Sue and Mo at Harris Beach

Sue and Mo at Harris Beach
Sue and Mo at Harris Beach

Sunday, October 28, 2018

10-28-2018 How Will I Write About Italy?

UPDATE:  I finally finished writing all the posts about Italy on December 13, 2018, but will leave this one dated for October 28 when I first wrote it.  The rest of the posts have been backdated to reflect the actual dates that we traveled.

Current Location on October 28: Sunset House in Grants Pass Oregon Cloudy and rainy and 63 F

Our guests have departed. There is nowhere I have to be for at least another week.  Crashed on the loveseat on a only slightly drippy Sunday afternoon, I lifted my body from what daughter Melody calls “Landscape Mode”, and said to Mo, “It’s time to try to write the blog about my trip to Italy”.  She said, “How do you plan to do that? How many posts?  Where will you start?”  I said, “No clue, I won’t know till I get started”.

When I got home a week and a half ago, I was all ready to go.  Photos processed and uploaded while still in Italy, no less, notes kept on the calendar and even a few draft blog post days ready to be filled in and fleshed out.  But then, just a few hours after Mo picked me up from the airport, Mo’s sister-in-law Nancy came to visit for a few days.  It is fun having Nancy around, and we took things fairly easy while she was here.  In fact, I don’t remember much about her visit except that it was pleasant and we took her to Schmidt Vineyards for a glass of wine and wood fired pizza on the lovely grounds.  I guess I don’t remember because I was still caught up in a bit of jet lag, or maybe not even jet lag, but trip lag. 

Nancy left on Friday and on Saturday Mo and I packed up the car and the dog to go over the pass to Klamath Falls for a few days.  Not sure if my Italy suitcase was fully unpacked when I loaded it up again for the short trip.  I was looking forward to a day at Rocky Point at the annual Chili Feed where I had volunteered to be a cashier to help support the fire department. Long day, but still fun to see all the old Rocky Point friends and participate.  Instead of coming back to Grants Pass, we went home to the apartments to spend a few days doing maintenance things, Mo did outdoor stuff and I painted one of the bedrooms in the one apartment that we keep available for ourselves when we need it. 

We stayed only long enough for the EPA meeting to celebrate the final season of the cleanup of the Northridge Estates Area.  (You can check out the info here if you are interested, or don’t remember how this affected us).  Making a beeline back to Grants Pass, I knew that the next day it would be time to clean the house and rake some leaves, and sure enough we got a phone call from Nickie and Jimmy saying they would be heading our way the next day, and was that OK.  Of course that was OK, but I did have to rush a bit to get the rest of my stuff out of the Italy suitcase and the apartment suitcase and make sure the house looked spiffy again.  They haven’t visited since we finished building and moved in.

We had a great visit with them as well, 3 days and 2 nights of fun times, including a hike up into Cathedral Hills on what was supposed to be a rainy day and instead was quite nice.  Cool and a bit drippy, but pleasant.  Mattie was thrilled to have them here, she so loves company and of course more people around usually means a few more treats.  I told Nickie I couldn’t cook, and instead we went out to dinner at our new favorite little bistro, the Bohemian, in downtown Grants Pass, in the historic area.  Fabulous dinner!  The next evening we went to a crazy thing listed in the entertainment section of the paper, The Popovich Comedy Pet Theater, which is basically indescribable, but very funny, and a lot of fun, with a full house of kids young and old laughing a LOT.

We had simple tacos last night, watched the Streisand version of “A Star is Born”, and decided that the new Lady Gaga version was more well written and actually much better.  Never in a million years would have thought that this old diehard Streisand fan would say that.

I am here at long last, at the computer, with most everything caught up, and ready to start writing about my fabulous, incredible, magnificent, wonderful, amazing trip to Italy, with my fabulous, incredible, magnificent, wonderful, amazing daughter Deanna.  Three weeks of travel on our own without a glitch.  Well, I guess that is giving the story away, but tune in and the next few posts will tell the tale.  (I actually have no idea how many posts it will take, I will figure it out as I go).  Thank goodness I kept good notes during the trip, so some of the finer details and fun stuff won’t be lost. 

