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Posts tagged ‘Women Travelers’

Romancing the Water and Stone

The Angel in the Train Depot

The Angel in the Train Depot

For a Valentine’s posting I was thinking of the most romantic spot I have journeyed to.  For me it would be Lake Como, Italy. The romance begins on the journey to get there. This vacation offered everything I consider romantic, a lake and the mountains. The Zurich train depot set the tone for our vacation.  It was one of the most artistically pleasing train stations I have ever been in. The compact green Italian train departed from a lively open warehouse-looking building filled with shops and restaurants and a large flower stall.

Sunflowers

Sunflowers

The Shops in the Warehouse at Zurich Train Station

The Shops in the Warehouse at Zurich Train Station

The train ride through tiny mountain villages and lakes in the Alps from Zurich to Como went by very quickly because the scenery was breathtaking. We arrived in Como just in time for an afternoon glass of wine before embarking a Rapido-Hydrofoil to go from the bottom left leg of Lake Como up to the split in the lake, to one of the triangular points of the lake, Menaggio.

The Walk from Como Giovanni Train Station to the Dock in Como

The Walk from Como Giovanni Train Station to the Dock in Como

The Hydrofoil Dock in Como

The Hydrofoil Dock in Como

Como Lakeside

Como Lakeside

During our stay on Lake Como we would be exploring Bellagio and Varenna also. The hydrofoil stopped at several small villages along the lake and it was exciting to see what the other villages looked like from the waters edge.  Villas, surrounded with immaculate gardens and landscaping, were most impressive!  After each stop, to let passengers off, I would tick the villages off in my head. Well we didn’t pick that one. Next…..

When we got to the dock at Menaggio, I knew I had picked the right place. Near the shore and the landing area for the hydrofoil and the ferries, was a hip coffee/pizza/breakfast restaurant with outdoor seating.  This spot would be our favorite spot for morning cappuccino, espresso or latte while we waited for the ferry to take us on various excursions. We would just sit and watch the seagulls and the early strollers.  Nearby was a beautiful yellow villa, Hotel du Lac, and across from that the grocery store.  Perfect! (For more insight into grocery shopping in Menaggio see the post, Il Negozio di Alimentari)

Soon after arriving at the dock in Menaggio, about 4 hours behind schedule, but right on time following Italian time, we were met at the wharf by our host, Piero. Six months previous, I had asked to rent one of his rooms in his B&B, but it was full.  He had suggested an apartment, that he and his wife also rented out, since were staying over a week, and we agreed. We were not exactly sure what we would be getting. Piero had a tiny hatchback car, so we piled the luggage in as best as we could, but SB still had to scrunch up and fold himself over the luggage (and we travel light) that had to be squeezed in the back hatch seat. With Piero and I buckled in the front seats, we set off up the hill.  We went up and up, curve, up, up, curve, tight curve, back up and take a second go at the curve-turn combo. Up, Up, past San Marco, past Ligomena, another tight curve.  Stop. Here we are and the rest is history!

For a week we lived in an outstanding apartment on the mountainside of Menaggio with a heavenly pool and a dream view of Lake Como.  Our neighbors, who stayed in other apartments, came from all over the world.  We had the best time getting together in the evenings by the pool and trying to figure out what everybody was saying! It was fantastic! Enjoy the view!

PS. We traveled from Zurich, Switzerland to Como, Italy because after leaving Lake Como we would be spending a week in Interlaken, Switzerland.  You could fly into Milan and take a train from there to Como to get a hydrofoil to the other villages along Lake Como.

For information about the apartment see: Apartment le Eriche, Via per Barna, Plesio, Italy.

For the B&B see: B&B Eriche, Villa alla Grona, Menaggio, Italy or view on TripAdvisor

The Perfume Collector

The Streets of Marais

The Streets of the  Marais

A Santa Along the Way

A Santa Along the Way

In my pre-travel readings I read a fabulous book titled, The Perfume Collector, by Kathleen Tessaro. I could not put it down. I was mesmerized. It would set the mood for the Paris vacation.

In Kathleen’s words about the book:
An inheritance from a mysterious stranger…….
An abandoned perfume shop on the Left Bank of Paris……….
And three exquisite perfumes that hold a memory…….and a scent.

It put me on a quest for perfume in Paris!

