Thursday, September 16, 2010

Most Excellent Tuscan Adventure

Saturday August 28, 2010
This is the second part of a year-long blog that I have been working on, but didn’t release chapter by chapter.  I don’t work that way.  As a person who is expected to know how to write and form a sentence coherently, I get very intimidated by writing for others. 
     My wife and I just got back from the trip of a lifetime—our 25th Wedding anniversary gift to ourselves—and the loss of about three years of retirement money.  We went to Italy and fell in love, with Tuscany and Umbria and each other again.  We have already planned our next trip back.
     I have very little experience writing for publication.  Oh, sure I’ve done articles for newsletters, things like that, but never something that is read by very many people.  I was a Music Major, not an English Major like my mother, rest her soul.  As we grew (and well into our adult lives) my three brothers and I were constantly corrected by her if we even so much as thought of using lay instead of lie when asking the dog to recline.  After so many years of that, you get skittish about putting your written work out there.  Thank God for Spell and Grammar Check.
     As I am doing some late summer work in the yard—edging and mowing, and removing plants burned to death by the hot spell we just had.  I find ‘think time’ while tackling what others might consider ‘mindless’ activities.  On the contrary, it seems to be for me at least, a time when I am free to think the most.
     Today’s topic:  How do I relate to others that might read this blog, and I will be the first to admit, very few will read this blog, why I chose to write it in the first place.  This is a follow-up, a culmination of my wife Marianne and my experience planning for and finally taking the summer vacation of a lifetime to Italy--specifically to Tuscany and Umbria.  Yes it was the experience of a life time.  Who wouldn’t expect that response?  However, what really was educational about the whole thing and yes—I am an educator so you have to assume it was a learning experience, was what a 54 year old white male learned about himself and the people that inhabit this world.
     I think back over this past year and realize I was shaped and influenced by a lot of folks to make the choices I made.  First and most important is my wife, Marianne.  My best friend, my love, and one of the smartest well rounded and educated people I know.  She is the best judge of a person’s character and what they are capable of doing—good or bad.  I, on the other hand, pretty much go through life with an “Oh, everyone’s basically a good person” outlook.  I think that philosophy has changed for me.
     Planning for Tuscany first involved reading—a lot of reading and of course buying the books that one needs to have to learn about a foreign country that you have wanted to visit all your life.  For me it started when I was a kid.  I read about Italy, and specifically Pompeii.  My twin brother Doug and I probably had our first ‘fixation’ on this ancient, archeological marvel.  I wasn’t a history buff; I just liked the idea of uncovering that long faded past.
   I have always wanted to travel.  My parents also were travelers and wanted to go places.  Dad did the driving and mom told him where to go—a perfect partnership.  Once they had traveled to the 48 contiguous, some I admit were just ‘drive bys’ [On a trip back East, we drove over the state line from New Hampshire into Maine.  “There, you boys have been to Main.”], they moved on to Europe.  My dad always loved to tell the story of how “I pushed your mom in a wheelchair across the 16 lanes of traffic to get to the Arc de Triomphe in Paris”.  
     Mom was really confined only to experiences that my dad could provide for her; she was diagnosed with MS in 1960 and survived until 2008.  She couldn’t move under her own volition much after the early nineties, but that didn’t stop her.  In fact she always talked about walking again.  My dad didn’t fare so well; after devoting his life to her dreams, he neglected his health and ended up with colon cancer that metastasized to his liver and got him in about a year.
     No one in this world has not read, seen or heard of “Under the Tuscan Sun” by Francis Mayes.  She was the “pioneer of discovery” back in the 1990’s.  Her subsequent books not only introduced us American bumpkins to the ancient land of the Etruscans, but lined her pockets to overflowing.  I also found Michael Tucker’s (actor “LA Law) “Living in A Foreign Language” and then Dario Castagno’s “Too Much Tuscan Sun” witty and beguiling to the point of ‘extreme’.  I have O.C.S.—Obsessive Compulsive… Ooooh Shiny” disorder—self-diagnosed but very evident to my wife and people I know.
     Soon I was buying books and catching up on Rick Steve’s videos and just generally driving Marianne crazy.  Somewhere in there I also found Phil Doran’s “The Reluctant Tuscan” and Ferenc Mate’s “The Hills of Tuscany” and “A Vineyard in Tuscany”.   The great thing about all these authors is that they have websites and they have email addresses.  That was the beginning of the end for me.  I can’t tell you how long I tried to correspond with these guys.  In the end, the only one who never returned even a thank you for compliments on their book was Ms Mayes.  Expected…
     The ones that did communicate pulled me into a world of insights and wonder and made me the prime target for spending thousands on a three week trip.  I probably put Marianne through some torment too, but heck, she got to go too and that wasn’t shabby rewards for putting up with me.  I guess.
     What did I learn?  I learned that I can do so much more than I thought I was capable of doing.  I could contact, communicate and pull the world closer together.  I know it’s trite, but I now see how similar folks are all around the world.  I learned about history and I found out I like it.  I found out that some people are really genuine and that money tends to make you more afraid and less likely to relate to others.  The folks that I corresponded with and came through for me are the most real people.  And if you can’t be real what’s the point.  Telling someone in an email that you would like to meet them and then ‘disappear’ when that person actually shows up is high on my ‘phony’ list gripes. 
     My emailing and web surfing are pretty much past history, but I don’t think I could have ever done the things we did in Italy or meet the good people we met if I hadn’t obsessed about it last year.  I look back on our trip and realize we could have gotten in real trouble and been stranded in the back woods of Chianti somewhere (however being lost in Chianti isn’t all that bad) or worse.
     I hope you enjoy finding out about where we explored and who we are and grow to love the people we met as much as we do.  Have fun, and dream big.  You’ll need to excuse me now, it’s mid-day and I need my espresso.  I picked up a nasty espresso addiction in Italy.  Later I will retire for a pisolino with Marianne.  Heh, heh, heh……

Out of Oregon (June 10 and 11, 2010)
     This trip was born of a “Bad Idea”.  “Bad ideas, don’t you just love those?”  is from Audrey Well’s film “Under the Tuscan Sun” extremely ‘loosely based’ on the Francis Mayes franchise.  In June of 2009 I said to my wife Marianne, “Let’s spend my retirement and go to Tuscany?”  To which she replied, “Bad idea.”  So here we are in June of 2010 getting ready to board a plane bound for Rome, Italy.

     We leave Portland PDX in the rain.  We’d driven up the night before right after I left school; the Ramada near the airport has a park and fly rate that is unbeatable.—the shuttle driver, young married guy is great at conversation.  Marianne wants us at the airport three hours ahead of the flight.  Okay.  She gets wheelchair assistance and I haul the rolling Jeep backpack and check the big black ‘Champs’ suitcase through to Rome—I hope we see it soon.   I also have the new copper and rose ‘Rome’ bag, as Marianne is now referring to it.   
     We packed all the things we thought we would need for Portland overnight, and two days in Rome.  Also in there are our two pairs each of Exofficio underwear.  I hope that their ads are true, “I traveled all over Europe with only two pair of underwear.”  Yes, we brought a few more for backup, but we know, and have prepared for sink washing every night.  We also have Tide eraser sticks and Oxy Clean spray, because either of us can’t eat without a bib.
     Security was no problems; even the wheelchair assistant goes through the search process.  I wheel the two bags along at a brisk pace, trying to keep up with the assistant.  She leaves us at the farthest Delta gate at the end of the newest concourse at PDX.  There is at least one other couple that look like they are going to Europe, but they say Ethiopia.  I see that they are sporting their Rick Steves money pouches around their necks.  I know that in the next few hours I will have to make the transfer of my wallet contents (which is just money and a couple of cards now) into my virgin pouch. 
     Maybe I should let you know up front that travel can be hell for us older folks—okay, the middle-aged.  I do not look physically fit and I sweat at the mention of exercise, but I have a strong heart and I have a good amount of endurance—I love to walk.  Get this, I have been a bit of a purest with my diet, eating lean, low-carbs etc., but I am prone to gout.  I couldn’t believe it when my doctor suggested this; he put me on a daily Allopurinol to keep attacks away.  Marianne, well she is almost ten years my senior and is riddled with health issues.  She has COPD (from smoking), Congestive Heart Failure (yup, smoking), serve arthritis in both hips and knees (she walks with a cane), and she battles her weight constantly.  Health and the unknown is why she is so nervous about this trip—me also.       
     Sitting for a good deal of time before I sit for a nine hour flight seems a bit crazy to me.  I feel the need to keep moving, even stretching (yoga) right up to boarding.  I go for coffee.  I also get water and some power bars.  I go for the bathroom.   I realize we don’t have any reading materials, except for my copy of Neil Simon’s “Jakes Women” which I need to read because I will be directing it in January.  I head to Hudson News and get a trashy Nora Roberts for Marianne; The Children of Húrin-- an epic fantasy by the late J. R. R. Tolkien and finished by his son Christopher for me.  I already feel I have chosen ‘unwisely’. 
     Later I realize there is a Powell’s Book annex in the concourse and find “Eat, Love, Pray” for Marianne and “Musicophilia—Tales of Music and the Brain” by Oliver Sacks (Awakenings) for me.  The Tolkien gets stuffed in the back pack and I am hooked by Sacks immediately.  She opts for the Nora.  I also pray silently and often.  So does Marianne.  This trip is a big deal for both of us and knowing God is there and listening is very reassuring.  Take off and landings are high volume pray times for me.  Usually it’s the quick little prayers, what I call ‘arrow’ prayers—short prayers shot to heaven.
     The fight is just over 9 hours, but I don’t ever remember sleeping.  We read our books, and take PM’s to put us into the mood—sleep mood, that is.  We also take aspirin, recommended by my doctor, to help with blood clots from sitting so long.  A very large glass of vino rosso (free) helps things along.  I am surprised that Delta lets even economy use the entertainment system.   I watch three movies (“When in Rome”, Tim Burton’s “Alice in Wonderland”, and “Invictus”) and play Shanghai.  The sun never goes behind the curve of the earth; it stays bright the whole time.  Most people opt to keep the shades closed.  We are at the back of the plane so we get the ‘whatever’s left’ entrée for both meals.  The bathroom is near—which I use about four times and I even find a space to do a little ‘plane’ yoga.

Friday June 12, 2010 Amsterdam Damn Damn
      Now if you haven’t been to Schiphol in Amsterdam, you are really in for a treat. It’s new and state of the art. It looks like a major city from the runway. However it is too big to be user-friendly. First, you land, flying over quaint Dutch houses and farmland, then you taxi in, about 5 kilometers to the terminal—easily ten minutes, and then you taxi a great bit more (5 minutes) to get to the concourse. Deltas’ arrivals and departures for the states are on Concourse E. KLM is Concourse C. This is a whole lot of airport, and we’re talking a very massive ‘lot’.
     The connection the travel agent booked is about one hour—not nearly enough time for these distances.  Marianne has assistance, but I don’t.  There isn’t enough room on the cart.  I take off at a quick pace towards that distant land—Concourse C.   It seems like something from a nightmare and without sleep I hardly believe this is happening.   I find myself literally running through the airport; the ‘people moving’ conveyers help, but we’re talking football field after football field of distances.  I am shooting up “arrow’ prayers constantly now.  Oh, and of course, because you are now out in the main terminal, you must go through a search, again.   And I get the slow line! 
     Knowing that Marianne is already at the gates and that I have to wait politely in line and be subjected to another ‘strip and search’ adds to the tension.  I also am wearing my navy blue blazer that Marianne thought would come in handy.  Hardly.  In the confusion of the moment, I forget to take off my money pouch under my shirt.  This mistake leads to a more intensive search, the infamous ‘nude scan’, and a very personal body frisk—all done with a ‘polite’ “May I, sir?” from the African-Dutch security man.  “But of course”.  I need a cigarette after that and I don’t even smoke.
     Once all the electronic devices and computer are put back into the bags, and I at least have my shoes on, I have to, again, run like shit, holding up my beltless pants, dragging my stupid navy blue blazer (who made up the rule about dressing up for a plane flight?), and the two bags.   At Gate C13 they are definitely already loading, but I am able to find Marianne, finish dressing and get on board the fight.  I dissolve, a sweating mess, into the seat, between an older Korean woman and Marianne. 
     KLM fight crews are some of the best in the world--friendly, helpful, and apparently always having a good time.  The co-pilots and navigators keep the flight cabin open and converse with the stewards; it’s a totally different atmosphere than the uptight ‘we think you are going to hi-jack us’ attitude of American flights.  Sad, but true.  The crew soon had us right behind the business-class curtain economy guests feeling satiated.  The flight, thankfully, is uneventful.  The Dutch have the cutest little in-flight snacks that come in blue/white packing with tulips, wooden shoes, etc.  This one has a cheese (Edam) sandwich and a sweet roll.  Once we are out of the overcast skies of the Netherlands, we cross the clear skies of France, the Alps, the Dolomites, and jet over northern Italy—the Poe valley.  I see us pass over Milano and the Apennines.  Then I see the Arno, Lago di Trasimeno and Chiusi.  The plane banks and heads out to the coast and the port city of Fiumicino, where Leonardo di Vinci airport is located.  Things are different here—palms and red tiled roofs.  The landing is great—littler “arrows”.
     You can immediately tell that Fiumicino airport is older.  Unlike the sleek newness of Schiphol, the industrial 60’s look of the basic passenger areas in the Rome airport are showing there age.  There an assistant is waiting for Marianne with a wheelchair as we enter.   She speaks no English, but tries to be as helpful as she can—crushing out her cigarette.  I put the back pack over my shoulders, and wheel the small case along behind.
     It became immediately apparent when we get to the front of the arrivals terminal, that this is not the location of the baggage claim for incoming international flights.  Our attendant is miffed, but determined.  After some very fast exchange of Italian with other personnel, we are retracing our steps and heading for the other side of the terminal—which looks newer.  It takes a while, but we get the big black bag.  Then we try to communicate that we are going to Rome via the Leonardo Express--the treno.  Once we established this, I find it is a ‘jog’ to keep up with the wheelchair as the two bags buck and kick behind me and the backpack gets heavier.  I now have both my blue blazer and a jacket (which I have no idea how I come to have it in my hands) to contend with, which I keep dropping and running over. 
     Once we are out of the terminal and on the sky bridge over to the train station, the true temperature and humidity of the real Rome is apparent.  The attendant skillfully guides us to the ticket both through a long line to get us tickets for the Leonardo Express.   We play the handicap card for the first time.  The attendant insists that we get the tickets from the booth.  At six Euros more for each ticket than the automated machines, both the assistant and Marianne think it is a fair price.  We are deposited on hard benches with several other travelers, waiting for trains.  Than as fast as she was there, the attendant is gone; with a tip of course, for all her hard work and help. 
     Marianne doesn’t want to rush for the train, because she needs a bathroom.  This is a scenario which will play out in train stations across Italy for the next few weeks.  She heads off towards a sign that promises a restroom and the Leonardo head off to Rome.  She is back quickly—the toilets are downstairs “Forget it.” So I buy us both some water and we wait with our mountain of baggage.  I make sure the tickets were clicked by the yellow machines that you can find everywhere.  The crowd slowly moves toward the empty train platform as the time draws near for the next train.  While standing there Marianne talks to a young man who lives in Los Angeles.  He is Armenian and has a four hour lay-over, so he is running into Rome to see the sights—quickly.   The train is late.

