Italy Day 7: Ravenna & Venice

In CategoryTravels

Saturday, June 5, 2010

Ravenna

Travel today was through the Apennine Mountains to the town of Ravenna, the meeting point of Roman, Christian and Byzantine cultures.  We visited the church of St. Apollinaris in Classe, which houses some of the finest mosaics in Europe.

St. Apollinaris Church in Classe - Ravenna

The mosaic tiles above the alter were done around 500 A.D.  At that time, there was no real perspective in the art work.  There was a green dome, many amazing mosaics, and stone tombs along the sides of the church.

Cesar statue in front of church

St. Apollinaris in Classe

Off to the right side there was a iron gated off room that housed a statue of Mother Mary. The sun was streaming in through the window, illuminating the space, thus creating a very peaceful scene. This was my favorite part of the church.

radiant Mother Mary

It was very strange to think that these tombs held the bodies of ancient Italians, as was so common in many of the basilicas we visited.

For lunch we shared a salad and then walked down the road in this sleepy little town. It was back on the bus as we headed down the coast towards Venice.

Venice

The road follows the coast around the Lagoon to reach Venice, “Queen of the Adriatic”. We spotted a gypsy in a long skirt and red shirt, begging for money, right when we were waiting for the gondolas. Our guide quickly hurried us along, as gypsies are known to devise clever distractions so they can steal your money. No money= no fun!

We were the last of our group to board the gondola for a ride through Venice’s canals. Dave and I were lucky enough assertive enough, to get to ride in the “sweetheart” seats on the boat. It is from this vantage point that we had the very best views of Venice and her grand style.

Our gondolier (left photo) was one of the best because he sang partial bits of charming Italian songs along the way as he pointed out buildings and places of interest. I wanted this experience to go on and on forever!  It was so fabulous, but unfortunately it passed by much too quickly.

stunning Venetian canals

I’m still in awe at the fact that this entire city is barely above water level, and surrounded by it.  People must either walk, or use water transportation to get about- no cars allowed!  Due to this and other inconveniences, the population has declined more recently. With all that water, can you imagine the watchful eyes and vigilance parents must have for their child’s safety in Venice?

smooth ride under the bridges

After our gondola ride through the Venetian canals, we were whisked away, then boarded a boat to Lido. The boat ride wasn’t very long – about 15 minutes, as Lido is an island just across the water from Venice.

We stayed at the Hotel Le Boulevard, which was much nicer looking from the outside than in. Our room was very small and had an extremely tacky, moldy, bathroom … YUK! Thank goodness we spent very little time there.

We had several hours on our own before dinner, so we headed down the shop-lined boulevard to the ocean.  There were tons of people enjoying the sunshine on a mostly shelled, not sanded, beach.

Dinner tonight was bread sticks, ham, lasagna, salad, slice chicken, then tiramisu for dessert, whew! We were with the group at a local Italian restaurant that could of been a lot nicer if only we weren’t quickly rushed through our five courses.

After dinner, we walked down to the pier to board private water taxis to take us on an extra excursion down the Grand Canal to see magical Venice at night. These taxis were wicked fast, and were racing one another across the water.

boat race across the Adriatic

When Venice began to “light up” in the early evening, it truly was magical. We passed by twinkling chandeliers, and illuminated palazzi on our way to the romantic St. Mark’s Square.

Rialto Bridge

This bridge is famous for some reason I can’t remember.  We were told that if you kiss your honey while passing beneath it, it’ll bring you good luck.

near St. Mark's Square

In St. Mark’s Square, we sat under the stars at a famous cafe and listened to an orchestra quartet play some of Italy’s best loved music.  Of course I had to dance with Dave to the song “That’s Amore”.  He participated only because he said “these people will never see me again”.

St. Mark's Square

After a tasty gelato, we boarded the private taxi and headed back to our hotel in Lido.

It was a very long, but absolutely fun-filled day!  The memories are unforgettable.

Ciao!

Italy Day 6: Perugia & Under the Tuscan Sun / Cortona

In CategoryTravels

Friday, June 4, 2010

Perugia

We spent the morning in the upper village of Perugia with a local tour guide.


The Cathedral displayed beautiful artwork on its ceiling and walls. There were stunning views from the upper village of the town below.

