Tag Archives: gelato

Italy travelogue, part XIX

Photos by Bruce Wilder


Storms last night, big booming thunder. BW reports the storm rolled  back a second time, but I slept through that one.
Fresh and coolish this morning, and pretty perfect for yoga  outdoors.
They’re working in the vineyard again, and the gardeners are here.  BW saw one braiding together a huge sting of onions, which Antonella brought in.  She made break this morning, and the aroma of it perfumed the  kitchen.
I gave her an old family recipe for bread pudding–and exchange for  the pesto. I hope she has fun with it.
We’re having seafood tonight–fresh catch this  morning.
We headed out very late morning to Pienza, a good size village  about 25 minutes away. Lovely, lovely drive through the hills, the vineyards,  the fields–we finally saw a deer, and white, white cows.
Parking is challenging, but we finally found a spot, and walk into  town. The pope at the time designed it so the main street curves at both ends  and looks longer. What it is, is charming. Full of little shops,archways and  narrow alleyways, old buildings, an old church and a pretty and smallish  Duomo.
We find sneakers for Jason–nice ones, and I spotted a scarf I had  to have for myself. Kat sees canny bottles where you put oil and vinegar in  together, but they stay separate. And in the same interesting little hardware  type store, I find wonderful wooden spoons. I’m a big fan of wooden spoons, and  these are lovely–and a wooden ladle! I love it. I end up with a big handful of  spoons.
Lots of dogs here, mostly tiny dogs who are hardly like dogs at  all. Interesting street sculptures, a nice bustle of people. I find a pretty  shirt–two layers that can be worn together or not–one size. The clerk says the  one size is no problem for me, but a problem for her. LOL. And a very cool dress  for Kat.
And it’s seriously breezy. Much, much cooler today, and I’m glad I  grabbed a little jacket. The light’s quieter with some clouds, and not so  intense, so the greens of the fields and trees are softer, too. I wish I’d seen  it all in the rain.
We walk out to an overlook–breathtaking views of the hills, the  trees. And onto lunch where I had a salad with chunks of apples and oranges.  There’s the cutest baby at the table beside ours. His mother’s trying to feed  him, but he keeps grinning, laughing, turning his head away to look at  us.
Of course we laugh with him. Mama’s very good natured about  it. 
More walking, and a trip into the Duomo. So pretty, with lots of  light and a hushed air.
It’s gelato next! I got a mix of vanilla and chocolate that brings  tears to the eyes. Just gorgeous–though Jason touted his peach gelato as  exceptional.
We obey a sign that says: Try the sheep’s cheese. It’s pretty  great. I don’t buy it–a little hard to take home, but I do buy a container–as  does Kat–of dried chili peppers. They have some olive oil here steeped with  them, and it’s great. I can do that at home.
Back to the car, and Kat takes a turn at the wheel. The GPS is  confused, or we are, as they’ve closed off part of a road. After some  round-abouting we follow the lead of another car that just went around the  pylons. And we realize they were there because they’d just painted the  crosswalk, so it’s all good.
Round the hills again, and perfect directions this time. A pretty,  easy drive.
And we’re home again where the wind’s kicking up big time. We dump  our stuff and mostly settle into the little living area on the main floor. 
We’ll probably eat in the big kitchen tonight–as we did for  breakfast. A bit too brisk and windy for the patio. I’m wonder what Asia–who’s  cooking tonight–will make out of the local fish.

