Sunday, November 05, 2006

Week 3 – Perugia, Assisi and back to Milan

Saturday morning we needed head back north. Our taxi driver arrived on time at 9 am, we loaded up and were off. Got into Naples about 10:30 am and had approx. 1 hour to wait for our train north. We got tickets using the automatic machines. They’re very easy to use and have an English Language mode. The only trouble we had was getting seats together, but that was partly because we didn’t reserve in advance. The trains were 99% full, which was a little surprising. Anyway, we had time for a cappuccino and pastry while we waited for our train to Rome. It was part of our ritual, a cappuccino every morning, if not 2. Even I was getting into the cappuccino mode and gave up drinking tea.

The train trip to Rome was uneventful and very comfortable. Did I already say how much more comfortable train travel is, than being packed into an airplane? Anyway, we changed trains in Rome and continued north. As we left Rome I noticed it was pretty cloudy, and not far out of Rome the rain started. We were headed north through Umbria. The countryside turned hilly, lots of small towns & farms. It’s very pretty, even in the rain. We got into Perugia about 4pm. It was pouring, so we took 2 taxis out to the farm house/hostel that we’d reserved. We got in earlier than we’d planned and the guy who ran the place was not around. But I called him on my cell and our taxi driver talked to him and got him headed our way. The taxi drivers in Perugia were great. They waited for us to get checked in (with good humor no less) and then drove us up to the old town so we could wander around the EuroChocolate Festival. After our dealings with taxi drivers in Sorrento (who were horrible rip-off’s) I was very pleasantly surprised

EuroChocolate Festival in Perguia

Pictures taken in Perugia (12), titled 0071 Perugia

The Eurochocolate Festival is a huge yearly event. It runs for 10 days, we were there on the last Saturday night. The old town of Perugia is up on top of a hill, it’s a medieval walled town but with fairly wide streets. By the time we arrived, it was getting dark. The town was all fogged in, and a little light rain fell on & off. We missed most of what was going on, but we wandered through the booths selling all sorts of chocolate for several hours. I bought a cup of hot chocolate that was almost too thick to drink. It was very good with a little chili pepper in it to spice it up.

I’d like to go back sometime and walk through their Archeological Museum, it looked very interesting. But by the time we found it, it was just closing. So we went to dinner and caught another cab and went back to the farm house. We sat around in the dining room and drank a glass of wine and visited with some collage students from California who were also staying there. They’re studying in Rome for a semester and were having a really good time. I think it’s great they can come to Europe for a semester, it’s a great experience.

View from the farm house in Perugia

Sunday morning we’d had grand plans to get up really early and be in Assisi for a 6:30 am Mass at the Basilica of St. Francis. We were lucky to be moving by 9am. At least the rain had stopped, so we walked out to the main road and caught the bus to the train station (and then had a cappuccino while waiting for the next train to Assisi). The trains coming in to Perugia from Rome for the Chocolate Festival were PACKED. Standing room only, that had to have been a long trip.

While waiting at the Assisi train station for a bus into the old town, Penny started talking to an odd fellow dressed in a blue denim robe. I think he wanted to be a monk, but maybe of his own church. He sort of tried to follow us but we ditched him when we got into the old town. And told Penny she wasn’t allowed to talk to any more strangers!

View of St. Francis Basilica from the old Fortress at the top of Assisi

Assisi was very interesting. The old fortress at the very top had wonderful views of the countryside. My pictures are a little dark, it was actually much more sunny than they make it look. I think I could actually live here, or in the surrounding area; beautiful farms & little windy roads. And the Basilica of St. Francis is huge, contains 2 churches and a crypt. The frescos inside are amazing, though I’m not sure St. Francis would approve if he came back and saw what was built in his name. And it was very crowded. There must be 50+ bus tours every day, plus all the people who drive themselves or come by train. It’s quite the commercial operation in many ways.

Pictures taken in Assisi (35), titled 0072 Assisi

Assisi is another World Heritage site. It was an important town in Romans times and it’s amazing that people still live and work in the buildings that were built in 2000 or more years ago. In particular Assisi was hit by quite an earthquake in Sept. 1997. A lot of the town has been rebuilt and it’s very beautiful. They’ve been very careful to use the same building materials and other than the repairs building look very clean, they don’t look any different from the others around them. It really made me think about how many times some of these building have been renovated & repairs or just changed around in the past 2000 years. Wow, I wonder if anything we’re building today will still be around that long.

