Volterra with Etruscans

etruscans 7etruscans 5Late afternoon visit to the Etruscan museum. They were here before the Romans (and gave Tuscany its name.)

A very Giacometti-like statue with a face that belongs in a Tim Burton movie. Little bronze animals. Sarcophogi and artifacts – mirrors, cooking utensils, jewelry. .jars
Humans evidently have always liked to adorn themselves, unlike the animals who seem content with fur and feathers.vase

Etruscan sarcophogusThe tops of the sarcophagi have stunted little bodies with bold heads. The rarity is an old man and woman; most are single.

There is a display pointing out that the sarcophagi are not portraits – the same face is repeated over and over: a young woman or man. Once you realize it, it’s kinda sad.

The under-panel of the sarcophagi are also interesting – there are themes. The Sirens singing, traveling with a covered wagon (sophisticated), fighting – of course, sunflowers, and chariots which look just like those in Ben Hur.etruscans 3
One shows a siren with a sword and 2 dolphins. The little label says in Italian – I didn’t study for nothing – the images mean the trip is dangerous but the outcome happy. (Although how could we know what the Etruscans thought?) etruscans 2
etruscans 6

I am also taken by a very human painting on a plate of a father talking to a son (or that’s how I interpreted it.)

We hiked down to the Etruscan gate that was saved in WWII by villagers who filled it with cobblestones pulled from the streets so the retreating Germans wouldn’t blow it up.

Finally my hubby wanted to climb the bell tower of the church behind our hotel, which had been a monastery.
della robia
The church was locked but when we knocked, a woman let us in. Climbing is too dangerous but she calls her husband to open the side chapels for us – each has a Della Robbia. Fantastic faces. I’m in love.

A note on the hotel: the biggest bathroom and nicest breakfast in Italy. If you are ever lucky enough to get to Volterra I recommend it – Chiostro Delle Monache.

A final reminder. If you click on a little photo you can see it full size. Be warned, they will take a while to load.

Impressions of Vernazza

green lightThis will be a short post.

My hubby was sick and it was raining most of the day.
We did get into the old church – started around 1200 – and found a professional men’s choir singing as advert for their evening concert in La Spezia. The harmonies were beautiful and magnified by the stone. A heart-stopping experience.

What follows is a visual impression of Vernazza, on a rainy day, including the tower topped by tourists and a couple proving France doesn’t have a lock on romance, a restaurant on the piazza, and finally a shot of the train that is the lifeblood for tourists.



Vernazza in Cinque Terre

mountainsGoodbye Firenze, we’re going North.

Cinque Terre (the 5 lands) is renowned for hiking and relaxing. Just what we need after Rome and Florence.

The car we rent for the rest of the trip is an Opel, a real boat, but we need automatic for B’s knee. Out of the city; wonderful to be in the countryside. Unexpectedly, we pass a pile of mountains right before La Spezia, where we’ll park; the Apuan Alps, part of the Apennines. I love them!

Parking is a mystery (no cars in Vernazza); we found a safe seeming place under the train station, but it will be expensive. Cheaper to reserve ahead but my months of research never turned up that fact. Lunch in station, then on to Vernazza by train.
steps w wreath
Stepssteps w diskFinding our B&B is an adventure. As the website warned, there were lots of steps, but the town is a mass of steps except for a paved walking street down the middle.

We wait for about an hour for the owner to show up. My nice hubby holds the ladder for a workman nearby and I climb up to the terrace to take pix while I can: it’s sunny now but rain is forecast. coastline
Guiseppe, father of the owner, comes to let us in AND does a load of our laundry! Now we have clothes drying all over the 2 story room. Unfortunately the bedroom is up and the bathroom down, but never mind. The bed is good and Guiseppe was so nice…

B is getting sick. He thought he’d burned his throat on coffee in the AM but seems not. He sleeps a little. harbor2
We explore the town. Nice harbor.

Climb up the tower – a lookout against pirates in the old days.

Hear part of the mass in the church – nice echo with the organ and singing.