Italy travelogue, part IX

Another day full of art. We walk to Santa Croce through wonderful  almost wild breezes. It’s close, and the line’s short–and I remember how lovely  it is inside.
My memory doesn’t fail. Those high ceilings, the stained glass, the  pantings and sculpture. All the floor tombs. It always feels a little  disrespectful at first to walk over someone’s tomb, but as the floor’s covered  with them, there’s no other way.
I love Dante’s big elaborate wall tomb–the statues around it, the  reverence of them. And Michelangelo’s. The main altar’s under restoration and  covered with scaffolding. When do they work? I think they must work at night,  and how fascinating that would be.
I love the arched niches with the small altars, the pieces of old  frescos.
People are quiet and respectful as they wander here.
Macheavelli’s buried here–or as Jason said: Or IS he?  LOL.
There’s a plaque out in the lovely begonia covered courtyard for  Florence Nightingale. I’m not sure if it’s because of her name or if she had  some connection to the city.
We go into another area through the outside, full of wall vaults  from the 1800s
There’s a chapel attached to the main church that took over a half  century to build–a little delay in there when the Medicis fell out of  favor.
Out to the piazza and the wind, and a walk that takes a closer to  the Accademie–and lunch.
In the shadow of The Duomo again, but a new place, and it serves us  very well.
We walk on and arrive to queue up right on time. Beautiful displays  of art, starting with the tempora, all that gold leaf, vivid colors. Mary is  once more the star, often with her infant snuggled in her left arm, with various  saints or angels looking on.
We wander into an exhibit of musical instruments. I don’t remember  this from our previous trip. It’s wonderful. Harpsichords, violas, cellos,  pianofortes–brass and flues. And hurly-gurlys. They’re so  beautiful.
More religious art–some of it depressingly dour, some brilliant,  and out to the main room and The David.
He’s just as glorious as I remember. Almost impossible to believe,  in size and scope, in every amazing detail–the cut of muscle you can all but  see ripple, the veins in the hands, the shoulders. The calm, heroic detail of  the face, even the ears. He’s so perfect you wouldn’t be surprised to see him  turn his head, step down and walk.
The image is so ubiquitous the sheer magnificence of the reality  makes only more of an impact.
I go back go him a number of times, comparing him to the  half-finished work on display, even to Donnatello’s David–a favorite of mine in  bronze. (The one with the hat and the, to me, cocky yeah, I can handle this  expression.) Michelangelo’s David simply stands alone.
An impressive afternoon.
Walking back, still sort of scouting for sandals for Jason–and Kat  finds some adorable ones in a soft, sagey blue for herself. I haven’t spotted a  jacket that says BUY ME, so I’m holding off until I do.
But there was gelato–a mix of strawberry and mint for me. Just the  prefect thing after a cultural day.
Kat and I head off, with the guys heading back, to find the cash  exchange place with the excellent rate. We KNOW where it is, but it’s just not  there. We decide it must’ve closed for the day, so settle for the second best  rate, then back home to recover from a full day on our feet.
Just Facetimed with our two oldest grandkids. What fun and  silliness. Now we’ll take it easy.
I think it might be pizza for me tonight.
The hardest decision I’ll have to make all day!
Oh! We have the windows open and hear the little parakeet across  the street singing away.

