Wednesday, June 11, 2008

Day 29 Italy 2008

That 2:30 a.m. alarm came much too soon. We showered, dressed, repacked and went down to the lobby to await the 4:00 a.m. shuttle to the airport. Since our breakfast was included with the price of the room, they had prepared a sack for us to take with us including a cheese sandwich, croissant, banana, juice, water and jams.

We had heard that the doors at the airport are locked until 5:00 a.m., but luckily our shuttle driver knew to take us to gate C, so we could get in and walk to gate B. At 4:15 a.m. there was already a long line for our flight to Frankfort, because there were only three people working the desk. Finally, at 5:00 a.m. staff started showing up and the line moved faster. No little shops were open that early to get coffee, so we had to forgo it.

We knew we had a close connection in Frankfort to go on to Houston, but had no idea how long we had to walk. It took forever walking all the way through terminal A, then catching a tram to terminal B and C, then up and down escalators, moving walkways, going through security again, and through a customs area. We had an hour and a half between flights, but by the time we got to the gate, we boarded 10 minutes later. Cheryl and I did not sit together coming back. We had reserved seats, but they had no record of it. In the Rome airport they had assigned us the very last seats in the back of the plane, 56 B & C. She likes the window and I like the isle, so it sounded like she was in the middle seat. She got them to find her a window seat on the other side of the plane. As it turned out, the seat I was in had only two seats, one aisle and one window. So, I got to stretch out and get some sleep, having no one beside me. I am writing this on the plane now, and we should be in Houston in 4 hours!

Nick picked us up at the airport and we drove another 3 1/2 hours back to Kilgore. We had been up 24 hours straight, but were non-stop chatter bending Nick's ear coming home.

The trip was truly magnificent. I have so much to share with my family and students over the next few months.

I am so anxious to go to Italy again in March with my students and Angela and Wells.

I will be going to Paris July 31st for the EF Tours orientation...another great experience to report!!

Tuesday, June 10, 2008

Day 28 Italy 2008

Today is our last day at Casa Rondini. We are packed and ready to go. I went down and had a great visit with Bozena. We took some pictures of our hosts and bid them a sad farewell. We dreaded carrying those heavy bags down the long stairs, and wouldn’t you know, it was the hottest day since we had arrived, so we started out to Rome hot and tired.

Cheryl made us up a picnic, and we stopped before we got to Rome to enjoy it.

We went to the car rental place at the airport to turn in our car, and hauled our heavy bags down a very long hot corridor toward the Hilton Hotel where we had reservations for the evening. Upon arriving, we found that our reservations were for another Hilton that was on the other side of the airport, which opened last December. Luckily, they shuttled us over there. We planned to get a quick night’s sleep to get up at 2:30 a.m. to catch the 4:00 a.m. shuttle. We found our room to be quite nice, very modern, with wooden floors, and free internet access. We strolled around the hotel to check it out, sat in the lobby, and enjoyed a glass of wine. We then had a nice dinner, and called it an early evening.

Monday, June 9, 2008

Day 27 Italy 2008

Today we packed, and I took more pictures of the area. We fixed our last meal with pork chops, artichokes, risotto, salad, lintels and bread. We had a nice visit with another resident, Maria from Ireland.

Our bags were bulging, and we were hoping that we would not go over the weight limit.

Sunday, June 8, 2008

Day 26 Italy 2008

We decided to go to Castiglione del Lago and go into the old city, since we did not stop the first day we drove through. They had lots of stores with spices, wine, wooden products and honey. We sampled some wine and bought a bottle to have on our last night at Casa Rondini. We had a nice lunch with pork, vegetables, and wine. We took some pictures and stopped in some interesting stores. I bought a couple of Pinocchio’s for Harper and me (since I gave away all the ones I purchased on my last trip).

I had promised Angie I would get her an espresso pot, so we stopped at Citte della Pieve on the way home to get one.

We were suppose to have pizza night on Sunday, where we make our own pizza, but because of the rain, Franco made us a great meal with sausages, proscuitto, and vegetables from the garden, with a great chocolate and gelato dessert.

Saturday, June 7, 2008

Day 25 Italy 2008

After our long day in Rome, we slept in and recuperated. It was rainy, so we decided not to drive far. Cheryl wanted to go to a town near Fabro, called Fasioli to look for an olive oil pot that Franco had. We found the potter and seeing how great his work was, I decided to buy one too.