Tuesday, October 16, 2018

10-15-2018 Naples and Home

We woke on our last morning in Florence to a decent day, with no rain predicted for our return trip to Naples.  As always, when it is time for things to get a bit complicated, I was feeling stressed.  We needed to arrange a taxi to the train station, and yet we also needed to check out of our apartment.  Isabella was often less than responsive, and we were worried about how long the check out process would take, and how long it would take for a taxi to arrive.  Silly little travel details that seem quite inconsequential in retrospect, but at the time they made my stomach churn.

Finally, when Isabella hadn’t arrived at what we thought was the proper time for us to catch the train station, we texted her to tell her we were leaving and headed downstairs.  The Taxi app worked perfectly, and the taxi arrived within minutes, just as Isabella also arrived.  She was blustery and apologetic, and tried to carry on a cheery conversation, wishing us well.  With the taxi driver waiting, we were a bit less conversational, but the checking out process was simple.  We handed her the keys and said goodbye and thank you.

Later she gave us a stellar recommendation on Air BnB, saying we treated her apartment like our own home and were very communicative.  Hmmm.  I was glad that I hadn’t said too much about our frustration with her when I did a similar Air BnB review.

Within minutes we were at the Santa Novella train station.  By this time we were “experienced” train travelers, and knew just how to manage the system.  We had plenty of time for some lunch at a small cafe in the station while we waited for our train.

This trip south was a bit less exciting than our first experience three weeks ago.  Is it possible to get that jaded about a 200 mile per hour train after just one trip?  This time we knew not to order anything expensive, and spent the quick 2 3/4 hour trip reading, eating our own snacks and relaxing with the view that sped by.  Even the passing trains weren’t quite so thrilling this time.

Almost empty business class car on the Frecciarossa, do you think Deanna is bored?

Arriving in the Napoli Centrale (main train depot in Naples), we made sure all our baggage was locked and secured to our bodies and we navigated the crowded streets to our hotel.  I had done some extensive research regarding the hotel location, reading reviews that it was difficult to find and in a sketchy neighborhood.  I am glad it was early afternoon when we arrived and the sun was shining at least.

Our hotel is to the left, the train station is across the street straight ahead

The neighborhood did feel considerably different from the world we had left behind in Florence.  It was crowded and busy, and we saw what looked like drug deals going on all around us.  Not sure the people were homeless, but there were definitely some rather tattered and sketchy looking people hanging out all around our hotel, and the construction and graffiti didn’t help with the ambience.

Once we figured out the green gate, found the wall phone to contact the proprietor and climbed the stairs to another locked door, we were definitely wondering about our choice.  When the owner opened the door to the small hall that held his desk and a coffee station, and carefully locked the heavy door behind him, we felt better.  Then, as he showed us our room, we felt even better.  Turns out that the bed in that sketchy little hotel was the best bed we encountered on our entire trip!

I looked around for a safe since we planned to go out for dinner after we settled in.  Was happy to find one in the closet, but laughed out loud when I discovered it wasn’t attached to anything.  Not so sure this safe was a particularly safe one.

The owner was wonderfully accommodating when helping us to arrange a ride to the airport at 4:30 the next morning.  He gave us a name and a phone number, as well as a photo of the man who would be picking us up at that early hour.  Paying attention to safety seemed important to him, so we paid attention as well.

After settling in, we walked across the piazza as he suggested, avoiding the construction and the bus parking lot to walk along the opposite side where there were restaurants and shops and many people walking about.  With a bit of exploration, we decided that seafood was the meal of choice.  After all, we were in Naples, world famous port and most famous for its Italian seafood dishes.

With several restaurants along the walkway, all posting their menus for viewing, we finally settled on one that seemed to have not only good food, but available tables.  The evening was wonderfully warm, and the ambience was very Italian.  We definitely noticed a big difference between the friendliness of the people in this part of Italy compared to the cooler northern area around Florence.  As Luigi had told us when he drove us to the Napoli Centrale two weeks ago, Napolitano’s were the best people in all of Italy when it came to loving life and food and being open and friendly.

