A one month trip through Italy

Old Sep 26th, 2020, 08:48 AM
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The Siena Duomo is truly special. Again, great shots. When DH and I first visited, we were early enough to pass a wonderful bakery. He talked for months about how nice Siena smelled.
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Old Sep 26th, 2020, 12:05 PM
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You reminded me of the worst day of our holiday....getting lost on the the way to the bus depot, therefore arriving with seconds to spare but no seats, a packed and hot ride, a sweltering Siena, a long queue for tickets to Duomo, a grumpy family - but finally we are in!
Astonishing.
But, your photos are a reminder we need to return in better circumstances.
We did not explore at all, it was so hot and fatiguing and we all just wanted a seat on the return ride!

Your photos are wonderful.


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Old Sep 26th, 2020, 01:03 PM
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I especially love those two Duomo shots: 'rising from the city' plus 'the pavement.'

We're all travelling vicariously through you and yours, Russ.

I am done. The Bridge of Sighs.
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Old Sep 27th, 2020, 08:01 AM
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Thanks for the feedback and kind words everyone. More to come!
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Old Sep 27th, 2020, 08:45 AM
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San Galgano and San Gimignano

Friday night was stormy, and we woke up Saturday to lawn furniture strewn all across the lawn of our AirBnB, and even the cover of the new spa they had recently installed had blown completely off and down the driveway. After tidying up we set off on our way.

Since we had walked our feet down to stumps in Siena, we decided that today would be a driving day. We started out with a trip to the abbey of San Galgano, an incredibly photogenic 14th century religious complex whose roof collapsed in 1786 and was never repaired, providing a stunning setting for photographers who come from miles around. Believe it or not it was raining when we left the house, but it was crisp, clear and breezy when we arrived here. Somebody up there must like us 🙂.

Our original plan was to have lunch in San Gimignano, but having left San Galagno later than anticipated, my grumbling tummy prompted a stop in Colle Val d’Elsa, where a weekly market was just closing down.

We chose an outdoor table at a small family-run trattoria, and the owner seemed surprised, saying that Italians can’t eat outside when there is a breeze. I assured him that we were made of hearty stock and he said not to blame him if we wake up with a cold in the morning. Soon, another couple of tourists sat outside as well, but when the temperature dropped and the wind picked up, they moved inside, which prompted the wife to say in Italian (and not realizing we could understand) “you know it’s cold when even the foreigners are moving inside”.

We had just paid for lunch when another squall passed through, soaking us to the bone on the way back to the car. Fortunately, it stopped by the time we reached San Gimignano, having had the happy effect of dispersing the crowds. For a couple of hours it almost felt like we had the place to ourselves!











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Old Sep 27th, 2020, 01:13 PM
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Russ, you have no idea how great it is to read a TR over breakfast again, just like the old days....
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Old Sep 28th, 2020, 03:17 AM
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more terrific photos. Bravo!
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Old Sep 28th, 2020, 04:03 AM
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Florence

Having lived an hour away in Bologna, we had been to Florence many times, but this is the first time we have been to Santa Maria Novella since 1995. I had forgotten how huge the complex is! Of course, one of the most beautiful chapels was reserved for the gift shop.

We also went for the first time to the Santa Maria Novella Pharmacy next door, which is now a temple to all things fragrance. The interior spaces are absolutely gorgeous. It was too crowded to get any good photos, but at the end of this post is a link to some images.

The exterior of the Duomo is always stunning, even more dazzling now that the facade has been cleaned up. We decided not to do the dome or campanile, too many people in too close of quarters, but we did go inside the cavernous church, which seemed rather plain after the exuberant exterior. We only had access to the back half of the nave, so we couldn’t see the frescoes in the dome.

The Palazzo Vecchio, however, was worth the price of admission. We really enjoyed the frescoes of the grotesques, which seem very specific to this region, as well as some of the more subversive subject matter. 😉

Santa Croce is always a pleasure, with its relatively restrained exterior and gorgeously over the top altar, almost exactly the opposite to that of the Duomo.

New for us was the Galileo Museum, chock full of interesting actual scientific inventions from the renaissance to the 19th century.

