Category Archives: Italy

Arriving in Venice

Breakfast with David, a quick taxi ride, and we’re on the train to Venice.  We hugged the Adriatic coast for a bit, one more view of Miramare, then went inland until we came to Mestre about two hours later.  Along the causeway, and we’re in Venice, or at least in a very crowded train station in Venice.  We eventually got ourselves sorted out and on the the Number 1 vaporetto, the slow boat that goes along the length of the Grand Canal.

Venice is so watery!  The water is green, the buildings are attractively old and often dilapidated, there is a church every hundred meters or so, and the whole thing is more photogenic than you can imagine.

Arriving at San Zaccaria, next to San Marco, we followed the hotel’s directions along several narrow alleys (no bridges, for which we should have been thankful), to the quiet square of San Zaninovo, in the Venetian dialect, or San Giovanni in Oleo more formally.  The hotel faces a church which has been closed for more than a hundred years.  There’s a wellhead  in the center,  and to one side a sottoportego (tunnel) that leads over canals and through campi to Santa Maria Formosa, where we had lunch  (an okay pizza and a glass of prosecco/campari and soda).

We had tickets for St.Mark’s at 3:00, so after checking in to our nice room at Casa Querini overlooking the campo, we made our way to the Piazza (there is only one in Venice).  Below is a view of the Piazzetta, with the Doge’s Palace on the left and the library on the right.Following Rick Steves’ practical advice which we listened to on our phones, we walked through the most amazing building, with walls and ceilings covered in gold mosaics.  The lights were not turned on (as we realized on our second tour, see tomorrow’s entry) but the effect was still marvelous and quite Byzantine in feeling.  We paid the extra Euros for everything, well worth it:  the Palo d’oro is a (stolen, of course) gold and enamel panel telling of St. Mark’s life, the treasury had a sweet lunetta by Paola Veneziano, and the Museum of St. Mark’s was wonderful.  First you see examples of how the mosaics are made, then you have views down into the church from this upper level, then you go out on the roof in front and hang around with the four horses (copies) and enjoy the great views, and finally you see the four original horses, standing inside where they won’t be damaged by pollution.  All in all, quite wonderful.

We had dinner tonight at Ae Sconto, recommended by Lynda and Frank, and enjoyed it mightily (as when have we not enjoyed Italian food?).  I had the creamed cod and polenta recommended by someone on Tripadvisor, which was quite good, then we shared some kind of delicious pasta.  The nice people gave us a glass of Prosecco to start and limoncello to end.  Divine.

Melancholy Miramare

The next day dawned bright and warm.  We had a somewhat awkward breakfast with David, who is quite kind but very hard to understand, and things like what to do with one bowl of cereal for the two of us were confusing.  Nevertheless, we parted with smiles and good cheer, and off we went for our walking tour of Trieste.

Our leader accommodated a group of German, Italian and English speakers with a bilingual Italian-English tour. We were surprised to learn (though perhaps Jan Morris had told me this) that the Piazza had been sea until a few hundred years ago, when the Hapsburgs, i.e. the clever Maria Theresa, decided the city needed to expand and filled it in with whatever debris they could find. From here we retraced most of our steps from yesterday but with more information and a bit more energy.

After the view of the Roman Theater, we proceeded through a pedestrian zone to the remains of the Grand Canal, another of the Empress’s ideas, and this wonderful statue of James Joyce.  We bid farewell to the group and proceeded down the street to lunch at Cafe Tommaseo, a hangout of Joyce’s.  Today it was filled with Asian tour groups, and us, sitting outside for the most delicous fish soup (me) and carpaccio, along with a glass of Prosecco.