After the events of the past days I am determined to go shopping today. I have been ogling shop windows filled with beautiful bling and nuggets and watched women spray perfume on what looks like white plant garden markers, long enough.  I have stopped at every little stand in front of the perfume shops and followed suit.  The perfume dealers are very smart.  These little stands have two or three perfume bottles on them and the white markers.  I spray the marker and “oh” and “ah” over the scents. Off I would go with the markers in my inside coat pocket and whenever I reached into my pocket what a delight of delicious fragrances I received!

One day, before Christmas, I ventured into a tiny perfume shop. There was one French woman there discussing a perfume with the owner.  She went on and on……..and on….the gentleman giving her full attention. Now, here is where I want to add my view of French shopping, well most European shopping for that matter. No one is ever in a hurry.  The customer may take hours looking, selecting, trying, and asking questions. More samples are brought, more questions answered.  Get the picture?  Shopping is an art form here. One customer at a time. The customer is special. The clerk sees to that.  My first observance of this was seen in the movie, Love Actually. In one scene, a man is looking at jewelry and the elegant man behind the counter enlightens him on the art of shopping. I loved it! This is a Christmas movie, my favorite Christmas movie, but the message of the movie holds true, so I like to watch it throughout the year. Put it on your movie list, you will not be disappointed! The salespeople in Paris are exactly like the behind the counter clerk in this movie. Here in Paris, I was fascinated just watching the scene play out before me and could not wait for it to be my turn! On this pre-Christmas day we couldn’t wait, but I vowed to be back.

The Perfume Man

The Perfume Man

Atelier Cologne

Atelier Cologne

Today I hobble to the perfume shop, that in my mind is the greatest perfume shop ever! It is tiny with bricked walls and wooden tables with a selected few perfume bottles.  Papa Bear and I are the only customers here today! The gentleman addresses me. I tell him I have been here before, when he was busy with another customer. He shows me all the perfumes.  I sniff, I doodle. I think. I sniff some more. I ask about the fragrances. We carry on a conversation for over an hour and I make my selections.  Oh, but we are not through!  Now he will make me leather covers with any initials or wording I like, to be placed on the smaller bottles I have selected. The leather covers come with the perfume, he explains.

One of the Finished Perfume Cases

One of the Finished Perfume Cases

My Perfume Collection

My Perfume Collection

I choose from the many leather color options.  More time.  We take a seat before his work desk.  A large machine (made in the USA, he tells me) is prepared to take a silver leafing paper that will heat up, leaving the initials I have selected pressed into the leather. The handle is lowered and the foil heats up, transferring silver initials onto the leather case. This takes several minutes, since the heat must reach a certain temperature and the foil pressed evenly. When the process is complete, he takes the leather case from the machine and rubs and buffs and rubs and buffs the leather some more.  He puts on his glasses to inspect the results.  He doesn’t like the look of the initials so he throws it away! He starts over on another piece of leather of my choosing.  Again, it does not meet his inspection.  Third try on one bottle and it is perfect! We have more bottles to go!  At last we have completed the sale of perfume and after individually tissue wrapping each one and putting each one in an individual box, he places the lot in an elegant looking carrying bag, and thanks me. Next he reaches into a drawer and selects a handful of  french postcards, each with a different perfume scent artfully tied to them with brown cording  and places THEM in my elegant bag.  YES, this is shopping in Paris! Let’s move on to the next shop!  Before the day is over I have almost as many free gifts, as the gifts I bought!  Not just trinkets either. In one shop I got a small bound diary/calendar that also explained the history of charms. I loved it! As Kathleen said, “What memories! What scents!”

Also Baby Bear shared her tip from her perfumer.  He suggested spraying or dabbing your favorite perfume on the BACK OF YOUR NECK, for the most lasting results that is pleasant for you (you can smell it) as well as those around you. It really works!  At the end of the day I continued to smell a whisper of the fragrance on my pillow!

PS: The day would not be complete without a stop for shopping fuel.

Must Stop for Shopping Fuel!

Must Stop for Shopping Fuel!

Shopping Fuel

Shopping Fuel

It's Night Time Already!

It’s Night Time Already!

It’s getting dark.  Back to the apartment!  I am really hobbled now!

The Perfume shop was: Atelier Cologne, Nenesse, rue de Poitou, Paris, France

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

DSCN0419

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!

Are We There Yet?

