Keith took the pictures that are featured below.
Today is july10 at least it better be, because I think I am scheduled to fly back starting at12:30 tomorrow. This is what happens to your brain after you have had a great vacation. Deb and I have laughed so much these last two weeks - I mean really laughed. Today we set out to be easy on ourselves and planned to just check out a couple of sites so we could rest our weary bones. After our usually huge all inclusive breakfast and cappuccino marathon, we set out to the academia. David was pretty great to see in person. We also saw a very cool instructional video of how to paint an early renaissance gilded altarpiece - we'll tackle that after we master fresco. The Bargello was next -such an amazing building and collection. Then it was time for pizza and a rest. Until we realized we hadn't seen Santa Croce, and then since we would be In the neighbourhood, we tackled the Casa Buonarroti. I found Santa Croce a bit of a disappointment. It was pretty jumbled up stylistically, plus the organ was being tuned which was an ear piercing experience echoing throughout the building. Casa Buonarroti was kind of a joke - it seemed like the remnants of a high class yard sale to me, plus the building was really run down and just seemed tired. It needs to be reworked by a talented modern designer and it will kick some butt. Deb and I have spent most of the afternoon and evening roaming around, taking cappuccino breaks, and reminiscing about the great two weeks we've had -I think we both marvel at the length of our friendship. We wandered to the piazza santa Maria novella, a favourite spot for both of us, and enjoyed a few drinks while the sky gradually darkened and we had on and off rain. We ended my Italian adventure sitting by the Arno watching the endlessly amusing and fascinating sea of people going by, all hoping to get that magical shot of the sun setting on the river, or trying to capture the reflection in their beloved eyes. We had a ring side seat and enjoyed every minute. It was a great way to say good by to Florence - we also tried to stop the accordion player outside our window from repeatedly playing the Frito Bandito song -we obviously did not give him enough money, because he kept playing it all night. All in all, a great last night to end a fabulous adventure for me - keep it up Deb!
Keith took the pictures that are featured below.
Today was quite the day. No we did not get our wallets stolen, in fact, everything was exceptional! We headed out to check out the site of the birth of the Renaissance, i.e.: the Brancacci Chapel, which was totally amazing. Masaccio does not reproduce well in books so to see the works in person was pretty great. Deb and I both listened in on two long winded teachers educating their bored students about the renaissance, which was kind of amusing and pretty cool - okay we are old enough to be the teacher’s parents but so what. One of the teachers was reading to her students from her iPhone! The chapel is so small and the access to the frescoes is so great that we spent a good hour just checking them out. I love the fact that they contain self portraits of the various artists who all had a hand in the decoration. I had painted a replica of Masaccio’s “Expulsion of Adam and Eve” way back when, so it was especially cool to see it again. I wonder if Santa Maria del Carmine needs a conservator - they could use one because almost every surface except Brancacci, was covered in dirt. Since we were already across the river, we wandered up to the Michelangelo piazza which gave a pretty stupendous view of the city below and the clearest of blue skies above. Both Deb and I have had more energy in our lives, (an understatement) but hey Mary we totally owe you one because we persevered and trudged further up the hill to the Dominican monastery and then on to San Miniato. Again the views of the city now even further below us were breathtaking - I now know all the settings on my new camera, since I needed to take a panorama at least of the view. In fact, I took more pictures inside San Miniato than anywhere else in Italy . Unlike the Duomo, where it was standing room only, we almost had this pristine and wonderful place to ourselves. It seems like a miraculous survivor of the very earliest Renaissance period, and no one else can be bothered to go there. This church was on Mary Redekop's "must see" list, so again thank you Mary!! Now we are settled on the roof terrace of our hotel, minus wireless, but enjoying the warm breeze and sipping on a tasty bottle of wine. Wandering back from our travels we had a late lunch which was one of the best meals we have had here - cheap and delicious, of course sitting outside, watching the parade of people passing by. Quite the day!
Mary’s "Wonders of Italy" book (that I photographed and have stored on my iPad, and from which I will quote) came to be a Wonder to hold today as we spent the remainder of the afternoon at the Dominican Church Santa Maria Novella and the Chapter House of the Monastery. The interior of the church is pure Tuscan-Gothic. The exterior was started in the Gothic style in 1350 and completed in the Renaissance style. It was absolutely marvelous; stunning and powerful. We saw Giotto’s crucifix, frescoes by Filippino Lippi, a worn out Masaccio and a wooden crucifx by Brunelleschi. It went on and on. The altered perspective of the nave and arches works like a charm to make you think the church is bigger than it is. (Doug, my brother, this is the church we stayed near when you were here. It was closed when we tried to visit it. You would enjoy the frescoes.)
