag road with the tall skinny cypress trees, just like in the movie, Under a Tuscan Sun! Asking about these trees I found that the Cupressus Sempervirens are known in Italy as the Italian, Tuscan, or Graveyard Tree. The tree is known as a symbol for mourning and associated with death because it fails to regenerate when cut back too severely. It’s branches were also used to fumigate during cremation and were also suitable to making wreaths.  They are often planted around cemeteries because their roots go straight down rather than spreading out, so little damage is done to the graves sites. Arriving in the village I am surprised to find a new sub-division of homes being built on the outskirts of town. It looks out of place, but I can see why one would want to live here.  The beauty of the village is the landscape; soft, rolling hills, dotted with the cypress trees, under a bright lapis lazuli sky and the warmth of the sun.  It is exactly what you imagine an Italian landscape to be. You can relax and slow down. No one is in a hurry here.  The older village consists of pale ochre colored stone houses with pastel colored doors, surrounded by manicured gardens. The Church of Santi Leonardo and Chrisoforo dates back to the last half of the thirteenth century, with a structure of a single nave and three apses.  It has a Gothic facade adorned with an oval portal with a rosette. Going up the hill there is the ruins of the Cassero Tower, from days long past.  This is the place to be to get away from it all.

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

Traipsing Through Tuscany- Florence and San Gimignano

Palazzo Vecchio

Palazzo Vecchio

Sculpture

Rooftop Sculpture in Florenc

Tte Window of the World

The Window of the World

Thinking about our visit to Florence I can’t get over all the beautiful art we have seen in the Uffizi Gallery, the Pitti Palace, the Duomo Museum and the Accademia. I was especially excited over the artwork of Artemisia Gentileschi, (1593-1653) that SB pointed out to me in the Uffizi Gallery ( Judith Beheading Holofernes) and the Pitti Palace (The Conversion of Magdalena, Judith and Her Maidservant and David and Bathsheba). I first read about Artemisia Gentileschi in a book called, The Passion of Artemisia: a Novel, by Susan Vreeland. Delving into the themes of art, history and the lives of women, this is is a book that I thoroughly enjoyed.  Gentileschi painted many pictures of strong and suffering women from myth and the Bible. Her works include victims, suicides, warriors and especially, the Judith story. When you read the book and then see her paintings, her real life and her paintings intertwine and give you perspective of the times and how this woman lived and painted, and why she did so. Even her style of painting called chiaroscuro, which represents a strong contrast between light and dark, gives us a glimpse of her life.

One of Gentileschi’s works, David and Bathsheba, completed in 1635, had been found after centuries of deterioration, in a storage deposit area of the Pitti Palace, revealing decay, color flaking, due to improper storage conditions, and humidity damage. The re-evaluation of the Gentileschi’s courageous life and works were brought into focus with the attention of the Florence Committee of National Museum of Women in the Arts, who decided to fund the restoration of David and Bathsheba. Today, Gentileschi is regarded as the most progressive and expressionist painters of her generation.

Thinking of that book, brought to mind another book, called The Birth of Venus, by Sarah Dunant. This historical novel of Florence is a story of love, art, religion and power  as told by Allessandra Cecchi when her father brings a young painter to paint the chapel walls of the family’s pallazzo. This story is told while Florence is caught in a state of turmoil imposed by the fundamentalist monk Savonarola, who is seizing religious and political control and the Medici State, with it’s love of luxury, learning and art. On our walking tours of Florence we learned a great deal about the Medici family and Savonarola.  Recalling that book, brought to mind The Lord’s Supper, painted on the wall of the Santa Maria della Grazie Church in Milan, which I have been lucky enough to see.

I was curious to learn how all this beautiful artwork was saved during WWII. Now, I am currently reading, Saving Italy: The Race to Rescue a Nation’s Treasures from the Nazis, by Robert Edsel. In particular I am interested in, General Karl Wolff, a German officer, who risked his life to save the collections of the Uffizi Gallery and the Pitti Palace. Robert Edsel also wrote, The Monuments Men: Allied Heroes, Nazi Thieves, and  the  Greatest Treasure Hunt in History, now made into a motion picture of the name, The Monuments Men.

San Gimignano, twenty-five miles south of Florence, will be our first stop on our way to Montepulciano, where we will be making our home base for our Tuscany visit.

The parking lot outside the main gate, Porta San Giovanni, was very busy as we approached.  The village itself is pedestrian only. Getting in the car parking queue we had to wait for a car to come out before we could go in and take the spot. One in, one out.  San Gimignano gives you a glimpse of a real Italian countryside experience, but with just enough shops and restaurants added to make it interesting for tourists.  The towers are restored replicas of the original, but they look authentic.

San Gimignano is a small, walled, medieval hill town with fourteen towers of various heights, replicated of the original seventy-two. Before the walls were developed around the town, these towers were a refuge, when ruffians and rival city states were sacking the town.  If under attack, the tower owners would set fire to the external wooden staircase, leaving the sole entrance to the house and it’s strongholds, unreachable. Today you can see all these tiny slit entrances way up on the second story of the towers, minus stairs to get to them. Also, notice that the buildings are made of different colored stones and brick. Heavy stones were used for the bottom floors and lighter cheaper bricks for the upper floors. In the year 1300, about 13,000 people lived within the walls. In 1348, a six-month plague left the town with 4,000 survivors. Crushed and demoralized, the town came under Florence’s rule and was forced to tear down it’s towers, and the trade route was re-directed away from San Gimignano. The town never recovered and poverty drove the well-preserved city to be as it is today.

Our walk takes us through the Porta San Giovanni up to the Piazza del Duomo, and the church itself, which features Sienese Gothic art_ Old Testament to the left___New Testament to the right. Further up the hill is the is Sant’Agostino Church, built by the Augustinians, who arrived in 1260. Here there are English speaking friars, who are happy to tell you about the church and their way of life. We stop and have lunch at the Locanda di Sant’Agostino, right next door to the church on a beautiful small piazza. The restaurant serves typical Tuscan home cooked meals, which would be paninos, pizza, pasta and insalatas, served with a local fruity white wine.   Walking back down the hill, along the ramparts, there are superb views of the Tuscan countryside. Soon we are inside the Rocca, originally another walled defense area, now a small walled garden of olive trees, where a group of men are singing and playing instruments. I loved our time in San Gimignano, but it is time to move on to Montepulciano. For more interesting history and scenes of Sam Gimignano, view the movie, Tea With Mussolini, a 1999 drama of the plight of American and English expatriate women during WWII. Most of the scenes are of Florence and San Gimignano, where the movie was filmed. In particular it reveals the artworks inside the Duomo of San Gimignano and how the women came to be there and tried to save the art. For more readings about the war and art see my  blog postings on Milan,  https://cadyluckleedy.com/2014/02/14/one-day-in-milan/ and the War in Val  D’ Orcia, https://cadyluckleedy.com/2013/04/11/war-in-val-d-orcia near Montepulciano. See you next in Montepulciano!

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