We were on our own for lunch so we went into a little market and bought some rustic bread, pecorino (best in the world!) cheese, and some chicken for a picnic on the church steps.

finely sculptured Great Fountain

lunch place on church steps

I was amazed at the impractical shoes some ladies were wearing on the uneven cobblestones.

cute but impractical shoes on cobblestone

I especially loved window shopping in this particular store.  Yarn is marvelous no matter where you are.

yarn, yarn, lovely yarn

Being a college town, there was evidence of graffiti.

graffiti bench

Parts of Perugia were very pretty, so we went off exploring lots of little streets and alley ways.

Tuscany / Cortona
After lunch, we paid for an extra excursion that took us to the home of Frances Maye, the author of Under the Tuscan Sun.  Our first stop on the panoramic drive to Cortona was a recently unearthed Etruscan Temple.


The cypress trees are very indicative of Tuscany. Cortona is visible in the distance.

recently unearth Etruscan Temple

Along this country road walk to the Etruscan sight, was a river bed lined with the most lovely, vibrant, poppies. Tuscany was draped with these beauties in many, many fields.

The drive to Cortona was wonderful!  It was very picturesque, and had a Tuscany feel, with its cypress and olive tree- lined country roads.

The lower part of Cortona was larger and more modern. We stopped at a junction where there was a small hotel and a restaurant with elderly Italian men enjoying a game of cards.

At this junction, we continued on foot, following a local guide named Giovanni. He should have been a comedian, as he had us laughing the entire time. We walked about 10 minutes down a quaint, hilltop, graveled narrow road, while admiring the gorgeous views of Tuscany down below on the left.

road to Villa Bramasole (Under the Tuscan Sun)

At first, I wasn’t paying attention / looking up, and almost walked right past Frances’s restored “Villa Bramasole (yearn for the sun).”   When I noticed others in my group had stopped, I turned back around, looked up to my right,  and then I saw the Villa …  it literally took my breath away!  It exuded such beauty and tranquility.  Everything I envisioned Tuscany to be!

Under the Tuscan Sun - Villa Bramasole

Frances Maye restored this dilapidated old villa, so that now it is tidy, painted a goldish-orangey-yellow, and was the prettiest villa I saw in all of Italy. Her garden has more than 90 varieties of roses and the grounds are impeccable. There is no security around it which I found surprising, just a lovely iron fence.  Giovanni told us that she should of named it “Under the Tuscan Shade”, since there isn’t a whole lot of sun in the location of her Villa.

fragrant display of flowers


This cut out in the wall was where the old Italian man in the movie would place flowers each day. It was a shrine of some sort.

Villa Bramasole - Under the Tuscan Sun

After this visit to Bramasole, we went into the town of Cortona where Giovanni got us oriented, then we were on our own to explore.

There were many attractive signs and places to photograph here.

We had some blood orange gelato which tasted like sherbet and came displayed beautifully! A little party in a cone. It made me smile.

gelato party in a cone

Discovering the public gardens was very interesting. Its canopy of densely grown trees was almost eerie. In the center was a fountain of two women wrapped in fishes, and an ancient rock stadium off to one side.

passeggiata - stroll

We people watched from this vantage and saw a little old Italian couple out for a walk. We often saw this during the ritual of “passeggiata” which is a pre-dinner stroll, to “see and be seen”. Very endearing.

Perugia

Perugia was once again our stop for the night.  We went  to the upper village to enjoy a freshly baked pizza on the church steps in the piazza.

Ciao! Tomorrow is Venice!

Italy Day 5: Assisi & Perugia

In CategoryTravels

Thursday, June 3, 2010

Our travels took us on a religious exploration today as we visited several Basilicas. The coach trip took us first across the River Tiber in the foggy, mystical, Umbrian land, to St. Mary of the Angels Basilica.

St. Mary of the Angels Basilica

This church is located down the hill from Assisi and was erected where St. Francis of Assisi died.  There was a small pre-medieval church, or original church, inside of the massive outer church which was built around it.  An English speaking priest was conducting mass and giving communion to about 10 people who fit inside this tiny church.

pre-medieval church within a church

The frescos/ paintings were ornate and stunning, as St. Francis (the patron Saint of Italy, the garden and animals) was honored here.  St. Francis gave up the wealth of his father, a cloth merchant,  to live in poverty and preach the word of God.