Our First CF Rome … of Course (giugne 12, 2010)
     In hind sight, which became our mantra for the trip, taking the Leonardo was not the best thing to do.  First, everyone wants to get on the train at once when it finally arrives 10 minutes later.  Unfortunately, there are three over-sized steps up to the car, after the 18 inch rise from the platform.  Try dragging three full bags, a wife with cane and your sweaty, tired self onto a train that you will always be the last to know which the best seats are, and where to put your luggage.  Once we are settled in seats with our luggage, above and between my knees, and the last of the herds of Indian tourists have scoured our train car for seats, the train takes off.
     We seem to have timed the ‘milk-run’ express just right; it stops at least five times along the way and we don’t get into Roma Termini Stazione for almost two hours.  “I sense a CF coming”.  Of course you need to learn right from the get-go that there will never be explanations for the things that go wrong in Italy and there will be no signage to tell you ‘you aren’t doing things right’.   People pour off the train and start walking.  We wrestle with our luggage and jump to the busy platform below.  It’s hot, humid and intimidating.  I feel like we are on our own in the middle of a hostile ‘Emerging-World country.
    Where we are dumped, and very unceremoniously I will add, is nearly a quarter mile from the terminal, I realize we are on our own.  Apparently, according to Rick Steves (our Italy 2009 sitting neatly on my desk in Roseburg) actually shows a TI near where the express lets off.  In actuality it is not visible to most humans with eyes.  It would have been marvelous to walk into the TI office and get help, but NO, we are walking on a narrow platform, the porters swarming around us, wanting to help with our baggage.   “Didn’t they get it, I need a wheelchair for my wife, not someone who will walk off with our bags and never be seen again”?!   
     Marianne shortly there after hits her first ‘wall’ as they say, and I deposit her in an almost air-conditioned café with more water.  I walk for over a half an hour, trying to find a wheelchair, or someway of getting her to the main station.  The mass of humanity swirling around me begins to intimidate me.  I am lost, but determined.  The two gigantic pedestrian areas in the termini are as big as two football fields, placed end to end.  They are jammed packed with every nationality on earth all racing around a dazzling speed.  I hear every language possible, besides Italian, but no English. 
     It was Friday afternoon, a hot one, in Roma, and everyone is trying to get out of town, preferably to the mere (sea).  I can literally feel myself melting.  My legs are going and I am shuffling my feet because I am so tired.  Then I realize that I have been awake since 9 AM yesterday morning.  “No wonder!”  I never find any signs for information or handicap help.  Oh, and there were uniforms everywhere “Bella Figura”--Carabinieri, Polizia, Treno Italia, Air Italia, and even custodians, but none that speaks English and can help me.  I eventually find the Taxi stand, but realize Marianne can’t walk that far.  I hope she can, and proceed back to the café I have left her so long ago. 
     She is fine, but in trying to make way for some people, she has fallen against the extension handle of the big black bag and bent it so it wouldn’t retract.  In a calm moment I try to explain to her my original plan, which was to just walk through the stazione with the bags, out the northern doors, cross Via Marsala, wheeling our luggage up Via Marghera, walking the single block to Hotel Sileo on Via Magenta.  We both clearly can see that that is not going to work.  I swallow my “Scottish skin-flint pride” and decide that a cab (however expensive) is the only way out of this situation.  We slowly make our way to the taxi stand on Via Giovanni Giolitti.  The street is a cacophony of sound and spectacle.  Tall, but centuries old buildings are a couple of dozen feet in front of us, and stepping into the light is not a great option.  The sidewalk pedestrian traffic rivaled the terrifying, but exhilarating motor traffic in the street.
     The taxi driver is finishing a cigarette and a lively conversation with another cabbie and is ‘delighted’ to get us and the luggage to the Hotel Sileo on Via Magenta, but isn’t quite sure which one we mean or where it is.  He loads the bags, Marianne gets in the back, me in the front, and off we are whisked into Rome traffic.  Talk about exhilarating.
     Our cab driver tries to tell us he can’t just go around the block, so he starts by giving us a little sightseeing tour.  Even though I knew he should have turned right at the last block, he is determined to show us the basilica and the baths of Diocletian before getting us to the hotel.   He swings back around and we are back to Termini.   We find that Via Marghera is impassable, lined with Vespas on both sides, so he has to go two blocks farther North East and try a different approach – an € 8.50 three-block-approach.  He gets us to the tiny street and deposits the luggage on the door step before I have the money out, and he takes all the €10 and is gone.      Hotel Sileo is on the fourth floor of a small building that also holds, Hotel Blu, Hotel Marco Polo and Fawlty Towers.  You enter through a common door way with gates and an awning.  We walk down the open air hallway that takes us around, passing an inner courtyard, marble step to the stairway/lift area.  The lift is scary.  It is barely big enough to get our bags and Marianne and me in; the closing door clips me, briskly.  I almost opted to walk up the four flights, but I am too tired to think.  The hotel is written up in Rick Steve’s book and is run by a 60’s something couple, Anna Maria and Assandro Savioli.  He speaks more English, which isn’t much, than she.   
     Anna Maria is expecting us and ushers us in the small albergo before we even have a chance to ring the bell.  It is closed in and warm, but she is so accommodating.   Once she has our passports, she shows us to our room, #4, which is the only one in a hallway to the left of the front desk/lobby, and on the way to their private residence.  There are pictures and small sculptures everywhere.  Many walls have murals, well done ones. 
     Room #4 is small, and the door can’t fully open because it hits one of the two single beds.  It is wide enough for the beds and a small night stand in-between.  That’s it.  Luckily the room is longer than wide.  There are two comfortable chairs, a small table, a TV on a table at the foot of the far bed, and a very large window in the end of the room (overlooking the same courtyard we saw on the ground level).  The minuscule bath is a step up and is tiled (dark blue and white) and marbled.  The shower is tiny.  The saving grace is a large ceiling fan, spinning briskly above.  I think air-conditioning is a dirty word in Italy, along with window screens.  We say our grazie’s to Anna Maria and locked the door.  It was about 3:30 PM.  We breathe a very audible sigh of relief and go ala naturale'.  I think I take a shower, a cold one, since I can’t figure out the water supply.  We both crash on our single beds in the dark and sleep.  

Rome at Night   When In Roma… (11 giugne)
     I think it is 20:30 (8:30 PM) before I get up and dress, leaving Marianne sleeping.  I step out into the lobby and see the Savioli’s just taking dinner dishes into the kitchen.  I look at my watch and couldn’t believe I had slept for five hours.  I walk back past the front desk and into the next room.  There is a breakfast-type room with a small bar and an espresso machine.  Thank the Lord! 
     Assandro appeared and talks to me.  I tell him I need to find ‘acqua and mangia’—miming the sign-language for eating.  He nods his head like he understands me and suggests Donati’s across the street.  “It is owned by a friend of his and if I mention his name I am sure to be treated right”.  I thank him and step out of the Albergo.  In the lift I decide to just get water and find food later to bring back to the room.  There is an alimentari, run by a Muslin mother and daughter, straight across the street.  I keep apologizing for using a €50 bill to pay for the €3 bottle.  “Mi dispiace, just in town, no piccolo denari”.  I return the water to the room.
        I decide to walk back up the four floors to Sileo, partly because a young couple is just lugging their luggage in from the street, and partly because I haven’t had a lot of exercise since the termini/airport incident.  Once up to the fourth floor, I can not get the key for the front door of the albergo to work, but fortunately Assandro comes to the rescue.
     As he follows me into the hall where our room is, we talk briefly about where we were going tomorrow, tour Rome, and then, Sunday, Civita and then Orvieto, Assandro’s face brightens and he begins to make reference to Orvieto and then to the large framed collages of photos hanging on the wall overhead.  They are of racing bicyclists (bicicletta da corsa) in what appeared to be late sixties, early seventies photos of big races, perhaps the Tour de Italia.  Suddenly I am putting together the story, he is a cyclist in a former life, and this race, the one in the pictures, are of him racing and winning in Orvieto.  I had seen the racing jersey above the front desk and had not made the connection until this moment.  I find it fascinating.  He is still obviously very proud of his past glories.  I excuse myself and go back in the room. 
     I give Marianne a brief recap of everything that has happened in the last fifteen minutes and give her the water.  She sort of grunts and groggily say “O-kah-ee”. 
     Out on the street the evening is still warm and the energy is infectious.  The two ristoranti on the street are alive with fun conversation and laughter, and the click of flatware on china.  I walk down Via Marghera towards Termini checking out places to eat the night traffic, and the people.  Bar after bar, tourist stands, hotels, even shops were still open and doing a brisk business.  I checked out a few menus, but didn’t want that much food so I end up in a bar.  This is a very slick, white and trendy, place that sells, everything from dinner to wine, cigarettes to liquor.  I see that they do have outside tables. 
     After I exhaust my powers of observation on how to get a glass of wine and a couple of sandwiches, I boldly ask the guy behind the liquor store counter, who looked vaguely Irish.  He isn’t, but he is helpful, and with the combination of both our broken languages, he is able to get me out to a table, get me a sweet young waitress, two sandwiches (one to go) and a glass of vino rosso. 
     Five minutes later, I am drinking a very delicious red wine and people watching in a street café in Rome, blanking Italy!  I suddenly, out of some dim recollection from the distant past, realize I was checking out women.  I mean, really checking them out, from toe to leg, to butt, to breast, to face, to top of the head and back down.  Oh, my, Mr. Jones, you certainly haven’t been able to do that in several hundred years, I think.  “Is this what Italy does to you?”  I smile, pleased with the sudden calmness and youthful demeanor I have begun to adopt.  The sandwiches came and I slowly drink my wine.  I try to recall the past 26 hours, cringing in terror at the bad parts, and feeling confident about what lies ahead.
     After the first supper, I want a gelato (niccolo) and continue to walk around the block, finding other hotels, a great looking ristorante, Al Forno, where there was a hawker, who tried to get me to come in, no grazie, bars and more bars, some with real Roman guys out watching the first games of the World Cup, and even a Chinese place.  I am starting to feel more at ease and realize my sheltered existence in ‘Podunk’ Oregon is a million miles away.
     Marianne is grateful for the panino.  She is trying to watch some TV, but the BBC is not coming in well.  I get into my night clothes, not much, turn out the lights, and let the breeze from the fan sweep over me.  With the curtains drawn, the slit of light coming through is in the shape of a cross.  I realized that I have not prayed since the plane trip, so I do, thanking God for getting us here, for keeping Marianne healthy, and protecting us this far.  “Please, please keep watch over us tomorrow and in the coming weeks, we’re going to need it, grazie Signore Deo.”   I try to fall into restful sleep counting backwards from one hundred in Italian.  At this point it takes more concentration than I think it’s worth.  Somewhere around 3 AM, when the clacking and crashing of the dishes and silverware in the ristorante kitchen four floors below ceases and I sleep.