On our way back, we drove up to a little village we passed everytime we went into Fabro. Here is the view from the top:

We stopped at the grocery and bought enough groceries to last us the rest of the trip. Then we came home and fixed another yummy meal.

Friday, June 6, 2008

Day 24 Italy 2008

Here we are at 6:10 a.m. at the Fabro train station waiting to take off to Rome. It is only a 1 ½ hour train ride.

When we arrived, we had a ham and cheese croissant with an espresso, then we walked out to find the buses that take you all around the city, getting off when you want and back on to the next stop at your convenience. We had originally planned to do the Open 110 which was 16 euro, but were pounced on by a young man saying his was better and made more stops for 19 euro. I’m not sure it was much different, but it is a good way to go.

Our first stop was the Vatican. There were a lot of chairs set up, as if they were about to have a grand occasion. I have never been in Rome in June….not a good time to go. It was packed with tours. We had to stand in line everywhere we went.

Bath anyone???

Then, we walked over to the Sistine Chapel, a pretty good little walk. I had to get my picture taken in front of Raphael’s “School of Athens”!

We had lunch across from the Sistine Chapel, then found the bus stop to catch the bus to the next location, which was the Trevi Fountain. We threw our coins in (with right hand over the left shoulder) and made a wish, and promised to return to Rome.

After the Trevi, we walked over to the Spanish Steps, and had a gelato. By then, our feet were burning from so much walking on the cobblestone streets and marble walkways, that we decided to return to the train station, catch the 6:00 trian and make our way home.

Thursday, June 5, 2008

Day 23 Italy 2008

We took the day off today and did laundry, relaxed and caught up on our blogs. Not a bad place to hang out, huh?

I picked some things from the garden and cooked some chicken in wine sauce and fresh asparagus. Cheryl made some farfalle pasta with the pesto that came from Casa Rondini and some great bruschetta. We made a salad with fresh lettuce and radishes (from the garden), and threw in tomatoes, olives, and parmesan. Through our joint efforts, we have made some pretty delicious meals.

We did not stay up too late, because we were getting up at 4:30 a.m. to catch the early train for Rome!

Wednesday, June 4, 2008

Day 22 Italy 2008

We have enjoyed our new purses so well that we thought we’d pay the company a visit at their outlet outside of Florence. When we arrived, we found that it was a huge store, but the prices were the same as in the retail store in Siena. So, I guess “outlet” over here does not mean the same as it does in the US. We did buy a few things, but decided to drive on to Florence and spend another afternoon there.

After we found a free parking spot, we made our way to Sta. Croce where we enjoyed a great pizza and glass of wine. We passed a shop that carried my little zippered change purses, so I bought a couple more. Then, go figure....we found our way back to San Lorenzo Market Place. Oh dear, buy, buy, buy! Will we be within our weight limit on the trip home???

We took a straight shot down the Autostrada and made it home to Casa Rondini, where we enjoyed another wonderful home cooked meal with the local fresh vegetables from our garden.

Tuesday, June 3, 2008

Day 21 Italy 2008

Today we went to Assisi, where the magnificent Basilica of San Francesco holds the remains of St. Francis.

The day was beautiful as we made our way up the mountain. We first noticed the modern conveniences of a parking garage and elevators (not free, by the way). We found the streets were lined with little shops and several churches and basilicas adorned the town.

The Basilica of San Francesco looks almost new. One could hardly tell that it had been damaged by the earthquake of September 26th, 1997. The Vault with the Doctors of the Church by Giotto had been repaired nicely.

The Basilica is dedicated to the life of St. Francis. He was born to a wealthy family of merchants of Assisi in 1182. He had a normal carefree youth, but a lengthy illness which confined him to bed began a life of meditation. After his conversion, he divested himself of his fine clothes in front of his parents, the Bishop and the townspeople and began a life of absolute poverty and penance. He died in 1226 and his body was temporarily interred in the church of San Giorgio. It was transferred to the Basilica of San Francesco in 1230.

The upper church holds one of the most important cycles of painting in Italian art. The famous artist Giotto painted 28 scenes that depict the episodes of the life of St. Francis. Giotto was one of the first artists that broke away from the stiff medieval style to give humanism to painting, including a sense of depth with carved drapery and perspective. This is exemplified in this series of paintings.