Our Patio View of Manarola

Our Patio View of Manarola

Manarola

Manarola

Manarola

Manarola

Off to Cinque Terre and let me tell you I was not excited about the train trip there, but couldn’t wait to see it!  Cinque Terre consists of five towns (Riomaggiore, Manarola, Corniglia, Vernazza and Monterosso al Mare) along the Ligurian Sea coast connected by train, boat or a walking path.  The train run from Florence to Pisa to La Spezia to Manarola was uneventful, thank God, just a lot of getting off and getting on a different train. We arrived in Manarola by late afternoon to a beautiful bright breezy day. When you get off the train in Manarola you walk through a long long tunnel to reach the little piazza circle mid town.

Steps to Middle Piazza, Manarola

Steps to Middle Piazza, Manarola

The Pizza in the Middle of Manarola

The Piazza in the Middle of Manarola

A good looking young man was there from La Toretta to meet us and help us with the luggage. We started up a steep hill, curve, another hill, curve, another hill.  I am huffing and puffing and I’m not even pulling luggage.  Finally a small church at the top of the hill sits in another small piazza and we go down a few steps, up a few more steps walking through a maze of pastel colored palazzos.

The Hilltop Church in Manarola

The Hilltop Church in Manarola

A View from the Hilltop at Manarola

A View from the Hilltop at Manarola

We end up on a terrace overlooking the sea and vineyards and are greeted by our hosts who offer champagne and a plate of selected finger food. We sit and take in the view.  After a tour of the spa, meeting room, and hot tub we take a hike up more steps and twisty turns to the path to our apartment along the highest ridge of Manarola.

My Favorite Cottage in Manarola

My Favorite Cottage in Manarola

Our Apartment at La Toretta

Our Apartment at La Toretta

The Kitchen at La Toretta

The Kitchen at La Toretta

Looking Out to the Patio at La Toretta

Looking Out to the Patio at La Toretta

The Bedroom at La Toretta

The Bedroom at La Toretta

What a place!  A very large ultra modern apartment awaits us with a birds eye view of the town, sea, and vineyard. Did I mention the blue grey octopus mural above the couch and bed?  Unbelievable! We sit on the patio and watch the world go by and the little old couple working (well she picks basil from the patch and he sits and watches her) in the garden below us, before heading to Billie’s, a favorite local restaurant that sits just below our path to the apartment, as we look out over the patio.

The walk to our apartment at La Toretta

The Walk to our Apartment at La Toretta

Our Table at Billy's

Our Table at Billy’s

The weather has turned cooler and very gale like.  The flags at Billies are flapping in the wind as we carefully pick our way down the stone steps to the lower terrace. I hold on to the wrought iron railing as I carefully step by step by step by step move down to our table located in the corner of the terrace. At home this stairway would be a lawyers dream come true, here it is a way of life unnoticed. The outdoor space is packed with guests as the wind continues to build. After we order, I watch as the waiters, who have to go up and down that staircase a bazillion times taking orders and carrying food, sometimes in the middle of the steep stairway, do a limbo move under the railing, jumping unto the terrace to the side.  What?  I keep watching and yes that is the way to the terrace to the left.  As the guests leave from that terrace they too shimmy up and under the railing to the stairs.  I surmise that is the terrace for the young and lithe.  Showoffs, ha.  We enjoy our meal of a local pasta dish that we had to eat rather quickly because it is getting cooler and cooler and the wind on the hillside has reached gale status.  Now it is raining on my food, I’m up and up those stairs in a flash.  Back to my warm octopus room.  Tomorrow is another day!

Downtown Manarola

Downtown Manarola

The Sea at Manarola

The Sea at Manarola

Manarola

Manarola

For more info about La Toretta, 5 Terre National Park, Manarola, Italy. see TripAdvisor.
For more info about Trattoria dal Billy, Via Rollandi 122, Mararola, Italy see TripAdvisor.

If you like my blog please tell your friends or “Like” me on Facebook, Twitter and About. Me at Cady Luck Leedy or The Travel Lady In Her Shoes.  Thanks!!!

On To Florence!

Ok, my blog is going to start with a Pop Quiz.

I have not written to you in two weeks because:

a) I had such a good time in Italy, it has taken me two weeks to get back into the grove.

b) I know it is summer and you are all doing fun things, besides reading my blog, so I gave you a few weeks to catch up on all the doings.

c) I decided to clean out my garage to make room for a new Italian sports car.

d) All the above

So now that we have the Pop Quiz done lets move on to Florence!  I love Florence!  It still is my favorite city in Italy, but sad to say I only spent one night in this beautiful city this time because I had more on my plate.

Even the signs are romantic!

