Travel: Italy (Day Six)

We opted to ease into the day and did not start rolling until around 10:30, which I thought was just fine because Heidi was determined to go and visit a garden today. Growing up, I saw plenty of gardens but… I’m getting ahead of myself.

There was a Caravaggio in a museum that Heidi wanted to see but today I was more interested in breakfast, so while they trekked off to the museum I looked for the all American breakfast and I found it at Pizzeria Toto atto II: The Fiortenia (tomato, fiordilatte, Tuscan Salami and Pecorino Toscano.) Deliciousness!

Afterwards I made my way to the gardens, anticipating a certain bored contentment. I was very wrong and I should have known that I would be wrong since Heidi was so keen on going. Had she mentioned or had I done any homework I would’ve known that the gardens began in the 15th centuries and would later become the personal gardens of the Medici family. They were expanded on by following dynasties to eleven acres. Essentially, the gardens are the backyard of the Pallazo Pitti, the home purchased by Cosimo I de’ Medici. We put in at least 8,000 steps and didn’t see half.

There are fountains of Neptune, an amphitheater, countless statues, large green spaces, tree arched walkways, a small manmade island, etc, but is the all the flowers and plants that you have come to see. These are just a few.

Orange trees.

The gardens and ponds were works of art.

By the end I was so tired that I just had to ride my turtle home.

We are back home and it is late afternoon. We’ve been staying out much later but this evening we have to pack. Tomorrow we have a 10:45 a.m. train taking us to that place where all roads lead…

Looks like I’ll be crossing the Tiber after all. 😉

Travel: Italy (Day Five)

Today began early with a cup of coffee on the roof and then a cab ride to the Piazza Santa Maria Novella. The church opened 30 minutes later than we thought, so we opted for a cappuccino and croissant at La Bottega where I suddenly began channeling St. Francis of Assisi.

We then made our way into the Basilica di Santa Maria Novella and museum. Here we saw some beautiful pieces of art including a “crossover” piece from the middle-ages to the Renaissance, which began to bring depth to the images. The one below of the Holy Trinity is the best example and the most studied.

After seeing so much, I took the time to pray the Rosary in a chapel that is not intended for tourist but for praying: the Capella della Pura (Chapel of the Pure). I don’t know how pure I am but I did feel peace. I was the only one there. Imagine having this place to yourself!

We then made our way to the Duomo museum. This is the stage where I am beginning to be overwhelmed by all that I am seeing. I walk up to one piece that is so remarkable that it has no effect on me and then see another and am on the verge of tears. The one thing that floored me had to be pointed out by Scott. It is the beheading of John the Baptist. It really took my breath away and I don’t know why. It was just so…

Here was also an unfinished Pieta by Michelangelo. You can see the rough bits along with those that are more polished. It is Nicodemus who is standing behind Mary and his face is a self portrait of Michelangelo. How wonderful to have it as is but how amazing to have had him finish! Man proposes and God disposes.

And then I discovered the room of relics (there were many more than what are shown below). I’ll let you decide the authenticity of these, but… yeah… I believe. Perhaps they are not but the prayers that have been gathered around these over the centuries are very authentic. You can feel them and enter into them.

After fighting some crowds and trying to return something from shopping the day before, we decided that it was more than time for a break, so we headed up to the roof of a shop (5th floor) and ordered a tasty beverage. Yes! America needs this. A bar in the shopping centers. Scott took this photo while I was apparently deep in thought and contemplating the reliquary of my own finger bone (I’m guessing it will be in a hermetically sealed mayonnaise jar known only by Carnac the Magnificent and kept on the porch of Funk and Wagnall’s until someone pitches it in the burn barrel.)

The remainder of the day was spent in fulfilling Heidi’s ultimate game plan: shopping. And it was great fun. I haven’t found anything that I absolutely must have, but am truly waiting for Roma to make whatever purchase that might be. I may then need my own cargo plane in order to get it all home.

My dogs were barking something fierce by then so I let Heidi and Scott continue to wander along while I stopped at Le volpi e l’uva for a glass of Chianti. I sat at the back and glared at everyone coming in so that they thought better of sitting next to me. It worked for about five minutes (note to self: work on Italian glare).

At the end of the shopping extravaganza, we stopped at to Toscanella Osteria for dinner where I had “The Duck” and the dang duck was delicious. We were fat and happy enough at this point and a mile from home, so we ended the day the way we began, “Taxi!”

Dormi bene. Sognare bei sogni.

Travel: Italy (Day Four)

We woke up to another glorious day in Florence, Italy and were out and about shortly after 8 a.m. We had somewhere to be: Formaggioteca Terroir. Nice name for a wine and cheese shop but also the starting place for our tour of two Chianti vineyards in Tuscany.

We, along with five others (all from the USA), all piled into a nice air-conditioned van and headed south into Tuscany. You leave the city behind fairly quickly and begin to make the climb up to cooler air. You see vineyards spotted throughout, then come into the country where every hillside is bright green with grape leaves.

At this time of the year, the grapes have not yet flowered and the buds are about 1/2 the size of a peppercorn. Later this summer the grapes will be heavy on the vines and ready for harvest. Seeing it all brings special meaning to, “I am the vine, you are the branches.”

The first of the vineyards we visited was Fattoria Cortana e Paterno. It was a lower altitude giving it slightly warmer temperatures than the second vineyard we visited, meaning they would be harvesting a few weeks earlier.

Picture from their website.

We were treated to four different wines from a nice bright white to a dry red. They paired it with some nice cheeses, bread, honey they produced, and a caramelized onion chutney that I had to buy a jar of before leaving. The wine was remarkable!

