Saturday, October 12, 2013

Time in Italy

Linda and I, along with two other couples from the Gilmer County area spent ten days touring Tuscany and Venice during the last week of September and the first week of October, of 2013. It was so much fun seeing areas of Italy we had never been to before. We flew into Frankfurt from Atlanta and then to Florence that same day. We spent two nights in Florence and redid many of the things we experienced in 1996 when we took Bric and Peyton there but we also managed to hit some of the high spots we missed that first time. The Pallazo Pitti and the Boboli gardens, Capelle Brancassi, the Galleria Uffitzi, Santa Croce and Ghiberti’s doors in the Duomo Museum along with many other sites we enjoyed very much. Florence may be the most beautiful city in the world as far as I am concerned. We hiked up to the Piazzale Michelangelo on a hill behind Florence for the view of a life time which it certainly was. Florence from atop that hill with the sun setting in a rose colored sky was astonishing!

From Florence, we took a trainride to Siena and spent two nights there.  It is an incredible ancient renaissance walled city that was remarkable. The cathedrals were very impressive and the city itself was delightful. During the first night in Siena we had arranged, before we left the U.S.A. for a dinner at a restaurant called Arnolfi’s some distance from Siena. It was a dinner I will never forget. It was about theater, art and choreography as much as it was about food and the food was incredible. The restaurant was elegantly appointed and situated in a centuries old building. The food was presented in tiny perfectly arranged minuit portions served on unique glass and china serving pieces. The whole meal was choreographed as though it were an elaborate dance and included 12 courses (that I can remember) with appropriate paired wines and very well dressed young, attractive Italian men and women serving. The meal included fish, squab, water melon, chick pea soup with shrimp and so much more, elaborately displayed. Each serving was a small piece of edible art. What an adventure! I am attaching the website for the restaurant just in case anyone is interested in going there. The only thing I would add is that you may need to take out a second mortgage on the home place back in the states in order to afford it.

In Siena we rented a car and drove to Volterra which is another very old walled city not unlike Siena but larger. On the way we stopped at Monteriggiioni and San Gimignano. Both are walled ancient renaissance towns. They were old beyond imagination with fig trees growing up through the foundations and flowers planted everywhere. Grape vines hung full with lusty ripening fruit near the doors and windows of the adjacent buildings that served as homes and stores. These Tuscans seem to live very close to nature. Monteriggiioni was tiny but still they had shops with all sorts of touristy things for sale. For a paltry two Euros you could climb to the top of the walls surrounding the town and have a breath taking view of the Tuscan countryside with endless olive groves  and row upon row of grape vines and vineyards. San Gimignano was a much larger city with huge shopping areas and a considerable permanent population. There were many very tall, impressive observation towers throughout the city. By far the most populous thing all of these towns and cities had in common were tourists, shoulder to shoulder. In fact in San Gimignano we had a spontaneous down pour and I was startled that within seconds of the rain fall, all (and I mean all) of the tourists disappeared from the stone canyons of the streets. For the life of me I could not figure where they had all gone. One minute they were there looking, laughing, bumping and banging into each other, taking photographs and then the next second the streets were empty. How the rain poured, creating small rivers in the rock paved streets but the hordes of tourists had vanished.

We arrived in Volterra in the middle of the afternoon and after a short rest we went out for dinner at a nice restaurant later that evening. I had grilled porcini mushrooms that were marvelous and gnocchi in a cream sauce, fantastic. The food in Italy beats anything I have ever seen….or tasted. There is never a bad meal. In Volterra we went to the Etruscan Museum. It was remarkable but had funeral urns without number and other pieces that were also interesting. I have never been a big fan of Etruscan art however and may not be the most objective person to evaluate the museum. We also saw the Pinocoteca and the Roman ruins which needless to say was in pretty bad shape, ha. The next evening we ate at Don Beta’s Restaurant where I had without a doubt the best pizza I have ever eaten in my life.  It was an Italian sausage pizza with mozzarella cheese and cannellini beans. Simple as that may sound it was amazing! Totally amazing! It probably was the sausage that made it so delicious. In Italy food is frequently a revelation! The next morning we started for Lucca by way of Pisa.

In Pisa we saw the leaning tower and I must admit it was absolutely beautiful. It is such a cliché but still beautiful and very impressive. The adjacent cathedral was stunning as well. The tourist were ubiquitous. Every ten to twelve minutes the police would come out onto the grassy areas and motion all the young people (who were trespassing on the lawn posing for photos in front of the tower) to get off the grass. They returned as soon as the police left. There was also some kind of protest going on there at the tower so we quickly looked, found the water closet and left on our merry way traversing the Tuscan countryside toward lucca.

 In Lucca we walked atop the entire wall surrounding the town and stopped occasionally to climb ancient towers, eat at food places and see points of interest, of which there were many. The Guinigi tower we climbed had many steps that went to the very top where large trees were growing. The trees and the tower could be viewed from most places in the city. Linda and I climbed every step to the top of the tower along with many school children who were there for the same purpose.

The second day we visited an open air market that went a third of the way around the town following the wall. There was everything for sale that you could imagine. Booth after booth of homemade sausages, cheeses and meats perfumed the air with their fragrance. There were assorted clothes items, fruits and vegetables like squash blossoms, zucchinis, olives, grapes, garlic, red peppers, delectable melons and all sorts of other food items, all locally grown and for sale. In Lucca we had time to sit in the town under countless trees, drink local wines, admire the sights and appreciate what life in the city was like for the locals. Finally in Lucca we returned the rental cars and took the train on the final leg of our trip to Venice.

Venice is magical! If you have never been go and go soon. Frankly I do not believe it will be there for much longer. The rising sea levels have all ready taken a big toll on Venice and it continues to lap at the foundations. There are days when St. Mark’s square is under water and tourists have to walk on the elevated scaffolding built for the purpose of tourist foot traffic. It is so tragic to see this happening to this incredible city. When you tour the church it has to be traversed on raised scaffolds because at times the floor of St. Mark’s church is under water. The Doge’s palace and the winged lion on his pilaster will succumb to the rising tides as sure as the sun will rise tomorrow. Everything in Venice will be lost and I cannot fathom any other option or imagine any way it could be saved or moved.  It is tragic beyond words because I really love that city which is picturesque beyond any other.  We returned to Atlanta on the fifth of October and although exhausted the trip was excellent. Linda and I had a wonderful time.

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