Even the Signs are Romantic!

Roof Top View of Florence

Roof Top View of Florence

Roof Top Duomo, Florence, Italy

Roof Top Duomo, Florence, Italy

First of all, we need to discuss the madness at the train stations these days. When I arrived and left Montepulciano I used the firm of Private Driver Services with Emanuele. Emanuele was prompt, curteous, and drove a spotless Mercedes station wagon. On my last day in Montepulciano he picked me up in Montepulciano, drove the 30-minute ride to Chiusi, carried by bags into the station, down the stairs, up the stairs and told me to wait at the proper train line.  What a guy!  This was nothing like the treatment I had in Rome.  In Rome a train attendant (I thought) came to me, picked up my bag and walked me to the proper train line for my departure and then said, “That will be 15 Euro.” I was a little taken back, I thought he was a kind train attendant helping me. (Like in Prague in an earlier posting) I gave him a twenty and asked for change and he looked me in the eye and said, “No,” and walked off.  Well, that taught me a lesson.

When the train arrived in Chiusi, a man, who was also boarding the train picked up my bags and hoisted them onto the train.  I had stewed over this because even though I had mailed home boxes of goodies and my books, I wasn’t sure I could heft the bags on the train in the few minutes allowed to heft. As it turned out this man, his wife and friends were also my booth mates on the train.  They were from Australia and we had the best time talking and we all hit it off immediatley.  We talked all the way to Florence and discovered we would all be heading to Cinque Terre in a few days and I hoped we would meet up there again.IMG_0164

As we approached Firenze Rifredi Train Station, it was raining Gucchi cats and dogs and there was no shelter where the train stopped so it was every man for himself in the pouring rain. I lumbered along with my two stacked bags and when I reached the station a young man hoisted my bags and took off down the stairs, up the stairs and around the bend of the train station with me struggling to keep up with him. When I got there he said, “Thirty euros.” What?????  Well, I looked him in the eye and said, “No.” He looked so surprised.  I gave him 5 euro.

I went to the Taxi Stand and to no surprise there were no taxis available. So I waited.  Then I crossed the street and waited at that taxi stand. Still no taxis.  I thought it odd there would be no taxis available, but then it was pouring so I thought everyone was wanting a taxi and there would be a wait. As I waited, I watched.  When a taxi did pull up my friend, the exorbitant bag carrier, would hail the taxi, talk to the driver and then place hand picked travelers into the taxi.  Every taxi that pulled in had the same routine.  The taxi did not stop at the taxi stand just looked for the bag carrier and took his travelers.  Hmmmm…..  Then an anxious looking visiting priest came up to me and asked if I had called for the taxi.  What?  He said I had to call for a taxi to come to this station and the bag handler had offered to do it for him for 50 euro.  What????   How much had I given him?

I was sure I would never get a taxi now.  So the priest, who had called for a taxi and I along with three more priests stood and watched as every cab that came was hailed to the “Bag Handler” as I now referred to him. I was nervous about being left alone at this station so asked the priest if I could ride with them if we ever got a cab. We stood for over an hour and watched this procession with the priest going up to each taxi and stating that he indeed had called for a taxi, but the taxi driver looked nervous and only followed the orders of the “Bag Handler.”  My phone had no signal here at all.  So I looked the Father in the eyes and said, “Father, we are going to have to be ruthless, they have a scam going on here, so follow my lead.”  When the next station wagon taxi pulled in I ran to it and flung open the door and threw in my smallest bag.  All the priests followed suit. The “Bag Handler” came to the taxi and I gave him a piece of my mind, something on the order of treating priests like this and so on.  I was furious. The taxi driver got out and opened the hatchback allowing the priests to load our bags all the while the “Bag Handler” read the taxi driver the riot act.  We had all squeezed into the taxi when another taxi pulled up.  Our taxi driver looked so relieved, but told us we had to get out and take the other taxi since he was not supposed to be taking travelers.  So one priest went to confirm this with the woman taxi driver, who was very helpful and said yes she had been called to pick us up. We then transferred all our luggage to her big Mercedes station wagon and after one last dirty look at the “Bag Handler” we were off.  I  told her we were going to different locations, and she said no problem.  We proceeded to City Center Florence chatting in Italian and English while she waved at all the other female taxi drivers and I tried to cool down.  She said Firenze Rifredi Train Station was not the main terminal so most of the taxis would be waiting at Florence Maria Novella Station, the station the priests had failed to get off at.  They will never make that mistake again!  I had no excuse my train was destined for Firenze Rifredi. As we passed Maria Novella we saw a long line of taxis there, the real taxis. We were told most taxis wanted the easy pick up fees of Maria Novella while the out-lying stations were manned by the “Bag Handler,” with him receiving a cut along with his mob of drivers.  Over three hours later I arrived at Antica Torre Di Via Tornbuoni Hotel, where my husband was frantically waiting for me, since I was late and had not answered his telephone calls.  I paid for the cab for myself and the priests and waved goodbye to them. I needed a drink! On to the Rooftop terrace of Antica Torrei Di Via Tornbuoni!