From here we took the bus to the train station and then another to Miramare, having a nice conversation at the bus stop with a doctor from Chicago and his two boys, here for his wife’s conference on breast milk.  (He assured Alison that breast milk was still considered best of all.) We compared notes on our travels, in the way of tourists, and he made us think that Rome might be a good destination after all. Someday…

The bus stopped about fifteen minutes away from Miramare, which was a treat as we were able to enjoy the Adriatic strand. Some people were fishing, others were sunbathing on a very uncomfortable-looking concrete pad. Here’s a little clip of the Adriatic beating against the shore.

We came to Miramare, paid our entrance fee (first buying the ticket, then exchanging the ticket just a moment later with a second person, who knows why) and walked through to this perfectly sited yet melancholy place.

Perfectly sited because it sits on a rocky promontory jutting out into the sea and with its white stone walls can be spied from Trieste, eight kilometers away.  It’s surrounded by balconies and walkways, baking in the sun, with a good breeze and the constant splash of waves on stone to mitigate the heat.  Nearby are formal gardens (somewhat neglected, most of the boxwood though perfectly clipped seemed to be dead) and statuary with a little bar where you can get a coffee, a glass of wine, or a Fanta served in a curvy Coca-Cola glass.

But melancholy because the poor Archduke Maximilian, whose idea this was, lived there only four years with his wife Charlotte of Belgium (whose father was the evil Leopold of Belgian Congo infamy). He was made Emperor of Mexico and sent off to a country that was embroiled in civil war and, despite what he had been told, not at all sure they wanted to be part of the Hapsburg Empire.  He was shot by Juarez’s troops in 1867.  After this, Charlotte returned to Miramare, where she slowly went mad.  Morris makes a good story of it all.

The interior is hot, stuffy, and stuffed with furniture and paintings, many of the ill-favored family of Maximilian and Charlotte.  She is actually quite attractive, but the rest are nothing to write home about, especially in the mutton chop whiskers of the period.  There’s a beautiful indoor fountain and great views of the Adriatic, but I would just toss out all the stuff and start fresh.  That’s sort of what the Duc d’Aosta did when he lived here in the thirties.  He was a dashing flying ace who reluctantly (I think) served under Mussolini and died of tuberculosis, although before he was done he became the Viceroy of Ethiopia.

Dinner tonight was another of David’s recommendations, the Siora Rosa down near the Piazza.  Very friendly service.  We shared a meltingly tender eggplant parmesan followed by sardines with onions and polenta for me.  Then we walked through the Piazza to see it lit up, very pleasant, and up the hill to the Gens Julia.

36 Hours in Trieste

We had a wonderful dinner on our second and last night in Ljub, which just about made up for the lousy one the night before.  Great trance music, dinner next to a goldfish pond, a friendly waiter who recommended the beefsteak, which was indeed lovely.  A nice bottle of red wine- ah, civilization!

Wednesday morning we packed up (luckily it all still fits, though like our clothes, it’s getting a bit snug) and trundled them off to the train station.  I love trains – rarely are there delays, you know the train is going where it says it will, and all you have to do is read.  We had picked up sandwich fixings in Ljub and enjoyed our rolls with Emmentaler and prosciutto while the countryside sped by.

Arrived in Sezana, which is not much to write home about, with no taxis waiting and our phones not working.  Finally tracked down a train man who told us to try at the hotel and, indeed, a brisk receptionist called us a cab and we were on our way.  Crossing the border was entirely uneventful.  No stamps on our passports for either Slovenia or Italy!  Too bad.  He delivered us to the train station, from which we got another cab to our B&B.

The Gens Julia is up THREE flights of stairs, 77 steps as one of us noted.  (Just assume we’re high up in this building.)gens-juliaBut it’s quite lovely:  a modern bathroom, comfortable bed and air conditioning (!) which  we may well need, as it’s warm and humid here.  David welcomed us with a glass of juice and some maps and dinner recommendations, and we launched ourselves into Trieste.