Sit on the plaza, the main hub where we talk to a couple from Ottowa; very funny guys, but they weren’t prepared – didn’t even know the museums in Rome are closed on Mon. until they tried a couple. I couldn’t travel like that (although I have … younger, stupider).
Nice dinner with a friendly waiter – we were the only ones in the place at 7:20. Tried their pesto. Mine is just as good – a win for home cooking. We’re in bed and asleep by 8:30. Wake up at 3:15 to a wild storm. The shutters snapping. Lock them and go back to sleep. Yes to Vernazza!

5 Museums and A Great Meal in Florence

last supperSaw 5 museums today…plus a Last Supper. We start at Cenacola by an artist unknown to me: Il Perugia. Very calm.
Piedra Dura
The museum of hard stones. Inlays of colored stone on tables, cabinets, doors. Fantastic.

Upstairs, the “machines” but the work was mostly manually. I was surprised by the exact fit of the pieces. B is astounded by the whole operation. But then, the Roman empire was built by hand (and slave). Buildings, roads, everything without machinery.
Next stop: the Bargello then the antique palace (Palazzo Vecchio). Lots of stairs – they certainly made the ceilings high.

The Bargello had a big courtyard with crests all over the walls and painted ceilings but was kind of empty.

The Palazzo now serves as the city hall, very grand with matchless ceilings.

Today instead of sore feet, I have a crick in my neck.ceiling
At Lunch they were playing 70’s, 80’s songs. I had bowl of olives in oil w/ lots of spice. A 4 cheeses pizza and a mixed salad. Such a feast. Of course it was 1:45 and we hadn’t eaten all day.
medieval homeAfter lunch we rush off to Palazzo Davanzati, the medieval home of a rich man in about 1300. We arrived 20 mins before closing but the lady said, “Chiuso.” I was able to say in Italian – no, there are 20 minutes left. After some argument (thank goodness for my classes), she let us in. That moment made all the study worthwhile because it was fantastic. Full disclosure: I love the medieval period more than the Renaissance.
It had a butler’s shaft, for hoisting water I think. Also a toilet, a hole down the wall, but with a wooden lid w/ a handle. Never saw a lid before – either they all have been lost or the Italians were more refined.

The walls were papered, well, ok, plastered and painted with a repeating motif. Probably lasted better than the wall paper jobs I’ve done. A line of pipes ran down the walls – I read that the kitchen was on the top floor to keep the place cooler in Italian heat, so they must have been for drainage.
medieval window

Finally, The Uffizi. For me, like the Prado in Spain, just too much, and lots that I didn’t care for. The early stuff – 13-1400’s was to my taste. Love the flat hat-like halos in gold. The triptychs w/ the pointed tops. Then a couple of Rembrandts. B remarks how many of the artists didn’t know how to use light – but Caravaggio did. Too many people, endless rooms and no photos.
Our Uffizi joke: Most Roman statues are missing their penises. We saw a statue of Dionysus leaning back, laughing at a bunch of grapes. At his feet, a panther, mouth wide open, gazing up at Dionysius. Brian makes up a dialogue…”Hey, you, Dionysius, better give me some grapes or I’ll bite your penis off. Oops, too late.”

Firenze4After the museums, we went to the main plaza, chock full of statues. My favorite, since the first time I was in Florence, is Perseus with the head of Medusa. Also the Baptistry is here with its famous door.
The Florentines evidently have a great sense of humor: many of the street directions have been “fixed up.”
Tomorrow we go off into the countryside. Hooray, I’m about museum’ed out!

Florence Duomo, Baptistry and Galileo Museum

Market47AM train from Rome to Florence.
The streets are jammed with stalls selling tourist junk, even at 9AM. I suppose it was much the same in the Renaissance, but I don’t have to like it.

Florence has a fabulous food market. B orders and eats cod, shrimp, octopus. FRESH and cooked in front of us. Lots of goodies for vegetarians too. Formaggio (cheese). Piles of fruit. No wonder Italian food is so good.

On to the Medici Chapel. Can see why Machiavelli dedicated The Prince to one of them: in their portraits they look like brutes – big noses, crumpled brows.

