Summer Hiking

Summer Hiking
Mt. Constitution

Friday, March 28, 2014

Italy, Day 9 - Rome

I wrote some of this post while on the regional train to Florence.  We walked from our hotel in Montecatini to the train station in less than five minutes, suitcases full and heavier.  We are taking 4 seats with suitcases and backpacks.  We met other Chamber  of Commerce people from Michigan, going we're we are... same train, same hotel.  I'm trying to stay awake and enjoy the views from train.  I notice terraces full of grapes and olive trees.  Everything is green, some trees blooming, white blossoms.   I notice laundry hanging out windows in the gorgeous sunshine today, first real nice day.   We change trains in Florence, get in fast one that takes 1.5 hr to Rome.  Claudia warned us about Rome, a big city, and lots of pick pockets.

Whew, with the help of new Wisconsin friends, Joe and Laura, we got off the regional train and on the speed train to Rome.  I slept some, but noticed more vineyards and gated type communities.  It seems like poor people live near the tracks.    We walked a short distance from the train station and found our Hotel Massimo d'Angelia on via Cavour.   We have a great room, high ceilings, but it's very noisy.  We opened the windows, 3 of them.. 2 glass and one like a wood door, painted white, to get some fresh air.  The room became amazingly quiet when we shut all the windows for the night.

View of a busy city street from our hotel window

We walked across the street for a pizza lunch, then back to hotel.  A sweet hotel clerk, Monica suggested the easiest way to see Rom is to walk.  So we walked to Colosseum, all around it.

The history fascinated both of us and we wondered if the people really watched Christians eaten by lions here.  We then walked to the Forum area and saw gorgeous sights without standing in line to pay for admission.

We walked up a hill to a sweet church built in honor of St. Bonaventure.  

We stopped at one of the four major basilicas in Rome, Basilica of St. Mary Maggiora.  

I actually attended Mass at this church on Sunday morning.  The Italian priest said the Mass in a side altar and I found myself quite distracted because of the language, so I noticed all the marble carvings, the beautiful floor, the incredible art work.  I've decided that a simple church lends itself to better prayer time for me.  And oh, the priest said the Mass with his back to the people....

We ended the night with our favorite dessert - more gelato.

Thursday, March 27, 2014

Italy, Day 8 - Pistoia

March 27th was our "free" day.  We had opportunities to take trains to other villages, or back to Florence, or just wander around Monecatini.  Claudia suggested that we might like to visit Pistoia.  Her husband works in a shoe store there and the village is surrounded by nurseries.  I noticed the nurseries on all of our bus rides.  Apparently the soil lends itself to gorgeous plants that are shipped all over the world.  I watched people lovingly prune and care for the shrubs and trees along the highway.  Paula, Toni, Cindy, and I managed a short walk to the train station and found others in our group waiting on the platform.  George and Carolyn Parsons decided to go back to Florence.  While waiting I told her I'd be in Boston for a few days in September.  She gave me some great ideas of sights to see and places to eat.  It's nice to have that travel connection.  Ironically, her top choice for a restaurant in Boston is called Lucca, wonderful Italian food.
We quickly found our way and walked to the Cathedral of St. Zeno of Verona.  

Pistoia Cathedral (ItalianDuomo di Pistoia or Cattedrale di San Zeno) is the main religious building of PistoiaTuscany, central Italy, located in the Piazza del Duomo in the centre of the city. It is the seat of the Bishop of Pistoia and is dedicated to Saint Zeno of Verona.
Most probably built in the 10th century, it has a fa├žade in Romanesque style, inspired by other churches in Pistoia (San Bartolomeo and San Jacopo). The interior has a nave and two side-aisles, with a presbytery and crypt. A restoration in 1952-1999 returned the church to its original lines.

I lit candles once again for all my friends struggling with health issues.  

We needed a coffee break after we made it to the Duomo Square.  Paula doesn't drink coffee, so she ordered the most incredible chocolate drink, she needed use a spoon to consume it.  It was so creamy... we all had a taste.