First Impression: Rome-Schome   Don’t Take the Green Bus!  (12 giugne)
     The first thing I remember is the sound of the birds.  I guess they are birds, but not like the song of birds I know.  I can hear them chasing and diving through the sky above.  Then, the bells, the lovely bells, from everywhere in the city begin to ring, and ring often.  I keep my eyes shut tight and refuse to acknowledge that I am conscious.  Around 6 AM, the now familiar sounds of kitchen and ristorante below begin and slowly come to life.  It is Saturday (Sabato) in Rome.
     It takes us about three hours, until 9:30 AM to get up and get ready for the day.  I have to ask Anna Maria how to turn on the hot water (point the handle to the right) and the ceiling fan, but we are presentable for a little light breakfast and cappuccino.  A couple, two young men, pass by from other hidden rooms, both with back packs, ready to start their day.
     Today is our “Hop-On Hop-Off” tour I booked on line through Viator, €52 for the both of us and it leaves every 15 minutes from Roma Termini.  This will be just a short walk and we will have air-conditioned comfort all day and see Rome’s best sights.  It is the first time and not the last that the phrase ‘hind sight’ rears its ugly head.
     We walk to Termini, avoiding only one beggar on the street, see and hear the sights and sounds of tourists with rolling luggage ‘exodus-ing’ from Termini, and find we have to go through the main building.  It is still full of people—this place never is quiet.  We get to the front, look beyond the lines of white taxis and we can’t see the green buses anywhere or see any signs.  This theme, the ‘no visible signs anywhere’ theme will pop up again and again everywhere in Rome.  I leave Marianne near the taxi stand on the only thing that she can sit on.  That’s another problem, Italian transportation officials don’t want you to sit, or loiter, and ‘they’ want you gone--pronto.  The front of the terminal can be a life defying space to traverse.  Taxis, cars, and buses all conspire to get you.  It is not for the faint-hearted.  I scramble past the taxis and walk towards the massive bus area.  I walk all over the area and can not find the tour; these are all city buses.  Convenient for Romans--not for tourists.    
     On my way back, feeling defeated, I stop at an information kiosk and start to wait in line, hoping the woman can speak a little English.  Finally a guy, American, who is hawking tours for another company, tells me, that the Green Bus tour loads way over past the National Museum.  I look and can vaguely make out the faded green of something that seems like a quarter mile away.  How is Marianne ever going to get over there?
     Armed with fresh information, I return to Marianne, who is already looking fatigued just sitting.  I take her across streets and over small piazzas until we get to the bus.  We breath a collective sigh of relief, very short lived, and look back and the terminal and say simultaneously to each other, “at Termini?!?”  There are a few buses waiting and we take the first one in line.  The Sri Lankan woman takes our voucher and gave us the same faded-green colored ear buds and a map.  She apologizes that the air-conditioning is not working on this bus.  We are already done in by the warmth and humidity, but Marianne can not climb the stairs to the observation deck.  We are not the happiest of campers, but we press forward.  The ‘guide’ of this guideless tour also tells that the scheduled route will be different but didn’t elaborate.  Another clue?
     Marianne keeps encouraging me to go up to the second level, but I remain with her.  Just as on the plane, the ear buds spend more time popping out of our ears than staying in them.  This does not put Marianne in a great mood, sighing again that she is “Not a good traveler”.  I notice that there seems to be a lot of discussion between the tour ‘guide’ and the driver about something; it seems like they are discussing something intense not related to the tour at all, but it is in Italian, so I don’t understand it.
     The bus pulls out and takes us to Piazza Republico, where we circle the fountain once, and then around Santa Maria Maggiore.  Then the bus turns down Via Nationale and meanders through several neighborhoods, many prestigious (one used for the film “La Dolce Vita”).  We double back past SM Maggiore and Pz. Republico, strange, and ended up heading towards ‘white wedding cake’ Vittor Emmanuel Monument, the forum and the Colosseum.  This is very impressive and I am snapping pictures, like a Japanese tourist.  There we got off and headed for shade.  I guided Marianne to stairs, marble of course and sat her down in the shade of some bushes with many other tourists. 
     My plan is to spend about 20 minutes looking around and taking pictures and finding water.  With Marianne shaded, I head first to the south and to The Arch of Constantine, now heavily fortified with an iron fence, as is everything old in Italy.  Below my feet, were ancient stones from the Appian Way.  The ancientness of this place hit me.  I felt small and very young in comparison.   I started walking north, watching my step, watching the Colosseum, and trying to find an entrance to the Forum.  My camera is getting a work out today.  I found myself up a road, looking at old columns and an ancient church.  I came across Roman teatro that was set up for a concert; fences are locked. 
     I suddenly realize it has been a half an hour since I last saw Marianne, so I turn around and head back to the Colosseum piazza.  I walk to the nearest junk stand—there are several with lots of tourist junk, and I buy two gratefully cold bottles of water.  I walk straight the side of the Colosseum and find some shade.  I touch the stones and look through the fences, trying to see what is inside.  I see people inside that I know have waited hours to get in there and explore.  I tell myself that it is okay that I will not be doing that this time, but maybe the next time we are in Rome…  Everywhere are the Italian guys in Roman costumes soliciting photo ops with the tourists.  I see a few Cleopatra’s, a King Tut, and a few clusters of ancient Roman Centurions gathered around a tourist ‘Caesar’getting his pictures taken.
     Marianne is where I left her, talking jokingly with a woman, who it turns out, is from Ohio.  We time it just right and there is another punk Green Bus waiting to whisk us away to the Circus Maximus and the Arno.  This area of Rome has ancient things everywhere, and lots of green.  We pass by old churches, the Temples to Vesta and Portunus, as we skirt around Palatine Hill with Capitol Hill in the background.  We turn towards the Tiber at Teatro di Marcello and I can see Isola Tibernia as we ride along Lungoteverse.  Somewhere around Ponte Sisto the bus turns back into the city and snakes back towards Campo de’ Fiori.  We get off on Corso Vittorio Emanuele II and I follow my instincts and take Marianne to Piazza Navona.
    As we step in the piazza, the Piazza Navona becomes my most favorite place in Rome.  There are three huge, splashing fountains, the impressive Saint Agnes, shops and many floors of smart looking apartments above, mimes and artists everywhere.  It is alive with hundreds of people and thousands of pigeons.  I lead Marianne down the street on the west side and right to a sidewalk café.  We are both ready to collapse, take in water, and sit in the shade.  A street hawker turns out to be the owner of the very café I wanted to find Ari Tre Tartuffe.  He is a larger than life guy who is quick to seat you and talk to you about his adventures in Los Angeles.  Marianne and I wince at the thought that his only exposure to the USA was L.A.  We assured him that Oregon and other places are so much more bellissimo.  With our heads in the shade, acqua minerale, with gas, ice-cold and the outstanding view of the Four River Fountains across the street and its outstanding splash, we settle in for our first meal in Rome.  We order and drink chilled Bianco Vino.  Pinch me and wipe the sweat off me.  I am in heaven.
     A couple is seated next to us in the bustle of the café.  They are about my age and come from Miami.  She explains how they have been out for about two weeks already, in Greece, seeking out her husbands roots.  I ask if they found the family and they respond an overwhelming “Yes”!  They apparently were treated like long-lost children.  Now the couple is taking off on a 10 day bus tour of Italy—tutti.  Marianne and I quickly exchange the look, ‘Oh My God’ package tour from hell.  Not that there is anything wrong with that.  One of the reasons we chose to do what we are doing these three plus weeks is to really make contact and interact with the country and its people.  With a package, boxed-up in a bus tour, we would never be able to do that.  It’s like treating a real country as an object to just look at, like a video or a zoo.
     I explain to the couple that we are dong our own thing and exploring Umbria and Tuscany.  She thinks that might be nice, but this way they see everything.  I see the husband roll his eyes.  Okay, I think, this way she gets to see everything; he gets drug along for the ride. 
   For our ‘lite’ lunch, Marianne and I chose familiar items after getting a mezzo litre of vino rosso.  She is having a huge tuna (not out of a can) salad and I get Fettuccini Genovese.  Both are flavorful and intriguing and we want to eat it all, but we simply can’t.  For dessert we both get the signature dolce, Tartuffo—Death by Chocolate; it is an ultra-decadent intense gelato with small chunks of harder, dark chocolate coating the outside with whipped cream and an over-sized 3-D wafer cookie.  Hers has the Torre of Pisa and mine is a two-tiered Italian building.  It is indescribably good, but too much to get through.  We leave absolutely stuffed with food and vino, but not feeling pained or tipsy.
    Marianne decides to rest on a bench near the fountain while I photograph all three and walk three blocks to the Pantheon.  It feels great to walk freely through the streets of Roma, being a tourist, snapping pictures, and ‘rubber-necking’ from building to building, sight to sight.  I purposefully choose to take the route that would put me on the far end of the piazza from the Pantheon.  The decision was a good one, because as I step into the crowded piazza the view from the far end is overwhelming.  It is a magnificent ancient structure.  It seems bigger than I thought it would be.  The front right half of the portico is covered with scaffolding, but the integral image of the building is intact and a marvel.  In front is a very large obelisk.  I walk around the perimeter of the piazza savoring the sights and holding off until the last possible second to step up to the portico.  It is so tall—and so very old.  I, again, touch the stones and really feel them—their ancientness.  The Pantheon, originally built as a place to worship all gods, is now a consecrated church that holds Mass regularly.  It is the most ancient, continuously used building in existence, being dedicated to martyrs after the fall of Rome.  Once I walk through the huge bronze doors, I am struck with the towering vastness of the space, and the single oculus that pierces the shaded room.  Once my eyes adjust, I see birds darting in the blue and cloud circle.  I think I can also make out some sort of plant growing up there.  The Pantheon is alive with human voices, even though mostly in hushed tones, the space has incredible acoustical properties.  The dome is awesome.  I see the chunk of concrete that Brunelleschi cut out of the wall next to the entrance.  I get my pictures and reverently leave.  It’s amazing to me to see the height of the street area surrounding the Pantheon—sunken it looks after twenty centuries of urban growth around it.
     I realize, again, that I have been away from Marianne for a while so I start heading back to Piazza Navona.   I stop to get a picture of a building completely covered in cascading ivy; next to it four marble columns are standing against the neighboring building.  How bella.  I walk back a different way and find Marianne very blissfully waiting on the bench where I had left her.  She has been admiring the rooftop apartments the ring the piazza.  They are absolutely over-run with geraniums and flowers of all kinds. 
     “What a beautiful place to have a vacation apartment,” says Marianne.
     “Only if they have lifts”, I say, seeing that the 5, 6, and 7 story buildings would be too much even for me. 
      Even though I know perfectly well how to get back to the bus stop, Marianne is a little confused and unsure of where we are going.  I assure her that it is the same way we got to the piazza, and push on.  We get back to the stop just after a bus zones away.  I take the opportunity to pull the portable stool that I have been carrying around over my shoulder all day, and offer her a place to sit.  The bus arrives shortly, but things just don’t seem right.  This couple, guide and driver, are Italian, very vocal and not much help.  We bus rattles on towards Ponte and Castel Sant’Angelo, and the Vatican. 
     The driver is stopping more often than I would like and smoking like a fiend at each stop.  I am able to hop of the bus and get pictures of the sights, but this guy just seems like he wants to get the tour over with as soon as he can.  I manage to get a couple of blurred shots of Saint Peter’s Square as we wiz by.  There are times when we are racing up the Tiber that I start to wonder what this guy is up to. 
     We turn and wind back through neighbor-hoods.  I am hoping to at least catch a glimpse of the Spanish Steps as we stutter our way towards what we all think will be Trevi fountain.  Suddenly we are whizzing up side streets and Via Nationale, passing Piazza Republicco.  Things are not right and the tourists are loudly talking among themselves about what’s not happening—Trevi. 
     A frail woman in her forties starts down the stairs from the observation deck and falls, scooting down half the steps painfully on her butt.  She recovers and heads, very concerned, to the guide, who obviously couldn’t care less if this tourist, might be hurt.  As we are passing Maria Maggiore, for the third time, others are joining in the lively ‘discussion’ with the guide and the driver.  Where’s the Trevi?!  Suddenly, there behind the chiesa, we pull over to the side of the street.  There is another punk green bus in front of us.
      The guide gets on the loudspeaker announces that everyone must get off the bus right now.  She is emphatic and bosses everyone, kids, grandparents, American, German to the curb.  She vaguely makes reference to a strike that is paralyzing the area north, from Termini to Piazza Popolo.  That is the most help she has given in the hour we are on the bus.  So here we stand, about fifty tourists stuck in the middle of Rome, while the bus driver starts another cigarette.  The strike that she is referring to is them.  Great!  No Trevi—no coins in the fountain—no return to Rome.  I see a couple of cabs across the street parked on the large piazza of the chiesa. 
     Just then a very pregnant thirty-something and her eight year old approach us and offer to split a cab fare to Trevi.  She obviously can not walk that far.  Marianne wants no part of it and heads towards the cab across the street on the light.  I apologize to the women and follow Marianne over to the cabs.  We go to the first cab and find a pleasant 60 year old, who looks like he is off-duty.  In hind sight (there it is again) he has been waiting for the buses to stop and the tourists to come running—needing a ‘savior’ to get them back to their hotels. 
     He is kind to us and gets us back to Magena and Albergo Sileo rather quickly, charging €4 for the eight block ride; big difference from the €10 ride the day before.  He also could get up Margheria, which our other cabbie could not do.  Once we knew that we were safe, we slowed our walk back to the albergo.  I quickly run over to the Ristorante Donati and ask about reservations for that evening, due at eight.  The young waiter lets me know it will be no problem and I tell him that we are staying with the Savioli’s at Sileo.  He nods understanding. 
     Assandro and Anna Maria are there to open the door.  Good thing, because I don’t have the keys.  I shrug my shoulders and tap my “empty” head.  They smile and take us to the room, where the key is neatly in the door—where it’s suppose to be.  They tell us that Fernando Scattini has called from Bella Magione and will be in around 8:30 AM Sunday morning.  News to me.   
   We get in the room and I call Fernando.  I ask for Fernando Scattini and he affirms that it is he.  I tell him who I am, gushing with a relief that was unexpected.  I apologize and try to move forward with the conversation.  His voice is at once calming and welcoming.  He is congenial, but formal.  I tell him how pleased we will see him Sunday, and he tells me to expect him after 9:30 AM, depending on Rome traffic.  I know that my voice could not hide our uncertainty and apprehension about being dumped somewhere in Rome and not being able to communicate well with anyone.  I make the call short, and hang up calm and reassured that things will get better. Exhausted, we crash.

Romantic Roma Dinner  (12 giugne)

     Donati’s is a great place to eat.  Practically a hole in the wall, compared to the ristorante across the street.  It reminds us of one of our favorite Italian places, Piazza, in the Pearl District of Portland.  They even had TV’s and America was playing their first game of the World Cup.  The service is impeccable, and the food, sublime.  We wanted to eat outside, but we are put inside with the American families.  They do have air-con, which Marianne did not mind.
     Our waiter, though rushed, warms up to Marianne in a flash and he butters and cajoles her and excludes me from conversation with a wink.  We start with a bottle of house rosso and soon find we need another, which the waiter gladly brings.  He recommends the Sea Bass and we take him up on it.  The atmosphere is at once familiar and romantic.  We toast each other and clink glasses.  While we wait a huge crowd of Germans invade the ristorante, waiting for an outside mega-table.  They are rude and talk over us, pushing, bumping and invading our space.  Luckily, they get their table outside soon and give the young waiter a thorough ‘thrashing’ the rest of the evening.
     We have antipasti, followed by pasta, Penne gorgonzola for Marianne and Fettuccini Porcini for me; both are exceptional.  The Sea Bass, hand filleted by the waiter, was incredible.  We finish with a lemon sorbet, and then our waiter pours us large glasses of Limoncello.  The dolce, but intoxicating lemon liqueur goes right to our heads.  No better evening could have been had by anyone.  We rolled out of Donati’s at 11 PM and back to our waiting beds.  Well, first we had to pack, but then we slept. 
     It takes the alarm clock to get us up the next morning, 7 AM.  I suffered no ill effects from the indulgent night and felt rested and revitalized after a good shower.  Anna Maria again made us cappuccino and breakfast, as well as a couple, two ladies.  They were German, but spoke a little English.  We are on the street at 9:20 AM and happy as two people can be.

Tre Amici: Fernando, Marianne and Me  (Domenico 13 giugne, 2010)
     It’s after 9:30 AM and the same spiky-haired girl has buzzed by in her tiny white car three times.  The ristorante workers and owners are getting ready for lunch, dragging out and setting up tables and watering the flowers and boxwoods in terracotta planters.  Then a dark blue SUV turns the far corner and slows down in front of us.  It is Fernando Scattini and we shout an exuberant ‘buongiorno’ to him.  He says he must park first.  Promptly he pulls over in front of the closed alimentari and parks next the boxwood ‘hedges’ in front of Donati’s.  Fernando briskly unfolds himself from the SUV and a svelte, fair haired Italian with pale blue eyes steps out.  He is dressed casual in gray-blue checked shirt and slacks steps across to greet us.  Marianne falls in love immediately.  I help him with the bags.  I say he looks younger than I thought he would, but at 53, he is only a year younger than me.  He smiles.  We smile. We are the instant ‘Tre Amici’. 
     Fernando is a smart man.  He is an excellent listener and his vast warehouse of knowledge and facts about his country is astounding.  He has a very trick GPS system that he has attached to the windshield.  Well it is usually attached, except when it falls off—which is quite a bit the first day.  He relies on his ‘girlfriend’ to tell him where to go.  He loves to talk.  Marianne and I do too.  Before we are out of Rome, we know all about Rosetta; their two sons; his schooling and training; the rainy and cold spring; the road systems in Italy; that he speaks better German than English; details of their trip to Australia last winter; and anything else that happens to come up.   His grasp of history and politics is outstanding.  We tell him about the Hop-On Hop-Off problems and he tells us that Rome is a very political city--too much so.  "There are always shutting things down for strikes that can sometimes cripple and bring the city to a standstill". 
   Fernando pulls up to the tollbooth for the autostrada.  He gets a ticket and the security arm rises.  We are heading north on the A-1 through Lazio at a vigorous clip.  As the city and suburbs disappear, Fernando softly announces that he must now begin the tour.  He begins with an overview of the history of not only this region, Lazio, but Umbria and Tuscany as well.  As we pass hill towns, like jewels encrusting the tops of ever other rise, he explains that the walled and towered fortified-towns were where the country-side folks would run to in the event of an invasion by a passing army—be it Roman, Papal, or eventually Barbarian.  The more recent towns, he says, five centuries or so, grew up down in the valleys after things became more safe.
     Within an hour Fernando is turning off the autostrada.  We are near Orvieto.  He explains as we hit the tollbooth that his credit card was stolen last week and that he has been forced to use cash for all these transactions.  Usually he can just swipe his card through the machine and the toll is automatically charged to the account.  He tries to tell us how much it costs to use the highway, but he loses me quickly in the euro translation.  He says he will probably be able to use the new card soon, which he expects tomorrow.
     As he turns south and we begin to climb the quick road towards Civita di Bagnoregio, he hits his computer on the dash and music begins.  He asks if we like music and if it is alright.  Well, of course it is alright.  There is everything, from opera, old Italian pop songs, techno, Sara Brightman and Albinoni--bella musica, dolce musica.  He has excellent taste, just music he likes, but he is insidiously clever and touches Marianne and me with the overpowering beauty of it all.  The countryside intoxicates us and we am near tears--brimming over with emotions from my heart.
     The fast way to Civita is blocked still, lots of landsides from the spring rains, so we take the other, but equally scenic route.  There are old poderes (farms), fields, vineyards, and everywhere the scent of flowers, nature, a cacophony of cicadas, and course, the birds—everywhere the birds.  It is jasmine we smell--sweet and intoxicating, filling the nostrils and clearing my head.  Also mixed in there is pungent spanish broom.  It is everywhere you look—splatters of bright yellow across the green canvas.
   Fernando deftly maneuvers the SUV into the narrow streets and poggio (hills) of Bagnoregio (Bath of the King).  It is a bustling little village for a Sunday.  We twist and wind upward and suddenly we are in a central piazza.  It is set up for a concert--no a film festival (Italian) on the left and there is a car show on our right.  We slowly pass by Lotus, Lamborghini, DeLorean, and Ferrari.  Fernando and I are ecstatic with ‘vehicle’ lust.  They are so close I could reach out and touch each one.  The men of the village are ‘ogling’ and ‘awe-gling’ over the cars as the two beautiful women walk by--totally unnoticed by the guys. 