Here’s the thing about Trieste: like San Francisco, it’s built on hills, and they are very steep.  We started out walking downhill to the Piazza del’Unita, the grand square by the sea.  It’s quite big and empty except for a few statues and columns. I wish I could remember what Jan Morris said about it, though I do think it’s been re-engineered over the centuries.  We tracked down the TIC and got information from a somewhat testy young woman.  (At one point, when I asked about the bus, she pointed out that she had already told me this – SORRY.)  We were all a little testy at this point, truth be told.  We’re at that point in a trip where we’re both a little weary and wondering how much longer this will all go on.  But, onwards!

Armed with a tourist/bus ticket, we began walking uphill towards the castle and cathedral of San Giusto.  Steep hills up to an old church with a darling Jesus having a little drink, and these beautiful mosaics.  The most purple one is a 1930s modern work.  We walked in a desultory way through the castello, enjoying the views of Trieste and ignoring everything else.   Then back down the hill to the remains of the Roman theater, which now faces the fascist-style building housing the police station.

We took David’s recommendation for dinner and made our way back UP the hill to a little hole in the wall, that wasn’t open at ten of seven.  We sat on a bollard around the corner, looking at the waxing moon and giving it ten more minutes, when a car pulled up and a dashing man with long hair and an elderly woman got out, unlocked the door and invited us in.

The interior was brightly lit and already provisioned with table settings and baskets of bread.  We took the nice man’s advice about what to eat and drink and ended up with a thin white wine and lots of fish.  First, the most delicious fried shrimps and some other little fish, then Alison had lasagna, which was divine, while I had pasta with clams.  We  ended with sardines for me and something else for Alison, I’m sure it was delicious…  And so to bed, in the nice cool room with the a/c running.

It’s still a garden blog

Most of the time, anyway… Although we didn’t visit any gardens, not even the Boboli in Florence (lack of time and energy, sadly), we saw lots and lots of container gardens everywhere we went.  Let’s start with a huge pot from Impruneta, this one found in a courtyard at the Palazzo Riccardo-Medici in Florence. Okay, not a container garden, but it sets the tone for classic terracotta pots.

Here’s a typical balcony planting.  You can see the cactus as well as the laundry drying.  This is a plant I should know, clearly Mediterranean, but I’m blanking.  The most amazing thing is that, as far as I can tell, it’s planted in two terracotta pots, one on either side of the doorway.Bougainvillea??  Here’s a closeup.  The flowers have almost a papery quality.Lots of succulents, as you might imagine in this Mediterranean climate.  Here is a window pot in Volterra,and another one.  This array of xeri-plants including cactus and yucca was outside a house in Montalcino on our way into the main piazza.  Below is mandevilla in a windowsill.They also had some beautiful geraniums.  I know, you don’t usually think of geraniums as beautiful, but in this case they are perfectly proportioned and fit the color scheme of the shutters just right.  I like this shot of sprawling ivy geraniums against the view of a narrow street in Montalcino.

This picture was taken from the bus coming back into Florence on our last day.  I’m not sure how the gardener waters these plants — does she crawl through that tiny little shuttered window, or does the low wall really hide an inset terrace? 

The Etruscans and their museums

This part of Italy was settled by the Etruscans, or the mysterious Etruscans, as they were better known.  They liked food and drink, and to prove it they left behind funerary urns decorated with what look like real people, portrayed lounging on couches as they eat and drink.  They also made tiny animal statuettes and alabaster vases, especially in Volterra, which is known for its alabaster.  Their language has yet to be completely deciphered.  After a thousand years of prosperity in Tuscany, they were defeated by the Romans.

A side note on alabaster:  the windows in Volterra’s cathedral are made of alabaster, letting through a milky, soft light.  We visited an alabaster shop with attached workshop.  As you can see, everything was covered with a fine, talc-like dust.  The shop had some beautiful lamps and vases, but the message here was, buy something large, gorgeous and light-filled, or just pass it by. 