Several of the churches have had major restoration projects. Their interiors where all frescoed. Some of the frescos were repaired, but some were total losses.

Repaired houses and a new street.

This is my favorite Assisi picture, taken at sunset from the train station looking back up at the old town. You can see the fortress at the very top, and the old town all along the hill below it.

Monday was finally here. We were all flying out of Milan on Tuesday, so we got and got going. The older couple who we think owned the old farm house, and didn’t speak much English) helped with all our bags. Penny got to ride in the little 3 wheeled truck (which you see all over Italy) with the luggage to the bus stop. They’re actually more like a motorcycle with a cab then a truck. Then we were off to the train station for more cappuccino and a long train ride back to Milan.

We got into Milan late in the afternoon, still raining so we took taxi’s to our Hotel Trentina. We’d stayed there the night we all arrived and the folks who ran it were so nice and helpful we wanted to return. (PS, they also serve a wonderful breakfast which is included in the room price.) We went out of a last dinner and drank some more great local wine, it was a nice ending to our trip.

The next day was a taxi ride to the airport, and 24 hours of traveling to get back to Anchorage. The flights were fine, though long, security in London is very tight, but that’s actually OK too.

Saturday, November 04, 2006

More Photos: Pompeii, Naples, Herculeanum, Positano

This one was taken after we arrived at the house in Massa Lubrense. It was a little overcast or hazy this day. We were having a snack while dinner cooked.

I have more photos downloaded and then uploaded to Yahoo. Here are the links if you're interested:

Pictures taken in Massa Lubrense (19). The album is titled 0066 Massa Lubrense

This one is taken in Pompeii. Tito the Tour Guide hard at work.

Pictures taken in Pompeii (67). The album is titled 0067 Pompeii

This one is also Pompeii, just a house with no roof and mosaic floors. You can also see some of the color left on the walls.

Pictures taken in the Naples Museum (38). The album is titled 0068 Naples Archaeological Museaum

This one is a mosaic recovered from one of the houses in Pompeii. Look at how small the pieces are and at the detail. It's very well preserved.

This is Herculaneum. Part of the main throughfare, with temples all along the left side. The right side has not be excavated.

Pictures taken in Herculaneum (34). The album is titled 0069 Herculaneum

This is the remains of a 'fast food' (Thermopolium) restaurant in Herculaneum. The food was put in pots and set into the openings on the counter. It's where most people ate their meals. Unless you had a lot of money, you lived in a room or 2. Most houses in Pompeii and Herculaneum did not have kitchens.

Pompeii had a lot of these fast food bars too.

Pictures taken in Positano (20). The album is titled 0070 Positano

And here is a picture I took of Positano from the beach looking up. The clouds threatended all day but we didn't get any rain.

Thursday, November 02, 2006

Update: Siena & The Tuscany Hill Towns

After 3 days in Florence, Penny, Virginia & I headed out on a 2 day excursion through Tuscany (Linda & Kristen went to Rome on Tue afternoon). We saw a lot, but it went way too fast. Tuscany is very beautiful. I’d love to go back sometime and rent a house for a month and just hang out.

Anyway, we splurged and for 2 days we had a guide with a van. We set this up with Luca at Hill’s & Roads. He runs a small tour outfit and set up a customized tour for us. The first day Carrado picked us up in Florence at our hotel at 9:30 am. I’m surprised he found us; those alley ways they call streets are pretty narrow. It took a little round about driving to get out of Florence, I’m really glad that I wasn’t driving.

Here is a picture of the view from Montefioralle. It is typical Central Tuscany Scenery.

We headed south through the Chianti Hills, our first stop Montefioralle. This was just a quick stop to see some of the country side, as you can see from the pictures, it’s very green. Lots of grapes, lots of olives, lots of small farms. Then we drove down to Greve in Chianti. We stopped for a cappuccino and then walked up to see the views from the church. A bit more driving around and sightseeing (Radda in Chianti), there are towns or walled estates on the tops of most of the hills. Though the farther south we got, the farther apart the hills are. We stopped for lunch at a hill top Osteria, sat outside under the trees and had a great lunch, and of course a carafe of the local wine. In fact the restaurant is located on a working vineyard; they were just harvesting the last of their grapes so the place was very busy. I wish I remembered the name of it. I’d love to go back for lunch again.

