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Ten Great Weeks in Italy

Author: Host Ciao (More Trip Reviews by Host Ciao)
Date of Trip: October 2007

Yesterday I had a very pleasant train trip--meaning with no luggage! I went to Arezzo, where I had never been and only an hour away. The church of St. Francis there has some excellent frescos by Piero della Francesco (may not have the name correct) that were well worth seeing. I wandered the town a bit. According to one guide book the streets slope gently up to the park and Duomo on the edge of the town--a cliff. I'm not sure what the writer meant by slope gently because after the first church I hit some hills that would make Genoa proud--just as steep and actually longer. But I made it slowly to the top and then again slowly down to the station.

Did some general wandering after I got back and can report that Florence is dressing up for Natale. Several streets already have lighted garlands across them. And while the stores have not gone as wild as many in Lucca have, they are beginning to look Christmasy. Forgot to mention Lucca where I stopped for two nights after Venice. A nice town with great walls still surrounding its historical center. Yes, I did walk on the walls a bit. There is a great path, a couple of restaurants and lots of places to go back down. Lots and lots of Christmas in the windows in Lucca. Some were so outstanding that I had to take pictures.

Well, must be off for my date with David. Then at 5 pm I can go into the Duomo for the weekly Saturday night Mass in English, which will be nice. Because of the sheets that every Italian church seems to have for Mass, I can usually follow along pretty well until it comes to the sermon. Tonight it will be in English.

I loved my time in Florence, but did not give myself enough time there. The Florence marathon kept me from my long bus ride up to the Piazzelle Michelangelo on Sunday. so by the time I got up there on Monday the fog had come in and the view of Florence was nowhere to be seen. I did eat lunch at Zio Gigi's (Uncle Gigi--go figure) that my brother discovered last year. The 7E lunch had gone up to 8E but I don't know of a cheaper three course lunch. Add water and bread for 10.50E.

I will write more about hotels on the independent traveler, but have to say now that I think the Casci in Florence is among the best and most hospitable I have stayed in.

I love this little town (Assisi) even though it is the hilliest yet.  Makes Perugia look easy and Genoa nothing but really short hills.  Today I went up, up, up and more up to the church of St. Clare and then still more up to the cathedral of St. Rufino.  Then down, down, down, etc back to the hotel to rest my feet and write this.  Later I will go up, up, up again to reach the center of town and probably revisit San Francesco where I spent most of yesterday afternoon. 

I enjoyed Perugia and found some magnificent views since the town is built on a cliff.  I also investigated the four sets of escalators that go up and down from the high Piazza del 'Italia.  i have to admit that I avoided some intriguing looking walks because of the hills, but I climbed my share and figured I had better save some hills for Assisi.

I tell myself that I must have all the books written about Assisi, but once again I found a couple I "had" to buy.  The same goes for a couple of additions to my Nativity collection.  but St. Francis is credited with setting up the first presepe (Nativity scene) so I figured I would find some here.  Years ago I thought that if I ever won the lottery this town would be where I would buy my Italian retreat.  Now, I fear I would also have to buy the world's most powerful motorized chair with great brakes to live here.  I feel very lucky to still be able to go  up and down these hills.  Up, again is easier because  of pauses to catch breath; down might be easier on the breath, but harder on the knees. the town is so pretty and peaceful that I love coming here.

Tomorrow I am off to Orvieto and have to change trains twice, but after that only one more on and off trip.  Yes, I can do them, but the luggage doesn't get any easier muscling  onto the train!  all for now
As St. Francis would say, "Pax e Bene"  Peace and good life

Rome--My Favorite 
I'm smiling; I'm in Rome.  I'm smiling; after 12 to 15 times on and off the trains (three times one trip) I don't have to do that again!  I didn't even know about the big nationwide transportation strike on Friday until it was over and I found the Herald Tribune on Saturday! And I'm still smiling because yesterday evening, I found this year's "mostra" or  exhibition of 100 presepi that I remembered going to five years ago, and it was just as delightful.  This is a display of Nativity scenes, some fancy as the Neapolitan ones, but there are some tiny ones in half a walnut shell, in a sea shell (three or four with magnifying glasses) one made out of cookies, another of buttons; how about one on a blue dress painted as one of the della Robbia Nativity creations with extra stars on the dress?  However, my favorite and one that is very different was done in I think white ceramics but I have seen nothing better to show the joy of the season.