Back to the Etruscans.  Volterra is known for its Etruscan Museum, founded in the 18th century by an abbot who was fascinated by their civilzation, and touted as the third greatest collection after the Louvre and London’s National Gallery.  Well, they certainly had lots of things.  Here are lots and lots of alabaster vases.  And here are lots and lots of terra cotta vases.  There were lots and lots of everything, in fact.  This museum may have had a great collection, but it was exhibited without much art.  Here are some little animals – look closely and you’ll see that one of them has fallen over.  How long ago?  Some of the object were quite oddly displayed.  Here were two funerary urns placed behind a rectangular hole in the wall.  If you peered inside, you could see the second one, but otherwise not.  What was that all about?  Still, there were some objects that really gave a sense of the culture. The funerary urns with their all too human statuary were very appealing.  Best of all was the famous Shadow of Night statuette.  Since there is currently an exhibit in Paris called “Giacometti and the Etruscans,” this was on loan and we were actually looking at a copy.  Oh, well, it was still quite wonderful and clearly must have influenced Giacometti, who saw it here in the 1960s.

Cortona has an Etruscan museum, too, not quite so extensive but much more creatively displayed.  Here are some metal pot decorations that caught our eyes.  One odd thing about these museums and most others in Italy:  once you come to the end, the only way you can leave is by retracing your steps back to the entrance. Hmmm.

Hill towns

On Monday, we picked up our car, an automatic because of the HILL towns we were planning to visit.  A bit molto grosso, but that’s what you get when you ask for the exotic automatic transmission in Europe, and it served us quite well.  (We had to take its picture so we could find it again in the parking lot.)We were equipped with an atlas of Tuscany, a map of Siena from the B&B, another map of Siena from the Avis office, and Alison’s map of Tuscany, plus some Google maps directions that I sent to Alison’s phone.  Even so, we found that the route numbers on the maps rarely matched the route numbers on the roads.  The best way to navigate was to determine the next town and look for signs.  We asked directions a few times, too, and people were quite helpful.  You need to know sinestra (left), destra (right) and diritto (straight ahead), and you’ll manage just fine.

Once we got out of town, always interesting in a foreign city, we were soon on a boring but safe divided highway and made our way to Volterra (Monday), Cortona (Tuesday) and Montalcino (Wednesday).  Since hill towns are all unique but all share the same elements, I’m combining them here.

First, the approach:

You wend your way along the valley floor, looking at the bare hills (did they just harvest sunflowers??), grapevines, and olive trees.  As you approach your destination, you see it looming ahead of you, like this view of Cortona.  You can see why the feuding Tuscans chose hills for their cities.

Then you navigate up hairpin turns, of which I have no pictures because it was all I could do to keep my hands on the wheel and avoid the cars barreling down the hills at a great rate of speed.  Some of the approaches were just a bit scary, but if you don’t look over the guard rail you don’t have to know that it’s a sheer drop to the valley floor.

Next you find a parking place (easy) in a nearby lot and take another picture so you can remember where you parked.  Then you climb the steep stairs to the town itself.These were the 200 steps up the hill to Volterra.  On the other hand, if you visit Cortona, you can take the escalators!Much easier…

Then you find your way through the narrow streets to one of the several main piazzas in town.This is the Piazza Pubblico in Cortona, with its imposing town hall.  As in Siena, these often include a civic museum.

