Category Archives: Travelogues

Italy travelogue, part V

Nora and family are in Italy for two weeks and she’s sharing the experience with us all.  Sit back and enjoy!
Laura

Another gorgeous day. We head out late morning for the walk to  Palazzo Strozzi where there’s a Renaissance exhibit. First we’re going to change  money at the bank on the corner. You can only go in through a tube-like door one  at a time–and you can’t take any sort of bag. Once we figure that out, I go in  only to find they don’t change money there.

But it was an interesting and surreal experience.

Along the way to the palace we spot a fruit and vegetable stall.  It’s tucked into a kind of dead end along one of the narrow  roads.

The colors are so incredible. I swear the strawberries didn’t look  real, they were so deliciously red. Plump tomatoes, zucchini with the wonderful  flowers still attached. Kat hadn’t seen damsons before–we had a tree in the  yard where I grew up. So she buys a couple to try. I’d have done the same if I  hadn’t just eaten a huge plum from the hotel fruit basket.

We walk on, with BW navigating with the map, across piazzas, down  little streets–and there’s a shop with the most adorable baby clothes. Hand  knit, crochets embroidery. The sweetest dress for my youngest granddaughter, Quinn, and the cutest little hooded sweater/jacket for her twin, Colby.  Incredible workmanship, so very special.

We realize we need stamps after we spot a post office, so Jason and  Kat go in to deal with it, and I wander the stalls outside. Score another  Christmas present.

On we go, and BW winds us around to the Strozzi. The entrance leads  to a wide, interior courtyard with a cafe. Lots of people sitting on benches in  the cool. We check our bags, get our tickets, and start through the  exhibit.

Amazing art. 14-1500, but there’s a stone bust from the second  century. Lots of Donatello–bronzes, marbles, wood, terra cotta. Religious and  classical heroic figures, and just out there. Not behind glass. I see  Donatella’s St. George and the Dragon. Fantastic. A grinning boy with a hole at  the end of his penis–he was a fountain. Peeing fountains, the plaque tells us  were very popular.

I suppose the amusement factor for such things is, was and will be  part of the human condition.

Many, many Madonnas with Child–and she always seems to be holding  Jesus on her left arm. Jason imagines she had a gun of steel on that arm. 

I love the ones where she’s cuddling him and they both look so  happy.

It’s absolutely wonderful, from the sculptures to the paintings,  all displayed in big, airy rooms with benches for those who want to sit and  absorb.

At the end of the exhibit there’s a long table set up with tiles of  stone, wood, leather, marble, bronze. You’re invited to sit, touch, consider the  textures, what you prefer. You can fill out a postcard with a drawing or  thoughts on your feelings. They’ve displayed many, and I enjoy looking through  them.

Back out we go, and wander toward the Duomo, decide to have  lunch–a lovely salad for me with a dressing of melted gorganzola.  Delicious!

I see more girls/women with black tights or leggings under their  dresses. WHY??? It’s not only hot but if it’s fashionable it’s still  unattractive–and just silly when the temps are in the 90s.

It’s nice to sit, eat, drink, talk–and have the little mists of  cool water trickle down now and then from the awning to cool us off. 

Kat spots a woman with a bundle of scarves, and one is simply  beautiful. The sale is done over the rail between the trattoria and the piazza.  Nice work!

As the line for the small tour of the Duomo isn’t long, we go for  it. Takes us little time to get in, and I remember so well from my first visit  here how lovely it is. The intense colors of the stained glass, the stunning  painted ceiling  over the main altar area. It’s a reverent space despite  the wandering tourists, but I think as reverent toward art and architecture as  religion.

Once we’re done, we hit the gelateria across the piazza. Mint for  me today–glorious, refreshing, with those little chunks of chocolate to add a  touch of rich.

Another belt stall as Kat’s buying gifts, then the men are tired of  us. LOL. As we’ve another stop to make–a return to a shop–they head back to  the hotel, and Kat and I clean house!

I think I bagged nine more Christmas gifts which basically covers  all my girl pals–and the proprietor, who has no English–is so sweet. Kat finds  a fabulous bag for her laptop.

We haul it all back where I find BW asleep on the  couch.

Tomorrow the Uffizi–and tonight I think very casual and easy again.

Nora

Italy travelogue, part IV

Nora and family are in Italy for two weeks and she’s sharing the experience with us all.  Sit back and enjoy!
Laura
Another gorgeous evening, so warm and breezy. After a long day of  walking–12,000 steps by the end of it according to Kat’s fit bit–the little trattoria nearby is perfect. I’ve got a hankering for Florentine steak, but know  I can’t fit an entire T-Bone in. But they have a smaller deal–steak strips done  in a balsamic sauce with rosemary–and rosemary roasted potatoes.
 