Civita di Bagnoregio (13 giugne, 2010)
     We abruptly come to the end of town and Fernando says we are here, start up and he will park.  I slap myself back to reality and look up.  There, like a vision is Civita.  It is awesome—perched on a stud of tuffa and standing precariously over abysses on every side.  There too is the single lane bridge that is the only way to get up there.  Marianne and I start the ascent.   We have our tourist hats on, she an old fades khaki-green floppy thing and me in my crumpled techno-straw fedora.  The layered 80 sunscreen gets sweated off in the first 15 feet.
     Marianne is completely overwhelmed and says she cannot go up there.  My vertigo has kicked into overload and I don’t think I can either.  We must be 40 or 50 feet off the ground and it just keeps going up.  I calm Marianne and suggest that she take it in little chunks of walking.  She is willing, but I know she is afraid.  I encourage her and keep her going, arm in arm at her own pace.  I just suggest goals, ‘just up to the benches’, ‘just to the end of the bridge’, over here to the shade.
    Fernando shows up, snapping pictures with a very expensive looking Cannon—the accessories bag slug over his shoulder.  He gets us and encourages me to climb up to the top.  He stays behind with an exhausted Marianne.  His cell phone rings and I am moving on.  Three motorcyclists whiz by, in full fashionable leathers (Romans) to the disgust of all.  It is not legal to ride the motorized bikes up the ramp.  I begin snapping pictures of everything from every possible angle.  I haven’t even made it under the Porte and I am filling memory stick space quickly.  I touch the ancient tuffa stone blocks and smell the antiquity of this special place.  I look down and swear that I see Fernando light up a cigarette.
     Civita di Bagnoregio a precious piece of history that will cease to exist one day.  It is nearly a ghost town, except for the weekend tourists who frequent the place.         
There are very few full-time residents.   For many years a man from the community took his donkey up and down the ramp twice daily bringing in fire wood and anything that the town needed.  Right now beside me a Roman family is dealing with screaming, crying children that would rival a Douglas County family on an outing in Wal-Mart.  Only this folks are dressed to the nines.  The sound is so wrong for this place.  I duck into side lanes and explore.  I am very conscious that these are people’s homes and not a tourist trap.  Each house and stair is meticulously cared for, and the profusion of flowers and plants is a fest for the eye.  I respect this place and I honor it in my soul (sorry--Yoga). 
     I pass the duomo piazza and see it is set up for the film festival as well.  It’s hard to get a picture of the chiesa.  I continue wondering the streets, walking to the edges of the town, observing the decay and erosion that will one day claim the town.  Civita use to be bigger than Bagnoregio and there was a natural land bridge that connected the two.  Now Civita clings to its rock with a made-made bridge, waiting for its fate.  I walk from one end to the other and pass Maria’s garden on my way down to the Etruscan caves. 
     On my way back up, I met Fernando, smoking, who informs me that lunch is ready and that Marianne is waiting at the ristorante.  I am genuinely pleased to hear she made it all the way up.  I told him that I had to keep my wife away from his cigarettes because she can easily succumb.   He kinds of mumbles something and encourages me to hurry back to the ristorante.  The small ristorante is cool inside and I can tell that owners have spent a lot of time and money bringing the building back from a crumbling past.  We pass by an open fire place at the back of the first room and the heat is scorching.  “This is where they do all of their cooking’, says Fernando.  Three women hurry around with aprons and kerchiefs tied around their heads.  The kitchen space is about 3 x 5 feet.  Amazing. 
     We pass into the next room and in a cool corner sits Marianne with a wide pleasant smile.
     “Buongiorno, Davide”. 
     “Buongiorno yourself, bella Signora,” I reply. 
     I am delighted she is here.  She tells me Fernando is a very persuasive man. 
     “He told me that it was simple, I had to climb all the way up because lunch was up there.”  Fernando smiles a sly grin that says volumes.
     We start with cool acqua and a Bianco e Rosso (Orvieto della casa 2009) that is crisp and chilled.  Antipasti:  Bruchette al pormodoro and al pate di olive e alla pancetta; Primi:  Prosciutto casareccio; Secondi:  Salsicce alla brace con pomodori e patate (Italian sausage and potatoes roasted in coals of the fire); and Dolci:  Crosta di more e mandorie e pistachio.  The meal is capped with espresso and Fernando excuses himself for a smoke.  He tells us he is cutting down and quitting.  He was diagnosed with diabetes a year ago and has lost over 40 pounds—all diet.  His next goal is the tobacco.
     We start down the ramp of ‘doom’ while Fernando goes to get the SUV.  Marianne is doing a much better job after lunch and I feel there is a new ‘spring’ in her step.  I caution her to not start smoking cigarettes.  She says she won’t and not to worry.  With the way she is exercising I believe her.  Everything is ‘fa bene’ (fine).
     Soon we are whisking through Bagnoregio--past cars and villagers, and heading north from poggios to poggios towards Orvieto.  We pass an abbey that has been converted to an events retreat.  I keep saying ‘si’ in agreement and understanding to everything Fernando says.  I think ‘si’ is appropriate for that.  Suddenly there is Orvieto on the next high poggio.  The duomo and other town spires crown the large tuffa.  It is breathtaking--another wondrous sight.  We are in silent awe and the bianco e rosso sure enhances the ambiance.  We circle around the hill clock-wise, from the south east, circling up into the coolness.  It is practically deserted.  Fernando risks a fine to get us right into the duomo piazza.

The Crown on the Tuffo—Orvieto (13 giugne, 2010)  
  Marianne opts out of walking up into the duomo and sits across the piazza on a stone bench or ledge that protrudes from the building directly opposite the cathedral. Fernando pays for my ticket into the duomo and he is gone, again.   I am alone to explore in reverence. 
    The air is stale and musty.  It is dark and cool inside, but the multiple columns in two distinct rows marks the nave and points to the altar.  I notice the windows lining the outside isles are made of translucent stone—alabaster.  I give a holy glow to the interior.  My mind is set on seeing the Signorelli frescos so I hardly take notice of anything else.  There on the right of the altar is the side chapel up a few steps—San Brizio.  I step in and immediately to my right in the raising of the dead.  I am speechless with awe.  I am immediately struck by how much color there is and how many things going on in each fresco.  To the left of that is the damnation of the sinners—to the right--Resurrection.  Besides the matter subject and the excellent renderings are the vibrant color--almost like a graphic novel. 
     The whole space is absolutely incredible.  I want so much to take pictures, but I know it would be wrong.  Fernando has explained the history of the Duomo, and I remember some from my readings, which makes it all so much more real.  The Pope wanted another city to be in, away from Rome, and miracle occurred.   When Mass was celebrated near by, upon the breaking of the host (the bread was broken), blood actually came out and spilled on the cloth covering altar.   I remain skeptical, especially during that time of ‘selling indulgences’ to gain heavenly status.  The cloth is encased for all to see.
    I spend a good twenty minutes looking and relooking at the frescos before I slowly make my way back to the light of the afternoon.  I take the left exit and come out into an active side piazza that has an artist fair.  There are now clouds in the sky.   I walk around to the front of the Duomo and see Marianne and Fernando sitting side by side waiting for me.  I descend the steps and across the piazza.  We sit together and take in the incredible facade of the duomo.   The spires and central pediment, the rosetta window, the awesome mosaic, the statuary, the four animal/gospel writers, the details, and the colors of the marble combine to create one of the most stunning churches I have ever seen.
     We finish up our sightseeing and head back to the SUV.   Fernando skirt around the city and passes through the park on the north side, pausing to look at the round covering for St. Patrick’s well.  Fortunately we will not be descending one of the two spiral staircases (designed for donkey travel, hauling water up and out without colliding with the traffic coming down) today.  The well was built to keep the town from running out of water if there were to be a siege of the town.   No army ever tried.
     “Si’, I say again as an acknowledgement of Fernando’s narration.
     “Si, again”, says Fernando slightly annoyed or impressed by my knowledge of Italian history.  “It is always ‘si’ with you.  You know it all”.
     “Oh, no, I really don’t”, say humbly.  “But I have read so much over the past year and tried to retain it.  When you explain it, it brings it all back what I read.”
     Fernando seems very pleased that we have taken the time to learn about his country.  He makes reference to the fact that we asked to see Civita, which most guests do not even know about, which really shows our deep interest in his country.  It makes him feel good.  Hell, it makes me feel really good, too. 
     Fernando takes us down from Orvieto.  I point to the north and say is Citta della Pieve and Chiusi in that direction, seeing the hill of hills to the northeast above a very long, wide valley.  He says many miles to the north.  Now he heads to the east, under the A-1, and towards Todi.  I know that there is a big lake here and I am so pleased we are going to see it.  He corrects me and says it is a reservoir behind a dam which fills a mini ‘Grand Canyon’.  It’s Lago di Corbara, and the river is the Tevere.  We are on the Strada 448.  Over on the side of the road we see two scantily clad women, prostitutes, hanging out waiting for the truckers to stop.  Fernando does a quiet couple of tongue clicks.
     “Italy offers something for your every need,” I say glibly.
     Fernando chuckles, and Marianne, in the back, needs to know what we are talking about.  I tell her about the ‘girls’ along side the road.  As we round the next few curves, Fernando reaches over and activates the MP3 again. 
     “Aida’s Grand March” for our grand canyon”, Fernando says. 
     The gesture is not lost on me.  We curve and twist around the lake, going through tunnels and covered road way.  It is beautiful.  Once on the other side I see the dome of Santa Maria della Consolazione, with a Greek cross floor plan similar to San Biagio of Montepulciano and Santa Maria della Grazie al Calcinaio of Cortona, announcing that we are passing the hilltop city of Todi.  It is bella.
     Fernando gets onto one of the main north-south highways in Umbria—E 45.  I notice that slows down from time to time.  After a few times, he explains that there are Polizia radar boxes along the side of the highway that can clock your speed, take your picture and, by way of your license information, have a ticket delivered to your house that week.  He explains he has gotten too many to mess around with speeding any more, especially through the marked areas.  I can’t imagine what the speeders on I-5 (USA) would have to say about that.  The audacity to interfere with one of America’s God given rights would be too much for the select few who insist 80 plus is the true MPH.  At the next box we go by we all wave and smile. 
     We pass through the terracotta and fine ceramic manufacturing center for most of Italy, Deruta.  It is impressive the amount of businesses making the pottery of every size, shape and color possible.  I mention that we would like to find ceramics for our kitchen, but Fernando cautions against it.  Shipping is a flat 20 percent of the cost of the orders, and most places over inflate their prices.  He tells us if we are really interested, he would have us look at the shop in Cortona that the movie, “Under the Tuscan Sun” used.  We will be there on Friday afternoon.  Fernando, as Marianne and I do, likes the movie.  I am surprised.  He says, yes it is not Francis Mayes, a book that tends to exaggerate the Italian life, but Diane Lane really conveys the predicament of a women on her own in Tuscany.  I add that she is not bad to look at either and he heartily agrees.
   We approach Perugia and I am impressed with the size of the city, spilling down from its two hills and spreading down into the valley, past the highway and beyond.  We pass through four tunnels, two more hills and cover the 11 kilometers to Magione quickly.  He turns off and I know immediately where we are.  Although growth is impressive, new apartment building, etc., I recognize where we are and know we are just around the hill from the B & B.  We round the corner and I see the sign I have seen many times on Google Maps.   We slow down and on our right is the Fortessa, the Knights of Malta.  We have to take the little turn-around at the top of the hill and then Fernando swings us back around and down, turning into Bella Magione.

Bella Magione! (13 giugne, 2010)
     Fernando and Rosetta’s villa is built on a hillside facing the northwest.  We enter from above, because the small dumpster with paving debris is still seating at the lower entrance (months!).   The gate or porta is covered, wood with a red stain, and terracotta tiled roof.  The iron gates swing wide and Fernando steers the Journey down the drive, past the extra parking on the right, and a tiny grove of ancient olive trees on the left.  He swings around to the house level, passing the recessed private drive and parking/garage area attached to the house.  It is 1960’s construction and in exquisite shape.  The massive front porch runs the entire length of the front of the structure; a second story with balconies peers cheerfully out of the tiled roof.  Ahead is a small casita or apartment, and to the left, nine large, very tall pruned pines line the drive and make a lofty shade umbrella.  Below is a beautiful resort-style swimming pool just calling my name.   The two massive agaves that flank the front steps are immediately striking.  The house is brick with wood accents and terracotta tiled roofs; the whole front is mainly glass.  There are geraniums and colorful splashes of potted plants all over the porch.  Rosetta and Waltzer, their energetic dog, are there to greet us.
     Marianne and I step from the SUV and are immediately double kissed with a genuine warm embrace from Rosetta.  I of course blow the etiquette of the Italian way immediately—surprised by two cheek—which check first? thing.  She is a dynamo of activity, brains, charm, and control in a tiny package.  She runs this villa, grounds and all, and she is buono at her job.  Her dark hair is pulled back just behind her ears with one of those hair thingies and she is both sporty and classy at the same time.  She graciously welcomes us to Bella Magione and we are at peace in this paradise.     
     Fernando bids us ciao for the evening, explaining that it is Rosetta’s turn to take over in this delightful tag-team arrangement.  He tells us we are in the Agave room at the top of the stairs, parks the Journey and disappears to do all sorts of business things from his private office.  Rosetta leads us in and gives us the lay of the land.  Once we are through the double glass doors vestibule we enter the front reception area.  It is small and tastefully appointed.  Above the free stand table/desk, a clock-wise grand spiral stair case curves up front the left.  The treads are marble.  Two private halls ways flank the reception area and lead via glass French doors to the back and private areas of the house.  The floors are high-end parquet covered with Persian rugs.      
     There are two glassed double French door living rooms.  Rosetta tells us the one on the right, which has maps and books, a huge table, a globe, a chess board, a fireplace and a computer is for guest use. 
     “This is your room to use when every you like”, she says.
     On the left of the front hall is their living room.  Just like anyone elses with a big screen TV and entrainment center, but with a dark wood bar and fireplace so tastefully styled in Italian baroque.  The wood work is everywhere and beautiful.  These doors remain closed unless the food is being served.  7:30 PM for dinner—8 to 9 Am for breakfast. 
     I ask if I can use the pool and then take the luggage up stairs while Rosetta and Marianne bond.  Rosetta wants no bare shoulders in the house and I agree to her request.  The Agave room is great.  The space is about 15’ (5 meters) by 21’ (7 meters) and tastefully decorated (much more feminine) in the same elegant style—pastels: creamy white, blue and aqua. The King (matrimonial) bed is centered to the left and flanked by side tables with a round table in the left corner covered with girlie frill.  To the right is a small desk and chair against the wall and a sitting area with a love seat, coffee table, two small chairs flanking a small covered table and a flat screen TV on another small table.  Ahead are two large floor-to-ceiling, curtained and shuttered double doors equally large window.  A recessed balcony, with a plexi-glass see-through to the front porch and steps is out front. 
     Farther to my right is a huge bathroom, blue tiled, with blue double sinks, tub/shower, blue toilet and bidet, and more clothes closets than anyone would every need in a lifetime.  The amount of hand painted tiles (majolica) surround the sink area, the tub and the opposing, raised toilet and bidet areas. At the front end of the large room is another shuttered balcony.  I can’t believe that we have a room like this after the ‘hole-in-the-wall” we had at the Sileo.
    I return downstairs to the ladies and give Marianne a wide-eyed assessment of the room/en-suite.   She wants to go up and see it, and take a nap.  We part company with our hostess and climb the elegant stair case, both reminded of “Gone with the Wind” Italian style.  The upper hallway runs the width of the house.  There are at least five or six other rooms on either end of the hall.  Marianne is equally impressed with the room.  She ‘oohs’ and ‘ahs’ at everything.  We empty most of the contents of our bags and quickly settle into our stay.  She goes down for her pisolino and I put on my trunks and head to the pool.  It is cool and inviting and the perfetto way to cap the days activities.  I swim, float, meditate, and journal before I head back up to the room and nap with Marianne.

Our Dinner with Rosetta (giugne 13, 2010)

     Marianne and I are up, showered and dressed for dinner about five minutes early.  Rosetta asks for a little more time through the glass door, and we oblige her stepping out onto the front porch.  When she does invite us in we sit, the three of us, at a large, long, covered table in the dinning room just beyond the living room through curtain door (drawn open).  The transom above the door is again framed in a beautiful wood.  A large, shuttered window is at the end of the table.  Behind our chairs is a large side board, with family pictures that runs the wall and there is a hansom tall glass and dark wood china cabinet on the wall behind the head chair.  Rosetta sits with her back to the front room and serves. 
     Rosetta explains that Fernando does not join us for dinner because of his diabetes.  He watches TV and eats a salad.  He will not join us all week except Friday night.  We start with a Tortellini brodo (broth zuppa).  It is simply delizioso.  No, she didn’t make the tortellini from scratch, but it is fresh from town.  The vino is a rose (dell’Umbria)—crisp and cool.  Next she serves us Bollito di manso e tacchino, Sottaeti di cipoline e cetriolini and Patate prezzemolate.  Being the token male, I am the designated finisher of the food—no left-overs in Italy.    
     Then, when I know I can’t eat anymore, Rosetta brings out a dolce—Zuppa Inglese.  It is a kind of left-overs cake, but is incredible.  She finishes the meal by going behind the bar and bringing us back cordial glasses filled with grappa.  It is very potent and the perfetto digustivo.  Love it.
     We talk on for hours and share each others lives.  Marianne begins to fade and we say buone notte.  We head up for bed at 10 PM.  Outside somewhere is a youth dance or celebration (a new soccer league is being launched) and we start to drift off.  Suddenly the sounds of fireworks wake us.  They are quite a spectacle from our private balcony.  What a glorious ending to our first day in Umbria.

