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Rome, Tuscany & Cinque Terre

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Italy 2004 Trip
17 Days
Rome – Tuscany – Cinque Terre
Tom & Nancy Tischer, Bonnie & Rollie Reuchlen, Tom and Shirl (author of note), and later, Barb Olson

Sept 18-19 Sat-Sun

Were Off!
Well, sort of. The six of us departed Chicago about 2pm on US Airways arriving in Boston around 4:30pm. Boarded the connecting flight to Rome at 5:30, taxied away from the ramp, then just sat there for 2 hours. Hot, stuffy…blood pressure rising. What the hell is the delay?? Finally learned, and to Shirley’s dismay, one of the engines wouldn’t start. Anyhow, they finally got it going, and the flight to Rome was pretty uneventful. Seating adjacent to storage area was quiet, but TV was on the blink. Arrived in Rome around 9am Sunday.

Tom had arranged for a service, which met us at the airport and gave a harrowing ride to our apartments. That reminds me…you don’t want to drive in Rome if you don’t absolutely have to! Our apartment was on Via della Reginella, a short quiet little street, (really more like an alley way), in the Jewish Quarter. Layout: Bedroom, shower, kitchenette and living room with an open stairway to the upper bedroom. Bon and Rol took the downstairs bedroom and Shirl and I took the upstairs. Fifty feet from our door is Piazza Mattei, and its quaint and somewhat famous Fontana delle Tartarughe (Turtle Fountain). Home to the Jews of Rome since the second century BC, it is the oldest Jewish community in the western world. Even though most Roman Jews don’t live in this neighborhood anymore, many of their businesses are still here and it is a place where they come back in the evenings, to socialize, to eat, to shop and to pray.

Pope Paul IV had the area enclosed within a wall, considering inconvenient for the Christian to live in such a close contact with the Jews, thus creating the “Ghetto”. Via della Reginella is the only spot of the Ghetto perfectly preserved.
After dinner we strolled around a few of the more famous Piazza’s. Piazza Navona has Bernini ‘s very impressive Fontana dei Quattro Fiumi (Fountain of the Four Rivers). The Nile, the Danube, the Ganges and the Plate represent the four corners of the world. We tried to get a sneek peek into the St. Agnese in Agone church (c1652-1657) but it was already closed. Legend has it that 13-year old Agnes was made to strip for the clients of a whorehouse once located here. Thanks to her faith in Christ, Agnes' hair immediately grew long enough to hide her embarrassment. When attempts to torch her body failed, she was stabbed to death. The Church later rewarded her piety with canonization. Agone is a reference to the athletic contests (know as agones), chariot races and other sports events that took place here.
At 8pm on a Sunday night, the Piazza’s were rock’n!
Walked around the Piazza’s for a couple of hours. Met a local shoe storeowner who proudly showed us his business. (He really likes Nancy!) Ate a big late night dinner at a restaurant he recommended. We all thought it was over-priced and just so-so.

Sept 20 Mon
Forum and Colosseum day.

One the way, just a short walk from our apartment, was the Portico of Octavia, is a beautiful example of Augustan architecture that hides behind the Theatre of Marcellus. The portico originally consisted of a double colonnade with a 4-faced archway at each corner. It contained temples to Juno and Jupiter, a "schola" (school), a Curia (meeting hall for the Senate), and both Greek and Latin libraries. In antiquity the whole complex was known by the name Opera Octaviae. In front of the temples stood 75 statues of friends and generals of Alexander the Great who died at the Battle of Granikos. In the middle ages a fish market was built, and the portico owes its survival to its incorporation into the church of Sant. Angelo in Pescheria.