What an inspired choice, even if I couldn’t eat all of it. The  potatoes taste exactly like the ones I often do at home, which is pretty damn  good if I do say so myself, but the steak! I don’t think we could duplicate it.  Just marvelous.
 
And we splurge on a bottle of Barolo. Absolutely  gorgeous.
 
There are shooting stars the next three night, but the sky over the city, at least, was too overcast. I make due once we’re back with a little  sky/people watch from our little balcony. People come and go, come and go, and  near midnight I see an old man shuffling along with a shopping bag and a  briefcase. I wonder what work he does that brings him home so late. He slowly,  slowly, lets himself into the outside door of the apartments across the street.  Fatigue is in every movement.
 
I hope he got as good a night’s sleep as I did.
 
Up late for me–vacation!!!–and start my day off with a mix of  pilates/yoga/ballet moves courtesy of one of my Jennifer Kries DVDs. BW’s down  at breakfast, so I’ll clean myself up and get ready for the day.
 
We’re going to visit a nearby museum and its exhibit of Renaissance  art, and I want to go back to the lady and her shop with the many pretty bags.  We have reservations for the fast track through the lines of the Uffizi tomorrow, and will do the same for The Academie later this week. We hope to get  ourselves up and out early one day for The Duomo, as our marvelous concierge  recommends. Then there’s the can’t miss Pitti Palace. Lots to see and do! 
 
It looks like another perfect blue sky to explore under  today.
 
Nora

Italy Travelogue, part III

 

Nora, her husband Bruce, son Jason and daughter-in-law Kat are in Italy for two weeks and she’s sharing the experience with us all.  Sit back and enjoy!
Laura
The first two days in Florence.  Photos by Bruce Wilder.
The first two days in Florence. Photos by Bruce Wilder.
Our first full day here involves miles of walking under incredible  blue skies in that bold Italian light. We sort of plan to take in The Duomo and  the Uffizi, and wander in that general direction. Down the narrow streets,  through it big piazzas. Piazza della Signoria is a favorite of mine–and I set a  scene in next year’s The Collection there, with its big fountain with Neptune,  all its statutes–and crowds.
 
It’s more crowded than I remember, just packed with tourists, full  of energy and buzz.
 
The line for the museum is far too long, and the Duomo doesn’t open for 90 minutes, so we have some time to kill. I start to kill it with a  strawberry gelato. Take strawberries, magic cream, douse them in faerie dust and  you might come close.
 
BW wants a belt, so we stop at a stall. While he’s looking, Kat and  I find fabulous belts. The dark sapphire suede she wants, and the London blue I want are both too big. So the leather guy simply cuts them to size right there.  Kat asks what he does with the scraps, and he gives them to her. She shows me  how she can make bracelets from the leather. Our Crafty Kat will do just  that.
 
We double back to a shoe store that caught our eye. I believe  everyone needs sandals. In the end Jason didn’t find any that called to him, BW  found shoes–and they had his size!–Kat found the most glorious cherry red  suede knee boots, and I bought two pretty pair of sandals. I’d had flat sandals  in mind, but fell in love with the little stacked heels on these–one is green,  and looks almost like vines, the other rose red–and with roses. Both butter  soft leather, and wonderfully comfortable. Honestly, the cost for two pair for  me, one pair for BW and the stunning boots for Kat came to less than what I’d  expect to pay in The States for the boots alone.
 
If you’re in Florence, try Leonardo’s for shoes!
 
And the obliging proprietor holds them for us so we don’t have to  haul them while we’re out and about.
 
The line for The Duomo is now insane. We have lunch at a trattoria instead. Another huge pilsner of beer for BW, and bellinis for me. 
 
Let me say here, that for me, The Duomo of Florence is the most  beautiful building in the world. There’s nothing that compares for me. The size,  the scope, the details, the color, those two magnificent domes. It’s beyond  magnificent.
 
We can have lunch in its stupendous shadow.
 
I see a group go by, and one of the young girls is wearing black  tights under her cut-off denim shorts. Black tights in Italy in August. Under shorts. She’s lucky I didn’t arrest her for high crimes against fashion. I  ordered another bellini instead.
 
We find more pretty scarves before we decide to hike over toward  The Academie. Maybe the lines won’t be so long there.
 