Cross inside St. Mary of the Angels Basilica

After this visit, we got in the coach and headed to the hilltop of Assisi. Before proceeding to the Basilica of St. Francis, we strolled down the Via San Francesco to St. Clare’s church. This was built of pink and gray striped- looking stones on the outside. Clare was a nun who was one of St. Francis’s original followers.  St. Francis was christened here and we saw the baptismal front, and St. Clare’s  body entombed in her church.

far off view of the hilltop of Assisi

St. Clare's Church and olive groves

alter in St. Clare's Church

The Basilica of St. Francis of Assisi was very unassuming on the outside, although it housed some of the most gorgeous 3-D fresco paintings we saw on our trip.  The paintings were done in the late middle ages by Giotto, a famous Italian painter/architect from Florence, and depicted the story of Jesus.

There was no photography allowed in the Basilica of St. Francis, but Dave was able to sneak in a few of these incredible frescoes.

beauty in the village of Assisi

We had lunch at a small cafeteria style restaurant where I had lasagna and french fries (woo hoo!) for lunch.  Then we were off to Perugia, the capitol of Umbria, for the evening.  We had to take 3 escalators up from where our hotel was situated up to the higher village where there was lots of shopping, restaurants, piazza and a university too.

main street of Old Town Perugia

Our tour guide left us on our own to explore Perugia, where we found Bacci chocolates.  These chocolate wrapped hazelnuts are packaged much like a fortune cookie, with a little message of wisdom inside.  This idea originated when an Italian man, who was trying to communicate with his mistress (his wife’s friend) secretively.  He tucked little messages away for her inside the desserts his wife was giving to her.

bacci chocolates with hidden message inside

Italy Day 4: Castel Gandolfo & Orvieto

In CategoryTravels

Wednesday, June 2, 2010

Buongiorno!

Today we had a travel day to the Castel Gandolfo, which is the Pope’s summer residence.  We stopped once again for a mid-morning break at a “Auto Grill”, just think Stuckey’s.  Little, short, Italian women would cut right in to the front of the long bathroom line without blinking an eye.  Thank goodness we had our own version on our tour, albeit an Aussie, who told them to “go back to the end of the line” and wouldn’t allow them to cut.  Hooray for spunky Aussie!  You wait in line to pay, then you wait in another line for them to fill your order.  Tiny cups of espresso and tiny tables = why bother?

auto grill = insanity

Castel Gandolfo – Pope’s Summer Residence

Castel Gandolfo

Pope's summer residence

This area  is located on the edge of a caldera, or an extinct volcano, which is now filled in with water.

Castel Gandolfo caldera

There were quaint, cobblestoned streets and this is where we were introduced to a tasty porchetta (pork), sandwich.  This is meat from a pig that has been stuffed with spices and roasted all day long.

front entry brilliance

There was a wedding at St. Marco’s Basilica in the main piazza.   The wedding was colorful , especially  the shiny lavender suit one of the guests was sporting.  He was totally pimped out Italian style.  Woo hoo!

wedding guest in lavender

Italian wedding

After lunch we stopped in a celebrated wine town of Frascati for some gelato.

Frascati

Frascati (known for wine)

Orvieto

Our final stop for the day was the ancient little hilltop town of Orvieto.  When our tour bus pulled up to a vast, empty, parking lot below, and an immense rock fortress encircling the village above, we had no idea how stunning the surrounding countryside would be from the birds-eye view from up above.

vast parking lot below Orvieto

After an elevator ride (of all things) up  through the rock, we were surprised by this view of the Umbrian countryside that took my breath away.  There were rolling hills and farmland, and beauty just as far as the eye can see from that vantage of 150 ft. or so above ground.  Just think of Tuscany, which is a neighboring region.

Umbrian hills below Orvieto

We followed our guide through winding, narrow, cobblestoned walkways, or roads, since diminutive cars drive on them, to our 1800’s  hotel room at the Aquila Blanca.  Although this hotel had no frills, it did have a lovely cotton chenille bedspread trimmed with lace,walls that were 3 ft. thick, and shuttered windows that opened up to the cobblestone below.

welcome snacks and wine

hotel room

We walked with our tour guide to the Cathedral de Orvieto.  The sides of it were black and white striped (just think jail uniforms), due to the stone selection to build it.  The front of it was ornate and gorgeous, much the opposite of the inside that was quite plain in comparison to the many other churches we’ve seen.  Because of our inappropriate dress, shorts (think sinner) and exposing our knees (Lord have mercy!), we were not allowed to tour the inside.