Pictures taken in Tuscany (24) It is titled 0063 Tuscany Hill Towns.

After lunch it was time for a time for a wine tasting. Way out in the hills someplace is a large estate, Dievole. We got the grand tour and tasted several of their wines. They make some award winning wines. I’m not a huge fan of Chianti style wines but I really enjoyed the tour. Dievole has been in operation since 1090. That’s a long time. The story is on their website, it’s pretty interesting and they have some really nice photos.

2 Towers in San Gimignano

Then we were off to San Gimignano for sunset. Of course San Gimigano ( ) is off to the west a way, so we had a bit of a drive. Again, way up on the top of a hill is this walled town with quite a few towers. There used to be many more, it seems every family had to have their own tower and they all competed to see who could build the tallest. San Gimigano is also a UNESCO World Heritage site, so it was very crowded with tourists. It looked to me like most of them came & went on bus tours, so it would be much quieter at night. We didn’t have a lot of time, but we walked around and took pictures for a bit. Again, just a taste, when I get my month or more in Tuscany, I’ll come back and visit and spend an evening or 2.

Pictures taken in San Gimignano (9) It is titled 0064 San Gimignano

Well we’d had quite a long day by this point, so it was time to get to Siena. In evening traffic it was about a 45 min trip. Corrado got us up into the old town and dropped us off at our hotel. What a relief it was not to haul luggage on and off the train. Though train travel is much more comfortable than airplane travel, luggage is really a pain. Especially since most train stations DON’T have elevators. So it’s down the steps, into the tunnel and back up the other side to get to the trains’ departure spot.

Anyway, I digress. We arrived in Siena about 7 pm. We stayed at the Hotel Cannon d’Oro (which I found on line, but also in Rick Steves’ guide to Italy 2006, referred to on this trip as our bible). It’s in the old town and the building is over 800 years old. Think about how many times it’s been renovated! We checked in, it was a nice room with private bath, dropped off our luggage and went out to see the sites and have some dinner. Walking through Siena is interesting. In most of the walled towns, the buildings are 3 or 4 stories tall. In Siena they’re all 5 or 6. This makes the roads/alleys seem narrower to me. I couple of times I though, I don’t want to be here around all these brick & stone buildings in an earthquake.

We walked down through the main ‘square’ (in Siena it’s much more oval than square). the Campo and found an outdoor restaurant behind the civic museum. Good food and we got to talking to a couple who sat at the next table. He was originally from Lebanon and she is from Turkey. They were very nice but we ended up talking politics. It is rather amazing how little attention most of us pay to what our governments’ policies mean for other people.

The next day we we’re getting picked up at 2:30 pm, so we had the morning to explore Siena. We didn’t get to see much, mostly the Campo and the Dumo (main cathedral), but both are pretty spectacular. Siena really needs another few days of exploration, so I’ve added that to my travel list :-).

Frescoed Ceiling from the Library in the Dumo in Siena.

The Campo is huge, and the home of 2 famous horse races each summer. I’m not sure I’d like to be there with thousand of other people all packed in, but I’m sure the races are spectacular to see. The Dumo is pretty spectacular too. It’s floor is all carved & inlayed marble. Some very complex scenes, built into the floor, and took about 400 years to complete. We were very lucky, most of the year the floor is covered to protect it from wear & tear. It is only uncovered in Aug through late Oct every year, I’m glad I got to see it. The interior is pretty complex. We could take photo’s but only with the flash off, so some of my photo’s are a bit blurry. But the 3D inlayed wood in the choir seats was impressive. So are all the frescos. And I really liked the library. The walls & ceilings are all frescoed and they exhibit some old illuminated books. These line the 2 long walls, they’re pretty bit. Probably 3 feet tall, the pages are beautifully decorated.

Pictures taken in Siena (25) It is titled 0065 Siena.
Our 2nd day of touring started at 2:30 pm when Aliosha was our driver. He had a degree in Political Science and has gone back to school for one in Art History. He really loves the art works and knows a lot. Too bad he had such a bad cold and felt horrible the whole day.