Our meal was excellent, although I am pretty sure that Deanna’s tuna from the Bay of Naples was better than my red shrimp.  I remember Deanna saying she thought it was her favorite meal in all of Italy, but that bustecca in Siena was definitely higher on my list than the rather ugly red shrimp on my plate.

The comfortable bed was nice, but with our early alarms set and thoughts of the trip home it was hard to really sleep well.  The 4:30 AM ride through the city of Naples to the airport was interesting.  Naples was a LOT dirtier in this part of the city than other areas we have visited in Italy.  There was a lot of garbage strewn about, and at that early hour with no traffic or people around it seemed much dingier.

Once we arrived at the airport everything seemed to slip into place.  I barely remember this part of the trip.  Our flight from Naples through Frankfurt and then on to Seattle was completely uneventful.  We managed our connections without incident, knew to be ready for the 4 different ID checkpoints in Frankfurt.  Our flight was long, almost 10 hours, and what I remember most is how entertaining it was to watch the Google Earth quality animated image of our airplane as it crossed over Europe and Greenland, and finally Canada. Once we arrived in Seattle, we were happy to use on our phones.  We downloaded it while waiting in line, and bypassed a ton of folks and were through customs within minutes.  Slick.

Our wait in Seattle wasn’t long, and Deanna Alaska’s flight to Wenatchee was earlier than my flight to Medford.  I felt a stab of sadness as we parted, knowing that it would be a very long time before I would get to spend this much quality one on one time with my girl.

Once again we talked about how perfect the planning had been, how our time allotments were just about right.  We then talked about the few things in Florence we had missed.  Somehow we didn’t make it to the church at San Lorenzo, or the huge Market area, or the Medici Tombs, with more amazing Michelangelo sculptures.  As we said over and over, you can only do so much.  Also, as Nickie Wilkinson mentioned in her last comment, “Stick a Fork in Me, I am Done!”

I’ll leave you with a favorite view from the Alaska flight from Seattle to Medford, Mt St Helens in all her glory.

Sunday, October 14, 2018

October 11, 12, 13, 14 2018 Our last days in Firenze

Thursday, October 11

After all we did in the last few days, it was good to stay home for a day and try to recuperate.  There were enough provisions in the apartment for dinner, breakfasts, and snacks, with half a bottle of wine as well.  It rained all day, so was a perfect time to simply hang out, do photos, and relax a bit with no agenda. 

We settled onto the terrace as the rain let up toward evening and enjoyed the last of our wine while we made phone calls home.  I talked to Mo and Deborah, and Deanna called her husband, Keith.  WiFi calling works well on my Galaxy S9 phone.  We haven’t turned the phones off of airplane mode even once on this trip, and yet still enjoy excellent quality “real” phone calls.  Such a treat. 

Friday, October 12

We enjoyed another good breakfast at home, with eggs with cream cheese and zucchini, our favorite potatoes sliced up and sautéed, and Nescafe, our daily home coffee fix. Worked diligently on photos for a time before embarking on a mid day walk.  We decided to go back toward the part of town we visited on our first day here to buy some groceries for the our couple of days, to exchange a few US dollars since we are out of euros, and get back home in time to prepare for an evening on the town.

We enjoyed the quick walk to the main street on this side of the river, toward the east where we went the first day here. Found the meat market/grocery combo just in time before it closed for afternoon siesta, had a gelato at the nice little place nearby, bought something that looked like pizza but was tastier than most, with tomatoes and zucchini, our standby foods while in Italy.

What was most fun about this particular walk was how lost I was.  Even with the GPS on the phone, I couldn’t get my bearings.  Somehow everything seemed to be in the wrong place and didn’t match up with my memories of our first day walking around in this area.  It was especially funny to both of us because I am the map maker with a great sense of direction and Deanna has no clue which way is north or south. Yet she knew exactly where we were and where to find the Carni! Made for some funny moments for the two of us.