The Forum is located in a valley between the Capitoline Hill on the west, the Palatine Hill on the south, the Velia on the east and Quirinal Hill and the Esquiline Hill to the north. The Velia was leveled in Antiquity.
The importance of the Forum area is indicated by the presence of many of the central political, religious and judicial buildings in Rome. The Regia was the residence of the kings, and later of the rex sacrorum and pontifex maximus; the Curia, was the meeting place of the Senate; and the Comitium and the Rostra, where public meetings were held. Major temples and sanctuaries in the Forum include the Temple of Castor and Pollux, the Temple of Saturn and the Temple of Vesta. Commercial and judicial activities took place in the basilicas; the two remaining are the Basilica Aemilia and the Basilica Julia. Due to the political importance of the area there were also numerous honorary monuments. One really needs a Forum guidebook to help identify and explain the numerous ruins.
The Roman Colosseum, Flavian amphitheater built over the remains of Nero's "Golden House" in Rome, c. 80 AD, during the reign of Emperor Vespasian. The primary function of an amphitheater was to house spectacles of blood sports--gladiators’ combats and hunts of wild animals. Early Roman Christians were persecuted in this manner in the Colosseum. The design of an amphitheater basically requires the construction of two semicircular theaters placed face to face. Tiers of seats were supported by vaulted substructures constructed of tile and mortar. Elevators raised and lowered animals to the wood floor of the arena from caged areas below. Seating capacity of the Coliseum is estimated around 50,000.
Touring these ruins took most of the day, which was a hot and sticky one, so we decided ‘enough touring’ and time for a few beers. Later that evening we all met at Tom and Nancy quaint apartment in theTrastevere quarter, complete with a secluded outdoor patio and a nice view of the area. They were located across the river, maybe 6 blocks from our place. Nancy of course put out a wonderful spread, and the beer and wine flowed pretty freely. Too freely. Way to freely. We eventually decided to grab a late dinner, but most everything was closing. This is the night Tom T literally got on his knees and begged the owner to serve us whatever was had on hand. He did, and we paid for it, big time. A few hor’dourves and the bill was around $135. Shirley doesn’t remember anything that happened that night.

Sept 21 Tue
Low keyed day after last night.

Saw the Pantheon , one of the greatest, the most majestic and best preserved monuments in ancient Rome. Buildt in 80 A.D. In 609, Pope Bonifacio IV turned the pagan temple into a Christian church. The high level of preservation is just due to this transformation. When you enter, you discover the reason why this monument is famous in the world, as an absolute example of architectural and building skill: the immense dome, symbol of the vault of heaven. On the top you can admire the opening penetrated by the pencil of light that constitutes the only luminous source of the Temple, symbol of the eternal light that enlightens the man, and of time passing by. Remarkably important are the graves of famous personages of history and arts that are located within it, among which there is Raphael's grave.

Enjoyed the Piazza di Spagna, or Spanish Steps. It was named for the Spanish Embassy to the Vatican in 1723. Ironically the steps were built with money from France. A church called the Trinita dei Monti is located at the top of the Steps. The Steps are always crowded with tourists and locals sitting on them. It's a great place to rest and people-watch. At the base of the Steps is a most famous fountain by the father/son duo the Bernini's: Fontana della Barccacia or 'The Boat Fountain'. On a hot, summer day everyone either splashes some of the cool, refreshing water from this fountain on their faces and/or fills up his water bottles. All Roman fountains have drinkable water

Dazzling mosaics and a long history are the draws of Santa Maria in Trastevere. It is supposedly the first church in Rome to have been dedicated to the Virgin Mary. Originally built sometime before the 4th century, it certainly is one of the oldest churches in the city. It was rebuilt in the 12th century, and the portico, which was added in the 19th century, seems to focus attention on the 800-year-old mosaics on the facade.

Had a nice relaxing dinner at Al Fontanone in Trastevere. Said ‘hi’ to Peno. This is a Trattoria and Pizzeria. It offers reasonable prices and the best traditional Roman food you can imagine. We enjoyed our meal very much as were a number of locals. This is always a clear indicator that it's not a tourist trap!

Sept 22 Wed
Visited the Vatican today. The Pope said ‘hi’. We signed up for a tour with a group the guide said would allow us plenty of time, but unfortunately, she fibbed and we ran out of time. Sort of quick stepped through the Sistine Chapel, didn’t appreciate much of it really. Trouble was that Tom T had gotten tickets to the Scavi tour, and we needed to catch up with him and Nancy for that. The Scavi was really cool. Actually hot and humid, but you get the drift. Anyhow, it was very interesting because it shows that the reason the original St. Peter’s was built at that location (by Constantine, the first Christian Emperor, in the 4th C), was because the original tomb of St. Peter was located there.