Our travels led us to an incredible Farmer's Market.  Purple Artichokes and really red strawberries.  Too bad we didn't have a way to prepare and enjoy all this fresh food.  

We all ordered Lasagna and focaccia bread at Vecchio Praga.  The lasagna had several layers of very thin pasta and was held together by a Bechamel Sauce, with a little cheese melted in.  We savored the wonderful flavors and realized we Americans have changed this dish by adding meat and thick pasta.

All the shops, even the market, closed at 1 PM so we wandered around until we found a great museum and this one was free because we were all over 60, except the youngster in our group, Toni.

 We began our walk back to the train station and I kept seeing a red dome and really wanted to get a close up look.  The girls conceded to my desire and we walked about 10 minutes out of our way.  The dome belonged to the Church of Santa Maria and was totally under renovation.

 The waitstaff set beautiful tables for our farewell dinner 

 One final picture with our lovely tour manager, Claudia
 Phil and Marilyn Irvine
My lovely traveling companions, Paula, Cindy, and Toni
The festive atmosphere led to a lot of good bye hugs, sharing of Email addresses, and even a little dancing.  A young man entertained us with familiar songs via Karaoke.  We met many nice people from Texas, North Carolina, Massachusetts, California, and Texas.  Paula and I were a bit smug because we could sleep in tomorrow when all the others had to get up at 3:00 AM in order to make all the connections for the plane ride back to the U.S.  Tomorrow we are going to Rome!

Wednesday, March 26, 2014

Italy, Day 7 - San Gimignano

This day, our trip to San Gimignano,  proved to be my favorite!  Once again we rode a bus and passed a cemetery filled with graves of American soldiers who died in Italy during World War II.
Picture taken from the bus

Rick Steves video about San Gimignano

I love the little niche dedicated to the Blessed Virgin
The famous well and famous guests, Paula and Theresa

Paula and I walked this trail to get a better view of the Medieval Village

We spent a lot of time shopping.  Claudia recommended this leather shop and sure enough Paula and I bought a genuine "Made in Italy" leather handbag!

We enjoyed our visit with this woman who just opened her ceramic shop three days ago.  She and her husband make and paint all the pottery.  Some of it came home with us to the U.S.

This sweet woman waited on us at Bar LeTori....we took cookies with us for the long ride home.

After lunch, we had the privilege of visiting Fattoria Poggio Alloro, a family working farm.  We met Sarah Fiorini, a third generation family member.  She's passionate about her family, this land, and all the products that come from it.  
She spoke about her grandfather and his brothers who bought the land and barely survived during the depression and subsequent years.  "People often ask me about the three brother's intention when they bought the never occurred to them the farm might be a source of revenue, they just wanted to provide a way to feed their families with healthy, home grown food."

Sarah delighted us with her stories about the family and we learned that she's published a cookbook and now comes to America and teaches cooking classes.  I ordered the cookbook, not only for the recipes, but also to read the stories about the family farm.  

The farm has a large organic vegetable garden, olives, grapes, and the sweetest white cows.

Toni, right at home, among the wine barrels!

The farmers make wine, olive oil, and cheese.  The family set out the most incredible wine tasting event!  We enjoyed five tastes of wine, with bread, salami, cheese and the grand finale, biscotti with sweet wine!

We all wanted to purchase the wine and olive oil!

I bought some biscotti to share with friends at home....will have to find a great sweet wine and serve it in the evening.  I've only eaten biscotti for breakfast, but now it's my favorite dessert!

If I ever make it back to Italy I hope to stay at the Bed and Breakfast on this farm.  It's so peaceful here, quite a contrast to the cities we've visited.  The family's desire to serve only healthy, organic food impressed me.  And, look at the view of San Gimignano from the wine tasting room!

 Two Camas Prairie, St. Gertrude's Academy Alums enjoying Tuscany!  Marilyn and I both have family ties to Greencreek, Illinois....