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Lunedi (Monday) – Siena  (14 giugne, 2010)
     When I am conscious I realize even the colored behind my closed eyes is different.  It is light, maybe 6:30 AM and the birds are in full voice.  The light, the sky, the color are all different in Italy.  It was cool in morning, after a night of trying to adjust to the open windows, closed shutters, no lights (mosquitoes)   nighttime.  I think, Ah to wake up in a villa in Italy—now I know what it’s like.  We master the toilet (interesting flush mechanism) and prepare a little espresso for a morning lounge on the private terrace.  Rosetta is already hard at work and their help, Joanna, is working here and there around the yard.   We master the shower next, and head downstairs for breakfast. 
     Rosetta asks how we enjoyed the fireworks that they ordered ‘special’ for our arrival.  We laugh and express our gratitude.  Over night the B & B got a guest--Fabio, from a town equa-distance from Milano and Lago Como.     He is young and beautiful says Marianne--the typical Italian youth.  He leads trainings for his company, this one today in Perugia.  We converse with his perfect English.  He is eating a cereal—maybe granola.  Then, as fast as he came in the night he is gone after a large espresso.
     Rosetta makes us cappuccino and cautions Marianne not to have doubles of this espresso because it really makes the heart pound.  She reluctantly agrees.  The meal is mostly, yogurt, fruit, white toast and sugary crostini.  She also has sweet cereals on a side table in the corner--too much sugar for me.  The morning is glorious.  Giorno del Deo!
     Fernando appears with the SUV and is ready to drive us to Siena.  We drive through Magione and head north out of town taking a two lane road that connects up with the strada and are soon rounding Lago di Trasimeno, heading west up a large valley, past Sinalunga towards Siena on S-326.  There is a certain amount of urbane sprawl to this picturesque hill town, but Fernando steers us up Via Dei Mille, past the stadio, left on Via Curtatone and again onto Via Tozzi, right to the Piazza Gramsci.  Siena is a beautiful city and not at all what I expected.  It is a wonderful blend of medieval and 18th century.
     Fernando and gives us a map to a guide us the flattest way he can find to Piazza Salimbeni.  He leaves us and drives away--around the city and parks outside to the
southeast.   Armed with a good map and a fairly good sense of direction we take off and only have to back-track once.  We get to the right street, Tozzi, and walk southeastward through the central storico.  We come to Piazza Matteotti with the post office and about a billion Vespas.  Horrors!  There is a Micky-D.’s on the south side of the piazza.  We avert our eyes and walk on.  Within no time we are in the Piazza Dei Salimbeni, looking over the central statue of Sallustio Bandini.  We sit and wait dutifully on the scuola steps attached to the oldest bank in the world. 
   Soon Fernando, sporting a white fedora similar to mine, calls a cheery “ciao” and snaps a few pictures of us.  He joins us and tells about the piazza.  The current square was restored in the late 800s by Giuseppe Partini, architect, in the neo-gothic style.  At the back of the square is the Salimberi Fortress--home of the great Salimbeni family until they were exiled in 1419.  The Siena Council controlled the fortress until 1866, when it was sold to Monte dei Paschi, of whom it is said, decided to restore it.   Now the whole piazza, reorganized by restoration (1963-72), contains several thirteenth century including towers, a fortress, the Fondaco of the Salimbeni, and the small palace of Ranieri Salimbeni.   Fernando points to several heads peering out of the façade of the building on the south side.  Heads include notable Sienese including di Vinci, which is remarkable, due to the fact he was Firenze.
     The three of us continue southward down the Banchi Di Sopra. Fernando takes us 
to the fanciest gelateria I have ever seen (so far).  We have a treat and he downs an espresso with a little sugar and steps out for a cigarette.  Shortly we are again out on the Banchi and walking.   
     Quite unexpectedly we take a casual left turn through a wide arch and begin to descend some steps.  The unreal vision of Il Campo comes into full view and we are blown away by its size and scope.  The expanse of gray pavers is far vaster than I thought it would be.  Old buildings line the huge semi-circle and café umbrellas seem to cover every meter of the crowded piazza’s perimeter.                                 
It’s all down hill to the city Hall and clock tower.  We step down and around the Fonte Gaia, splashing noisily in the heat of the noonday sun.  A very small boy is playing in the water gushing from the wolf head facet to the left of the fountain.  Pigeons are obnoxious and everywhere you step. The white marble with its many relief panels is just—joyful.  People lounge around the water and the atmosphere is relaxed.  We descend to the City Hall and take a look at its inner courtyard.  Time does not permit us to take a look in the Civic Museum, but Fernando points out interesting details in the construction of the old building, including the holes where they placed beams for the scaffolding.  He also tells us that here is where the horses are prepared for the Palio.  He is not a fan of the wild horse race that happens every July 2nd and August 16th
   We step out into Il Campo again and he describes the transformation that takes place.  The whole inner space has elevated wooden bleachers and the umbrellas and tables from the cafes are removed and sand is hauled in for the race track.  Corners are padded with mattresses.  The race is quick and violent, lasting only about two minutes or three times around the track.  Horses have been known to fall and break legs.    Horses do not need their riders to complete the race.  The contradas or neighborhoods (17 of them) party and prepare for many months.  It is an honor to win.  Many Sienese or wanta-be’s try all sorts of tricks to be part of a contrada, even places dirt from the neighborhood under a delivering mother’s bed in a village far from Siena.  It gets a little out of hand.
     With slow progress and much urging we get Marianne up and out of Il Campo and continue with the tour.  We pass by some very vocal youths, painted red and black and looking a little silly.  It’s world cup and even if you’re a tourist from The Netherlands, you celebrate and cheer your team on wherever you happen to be.  I wonder what it will be like if Italy wins or loses the cup.  What kind of impassioned celebration will take place?  We walk down Via Di Citta, passing a store with a stuffed wild boar (cinghale) wearing spectacles.  I mention to Fernando that one thing I really want to do is taste cinghale.  He smiles and takes note. 
     We continue down the street and come to the Accademia Musicale Chigiana.  Fernando encourages me to step in and note the inscription from the Pope and view the inner courtyard.  There is a well in the courtyard and I think to myself I could have studied here and been very content.  I find a CD store and get lost looking at all the classical selections; it is beyond anything I have ever seen.  Fernando appears at the bottom of the steps and I confess that I had been caught indulging in one of my passions. 
     We join Marianne on the street and turn the next corner.  We pass by the Polizia stazione and walk through a high arch.  Suddenly I know where we are—Piazza   
Jacopo Della Quercia, the unfinished duomo nave.  I look up at the high, incomplete walls and marvel at the intended size of the space.  It would have been the biggest church in the world (Renaissance).   Unfortunately, the plague of 1492 stops work and people really take this a Signo Di Deo.  They enter a time of great introspection and ponder what they have done to displease God. 
    I follow the line of the wall to where it meets with the duomo and I am in awe (once again).  The façade, event he side is impressive—sporting its distinctive dark and light bands of marble.  Fernando takes us around to the front piazza and we wait on marble bench connected to the Santa Maria Della Scalla.  It takes him some time to return and he is grumbling about the Tuscan ticket seller who was hassling him even though he had the special tour guide permit he had to purchase to get to the front of the line.  The guy made him go to the end of the line.  “Tuscans!”  We enter and find the space is crowded as well.  Fernando shows us quietly all the highlights:  The many floor inlays including the Wisdom panel, the She-Wolf (at one time they wanted to be a part of Rome), and the Slaughter of the Innocents.  Fernando shows Marianne the Piccolomini Altar (St. Paul) by Michelangelo and she is content to sit beside it. 
     Fernando and I continue to explore.  He shows me the Pisano pulpit, the altar and dome, Donatello’s St. Giovanni, and Bernini’s Mary Magdalene and St. Jerome.  Fernando and I both light votives say silent prayers.  Then we enter the Piccolomini Library.   The collection of beautifully decorated illuminated over-sized music pages line the room and a copy of the Three Graces statue is in the center.  Featured prominently on the walls are the brilliant colored frescos of Pinturicchio portraying the life of Pope Pius II.  The artist made sure he was in each of the pictures.  We return to Marianne and she is looking like she needs some lunch.  We leave the duomo and head across the piazza to the south west. 
    Fernando takes us through a maze of buildings and streets, passing by a community teatro even before we come to escalators (scala mobile).  I am amazed, but Marianne says she has read about them.  The six sets of escalators deposits us at the Porta Fontebranda.  Fernando brings the Journey around and he takes us back down to a familiar area we have been to before.  In fact he drives us back up, past the stadio and Piazza Gramsci, to the Fortessa.   There we park and cross a bridge.   
We cross a large graveled park pass a jazz music school and go down a ramp and we are at Enotecca Italiana.

 Felice Anno Venticinque! (giugno 14, 2010)
    The Enotecca Italiana is a high-end wine bar in the cellar of the Fortessa.  The old vaulted bricks are a striking contrast to the sheik and trendy enotecca.  The staff is so formal and there are a series of stylized photos of couples engaged in the tango, taken throughout the structure upstairs.  Fernando deposits us at a small table and goes to talk to the bar man.  He returns followed by a waiter who brings a large wooden cutting board with three ages of pecorino cheese, Tuscan meats, and unsalted pane.  Fernando tells us the sensible and correct way of tasting the wine; pane and cheese is first, followed by meat, and water to cleanse. 
     Next the waiter brings three very large wine glasses for both Marianne and I and three bottles of wine:  Vernaccia di San Gimignano Santa Trinita 2009, Chianti Classico Aiola 2008, and Brunello Montalcino Innocenti 2005.  He pours each of the wines in the glasses.  We are absolutely blown away by the feast spread before us.  Fernando says that he will leave us now and give us about an hour.  Happy 25th Anniversary he says before he leaves.  Marianne and I look at each other and can’t believe what he has done for us.  We also don’t think we will be able to do this—three glasses of wine and a pound of cheese!  We start with the Vernaccia and clink glasses to the past twenty five years.  We proceed slowly with great relish.  The first glass and the young cheese disappear in about a twenty minutes.  We take a pause and a bagno break.  I also check out the outdoor patio.
     We regroup for the Classico and the next oldest pecorino.  We are careful and slow our intake, savoring the Chianti and the medium aged cheese.  The bread is helping cut the alcohol in the wine.  We drink the water to keep our palates clean.  We decide to go to the Brunello, unsure if we can handle this much wine in one hour; it’s a good thing Fernando will be driving.  First we take another toilet time and I take the camera out to the patio and get some sun.  I return to the coolness of the cellar and we start on the Brunello.  It is hard to describe the taste, depth, and quality of this wine.  I have never had anything like it before.  Its aroma fills your entire head and its taste is earthy, slightly fruity, full-bodied, and old—that’s the only word I can think oflike drinking time.
     We finish the Brunello and the very aged cheese.  We are satiated.   I help Marianne up and we don’t feel that drunk.  Thank you, Fernando.  We walk out into the dappled light of the afternoon.  Music students are jamming somewhere above and the mellow music floats down to us.  I just have to peek into the courtyard and check the school out.  I follow the courtyard through a opening and into a wide area walled off at the far edge.  It looks like parade grounds for the old Fortessa.  I return, finding Marianne sitting on the wall next to the bridge.  As we cross it, Fernando comes up from the other side.  He gets us into the SUV and runs back to pay for the parking.
     We head south out of the city, taking S-2, the Cassia Way, south towards Bounconvento.  He shows us how to get to Montalcino, which will come in handy in two weeks when I drive there myself.  We drive around San Quirico, we are in the countryside near Pienza.   Suddenly Fernando pulls off the road into an old driveway and I know exactly where we are.  My heart leaps into my throat.  Out across the field is Santa Maria Vitaleta—the small chiesa flanked by two cypress sentinels.  I can hardly believe it.  I jump out of the van and take it in.  It might be a quarter mile away, maybe a little more, but there it is and it is molto bella.  I thank Fernando and tell him I told my students that I was going to find this chiesa and I have, with his help.  We have Kodak moments all over the place and then we get back on the road. 
      Right before Pienza, Fernando takes a left and heads north.  He admits that he has not taken this rode before, but he didn’t want to take us through Pienza until Wednesday.  P-71 takes us through very beautiful, hilly country.  We pass through the tiny villages of Palazzone, Sant’Anna, Catelmuzio, and Petroio.   It is after reposo and the older folks are out in their lawn chairs watching an occasional lost SUV go by.  We pass through Madonnino, Sicille, Il Sodo, and into Sinalunga.  After a little ‘negotiation’ with the GPS lady, we locate the highway and are retracing our trail from this morning, passing by Trasimeno and returning to Magione by 5:30--6 PM.  Fernando says it’s better to have a good place to go, better to have a good place to come home to.  We tell him he is so blessed to live here and he says he knows it.  There is time for a nap and a swim.  I float in the pool and watch the swallows chase and dart through the azzurro skies.  Che bella.
    Dinner with Rosetta is again wonderful:  Farelle pasta with fresh sage strips of medium rare beef steak over insalata verde with paper thin onions, and diced pomadoro, ciliegie dell’albero del vicino (first fresh cherries of the season, and vino rosso Sagrantino/Melot Pucciarella 2009.  Rosetta gathers the pits that will be cleaned and put into a crocheted ball to be used as a neck massage.   We retire early, but I watch the Italia/ Paraguay game—1-1.

Martedi (Tuesday)Assisi, Montefalco and Spoleto  (giugne 15, 2010)
     The weather is a little unstable this morning and it looks like there was a little rain last night.  At breakfast I realize I know the music on the stereo; it is Brian Crain, from Coeur d’Alene, Idaho!  He came to Roseburg a few years back for a benefit concert.  I see him every year because he travels the Arts Festival Summer circuit and I see him every year in Big Fork, Montana. 
[He didn’t make it to Big Fork this year, but I did contact him later about hearing him in Magione, Italy:  David, That's awesome! It's getting out there.  Thanks for sharing, Brian]. 
Rosetta tells me it’s actually their part-time helper, Johanna’s.  Later I ‘corner’ her and tell her all about Brian Crain, she just nods and smiles
(“I can’t understand a single word you are saying”). 
     After breakfast, Rosetta invites us into her kitchen to help her make Tiramisu.  Her recipe calls for two eggs, separated, and 2 tablespoons of zucchero (sugar) which you equally divide between the yokes and the whites.  I beat the mixtures the same direction (clockwise), then add 2 tablespoons of mascarpone (soft cheese), beat, and fold together.  Separately, we soak lady fingers in instant coffee (yup), and layer them and the egg/zucchero mixture into large wine glasses.  The desserts get chilled all day in the refrigerator.  I can’t wait for dinner.
     Fernando greets us; he has the Journey waiting, and we are off.  He does some fancy maneuvering to avoid construction, right at the on-ramp for the strada, and takes the frontage road east for a few miles, to the next on ramp.  Once we are on the strada, we pass Perugia and the sky starts to look like rain.  It takes about 15 minutes to get to Assisi.  The valley and the hills above are in a haze and it could rain at any time.
     First Fernando takes us to Santa Maria and All Angels.  It is an impressive church, light marble with a large golden statue of the Madonna at the peak of the front roof.   She floats up there shining but not with sunlight.  Fernando explains that the church got a face lift (literally) after the last earthquake.  The old, plain façade was covered by this new edifice, but can still be seen as you enter.  The inside is equally massive.  Large chapels line each side of the nave.  There is something holy about this chiesa and Fernando says he also feels it.  This is where all of Saint Francis’s work began.  Up in front of the altar, tucked comfortably in the space is the original chiesa that Francis was given—his Signo di Deo to “Rebuild My Church”.  Of course he did so much more than reconstruct the abandoned chiesa; he inspired wiping reforms and changes that “rebuilt” the church as a whole.  His life and work is an inspiration to Christians everywhere.  I truly believe his teachings and am a part of his legacy. 
     We enter the small structure, touching stones and observing in reverent silence.  There appears to be either mass or just pilgrims worshiping, kneeling on the stone floor or sitting in ancient hand-hewn benches.  We each bow head as we pass the altar and exit, again touching the stone door frame.  The sides have fragments of frescos that are hard to see.  The moment is so perfect and we move away and look at the altar. 
     There is loud banging of hammers metal and it is jarring.  A priceless price of art from the chapel just to the right of the altar is being return, so workers are constructing scaffolding to replace it.  As we leave, down the right isle towards the door, I notice one of many organs in the chiesa.  Fernando tells us that the government has recently set aside funds for the restoration of all pipe organs in Umbria.  Near the organ is a sculpture of a tree, made from a debarked, sanded and urethaned tree. 
     We go out the front door and around the side of the church, passing under an arch.  
This cobble stoned breezeway leads to museum.  Two nuns, arm in arm, pass by.  In a corner is a bronze statue (contemporary) of St. Francis.  Fernando says it is, from all possible scientific, forensic, and other evidence, how big the saint was.  The statue is under 5 feet tall, and on the finger of one raised had in a cicada.  “Gentle to all God’s creatures.”  
   Fernando says we now have an espresso break with his girlfriend.  He points to a café at the far end of the chiesa’s long piazza and across the street.  He goes to get the Journey and Marianne and I decide to walk.  There is lots of traffic on the street, but construction down the block holds it up long enough for us to get to the other side.  It is a little muggy so we choose to have the espresso outside.   Fernando goes in to talk to his ‘girlfriend’ and soon returns.  Shortly a pretty thirty-something woman brings out the drinks.  We have a ten minute break, and then Fernando lights up another cigarette.  Marianne’s tolerance is at the breaking point.  She asks for one of his cigarettes.  He obliges.  It is a scene that will play it’s self out several times until tomorrow mid-day when she will buy her own pack. 

