Friday, April 30, 2010

Italy, the Final Chapter

It is 6.26 a.m. on Friday morning. I finally decided to get out of bed after waking at 5:00, the usual time I rise the day after chemo. It is a good time to begin my blog, there is nothing to distract me and I can watch the sun rise over the Ben Franklin bridge.

During our final week in Italy we managed to see a few of the local attractions and other towns in Tuscany and Umbria.

Thierry and I went to the Gothic church of Santa Croce which was built in 1294. One guide book compared this church to Westminster Abbey in London, as it is filled with tombs and grave stones of the dead. There are some elaborate tombs including those of Galileo (Thierry wondered why he was here as at one time he was almost excommunicated), Michelangelo and Machiavelli, among others. There was some restoration going on but we did manage to see these important tombs.

We then walked to the Palazzo Pitti, built in 1457 for the banker Luca Pitti. It was later bought and expanded by the Medici family and became their main residence in 1550. Later all Florentine rulers lived here. There are many galleries, and we decided to limit our tour to a few and then tour the Boboli Gardens which are an extension of the property. As it happened, our tour of the residences was quite extensive. When we found the entrance to the gardens, we were faced with a huge climb including many steps. After our long walk from the apartment to Santa Croce and then to the Palace, and facing a fairly long walk back, I was too tired to attempt this. We decided to return another day, unfortunately, that day was Monday and they were closed.

We had a wonderful evening at the local wine bar with our friends from Holland, Roely and Hans. Happy hour started at 7:00, which means a buffet of various appetizers served until 10:00. Our bartender for the first part of the evening had spent five years in San Francisco and brought out a terrific Chianti from the shelves. A new bartender came on later in the evening and laid out shot glasses for all of us! Whew, had a really great vodka that we never heard of – 42 Below from New Zealand, I think. Went down real smooth!

We had our first formal tour on Friday. We were picked up at 9:00 by Carlotta, a native of Sienna who speaks very good English. This was our first really rainy day, but the weather did not dampen our experience. We went to the lovely town of San Gimignano which became very popular in medieval times as it was on the main pilgrim route from northern Europe to Rome. At one time the town had 76 towers built to serve as both private fortresses and by symbols of wealth by the rich. Of these, 17 remain. The palazzo remains much the same as it did in the 13th and 14th centuries.
We then went on a wine tour of the Verrazzano Vineyards. Part of the tour included a five course lunch and a selection of four wines, a dessert wine served with biscotti, and grappa. The food was very good, and included wild boar prepared in various ways – all of which were wonderful. Wild boars are plentiful in this region and are raised at the vineyard.

Our second tour was on Saturday. Our first stop was the monastery founded by the followers of St. Francis, Hermitage (Santuario) of Le Celle and the Cell of Saint Francis. St. Francis came and prayed here. It was a lovely, serene place and is open to those wishing to go away for a peaceful retreat.

We then went onto Cortona, one of the oldest cities in Tuscany, founded by the Etruscans. Here two movies were filmed: Under the Tuscan Sun and one of the Twilight films. We left there for Montepulciano, a walled town - it is also one of the highest hilltop towns in Tuscany at 1,950’. We had lunch at a local restaurant, then went for a wine tasting. Of course we purchased a few bottles as well as some olive oil to bring home for the family.

Sunday was a national holiday dedicated to celebrating the liberation of Italy from the Germans. There was a market set up in the Piazza della Repubblica selling local specialties such as cheese and olive oil, which we discovered on our way to the Market at San Lorenzo. The prices at San Lorenzo were much better than at the New Market – where I shopped before. We made a few purchases, had lunch, then finally toured the Duomo. The Duomo or cathedral is huge and does dominate the city with its enormous dome. The dome was built by Brunelleschi without scaffolding. The interior was also quite impressive, although much of the artwork was removed to another building.

Monday we toured the Medici Chapel, the first floor of which was filled with magnificent vessels containing relics of 40 or 50 saints. Thierry was a little taken aback as he could not understand the significance of the bones. The chapel is on the second floor and is quite magnificent, even though it was under repair. Six grand dukes are buried here in elaborate tombs. Another room contains tombs designed by Michelangelo, considered to be among his most famous works.

Tuesday, our last day in Italy, we went on our final tour to Deruta where the famous majolica is made and Perugia, famous for its chocolate. We toured the U. Grazia factory in Deruta where we were shown the manufacturing process from start to finish – all done by hand. It was a real treat to watch the potters, stencilers and painters at work creating these magnificent pieces. The owner has sold his products to Tiffany’s, William Sonoma and Neiman Marcus, as well as to George Clooney and a famous Italian director, and now to us. He was quite a character – we had a really good time. From there we went to Perugia, which combines the old with the new. We toured the old town and saw some magnificent views of the surrounding countryside.

Our trip home took us through Frankfurt via Lufthansa, where we were to pick up a US Airways flight. We arrived with about an hour to spare; however, the Frankfurt airport is sprawling and full of large, low buildings that are not connected. A bus met our plane and drove for about 15-20 minutes to the hangar. We then had a 15 minute walk to the gate, where we had to re-ticket our flight. We were the next to the last to board the plane. When we arrived in Philadelphia, we were shy one suitcase, Thierry’s. This was quite disturbing as it contained 3 bottles of wine and a bottle of Dutch jenever by our friends from Holland.

We had a wonderful trip. Tuscany is absolutely beautiful and unlike anything I have ever seen. But as Thierry said, it was nice to be back in our bright condo, with our big windows and large shower.


Thierry said...

Was I almost excommunicated? That's news to me!

jeannine said...

We really enjoyed the stories and pictures of your beautifull trip in Tuscany! Much love, Jeannine and Carl!