Wednesday, October 30, 2019

The Eccentric Artist

On the previous post, I posted a picture of the fresco's in the  cloister (or hallway) of the Abbey Mont Oliveto in Tuscany. I wish I had done some research before my visit and not after, which seems to often to be the case. If you have time to read all of may find it interesting...
There were numerous fresco's which I did not photograph, since there was an escorted tour in the hallway, and I was trying to stay out of their way.
What I did know, at the time, was that the scenes were  following the life of St. Benedict (480-547) a religious reformer, who was  referred to as the Patron Saint of Europe. These fresco's were painted by two artists Luca Signorelli in 1498,
and Giovanni Antonio Bazzi better known as Sodoma beginning in 1505. Sodoma was a bit of an eccentric. In this particular fresco he painted a self portrait of himself into the scene. Turning his back on the subject at hand, so that he could forever make eye contact with the viewer. The clothes he wore were not his own, but those of a nobleman who had left this elaborate getup with the Abbey Prior (superior). Note too, that he added his pets, two badgers, a chicken and a tame raven.

If you would like to read more about Sodoma, who actually was a very talented artist, go HERE

One more post on the Abbey to follow.
Why the MICIO? 

Tuesday, October 29, 2019

The Abbey

Continuing with our recent visit to Tuscany......
Toward the end of our trip, and on a beautiful Fall day we visited the Abbey Monte Oliveto Maggiore, a Benedictine Monastery which is 10km south of Asciano. You are greeted by a drawbridge at the beautifully cared for 15th century structure. You then walk down a rather long alleyway flanked by tall Cypress Trees.
 Where you arrive at the main complex.
You know that you are at the right place since there are monks about, some even passed us driving a car. They are called to prayer six times a day in the main church, and they will let you sit in the church while this is going on, provided you are respectful (and quiet).
There is no entrance fee and you are free to walk about. We smelled what we thought was soup cooking as we peered into the dining hall, where the tables were set for lunch.
Like so many monasteries, they make and sell their own wine and you are free to walk down into cellars,
Which I found to be very interesting.
Back at ground level there was a sunny courtyard
surround by hallways with magnificent  fresco's 
More on that Later!
Which brings you to the church which like all churches and cathedrals in Europe are extraordinary.
There were of a couple of things I discovered at the Abbey that I found most interesting...which I will post later.

Saturday, October 26, 2019

So Where Are the Cypress Trees?

Okay, for the last few posts I have been running around Tuscany. So where are all those beautiful Italian Cypress Trees? Truth is they are almost everywhere, especially on our drive back from Siena  to our little cottage in near Cortona.
Tom is so good about stopping, as soon as he can, whenever I yell "Stop! Stop!"
Which is what he did when I saw this. If you haven't been there, what can I say but you simply must go!It is so pretty.
Our friend Phil had found a beautiful house online he wanted to see, which is what we were doing on this particular road to begin with.
Okay, so we located it. Phil and I had jumped out of the car hoping to get another good picture, and to our disappointment we are confronted with this..a closed locked gate..
Hey wait! There is a path running parallel to the fence. So while Tom and Phil's wife Jenna were patiently waiting in the car, off Phil and I went, scurrying up a down a few little hills on what looked like a well worn path
to discover this. Oh my gosh! Look at that long curving drive! All of a sudden Phil yells "Janey get back to the car.They are coming after us!!!"Oh dear maybe we were are on private property after all? I ran back down the path to discover Tom had moved the car and it was now sitting in a huge puddle of muddy water. Phil was right behind me shouting "Get in Get in". I informed him that unless they were shooting I wasn't stepping into that big puddle! Had a happy ending after all, seems who ever it was, was just leaving and nodded at us as they went out the gate. Whew! That was a close call. Amazing what bloggers will do to get a picture!

Thursday, October 24, 2019

That Horse

On a recent trip to Italy, Tuscany to be exact, we spent a day in the hill town of Montepulciano. Having packed a lunch we were happy to find a park, Poggiofanti Gardens, which was a pretty (and perfect) place to picnic.
you may click on photo to enlarge

At the edge of the park it was impossible not to notice this huge horse that towered over 10 meters or 32 feet high, so naturally I went over to have a look.