We briefly considered walking across the Ponte Vecchio but it was packed, and much like the Duomo (and some

Santa Maria Novella

Santa Maria Novella gift shop

Sam trying to blend in at the Santa Maria Novella Pharmacy

Duomo

Duomo


Palazzo Vecchio

Grotesques

Water plying his trade

Neptune

Santa Croce

Santa Croce

Galileo Museum

Palazzo Vecchio

Ponte Vecchio
people from my hometown), it’s prettier from the outside than within.

https://www.google.com/search?rlz=1M...orceLoading=15
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Old Sep 28th, 2020, 10:14 AM
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Thanks for the TR posts. Really enjoy your posts and the photos are great too! Glad you are able to take advantage of the good weather and small crowds. It's a rare travel opportunity under the circumstances. Look forward to reading about your travel down to Rome and Amalfi. I wrote up some of our best experiences from our 2017 trip in the following travel blog post if you are interested in some ideas: https://travelfam.wordpress.com/category/italy-2017/
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Old Sep 28th, 2020, 11:42 AM
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FYI, the last two lines of my last post ended up after the photos for some reason.
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Old Sep 28th, 2020, 11:57 AM
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On Sunday we checked out of our Airbnb, a nice house in a small hamlet, about 10 minutes north of Siena, with gorgeous views of the countryside. When we arrived it was Elisabetta who checked us in, but upon leaving we met her husband, Gianni. He lit up when I mentioned that we had seen the photos of when he had won the Palio. Speaking only in Italian (I have to admit, I’m rusty after 20 years) he enthusiastically explained that he had actually won a total of 7 times since 2012!

The weather was pretty ugly as we left Siena, about 50 degrees and pouring, but we hoped that our good fortune with escaping the rain would continue when we stopped for lunch in Orvieto. Unfortunately, no such luck, but we figured we could at least take refuge in the Duomo, where I have been wanting to go again, to see Signorelli’s frescoes of the Last Judgement. When we got to the Duomo, every single door was locked except one leading to a beautiful side chapel dedicated to worship, but no access into the main nave or the San Brizio chapel where the Last Judgement is located.

We decided to huddle in the entryway of the Etruscan museum directly across the piazza from the gorgeous facade to see if the church would actually open. Finally, the front doors opened to let in for Sunday mass. We thought we would take a few minutes to see the frescoes and then be on our way, but the chapel we came to see was behind a locked gate and there were ropes lining the sides of the church which prevented us from even approaching it. So we finally admitted defeat and waded back to the car through the ceaseless downpour.

One ray of sunshine in an otherwise dreary day was that we saw a porchetta food-truck on the way out of town. I had been dreaming of a porchetta sandwich I had in Rome years ago and was super happy to dig in, right on the spot. It did not disappoint. The succulent pork is seasoned with garlic, rosemary, salt and pepper and stuffed into a crunchy ciabatta. We sat in the car in the rain and devoured them like we hadn’t eaten in days.

Our other planned stop on the way to Rome was about 30 minutes away, at Civita Vecchia di Bagnoregio. This is a beautiful, car-free small village located high on a volcanic “tuffa” plateau, which can be accessed only by pedestrian bridge. We were surprised to see other people like us who were crazy enough to slog from the parking lot and across the bridge in the rain, but despite the cold and the damp, it was awfully nice to see it with so few people.

The low-point of the day, however, was the place advertising sheep’s milk ricotta gelato, only to find that it wasn’t gelato at all, but just some regular ricotta with Nutella dumped on the top. The experience literally left a bad taste in our mouths. So we set off again towards Rome.

On a previous trip to Rome, we had rented a car for the day, in order to visit the village my grandparents were from. The return trip back to the city at that time was so harrowing, I vowed never to drive in Rome again.

So why were we now driving to Rome yesterday? Well, for one thing, Sam was driving this time 😉. But also, I intentionally planned our arrival for a Sunday, where we would not get caught in rush hour traffic. In addition, we planned to park on the outskirts
and taxi in from Tiburtina station.

Yet, despite these precautions, we still ended driving in circles though a construction zone, and when Google maps said we had arrived, all we could see was a driveway that looked like a small bomb had gone off on it, angling sharply down and out of sight. Rather than committing the car to an off-road 4x4 driving experience, I decided to hike down to the underground garage and confirmed that we had, indeed found the right place. A 20 minute taxi drive later, we arrived at our home for the next five days, a wonderfully renovated AirBnB apartment, located a one minute walk from the Pantheon.