Today we also spent 4 hours in the Uffizi Gallery starting at 9:45 AM. We saw everything! We had to sit down a lot and take a cappuccino break. It is now 7:00 PM and we are sitting in the room, resting our legs and drinking red wine. Musical performers are playing in street below and the music is filling the room. The wireless is still slow so I will spare you pictures from the Uffizi. I am sitting in the hallway as the connection is better in the hallway than in the room.
We have nothing scheduled for tomorrow, which means will walk a few miles and see a tonne of things. We are thinking about spending some time on the other side of the river; fewer people, things to see and it costs less to eat there.
All for now
Deb and I are enjoying really awesome cappuccinos, at 5 euros each they should be. But of course we are smack dab in the middle of Firenze so no wonder about the price, and life is Good. We are experiencing early renaissance fatigue a bit, a disease related to museum fatigue. We checked out San Lorenzo this afternoon and oohed and awed at Brunellschi's sacristy. (we can't spell right now) We also climbed Giotto's tower at the duomo. Not great for people with bad knees, but what a view. The contrast between Sicily and cosmopolitan Florence could not be bigger. Our hotel room is on Tornabuoni, a stone's throw from all the action and it's a very nice room too. We aren't coming back until we have eaten our own weight in pizza. The flight here was smooth and earlier in the day we drove to a very cool river and rock formation where glacier water eroded away the still hot lava making beautiful patterns and a mini Grand Canyon. It was covered in tourists but very nice. The weather has been pretty hot one day it was over 40 in Sicily but we are hardened travellers by now who scoff at all difficulties and challenges. Florence is indescribable and we are determined to squeeze in as much as our weary bodies can take. Ufizzi and Bargello are coming up later in the week - wish us luck. We arrived at about 10 last night and roamed around town, which was almost deserted compared to today. Most of the buildings are lit up and the Duomo was stunning, and seemed so incredibly huge compared to the little churches we have become used to in Sicilia. Deb is window shopping as I write this which is a laugh since the stores are really exclusive and expensive. I bought some art and restoration supplies at Zecchi's, an art supplier who has been located near the duomo since, I don't know, forever. Luckily my credit card went through. We are thinking about trying fresco painting - who else is in - how hard can it be??
All is well. We are in the air flying over Etna, finally seeing her from the sky. Today we drove around her entirety and saw her from each side; the view from the Catania area being the most dramatic as the cavity opening slants toward. We drove through a smattering of towns, all worth at least a day's visits the near future. To see our route, call up a map and find the road that boarders Etna; start at Paterno and turn left following Ss121 around Etna the long way, to Catania airport.
We also stopped at. Gore-- for a quick visit. (A gorge carved by volcanic eruptions a plethora of years ago) Britt, we need to spend a day here as we can put on a helmet and rubber suit and get carried downstream in the 7 degree temperature, pure, spring, river water to the ocean. It's in with an organized group of course, so you wouldn't be out to see too far. Keith wandered downstream for a while.
We returned the rented car at the airport. It was covered in dust and bird poop from two weeks of driving on every dirt road in Sicily and parking in the shade of a tree every chance we could. Our odometer upon rental pickup was 5443 and upon return was 8557.
Sicily is well worth visiting again. There is a lot to see from beautiful landscapes to incredible buildings and lively people. The food is great as are the cheeses, tomatoes and peaches. (and the wine is not so bad!!!)
We will land in Firenze (Florence) in an hour and start the next leg of the journey by taking the train into town. Our hotel is in the centre of it all. We have tickets for Ufizzi, Accadamia and Bargello. We intend to wander a lot and take a lot of photos.
We hung around the pool at the farm, reading and puttzing and finally headed in to town for a cappuccino and to shop at the local ARD (Discount grocery store). As we hopped into the car we noted that the outside temperature was 41C so we quickly closed the car windows and cranked on the air.
I am going to say something here that none of you would ever expect me to say: Shopping in the grocery store was fun! It’s fun because everything you pick up you have to try and figure out what it is. Nothing at all is in English and even the pictures on the package don’t help you out! It’s like a “What’s for dinner” roulette game. You don’t know what you’re going to eat until you open the package! Of interest in the stores, is that they don’t refrigerate milk or eggs. They sit in an aisle with everything else.
After shopping, we decided to go to the top of Mt. Etna, driving of course, as there was no way we were walking anywhere today in this heat. We pointed the car in the up direction and eventually found our way to a tiny stone covered road that lead us as high as we could drive. In fact, it lead us to the point where, if we were not in our right minds, we could have hiked the remaining 4 km to the top. Even though the warm volcanic breeze was cooling for us, we noted that the temperature was now only 40C so we opted not to do the hike. We were high enough to be above the cracks in the volcano that allow steam to escape. We couldn’t walk or drive to the crevices; they were fenced off, thus stopping us from driving the car into them! Lots of people live at the top of the volcano. I guess they haven’t seen the Pompeii movie.