     Fernando goes for the SUV and suddenly there is rain.  Not a heavy rain, but enough.  Without jackets we are going to get wet.  He drives us through the lower town, past the fountains along side the chiesa, and many well cared for shops.   This is a tourist center.  Granted most of the tourists are quote unquote ‘pilgrim’s’, but there seem to be big Euros to be make in Assisi.  We wind up the hill and into the piazza where the tour buses congregate.  Fernando has worked out a handicap pass thing so that he can drive up through the town. 
I get out with my camera and walk.  First, I try Saint Clare’s church, but the Priests who run it have closed it early—before noon.  Fernando, raised in the Catholic Church, says there are good Priests and bad ones, and these ones, bad, are ‘fussy’ about the hours.
I walk up the street, noting the well kept shops and trattorias, potted flowers everywhere, and how clean everything is in Assisi.  I almost step into a ceramics shop, but think better of it—tourist town and all.  I make it to Piazza del Comune and I immediately see the Temple of Minerva with the Clock Torre standing next to it.  I also see the Journey and the two ‘conspirators’ inside.  I gesture that I want to go in the chiesa and then quickly pop into the temple.  Inside is a baroque chiesa, and not a well-done one at that.  I note the bubbled and peeling pastel paint and head back to the SUV.   
     Fernando takes us down the main street, Via San Paolo, to the basilica.  He will have to drop us off and come back later for us.  The rain has abated slightly.  The church looks very   large from the outside.  The PAX hedge is on the lawn, just as it looks from the satellite photos on Goggle Earth.  Once inside the space seems smaller.  It is really a museum, not a church, because the big attraction is the Giotto frescos.  They are beautiful.  So much work and time must have gone into them.  The pictures vividly tell the story of the important events in Francis’s life.  They are magnificent.  Fernando doesn’t feel the need for us to see any more so we hope in the Journey and head out of town and down the hill.  The rain begins to subside and we get back out on the strata and head toward Spoleto.
     We pass Spello and are heading into the glut of Foligno when our host turns off Via Flaminia and heads southwest through farmland and villages.  We turn south at Bervagna and go up into the hills.  Very quickly we are at Montefalco—our lunch destination.  We scoot through a gate in the wall and go up a fairly steep street.  About have way up Fernando pulls over and asks us to get out at a florist shop.  While he does some fancy maneuvering to park the car we see the trattoria one store front down.  I also back look at the porta when come through.  It has a clock on it with four arched window above and four fancy crenellations.  Montefalco is not a tourist destination.  There are a couple of outdoor tables down the street but other wise the streets are clean and bare.  Trattoria Il Verziere announces a nondescript sign out front.  The ristorante is anything but nondescript.     
     Fernando ushers us inside and suddenly from the laughter and music you can tell this will be a great eating experience.  The front part of the trattoria  is divided into two sections and has low vaulted ceiling—old plaster over brick.  Every possible space above table level is covered with every possible decoration.  There are pictures, collections of money in large frames, toys, and mainly musical instruments from Italy and all over the world.   The back part of the space includes the bar area.  There are trophies, more instruments, including accordions, more pictures, even framed corkscrew collections, caricatures and drawings of the owner, Pietro, tons of pictures of his wife and their babies, and so many wine bottles.  There’s even a disco ball and a hangman’s noose suspended from the ceiling.  The counter space is so jammed packed with stuff it seems nearly impossible to use in for service.  Directly behind is the small kitchen where the magic happens.
    Fernando has us sit in the front section; there is a couple in the other sections, and in the back is a family—mom, dad, two girls and maybe a grandmother, who turn out to be American.  Also in the back is a husky looking woman with one arm covered in tattoos.  At the table across from us Pietro’s wife is rocking their newest, Tomasino.   Fernando talks to her while lunch is being readied and the wine poured.  He has arranged another wine tasting and he hopes that we can taste our first black truffle.
     The wines we sample are a Bianco—Grecante Caprai 2008, Rosso id Montefalco—Napolini 2008, Sagrantino di Montefalco--Napolini 2006 (my favorite), and Passito di Sagrantino del Verziere 2009 (Pietro’s wine).  The Sagrantino (2006) we are told rivals any Brunello.  The menu includes:  Antipasti: Salumi di Norcia, Pate di Olive nere, Crostini con pate di fegatini di pollo.  Primi/Secondi:   Pappardelle al Sagrantino e funghi porcini and Papperdelle al tartufo.  We are close to bursting.  Then the waitress brings house dolci and espresso.  Pietro personally comes over afterwards and talks with us.  He is wearing an obviously homemade t-shirt that refers to him as King of Montefalco.  He is a small, stout bundle of high energy in an apron and plaid shorts.  He is quite a character—definitely the ‘Rex’.
     The folks in the back of the trattoria have finished their meal too, as soon both groups are talking back and forth.  They are from Louisiana, Lafayette.   A boisterous but personable dad comes over and introduces himself as Sam R. Moss.  “We’re from just above ‘that oil slick that used to be the ‘gulf’.”   He is a affable gnome of a guy, a dentist, on vacation with his family—his wife, Michelle (Chell), daughter, Maggie, her friend Hanna, and his aunt.  
     Sam sits himself down and Fernando heads to the other table to talk to the ladies.  He tells us that he is a cosmetic dentist; that they have lived in Assisi; returned to Lafayette so his older daughter could graduate; that his other daughter, Maggie, at the back table, is going to graduate and that they only rent.  Sam says hands down it is the only way to live here.  “Don’t ever buy and fix—you can’t do it—whatever Frances Mayes says.”   They recently went back to the States so the girls could finish school and he can make enough to retire.  He definitely plans on coming back and live here.  Sam is a budding novelist, trying to pen his first, a murder mystery.  Marianne blurts out that I am also writing a blog about preparing and finally visiting Italy.  He says he wants to read it and gives us his email address.  We say we want to read his novel when it’s done and give him ours. 
    Over at the other table Pietro has joined in the raucous laughter.  Hanna, Maggie’s friend, has been showing Fernando and Pietro a trick she can do with two wine corks.  I do not pretend to understand (after all that wine and food) what she was doing, but she had these Italians just baffled with the trick and even more confounded as they tried to figure it out and do it themselves.  Sam tells us that it’s a secret with the placement of her thumbs.  Fernando finally gives up, but Pietro tries and tries again, getting more and more animated and determined to master the trick.  He is turning red and perspirations is running down his face.  Each time he tries to present the corks ‘untangled’ and can’t, whole trattoria erupts in raucous laughter.  The waitresses, other guests, and cooks have all joined to watch this young lady baffle Pietro beyond belief. 
It has been a perfect meal.
   We all hug and say our goodbyes and Fernando leads us to the SUV.  I casually mention to Marianne that Sam R. Moss reminds me a lot of Michael Tucker, actor, food-guru, writer, and sometimes ‘email exchanger’ with me.  She says she sees that too.  This will have to be the closest we will probably ever come to Tucker.  Fernando takes us the back way to Spoleto—through towns and past so many chiesa’s.  I look across the valley to the east and I can see the castello on hills above Campello Alto.  I ask Fernando if Campello di Clitunno and the fonti di Clitunno is over there.  He says yes. 
I tell him about my correspondence with the ‘Tuckerberry’s’ and about their ‘rustico’ near Poreta.   He knows where the town is and I detect a gleam in his Italian eye. 
     “Maybe we should go visit them?”  Fernando says.
     “Oh, no, no, no” I say.  I don’t think he ever really intended us to actually get together.  Although, it might be nice just to see what’s over there...”
     Fernando drives on.  He tells us that the big and important difference between Umbria, where he was born, and Tuscany is the trees.  Tuscans chopped down all their trees, leaving field and hilltop bare.  In Umbria, they have a strict tree line that no one cuts beyond.  That is why there is always the green hills—the Green Heart of Italy.  Fernando also points out that in Tuscany they planted the cypress along the crests of hills, but in Umbria, the cypress are down in the valleys and along the roads.   
     Soon we are in Spoleto.  Fernando drives us past the school that he received his hospitality training and met Rosetta.  I realize this is where they courted and fell in love.  We drive up to the hill and through extremely narrow streets.  We pass the old Roman Teatro ruins, and past buildings made with a dingy gray stone.  Signs of ancient Rome are everywhere.  It is nothing like I expected.  We talk briefly about the Festival of Two World’s started by one of my personal favorite contemporary composer, Gian Carlo Menotti.  Suddenly we are at the top of the hill and looking at the Torre Bridge. 
     The massive structure of the bridge with its aqueduct-style design is very impressive.  The narrow valley below has a beautiful abbey and the highway from Rome cuts through it and disappears in a tunnel under the hill we are standing on.  Fernando tells us a dark sideline about the bridge—many people use it for suicide.  We drive around the old Fortessa, used until recently as a prison for Mafiosi.   He circles down and through the old city and stops at the hill above the duomo piazza.  I am given about ten minutes to run down and play tourist. 
    I drop down in the piazza, passing shops and trattoria.  The torre is covered with a construction curtain, but the façade of the duomo stand beautiful in the afternoon sun.  The huge central mosaic and trio of rosetta windows is very distinctive.  There is another large rosetta under the mosaic and it is flanked right and left by four smaller ones.  The tall arches of the portico add to lift the structure visually from its surprisingly low elevation—very un-duomo-like.  I look up straining my neck and see the Fortessa high above the piazza.  Off to the left side of the piazza tall scaffolding for lighting has already been set up in anticipation of the festival in about three weeks. 
     I see the Tric Trac Ristorante and bar and duck my head in just to see it.  
A poster for “Spoleto53 Festival Del 2 Mondi is featured on the wooden door.   Up the hill the Café Teatro is locked up tight as is Antichili.  I climb back to the top and Fernando and Marianne are waiting.  He drives us down and around to the south so we can take the highway under the hill.  The view of Spoleto perched on its hills is phenomenal.   We enter the tunnel and emerge on the other end heading north towards Trevi. 

Chasing ‘Tuckerberry’ Poreta (giugne 15, 2010)
     I want to state right now, that I am not too proud of what follows, but I did it and it was a life lesson/experience that shapes the person I am now.  That’s how I justify it anyway. 
     Shortly Fernando drives us through the tunnel at Spoleto he is turning off the strada just north of the city and driving along a side road.  I am totally surprised.  This tricky guy is heading for the place I had mentioned to him earlier--Poreta!  I don’t believe it.  He is pazzo (crazy).  From the back seat Marianne starts to get suspicious. 
    “What’s going on guys?”  She questions.
    “Oh, nothing, we’re just taking a side road.”
    “Where to?”
    “Umm, Poreta I think”.
     Sure enough, we come to the tiny village of Poreta and Fernando starts to explore.  It’s a very tiny place and really not built for a Dodge Journey.  In  fact, the streets become so narrow he can not pass.  He has to back up.  Our host thought it was worth a shot, because he likes helping guests chase dreams.  As we pull out onto the main road, I ask if I can just run up the road a ways.  Fernando is game and pulls over.  He and Marianne smoke while I head up the road out of town.  I walk briskly and see olive groves to my left and a short wall along the road on the other side where the hill is starting to rise.  Above the olive trees the hills rise even higher and I can see the resort/ fortress Campello Alto I had researched on the internet and on the hill farer north, the castello.  In the afternoon sun with the wine and the full belly, I am challenged to climb the road. 
     However, I am compelled to keep going, knowing how close I am to the rustico the Tuckerberry’s (Jill Eikenberry and Michael Tucker—L.A. Law, etc.) own, but very sensitive to the fact that what I am doing could be interpreted as ‘stalking’.   I come to a driveway and gate.  I know that is the spot because the hills are rising quickly now into a canyon.  The trees are more mature here and try as I may, I can not see the house beyond.  Wow, I think.  I could just walk in there and check out the house and grounds if they aren’t home.  If they are home, they’ll either welcome me in or call the Carabinieri. 
     I suddenly come to my senses, stop, turn on my heels and start back down the road.  I feel like I am being a total fool.  These people certainly don’t want me here.  I need to leave.  Even though I have done a little communication with Mr. Tucker, but we are not on a level of familiarity that would include ‘stopping by for a visit’. 

   May 12, 2010
   Comment: Hope things are going well. We were so interested in the production that Jill in in,     The   Kid. Great! We don't know anything about the musical, but sure would like to know more.   
  Loved your character Nelson Lehman--such an enabler. Good work. Marianne is a rabid fan of  Law & Order. In exactly one month we will be in Rome. June 15 we'll be in Spoleto and Assisi--stopping for lunch in between. We will wave and say a big "ciao!" as we pass by Poreta and your  house.

  Go to the Palazzaccio, you may see us.  Jill's show runs to the end of May and we'll be getting there around the time that you do.  We may just miss you, actually.
  Have a great trip,

     I have been gone for a good twenty minutes.  I am feeling guilty and start jogging.  I have to step off the road for several vehicles, each starring at me as they go by and wondering who this ‘stranieri’ (foreigner) is on our road. 
     I get back to town and see Fernando’s van.  He has waited patiently and now would like to take us by the Fonti di Clitunno.  He drives back out towards Via Flaminia, passing a cimitero (cemetery) with its very high white walls, and takes the road to the fonti.  It is a very tranquil park with ponds and slow moving streams.  Duck, geese and swans swim in the water.  I venture up a dirt road looking for the roman temple, but I don’t find it; it’s actually a few kilometers away.  I come back out to the road, across from a trattoria.  It takes a good ten minutes, but Fernando and Marianne show up and we head back to the strada and Magione. 
     We are on the strada and soon pass Trevi on the right, another beautiful hilltop town, and where Fernando and Rosetta were married.  Fernando has music playing again.  This time it is a troubadour-like pop song.  He translates the old ballade (tongue in cheek) playing on the stereo:  Carlo Marletto.   Charles must choose between his wife and the war.  He goes off to fight.  After the war he is returning and finds a maiden to woo.  This one says to choose someone more ‘easy’ than I.  He has his way with her and then she asks for money.  The moral:  when you go off to battle, make sure you end it with a prostitute.  Fernando and I laugh heartily.  Marianne tells us she likes the sound of our combined laughter.
     The treat of rain and some thunder detour me from a swim, so Marianne and I take a late afternoon nap.  There is rain—a couple of quick and serious down pours, but that is all.  Rosetta has prepared a wonderful chicken dish for dinner—Arrosto morto di pollo in padella.  There is also Pansanella with vino rosso:  Sagrantino/ Merlot—Pucciarella 2009.  Dessert is the wonderful Tiramisu with Liquore al mirto.  Rosetta tells about her life and going to school and meeting Fernando.  She also relates the story of her brother, a promising chef, tragically killed in a car wreck. 
     We talk about our families and share stories.  Rosetta tells us about a wedding reception she planned here at the Villa and she has a picture album.  It was a big affair.  The tables were arranged around the pool with candles and fairy lights hung from the trees—it looked magical.  She had done an outstanding job.  She talked about the ceremony in a castello and Marianne starts to talk about renewing our vows ceremony again.  Rosetta shows us the latest Christmas card from the young couple—complete with their new baby.  She also tells us about her sons and where they are and what their doing.  One is finishing school in Turin and the older one working for Proctor and Gamble in Rome.   We talk on.  It is late and we say our ‘buone notte’s’ (goodnights).  We go to bed thinking how blessed these people are and thank God that we are getting to know them. 