View of the Sienese countryside from our house on a non-rainy day.

Orvieto Duomo


Civita Vecchia di Bagnoregio


Ricotta slathered in Nutella: the expression says it all


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Old Sep 29th, 2020, 09:51 AM
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Rome

We awoke Monday morning to more rain, so we weren’t in a rush to get going, especially given that the next three days were forecast to be sunny and warm. We did go out to replenish our supplies of toiletries, then rushed back to the apartment to dry off my shoes and socks with a blow dryer, before setting out again for lunch. I may as well have worn sponges on my feet for all the protection that my nylon Nikes were providing.

Normally we try to avoid restaurants on main piazzas, as they tend to be the perfect storm of high prices, low quality and bad service, but given that I had just dried out my shoes, we ended up choosing our lunch spot on the Piazza della Rotunda based purely on proximity to our apartment. We figured that, whatever it lacked in other attributes, it would make up for with a fabulous view of the Pantheon. We were, however, pleasantly surprised. The waiter offered us complimentary Proseccos to start, the service was friendly and efficient, the food was good and reasonably priced, and they also offered free limoncello to finish. Sure, it was chilly and damp sitting under the awning outside in the rain, but we left happy. This still didn’t stop me from drying off my shoes and socks again before our next outing, a trip to the Galleria Doria Pamphilj.

About seven years ago, I had read a very dishy article in Vanity Fair on Prince Jonathan Doria Pamphilj, the Roman heir to the massive Pamphilj fortune and its vast art collection (Here’s a link for a very entertaining article, that almost reads more National Enquirer than Vanity Fair: https://www.vanityfair.com/style/201...ily-crisis/amp ). So I filed away a note in my brain that next time we were in Rome, we should make a point to see the gallery.

I’ve taken a total of one art history class in my life, so I’m no expert, but all I can say is, “Wow”! Not only is it a stunningly beautiful building, with an interesting and unique private art collection, but it has the best audio guide I think of any museum I’ve been to ever, narrated in part by Prince D.P. himself. As a result, it’s a great combination of the history of the family (which includes Pope Innocent X, 1644-1655, essentially the King of the Papal States at that time), art history (the prince knows his stuff, having been educated in England and worked at Sotheby’s), and personal family anecdotes.

We learn, for example, that the original terra cotta floors were polished with beeswax, and that he and his sister got yelled at as children for roller skating on them. (They really are just like us!) Or how the scheming sister-in-law of Pope Innocent X, referred to at the time by her detractors as the “Popess”, convinced her brother-in-law that it was beneath the church to collect taxes on brothels, persuading him to instead assign that function to her, and in the process, cementing her family’s fortune. Usually I burn out on art museums quickly, but at the end of our too-fast 75 minute window I was ready to go on for another hour.

Fortunately, by the time we got out of the museum, the skies had cleared, the sun had come out, and the temperature had increased by 9 degrees from lunch time. This was a perfect chance for a stroll to see some of the nearby sites, such as the Trevi Fountain, the Spanish Steps, Piazza Navona and the Pantheon again, this time without the rain. One thing that was clear as we hit these major tourist hubs: no tourists. Usually the Trevi fountain is thronged with crowds, this time, we had a seat on the steps with no one in our view. This was repeated at each location.

Back at our apartment, as we are resting our aching feet and absorbing all we have seen and done, the sound of opera singing is wafting up from the piazza below, and we are feeling very, very fortunate.


Lunch with an old friend (No, not Sam, the Pantheon!)

Rain coming through the oculus in the Pantheon.

Galleria Doria Pamphilj: Hall of Mirrors

Galleria Doria Pamphilj: Ballroom

Galleria Doria Pamphilj: Orchestra section

Brother to Pope Innocent X (whose son would inherit the fortune).

Galleria Doria Pamphilj

Pope Innocent X thought this portait of himself was “troppo vero”, too real.

Galleria Doria Pamphilj

La “Popessa”

Trevi fountain

All the water in Rome is potable

Spanish Steps

Taking a break in Piazza del Popolo

Piazza Navona

Looks like octopus is on the menu at the Neptune residence tonight.

Honey can you help me? I can’t seem to get this T-shirt off!

