Saturday, October 7, 2017

Italy (December 2001 to January 2002)

(Entries mostly by Bob, but some Judy entries in italics)

December 28, 2001 (Friday):           (Los Angeles, Dallas/Fort Worth, New York)

We left our home about 8:30 p.m. Thursday evening for LAX (driving the Honda). We made good time. Security at the airport was very tight. Judy had to take her shoes off. I had a security guard spend about five minutes with me, exploring all of the areas that buzzed with a metal detector. We were glad to pass through security when it was not crowded. We waited over 3 1/2 hours at the gate waiting to board the plane.

Our Dallas/Fort Worth layover was my first time in Texas. We were not able to see much other than flat ground as far as we could see (including from the air). Our layover was over 5 1/2 hours. We had smoothies from a vendor and tried to sleep (but it was not comfortable). I woke myself up snoring (while sitting in a chair in the airport) to face a glaring stare from someone sitting nearby.

Flying into John F. Kennedy Airport in New York, we were not able to see Ground Zero where the twin towers were. Judy thought she could see the Statue of Liberty (although I think she was looking in the wrong direction - based on our flight on the leg back when Manhattan was pointed out to us in the other direction). We had a 1 1/2 hour layover at JFK. Fortunately, we did not have to go through security again, although they randomly selected some passengers for searches before getting on the airplane. We ate at Sbarros and had two kinds of pizza, very similar to the pizza we would eat in Milan.  The plane was 1 1/2 hours late leaving (we were on the plane), waiting for other planes and passengers that were delayed, probably because of tight security. We were on the plane a long time. We were able to get bits and pieces of sleep, but nothing sustained, maybe an hour or hour and a half at most at one stretch.

December 29, 2001 (Saturday):       (Milan)

As we flew into the airport in Milano (Milan), we flew over the snow covered Alps, an incredible beautiful view.

We took the Malpensa Express from the airport to Cadorna station in Milan. It took 40 minutes. At Cadorna station, we switched  to the Metro (subway) to Duomo and walked a couple of blocks (through the plaza in front of the Duomo) to our hotel. It took us a while to figure out the Metro. We initially tried buying a pass from a machine, then waited in line at a magazine stand to purchase a day pass, then had to figure out which direction we wanted to take. It was very intimidating at first, getting the courage to hold people up behind us while we asked in English our question. As we got more experienced later in the trip, we would just start talking in English. Most Italians knew a fair amount and could converse.

The Duomo (Milan Cathedral) is the fourth largest cathedral in the world, behind Rome (St. Peter’s), Seville and Paris. We climbed the stairs to the roof and walked among the buttresses. It was slippery in places with ice. My journal from my trip in 9th grade indicates we climbed to the top then, but I don’t remember it. I do remember the plaza in front and the hundreds of pigeons flocking around people with food. This plaza is my favorite in Italy. The floor inside the Duomo had many colored, patterned pieces of marble. A South American style group (reed flutes) was outside the Duomo playing “Hotel California” by the Eagles and “Sounds of Silence” and another by Simon and Garfunkle. It was fun to hear the songs and be reminded of home.

We bought meat and cheese sandwiches in the plaza by the Duomo. Later, we bought bread sticks sprinkled with whole green olives (a little too dominating), pizza - heavy with green olives, lots of onions and cheese (very good, the best I had in Italy, but Judy didn’t like it as well).  The pizza we had later in Italy was thicker and less spicy.

Cobblestones and stairs, it would be hard to get around in a wheelchair or braces.

The Basilica of Sant Ambrogio was recommended by our hotel manager. It was beautiful on the outside, but closed. It had Romanesque pillars and arches on the outside.

We saw Leonardo da Vinci’s “Last Supper” in the Church of Santa Maria delle Grazie. I was unable to see it the first time I was in Milan with my parents in 1971. It has recently been restored. However, even restored, it is faded, but fun to see one of the best and most famous paintings ever made. Unfortunately, we were unable to get in and see the rest of the church. It looked beautiful from the outside.

Sforza Castle had Michelangelo’s last work of art, the unfinished “Rondanini Pieta.” Prominent scratch marks from the chisel were still on it and it looked to me like the marble where Christ’s face was being chiseled had too much marble removed. I love Michelangelo, but this was not one of my favorites.

The best attraction was the Brera Art Gallery. My favorite paintings were: (a) “Lamentation over the Dead Christ by Andrea Mantegna (1430 to 1506), a great early example of  feet-first foreshortening; (b) “Christ at the Column by Donato Bramante (1444 to 1514); (c) “The Marriage of the Virgin” by Raffaello Sanzio (Raphael - 1483 to 1520); (d) “Supper at Emmaus” by Michelangelo Merisi (Caravaggio - 1571 to 1610); (e) “The Last Supper by Pieter Paul Rubens (1577 to 1640); (f) “View of the Basin of San Marco” and “View of the Grand Canal” by Giovanni Antonio Canal (Canaletto - 1697 to 1768); (g) “The Kiss” by Francesco Hayez (1791 to 1882), one of Rachael’s favorites - we got her a postcard and a fridge magnet of the painting; (h) an abstract painting of a little boy by Pablo Picasso; (i) a portrait by Rembrandt; and (j) several by Van Dyck.

We walked down Via Speronari, a street very close to our hotel recommended by our tour book. We were surprised by the recommendation. There was not a lot to it. We had gelati (with freezer burn), dark and white chocolate, from a store near the Duomo. Both were very good.

Our three star hotel, Hotel Gritti, was o.k., but nothing special. We were on the fourth floor, and walked it several times, rather than wait for the elevator. The bathroom was so small that, sitting on the toilet, you literally had your feet resting on the runner for the shower.

Judy fell asleep around 8:00 or 8:30. Her eyes were fogging and her contact lenses were hurting them. I stayed up until 9:50. I kept falling asleep and dropping what I was reading, but wanted to try and get my body on the new schedule (we are 9 hours ahead of California).