Rooftop View of Florence

Rooftop View of Florence from the Hotel

For a great car service while visiting Montepulciano I suggest: Tuscany Transfer Service (Emanuele) http://www.tuscanytransfer.it

Il Sasso A Day at School

Acquacheta, an Awesome Eating Experience!

Acquacheta, an Awesome Eating Experience!

Day One
I had to take a test.  After finishing one third of a page on page one, I was whisked away for the oral section of the placement testing. I could hardly speak. I was placed in the Beginners Class which was fine by me.  I was in that class for ten minutes when I was whisked off to the second floor and placed in a class with four men and one other woman.  My first thought was “I have been demoted to lower than the beginners class, ” but as it turned out there were so many beginners we were separated into two classes.  I could hardly call my classmates beginners. Two of the men knew a great deal of Italian, but wanted to be more comfortable speaking it at random, in different settings, off the cuff.  A great deal more complicated then practicing from a book. We would get plenty of practice doing that.  We had two teachers a day, each for two hour periods.   Day one we learned the alphabet and how to pronounce it.  Who knew that an A is not an A.  A would be Ahhh.  I would be EEEE. It was a wonder I could say anything in Italian. R was erra.  S was esse. We would have worksheets to do, all the while the teacher speaking and teaching in Italian.  If you did not understand something the teacher would look at you and say, do you understand?  The reply and phrase I knew very well the entire time of my studies was Non lo so.  I don’t know.  She then would try to show by writing pictures on the chalkboard or explain it over and over until you got it.  The teachers had the patience of saints and a very good sense of humor. One morning after studying the mercato and all the fruits and vegetables we could buy there, the afternoon teacher came in and in groups of two, the students went to the front of the class to do a skit.  One student was the buyer and one student was the vendor and we bought and sold practicing our hellos and how much do I owe you and everything in between.  It was fun, practical and nerve-wracking all at the same time. This was our routine everyday. With compiti almost every night.  Homework, not a lot.  Just enough to remind you to think about what you learned or would be learning the next day. So the classes consisted of work from a workbook, working with a great deal of extra printed material and speaking either in small groups or in front of the class. And of course answering the questions the teacher asked you, in Italian.  It was challenging, fun, practical and I met several new friends from all over the world and in different levels of education. Many business and governments send their employees to Il Sasso to learn or perfect their Italian skills. The second week all but two students had finished their course and Andy and I moved up to Elementary 1 Level and joined other students.  New teachers, new students and new material to learn.  We learned a great deal, there was no loitering and we moved along at a fast pace.  After the morning classes,  there were options of private tutoring or field trips.   Cooking classes, tours of the historic towns, and walks in the countryside were just some of the many choices to make your stay memorable.  In the evenings the students would meet up at the local restaurants, trattorias, osterias, enotecas and bars, so we became good friends and learned from each other. The third week I had my third set of teachers.  I liked having the rotation. The teachers were fantastic, humorous and very caring.  They wanted you to succeed and have a good time.  It was an experience I will remember for the rest of my life and keep me studying Italian. To all my Italian classmates and teachers, ciao, ciao!!!

On the next to last evening the class went to Acquacheta to dine.  A small osteria, family owned that specializes in steak served family style. Steak cut to serve.

 

 

The Owner at Acquacheta Preparing the Meat

The Owner at Acquacheta Preparing the Meat

The Owner Showing the Steak for Approval

The Owner Showing the Steak for Approval

The Steak Closeup

The Steak Closeup

If you would like more information about Il Sasso, Scuola di Italiano contact:

http://www.ilsasso.com

Via di Gracciano nel Corso 2

1-53045 Montepulciano, Italy

Facebook:  Il Sasso- Italian Language School

If you would like more information about Osteria “Acquacheta”

http://www.acquacheta.eu

Via del Teatro, 22, Montepulciano, Italy

Montepulciano, the First Day

The Pottery shop

The Pottery Shop

The Handmade Leather Shoe Shop

The Handmade Leather Shoe Shop

My Walk to School

My Walk to School

Cats Are Everywhere!