Mercoledi (Wednesday) – Montipulciano, Pienza and La Foce (giugne 16)
     We sleep surprisingly well.  I dream of painting wildflowers in country meadows (Italian of course) and renovating a house (what?).  We get up at 7:30 AM, acclimating well to this country halfway around the world.  It is a beautiful morning with just a hint of clouds over the hills to the west.   
     Besides yogurt I have fresh apricots and pastries.  I haven’t had an albicocca since I was a kid in Twin Falls, Idaho—almost fifty years ago.  The house on Wiseman had a couple of small trees in the back yard, and all we ate was apricots.  Mom made sure we ate every last fruit on the trees.  The left over fruit fell off the trees and rotted on the ground; I remember it was mushy and smelly to walk through.  I just sort of lost my appetite for the fuzzy fruit.  This morning I could eat a dozen.
    Il dottore (a retired veterinarian), Rosetta and Fernando’s neighbor from next door, comes for a quick visit during breakfast.  He practically is there every morning for coffee.  He is distinguished with a gray quaff of hair and a scarf around his neck.  He indicates he has neck pains.  He is so convivial and suave.  He kids around with Rosetta, saying that he was her doctor.  We all laugh at the joke.
     Fernando is ready and we are off to Montipulciano.   He informs us that yes we can go to La Foce this afternoon.  I am very pleased; since I had miss-booked our third week travels by missing the “only open Wednesday afternoons to tourists” rule at the Tuscan formal gardens. 
     We skirt lago Trasimeno and approach the hill town from the north, passing  
vineyards and farms all along the way.  The sun and warmth have return once more.  Fernando drops me off in Piazza Don Minzoni below the north gate, Porta Al Prato, and drives off with Marianne.  He has again given me a map and I am exploring on my own.    I walk the gentle climb of Via Gracciano Nel Corso, which changes to Via del Voltaia Nel Corso and then Via Dell’Opio Nel Corso, stopping to check out shops, take pictures of buildings, and generally immerse myself in the Montepulciano atmosphere.  I like this town and enjoy its street scenes and population.  There are so many artisans, tourist shops, business people with cells, and chiesas. 
     I stop into a shop with paintings everywhere.  The artist is there.  She works in all mediums.  I check out her latest work, in oils and note that her palate is mounded six to eight inches high with old paint.  I find Mazzetti’s  copper smith store.  I love everything in their and the signora shows me all the publicity about her husband on the walls.   She says shipping would be 20 percent and I seriously consider buying something and having it shipped.  I know that would never fly without Marianne’s input.
    I continue on and take Teatro Street, a switchback in among the building up to the Piazza Grande.  There is a short jog at the end and I see Contucci Cantina--a wine cellar; it is in the basement of the Contucci Palazzo.  I hope that I can come back and explore.  For now, I have to get to the Duomo, whose bells are tolling.  I see Fernando and Marianne have planted themselves under an awning across the piazza at a café next to the city hall.  We exchange waves and I enter the plain façade chiesa.  It is dark inside, but details begin to emerge.  There is beautiful della Robbia (Andrea) behind the baptismal, an altar with a triptych of the Assumption in early Renaissance style (with lots of gold and arches), and a massive organ, just being cranked up and played by a musician I can not see in the upper loft above the altar.   I stay a while and listen.  Musica bella!
     When I join Fernando and Marianne, he orders me a cappuccino.   He explains that this is the piazza that was used in “Under The Tuscan Sun” film for the flag throwing sequence.  The city hall windows were used for the shots of the women cheering the men on.  That is to our right.  Straight ahead on the left in the Medici Palazzo with its unique well, and all the way across is the Contucci Palazzo.   Marianne has bought her own cigarettes and she relaxing the way she likes to relax.
     I check out the side streets and find a nice trattoria (al fresco) tucked in behind a maze of buildings with a ‘killer’ view off the east wall.  Somewhere close someone is playing Chopin from an upper window.  When I return I am introduced to an American woman from Carmel, California, sitting next to Marianne’s table.  They have been carrying on a lively conversation.  Smoking done, we step across the piazza.  I see a group of women seated at a table in a café in front of the Medici Palazzo, drinking bottles of a bianco chilled in an ice bucket in the mid-day sun.  That looks like an inviting lunch to me.  We continue on to the Contucci Palazzo and descend to the wine cellar.  Fernando takes us through dark ‘catacombs’, showing us the gigantic barrels, and the bottling and corking machines.  We end up in the tasting room and who should be there, but Adamo Contucci himself, the outgoing wine maker of the family.   He is a lively older man, with a joyful ‘dwarf’ face ready to share his wine with everybody.  He let us try three different ages of wine and we buy a medium rosso that Marianne loves.  Adamo boxes it up and also shows us his signed picture of him and Rick Steves.  He is very proud of it.  While Fernando gets the car and Marianne rests, I walk down the Fiorenzuola Vecchia and get an incredible panoramic view of the valley to the east, including Lago di Trasimeno, peeking out from behind a hill.
     Fernando takes us down from town on Via di Collazzi, following steep switchback corners and jogs, around the west to south end of town on Via dei Filosofi, north somehow, I think, on San Pietro and dell’Oriolo, then up the east side of town on Viale Primo Maggio and pulls into  Risortante “La corte Medicea”- Cantine Medicee.    It seems like it is practically under and in the wall of the city.  This beautiful wine cellar was planned by Antonio da Sangallo, senior.  He intended it for the ageing of Nobile, in huge oak barrels, for wine tasting and purchase.  The Pulcino family is a big concern here and they have many properties including Fatorria Pulcino, south of Montipulciano.   The enormous barrels, maybe fifteen feet high each, dominate this two story, tastefully renovated building.  Sonoma and Napa have nothing on this place.  We sit on the main floor amongst the profound plethora of Pulcino products.  Fernando is very friendly with the girls who seem to know him well.  The wine we are served is a Vino Nobile di Montepulciano--Cantina Ercolani 2006.  Our lunch, again, consists of traditional Tuscan fair:  Pecorino di Pienza fresco e stagionato, salame toscano, Finocchiona, Capocollo, and Ombattoe Prosciutto.  Bruti ma Buoni e Cantucci con Vino Santo—Ercolani  completes the feast.
     We browse among the pastas, oils, biscotti, cheeses, salami, and wine while Fernando settles accounts, and then we are off, but not for long.  Fernando takes us right down the hill to San Biagio, the second of the Greco Cross churches we will see in Tuscany/Umbria.  The lane leading to the chiesa is lined with cypress.  It is a grand way to arrive at this beautiful church.  I get to explore and snap photos.  Yes, it is consecrated chiesa, but I cover the flash.    
     After their cig break, we drive the short distance to Pienza.  The country side and farms are glorious.  

Pienza Mercoledi (Wednesday) – (giugne 16)
     Pienza is a small town, and Fernando can park the Journey just across from the porta next to a little parco.  Conveniently there is a fun little sidewalk café and Marianne and Fernando take an espresso while I explore.
     Pienza is fairly flat and there seems to be only one central street.  Small alleys branch off, but mostly the tourist traps are right on the main Corso—so convenient.  I talk briefly to an artist in his shop.  The canvas he just sat down to is blank; being it was just after reposo.  I peek inside a great linen shop, and see many things that Marianne would love. 
     I also find the works of an artist the owner knows, and who works I will see again throughout Tuscany, Alassandro Bulli. He works in watercolor and I am immediately taken with his style—using no formal edge to his paintings, just brushstrokes and blotches.  His technique is very good and I am tempted to get one of his prints.  I find little nooks with cafes and shops, including the Frutta e Verdura “Loreto di Silvia”, which you see in many Tuscan picture books. I duck into the Hotel Relais il Chiostro di Pienza and Ristorante situated  around a quiet inner courtyard—very high-end.  I make it to the central piazza, Pio II, finding the clock-towered city hall, the well, Palazzo Piccolomini, and the Duomo.  The interior is nice, but I was starting to get my fill of churches.  The altar of the chiesa is sinking and has been doing that since it was built.  The town of Pienza was given a face lift during Pope Pious II’s rein--a hometown boy makes good.  Out in the piazza I realize how many languages are being spoken—very international.  
I run into the woman from Carmel, “Ciao bella signora”!   She asks where Marianne is.  Taking a side street I end up behind the Duomo. 
     The view of the Val D’Orcia is spectacular off the edge of this town perched on its hill; the Tuscan country side with Montalcino out there somewhere and Monte Amiata is Che Bella!  I talk to a student from Sacramento, Ukrainian, who is studying for a month in Firenze.  How lucky is that?  I pass a café on the southern most point of the town, where the employees and family kick back after the lunch crowds have gone, and a friend shows up on a vespa.  I make my way back to Marianne at the café and tell her she has to come to the linen store with me.  We head back into the town, arm in arm, to the linen shop and she immediately finds placemats and napkins.  She does love the shop as I knew she would.
     When we are through Fernando drives us south of Pienza and the vistas are outstanding.  He points to the east and tells us how to get to Monticchiello—good to know since I want to drive there while we are staying in Montalcino.  We wind through the hills and finally get to La Foce.   

La Foce  Mercoledi (Wednesday) – (giugne 16)
     Fernando was able to switch the tour schedule around to include La Foce.  It is a resort and closed to outsiders except on Wednesdays when they allow tourists to visit.  
    The parking is not well marked so we waste a lot of time trying to find the entrance.  Marianne stays with the SUV.  Fernando and I finally find the entrance and join a tour in progress with a sweet young Italian girl leading a group of blue-haired Brit.s through the gardens.  Sad to say the English are interrupting and correcting her throughout the tour.  She remains gracious.  
     Once we get the history of the grounds, and the story of Iris and Antonio’s near miraculous transformation of the Crete Senesi—from clay to terraced formal gardens.  It took a lot of dynamite and Italian labor.  The abundance of trimmed boxwoods is amazing, but there aren’t many flowers, except for roses.  The Lemonia is a gorgeous glassed building originally used to house the terra cotta potted lemon trees (hundreds around the property) but is now a pool house for a beautiful swimming pool. 
     The lower terrace with its sculpture center piece flanked by tall cypress barely rivals the Val D’Orcia behind.  You can also see the famous switchback road, featured in films (Tuscan Sun, etc.) and many a postcard on the next hill.   Fernando tells me he’d much rather see real Italian gardens with flowers than this kind.  He says that the English are the only ones who can (or want to do this sort of thing).  I am in awe of the size of a single wisteria ‘tree’ that grows up the rock walls from the lower garden and spreads wide over a sheltered promenade.  I explore and find that the wisteria indeed creates a canopy the stretches forty or fifty feet at the top of the garden wall and defines the space of the only real flower garden on the property.  The trail goes on for a quarter mile or so more where there is a park area.  Iris, Antonio and their son’s graves are there.
     Fernando drives us back over the hills, east, just skirting Chianciano Terme, and heads towards Chiusi.  He wants to take a newly discovered road that is supposed to by-pass the sprawl of Chiusi Scalo.  He also has an opportunity to show us a couple of houses he thought he would buy when he was young.  There are both fine (needing work) places, but too close to the road now.  The roads take us twenty kilometers out of the way and Fernando isn’t happy with the Tuscan ‘shading of the truth’.  “Those Tuscans”!
     Fernando points out Citta della Pieve, his birthplace.  Fernando points out the twin towns of Piciano and Panicale, along the same ridge that Citta della Pieve is located.  He says he has relatives there. 
     As we near lago Trasimeno, Fernando takes on a scenic drive of the lower lake.  Even though it is a shallow lake, feed only by rainwater, with no draining river, it is a large and impress expanse of water.  He slowly takes us by the scenic overlook that he and Rosetta first came to when deciding whether or not they would live on the lake.  The view made the decision easy.  The rest is history as they say.  They managed a large hotel on the lake for years and bought their dream house in San Feliciano—southeast corner of the lake.  Fernando is no stranger to starting new businesses or rescuing resort in trouble.  He helped a Priest friend convert an abbey into a successful hotel in Cortona, and he worked two jobs, managing the San Feliciano hotel and commuting to Gubbio to help a near-bankrupt hotel back to success.  
     When it became too much for him, they sold the hotel and their dream house, settling in Magione at the villa.  He says it took more work than one can possibly believe to revive the neglected house.  It was built back in the 1960’s and had been horribly abused by ‘hippies’ until was unrecognizable.  They spent years rebuilding and refurbishing the house and grounds until it is the beauty it is today.  Rosetta says that the paint wasn’t even dry before the first guests arrived.  Both she and Fernando love their villa, but may long for a nice condo with no grounds upkeep when they retire.  I don’t know if they could retire, they are so devoted to their guests and gracious hospitality.
   We both take a pisolino, and then I slip down to the pool for a swim.  I decide that I want to paint a watercolor of the villa as a present to the Scattini’s for their kindness.  I sketch and journal while lounging by the water and the weather is absolutely bella.  Dinner with Rosetta is wonderful:  Polenta della tradizione Contadina, Insalata verde, Tozzeti umbri e Vin Santo.  We retire and I try several times that night and next morning to contact Cristina Gilardi in Firenze, by phone and email, about making connections for the Calzaiuoli Apartment.  Marianne finishes “Eat, Pray, Love” and I continue with “Musicophilia”.

Giovedi (Thursday) Gubbio & Perugia –The Boys are Back in Town (16 giugne)
Market Day in Magione
    It’s our seventh day in Italy and another beautiful night and morning.  Today Marianne has decided she needs a rest from touring and will sleep in.  It will be a ‘boys only’ day of sightseeing.  I have breakfast alone.  Rosetta, again, invites me into her kitchen.  We make and knead the pizza dough for tonight’s dinner.  Once the job is done, the dough is set aside to rise.   She hurries me along to get ready to go to town; it’s market day in Magione. 
     We climb the stairs at the back of the property and head up hill into town.  There is a parco (park) cut into wide grassy areas under the trees.  There are many paved spaces and it seems like the entire towns’ population of middle-school studenti are out playing in the parco.  As we step across the turn around and walk up a side street, I see it is indeed market day.  Usually Rosetta takes the women to the market, but she is pleased that I came along today.
     The town is alive with people and activities.  Everyone turns out for this weekly event.  Vendors and farmers have brought all their best.  They park in the streets.  Citizens of every age are walking around, or sitting on benches or in cafes.  It’s a carnival.  There are meat trucks with prosciutto porchetta (they cut right of the displayed legs), pesce (fish), manzo (beef) and pecorino as well.  Rosetta buys porchetta for dinner and has a cheese vendor give me a sample to taste.  It is young and soft and so tasty.  I want to buy a whole wheel, but I know I couldn’t haul it around in a suitcase for two more weeks. 
    These trucks are very specialized and are built to be shops on wheels.  The technology is very up to date.  Some have refrigerated cases which mechanically extend out like it was a Beaver Coach mobile home.  These farmers, or their representatives, must drive the circuit all week long, going from one market day to the next.  There are also produce merchants, and up in a little sidewalk piazza, plants—plants--plants--not only orto but fiore as well.  Rosetta sees a small cactus that catches her eye.
    We cross the main street and walk along the narrow sidewalk that is unfortunately blocked by parked cars—half in the street.  Rosetta doesn’t like this, but admits she has also done it on occasion.  We pass a large reader board plastered with people’s names and information.  This is Magiones’ death notice wall, like our obituaries in the daily newspaper.  We turn right
and climb into the central piazza, Citta, complete with chiesa and city hall.  There is also a WWI memorial.  At the lower end of the space is a shop run by a friend of Rosetta’s, Josephine.  It has tutti possibile (everything possible) you can imagine and is packed so full it’s hard to maneuver through the small store.   Josephine inherited the shop from her grandmother (nonna).  This is the way to use to be in Italy.  Sadly shops like this are all but gone now.  We say arrivederci to Josephine and walk a little further to what should be a parking lot and a gas station. 
     Today it is a vendors market with so much stuff it boggles my mind.  There is a a stricking African woman (Zulu perhaps) selling handmade items.   At another, I see an Italian football jersey (#10 di natale) for €15 and have to have it—in a “molto grande, perfavore”.  Rosetta spots the government tax collectors, going through the vendors books—ready to find mistakes and extract the full measure of the law.  She definitely does not like this.   These people are so poor and to take more away from them is criminal.  As we walk through open air market, she pulls vendors aside and tells them the government men are here and checking everyone’s books.  I like her ‘chutzpah’ and spunk even though she might get in trouble. 
     With Rosetta’s help I find a cheap, brightly colored button necklace for Marianne.  She has been thinking about what else we could get and the idea of an espresso maker pops into her head.  The ones here at the junk fair may not be the best, but Josephine has some.  So we hike back to her shop and find the perfect two cup pot (Junior express).   Happy with our purchases we walk back to the villa.   We pass a hotel on the way back, and I comment about the Italian flags hanging from the windows.  Rosetta says they are showing solidarity for Team Italia at the World Cup.  Suddenly Rosetta realizes that she doesn’t have the porchetta.  Oh no!  I tell her I think she may have left it at Josephine’s shop so when she gets home she calls.  Josephine hasn’t seen the wrapped meat.