There is also usually a Baptistery, octagonal of course, often faced with marble like this one in Volterra.  And, of course, a cathedral.  The one in Montalcino had a small tree growing in its campanile (bell tower).  We were still in search of ART, and we saw some great things in Volterra and Cortona.  I must confess that, by Montalcino, we were all wore out and didn’t set foot in a single museum or religious institution.  But first, we saw this thirteenth century deposition of Christ in Volterra.  We paid 50p to have the light turned on so we could see it clearly for three minutes.  The Diocesan Museum in Cortona is known for its art by local Luca Signorelli, whom Frances Mayes adores but we found a bit melodramatic.  Both of us much preferred Fran Angelico’s Annunciation, also here.Then, of course, there is lunch.  In Volterra, we went to a hole in the wall recommended by  Rick Steves and enjoyed it mightily.  La Vena di Vino had a nice red wine and delicious zuppe de pane, the local equivalent of ribbolitta.  In Cortona,  we had delicious melone e prosciutto, so perfectly ripe and delicious that it must be the food of the gods, followed by thin crust pizzas.  Mine had rocket (arugula) and stracchino.In a fit of snobbery, we were somewhat appalled when a group of loud Americans plopped down and proceeded to order cheeseburgers, French fries and diet Coke.  IN ITALY!  What is the point??  And in Montalcino, which is all about wine, we had indifferent salads and antipasto accompanied by a glass of quite good Brunello.  Next: the Etruscans.

Saturday in Siena

On Saturday morning we bid farewell to Gorgio at Residenza Giotto – Silvia had bid us an effusive goodbye complete with two kisses the day before – and took a cab to the bus station.  Everything worked swimmingly and in an hour and a half we were in Siena.
Palazzo Bruchi is in one of the medieval streets with barely enough room for cars to pass.  Pedestrians scatter in various directions, or don’t even bother, when they hear the angry Vespas coming up behind them, or the local buses lumbering along.  It’s very different from Florence: many fewer tourists and a much more medieval feel.

Our room is not big but the two double windows are generously sized, reaching the timbered ceiling and looking out on the courtyard below.  The Palazzo has seven B&B rooms and the rest is apartments, a few belonging to Camilla’s aunt, sister and cousin and the others rented out, I guess.  We’ve witnessed a few quarrels in the courtyard as well as chalk drawings by children, so I guess it’s a family affair.
We went out in search of lunch and eventually, with lots of help (either the address was wrong or we were just confused), came upon the so-called skyscraper, a little hole in the wall where we ordered a mixed plate by pointing at what looked good – mashed cauliflower, prosciutto, etc., and a glass of red wine.  Fortified, we walked through town, always uphill, stopping at a few ceramics shops and noticing the ubiquitous wolf – Siena’s symbol like its arch-rival Florence’s lion.  
Though the Campo was beckoning, we continued on to the Duomo.  This was very different from Florence’s bare Duomo.  It’s famous for its gorgeous mosaic floors with mythological scenes as well as intricate border designs like this one,and for the Piccolomini Library, decorated with frescoes detailing the life of a the Sienese Pope Pius II who started out a bad boy but had a change of heart. Here he is looking back at us as he sets off for the Council of Basel.

The library is not large, and with the frescoes and other decorations covering every inch, it’s a beautiful space.
We walked over to the Duomo Museum to see yet more ART.  Duccio is the big name here, with his Maesta the big draw, along with his original stained glass windows.
We finally walked down to the Campo and were not disappointed. It’s a huge space, made even larger because you come to it through narrow streets with no vistas at all.  It’s comfortably full of people at all hours.
Dinner this evening was at La Torre, which came highly recommended somewhere or other.  It was a great experience.  You sit down in the brightly lit room and the lugubrious owner comes over and recites a list of pasta dishes.  No asking you what you want, just the assumption that you’ll start with that.  So of course we did – pici for me and ravioli for Alison.  Then Alison had the wild boar stew and I had pigeone, more genteelly called squab.  This was accompanied by fiaschetti of plain red wine.  All of it was delicious, and all of it was dished up in the small kitchen in the front of the restaurant, where four people took care of everything.  We knew we would be back!

David, but first, Savonarola

A slightly relaxed schedule today, with only two stops on the agenda.  But first to the bus station to get our tickets to Siena for tomorrow. It was surprisingly easy and seems straightforward enough.  Then we walked through the back streets to the Museum of San Marco, where the former dormitory of the Dominican monks is now open to the public.  The cloister is quiet, pretty, with a classic cedar of Lebanon (?) and a bell tower in the corner.  The walls all around are painted with frescoes by Fra Angelico, but the picture I liked best  was the Virgin and Child with St. John the Baptist looking particularly striking in a sumptuous purple robe over his furry tunic.