Beer and wine break needed after the heat of the Scavi!

On to Dino and Tony’s for dinner. It’s about 4:30 but we soon learned they don’t open for a few hours yet. So the girls went shopping and the guys camped outside of the restaurant drinking beer and people watching. When Dino (or was it Tony) opened shop he must have been impressed by our waiting, so a free round of wine for all o the house. I think we hit them on a inconvenient night, because beside the what seemed as a private party, we were the only customers in the place. But Dino and Tony were very cordual and friendly, and the experience was very much fun. No menus, no ordering, they just kept bringing food and vino. Definitely worth a repeat visit.

Sept 23 Thu
Tom and Shirley’s big adventure.
We took the train from Rome to Naples, then the Circuvesuviana to the Ercolano stop; destination Herculaneum.
In 79 A.D., Mount Vesuvius erupted and obliterated the ancient Roman resort towns of Pompeii and Herculaneum. Beneath the lava ruins rests a freeze - frame of high style Roman living. In contrast to Pompeii, Herculaneum was a smaller town with a wealthier population at the time of its destruction. Herculaneum was buried in pyroclastic rockslides that were sufficiently hot to carbonise organic material and cause the instant death of anyone still in the town at that point: seafront warehouses discovered in the late 20th century were filled with the skeletons of people hoping to escape by sea. This layer of rock has preserved the remains of Herculaneum very well over the last two millennia. Deserted and forgotten after the eruption, the ancient site was rediscovered in the late eighteenth century and explored by means of tunnels dug into and through the buildings. Among the many precious finds was one almost beyond belief: in the Villa of the Papyri some 1800 scrolls were discovered, the only library from the ancient world to survive into the modern era. We both found this place extrodinary. A good audio guide helped explain the points of interest.

Sept 24 Fri
All took a cab to the Borghese Gallery.
The Borghese Mansion was commissioned by Cardinal Scipione Borghese to Flaminio Ponzio and Vasanzio and built between 1613 and 1614. Site of Cardinal Borghese's art collection, its extraordinary masterpieces contributed to make it renowned all over Europe. This was the reason why Napoleon, in 1807, bought a large part of the collection and transferred it to the Louvre were it is still on exhibition. New material was added during the whole of the19th century; in 1902, the collection was acquired by the Italian State along with the Mansion and the entire Borghese property.

Tom T. had arranged for a private showing of the ‘firehouse’. Nobody really knew what this place really was, but it looked old. The guide never showed up.

Visited Santa Maria sopra Minerva. Rome’s only Gothic church stands in a little square, dominated by Bernini's charming elephant with an obelisk on his back. The church's name derives from the temple of Minerva on which it stands. The finest works of art are the statue of the Risen Christ by Michelangelo in the left aisle and the beautiful frescoes painted by Filippino Lippi in 1488-92 of the Life of St Thomas of Aquinas in the right transept. It was in the monastery behind the church that Galileo, was forced to recant his theory that the earth moved round the sun. This 13th century Gothic church contains an abundant amount of art and sculpture of Michelangelo, Bernini, and Filippino Lippi.

Enjoyed a fun dinner was at Antica Tavrna (Piazza Navona). They put out a spread for us so we could try everything. Great food, all agreed. Five bottles of wine later and it’s a ‘good night’ day tomorrow.

Sept 25 Sat
Said good-bye to Rome. Picked up a 9-passanger van and headed to the airport to pick up Barb Olson who joined our group. Oops…Tom T left his bag back at the car rental. A quick double back to retrieve it and we’re really off this time.