December 30, 2001 (Sunday):          (Milan/Padua/Venice)

Judy was awake about 2:30 a.m. (at least that is when I woke up - she had been awake for an hour or so). She turned on a light and read for awhile (about 20 minutes). I went back to sleep. We both slept until 6:30 or 6:45.

We took the Metro from Duomo to the Central Train Station. After a walk of several blocks, we picked up our rental car at Avis. We maneuvered through Milan, which was tricky because we did not have the hang of the autostrades (green signs and for which a toll must be paid) and superstrades (blue signs which were free, but not as fast) yet, and they were not well marked (we got better with experience). We missed one autostrade which would have saved us some time, but eventually caught a later one, to Padova (Padua).

It took us awhile, driving around several directions, before we were able to find our hotel, an Ibis (after asking at a gas station and communicating to the extent of the right direction), and check-in.

We got back on the autostrade and drove to Venice, parking at the Tronchetto (large multi-story parking structure) right next to the Adriatic Sea. We took the vaporetto (boat #82) to Piazza San Marcos (St. Mark’s Plaza).

We toured the Piazza Ducale (Doge’s Palace), with Tintoretto, Veronese and Titian paintings on the walls and ceilings. The ceilings were incredible, but the human body is not shaped in a way that accommodates significant time looking up. It would have been more enjoyable with a more detailed guide book. The examples of cross bows, swords, guns, cannons and other armaments were incredible. We then went into the dungeons, crossing the River of Sighs (a covered walkway over a canal below). There were lots of dungeons, I was ready to leave them.

Piazza San Marcos had been flooded in the morning, but was dry when we went through. Raised walkways, about three feet off the ground, were placed throughout the plaza. We waited in line and eventually made it in to Basilica San Marcos (St. Mark’s Cathedral). It was the most gaudy, or different, church we visited. Mosaics, all with gold backgrounds, covered the ceilings. It was overwhelming. Mosaic tiles covered the floors, with incredible patterns, varying, throughout. The crowds, cold and humidity detracted from the experience. I would like to go there some time when it is empty and enjoy it. The body of St. Mark is supposedly buried there, but we did not make an attempt to see the spot (it apparently was burned in the 10th century and then miraculously reappeared after the cathedral was rebuilt - yeah, right!).

We took the vaporetto to the Accademia museum (it was starting to get dark). I was tired and cold, and forgot to get our guide out of our checked bag, which detracted from the experience. There were many paintings by Veronese, Tintoretto and some by Titian (which I didn’t realize while we were there because his Italian name is Tiziano - I would have paid closer attention to those paintings had I realized). In particular, there was one by Titian of John the Baptist which both Judy and I liked. I did not like the Venetian paintings as much as I thought I would, I’m sure much of it because I was tired.

We were trying to get back to the Tronchetto to get back to the hotel in Padova. Not realizing that there were different numbered vaporettos, we got on one that took us to Lido Island, completely out of our way. We had to catch one back to Piazza San Marcos, and then waited almost an hour for the #82 to pick us up to get us back to the Tronchetto. It was so cold, the crowds were so great, and we were so tired, that it was kind of a miserable experience and severely detracted from our visit. We need to go back to Venezia some day, when it is warmer, less crowded and when we can spend lots of money to avoid some of the crowds (like taking a gondola ride to the hotel, etc.).

Trying to get out of the Tronchetto, my ticket would not open the gate. Fortunately, no one was behind us. I backed up, parked and walked up to a man at the window. I asked if they took a credit card. He pointed to a sign on the window. I saw a Visa and pulled it out. He said, in his Italian way, to look at the window, in a very rude manner. I said, “it says it takes Visa.” I then figured out they took Visa only if the amount was greater than L50,000 and paid with lira. He was so rude that it detracted from the evening as well.

On our way back, we missed the autostrade, and got stuck on a superstrade, which was windy, tight and worse, we did not know how to get to our hotel from the superstrade. After traveling about 25 miles that way, I saw a sign for the autostrade and then drove another 5 or 10 miles, much of it in the wrong direction, trying to find it. We eventually did, and did not get back to the Ibis Hotel until 10:20 p.m.

The problems with the boat, car park and freeway, in addition to the crowds, cold and jet lag, dampened Venice for me.

December 31, 2001 (Monday):                                (Padua/Florence)

We did not get up until 8:00, went down to breakfast until 9:00, then out the door about 10:00. The breakfast was not anywhere near the quality it was in France at the Ibis Hotels we stayed at. We were to learn that it is the Italian food in general. It does not hold a candle to French cooking.

We stopped at a large supermarket in Padova, which was extremely crowded (preparing for New Year’s festivities). The parking lot was jammed with cars and inside, hundreds of people were cramming into each other.         Judy bought bottled water (with gas, as waiters would say), bread, a small roll of salami with a white outside covering, some salami that looked like prosciutto (uncooked, kind of a different color dark red), salmon spread, a knife, and some chocolate wafers for the kids. The Italian specialty appears to be salami and ham. There are many different varieties taking up lots of shelf space, some are very bulbous and large, and do not appear to be cooked. My understanding is that prosciutto, which Italy is known for, is uncooked meat, dried or cured in some way. There was a significant cheese area, but not the quantity and not the nice looking variety that France has (lots of Parmigian). It does not compare (at least favorably) to the French supermarket we went to in Caen (with hundreds of types of cheese).

The drive between Padova and Bologna (Bologne) was boring, flat land, and not much in the way of structures. The sky was gray and it was cold. Following Bologna, however, the scenery got interesting. The hills began and we began climbing into the hills of Toscano (Tuscany). As we increased elevation, it began to snow. Toward the summit, before we descended into Firenza (Florence), the snow covered everything (including the tree limbs). We passed through long tunnels through massive mountainsides, the spindly, leafless trees, covered with snow. The mountains are quite massive. It is much greener than it was further north and the temperature in Florence was more mild (although still very cold).