Upstairs are the cells of the monks, each decorated (if I can use such a secular term) with scenes designed for prayer and contemplation.  St. Dominic with the tell-tale star over his head figures in many of them.  The cells are small and bare – one wonders if there was even a little bed or if they just slept on the floor.

Then, at the end of the next corridor, are the cells that belonged to the prior, Savonarola, the man who became more and more fanatical, staged the Bonfire of the Vanities where who knows how many great pieces of art were destroyed, briefly ruled Florence and finally was executed. This eerie portrait of him hangs on one wall.
Also on display are his chair, his desk, and a few garments he wore to get closer to God through pain.  I know I see him through 21st century eyes, but he really is a most unpleasant fellow.

Lunch was in a little hole in the wall described as a family place, and indeed it was.  We chose pasta from the list on the wall after looking at our neighbors’ plates and declaring them good, and they were.  We followed (in backwards order) with mixed prosciutto, etc.  The Signora (Mama) served the food, while the boys took the orders and ladled it out.  I was too shy to photograph the place in action, but here’s a look at the menu board and the fiascos of wine.
Alison had an adventure when she asked the Signora for the bathroom. Pulling a key off a high hook, she gestured to Alison to follow her out of the restaurant and through a doorway, up a flight of stairs to a tiny door.  “Poco, poco,” she explained.  Ducking her head, Alison entered what looked like a storage closet only to find  the bathroom hidden behind a screen.  Rightly assuming that if she locked the door she’d never get out again, she successfully concluded her interlude, finding her way back down and back into the restaurant.  Grazie, Signora!Part Two of our day was the Accademia, which loomed as large logistically as the Uffizi but proved to be easy.  There’s not really a lot to see there, but what you see is enough to reduce a strong man (or woman) to tears.
David is all over Florence  – every tourist shop sells aprons adorned with his genitals, there are tiny reproductions of him, as well as postcards, posters and more tchotchkes than you can imagine.  By the end of a day or two in Florence, you feel you’ve already seen him, and he’s just a cliche.  Even the David copy in the Piazza  is just a bit ho-hum.

But turn the corner in the Accademia and see the real statue at the end of the corridor, under a dome built just for him, all seventeen feet of him, and you’re left speechless.  So I won’t say any more except that sometimes an artistic masterpiece will live up to or exceed your expectations, and this is one of those times.Dinner on our last night was at Coquinarius, which Alison had luckily booked, since people were being turned away right and left.  More goose carpaccio, then pici for me and “roastbeef” for her, both absolutely delicious.  When we left, the nice, energetic young man (owner?) ran out of the restaurant to find us and bid us farewell.  I guess it’s true that if you visit a restaurant at least twice you’re considered a regular.  We ended with GROM gelato and wended our way home through the crowds.  Just a few more views of the Duomo at night, and then to bed.