To try and condense the goes: This is a horse statue designed by Leonardo Da Vinci that he never completed. It was commissioned by the Duke of Milan in 1482. Leonardo made very detailed drawings and produced a clay model, but the bronze he was to use had to be given to the war effort to make cannons. The invading French army also destroyed the clay model by using it for target practice.
Fast forward to 1978. An American art enthusiast from Pennsylvania, who by trade was a commercial airline pilot, read about these sketches  in a National Geographic Magazine article.
Mr. Charles Dent set about bringing Leonardo's horse to life. He spent over 2 million dollars on this endeavor, but alas he came down with ALS and died before it was complete. His brother and nephew hired artist Nina Akamu to complete Dent's work.

That horse was presented as a gift to Italian Government in 1999 and sits in the Hippodrome in Milan.
Since then, several other horses have been constructed out of various materials....this being one of them.

I enjoy so many things about travel, especially how educational it is!

To read more, in detail, about Leonardo's horse go HERE


Tuesday, October 22, 2019

Moving Along....

Moving right along...Still posting on our recent trip....but hey, I know nothing is worse than being held captive to watching someone else's vacation pictures. So, I will speed up a bit.
We had been to Florence previously, but we did visit Siena on this trip. Piazza del Campo is unusual as it was built to accommodate the entire village (at the time). Notice the piazza slopes, almost in a seashell shape.. A lot goes on here like the famous Palio Horse race in July.
Another day, we hopped over to Umbria and drove completely around beautiful Lake Trasimeno stopping for lunch at a friendly place in the village of San Feliciano.

One of our memorable hill town visits was Montepulciano. Have you noticed the lack of tourists in these shots? Sure amazed us!
I love learning new things, so I was delighted to learn about this horse in Montepulciano. I think it's entitled to it's own post....Stay Tuned!

Sunday, October 20, 2019

First Stop Cortona

Continuing with our recent trip to Tuscany: Our little cottage in the olive grove was about a thirty minute drive (east) to Cortona, so it was first on our list of places to visit.
Piazza della Repubblica

Cortona sits at the very top of a very steep hill, and all of the parking lots being down below. They have had so many visitors in recent years that they have even installed an escalator to get you to the top. As you can see, there were no crowds the day we visited.
So, we walked around town taking photos like normal tourists.

I  as usual was enthralled with the side streets. Seemed like the perfect day, until the skies opened up and had us searching for our umbrellas. Since it didn't appear that it was going to let up, we found a place inside and out of the rain to have lunch. 
Ultimately we decided to cut our day short due to the weather, but not without finding Bramasole. Bramasole (an Italian Villa) was made famous by the 2003 movie Under the Tuscan Sun. A movie that closely follows Frances Mayes best selling book by the same name. Ms Mayes who was an American professor of English and Creative writing (at the time) really did buy and renovate an old villa,
and this was the finished product...but when they made the movie they needed old ruin.
not my photo
Above is Villa Laura that was restored during the movie,  also in Cortona and has become a vacation rental.

Many people, (yes there is almost a cult following for this movie) search in vain for the fountain in the piazza. Well, it was temporally constructed for the movie, and torn down afterwards.

If you are curious about Cortona (and not the movie) go HERE

Friday, October 18, 2019


After a few days in Paris, a couple in both  Pisa and the Cinque Terra (previous posts), we headed to the Tuscany region of Italy, where we had rented a small cottage.
We arrived in early afternoon, thanks to trusty GPS; Tom being the driver and our friend Phil our excellent navigator and gate man.
 Our little cottage was a nice surprise. It was and easy stroll to the medieval village of Marciano della Chiana (more on that later) and sits at the edge of the properties  small olive grove.

I was amazed at how green the front garden was, not to mention peaceful and relaxing.

The back of the cottage, which sits on over two acres,
was  the location of the small olive grove.