Before coming to Italy, thanks again to Two to Travel friends Erin and Mui, I learned about The Three Tenors performing n the auditorium of Santo Stefano. In the heart of Florence, just steps from Ponte Vecchio, Santo Stefano al Ponte is a church built in 1100 that was deconsecrated and reopened to the public in 2015 as exhibition space. Deanna purchased tickets for us online several months ago.  At the time we decided that this might be a nice way to end our Italian visit and chose to see the show toward the end of our time in Italy.

The day was a bit chilly, and we planned to walk the mile or so along the river rather than taking a taxi.  After watching people walking around our neighborhood after dark for the last couple of weeks, we were no longer concerned about walking home when the show was over.

We were, however, a bit worried about the chill.  We both wore jammie bottoms under our skirts, and long sleeves under our dressy tops.  The night was absolutely perfect, with no rain to cause any problems, and a slight breeze to keep us comfortable in all those extra clothes.  It was a lovely walk, and we arrived a bit early, in time for an apertivo before the show at a little bar in the church piazza.

Deanna had purchased VIP seats, so we had a perfect view and great acoustics from our forward location in the church. We did know, of course, that the Three Tenors were not the original “Three Tenors”, but the music was wonderful.  Amazing music emerged from the the mouths of those three men, no microphones, all acoustic with the tall chamber of the church amplifying it perfectly. Just amazing.

Once again, the song “Time to Say Goodbye” brought tears to my eyes. I can't believe that stupid song made me cry again. There is no reason whatsoever for it to affect me so, except the beautiful melody itself. I have no connection at all to the song, no memories generated from it or anything, but the melody is just so incredibly beautiful it always makes me teary. The three men sang in Italian, lots of songs we didn't know, some opera, and some old favorite songs that were also famous in America made popular by Dean Martin. It was a delightful experience.

Friday night on the Ponte Vecchio.  I guess it is the same no matter where you go

Our walk home was wonderful, breezy and cool but not chilly.  We walked through the Ponte Vecchio with all the shops closed but still many people enjoying the river and the evening camaraderie.  There was a busker playing “Proud Mary” and then Pink Floyd’s “Wish You Were Here”, and he was really really good! I guess the song choice indicates the audience of tourists. The walk home felt perfectly safe, with lots of people strolling and eating at the restaurants. We had no reason to worry at all about walking at night in this part of town at 1030 PM.

Saturday October 13

We were excited to visit the Pitti Palace and Boboli Gardens.  The guidebooks all lauded the beautiful gardens as a wonderful respite from the city, and the Pitti Palace as a place filled with the over the top examples of the kind of luxury afforded by one of the wealthiest families in the world, the Medici. 

We saved this excursion for Saturday, hoping the rain would lighten up enough that we could enjoy the gardens.  The day dawned beautifully, and we once again walked the mile toward the Ponte Vecchio, then turning south toward Piazza Pitti.

The piazza was crowded and the lines were long.  There are several things to see that are part of the complex, and once we looked at all the options, we decided that there was no need to see one more fancy palace with lots of rich stuff.  Instead we opted for focusing on the gardens.

Here is an example of the flowery words that led us to this decision.

“More than a garden, more than just a “green lung” in Florence, the Boboli gardens are one of the greatest open-air museums in Florence that embraces another site of culture in Florence, the Pitti Palace. The park hosts centuries-old oak trees, sculptures, fountains and offers peaceful shelter from the warm Florentine sun in summer, the beautiful colors of the changing foliage in the fall and smells of blooming flowers in the spring. The Boboli gardens are a spectacular example of "green architecture" decorated with sculptures and the prototype which inspired many European Royal gardens, in particular, Versailles.”