Only the strong survive

Today we visited the Bargello, the former prison that is now home to three floors of sculptures, along with majolicas and assorted other beauties.  The courtyard is lovely and plastered with an assortment of things that have been lying around Florence for the last few centuries – you know, some river gods, most of a fountain, a couple of lions, and so forth.
As usual, we followed Rick Steves through the museum.  He really hits the spot for first-time visitors who want to be sure to see the highlights.  For us, that included Donatello’s saucy David clad only in boots and cap, and an array of sculpted birds that I foolishly neglected to capture.  But I did admire the veining on this marble leg.
Then it was only about 10:00, and we had nothing scheduled until the Uffizi at 2:00.  Perfect time for a wander!  So wander we did, first to the Ponte Vecchio, looking swell in the morning light, with the Arno clearly feeling the effects of a hot summer.  A quick stop for coffee on the other side, the Oltr’arno, then more of a wander past the Pitti Palace and down a little street to a linen shop with beautiful tea towels.  We realized that we were close to a garden shop I had hoped to visit – good seeds, otherwise an odd mishmash of cat food, baskets, and pasta – and to the Church of Santa Maria del Carmine.
I was excited to visit the church because of the Brancacci Chapel  and its frescoes by Masaccio, Masolini and Lippi.  The “Expulsion from Paradise” shows such intense human emotion in such a small space, while “The Fall” wickedly portrays the same human face on Eve and on the snake that entwines the tree she’s holding on to.  They did not disappoint.  They are both high up on the wall and not very big, but quite wonderful.  A great treat, especially because we had thought we wouldn’t have time to fit this into the itinerary.
We finished up our wander with lunch in the Piazza Santa Croce.  A beautiful waiter with the curliest eyelashes I have ever seen served us melon with prosciutto and then a beautiful salad of hard boiled eggs, little shrimp, perfectly fresh tomatoes, and tender greens.  (The picture is lousy because I didn’t want to be arrested for voyeurism and had to be discreet.)

Back over the Ponte Vecchio with renewed strength to tackle the Uffizi Galleries.  Preparing for this is like preparing for battle.  First you book your tickets online.  Then they email you the voucher.  Then you come to the gallery at least 10 minutes ahead of your appointed time to redeem the voucher for tickets, making sure you’re in the correct queue.  Then you stand in yet another line to enter the gallery, where you go through security.  Finally, after you have tucked away your ticket, you climb four long flights of stairs to the gallery, where the final test is to find your ticket again so that the ticket taker can tear off the top.  Whew!
But your work has only begun. Now you are launched on your journey through some of the most amazing work of the Italian Renaissance, and it’s not for the weak.  Gorgeous altarpieces by Giotto, annunciations by just about everyone including Leonardo, Madonnas and children, usually with that wild boy John the Baptist, a whole room of Botticellis including the famous ones you’ve seen forever, and the Venus of Urbino by Titian that Mark Twain found so disturbingly erotic.
It’s an astonishing collection, and we had all we could do to see the highlights, determinedly averting our eyes  from anything extraneous lest we curl up and die before we’re done.  A brief rest on the terrace (our views from our room are actually better!) and then exit through the gift shop.  We limped home very slowly and yet again had to lie down and prop our feet on the headboard.

A hard coming they had of it…

Not that our journey was Biblical, but it was filled with trials and tribulations. Dulles to Munich was easy peasy, though the sleeping pills left us gaga – we probably should have taken them earlier. We made our way to our connecting flight to Florence, piled into the plane and then were told that one of the engines had died so we would need to change planes. Luckily, there was another plane, so we were able to climb aboard within the hour. Soared out of the German rain into the blue sky over Tuscany, only to run into a tail wind that meant we couldn’t land. David Leavitt had warned me of this, but had I paid attention? Of course not. The wind made the journey very bumpy, to say the least. There were a few collective gasps as we bumped up and down through the skies, and the woman behind us was still clutching the airsickness bag when we landed. However, we could not even land in Pisa nearby, the usual drill when it’s too windy in Florence, but had to go to Bologna. Of course, I’ve always wanted to see Bologna…Then a bus lumbered to Florence about an hour and a half away, spewing us out at the airport, from which we grabbed a taxi and finally found ourselves at Residenze Giotta.

Rick Stevse has steered us right. It’s just around the corner from the Duomo, with a spectacular view of same from our window. That means the tolling bells woke us up at 7 am this morning, but we had to get going anyway, and it sounded beautiful. We tidied up and on the recommendation of Silvia at the B&B we made our way to Marione’s for dinner. Full of Americans but the food was good – cheese plate with walnuts and honey, then risotto with seafood for me and lamb cutlets for Alison. Stumbled home over the cobblestone streets and so to bed.