 We really enjoyed the small back patio which was framed with pretty white roses.
The area of Tuscany we were in had fields and fields of either olives trees or grape vines,

and an occasional field of sunflowers.
One of the many things I enjoyed about our stay was the comfortable seating, where we had long conversations after dinner with our travel buddies about what we had seen that day, and what we would see the next.
Oh and I being an early riser, so enjoyed sitting at the breakfast table with my coffee watching the sunrise  to the east, where the hill town of Cortona sits.

Next up: Let's visit Cortona.

Tuesday, October 15, 2019

Oh Dear!

Oh dear what is this:
I discover the next morning that I have a nasty head cold.
Let's see, I have come all the way to Italy and I have my day pass (see previous post) for the hop on hop off train to the charming Cinque Terra Villages...Yep, I went anyway.
So, we started with the village that we had heard the most about,Vernassa.
Right away I knew that I was going to like this place when I spotted several charming houses.
Santa Margherita di Antiochia Church
It was a short walk, gently down hill to the beach. Notice the lack of people. We happened to go on a day that there were no large cruise ships in nearby ports. You can check the cruise
schedule for La Spezia for the whole year , if you want to plan your trip accordingly.
 I am sorry, but the lack of crowds made it even more enjoyable for us.
I think most of the people on the beach were locals.
From what I had read, you had to climb to the top of the village to find a restaurant with a water view, so finding this one on ground level was a nice surprise.
Next we back tracked on the train to Manarola which you reach through a tunnel after exiting the train.

Even in late September there were flowers blooming everywhere.
Here we didn't walk down to the water, but climbed up to get the view.
 By this time...I am feeling worse, so Tom rode back to the hotel with me and searched everywhere for some chicken soup...he by the way is a keeper.
I did a lot of research before going on this trip and it seems that if you want to do any of the hikes, you have to get a separate pass, well not so. That day pass we bought entitled us to hike the trails between the villages. Tom and Phil returned to Vernassa that afternoon and hiked from there to Monterosso, which was on both of their bucket lists. It is the most daunting of the trails, actually one of the toughest in Europe. I am very proud of these guys considering their ages.If you want to stroll along the coast on the easier paths do the southern most ones.

For those wanting to see the villages from the water, there is also a ferry that will carry you up and down the coast.
Time to get the car out of the parking garage, we are headed east across Italy...stay with me.

Monday, October 14, 2019

Next Stop La Spezia

Continuing along on our recent European trip: We left Pisa and decided to go over to the road that hugs the coast instead of driving on the autostrada. It took a bit longer to get where we were going, but hey we were on vacation!
                                                          You can click on any picture to enlarge it.
To give you an idea, we were along the western shore of Italy. I have circled Carrara, because we found it to be very interesting.

We had noticed the the tops of the mountains were white and looked like snow, but it was actually white Carrara marble being mined. There were huge blocks of marble on both sides of the road for miles. I have friends who have Carrara marble countertops  and I suppose this is where it comes from.
 There were also very pretty beaches along the way, and even in late Sept. people were still swimming.....and no that is not me.
For those that don't know, this map shows where the Cinque Terra is located. There are five small villages( notice red dots) that almost hanging off of the cliffs above the Mediaterrian Sea. Starting at the top with Monterosso and ending at the bottom with Riomaggiore. We chose instead to stay two nights in La Spezia at the bottom of the map, and slightly east. We had one person who had difficulty with stairs, plus we were in a car that is almost impossible to park very near the villages.

The hotel we stayed in was perfect. They had parking and it was directly across the street from the train station. There is a train that leaves La Spezia several times, all day long, and stops at all of the villages...the first one only taking six minutes.
I by the way adored the hotel and with it's old world charm.

The first thing we did was to walk across the street and purchase our 12 hour train pass that would take effect the next morning. For seniors the all day pass is only 13E, giving you on and off privileges. When we saw the long lines the next morning, we were so happy that we had gotten ours the night before.

Next I will show you a bit of the Cinque Terra.