Wednesday, May 23, 2012

Italy: Spring 2012: Friday, May 18: Day 24: Cannara

Italy: Spring 2012: Friday, May 18: Day 24: Cannara

Another nice long can this keep up?

Sometime before we woke up, people slipped into the kitchen and squeezed fresh orange juice and made things ready for our breakfast.  The only thing missing from this kitchen for my purposes is a drip coffee maker but I search around and rig up a reasonable facsimile using a funnel, a napkin and a teapot.

We enjoy our breakfast--Teresa, the owner of the house--had made a "pizza di Pasqua" (a kind of cheese bread) and Jennifer made a delicious ricotta tart as well.

After breakfast, we have an appointment to take a look at the villa we are renting next year to celebrate our 50th wedding anniversary and Diana's 70th birthday with all the boys, their wives and the grandchildren.  The Fattoria del Gelso is just outside Cannara, actually within walking distance to town.  I somehow get lost on the way there (not an easy feat in this small town) but we finally make it.  We are shown around by the local "keyholder" and find all is great....lots of bedrooms and baths, big living areas, great kitchen, lovely swimming pool.

Here are some links to photos of the Fattoria....

We even get some fresh fava beans from the caretaker who tends the garden and is the in-house pizza maker.

We then drive towards the hill town of Montefalco but make a stop to walk around Bevagna....another small town near Cannara.  We do some shopping (some farro and lentils) and admire the main piazza with two facing churches.

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Garibaldi is commemorated here (as in almost every Italian town) with a plaque on one the gates into town.

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Then we drive up the hill to the center of Montefalco, which--at 1500 feet--dominates the broad plain.  We stop to admire the view...Montefalco is known as the "balcony of Umbria"....

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and do some more shopping in the town...

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Time for lunch and we return to Bevagna to have lunch at Le Delizie del Borgo

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a trattoria run by a friend of the villa owners--Bill and Suzy Menard who also run Bella Italia, a Italian import store in Bethesda MD.  We eat outside...all the tables are filled with non-Italians. 

We strike up a conversation with the people at the table next to us, who turn out to be Russians who now live in Minneapolis, and are also Italophiles.

The food is very good...I have tagliatelle with mushrooms and a plate of tripe, while Diana has a very good plate of salumi and a bowl of zuppa di farro.  With a couple of glasses of local red wine, the lunch is very pleasant.

Back to Cannara for a rest and then another walk around town for me--although it is interrupted  
by a rain shower--a very disturbing omen.

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Later in the afternoon, we get back in the car searching for a local St. Francis connection, the Pala d'Arco--a roadside shrine marking the spot where St. Francis preached to the birds.  We find it easily...we had actually passed it twice during the day.

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On the way back, we stop to buy porchetta sandwiches for dinner and pick up some local Montefalco wine at the supermarket.  We eat at the palazzo and have a quiet evening listening to jazz and reading.

Tomorrow we will have lunch with friends in Vicchio (Tuscany) and then continue on to Modena.

Jim and Diana

Tuesday, May 22, 2012

Italy: Spring 2012: Thursday, May 17: Day 23: Pisa-Cannara

Italy: Spring 2012: Thursday, May 17: Day 23: Pisa-Cannara

The sun is shining again on our final morning in Pisa.  Before we check out, we walk over to the Museo dell'Opera del Duomo, where many of the original pieces from the Cathedral are kept.  On the way, we get yet another angle on the tower.

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We have usually had very good luck with Duomo museums and this one is no exception.  The museum is very nicely laid out with good lighting, good signage in English (a big plus for us) and some amazing things on display.  We spend more than an hour walking from room to room; for most of the time, we are the only people in the museum.  Here are pictures of some of the exhibits that we liked the most.

A set of original bronze doors from the front entrance

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rooms full of statues and carvings from the outside of the building, some in rooms with frescoed walls.

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some terrific intarsia work--pictures and designs composed of pieces of colored wood.....amazingly intricate and beautiful.

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an lllustrated bible with text read by the priest and pictures visible to the congregation so they can follow along.

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and a lovely garden in the cloister

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right under the Torre Pendente.

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We have had a good time in Pisa--both exploring the city and revisiting the Piazza dei Miracoli.

We get on the road and stop for our (almost) annual lunch of Tuscan fried chicken with vegetables in Lucca at the Vecchia Trattoria Buralli. Delicious as usual.....the frying is done in Jewish Tuscan style--flour first then egg, no breadcrumbs.  We stop to see our friend Paolo at the Piccolo Hotel Puccini but he isn't there so we get back on the road for our next stop--Cannara.