We were a little low on gasoline in the car on the way home so I put it in neutral and we coasted from top to bottom. On the way down we crept our way to an abandoned house built from a mixture of local and lava rock. The panoramic picture at the top of this post is the driveway to the place. Look in the background of the photo, to the middle left; you will see a group of tiny buildings; that is the town of Paterno; our destination by coasting.
It is 7:08 PM as I type this. We will have dinner soon (see the sausage photo). We have been trying to eater later and later each day so we are on Italian dining hours. For those of you also wondering about food, Keith has been doing a great job preparing it. We had incredible scrambled eggs for breakfast made of room temperature eggs, olives and some kind of pepper cheese we bought the other day. Tonight we are having pasta with sausage and peppered tomatoes. Tonight’s wine cost 1,69. Life is good! We still look like tourists!
PS: We found a gas station and topped up.
PPS: Gas is E1,79 per litre.
PPSS: I have a new dog friend who has been hanging with me all afternoon. She looks like Waggs.
We left Enna Friday morning and had an easy drive to Paterno,which is on a hilltop onthe eastern part of the island at the base of Mr.Etna.We are staying at Agriturismo Gianferrante; a rather large Orange farm directly below Paterno which is directly above us on the hill. We have an easy view of the city. We wandered through the farm and there are also grapes, grapefruit, lemons, limes, olives, figs and pears, that we, with our limited farm knowledge can recognize. Check the photo of the one thing we can't recognize, maybe you know what it is? There are beautiful trees and two very large ponds which they call lakes, probably the size of 4 swimming pools together, that have hundreds of lotus plants growing wildly filling the entire pond. The irrigation system from the lakes to the farm is very interesting.
Keith's knowledge of the French language has come in very handy as this is our second set of hosts that speak French and Italian. It is fun to watch him burst into French mode!
It is very very hot today in this location (it is now Saturday morning). It is not yet noon and we are sitting in the shade,Keith has already been swimming in the huge pool. (Which we have to ourselves - last night here were a bunch of Americans here having a July 4 party)
We had a lazy afternoon in Enna, catching up on sleep, reading, and planning the next leg of the journey. We are currently sitting in an outdoor cafeteria, at the edge of the cliff, overlooking the amazing view posted at the top of yesterday's blog. I am not posting another picture of it today because I am trying to keep the blog-reader teasing to a minimum, even though the sun is softly breaking through the haze causing all the buildings in the view to sparkle and glisten through the shadows of the day, as the swallows gently soar overhead. The sounds of Italian voices and laughter are filling the air while the odd church bell rings in the background just to set the tone. There are "fizz-ball" machines placed throughout the piazza and young folks are playing, while older, retired looking men, gather on the piazza benches and chat with each other hands sailing through the air with each word they say. (Okay, that is my creative writing for this trip!)
This morning, we wandered through Fred's tower and while inside enjoyed the reprieve from the 37 degree temperature. While outside, on top of the tower, we enjoyed a complete panoramic view of the entire area (shown above). Other than the tower, the town was pretty much shut down. Everyone is probably exhausted from yesterday's party and called in sick, except for the lady who yelled from the ground floor up two tower heights at us to get out of the tower so she could close up for siesta! (When it is break time around here you get out of the way!)
The cappuccinos have been astoundingly good; each one of them. Each a little different, some with chocolate sprinkled of top, some with cinnamon. They vary is size and price. Our cheapest has been 1 euro 50 and the most expensive 2,50. (Not to mention it again, but it really is an amazing view from the top of this hilltop town!) Wine is cheaper than coffee in most cases. Pizzas are also inexpensive and it is easy to solely and entirely eat one each.
It is easy to be tired. Our 20 year old brains keep telling our "early-middle-age" bodies to do things that a 20 year old body could do and sometimes the body fights back. Thus, the easy day today. We have covered a lot of territory and are enjoying a slower day.
Some have asked me what has been the best part of the trip so far. I am not able to answer that as I am not able to determine what has been the most spectacular. Everyday something unbelievable has been presented from the sunsets in Lipari, to the Cloister in Monreale, the amazing countryside views, the cliffs of the coastline, the mosaics at Villa della Casale; even the lavishly, overdone Baroque church in Palermo has its place.
Some have asked me about Coronation Street; whether I miss it and am I surviving... the answer is.... are you ready for this....sit down... I have decided to end my 10 year addiction to the soap and STOP watching it! Yes, even though I love the subtle humour and think Steve is hilarious, it's over for me! There's no going back... unless of course I win a free tour of the set! (Please enter my name in all the draws on CBC TV).