The drive through Florence was tricky, but we did not have much problem. We drove along the Arno River looking for the Ponte Vecchio Bridge which was close to our hotel. We drove across the base of the Ponte Vecchio Bridge, through massive crowds of people, past the Uffizi Gallery. Our hotel, Hotel Ritz, was about three blocks from the Ponte Vecchio, right across the street from the Arno. As we sit in our hotel room, we have an unobstructed view of the Arno as we listen to large firecrackers, some very close to our hotel.

We walked over the Ponte Vecchio to the Pitti Palace, but it was closed (Monday). We walked back across the Ponte Vecchio and up the streets to the Duomo. It is breathtaking (one of several moments on the trip when the initial view is so astounding that it overwhelms the senses). Because the buildings are so tall and the streets so narrow, you have no idea you are near the Duomo until you turn a corner, and boom, it is there, filling your whole view. It is almost impossible to take it all in (in fact, you can’t really get a camera angle to get it all in). It and the campanile, are strikingly tall, and look a little like candy canes, white marble, interspersed with green and pink marble, and twisty pillars in window columns that add to the candy cane feel - then the beautiful red dome. The outside is the most beautiful church I have ever seen. The inside is relatively plain, but the floors are beautiful, marble patterns, although not as ornate or beautiful as the mosaic floors in St. Mark’s Cathedral in Venice, or as we would see later, the Duomo in Siena.

There are a TON of rich, luscious fur coats. No SPCA here. Most are worn by women over 50. Penitence coats from their husbands who have strayed?

We waited in line for over an hour, believing it was the line to get into the Duomo. As we got to the front, we realized it was a line to climb to the top of the cupola. I wanted to leave and go inside, but Judy was adamant we had waited that long and by golly, we were going to do whatever we had waited for. I’m thankful she insisted. We climbed about 486 stairs. We walked through narrow passageways and up steep stairs, with room for only one person at a time. We saw the upper inside of the dome, with painted images of devils and demons attacking people (including pointed ears, at least one pitchfork and several with long penis’s like snakes). Higher inside the dome were the people in heaven. We climbed to the very top and got a breathtaking view of Florence - its red tiled roofs everywhere, churches dotted among them and across the Arno, beautiful houses up on a hill.

We viewed the replicas of Ghiberti’s doors on the Baptistery, then went inside and viewed the beautiful mosaic ceiling, much of it gold, very similar to the ceilings in St. Mark’s in Venice. Also some beautiful mosaic floors, but nothing compared to St. Mark’s.

Then to the Museum of the Duomo where most of the original statues in the Duomo are now located, including a Michelangelo Pieta, unfinished (this was in the Duomo when I was in Florence 30 years ago). Nicodemus, a look alike of Michelangelo, holds the dead Christ in his arms. A small, unfinished Mary on his right. It was intended by Michelangelo for his own tomb (it was not commissioned). He got dissatisfied with it and partially destroyed it with a hammer). There were several Donatello statues, including a wooden Mary Magdelene with long matted hair. Also the original bronze reliefs of Ghiberti from the Baptistery doors.

We had geloto twice, both near the Ponte Vecchio. We had several kinds of chocolate and chocolate chip. We had several panini sandwiches - the best with lettuce, tomato, cheese and ham, the worst, with salami and cheese. For dinner, Judy had pasta in a green pesto sauce and I had a seafood salad with a tangy limy dressing, including octopus, mussels, fake crab and squid.

We opened our second floor hotel window to usher in the new year, with fireworks shooting from the top of the hill on the other side of the Arno and locals shooting off large firecrackers (min-bombs) in the street in front of the hotel.

January 1, 2002 (Tuesday):                         (Florence/Pisa)

I woke up about 5:00 a.m. and lay in bed until 7:30. A firecracker went off outside our hotel around 7:30.

Around 10:00 we walked a short distance from our hotel to the Church of Santa Croce (where Michelangelo’s tomb is). The front façade looks very much like the Duomo, white marble with green and pink marble. However, the pieces of green and pink are bigger and more distant from each other. Unfortunately, it is closed except for 3:00 to 5:30 p.m. The rest of Florence looks similarly closed.

We walked to the Church of San Lorenzo. It has a large red dome similar to the Duomo and a small bell. The façade, like Santa Croce’s, is similar to the Duomo with white and green marble. It is located just a block or so from the Duomo. It was open, but closed off except for a small standing area at the entrance.

We walked further to the church of Santa Maria Novella, just across from the train station. It has a distinctive slim, tall and pointed bell tower. Around the front it also had a façade like the Duomo, with white and green marble (but no pink). A mass was going on inside and, it too, was closed off from view except for the entrance.

We crossed to the train station and braved a long line to get round trip tickets to Pisa (nothing is open in Florence, we might as well see Pisa and the leaning tower). We got two round trip tickets (second class) for L36,400, a very reasonable price (about $18.00).

We got our change in Euros - a 5 Euro bill, a 1 Euro coin and a 5 cent coin. Today is the first day of the Euro in Europe (the Euros were put into ATM machines to be dispensed after midnight and they could not legally be exchanged until after midnight). The historic currencies, such as the mark, frank, lire, drachma (in Greece) are going defunct. The lire are still legal tender until sometime toward the end of February. The t.v. in our room last night had CNN Europe and it focused mostly on the Euro story. They believe it will decrease the barriers between the countries and increase commonality, including the ability to better price items between countries. Britain, Sweden and Denmark are the three holdouts. I personally think the move makes immense sense and will result in extreme economic benefit to the countries involved.

At the Pisa stazione (train station) we caught a taxi to the Duomo. The first sight is very impressive. An old wall (Roman?) that surrounds the city is just before it. Only a little of the red dome of the Baptistery shows from above the wall and a little of the Duomo shows through the opening. The first sight inside the wall is the most impressive, the Baptistery first and off to the left, the Duomo next and center and then the leaning bell tower (the “leaning tower of Pisa”) at the far end and more to the right.