After leaving the Basilica, we browsed the little shops before stopping for lunch. We heard a giant clap of thunder, and the rain came down in sheets. We were sitting under large umbrellas, but needed our small umbrellas to protect mainly our camera equipment. We had lunch at a little bar/restaurant and decided to have a gelato to top it off. Well…we learned our lesson that if you get a gelato…don’t eat it at the table…they more than double the price. The price said 1.80 euro and when we got the bill, it was 2.90 euro (that’s $4.50), plus the rest of our meal. We said…”but the sign says 1.80 euro”..and she said, “but you went back and ate it at the table, so, that’s more!” Eating here is not cheap!

The day remained rainy, so we headed home. We were tired, because we were awakened by a big bird pecking at our kitchen window around 5 a.m. this morning.

Monday, June 2, 2008

Day 20 Italy 2008

We were planning to go to Assisi today, but were pretty tired after all of our running around, so we decided to sleep late, catch up on our blogs and email, and have a relaxing day. I took so many pictures in the last three days, it took me awhile to select what I wanted for the blog. Cheryl made a pot of lentils with proscuitto and garlic. It was good for a cold overcast day. It has just cleared up and here are a couple of pictures from our back balcony.

Tomorrow…off to Assisi!

Sunday, June 1, 2008

Day 19 Italy 2008

Well, this was certainly an interesting day! We decided to drive to Monte Oliveto Maggiore, an Abby that Cheryl had visited a few years ago. It was a little more difficult to find than places we had already visited. We knew it was near the town of Sinalunga. As we drove into the town, we followed signs to the visitors center. The further we drove, the smaller the streets became! We headed down a street that said (in Italian) “limited traffic” which got smaller and smaller. They should have said, "Only motorcycles and bicycles!!!" We saw we could not get out the other side, so we had to back up the hill, with about 2 inches on either side of the car. Cheryl got out and directed me, inch by inch. By the time we made it out, the little car was smokin’!!!! We drove to a place we could park and let the car (and us) cool down.

With the help of her GPS Nuvi, we made it to the Abby. What a delight!!! On our way up the hill, we saw the lovely yellow flowered shrubs that cover the countryside here called Fioritura di Ginestra or Genista lydia. They have a lovely fragrance of honey.

This is the entrance to the Abby with terracotta reliefs by the Della Robbia school.

The Great Cloister, so named to distinguish it from two smaller ones, is the main focus of the Abby. All of the walls are covered with frescoes by Luca Signorelli and Antonio Bazzi otherwise known as “Sodoma”. These frescoes were started by Signorelli in 1495 and by Sodoma in 1505. No other abby contains such renowned work.

This is the ceiling going up to the Library:

We each bought a book at the book store that described the Abby, which will come in handy for my Art History class!

It was 8:00 p.m. when we returned to Casa Rondini, so we made fresh chicken with marinara sauce over bow tie pasta, fresh salad, bread, and of course wine. We topped it all off with Limoncello, and had a very good nights’ sleep! We did put our swim suits on and tried out the pool before bedtime. It was way too cold. We only got in half way. I hope it will be warm enough before we leave to get in a good swim!

Saturday, May 31, 2008

Day 18 Italy 2008

Cortona was our next point of interest. That is the area where “Under the Tuscan Sun” was filmed. When we entered the village, we came upon a great little store where an artist Paolo Scala and his girlfriend made beautiful glass jewelry. I bought a ring and Cheryl bought a bracelet. Our next stop was lunch (I guess you’ve noticed that we’re eating our way through Italy). We finally tried the Tuscan T-bone steak that everyone has insisted we try. Well….we should have just ordered one. It was HUGE!!!

We moved on to another beautiful church - Il Duomo (Cattedrale Santa Maria della Assunzione) a portion of the facade dates back to the 10th or 11th centuries. It is believed to rest on the site of an Etruscan temple.

Here are some pics we took along the way:

Then we climbed another steep hill to the grand Cathedral of Santa Margherita which is a 19th Century Church.

On our way home we found a Sam’s-like grocery store, so we stopped and purchased some things. We found when we checked out they wouldn’t take our credit cards, so we had to pay cash (the cards they took were like membership cards…I guess we were lucky they let us buy things). We had enough that we made a light snack for dinner, since we had the steak for lunch!

Ah, another day under the Tuscan sun!!!

Friday, May 30, 2008

Day 17 Italy 2008

Today we went to Arezzo. We first walked around the medieval city where we found a lovely little art store. We found a few things to buy…surprise! We each bought some interesting palette knives for our encaustic paintings:

I also bought a watercolor pad and a wonderful sculpting tool:

We then had lunch in the Piazza Grande.