We end up going into San Marco museo. Never been in there, and it  was worth it. Interesting place, an old monestary loaded with art. The initial offerings are dark and depressing, but then there’s a room where they display  all these architectural remnants. Columns and lintels and cornices in such an interesting and artful arrangement.
 
Then a room where they have old manuscripts, and the best here is a  display of the crystals and rocks and ground colors used to make the paints. All  so vivid in their little dishes, with the tools set around with them. The  manuscripts are more beautiful when you think of the art that went into making  the paints.
 
We tour the monks’ cells. All have frescos, mostly crucifixion  visuals, and some of them amazingly horrific. Not in the art, but the depiction.  Blood literally gushing from Christ’s side, and in one, when you studied the  angles about to spill all over his mother.
 
In another room is a beautifully done painting, then you take a  closer look. It’s the Piazza della Signoria, crowds of people hanging around,  obviously in easy conversation. Beautiful buildings. And several people are  being burned to death on a platform, while others (heretics, one assumes) are  being led toward the pyre.
 
I don’t want it in my living room.
 
We go out to the big, pretty courtyard, sit awhile. Happy begonias  and grasses, a nicely preserved arcade. And Kat and Jason point out that over  the door are three symbols. The middle is a European style cross. Flanking it  are what look like slices of pepperoni pizza. I can think of no reason for this,  none, but it adds a mysterious charm.
 
We go back inside to exit and come to a big room filled with those  glorious paintings and icons, the saturated vivid colors and gold leaf so  brilliantly used in religious art. I don’t want these in my living room either,  but they’re gorgeous and bold and impossibly bright given their  age.
 
We walk back–I think we easily did our 10,000 steps today–through  the crowds, along the narrow streets, through the open piazzas. Near the Duomo I  have to stop as down a ways a woman in playing the violin, beautifully. And the  lovely, lovely sound of it echoes along that magnificent building, over the  voices and noise of the crowd.
 
Pick up our shoes, continue on. I find a stall with sports  jerseys–Italian football–which seem just right for my two oldest grandsons.  Will find something for the girls and the twins another day.
 
Tired feet slog back to the hotel–showers fixed!!–and have a sit  down and an adult beverage.
 
An excellent day in Italian sunshine, art, shopping, good food and  drink.
 
But I think I’m going to cave and add to my leather jacket  collection. I don’t NEED another leather jacket, but there are too many  beautiful ones not to indulge. I may not get through another day without giving  in.
 
I expect another casual, easy dinner later, and a relaxing  evening.
 
Nora

Italy travelogue, part II

Nora, her husband Bruce, son Jason and daughter-in-law Kat are in Italy for two weeks and she’s sharing the experience with us all.  So sit back and enjoy!
Laura

We enjoyed a bella notte at a trattoria in the piazza near the  hotel. Gorgeous warm evening, cheerful outdoor seating. The piazza’s busy still,  and three young boys hover around a bench sketching the big church. Future Da  Vincis perhaps.

Our waiter’s adorable, the food’s fabulous, the wine very nice.  Though Kat and I agree our lunch wine was better. It’s a friendly, happy place,  and so close I imagine we’ll go back again.
 
The surrounding buildings are so interesting. Old, in those  sun-baked colors, rammed against each other, but in varying levels. All the  apartments over the shops are dark, and I wonder if all the tenants are on their  August holiday.
 
We stop into the little market across from the hotel for sodas. I  must have my morning caffeine.
 
Back home for a really, really good night’s sleep. Before I drift  off I hear voices–happy ones–calling out in Italian from the street  below.
 
Woke up to pretty sunlight, and decided to start my day off right  with power yoga courtesy of Rodney Yee. Felt just right. BW gets up, showers,  heads down to breakfast.
 
The selection knob in the big shower isn’t working. Won’t switch  off wand, so until we report and they fix, we use the smaller shower. I go in  while he’s down at breakfast. Adjusting the water temp, and bam! the entire  shower head, pipe included falls out of the wall and clunks me in the head! It’s  a bit disconcerting. LOL. So I end up taking a wand shower after all. And we’ll report this latest plumbing problem, maybe they’ll use this event to finally install that water softener.
 
We’ll head out soon, I expect to whatever destinations we decide  on. There’s a perfect blue sky out there.
 
Nora

Italy travelogue, part I: Arrival Day

Nora, her husband Bruce, son Jason and daughter-in-law Kat are in Italy for two weeks and she’s sharing the experience with us all.  So sit back and enjoy!
Laura
We arrived in Florence this morning after a long, and for this  reluctant flyer, far too bumpy flight. A lot of stretches that felt like–in  Jason’s words–riding on cobblestones.
 