The grounds were full of touristi, but nothing was open. I was a little relieved as the tower just opened about 1 1/2 weeks ago after being closed for restoration for 10 years and I understand the cost is steep ($17 to $25 - something in that range) to climb it.

The lean of the tower is amazing. It is remarkable that it still stands. The Baptistery (the largest in Italy) also has a marked “lean” to it. From what we could see on a postcard, the inside of the Duomo is beautiful, striped Romanesque columns, my favorite.

We decided to head back to Firenze to catch some of the sites opening in the afternoon. A rude, pushy Italian couple (we have run into another) barged in front of us to catch the taxi as it let out some people. We waited, concerned after awhile, for another taxi to arrive. We got it without any trouble as it let out its human payload. The driver, who could not speak English, asked if we were paying with Lira or Euro (the meter apparently operates on one or the other). I had a L50,000 note and concernedly said “lire.” Fortunately the driver had change (although we got soaked for L15,500 on the way back while the ride there was L11,600).

We looked at the schedule board in the station and were adventurous enough to get on the platform #5 for Firenze. It was scary to find three other people asking us if it was headed for Firenze (scary for them relying on us!). I think back to Venezia when we caught the wrong boat which went to Lido and ended up taking over two hours to get back to the car park.

On our train back to Firenze we stopped several stops later and were asked to get out and take the train on platform two for Firenze.

We stopped for lunch on  a side street not too far from the stazione in Florence. Judy had spaghetti, I had spinach and gorgonzola on some kind of pasta which was like large rice (it wasn’t great). We also had salame and olives (black).

We went back to Santa Croce. Inside the front right hand door, to the right, is Michelangelo’s tomb. Several carvings are on it, the one in the middle I really liked (but not by Michelangelo). Right next to it was a memorial to Dante (his body is not there) and on the other side is a tomb/memorial? to Enrique Fermi, who won a nobel prize. Toward the front are separate nooks with beautiful paintings all to the ceiling.

We went back up to Via Por Santa Maria (the main street off of Ponte Vecchio) and had dinner (seafood salad and chicken and sausage pieces). We concluded by having geloto nearby (raspberry and pistachio).

Somebody should open a hot chocolate stand on the main thouroughfare of the Florence tourist district. The geloto shops do well in 35 degree temperature. Something hot (like the Germans and their gluhwein stalls) would do a booming business.

Italians don’t seem to have the true capitalist greed. Streets were packed with restless tourists today, but virtually all shops were closed. Even the churches were all closed, except for a few who opened for a few hours in the afternoon. I can understand the government controlled museums closing, but not the shopping. that would never happen in the States. It also surprises me that the churches, who charge you to climb stairs, see relics, etc., wouldn’t also capitalize on the holiday crowds.

I like tacky tourist shops. Their very tackiness makes them fun.

Italians do not do sweets as well as the Germans or French (with the exception of their gelato, which we’ve eaten three times in two days). Their pastry is dry and chocolate almost non-existent.

January 2, 2002 (Wednesday):                    (Florence)

Fortunately we had reservations at the Uffizi. When we got there 20 minutes early (for an 8:30 opening), there was already a very long line (by contrast, we walked right into the Bargello and Accademia). Uffizi Gallery - The greatest collection of Renaissance art in the world and best attraction of the day and of the trip so far (incredible colors and body definition). Highlights were: Michelangelo’s only canvas painting - “The Holy Family with young Saint John”; Leonardo da Vinci’s “The Annunciation” (his “Adoration of the Magi” was not on display); several Raphaels, including one of “Pope Leo X with His Cardinals” (Giovanni Medici, the second son of Lorenzo the Magnificent, who became Pope Leo X, in company with his nephews, the cardinals Luigi de’ Rossi and Giulio de’ Medici) which was my favorite; Rembrandt’s “self-portrait as a Young Man”; several Caravaggios, including “Sacrifice of Isaac”; Sandro Botticelli’s “The Birth of Venus” (or as I have heard it called, “Venus on the Half-Shell”); Fillippo Lippi’s “Madonna with Child and Two Angels”; Titian’s “The Venus of Urbino”; etc. As far as I’m concerned, it is the best art gallery I’ve ever seen. We got out shortly after 10:00 a.m.

Bargello Museum - Donatello’s feminine “David” and another un-feminine “David” by Donatello, a “David” by Michelangelo and a “David” by Verrochio (who was the teacher of Leonardo da Vinci). Verrochio’s “David” was my favorite, but it was a thrill to see Donatello’s “David” which I have seen pictures of many times. Michelangelo’s “Bacchus” was there as was a wall relief of “Virgin and Child” by Michelangelo; Giambolognna’s “Mercury”, also was famous and fun.

We arrived for a 12:00 appointment at the Accademia, but getting in was no problem. There were beautiful paintings, but nothing to rival the Uffizi. The whole reason for the museum is Michelangelo’s “David,” the greatest sculpture in the world, and leading up to it, a hall of unfinished Michelangelo sculptures. Two slaves, breaking out of the marble (we saw their companion pieces in the Louvre last year), Matthew, a Pieta (although a sign indicates some doubt as to whether Michelangelo was the sculptor because the legs are out of proportion with the chest), and two prisoners.

The find of the day was the Medici Chapel, on the back end of San Lorenzo Church. The most beautiful room (incredible is probably a better word), with different colors of  marble inlaid in the floor and walls, and paintings covering the ceiling. It wreaks of wealth. Even more impressive, the tombs of Il Magnifico, Lorenzo de Medici and several others, are adorned by 9 Michelangelo sculptures. A “Madonna and Child” shows a squirming, active Jesus as a baby in         Mary’s lap. My favorite was “Saint Cosmas”, the detail in his robes and face was incredible and the marble in places shone brightly, they were so beautifully polished and smooth. The chapel was short, but a breathtaking experience. It was my second favorite, after the Uffizi.