Sadly, the reality left a lot to be desired.  The first hint of what was to follow were the Medici Fountains at the entrance to the gardens.  The sculptures were filthy, covered in dust, and bleeding black mold .  Cherubs floated in the dirty water inside the dingy grotto.  Ok then.
Walking through the gates and up the stairs beyond the entrance led us to more sculptures lining the paths, again covered with black mold and looking very old and unkept.  It was terribly disappointing.
We withheld judgment for a time, following the maps and trails, searching for fountains and sculptures and views.  There were a few charming spots, but most of the gardens consist of huge very old shrubs that are meticulously manicured.  Too bad whomever is in charge of the place didn’t attempt to clean it up a bit rather than just cut back all those shrubs.
There was no color, with fall leaves already gone and not a flower in sight. The lawns are not watered, and were brown and scrubby. I have seen many winter gardens that are incredibly charming and colorful, that are designed well and a delight to visit no matter how drab the weather.  This was not one of those places.  It was very claustrophobic, and we wandered the paths looking for something to lift our spirits to no avail.
At the upper end of the gardens we found a viewpoint, and the other attraction included in our ticket, the Porcelain Museum.  The view from the rose garden was the nicest part of the Boboli, and yet even there, there were no flowers and everything looked tired and not very well cared for.

Deanna found a few faded roses in the upper rose garden

We were a bit sad that our last adventure in the great city of Florence should be such a disappointment.  Maybe we were just tired, or maybe overloaded, who knows. We did know that after days and days of so much input, our tiredness seemed to accumulate a little bit more each day. After leaving the gardens, we ambled a bit through Pitti Piazza, checking out the booths selling tourist wares, and then ambled back past the Ponte Vecchio toward home.  Once again, the busy, noisy, and full restaurants we passed didn’t tempt us much and we enjoyed cooking a great supper of fresh cut pork, fresh tomatoes, and a great bottle of inexpensive wine.

Written on Sunday, October 14 our last day in Firenze:
(I didn’t edit this original text from my journal so you could get a sense for how we were feeling)

It is our last day in Firenze, tomorrow morning we will leave “A Birdseye View” and take a taxi to Santa Novella for the train to Naples. Neither of us is looking forward to tomorrow, and yet both of us are basically DONE. At one time or another this afternoon, one or the other of us said, "I want to be hooooommmmmme". Deanna was looking at photos of her beautiful property in Northern Washington, a photo Keith sent today of gorgeous sunshine and the beautiful view over the river. Unlike me, she is not retired, and when she returns she will only get a short 3 days at the property in Lincoln, and then will have to get back out on the road in the big truck, crossing the country hauling jet engines all over the place so people like us can travel all over the place.

We are tired. We keep making excuses to each other on this, our last day, for not getting out of our jammies and at least going downstairs to view the lovely Sunday sunshine and watch people walking along the river. We stayed inside, worked on packing up our stuff, and ate simple breakfast.  We thought about going out to dinner, and instead cooked up the last of our pasta, garnishing it with the last of Sara's tomato sauce, the last of our olives, and made another side of sliced tomatoes in olive oil and balsamic. Traditional Italian fare that has served us well.

We thought about walking up to Michelangelo Square for one last look at the city or going for an evening walk along the river for one last view, but decided again that we have done enough, we don't need that one last view at all, we need instead to lie here in the almost comfortable sofa bed, look at photos and Facebook, play stupid Candy Crush and wait impatiently for it to get late enough to go to sleep.

Late in the afternoon a thunderstorm rolled over the city and we were glad we weren't out walking somewhere. Neither of us slept well again last night, and the last few days have recorded at most 3 or 4 hours sleep on our watches. Ugh. Tonight will be the rare sleeping pill for both of us. When can we take it? When can we go to sleep??? We do have a good reason, since the next two days will be long and grueling.

On a happy note, however, the middle photo in this collage is the ceramic piece I returned to purchase on the way home from Boboli Gardens.  Shipped direct from Italy home, it arrived safe and sound.  The photo on the left is where Deanna found her keepsake ceramics in Siena, and the one on the right is where I found a sweet small watercolor in Siena as well.

Wednesday, October 10, 2018

10-10-2018 Day 16 The Uffizi

The Uffizi is the large building just to the right of the Ponte Vecchio Bridge

I knew a long time before we arrived in Italy that I wanted to see the Accademia Museum.  I also knew that I probably wanted to visit the Uffizi, but with so much to see in Florence I wasn’t at all sure that we might not suffer such museum fatigue that we wouldn’t get there.  I bought our Accademia tickets online several months before the trip, but saved the decision to visit the Uffizi until just a few days before we left for Siena. 