Cannara is a small town just outside of Perugia...we are staying at a new bed and breakfast in one of the old palazzos in the center--the Palazzo delle Signorine.

We have some difficulty locating the palazzo and we circle the town a couple of times before arriving in the right piazza....hard to believe we could get lost in such a small town.  We are met by Jennifer McIlvainea young American who lives in Cannara.  She does cooking lessons and guides people around the area

and is helping the Italian owners of the palazzo to get started.  It turns out that we are the first actual paying guests.  Since we are the only guests, we have the run of the place so, in addition to our spacious bedroom,

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 we get to hang out in the skylighted front room and the well-equipped kitchen.  (Jennifer does her cooking classes there.)

I go out for my exploratory stroll around doesn't take that long and many shops are closed on Thursday afternoon.  But I make a few discoveries.....

a self service laundromat

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a bar with a playground with inflatable play equipment

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and a porchetta truck parked in the supermarket lot.

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....all valuable intelligence for our stay at the villa just outside of town where we are staying next year.

For dinner, we walk around the corner and eat at Per Bacco, where we had eaten in the summer of 1998 when Seth was studying at the University of Perugia.  The place has been redecorated since our last visit but it is under the same management.  The place is very pleasant but I think the menu is a bit too "creative" for me.  Diana chooses the tasting menu--a plate of assorted appetizers, two pastas--gnocchi and tagliatelle, a veal cutlet and strawberries for dessert.  I have an onion based antipasto--Cannara is famous for its onions--a flan with onion cream sauce and bruschetta with an onion topping followed by a pasta dish with leeks and prosciutto.  The owner is very charming and attentive to us until a couple of regulars walk in and he gets involved in long discussions with them.
In any case, we don't think we will be going back there tomorrow...but perhaps we will give it another try next year.

Back to our palazzo through quiet streets....tomorrow we are off to check out the Fattoria del Gelso.

Jim and Diana

Monday, May 21, 2012

Italy: Spring 2012: Monday, May 21: SPECIAL EARTHQUAKE REPORT

Italy: Spring 2012: Monday, May 21: SPECIAL EARTHQUAKE REPORT

I am stepping out of sequence to report on the earthquake that took place near Modena on Sunday morning.  We woke up at 4 am because the bed was shaking...not violently but steadily for about 20 seconds.  Diana felt that the whole building and room were rocking and she thought it lasted a long time.  Then it stopped and all was quiet.  We heard no street noise, no sirens, no commotion even after opening the window.  We immediately thought that it might have been an earthquake and confirmed that there had been a quake with a quick search on my smartphone.

But nothing else happened and we went back to sleep.  We learned from the internet in the morning that the quake had been much more severe than we thought but all seemed normal at the hotel.

Only after we went out in the morning did we notice a lot of areas near older buildings roped off with tape.  And when we got to the tall bell tower, there was a sign posted that it was closed so they could make sure there was no damage.

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But the cathedral was open as was the Duomo museum.....and people seemed to be going about their business normally on a cloudy, damp Sunday morning.

On the way back to the hotel, the street was blocked off and people were staring at the front and roof of an old church.  Cracks were easily seen on the facade

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The effects were more evident when we drove to Carpi, a nearby city, planning to visit the museums there.  On the very grand main piazza, the castle that houses the museum was closed as was the Duomo.  The area in front of the long porticoed side of the piazza was cordoned off because of the danger of decorative chimneys on the roof falling.

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Across the piazza at the castello, the falling debris was even more evident.

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It's lucky that no one was standing underneath when the bricks began falling.

You have probably seen the television reports of the extensive damage elsewhere in the area.....but we are fine. 

Jim and Diana

Italy: Spring 2012: Wednesday, May 16: Day 22: Pisa

Italy: Spring 2012: Wednesday, May 16: Day 22: Pisa

We continue to luck out in the weather department....a little cooler this morning but still clear and sunny.  Breakfast again in the charming hotel garden and then back to the Piazza dei Miracoli to visit the Baptistery and Duomo.

The Baptistery is a very impressive building...a very large structure with intricate carvings and sculptures on the exterior.  It was completed in 1363.

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Inside it is largely unadorned....very high dome with a large, elaborately decorated baptismal font

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and an impressive carved Pisano pulpit 

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A notable feature of the Baptistery is the perfect acoustics...every half hour a staff member demonstrates how the sound travels and echoes and he is applauded by the people watching.

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Here is the view from the second level that rings the building.