The Museum of San Marco, upstairs, has cells (or living quarters) for each monk (or whatever they were). Fra Angelico painted a fresco in each cell (there must have been about 30). Most interesting of all was the cell of Savonarola, the monk who overthrew the Medicis and instituted book burnings and the burnings of paintings (he eventually was burned to death in the square outside of Palazzo Vecchio, the Palazza Signoria). His cloak and other personal items, and paintings of him, were on display.

The Church of San Lorenzo. Some art and work of consequence, but insignificant in comparison to other works of art we saw today.

Palazzo Vecchio. Beautiful large halls, lavishly painted ceilings and walls and sculpture. The best of the lot was a sculpture by Michelangelo, “Genius of Victory.” A walk to an area near the top of the building gave a beautiful view of Florence. This was the home of the Medici.

Pitti Palace. We were dragging by the time we arrived here. We zipped through pretty quickly. We hit a surprisingly large number of paintings by great artists, including Titian (probably 9 or 10), Raphael (probably 6 or 8), Reubens (7 or 8), several Caravaggios, several Botticellis, Veronese, etc. It appears this was the home of the Medici after leaving Palazzo Vecchio.

We came home truly exhausted and on visual overload.

We did the “Grand Tour” of Renaissance art: the Uffizi Gallery, the Bargello Museum, the Accademia, the Museo San Marco, the Medici Chapel, the Palazzo Vecchio, and the Pitti Palace. We only saw one da Vinci (Uffizi), but I lost track of the Michelangelo sculptures, Donatellos, Botticellis, Raphaels, Titians, Ghirlandios, Tintorettos, Rubens, Caravaggios, Veroneses, Rembrandts, Giottos, etc. It was a feast. By the Pitti Palace, we would casually say, “Oh - there’s a Titian,” or “Did you see the Raphael?” and move slowly on. It was incredible. We began to see common topics. Virtually every major artist painted the same thing: the Annunciation (always including Easter lilies), the Holy Family (often including John the Baptist and maybe Elizabeth), Mary being crowned in heaven, the Last Supper, various scenes of the crucifixion, and a Resurrection (often still morbid). What is noticeably missing from Renaissance Art is the bulk of Christ’s life. There were few if any paintings of the Parables, Christ’s healing of the sick, the calming of the waves, the Sermon on the Mount, etc. There were a few paintings of the raising of Lazerus - probably the morbid theme was attractive. However, the focus was definitely on Christ’s birth and death and not on his life. Interesting.

Some of my favorite art: Michelangelo’s Pieta with Nicodemus (Michelangelo’s self-portrait) holding up the body of Christ, Michelangelo’s painting of the Holy Family, the Medici tombs with Michelangelo’s sculptures, and the Davids - Michelangelo’s, Donatello’s and Verrochio’s.

I’ve been amazed at the number of people out walking the streets and seeing the sights. Most seem to be Italians. There is more shopping here in Florence than I have ever seen anywhere in my life - street after street of shops and tent stalls set up in every piazza. Incredible.

January 3, 2002 (Thursday):           (Florence/San Gimignano/Siena)

We drove across the Arno River and up a hill to Piazzale Michelangelo, a square overlooking Florence. The Ritz Hotel was quite visible, just to the left of a large turret.

A short distance further, and up a hill, was San Miniato Church, with a white façade similar to other churches in Florence. The creator of Pinocchio is buried in the graveyard there. The inside of the church was quite beautiful, particularly a little side chapel with blue background and yellow cubes painted on the ceiling.

We drove to San Gimignano, visible from a great distance with its 14 towers towering above the city. It is a walled town that is free of traffic (except for the odd delivery truck, etc.).

We went to the Collegiata (or Duomo), filled with Renaissance frescoes. It had rounded Romanesque columns with black and white stripes, reminiscent of Siena. A beautiful church.

We got off the main road, but ultimately found our way to Siena. Our hotel, Cannon d’Oro is located in a traffic-free area. We checked in and then headed out to see the town. We visited the A-1 site, the Duomo. It is striped in black and white marble. The inside is much more dramatic, the arches and pillars are looking like black and white striped candy canes. The floors are covered in detailed marble pictures, but unfortunately, we only know that from guide books because the vast majority of it was covered with card board to preserve it from foot traffic.

My favorite part of the Duomo was a small chapel by Bernini with statues of St. Jerome (Rick Steve’s says he is playing the crucifix like a violinist lost in beautiful music - and he’s exactly right) and Mary Magdalene. The St. Jerome is one of my favorite so far, along with the St. Cosmos in the Medici Chapel, but I think the St. Jerome is better.

There are also two Michelangelo sculptures, but we were not able to find them until we found a picture guidebook (they are not marked). They are sculptures of Paul and Peter on the Piccolomini Altar and were only a couple of feet tall.

We visited the Baptistery, which is downhill from the Duomo (the Duomo rests on it). It was small, but beautifully frescoed. The altar had several small (foot tall) bronzes by Donatello and several bronze friezes each by Donatello and Ghiberti (Ghiberti’s are better - you can tell he got good by doing the bronze doors on the Baptistery in Florence).

We walked to Il Campo, the three star rated central plaza, but it was empty (probably because it was so cold and windy that no one in their right mind would sit around it). The brick surface is supposed to be divided into nine sections, but we did not notice the sections. There is a large city tower (Torre de Margia) which looks much like the Piazza Vecchio in Florence, but we were just not in the mood to visit it or the Duomo Museum because we were burned out from our museum marathon yesterday - and it could not compare to Florence anyway.

It is very difficult to see where you are in Siena, despite being on a hill, because the buildings are so tall and the streets so narrow that you are just like rats in a maze trying to find things. The combination of extreme cold and wind and museum overload made Siena a real disappointment for me. I’ll be glad to leave. I recall Eddie Ngo mentioning he did not like Siena and I have to agree with him. I know I would like the cathedral, and I do, but the enthusiasm is muted. If the inside of the cathedral had been well lit (it was extremely dark), and the cardboard not been all over the floor, that would have helped as well.

The only real high point of Siena was a pottery shop across from the Baptistery where we purchased a large pot (intended for the mantel of our new fire place on our intended addition). It is mostly blue with geometric shapes and patterns. The pottery in this shop was much nicer than that we saw in San Gimignano.