From here we made our way further up into the hills and came to the restaurant owned and operated by Dario Cecchini. I did not know of him beforehand, but the New York Times describes him as “The most famous butcher in the world.” He is the “butcher-poet”. The warning for those entering his restaurant, “ABANDON HOPE ALL YE WHO ENTER, FOR YOU ARE NOW IN THE HANDS OF A BUTCHER.” Beef, pork, grilled, stewed, boiled… oh, my.

From here we rolled ourselves back into the van and climbed further into the Tuscan hills and arrived at Poggio al Sole. Can I just say, “These places will make you very happy!” The owners/managers/servers seem to truly love not only the wine but the people who come to taste it and celebrate it. Stephanie, the daughter-in-law of the owner, showed us around the grounds and the cellar and Carmen (with the most brilliant Italian accent) told us all about the wine and what made it so special.

Downloaded from their Facebook Page.

On the way back down the mountain, we made two brief stops. The first was to the Abbey of Saint Michele Arcangelo is located in the town of Passignano. The religious community was established here around the year 1000.

The final stop was at the Piazzale Michelangelo which provided a stunning view of the city of Florence.

Walking home, I came across the same street artist that I saw yesterday. I walked away, but said if I see it again, I’ll get it. I saw it again…

Acrylic on canvas.

Blessings to you all and may your wine be as good as mine!

Travel: Italy (Day Three)

After a quick breakfast in we headed out for the Basilica di San Marco. The original Benedictine monastery was established in the 13th century and was later occupied by the Dominicans who then refurbished and expanded the facility with the support of the Medici family. The architecture is phenomenal but the reason you are there is for the frescoes that grace the walls, which were painted by the great Dominican artist, Fra Angelico. Every monk’s cell has a scene from the life of Christ along with many of the walls along the hallways and cloister.

There are also works by several of the other brothers and this one of the Lord’s Supper caught my eye in particular but it wasn’t Jesus I saw first…

A few more from other artist.

I ended my time in this most holy place by praying the Rosary before this crucifix. It was a peaceful spot.

After a quick lunch (some tasty pasta) we worked our way through the crowds to the Cathedral of Santa Maria del Fiore (aka: Duomo).

I’m still not entirely sure how it happened but will standing gawking (I apparently was silently screaming, “Gullible Tourist!) I managed to get swindled out of $25 Euros. I’ll try not be so nice in the future.

The interior of both the baptistery and the main church are quite austere when compared to some of the others we’ve seen, but as I said yesterday, “Look up.”

Below the Duomo is a church dating back to time between the 1st and 4th centuries. Only fragments remain but it provides a glimpse of our very distant past.

We made out way back to the VRBO by mid-afternoon. The heat today was wearing on us all, which allowed us time to rest and freshen up before heading out to dinner where we enjoyed some of the best Florence has to offer and what they are famous for: red meat/steak. You tell them what you want, but you do not tell them how to prepare it (rare/medium/etc). You order and they deliver. Trust me: they are the experts and you will not be disappointed.

And then we ate…

There was salad and bread and roasted potatoes and Florentine steak and Prosecco and Chianti Classico and caffe corretto (Sambuca was the correction to the coffee) and limon cello and Amaro and tiramisu and Tarte Della Nona with pine nuts and Strawberry Pavlova.

Nighty night!

Travel: Italy (Travel Day One and it was close to 48 hours long!)

Travel and travel and travel… I almost missed only one flight when I messed up the time zones. Fortunately I was sitting next to the gate when I realized it was boarding, otherwise, I would have only made it as far as New York / JFK.

Any way you slice it, it is a long trip. The backside gets sore, there are NO comfortable sitting positions for an 8.5 hour flight, and the boredom sets in to the point where you’re simply watching the miles click off, but then you hear the engines begin to slow and your ears begin to pop as the altitude decreases and suddenly, those 8.5 hours are a distant memory.

Following the flights, we took a 1/2 hour train to Rome. Between the graffitied walls and towering apartment buildings, you may catch a glimpse of something far more ancient but mostly it will be the orange poppies that grow all long the tracks that will draw your eye.

The 1/2 hour trip (and a WILD taxi ride through the narrow streets of Rome—made Enid drivers look like Mario Andretti) and we arrived at the Roma Termini, which is the main train terminal in Rome. I kept expecting a NY subway but…

It’s an airport on wheels and a zoo but once you figure out the system you will get to where you want to go, which in our case was Florence.

The ride includes a series of tunnels and each tunnel is like a small jump further and further into the country and farmlands. Hay, other crops, and vineyards (we’ll have more of those later this week) and with a train that clicks along at about 120 mph, you cover the 200 miles rather quickly.

We did do some touristy things but for the most part were a bit pooped out, so we walked the streets and just enjoyed being in Italy. What is so remarkable is when you take into consideration how long these places have been around. For example, I decided to take a picture of a beautiful statue of Christ crucified high on a pillar. Near the base was a plaque. The statue was erected in the year 1338.

In addition, throughout the old city there are small niches, mostly at corners, with images of the Blessed Virgin Mary and/or Jesus. These are two of the images that worked out:

What an amazing day and perhaps the most moving bit occurred as Heidi, Scott, and I were sitting at the Cafe’ Cibreo enjoying a light snack and a beverage (they were having a white wine and I was enjoying an iced coffee). Heidi stopped in mid-sentence and said, “We’re in Italy!”

Yep. That about sums the day up. We’re in Italy and… yeah.

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