We visited the Basilica of San Francesco which houses the fresco cycle of the Legend of the True Cross, the masterpiece which Piero della Francesca painted for the Franciscan church between 1452 and 1466. The subject of the cycle is taken from the “Legenda Aurea” written by Jacopo da Varazze in the 13th century. It was an amazing series of frescos where we could not take pictures.

We stopped at an outlet mall on our way home, but were disappointed that almost everything there was from the US, and very overpriced for an outlet.

We had dinner at our favorite pizza restaurant in Monteleone before heading home.

Thursday, May 29, 2008

Day 16 Italy 2008

Today we caught up on laundry and our correspondence. I walked around and got a few movies of our area, then later we joined some of the other residents for “fish night”.

As usual, it was a multi-course meal including and eel and octopus salad, mussels, fried calamari, anchovies in olive oil and spices, squid, crawfish, cuttlefish and stuffed Italian tuna. We had a lovely chocolate tort with ice cream for dessert.

Some of these things were new to my palate and were interesting. I kept thinking of my daughter Angela being presented with a dish of “face of calf” when she lived in France!

Wednesday, May 28, 2008

Day 15 Italy 2008

We had breakfast served in our room and got ready for the day. We first went to the Uffizi and waited in a very long line. It did not seem to be moving. Since we both had seen it before, we decided to go to a couple of places we had not seen. My first choice was San Miniato al Monte. It was on the other side of the Arno River and up a very steep hill. The steps seemed to go on forever. I kept telling Cheryl it was worth the hike, and she kept looking at me and saying “it better be”!! Here are the pictures.

We went back to the hotel to check out and continued on to lunch. After lunch we passed a leather store that had the coin purses I wanted. We bought a few things and continued on to the Academia that housed Michelangelo’s “David”. We waited in a long line, but as always, it was well worth it! We then went on to the Florence Cathedral. There we met a lovely couple from the UK. We visited in the cool church for about 45 minutes, and when I told them my name was Hearne, which I understood was a common name in England, they said yes and mentioned their friend Nick Hearne….I said..”oh my gosh that’s my husband’s name!”

We walked around another hour, took these pictures

then went back to the hotel to get our luggage. We walked back to the train station and caught the train to Fabro Scalo.

Tuesday, May 27, 2008

Day 14 Italy 2008

We were off to Florence. I woke up at 5:20 a.m. in anticipation. Franco told us to park at the train station where we saw the white lines (the free spaces), which was somewhat of a trek to the main station. We bought round-trip tickets & were told to cross over to the other side and stamp our tickets before getting on the train. We had our rolling bags so we took the very long ramp. The machine that validates your tickets was not working, so I had to “run” back over to the other side and validate them…the “run” back with 4 minutes to go…and European trains leave on time!!!

When we arrived in Florence we rolled our bags to the hotel, which was right by the Duomo. Here is a picture from our room.

After “settling in”, we went to the American Express office to cash some travelers’ checks, and waited in line an hour. We got €303.09 for $500….yikes!!! With money in hand, we went to lunch and got a chicken and French fry plate, water & wine to the tune of €18 each. One almost gets use to thinking of Euros in dollars, but you have to remember that €18 is $28.15. So, when shopping, you need to multiply the euro by 1.56.

After lunch we went to a leather shop where I looked for my favorite change purse that I had bought almost 10 years ago. They did not have the exact one, but I bought a few things.

The weather was in the 90’s, to which we were unaccustomed, so it slowed us down a bit. We went on the Church of Santa Croce, where Michelangelo’s tomb is located. It also has the cloisters and Pazzi Chapel designed by Brunelleschi, as well as a magnificent museum of Renaissance art.

Tomb of Michelangelo

Pazzi Chapel

We then went back to the hotel, refreshed and went to dinner at “IL Latini”. It was a place where you sat at a table with six people. Cheryl and I had both been there before. They started bringing out the food course by course and we had not seen a menu, so we had no idea of how much it was going to cost us. While it was all very delicious, it was pretty costly…€35 apiece…around $55 each. Oh well, it was a great dinner!!!

Monday, May 26, 2008

Day 13 Italy 2008

Today we finally got on the internet for a long time. We caught up on our blogs, and made plans to go to Florence tomorrow.

I visited with Bozena in the garden and took some videos. Here are some shots of today’s take: cherries, artichokes, peas, and onion….and of course the wine. They are all products from Casa Rondini.