Travelling with Keith is fun and amusing for various reasons one being that neither of us has any sense of direction. We are logical about it, as in, we know that the sun rises in one sky and sets in another; we get that part. But if you spin us around at all we don't know what sky we are looking at, especially if it is dark outside and we have wandered through quaint little streets that go in every direction. Over the past two weeks, whenever I said to Karen "Where are we?" she would always have the answer and tell me what town we were in and she would know the way. Whenever I say that to Keith he says "I don't know!" Then we howl with laughter knowing that we might never find where we are sleeping that night! He is out wandering the town alone tonight so I don't expect to see him anytime soon!
Great news - we did not die in a fiery car crash hurling backwards down a shockingly steep hill. Yes Keith was at the wheel - Karen we need a driver! I am gradually getting the hang of driving these narrow mountain roads and dealing with the driving habits of the locals. The constant jockeying for position reminds me of a video game at times. Deb has been very understanding although I see a bunch of new gray hairs popping out after the hill incident - the angels must have been looking out for us, and No wonder, we’re practically practising Catholics now based on all the churches we’ve been in. Today we made it to Enna, a hill town and experienced the visitation of the Virgin Mary celebration. Deb says she didn’t plan this but it's one of those things that happens when you are travelling if you’re lucky. We watched a parade of the faithful carry around the virgin and a few other heavy items, then joined in and made the walk through town with the folks - it was really great. Both our feet are killing us because we waited around until the fireworks show happened which was the best either of us has ever seen - all choreographed to music and stunning. I was making noises of acceptance and awe involuntarily. We started the day with a stop in Aidone to see the archeological museum associated with a site at Morgantina. The museum was professional and set in a beautiful monastery. They made a real point of stating that a number of very important ancient finds had been recently repatriated from the Getty Museum and the Met - way to go Italy. Morgantina was cool too, and then we headed for Enna. This is such a beautiful spot - we had lunch outside high atop the mountain Enna is on, over looking Mt Etna and dozens of other mountains and nearby mountain towns. Mary you will be pleased to know Deb and I actually discussed sfumato. The drive from Palermo to this part of Sicily has been just incredible - full of jaw dropping vistas and about a million mountain switchbacks and hairpin turns. We made it to the Roman mosaics the other day too - it was about an hour before closing and pretty much deserted. This is the most complete Roman mosaic and wall painting site in the world and we were blown away. I can't imagine what it must have been like to start uncovering this massive and shockingly well preserved site - and the protective buildings give a real sense of the original structures without being hokey or intrusive. Sicily is rapidly worming its way into my heart. The gps Deb bought is annoying (like most of them I suspect) and while trying to find our way to Aidone a very kind man took the time to help us get out of the town we were stuck in - with a kind of resigned shrug he seemed to imply that it was his responsibility to help out the pathetic tourists - either that, or to get them out if town and off their roads as quickly as possible. In any case, we have experienced so much of this kind of generosity here, which makes up some of my best memories of this place. Tomorrow we explore Enna a bit more, maybe with a few extra cappuccino breaks thrown in. Ciao and prego - my two new favourite words...
We left Palermo with absolutely no destination in mind, heading south, not sure where we would end up for today. I drove for a while and then Keith took over on SS121 which is a yellow road on the map, curvy and rolling… it was shortly after getting the feel of the country road, the grip of the car and glimpsing around as he drove through the beautiful countryside that he said it! He said... "I am staying!" Ha! He has been bitten! I had him stop the car so I could take the photo shown above so you all know what did it to him! The photo doesn't present the full spectrum of the experience.
We ended up at Villa Romana Del Casale (The following from Wikipedia) "The villa was constructed in the first quarter of the 4th century AD, probably as the center of a huge agricultural estate covering the surrounding area. How long the villa kept this role is not known, maybe for less than 150 years. The complex remained inhabited and a village grew around it, named Platia (derived from the word palatium (palace). The villa was damaged and perhaps destroyed during the domination of the Vandals and the Visigoths. The outbuildings remained in use, at least in part, during theByzantine and Arab periods. The site was abandoned in the 12th century AD when a landslide covered the villa. Survivors moved to the current location of Piazza Armerina. The Villa contains the richest, largest and most complex collection of Roman mosaics in the world, it is one of 49 UNESCO World Heritage Sitesin Italy]"
We wandered through the absolutely beautiful and well-kept ruins long after closing of the facility. We were happy we ended up at this site. A few photos are posted below.
I noticed today that posts on this site disappear after a while. Scroll to the bottom of the page and you will see Previous and Next buttons, click them to scroll through all the posts.
It is now 20 after 11 and I am starting to get sleepy. I hope all readers had a great Canada Day!