Off to Tuscany.
Stopped at this really interesting town about 60 miles North of Rome, Citiva di Bagnoregio, totally secluded atop a hill and connected with a quarter mile bridge. Citiva sits alone, perched on a small outcrop of volcanic stone like an island surrounded by a vast eroded valley. The experience of walking up the bridge will vary greatly with the weather. If it is hot, there may be a slight welcome breeze, and we are winded before we reach the top. In cold and stormy winter weather, the bridge can be dangerous. We’re told that it feels like you will be blown off by the wind or struck by lightening in this very exposed position. Paradoxically, we must go down hill a short distance before starting to climb the equivalent of a ten- story flight of stairs. Walking the narrow streets of Civita you see evidence of its continuous habitation. The majority of the buildings are houses, largely unchanged since the middle ages. Had a quaint lunch, and toured the town. Simply fantastic panoramic views of the surrounding Tiber River valley. Definitely worth a return visit.

Arrived at our Tuscan Villa, which was everything we had hoped for. It’s just outside of the city of Castellina in Chianti, and is a working vineyard. Our unit (Caggio 6G) was old an old brick 2-story, 4 bed rooms, 2 baths, fireplace, complete kitchen, and had wonderful views overlooking the surrounding vineyard. Quiet, secluded, and the sunsets were never to forget. Also had a pool on the grounds. We pretty much had the place to ourselves as we say only one other couple in another unit.

Sept 26 Sun
Visited Panzano, a nice little town where the girls picked up a few table cloths in the local market. Also especially enjoyed the local butcher shop butchershop. They offered free samples of wine, meats and cheeses. Pretty crowded but really interesting. We picked up a few cuts in anticipation of a few homemade Tuscan dinners, and stocked up on other good stuff at the local pick-n-save. Actually just the simple town grocery store, but they did carry beer and wine too.

Spent most of the afternoon in Tuscan hill town of Impruneta (close to Florence), where some sort of grape or harvest festival was going on. The whole town turned out because it was packed with locals. Seems like the main attraction was the parade, which was quaint, complete with local dignitaries, marching old-timer um-pa bands, and floats and music. We lulled most of the afternoon away people watching and having a good time. We have some great pictures of the locals dressed up in their costumes. This is the town we picked up some pretty good anise and liquorish.

Ended up the evening at out villa enjoying a relaxing dinner, a nice fire, and quiet conversation.

Sept 27 Mon
Spent the day exploring the northern Tuscan hill towns.

First stop Siena. Siena may be the best-preserved medieval city in Italy, thanks to its conquest by Florence nearly 500 years ago. While the Florentines were busy launching the Renaissance, the Senese played the role of country cousins--and as a result, Siena (or at least the walled portion of the city) still looks much as it did in the middle ages. Of interest was the seashell shaped Piazza del campo, where the Palio (horse race) takes place. Twice a year (July 2 and August 16) the city's neighborhoods, hold a bareback horse race around the town square in honor of the Virgin Mary. Sounds like quite an event. Shirley bought some scarves and aprons from the street vendors.

On to San Gimignano, which many consider the most exact representation of Tuscany. Rolling fields of vineyards and olive groves, an intact medival wall and several towers, beautiful streets and friendly people make this a number one place. It’s known around the world for its thirteen medieval towers. In San Gimignano, every street leads to a tower (or two!).

Enjoyed a leisurely dinner in Certaldo Alto, a quaint sleepy little hill town situated between Florence and Siena, and built on a hill. Its best feature is probably its lack of tourists. The streets are quiet and you can wander around without seeing more than a handful of people.

I know there were a few other hill town we visited, but went un-reported.

Sept 28 Tue
Spent the whole day in Florance, getting cultured. Tom and Nancy had been cultured before so they struck out on their own. So, the rest of us visited The Accademia Gallery, particularly famous for its sculptures by Michelangelo: the Prisoners, the St.Matthew and, especially, the statue of David. In the adjacent rooms, which were part of two former convents, important works of art feature mostly religious paintings by major artists working in and around Florence between the mid-13th and the late 16th centuries. The collection is especially important for its gold-ground paintings. There is also a collection of sculptures in plaster by the 19th-century sculptors Lorenzo Bartolini and Luigi Pampaloni, besides a section of Russian icons. The Gallery also has an important collection of old musical instruments, the Museum of Musical Instruments.