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Old Sep 30th, 2020, 09:54 AM
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Vatican Museums and St. Peter’s

We booked tickets on-line for the first available time at the Vatican Museums and showed up about 15 minutes early. They let us right in, so we walked directly to the Sistine Chapel and were amazed to find a total of five other people. The normal capacity is about 2000 at any given moment. Last time we were there it felt like twice that amount, with the cacophony of multiple tour groups being surpassed only by the ceaseless amplified voice of the guards telling everyone to be quiet. This time it was to possible to be alone with our thoughts and the beautiful artwork.

Since this chapel is about halfway through the museum complex, we decided to go back to the beginning and rent the audio guide. Like a trip through an IKEA showroom, this necessitated continuing through the entire maze of rooms to the end in order to restart at the beginning.

Unfortunately, the second time through we spent too much time listening to everything in the Egyptian, Etruscan and Classical Antiquity rooms, so next thing we knew it, it was time for lunch, for which we had prepaid on-line. Given that this was in the Pine Court, near the beginning, this entailed yet another walk through the entire complex, about a 20 minute trek each time.

Lunch was a hit and miss affair. The rigatoni all’amatriciana wasn’t bad, but the chicken course tasted like it was cooked the day before and partially reheated in the microwave, giving it the delightful consistency of luke-warm rubber.

After lunch, we headed back for a third trip through the museum, in order to finish where we left off. By the time we got to the Sistine chapel again, there were about 80 people there, which I suspect was about the peak for the day. After about 4 hours total, we headed for St Peter’s which seemed weirdly vacant, given that the cavernous space is usually teeming with crowds. All in all, a beautiful if exhausting day.














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Old Sep 30th, 2020, 04:44 PM
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Thank you so much. I was in Italy seven years ago and we were lucky to hike Cinque Terre. I want to go back. Have a great trip.
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Old Sep 30th, 2020, 07:53 PM
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All of 5 people in the Sistine Chapel? I must be dreaming. You lucky people. You had the Vatican all to yourselves. Empty corridors? Thanks for the magnificent photos.
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Old Oct 1st, 2020, 07:32 AM
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I am following along and loving all of the photos. Thank you for the trip report.
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Old Oct 1st, 2020, 10:08 AM
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Russ, great to see a trip report from you again and I can’t wait to read through this. But I have to ask right away, how were you able to travel into Italy as the latest information I see is that US citizens are not allowed to enter for non-essential purposes such as tourism. Do you hold a passport from a non-US country perhaps? My niece was just able to settle in Italy but she is doing graduate studies and apparently Italy is making exceptions for students.
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Old Oct 1st, 2020, 10:20 AM
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A grab bag of sites from our final two days in Rome

Our feet are screaming after the miles of walking from the past five days, but it was worth it. We are packing the luggage and heading out early for Pompeii and the Amalfi Coast, so going to let the pictures do the talking for now.



Coliseum

Arch of Titus

Roman Forum

Roman Forum

Roman Forum

Capitoline Museums

Capitoline Museums

Santa Maria Maggiore

Santa Maria Maggiore

Santa Maria Maggiore

Santa Maria Maggiore

Some old bones in the Capuchin Crypt

Fontana Del Tritone

Piazza Minerva
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Old Oct 1st, 2020, 10:28 AM
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Originally Posted by MinnBeef View Post
Russ, great to see a trip report from you again and I can’t wait to read through this. But I have to ask right away, how were you able to travel into Italy as the latest information I see is that US citizens are not allowed to enter for non-essential purposes such as tourism. Do you hold a passport from a non-US country perhaps? My niece was just able to settle in Italy but she is doing graduate studies and apparently Italy is making exceptions for students.
Hey MB, nice to hear from you! We were fortunate that we had obtained long-stay visas for France last January which allowed us entry into France, and by extension, Italy.
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Old Oct 1st, 2020, 11:56 AM
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Originally Posted by russ_in_LA View Post
Hey MB, nice to hear from you! We were fortunate that we had obtained long-stay visas for France last January which allowed us entry into France, and by extension, Italy.
Eccelente!! I look forward to reading this. Plan plenty of time for Pompeii, along with food and water. I spent nearly 6 hours there in spring 2019 and only made it to 3 of the 9 quadrants. Also, if you get a chance to head down into Calabria, Tropea is a beautiful beach resort city to chill out in for a few days.
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