We bought a beautiful pot with a geometric design particular to Siena. All the pottery we have seen reflects a love of dramatic color.

It has been so cold. My chin and fingers are breaking out in rash. Even the museums are very, very cold. I leave on my gloves and keep my coat zipped up. I wonder how anyone worships in the freezing churches.

January 4, 2002 (Friday):                            (Siena/Assisi/Orvieto)

I am getting converted to thinner towels - as long as they are very large. Even better if they are warmed on a towel warmer. Every hotel we’ve stayed in, even this cheaper one in Siena, has had a bidet. On the other hand, I paid 1,000 lire to use a whole in the ground in San Gimignano yesterday.

We left Siena and drove through the countryside toward Assisi. I was very impressed by the area around Perugia, it was hilly with tree covered hills and a beautiful valley. It also looked like a very large city. Judy indicates Italy is the size of Arizona and has 60,000,000 people.

Assisi is visible from quite a distance, up on a hill. Unlike the map which appears to show it way out in the countryside, it is basically an extension of Perugia.

We drove to the top of Assisi and walked down. It was very cold, about 32 degrees. First we visited the Church of San Rufino, the patron saint of Assisi born in the 3rd century (the Church was built in the 12th century). St. Francis and Clare were baptized there.

Further down hill we visited the Basilica of St. Clare (Santa Chiara), the founder of the Poor Clares. It is a simple Gothic church built in 1265. The chapel of St. George has a crucifix that spoke to St. Francis leading to his conversion in 1206. The convent of the Clares is attached and their olive trees orchards extend down the hill.

The old Roman Temple of Minerva, now a Christian church, is still lower. It has large white pillars and a rather gaudy baroque interior, but is quite small.

Then down a little walkway through olive trees and beautiful views of the valley below we made a quick visit to the Church of San Stefano.          

Finally we arrived at Basilica San Francesco (or Basilica of St. Francis). First we went into the lower level and visited the tomb of St. Francis (he has four friends buried near him). Then the lower basilica. Frescoes by Cimabue, Giotto, Simone Martine and Pietro Lorenzetti are on the walls. The one by Cimabue is the earliest of St. Francis. In the upper basilica there are 28 scenes from the life of St. Francis. One is where he gives his clothes to his father, another is where he is visited by Christ.

We found our best shopping in Assisi. We bought a modern art lithograph of Florence framed in a dark wood frame, two pottery bowls - one for Rachael in red and one for us - labeled “Assisi” on the bottom, two olive wood items - a bowl and a pencil holder and a marano glass watch for Judy.

Then off to Orvieto where we are staying next to the Duomo. It is up on a large cliff and is surrounding the Duomo. The Duomo has a beautiful white façade, like the ones in Florence and Siena, and the balance of the outside (not the façade) is black and white striped, like Siena. One difference is that the façade has several (5 or 6) paintings on the front which sets it apart. The inside is relatively plain and largely open. Near the alter is a marble statue which Judy loved (I didn’t get to see it as we got kicked out because it was closing). We walked some of the streets of Orvieto. The touristy ones, closest to the Duomo, are filled with pottery. It is very bright and gaudy, lots of bright yellows. We were happy we bought our large pot in Siena - we didn’t see anything like it in Orvieto (which is known for its pottery).

We had dinner (our first real Italian dinner) at Trattoria Etrusca. We started with an antipasto - a sampler plate with dry, cut (shaved) mushrooms on dark red (cut very thin) meat (proscuitto?), a light colored meat (looking like a jam roll with alternating layers of fat) - pork or lamb, toast with warm cut tomatoes (bruschetta), a green crusty (small carrot sized) item with large rice (probably pasta) type stuff inside. Then we had the first portion - Judy had tortellini in tomato sauce - I had something like very thick spaghetti. Then the second course - Judy had wonderfully cooked (still pink) veal in a hot sauce) and I had rabbit (in a sauce with lots of green). For a vegetable, Judy had a small salad and I had French fries. For dessert, Judy had a tort (with almond flavoring - nice and soft and tasty). I had small portions of tiramasu and English trifle. All in all, Judy’s was much better than mine.

January 5, 2002 (Saturday):                        (Orvieto/Rome)

Orvieto was very cold as we got out the door about 8:30 a.m. A group of nuns walked by going toward a side door in the Duomo.

We took an autostrade (pay freeway) to Rome. We were trying to determine where our hotel was, using a detailed map of Rome, a less detailed AAA map of Italy and the Ibis Hotel directions. We made it to the road that rings Rome, got off the right exit no. and then, by asking directions, and going partially the wrong way down a one way road, found it. We checked in 15 minutes before the hotel van was to take a group to the metro stop, about 12 to 15 minutes away. We hurried to our room with the bags and got out to the van.

At the metro station, Anagnina, the last stop on Line 1, we bought a one week pass and took the subway straight to the Vatican Museum stop. We had to walk a number of blocks and saw the last group of the day go into the museum at 12:20. We arrived at the gate at 12:23, too late (the guide book led us to believe we had another 25 minutes, but another American visitor said the time had changed, he’d been here just three weeks earlier and gotten in at that time.

We walked around the wall of Vatican City until we arrived at St. Peter’s Square, an immense space filled with humanity. After being checked by Vatican police, we toured St. Peter’s Basilica, the largest church in the world. One spot marked where Charlemagne was coronated in 800 A. D. The Pieta by Michelangelo is near the Jubilee Door (opened  every 25 years) and is behind glass (and has been since it was attacked by a madman in 1972). The main altar, under a 70 foot tall bronze canopy by Bernini, is directly over St. Peter’s tomb. We took a walk downstairs into the crypt and saw St. Peter’s tomb.

Several dead popes are featured in their papal robes in various places in St. Peter’s. None had faces guilded in gold like I remember as a 9th grader on our visit to Rome. St. Peter’s has beautiful marble floors and is maintained immaculately.