Duomo de Orvieto

jail uniform colored stones on Duomo

close-up of Duomo

We next went into a ceramic shop, for which Orvieto is famous, and discovered that a hand painted lasagna dish cost $150 Euros, or $180 American dollars.  Way too expensive … whoa!

After that, we went down into a wine cellar in one of the numerous underground tunnels in the city.  There were thousands of dusty, cobwebbed bottles of wine and huge wooden wine barrels with lots of mold.  Yew … kinda creepy!

exploring the town

Dinner was at a “fast-food” like restaurant where we sat at the end of a long narrow hallway so that we could people watch out the big window at the end.  Little did we know that we were people watched by everybody passing by the window which displayed a beautiful red and silver chocolate candies.  This was kinda embarrassing as many of our tour group walked by and waved to the two people (us) eating yucky hummus ravioli drenched in olive oil and butter.  We could of kicked our fellow travelers who said this was a good restaurant.  Oh well … i cossi – “it is what it is”.

street of Orvieto

rock wall surrounding Orvieto at sunset

Bella! Beautiful

Italy Day 3: Isle of Capri

In CategoryTravels

Tuesday, June 1, 2010

Isle of Capri

Buongiorno (good morning)!

Today we were up at the usual time for a 7:00 a.m. breakfast call at the hotel.  We boarded a small ferry that bounced along in choppy waters for about 25 minutes, on the way to the island of Capri.  For 2,000 years, Capri has beckoned many rich and famous visitors, and I can see why!  I definitely did not feel very well after that boat trip, but soon felt better when we were on solid ground.

first glimpse of the Isle of Capri

This island is absolutely gorgeous with its aquamarine colored ocean waters and the little villages rising right out of the ocean.

boats docked at the Marina Grande in Capri

The day was sunny and wonderful!  We opted out of an optional excursion here and spent the day exploring on our own.  We first rode the funicular (railway) up the steep mountainside to the main village where we parted from our group, then caught a bus to the the highest village of Anacapri.

We happened upon this funeral before catching our bus.

Italian funeral

Anacapri

Once at Anacapri, we rode a single seat ski lift to the top of Mt. Solaro, and saw so many spectacular views along the way.

chairlift to the top of Mt. Solaro

Capri below

more of Capri from the chairlift

famous ocean rocks

Capri Town

After enjoying the amazing Mt. top views, we rode the chairlift down to Anacapri, and took the bus back down to Capri Town.  We walked to some beautiful gardens and had a picnic lunch of salami, unknown cheese(pointed to select at an Italian deli), and rustic bread, while enjoying this ocean view.

aquamarine waters of the Mediterranean

Capri Town gardens at ocean's edge

Our next adventure was to hike 35 minutes to the Natural Arch, which is a circular rock formation.  We hiked at a fast pace, on a narrow route, partially through a residential area that displayed some of the most stunning gates and entryways above the crystal clear ocean below.  This arch was much like our “Royal Arch” on the Mesa Trail, but only with sparkling views of the Mediterranean visible through it.  Well worth the hike indeed!

Natural Arch

Here are some of the gorgeous gates/ entryways etc… we enjoyed on our Capri hike.

gate

another gate

gate

nice ocean views

yet another gate

my very favorite gate/ entryway

This little shrine was also along the path the the arch.  It looks like a wedding chapel of some sort … but I’m not sure.  Check out the brilliant floor.

matrimonial shrine?

This was someone’s patio area, very near the Natural Arch.

nice residential patio area

The Isle of Capri was one of my most favorite places in Italy!  This house ceramic says it best!

home of flowers

Sorrento

After crossing the rock beach of Capri and dipping our feet in the Mediterranean, it was time to board the boat back to Sorrento for our last evening there.  We passed on an optional excursion to a seafood restaurant with our tour group and instead ventured back into the heart of Sorrento, via hotel shuttle (whew) for dinner and a little sidewalk shopping.

We ate at a little sidewalk cafe trattoria hidden away in an alley, that Rick Steve’s recommended in his Italy book. This restaurant was filled with ambiance and we were not disappointed!  Dave had fish and veggies and I had a glorious pizza.

Viva Italia!  Bon Appetit!

quaint trattoria ala Rick Steves

the best of many pizzas in Italia

We enjoyed the window displays, bought a few souvenirs this evening, then it was off to bed.  What a marvelous day!

great display with "ice cream cones"

Va bene – that’s good/ fine.

Ciao