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While I am on the second level of the Baptistery, I take two pictures that I like of the Duomo and the Tower from the grated window.

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The Duomo--which is earlier than the Baptistery (begun in 1064)--has some very appealing features.  First, the bronze doors to the center entrance, are very impressive--the panels tell the story of the life of Christ and is the only original door remaining.

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The gilded wooden roof of the cathedral is ornately decorated 

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and has the Medici coat of arms displayed in the middle.

An even more impressive Pisano pulpit from the 13th century stands on the floor

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Ironically it was only re-placed in the Duomo in 1926 after having been stored away after the disastrous fire of 1595 which caused heavy damage to the building.

There is impressive mosaic over the altar reminsicent of the mosaics seen in Monreale Sicily

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and Diana especially likes the tiled Cosmatesque floors.

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We walk back to the hotel and decide to have a light lunch in the garden since the day is so nice.....we enjoy the sun and the peacefulness.

After lunch, we have arranged a visit to the Jewish cemetery which is located just outside the Piazza dei Miracoli behind the Baptistery.  It is said to be the oldest continually used Jewish cemetery in Europe, dating from the 17th century.  The Jewish community in Pisa was very similar to the community in Livorno--very integrated into the fabric of the city and there was no ghetto.  One of the graves tells that the person was Mayor of Pisa in the early 20th century.

It is always a bittersweet, melancholy experience to visit these cemeteries....this one being in the shadow of the Baptistery gives it even more poignancy.

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Parts of the cemetery are well kept up but others have become overgrown.

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I take another walk around another part of town and find the vegetable market where i buy some good strawberries.  We go out for an aperitif at one of the bars in the student section passing by a big celebration for a recent graduate who is wearing the traditional laurel wreath.

The restaurant where I planned to eat dinner is full so we go to another place just down the street.  I am a little apprehensive because there is no one eating there but dinner turns out fine...the people are friendly and the food quite good.

After dinner, we make a return visit to the Piazza dei Miracoli to see the buildings at night without the is a very different experience.

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Tomorrow we head south to Umbria to check out the villa we are renting next year for the whole family.

Jim and Diana

Italy: Spring 2012: Tuesday, May 15: Day 21: Pisa

Italy: Spring 2012: Tuesday, May 15: Day 21: Pisa

The sun is out again today....we have been mostly very lucky with the weather up to now on this trip.

After breakfast in the charming garden in back of the hotel

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we walk over to the nearby Piazza dei Miracoli, the grassy field where the Leaning Tower, the Duomo and the Baptistery are located. This is one of the most crowded tourist sites in Italy, lined with stalls selling souvenirs and there is a never ending stream of people flooding in from all directions.

But it is also a very unusual open setting for the three buildings

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that somehow can handle the crowds, even all the people taking pictures of people holding up the leaning tower.

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We walk around the Piazza and then take a short stroll towards the center of town passing through the very grand Piazza dei Cavalieri (unfortunately being restored) with its elaborate painted palazzo 

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and the building with the clock that gives our hotel (Relais Hotel dell'Orologio) its name.

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We are meeting our friend (and my travel colleague) Maddie Bacarelli 

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for lunch in Quarrata, a town near where she lives.   Quarrata has been called the ugliest town in Tuscany by some but we think that is unjust...although its modern piazza with this war memorial is a bit strange.

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Lunch is fine....and we have a good time catching up.

We try to drive back through the countryside but our first attempt ends us up on too narrow and curvy a road for our comfort so we turn around and try a different route.  But we do pass a hillside with olive trees and poppies that are very striking.

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The ride is taking too long so we find the fast road and get back to Pisa in time for a rest and some work.  Later in the afternoon, we walk into the center of Pisa. We pass through section of town where the University of Pisa is located; there are students everywhere--walking, riding bikes, sitting in bars--which makes the town seem very lively.  We walk along the river Arno which is flanked on both sides with impressive palazzi and some scullers on the river

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past the statue of Garibadi in the Piazza Garibaldi

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and then back to the hotel by way of the main shopping street

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In this part of town, you wouldn't even know that the Leaning Tower and the enormous crowds of tourists was a kilometer away.

We have dinner at another Slow Food recommendation, Trattoria della Faggiola which is just steps away from the hotel.  We have some doubts when we walk in since only one table is occupied but we sit down anyway.  The menu is very brief 

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but dinner is quite good...asparagus soup and mixed salami and cheese plate for Diana and pasta with sausage and mushrooms and meatballs for me.   We drink a local Pisan red with dinner.

Tomorrow we will visit the Baptistery and the Duomo.

Jim and Diana