Picture a band\orchestra made up of a couple of shepherds, the standard cow and donkey (with a harmonica) the three kings doing a back to back circle dance with arms linked, one of their camels playing the violin.  Then there were Mary and Joseph, tall and lanky, tossing the Baby up in the air and he seemed to be having a great time.  The topper was the two angels, one kneeling with eyes covered by her\his hands the other with arms outstretched looking like she wanted to fly and rescue Jesus.  I spent quite a bit of time with this one and did a lot of chuckling.  And, as I said, I still am. I wish I could have taken pictures at least of that one, but no pictures.  I did buy the catalogue, but it doesn't do justice to many.

Today was my Roman cucina tour.  We met at the market at Testaccio, looked around and decided what to cook.  We ended up with broccolini, artichokes, two kinds of pasta--amatriciana and ala Gricio, forgive any spelling errors.  Then we went to Volpetti, a marvelous meat and cheese shop and not related to the one I have seen closer to the Pantheon.  Our final stop was a wine shop.  Then we went to Maureen Fant's apartment and helped her cook.  Great fun and great food.  Forgot to say we also had picked out persimmons and had those for dessert--a first for me.  I had not idea they were so marvelously sweet and tasty.  Tomorrow I "do" the Paletine, Forum and Colosseum also with Context Travel.

I have to go back no to finish Umbria. My final hill town was Orvieto, and the Duomo is every bit as marvelous as I have always heard--mosaics, statues, bas reliefs, spires, color.  I didn't even notice that three small parts were missing--being refurbished until I read it in a brochure.  Inside there are two chapels, one frescoed by Signorelli with some marvelous nudes that came before Michelangelo and are not quite as muscular--nudes in a cathedral?  Never fear it's the end of the world with the raising of the dead and the Last Judgement with lots of nasty also nude devils and beautiful angel--clothed.  Another hill town, of course and I did a bit of hill climbing to see some areas at the edge of the cliff Orvieto sits on.  Also took the tour of Underground Orvieto, which was interesting.  There are hundreds of caves under the city, going back to the Etruscans but also used for wine cellars, pigeon raising and even an olive oil press.  Then to Rome.

I have to relate one more thing about my peaceful and beautiful Assisi.  On my last night there what should happen in the big parking lot just below two or three hotels and on the edge of town, but a rock concert.  Not too peaceful, but I didn't have much trouble going to sleep, must have been all the hills and the repetitive drum beat.  In fact I woke up once, probably the silence and thought they were done, but it was just the break!  But again no problem going back to sleep.

Also I ended my last update with the greeting of St. Francis.  However, because the little signs come it both languages I mixed up the Latin of Francis (and my own from eons ago) and the modern Italian.  I prefer Francis and my former Latin teacher to the modern Italian so-- "Pax et Bonum

Since last I wrote I went on an excellent walking tour of Roma Antica.  It was four hour tour and we walked amidst the emperors' palaces and saw the area where archeologists believe Rome began.  Also we learned about a new find that they feel might back up the Romulus, Remus, and the wolf legend.  This is not ready for visitors yet. Then we walked through the forum and from there to the Colosseum.  I learn something new every time I take this tour.

After the tour I headed to the Capitoline Museums, ate lunch at the cafeteria and then wandered through the museums and through the connecting tunnel that also allows you to walk out into the excavated Tabularium (the ancient Roman archives) for a great view of the forum. I'll sum up by saying that from about 8/40 am (can't find the colon) until 6 pm I sat about half an hour for lunch and about 15 minutes on the bus back to the hotel when a kind man gave me a seat.  My feet were crying!!

Today I went to St. Peter's and arrived there about 8/15.  It is marvelous to visit this huge church when there are very few people.  It opens at 7 am.  My appointment to visit the excavations under the basilica was at 9/15.  It was again an excellent and interesting tour though I did not think it was quite as good as the last time I did it.  The guide was knowledgeable but did not have the drawings that the priest who gave the tour four years ago did.  Still well worth the time.  It took about an hour and when we exited from the crypt where the popes are buried into the basilica by the altar of St. Adrrew, the crowds had arrived.  I wandered a bit more, went into the treasury and then headed out.  Found that the book store had closed which for me is probably a good thing.  I don't need any more books on St. Peter's or Rome though I imagine I would find one I HAD to have.

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