Italy travelogue, part VII

A long day full of art.
We head out and minutes after hitting the Piazza San Croce I spot  the prefect things for my last two granddaughters. An adorable pink backpack/bag  just the right size for 5-year-old McKenna. And a bigger, bag that converts to a  backpack and will hold an iPad in purple for 11-year-old Kayla. Jason and Kat  also find some Christmas gifts, so Jason trots everything back to the hotel.  Literally a couple minutes away, and why carry all that stuff all  day?
Grandchildren gifts for I went to Italy and you didn’t, checked  off!
We walk to the Uffizi, and since we have plenty of time, pick a  trattoria for lunch in the busy Piazza della Signoria. Kat orders a side of  Florentine peas, which I discover are basically done with butter, pepper and  herbs–like I make at home. Who knew?
We relax and eat, and toward the end of our meal I see the  accordion player I gave a Euro to by the fruit stalls yesterday has wandered in  to play for the lunch crowd.
We still have time to kill so opt to walk around a bit more. Score more Christmas stuff. At this rate I’ll be left with only my immediate family,  and what I don’t do before, I’ll likely finish up when we go to NY in Oct.  Nice!
Around to the Uffizi, and door number one as directed. A short  wait, then we shuffle on in. We climb, climb, climb to the top floor, so Kat’s  fitbit should register several flights of stairs today. It’s sculpture for the  most part here. Incredible marble. I wonder, always, how the artist makes the  folds on the togas so fluid, so perfect.
The ceilings here are an art show in themselves. Jason wondered  they don’t do some sort of reclining wheel chair run so you could just marvel at  the gloriously painted ceilings without craning your neck. In marble, there are  Roman warriors, important (I assume) political figures, gods, goddesses. I love  Cupid and Psyche as they always look happy and playful.
The paintings in the first stretch are the bright colors and gold  leaf religious works. So bold and bright–lots of lots of BVMs and Baby Jesus.  And the first I’ve seen of Mary nursing her baby. Sweet.
Some of the ceiling art is whimsical–a satyr and his companion on  four panels of a section, and in the last the companion is bent over, toga  flipped up while the satyr prepares to shoot an arrow at his butt. All on the  painted section seem to be having a rollicking good time.
We move on to another room with paintings, and the focal point is  unmistakable a Michelangelo. God, God, magnificent color, light, movement. A  round, religious study, our Madonna again–and you see instantly even if you  know nothing much of art, why he was the master. I can’t possibly describe it  and do it justice, but I could have stood for hours just looking at  it.
Unfortunately so could everyone else in the Uffizi.
Other paintings in the room are truly beautiful, but nothing comes  close to this.
Another room–and you can only go to the doorway–was added on in  (I think) the 1500s. I’ve lost the name of the architect now, but he went all  out for the Medici who commissioned it. Shells sunk into the plaster walls so  they glimmer and gleam, gilt ceilings, crystals, lots of red. The room is a  small masterpiece of art and opulence.
I come across a HUGE painting, one BW tells me is pretty gruesome.  I guess so as it depicts the slaughter of the innocents–all those male babies  killed by Herod’s decree in his attempt to off the infant Christ. I don’t know  why anyone would want to paint this or have it. I simply can’t look at it,  though I imagine it was brilliantly done.
But I also find a personal favorite. Poor, baffled San Sebastian  with the arrows that martyred him poking out of his thin body. I don’t know why  I feel such amusement and pity for this particular saint, but he always strikes  me the same way. More martyrs–San Lorenzo, Saint Margaret, lots of a  hippie/hoboish John the Baptist. And one of a sly Salome holding his head on a  platter.
Much death and destruction in the art, and I prefer the happier  ones of The Annunciation, or Madonna and Child, the BVM’s Corronation–or the  canny sculptures of centaurs and goddesses.
We wander down to an exhibit of the Medicis–portraits or art  purchased by them. The portraits are just lovely–one of a happy baby Medici  just makes me smile. I have no idea what kind of life he led, but as a baby, he  had the happiest face.
Then that era of art that’s so dark with some portion of it  illuminated. And somewhere along the line a big painting–an allegory, I  suppose–of a king (we speculate King Louis) in the bottom corner with a lion,  and many men in dark clothes apparently fascinated or appalled by a small dog. 
I find a still life of flowers I think is lovely–until I spot the  rifle and the dead rabbit.
Fascinating, gorgeous, educational. About three hours well spent. 
We finally make our way out, and my next goal is gelato. Kat and  Jason stop at a market for some lemoncello for her dad, and other fun food. BW  and I wander until we find gelato–pistachio for him, chocolate for me. I can  attest the chocolate was rich and wonderful with little bits of chocolate mixed  through.
Jason and Kat catch up, get theirs, and it’s back to the hotel. An  adult beverage, well earned. And plans to walk toward San Croce and a trattoria  for dinner about eight.
Tomorrow is the Acadamie and the master’s David.
A fine day. Shopping, culture, food and drink. Really, what more  could you ask for?

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!

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.


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!
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.

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!
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.