He started by driving us through the Crete Senesi Hills, very different from what we’d already seen. The soil in this area is all clay; some wine & olives are grown but mostly wheat. The harvest was over and the fields had all been turned, waiting to be planted, so it was a very dry and rather desolate looking. Then we stopped at the Mt. Oliveto Abby.
It was founded in 1313 and has some very famous frescos. Aliosha knew all about their history and the 2 painters (who didn’t like each other) who created them. He was great to listen too. And it was very quiet and beautiful on the Abby grounds. I guess they have a very nice restaurant, so here is another place to go back to when I have more time.

Then we made a stop in Pienza, what a wonderful sunset view from up on top of the hill looking down over the wide valley. And finally off to Montepulciano. We drove up to the top of the hill and walked around the square. Montepulciano has a very old Dumo too, but they never got around to facing it in marble. It’s still all brick & stone. It’s interesting to see what these other churches look like under their marble facades. Anyway, we walked down through the town after sunset. We stopped in this little copper shop where everything is hand made. It was all very nice. Penny broke down and purchased a wine chiller and had it shipped back to Anchorage. Then we walked on down through town closer to the parking lot and stopped for dinner. After dinner and some more local wine, Aliosha drove us to Chiusi where we had a hotel booked. We got in pretty late, around 11 pm if I remember correctly. The Hotel La Sfinge was great, ( ) another very old building. We had a big room with a nice tile floor. The ceiling was old dark beams with whitewashed brick. Though it was quite a hike up the stairs with all of our luggage. Very few of the older buildings have had elevators added. I left the window open and in the morning we woke up to the smell of fresh bread. There is a bakery next door! I’d like to go back for a few days and check out the National Archeological Etruscan Museum. The owner was very nice and drove us to the train station the next morning. We we’re headed to Rome to meet up with everyone else.

PS, we had a very nice tour in Florence; we set it up with Walks in Florence. I forgot to put their web site address on my previous note. Here it is if you want to set up your own tour, or check out their information about Florence:

PPS, a note about our bible. It was a bit of a joke with all of us, but we did carry our Rick Steves’ guide book everywhere. W saw it carried by a lot of other people, and they weren’t usually the backpacker type. In fact we’d compare notes with people we saw carrying all over Italy. It’s very well laid out, and the info is easy to use and pretty timely. Occasionally we find a small error, but it really is a great reference guide. Since Penny is retiring in Jan, we decided a perfect job for her would be as a fact checker for Rick Steves. Then she could travel around and try out all the hotels & restaurants, etc. Sounds like a great way to spend a year or 2, too me :-)

Updates: Milan and Florence

Hi all,

We'll I'm finally back home and getting my pictures all downloaded and organized. We really had a great trip. Good weather, good food and good company. What a combo :-). As I was downloading my pictures, I decided I needed to post a few more here on the blog, just to whet your appetite. Then I'll post links to the photo albums, they're on my yahoo site.

You should be able to click the link and right to yahoo to see the rest of the pictures. You should also be able to download copies of the ones you want. If you have trouble downloading, let me know and I'll just e-mail you copies of the ones you want. I've been using a bit more resolution lately, so each picture file will run 600+ KB.

Here we are in Milan, standing in front of their Natural History Museum.

Kristen, Virgina, Penny & Linda

Pictures take in Milan (9)
It is titled 0061 Milan and should be right at the top.

Pictures taken in Florence (40)
It is titled 0062 Florence.

This is a picture I took from the top of the Dumo looking back at Santa Croce. You can see the scaffolding around the bell tower, and if you look closely a little of the Arno River.

I do have to say that I like Florence better each time I visit. And there is so much to see, I’ll need to go back a few more times :-). I can’t believe that the first time I visited; I passed by the Bargello Sculpture Museum several times a day, and didn’t stop in. It really is wonderful. We could only take pictures in the courtyard, none in the galleries. But we spent several hours there, and I could have spent more time just looking.

I also really liked the Museo di Pallazo Davanzati. The walls are all painted, much like we’d wallpaper today. And I do mean painted (or fresco’d). In most rooms there isn’t a square inch not covered. The color is still vibrant, though it must have been much more amazing when it was all new. Take look at the ceiling detail picture I took. I know it’s not very clear, but most of the wood in the ceilings is painted with intricate designs. What an amazing amount of work they put into decorating. As I contemplate having a house built, the thought of all of this kind of detail is over whelming. Needless to say my house is going to be decorated quite bit plainer! Though I really loved the brick floors, hmm that's an idea... I’ll have more to follow the next couple of days.