And to insure this cultural experience was fully instilled, we visited the Uffizi. Meaning "office" the Uffizi was originally designed by Giorgio Vasari in 1559 for Cosimo I de' Medici as offices of the government judiciary. The ruling Medici family were avid art collectors and converted parts of the Uffizi to house their vast art collection. The Galleria Degli Uffizi has the world's finest collection of Renaissance paintings including famous works by Botecelli, Leonardo da Vinci, Raphael and more. A visit to Florence would not be complete without a visit to the Uffizi, so it is said. And all said, we enjoyed the Accademia more than the Uffizi.

Enjoyed a wonderful lunch at an outdoor restaurant called Ching Halli Biannco. We found the wine so excellent we took a photo of it, just in case we could get it back in the states. We did, at out local beer depot and P&S, and bought two cases.

Sept 29 Wed
Planning a leisurely laid back day today.

Just outside of Castellina we had noticed some Etruscan tombs that we decided was worth a visit. Actually there are 4 tombs, each with a separate entrance. It’s a kind of a haunting place — a hill with tombs built in to the 4 sides. Worth the 30 minutes, and we pretty much had the place to ourselves.

Took a pleasant little walk through Montefioralle (near Grieve). The quaint village is said to probably be one of the most ancient in Chianti and is still today enclosed within its original walls. A house in the circular main street is pointed out as the birthplace of Amerigo Vespucci. The doorway is identified by the wasp ("vespa") and V of the Vespucci family. His name was given to North America and South America because he was the first to recognize that it wasn't a part of Asia. He claimed to have explored these continents in 1497, and it led the mapmaker, Martin Waldseemuller, to consider him, instead of Columbus, as the man who discovered North and South America.

On to Greve, which is named after the river that runs through it, is the chief town of the Chianti Classico wine zone and home to Chianti's largest wine fair, held every September. Had a most excellent lunch at the outdoor restaurant, Nerbone.

That evening the girls made a nice dinner back at the villa.

Sept 30 Thu

Spent the day exploring the southern Tuscan hill towns.

Montepulciano only has a population of around 5,000, but it still qualifies to be a city, due to its famous cathedral, situated in the Piazza Grande. Placed high on top of a hill, Montepulciano is around 2000 ft. above sea level. Visited some markets…picked up Kim’s purse here. Had a lunch of soup and gnocchi (and of course beer and wine).

Just a few kilometers away, so we stopped at Pienza, a dear, little walled town, that sits on a hill with sweeping views over the vast Val d'Orcia with undulating fields dotted with olive groves and farmhouses. Here Shirl chose Chuchie’s cal Lilly gift.

We visited the still-functioning Monte Oliveto Maggiore Benedictine Abbey, which is roughly a 45 minute drive from Montalcino, the last 15 minutes climbing steadily up a big hill. It's surrounded by lush forest and has spectacular views of the surrounding countryside. The abbey itself is surrounded by olive trees and is meticulously taken care of by the monks who live there. A highlight of the monastery, besides just wandering around the grounds for a few hours, is the incredible fresco cycle of the life of St. Benedict, which rings the huge central cloister.

Oct 1 Fri

Got off to a slow start this morning because all agreed we needed a relatively leisurely and restful day in which to end our Tuscan holiday.

So, Volterra was our only destination today. Volterra is one of the finest and lesser-known hilltop towns tucked away in the heart of Tuscany. Set amidst the soft rolling hills of true Tuscan flavor, unchanged from the scenes depicted in a Renaissance painting, the town is a perfect haven of Etruscan, Roman and Medieval art and architecture. Here you can feast on genuine food and wine and drink in the sights of one of the most lovely corners of the globe and discover what many people consider to be the real Italy. Here we discovered this very cool alabaster shop…took the free tour and demo of how the stone is crafted. Also, Shirley found the potholder gifts she gave to the girls. Barb and Shirl decided to open a wine & web back in the states, modeled after the one they used here.

Decided not to dine out tonight, so instead, we went grocery shopping and hung out at the villa.

Impressions of Tuscany
We felt we got to know the area well and were amazed at all of the old stone and brick farm houses that have been converted to modern homes. Our villa was a good example of the renovation. It had probably been a barn at some point.