We heard an organ arrangement of “My Love” (by the Beatles) in the Vatican Book Shop and “I Heard It Through the Grapevine” on the tour bus in Rome. We’ve seen posters for the latest American movies. Hollywood is everywhere.

Outside St. Peter’s, we asked directions several places and ultimately found the ATAC city bus tour, #110. We took the bus over the Tiber River (Tevere) on Corso Vittorio Emanuele II and then walked several blocks to Piazza Navona. We purchased a piece of pizza and turkey panini and walked several more blocks to the Pantheon.

The Pantheon is beautiful inside, and like St. Peter’s, had chairs and was roped off in many places, apparently for Epiphany which is tomorrow. We found a sign acknowledging the burial site of Raphael.

Right behind the Pantheon is the Church of Santa Maria Sopra Minerva, a Christian church built over the site of a pre-Christian temple of Minerva. Outside is a Bernini statue of an elephant carrying an obelisk. Inside, to the left of the alter, is a Michelangelo sculpture of “Christ Bearing the Cross.” Christ is very strong, not a frail, wimpy body like the limp Christ in the Pieta. This is a beautiful church and is very Baroque.

Behind and several blocks to the left was the Church of Chiesa di St. Ignazio, an even more Baroque church. Judy looked at me and said she’d had about enough of the churches. We have seen so much art, so much gold, so much marble, you get de-sensitized to it.

We walked several more blocks and found the Trevi Fountain. It was immensely crowded. It is a beautiful and large fountain with large statues. We did enjoy our best geloto of the trip in a store a half block from the fountain.

Finally, we walked 7 or 8 blocks to the Spanish Steps, in Piazza di Spagna and walked to the top of them. They were full of young people sitting on the steps and talking. We walked into a church at the top of the steps and saw a Catholic priest conducting a mass in French. We looked at the vendors outside the Church and bought a small water color of the Spanish Steps.

Finally, we caught the metro back to Anagnina and caught the van back to the Ibis Hotel. We ate in the restaurant in the basement. We each had some sort of beefsteak. Judy had some pasta and I had several slices of different types of ham and salami.

Don’t go to Roma when the Italians have their Christmas - New Year’s holiday. It has been unbelievably crowded!

January 6, 2002 (Sunday):                                       (Rome)

We caught the 8:00 van to the Metro station and took the subway to San Pietro in Vincoli (St. Peter-in-Chains Church). This church was built in the 5th century to house the chains of St. Peter (which are in a box under the alter). It also houses Michelangelo’s “Moses,” one of my favorite sculptures. Leah and Rachel, on the left and right of Moses, were also done by Michelangelo.

A short way down a hill we came across the incredible sight of the Colsseum, in a valley. The Colsseum is 2,000 years old and could hold 50,000+ people. There are many wild cats that inhabit the Colosseum and neighboring environs. We saw them being fed in several places, and saw one inside the Colosseum where the floor would have been. There is a great exhibit on a level above the ground floor with pieces of columns and statues in marble. They depicted lions and tigers attacking gladiators and gladiators fighting each other.

The Arch of Constantine is right next to the Colosseum in honor of Emperor Constantine who had a vision in A.D. 312 that he would defeat his enemy under the sign of the cross. He did and he thereafter legalized Christianity.

The Roman Forum (Foro Romano) is next to the Colosseum and is an incredible place. The Arch of Titus, in the middle of the Via Sacra, the main street of ancient Rome, was built to celebrate the A.D. 70 defeat of the Jews. A panel shows a group of Roman soldiers carrying a menorah. The Basilica of Constantine is a gigantic building (at least the part that remains is), just past the Arch of Titus. Along the Via Sacra, we both saw a watercolor of the Tiber River with St. Peters in the background, by one of the street vendors. We were impressed by the color.

We were running out of time and needed to make our way to the Borghese Gallery. We hustled, by subway, up to the Piazza di Spagna (near the Spanish Steps) and took an exit which deposited us in Villa Borghese, a large Roman (Central) Park. We walked over 25 minutes in the park to get to the Borghese Gallery. Once there we had a tour of the fantastic art therein. The most impressive were sculptures by Bernini, perhaps the best, was “Apollo and Daphne.” The intricacy of the leaves, Apollo’s robes and the action evident in the limbs is amazing. Bernini’s “David” is full of action as David winds up to throw the sling. There were 8 or 10 Caravaggios and a number of Titians and Raphaels.

We retraced our steps through the park and took the metro back to the Roman Forum, walking quickly back to the Basilica of Constantine. This walk, which continues through to the Arch of Septimius Severus (built in 200 A.D., celebrating that emperor’s military victories), is incredible. The remains of pillars, partial walls, etc. lay all around.

Just off the Forum, we visited the Mammertine Prison, a 2,500 year old prison that once imprisoned Peter and Paul. It is below the 16th century Church of San Giuseppe dei Falegnami and near the top (but on the backside of) Capitoline Hill.

Michelangelo designed the Piazza del Campidoglio, the steps leading up to it, and the facades of the two Capitoline Museums.

The changeover to the Euro has been interesting to watch. Many Italians are having great difficulty figuring them out. They are used to dealing in thousands. We are having less difficulty with these two new (to us) currencies than many locals. The Euro is much like the dollar, with cents, and is much easier for us than the lire.

We visited Piazza Venezia and the large monument to Italy’s first King over a united Italy. I lost our simple map of Rome and had to use my little experience in downtown with a difficult to follow map in a guidebook to maneuver around. We went through Piazza Navona, packed beyond any semblance of sanity, and ultimately made it to the Barberini Metro stop to get back to the hotel. Outside the Metro, is a Bernini fountain of the Triton. Even in the dark, it is fun and impressive.

We walked an incredible distance today. The walk to and from the Borghese Gallery was probably four miles round trip, and the route from the Forum to Piazza Navona to Barberini was probably another four miles or better. We figure we walked 8 to 10 miles. We were pooped.