The timing seemed right.  I went online and booked a Skip-the-Line ticket and 3 hour tour with CAF Tours.  Skip-the-Line is imperative but I also thought that with such a big gallery and so much to see it would be smart to have a guided tour as well.  It was a smart choice.

The Uffizi is huge and could be incredibly overwhelming without a guide.  We booked an early tour and arrived at Door Number 1 looking for the person in the yellow vest.  There were about 20 people in our group, minus two who had mistakenly booked the tour for 2019 and had to step out of line.  An easy mistake, and glad I didn’t make that one.

If you really are an art buff, here is a link to the paintings of the Uffizi Gallery.  Real photos of the paintings, no people in front of them, with artists and dates and the proper names of the paintings.  Then again, if you simply like to read my version of visiting the Uffizi, continue onward.  You also have the option of wandering around in my SmugMug gallery to see many of the paintings and descriptions that I didn’t put in this blog.

My recent posts about our trip to Italy have been fairly wordy.  I think this time I might give myself a break (as well as my readers) and keep the words few and let the photos do most of the talking.

Located in the heart of Florence, adjacent to the Palazzo Vecchio, the palace which houses the Uffizi Gallery was built between 1560 and 1580 as a public administrative building (hence its name, uffizi which means offices in old Tuscan language).

This enclosed walkway that connects the Uffizi, across the Ponte Vecchio, to the Pitti Palace on the opposite side of the river was built by the Medici’s.  They needed a protected way to get from their offices to their homes without having to endure the street riffraff below.

In 1590, a part of the palace was converted into a private exhibition space, known as the galleria, in order to accommodate the large art collection of the House of Medici.  In 1769 it was transformed into a publicly-open museum. It is believed that the modern term gallery, used to identify a space where works of art are on display, originates from that of the Uffizi’s original galleria.

Follow me now into one of the greatest art galleries in the world.

The Return from Egypt 1540  Oil on Wood  by Agnolo Bronzino

Madonna of the Pomegranate 1487 Tempura on Wood by Sandro Botticelli

Annunciation  1472 Oil on Wood by Leonardo da Vinci

Coronation of the Virgin 1439 Tempura on Wood by Filippo Lippi

Madonna and Child with 2 Angels 1460 Tempura on Wood by Filippo Lippi

Madonna of the Magnificat 1483 Tempura on Wood by Sandro Botticelli

Primavera 1482 by Sandro Botticelli

Our guide explained the mythology behind each of the characters in this complex painting

Birth of Venus 1482 by Sandro Botticelli

Yes, that one.  This one was especially hard to photograph because as you can imagine, the room was filled to bursting with people trying to get photos of the well known painting.

Holy Family with Young St John the Baptist 1505 Tempura grassa on wood by Michelangelo Buonarroti.

Yes, you are right.  We stood in front of this one for a very long time. Notice the strength in Mary’s arms, painted by the great sculptor. OF course, as he often did, Michelangelo included his own likeness in his art.

Venus of Urbino 1534 Oil on Canvas by Titian

Baccus 1597 Oil on Canvas by Carraveggio

Sacrifice of Isaac 1603 Oil on Canvas by Carraveggio

Raphael, Rubens, and countless others

Good Fortune 1617 oil on canvas by Gherardo della Notti

Are you exhausted yet?  We spent several hours in the Uffizi, trying to absorb the magnitude of great art there.  Standing in the very presence of great art, especially art that is imprinted on one’s brain from our collective consciousness is a bit overwhelming.  Of course you can’t touch anything, thanks to very loud infra red alarms that will screech very loudly if your hands get too close.  But you are close enough to touch the paintings, to look at the fine detail, to appreciate what it takes to make art like this.  An experience neither of us will forget.

It was a long day.  I actually have no idea what we did that evening, what we had for dinner, and I don’t remember the walk home.  However, I do remember this moment, when we reached our little street and I could see the door to our apartment.  It was a wonderful day and it was even more wonderful to know we had no plans for the following day except resting up a bit and reviewing and remembering the last few days of amazing experiences.