More impressive however, were the many hilltop villages that must have originated in the 11-14th centuries. Some towns are very touristy (especially if they have something unique to offer). Others we visited made us feel as if we were the only tourists in town. After visiting a few of the hilltop villages they all seemed to run together. They all had narrow winding streets of mostly three story row houses (the touristy ones didn’t allow car traffic except for residents), they all had at least one main piazza (town square) dominated by a church, a city building and a bell tower. The construction was stone, brick and plaster. Many villages had a protective outer wall around the town. Feuding between city-states meant that Tuscan towns were founded with one over-riding concern: defense. They occupy the high ground, and everything — cathedral, piazza, fortezza — is contained within their walls. Today, these walls form barriers to cars, making aimless meanders a traffic-free pleasure. All Tuscan hill towns have shady, narrow passageways, and bright-shuttered stone houses. And there is generally a history of the town’s allegiance to Florence or Sienna.

The Chianti region was mostly green rolling hilly vineyards. In September the land looked dry with a golden hue and many fields are plowed into high clumps of soil. Land is devoted to grains, sunflowers and other crops as well as olive groves. Of course there are many vineyards as well.

We loved Tuscany; it’s hill towns, food, weekly open-air markets, and fabulous sunsets, especially while enjoying a great glass of Chianti wine.

Oct 2 Sat
Off to the Cinque Terre for the final leg of our trip. The Cinque Terre is eleven miles of sheer rocky coastline in northern Italy, terraced hills and vineyards sloping steeply down to the sea. Five little villages are built into the rocks between the beach and the hills. You can hike, swim, drink red wine, and watch blazing Mediterranean sunsets away from the tourist throngs in the Italian cities and the French Riviera. Centuries old footpaths and mule tracks wind about 500 to 1,000 feet above the sea, leading through olive groves and vineyards, orchards and chestnut woods. Each village has its own character; they are a few minutes apart by train. There are almost no cars as the villages are not easily accessible by road.

On the way we stopped in Portafino, a very photogenic little fishing port. The coastline surrounding Portofino, known as the Ligurian Riviera, is filled with glorious resort towns frequented by the rich and famous. Had a few beers and strolled around checking out the boats.

Arrived in ‘our’ village of Vernazza and found the apartment, which although very tiny (just room for a bed and toilet) offered a spectacular view of the coastline. It is built on the cliff, and the water is a stone throw away. The town is small and quaint, with lots of interesting little shops. Being a port town, there are a lot of local fishermen do their thing.

Walked up to the restaurant on top of the hill above us for dinner. All thought it was just mediocre.

Oct 3 Sun
Woke up to church bells ringing. How pleasant.

Took the foot trail over to Corniglia next town south of where we were staying. Nice place, and less touristy than Vernazza. Spent a few hours eating, drinking, and poking around town.

We did ourselves proud as we ended up continuing our walk south from Corniglia to Manarola, and finishing up at the last town Riomaggiore. Kick-butt walk! Took the train back.

When we got back the ‘kitty’ bought some beer and wine. We hung out on the upper deck area relaxing and enjoying the view of the Mediterranean. Met our neighbors Dennis and Diane (from Boston) and invited them to our little party.

Dinner was excellent. Shirley has this Ravioli with walnut sauce she must find the recipe for. Called mom D and wished her happy birthday. All sang Happy Birthday. The locals and tourists got a kick out of it too.

Oct 4 Mon
We survived the cliff line walk from Vernazza to Monterosso, which was a very, very long and rugged walk. Often the footpath was only a foot wide, with nothing separating us from the sea floor but air. Along the way was this old, old man selling water and grapes for a buck or two. How the hell does he manage to carry all his stuff along these trails?

Took the train back to Corniglia and met up with Dennis and Diane for lunch.

Oct 5 Tue

Up before down and out of town like a bunch of thieves in the night. It’s a long drive to Milan for our morning flight. Pretty quiet along the way as we were all pooped. But Tom T managed to get us there safe and sound and on time.

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