Back on the street we pass a real leather-working shop. leather

Next San Marco – a former monastery – decorated by Fra Lippi. I was expecting his beautiful women, but it’s a monastery (duh, no women). Each monk’s cell had a painting, many of the crucifixion. Blood pooling at the base of the cross. Spurting from the side wound. B comments that Jesus must have had great blood pressure. Photos not allowed – even on the web I found none of the gory frescos. Use your imagination.

Duomo 2duomo10Next the Accademia for Michelangelo’s David. He was 28 when he finished it. What to say? It’s just stunning, even given its familiarity in photos. Irreverently I note that the buns are cute and his eyes alive. Again, no pictures.
The Duomo. A BIG WOW. The side is dirty but the front has been cleaned. A wedding cake – all the frills and statues and pink and green marble. Inside it’s empty – the most empty church we’ve seen. All the glory on the outside, like a teen-aged girl.

Over to the Baptistry. I’ve been in Florence before but only admired the famous doors on the outside, never went in. What a mistake.
Here is what I expected in the Duomo! Gold touched ceiling. Mosaics everywhere, from floor up. The old Biblical stories. Like the stained glass only in stone. Another WOW.(Click on the little pix twice to see a full image.)

Last stop of the day (oh, my feet), the Galileo Museo.
Filled with old scientific instruments. Globes. Telescopes. Things I’ve only heard of. Early electricity generators. Compasses. Astrolobes. All beautifully presented. closeup

A walk along the river, then a fabulous dinner. Crespelle (crepes) made with pasta dough and filled with spinach ricotta. Mmmm good. And the room in the hotel is quiet – such a blessing. Tomorrow another big day in Firenze.

Italian Dogs, Cats (and a Horse)

1 egyptian cat
Today is a short break from our sightseeing to take a look at the cats and dogs (and one horse) in Italy.

To my pleasure, Italians love their dogs.

I’ve been in places where I’ve cried at the treatment of the animals, but Italy was awash with happy dogs. And cats, don’t forget the cats. Some living, some carved or woven or even cut out of colored stone.

My mother could never travel without taking pictures of every toddler she saw. I tend to be the same towards dogs, although I was a cat person until I married. Still love them – I guess I’m bi where pets are concerned, although we have two dogs, no cats right now. I draw the line at snakes or gerbils or even birds.

The first cat was in the Vatican museum. She’s from Egypt and a haughty little thing.

1 pompeii dog The dog I encountered in the Pompeii ruins was a cutie, but hungry. I told him I had a cracker in my purse, but oops. I don’t remember eating it! Poor thing couldn’t believe it, staring his dismay down the street.
1 howling dogs One of my favorite Roman sculptures was of howling dogs. Or maybe they are about to be fed. I knew the Romans could sculpt realistic faces, but the dogs really tickled me.

Then there was the cat following a bird on a piazza filled with restaurants. The bird pecking at crumbs for dinner; the cat hoping for the bird. I watched it slink and crouch, getting ever closer, but finally the bird was scared away by Italians enjoying a passagiata (walk).
1 bird prey
I saw a dog standing on a stump in the Borghese park, evidently surveying his territory and one wet from a swim in the sea. Surprisingly, there were several dogs in churches, one little guy curled up on the cool marble, sound asleep. I also saw a big dog tucked onto a moto, but was so surprised, I missed the shot. And it wasn’t all dogs and cats, at least in Rome.

1 romulusIf you consider the wolf as a dog, Rome’s history contains one of the most famous dogs of all (after Lassie of course). Without that she-wolf, Romulus and Remus would have perished and there’d have been no Rome…

In a parking lot, a cat was enjoying a snooze on a lavender car. When I returned, it had moved to a blue car and was awake.
1 cat sleeping1 car catIn the same town, Casperia, a dog with baleful eyes captured my heart.
1 chained dogPrecedent exists for the modern Italians and their dogs. A favorite subject during the Renaissance they were set in precious stone (chasing a bear) on the face of a cabinet, carved on the edge of a church, or worrying a bone in the corner of a tapestry.

I want to close with my favorite animal shot of the trip. I couldn’t see what captured the attention of the cat. Maybe after the rain, she just wanted to be let into her apartment, but she’s a beauty. Maybe we should get a cat!
Next week we travel on to Florence.

1 rain cat