Cats Are Everywhere!

Walk to School

On Walk to School

On My Walk to School

On My Walk to School

The Town Bus only Stops at the Bottom and the Top

The Town Bus only Stops at the Bottom and the Top

My Favorite House on Hill# 2 #64

My Favorite House on Hill# 2 #64

Not My Walk To School!!!!

Not My Walk To School!!!!

Montepulciano is a hill town in Tuscany in three layers.  There are three hills to walk up.  The first hill is for the tourists, the second hill and plateau is filled with fine craftsmen making pottery, jewelry, mosaics, leather products and woodcarving items all by hand as their ancestors have done for hundreds of years. Dotted between these shops are the clothing shops, great restaurants, wine shops and small grocery stores.  The buildings are huge and people live above the shops. At the end of the second hill is Santa Maria dei Servi Church, one of thirteen Catholic churches in Montepulciano. This is where Politian Palazzo is, on the former grounds of the monastery/church. The crown hill is for the Cathedral, the Fort Museum, the Town Hall, the Duomo Hotel and the Torture Museum. Il Sasso, the Italian Language school, is located between the first and second hill.  I am so glad I don’t have to walk all the way to the bottom of the hill everyday! My first introduction to the school was an evening wine social on the Sunday before school started.  There were forty to fifty students who gathered to have a drink and hors d’oeuvres.  Our hostess was an energetic woman who spoke fast and furious Italian.  Well it sounded like that to me.  The students drifted out to the terrace and I got up the nerve to ask a fellow student if she spoke English.  I think I was in such shock with everyone speaking Italian I must have looked like a deer in the headlights.  What had I gotten myself into? I loved it.  I came home so excited to start school the next day!

The Front Door of Il Sasso, Italian Language School

The Front Door of Il Sasso, Italian Language School

My Favorite House on Hill #3

My Favorite House on Hill #3

Even Cats Go to Mass Here

Even Cats Go to Mass Here

Appetizers

Appetizers

Pear Salad

Pear Salad

Torte

Torte

Dessert

Chocolate Dessert

Montepulciano

The Entrance to the Politian Palazzo

The Entrance to the Politian Palazzo

My apartment right above the Torture Museum Sign!

My Apartment from the Outside

The View from my Apartment

The View from my Apartment

The Casa Right Below my Window, Part of the Fortress Wall

The Casa Right Below my Window, Part of the Fortress Wall

Arrived!!!  Montepulciano is just as I remembered it, only now I am staying at the highest and oldest part of town between the XII century Fortress and the monastery of Santa Maria dei Servi, in the Politian Apartment.  The houses in this part of Via del Poliziano were built in the first half of 1800 on previous settlements belonging to the monastery.  This particular property was bought in 1889 by William Stuart, a British Royal Army Captain and his wife Anna Camp, who left Edinburgh in 1850 and came to live in Tuscany.  They renovated several small houses on the monastery property into a palazzo for the family and servants, including a beautiful garden. The great grandchildren of William Stuart still live in the palazzo and have divided the main building into four large apartments, preserving the original features of the building and adding modern comforts with up to date plumbing and electrical work.  The result is an extraordinary villa that makes you feel like you are living in a palace with a big shower and a fantastic kitchen, difficult things to find in the countryside of Italy.

My Bedroom Ceiling

My Bedroom Ceiling

My Bedroom Fireplace

My Bedroom Fireplace

The Sala and Kitchen

The Sala and Kitchen

The Sala Opennig to the Guardino

The Sala Opening to the Guardino

Looking Out the Sala

Looking Out the Sala

La campagna di Montepulciano

La Campagna di Montepulciano

My Giardino

My Giardino

The Guardino Outside My Door

The Guardino Outside My Door

For the decor Giacomo and Maria (sister/brother hosts) have restored the furniture, paintings, cabinets and armoires taken out of storage.  I asked Giacomo about the furnishings and paintings one day and he told me all the furnishings presently in the house were deemed “too good, we must save them,” by his mother and had been in storage for many many years.  When she passed, Giacomo decided the furnishings had stayed in storage long enough and they would be used. They even found his Great Great Grandmother’s trousseaux, tapestries, bedsteads and hand embroidered linens that had never been used. The tapestries and bedspreads were produced on a hand loom in Prato and some in the convents of Siena and Pienza.  All are made of silk, linen, cotton or hemp.  The embroideries were sown by “woman of the family,” mothers, aunts and grandmothers for the bride.  Every Saturday when Maria and Jane (Jane is Romanian and that is what she is called in English, I can’t begin to pronounce it in Romanian) clean and I do mean clean, Maria asks me to pick my sheets for the week from a selection of great great grandmother’s antique linens that are pure white, pressed and starched.  Unbelievable!!!!