January 7, 2002 (Monday):                          (Rome)

We rode the Metro to the Vatican stop (Cipro - Musei Vaticani) and then walked about four blocks to the Vatican Museum. The wait was not too long. First we went through the Pinacoteca, the paintings. We just briefly walked by them, looking at the name of the artist. If we liked the picture or if it was a famous artist, we gave it more of a look. Favorites were Raphael’s last painting, “The Transfiguration” (two early works of his were nearby and the progress in his style was easy to see),  several Carravagio’s, and unfortunately, Leonardo da Vinci’s unfinished “St. Jerome” was on loan and only a copy was on display.

We saw one of my favorite paintings, by Raphael, which shows the philosophers (in the Raphael rooms). Then the Sistine Chapel. We managed to get a seat around the perimeter and, from a diagram, viewed each panel of Michelangelo’s ceiling (some, particularly on the far end, were a little more difficult to see). We had binoculars which helped immensely.

We slipped out a door reserved for tour guides (our guidebook said to use it) and got right next to St. Peters. We went in for another visit. We saw the Pieta and, with all of the chairs removed, we were actually able to get near Bernini’s 70 foot tall alter canopy. Recessed in the ground, the box apparently containing St. Peter’s remains, was visible (we also saw it earlier in the week on our tour of the crypt - from a different standpoint). We watched people file by a bronze statue of St. Peter. They would rub his foot. His right foot was worn down and polished from all of the rubbing (no definition in the foot).

I was tired of all of our walking. With no plans for sites to visit, my body just wanted to lounge. Judy accommodated me and we took a leisurely walk, over the Tiber River, to Piazza Navona. It was full of people tearing down the exhibits from the weekend festivities. We got some geloto at Blue Ice and then stopped at Caffe Bernini, at an outdoor table, for lunch. Judy had fettucini Alfredo and I had a seafood salad (all octopus and squid, in a tangy lime like dressing). We had a great view of one of Bernini’s fountains, a Hercules type fighting an octopus (I wonder if I was eating part of one he killed previously?). There are three fountains in the piazza and Bernini did two of them.

Italians have some food issues. Their “self-serve” (cafeteria style) eateries have cold pizzas and sandwiches on display which they nuke or grill panini - style for you. The only time you get anything freshly made is in a nice restaurant. I suspect Italy invented the panini sandwich, but France has improved it beyond recognition. However, Italy has the best gelato, and we’ve liked it better in Rome than in the famous Florence.

Italy is not set up for handicapped people, and we’ve not seen many.

We walked past the Pantheon again and to the Piazza di Spagna (Spanish Steps). Along the way, we stopped at the Trevi Fountain and got some pictures (Judy threw in a coin).
We caught rush hour metro traffic back to Anagnina (smashed completely for much of the route, standing up).

We had a lighter dinner at the hotel (the full Italian dinners, particularly the huge helpings of pasta, are way too much) and went to bed early (about 9:00 p.m.).

January 8, 2002 (Tuesday):             (Rome/New York/Los Angeles)

We woke at 5:00 a.m. this morning and got our purchased items stored in our luggage. We went to breakfast at 6:35 and left the hotel about 7:10 (our flight was scheduled for 11:50).

We turned the wrong way on a road that was supposed to lead us to the autostrade and drove quite a ways before we were able to turn around. When we got on the autostrade we were in massive rush hour traffic. After awhile, it was at a near standstill, while police cars (carabinieri), their blue dome lights flashing, maneuvered through the stalled traffic (shades of last year in Paris when I almost missed our flight home).

Ultimately, we krept along and got into decent traffic to Fiumcino, near the ocean (well outside of Rome). We were able to drop off our rental car, without incident, and waited several hours at the airport. Our luggage was searched.

I slept most of the way on the plane to New York. In New York, going through customs, we lost our wild boar sausage we purchased in San Gimignano (foot and mouth disease concerns). The customs agents were very friendly about it.

I also slept much of the way on the plane to Los Angeles. We arrived in Los Angeles without incident and I was able to drive home without so much as a Coke to keep my eyes open.


            “Last Supper” by Leonardo da Vinci (just to have seen it)
            Milan Cathedral - walk on roof among spires, best plaza anywhere
            (*) Brera Art Gallery: setting, Mantegna’s Christ, Picasso, Caravaggio, etc.
            (*) St. Mark’s Cathedral - mosaic floor tiles and mosaic gold ceilings (most
                        unusual, if not the best)
            Doge’s Palace - the armaments
            (*) First view and hike to cupola and view of city, most beautiful cathedral
 (on the outside) in the world.
            Duomo Museum: Michelangelo’s Pieta, setting
            (*) Uffizi Gallery: setting, Michelangelo’s “Holy Family” and many others
            Bargello: Donatello’s feminine “David” and Verrochio’s “David”
            Accademia: Michelangelo’s “David”
            (*) Medici Chapel: Michelangelo’s tomb sculptures
            (*) First view of Baptistery, Cathedral and Campanile (leaning tower)
            (*) Cathedral: striped pillars (some of the best Romanesque arches), detailed
 marble floors (different than, but rivaling St. Mark’s in Venice for floors),
 Bernini’s chapel with the sculpture of St. Jerome
            (*) St. Francis’ Cathedral - tomb, frescoes in lower and upper basilicas
            (*) St. Peter’s Cathedral - Michelangelo’s “Pieta”
            Church of Santa Maria sopra Minerva: Michelangelo’s “Christ Carrying the
            (*) St. Peter-in-Chains Church - Michelangelo’s “Moses”
            Roman Forum

            Borghese Gallery: Bernini’s sculptures - particularly “Daphne and Apollo”

1 comment:

  1. This was the trip that turned me on to art museums. How can anyone come away from Italy without a love of art? Re-experiencing the trip through this post, I am amazed that we did what we did WITHOUT GPS. I remember you having each site planned down to the minute. ("It's 3:14. Time to leave for _______.) Of all the places we've gone, Italy might be the one I most want to go back to.