But we’re here, BW and me and Jason and Kat.
 
Zipped through Customs and there was our van and driver. Loaded up  the luggage and whisked off for a much, much shorter journey.
 
It’s been years since I’ve been here, one of my favorite cities,  and my first true glimpse of it was the dome and part of the gorgeous wall of  the amazing Santa Croce. It’s as beautiful as I remember, filled the windshield  for one gasping moment before we wound around, onto the narrow streets between  the wonderful old buildings. All the shops and restaurants, the people, another  view of the church. We zip right along, and even in the night-flight daze, it’s  all so incredible.
 
We’re delivered to the door of our hotel, greeted by the smiling  doorman who takes us through a lobby washed with light, up wide stone stairs,  and to reception. We’re greeted again, warmly, by the concierge. She speaks  perfect English, and when we go by later to ask a question, she’s speaking easy,  conversational Russian with another guest. This always amazes me, how so many  Europeans are multi-lingual. It’s a skill Americans sorely  lack. 
 
We’ve booked two suites that can be closed off from the outside  into one massive space. Only one is ready, but that’s no problem as immediate  unpacking doesn’t appeal.
 
The concierge takes us up, giving us a little tour as we go–the  pretty, sunny courtyard with its flowers and tables, the bar, the dining room,  through to what’s called the music room as in the 16th century this building  belonged to the pope’s treasurer, and this room was for music. She pointed out a  series of panels on the wall, explains that the top three open, and there  musicians would play for the people gathered below.
 
It’s a beautiful hotel that has the feel of a huge, wealthy house,  beautifully appointed, full of charm and light and art.
 
The first suite opens to a large lounge with beautiful wood floors,  richly colored sofas and chairs, old tables, pretty details and an awesome high,  painted ceiling. From there you have a spacious parlor/office–yet another  beautifully painted ceiling, then the bedroom with a HUGE bath.
 
I love me a huge bath.
 
We sort ourselves out a little, hydrate, then go out to walk, get  some sun and air–and as it turns out shop.
 
We’re minutes from the piazza Santa Croche with the marvelous  church, the big space, the crowds of people. And the leather. There’s nothing  like the leather goods in Florence, and it doesn’t take long for me to snag a  gorgeous bag–and enjoy the charm and conversation of the proprietor. 
 
There are street vendors–soft, silky, colorful scarves, silly  novelties, more bags or belts. In another few minutes, I have a couple Christmas  presents and Kat has a pretty new skirt.
 
It’s lovely just to walk, so we aim for the river, just taking it  all in. Shops, restaurants where people already sit at sidewalk tables, tempting  displays of creamy gelato, crowds of people, so many languages, people zipping  and winding through the pedestrians in tiny cars or motorbikes.
 
We get to the Arno, walk along the bridge, pass lines for various  museums–those are for another day–and wander in the warm breezes to Ponte Vecchio.
 
This is very full of tourists, but worth the stroll along the shops  with the sparkle of gold in the windows. Gold and leather–two must haves in  Florence. We make our way down the sloping street, spot the gelato shop BW and I  made good use of our last trip. That’s for after lunch, so we find a little  trattoria. BW gets the biggest pilsner of beer I’ve ever seen. Kat gets a glass  of red, I get a glass of white. Jason sticks with water. It’s pizza for me, and  the first bite reminds me how fresh and gorgeous the food is here–everywhere  here. We keep it light because there’s gelato coming.
 
It’s nice to just sit, watch Florence go by, drink wine, eat lovely  food. Recharge before we start back, with that stop for gelato. Lemon for  me–wonderfully tart, soft, fresh. It’s like eating chilled sunshine.
 
Back along the narrow streets, through the crowds. I see a man  navigating through those crowds on a bicycle with his drycleaning slung over his  shoulder.
 
Another shop, more presents off my Christmas list, then back where the other suite’s ready. It’s just lovely, just as beautifully appointed. We  have a shared foyer, the big lounge we’ll also share, and our own personal  spaces.
 
Time to unpack and take a much deserved nap.
 
Everyone’s still sleeping. I expect we’ll do very casual for dinner  tonight as we’ve accomplished a whole bunch of a lot on this travel day. I  believe I’m going to pop the cork on the complimentary bottle of champagne and  not think about what we’ll do tomorrow until tomorrow.
 
Nora