Santa Lucia, Her Eyes are in the Cloth

Santa Lucia, Her Eyes are in the Cloth

The Master Bedroom

The Master Bedroom

The Valley Below Montepulciano

The Valley Below Montepulciano

Nearly all the paintings depict rural landscapes of Tuscany or seasides of Scotland. Except, my favorite painting in the large, large bedroom, that of Santa Lucia, painted in the late sixteenth century by Sienese artist, Domenico Beccafumi.  The ceramic vases in the villa came from local workshops (that continue to make fine pottery) and the garden restoration included re-using all the old bricks and tiles made in the late 1800’ s.  All the tiles on the floor in my apartment are original.  They are a rusty red in color, some are squared and some are brick shaped. Giacomo said the garden bricks are the same bricks as the house floor bricks, just with a glaze and fine polishing added for house-use bricks. The ceilings are fourteen feet tall and the windows are five feet tall, narrowed and shuttered.  To open the window there is a long rod/bolt affair from the top of the window to the bottom of the window. There are no screens and no bugs.  The window casings are marble. There are working fireplaces in every room!  I am sending a picture of the ceiling in my bedroom and will continue more tomorrow. Ciao!

If you are interested in the Politian Apartments, your home away from home contact:

http://www.politian.com

Via del Poliziano 34

Montepulciano Siena, Tuscany

Tel. +39 0578 716624

Rome

Our Room at Santa Brigida

Our Room at Santa Brigida

Day one. Off to Rome. My daughter surprised me with an early Mother’s Day present and updated my ticket to first class!  I WAS IN HEAVEN!!!!!!! Everything is so much nicer in first class.  I could select meals from a menu with several choices and eat delicious food with real forks and spoons.  I ate steak. To sleep I just pushed the button for the seat to maneuver into whatever position was comfortable for me.  I slept great! In no time we were landing in Rome.
We took a cab from the airport to St Brigida Convent in the heart of historic Rome.  The cabbie didn’t fail my expectations by stopping or even slowing down at stop signs.  The signs are only suggestions in Italy. Sister Gertrude met us at the huge oak doors and let us into the convent/hotel located in the Farnese Piazza next door to the Palazzo Farnese, which is now the French Embassy.  In the meeting room we were greeted by an older nun who could not have been over four foot eight and spoke only Italian. Sister Gertrude is the only fluent English speaking nun here at the convent.  Most of the nuns are Indian or Italian. Showing us to our room on the third floor we managed to get our luggage and three people in the elevator meant for one. I was so thankful for that elevator though!  Our room was spotless and the size of most Italian hotel rooms. To get there we passed a small television room and chapel. My daughter and I unpacked and quickly headed out to explore Trastevere, an old neighborhood where the locals live just across the Tiber River. The streets are narrow and the crowds are not here so it is great to explore.  We stopped at a small restaurant with outdoor seating called Gabriels and Gabriella’s right next door to the Church of Santa Maria.  With the bells tolling we dined on fresh pasta and homemade foccaccia with rosemary served in a paper bag.  As it was getting hot we went back to the Convent to rest before going out into the piazza at night.

The Main Entrance Santa Brigida

The Main Entrance Santa Brigida

Flowers in Trastevere

Flowers in Trastevere

Trastevere

Trastevere

Santa Brigida

Santa Brigida

Off To Roma

Rome

Rome

Off to Italy!  First stop Rome and Santa Brigida Church and convent where I will be staying while in Rome. Santa Brigida Church is dedicated to Saint Brigida of Sweden and the Swedish National Church (Lutheran) in Rome. The order of St Brigida is found in many countries and their convents serve as a rest, retreat and educational facility for  people of different faiths.   Birgitta Birgirsdotter was born in 1303 in Vadstena, Sweden into a well-to-do family and married Ulf Gudmarrson, a knight, at the age of 14.  They had eight children and one of the girls Karin, also became a saint, Saint Catherina of Sweden.  Ulf died following a pilgrimage taken by both Brigida and Ulf to Santiago di Compostela in Spain. Following Ulf’s death Brigida joined the Order of St Francis and started a community of both men and women in Vadstena.  The idea of men and women serving and working together in the church was unheard of.  In 1350 she and her daughter traveled to Rome, a strenuous trip during the plague, to seek permission for an official order of Bridgettine Sisters and stayed in the Palatium Magnum, the grand palace. Here she remained and served the poor until her death nineteen years later while waiting for permission to start the order, which was granted in 1370, after her death. St Brigida is also know for her visions that started as a child. Some believe she was epileptic, though I am skeptical of this idea.  To survive in the 1300’ s, have eight living children and live well into middle age, in addition to having epilepsy would be a miracle itself.  She wrote down her visions in her book of revelations, especially of the Nativity of Jesus which influenced the scene to be painted as art. In another vision, she was given a prayer later known as the Fifteen “O’s” because in the original Latin verse each prayer started with the letter “O”.  This prayer honored the wounds of Christ and were prayed over the course of one year. This prayer was later recited throughout Europe.  She also wrote many letters to the Pope, who lived in Avignon, France, encouraging him to bring the Papacy back to Rome.  He did.  Under Catherina and later her granddaughter, Casa di Santa Brigida in Rome served as a pilgrimage stop in Campo di Fiori (Field of Flowers) for Swedes coming to Rome on pilgrimage and then as a refuge for Swedish Catholics fleeing the Reformation in Sweden. The convent in Rome changed hands among many different orders of nuns over the years, including the Sisters in Santa Maria in Trastevere, then to the Congregation of the Holy Cross, a French congregation that restored the rooms of St Brigida and her daughter St Catherina.  Next the convent was given to the Polish branch of the Carmelite Order until 1930 when it was restored to the Brigidine Order and Mother Mary Hasselblad.  Mother M. Hasselblad was a Swedish girl who immigrated to the United States for work to help support her family in the early 1900’ s.  She converted to Catholicism, became a nun, and was sent to Casa di Santa Brigida and worked relentlessly to restore the Brigidine Order in Rome.  Later she returned to Sweden and opened a convent in Vadstena  with a group of Brigidine sisters who were now thriving in Rome under her leadership.  It was the first Catholic Order to be restored to the Lutheran country in 400 years. Later the order would expand into Mexico and India, where many of the nuns living at Casa di Santa Brigida are from.  The relics of St Brigida and St Catherina are here in the church. The rest of St Brigida is buried in Sweden at the convent of Vadstena.
Italy Sep _ Oct 2009 832
Italy Sep _ Oct 2009 683I have never stayed in a convent before or a hotel operated by nuns. This will be a new experience and the location is fantastic. On our previous trip to Rome we stayed in a newly remodeled villa near the US Embassy that had been converted into lovely big rooms with posh furnishings and marble fixtures. It was a bit further out from the major sites and the Vatican. Our room was situated on the top floor with a great view but also up four flights of stairs.  Believe me when I say at the end of the day and after walking miles, I did not look forward to the stairs. Santa Brigida has an elevator, a treasure in any hotel in Europe. The rooms will be smaller, and with no TV. Since I don’t go on vacation to watch TV this is perfect for me. The description given by guests is, “the casa is spotless, a safe refuge in the heart of Rome and the nuns very friendly and helpful to everyone.”  Located in the Farnese Piazza, near Campo di Fiori, it will be close to restaurants, shopping and the sites.  I want to do two things in Rome, besides dwelling in Casa St Brigida.  One, is to walk and explore the Trastevere neighborhood.  This neighborhood is what most Americans think of when they think of Italy.  The walk includes twisting cobblestone streets, local cafes, gift boutiques, and wine, cheese and coffee shops. I’m sure there will be a gelato stop or two. People watching should be ideal. The second item to do is Rick Steves, Heart of Rome Walk.  This walk starts in Campo di Fiori and ambles through narrow lanes to the most colorful neighborhoods of fountains, piazzas and shopping, ending at the Spanish Steps.  This walk passes by the Pantheon, the Parliament, and the Trevi Fountain but since I have seen these sights before I will be focusing on the walk and the people.  I want to get a glimpse of the lifestyle and stroll among the rich and Roman before I move on to Montepulciano and Il Sasso, the Italian Language school.

Next a post from Italy!

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