Giovedi (Thursday) Gubbio  (16 giugne)
     Fernando is ready and the two of us get into the Journey.   He takes the ‘back’ way to Gubbio.  This is a road he knows very well since he drove it almost daily for 12 years.  The rural road takes us past farmlands and former Papal villas, over several hills and up some beautiful canyons.  We cross under No. 3 bis and get on No. 219 as we continue north and east.  At Raggio the roads turns south and I see Gubbio for the first time.  It is like white/gray marble blocks stacked up the steep hillside.  These hills turn into the Apennines here.  Once we are in the lower outskirts of town, Fernando parks the Journey in a lot across a busy road from a large field.  We walk into the field and he begins to tell me the history of Gubbio. 
  Gubbio is very old.  It predates even the Etruscan civilization.  The people lived in caves up in the high hills.  Eventually they came down to the valley and thrived until the Romans showed up.  As the Romans always did, they imposed their way of life of these people.  Much later, when the Barbarian invasions came along, the people retreated back into the hills.  Finally, they came down again when Papal armies conquered the area.  Fernando finishes the history lesson by telling me that Gubbio has been voted the most unchanged, authentic city in Umbria. 
     I am very anxious to get up there and explore.  He points out the duomo and the city hall and elevated piazza on the side of the hill.  High above is the small white chiesa of Sant’Ubaldo.   A distance across the field is the ancient Roman Teatro, still standing and still used for events.  We watch a group of young Austrian men paragliding off the high ridge above and landing close by in the field.  I am not sure that Fernando likes this intrusion of these young men into this setting. 
     We drive into a dirt parking lot just inside the city walls.  Fernando has promised espresso so we cross the lot and step down inside a contemporary bar.  He knows 
everyone and says ‘ciao’ to all.    Above the bar is a quote in a cursive script “…pienso que un dia parecido no volvera mas…”  He says the phrase comes from a very famous song "Volare" that say: "penso che un giorno così non ritorni mai più" and they used the translation from the same song in Spanish.... In English:  "I think that one day like today will never come again".  We stand at the bar and drink our espresso quickly—hot with zucchero.   People pass in and out from both doors as if this is a well used passage way. 
     “One very important thing you must know about the Gubbians is that they are crazy,” says Fernando.  “Our barista, she is crazy.”  Indeed she is high spirited, but crazy?    “The yearly Ceri race (corsa dei Ceri) or the candle race certainly points to this.”
     Fernando, who has witnessed the event, explains it to me.  The annual event, held on May 15th, is to honor Gubbio’s patron Saint, Ubaldo.  It probably originally came from pagan rights of the springtime.  Gubbian’s gather in the Piazza dei Consoli—hundreds of them.  There three wooden structures over twenty feet long, representing candles (or phallics--yup) and have a Saint placed on top of each—St. Ubaldo, St. George, and St. Antonio Abate.  It takes a strong team of men to raise the Ceri.  First they parade it in circles through the packed crowds in the piazza, the circles spiral out, and then they run them through the streets of Gubbio.  Later they race the ceraioli up the steep hill to the chiesa, cover the hour long trail in thirteen minutes.  Sant’Ubaldo is always the winner. 
      Fernando takes me up the steep street that will take us to the duomo.  First we stop in a tourist shop, but I don’t buy anything.  Next, he brings me to a very old, three tiered fountain in the small Piazza del Bargello.  Fernando begins telling me in earnest about a special time-honored ritual that outsiders can become an official crazy Gubbian.  I am not sure where he is going with this explanation.  He tells me the rite is basically hopping around the fountain counter-clockwise on one leg three times.  I chuckle at the strangle custom and Fernando gets a mischievous gleam in his eye. 
     “You should become a crazy honorary Gubbian,” Fernando suggests to me. 
     “Are you kidding,” I say.  “What?  I would have to hop around this fountain like a gullible tourist?”
     “Yes.  You really must do this.”  He is very persuasive.
     Before I can think of good reason why I shouldn’t, I am hopping around the fountain, counter-clockwise, on one leg--three times.  I couldn’t believe he talked me into this.  I could feel my knee going on the third time around, and the heat and the hopping in the sun were truly crazy things to do.   Fernando applauds when I finish, and I am breathing too hard to feel embarrassed.  I am sure the old men sitting in the shadows by the cafe certainly had a good laugh after we walked on.  He took me a short ways up the street and into a Kodak shop where the man behind the counter had a pseudo-parchment document already stating the I, David, was now an honorary ‘crazy Gubbian’ with all the accompanying rights bestowed on me on this day.  The fountain’s name is Fontana dei Matti—fountain of Fools.  There goes that Fernando, again.
     We climb higher into the hillside town, passing so many restored but not commercialized buildings and houses.  The city looks and feels truly authentic and old.  Many of the residences have what are called death doors.  These thin doors were put next to a homes’ front door and the departed exit the house through them.  After the funeral, the thin doors were sealed shut so the dearly departed can not re-enter.  
     We arrive at the duomo, the highest point of the city.  The Palazzo Ducale is opposite.   I notice that there is a poster for an exhibit at the local museum, with the famous portrait of Duke Ferderico—the one with the weird nose, on it.  Fernando explains that the Duke of Urbino, Ferderico di Montefeltro, the guy with the divot in the bridge of his nose, was invited to live here to protect the citizens following their rebellion against the Pope.  He tells me one of the theories is that he was blind in one eye and he had his nose bridge surgically removed to aid his sight.  I look at him askance.  He shrugs—it’s just a theory.
     The duomo is dark and I see that only one side of the nave has windows. 
There are beautiful stained glass windows on the other side.  The high stone arches rise to meet in the center of the nave’s ceiling—they look like
massive ribs of a dinosaur fossil.  It is impressive.  I comment to Fernando that I wish I could take indoor pictures, but I don’t know how to change the setting on my camera.  He takes it and fiddles with it a bit and shows me how to turn off the flash.  The shutter is slower so it requires a very steady hand. 
     We finish the tour and walk outside to see the most incredible view of Gubbio’s red tiled roofs cascading down the step hill in terraces and beyond to the valley.  I haven’t realized until now how big the city is.  From here we take the elevator.  Yes, there is an easy way to get up here, but we are going to use it to get down. 
     Fernando takes me to Piazza dei Consoli.  It is a very large space and it too is elevated above the city below.  He asks me to imagine this piazza filled with hundreds of people, the raising Ceri, the roar of the crowd, the movement of so many bodies as the three teams run the massive candles three times around the piazza.  The imagined spectacle is truly pazzo (crazy). 
     Piazza dei Consoli is surrounded on three sides by three important buildings:  the Palazzo dei Consoli—which is a museum that contain the Eugubine Tablets (the bronzes) written in the Umbrian language; Palazzo Pretorio—the city hall; and Palazzo Ranghiasci which looks very modern compared to the medieval architecture of Gubbio.  The Ranghiasci was built for the English wife of a young noble.   Fernando says she didn’t stick around very long.
     Fernando takes me below the piazza to the next street and I see the massive arches that hold up the space above.  We descend through the hillside community, and he tells me stories and gives personal insights into every nook and cranny of this place he knows so well.  We see a church where he organized a concert for Amy Stewart and where Terrance Hill shot
a detective movie.  Before I know it we are back at the bar, passing through with a ‘ciao’, and we are driving off in the Journey towards lunch.

Cinghale for Lunch!  Oh my… Giovedi (16 giugne)
      You have to kind of watch out what you say to Fernando.  He is a ‘dream fulfiller’.  He delights in making peoples dreams come true.  Earlier in the week when we were in Siena, I told him I wanted to taste cinghale (wild boar).  Well, Fernando personally knows a woman who serves it in a place she runs along with her son and daughter.  It’s only a twenty minute drive straight up into the Apennines, in Scheggia, at the end of a crazy switch-back road.  The mountain farmland is spectacular.  It reminds me of what the foothills of the Alps must look like.  We drive through Scheggia; all rebuilt because of earthquakes, and arrive at Trattoria Sole e Luna (and disco on the weekends).   They have been waiting for us and we are ushered to the shade on the outside deck. 
     Novella (good news) has prepared the most incredible fest imaginable.  Fernando, though he shouldn’t, joins me.  Her son serves us.  First, the wine, vino rosso Merlot—Umbria 2009; next, Coratella di agnello—sheep liver in an indescribable brown sauce served with pane and a special bread quickly cooked on the tiles of the fireplace; then Pappardelle al cinghale—a tomato based sauce with finely chopped cinghiale and a flat, ribbon pasta; then the pias résistance, Cinghiale in salmi with Spinaci saltati in padella.  I have no words to describe how wonderful it tastes.  It was beyond incredible and I love it.
    After stuffing ourselves, Novella’s son brings out panna cotta ai frutti di bosco e crostate and espresso with zucchero.  I can hardly move.  Novella joins us and she and Fernando talk like old friends.  Cinghiale is not a meat that you just cook up and serve.  It must be marinated for days and the
 process sounds labor intensive.  I am so very grateful to her for doing this for us.  She considered it a great pleasure and was happy I enjoyed it.   What we just experienced is something not many non-Umbrians ever experience.   As we talk on, Novella points out the real Via Flaminia down in the mountain valley below—that stretches from the Adriatic Sea to Narmi.  The afternoons moves on and it is time to go to Perugia.  We say our grazie’s and arrivederi’s and we are gone.  I was still thanking Fernando for what he had done for me hours after.

Perugia  Giovedi (16 giugne)
     Fernando takes the main road, No. 298, to Perugia.  We follow the valley out of Gubbio, south.  The road rises into the hills, and before we descend, there is an amazing panorama of the convergence of the upper valley, the lower valley (all the way to Spoleto) and the valley Perugia is in.  We drive up the scenic way to the hill city of Perugia.  On the stereo is ABBA singing ‘Fernando’ and (after the vino for lunch) I join in singing the harmony.  We find a parking spot in the parking garage and take the escalators up to a vaulted corridor.  With Fernando’s help, I realized where we are—the subterranean Via Bagliona. 
     In 1540, Pope Paul III, had finally defeated Perugia--the last free city in Italy during the Salt War.  The Pope had his chef builder, Sangallo, build the largest fortress in Italy to show his power over the ‘arrogant’ Perugian people. The entire district of Borgo San Giuliano was destroyed and used as building material and substructures for the fortress, Rocca Paolina.   The citizens of Perugia had to wait until 1860, after unification, to finally destroy the fortress. 
     Fernando leads me through the underground remains of the Rocca Paolina, pointing out the foundations of the fortress, sitting on top of houses and streets.  He takes me down the Via Marzia and outside through and ancient porta which includes the Etruscan Porta Marzia.   The heads of the Etruscan god’s are time worn but identifiable.   The whole underground city is fascinating.  We walk up the via which goes under the portico of Palazzo del Governo, and suddenly we are in Piazza Italia. It’s a pretty 18th century piazza where the government for the region of Umbria resides.  We walk on and soon we are at Corso Vannucci.
   We walk north along this broad street that has no traffic.  Fernando points to the buildings far ahead, the duomo and city hall.  He explains that at one time that area and the place we are now were two separate hills.  Over the centuries the gap between them was filled in and the existing building that lines the old road, were used and the foundations of the modern city.  The street is alive with people and activity.  We stop at a chocolate shop and I buy a treat for Marianne.  There are street musicians and there is even a bar/café that has set up a large TV scene to watch the World Cup.   We pass a gigantic two stories high banner with the most famous Afghani girl on the planet—the one with green eyes, announcing an exhibition of the photographs of National Geographic photographer, Steve McCurry. 
     When we reach Piazza IV Novembre, Fernando takes me up the many steps the city hall and into the oldest continually used city government building in Italy.  It is a dark and medieval space that feels ancient.  Now it
has modern comfortable seats, but everything else is untouched—just imagine when it had wooden benches.   We come back out into the sunlight, descend the steps and cross to the Fontana Maggiore.
     This 1277 three-tiered fountain by Nicolo and Giovanni Pisano features an upper and lower ring of white marble panels that are fascinating to look at.  The upper ring has saints, important people, and Biblical references; the bottom one labors of the months, animals, Aesop’s fables, and Roman mythology.  I circle the large water feature as Fernando explains it to me.  I am looking for the figure holding at head.  I find it and it looks like Judith from the Old Testament rather than a headless Saint (Miniato de Monte—Firenze).  Fernando is surprised; he did not know that that particular figure was there.  It’s on the east side of the upper ring.
     We cross to the duomo on the north side of the piazza.  The tall façade is fairly plan except for some very large argyle-type marble decorations flanking the southern exit to the duomo and a loggia.  There is a small, high pulpit outside the door that was used for some pretty ‘fire and brimstone’ rants—I mean sermons, apparently.   While the nobles fought, the common folk were kept in check by the church back then.  We enter the duomo and Fernando shows me the ring of the Madonna—encased in a glass and gold display with a very impressive golden altar behind.  I have to ask how they knew it was her ring and how come it looks so great after 2,000 years.  He shrugs and gives me a “how does anyone know these things” knowing smile.  The duomo is big and beautiful, but like many I have seen over the past few days and will see in the weeks to come.
     Fernando and I walk back down the Corso Vannucci, but take a left, east, onto the next block.  He points out the current courthouse and asks if I know about the Amanda Knox trial.  I say yes, but he does not press me for
opinions and he, respectfully does not offer his.  Soon we are turning left again, and walk through a city wall porta.  A homeless girl with dogs has set up a very ‘eye sore’ of a camp inside the porta and is panhandling.  McDonald’s wrappers lie in piles around her and several dogs.  We come out and cross an elevated walk-way, and proceed on through a cover market with lots of junk and trinkets.  After we emerge onto an expansive café terrace--the vista is unbelievable.  You can see to Assisi, and Montefalco.  “Tutti bella!” 
     Just then Fernando’s phone rings and it is Rosetta.  She and Marianne are going to a Cashmere store.  Good.  They are bonding also.  They have spent the day together, having lunch in her kitchen, rice and vegetables, and watching Italian television.  Rosetta tries to explain it all, but it’s definitely all foreign to Marianne.  He hangs up and we go head down the hill, via a ramp street, that winds through some very old sections of the city.  Somehow we make it back to the parking garage and soon we are heading down from Perugia, and onto the strada.  Fernando wants to meet up with the women at the Cashmere store which is on the frontage road outside of Magione—the one we took to get to Assisi Tuesday, when the highway entrance was being worked on.   We are there in fifteen minutes.  He pull into the parking lot of the store, but the girls are gone.     
     We head back into town and stop to get fuel for the Journey.  Fernando obviously knows all the attendants and talks to each one.  Again, all the guys have uniforms; it looks very professional.  You wouldn’t see that in Roseburg.  We get back to Bella Magione and find out that the women didn’t find anything at the Cashmere place, but did go to other stores and Marianne found some beautiful scarves for her friends back home.  She has a ‘power’ pisolino and I get a swim.  Rosetta invites me down to help put the toppings on the pizza:   A red pomadoro/sausage marghretta sauce section, a white mozzarella and onion section, and a green section with fresh rosemary and basil--the Italian flag.   Once we are done I run up and get ready for dinner.
     Besides the pizza, Rosetta serves an insalata verde, and she and I have Italian Birra—Peroni.   Marianne gets to sample lunch with a ‘doggie bag” that Fernando has provided.  We talk and eat and enjoy the time together.  I realize that tomorrow is the last day of our tour with Fernando and this is our next to last meal with Rosetta.  Elton John’s “Daniel” (one of Rosetta’s favorites) comes on the stereo and she encourages us to dance.  I sing and gently lead Marianne through a few modified western swing turns, spinning and catching her.  We embrace and kiss.  We will be sorry that this unforgettable week will end all too quickly. 
     Fernando pops in and lets us know about the billing and how his is watching the Euro/Dollar exchange to lock in the best value for us.  He has also been dealing with an air conditioning leak, and getting a rental van for the next group coming in Sunday.  His work never ends.  We, meanwhile are having a terrible time with the phone and internet, and contacting Cristina in Firenze.  We now feel the need to go to a plan ‘B’.  We consult the Rick Steves book and locate two albergos, Maxim and Axial on Via de’ Calzaiouli; they are definitely more expensive than the apartment, but have a/c and an elevator.   We will call these places after touring tomorrow, and at least get a room for a couple of nights until we make contact with Cristina.  Rosetta does not like the way the Tuscan Accommodations outfit is doing business. 

Venerdi (Friday) -- Olive Olio and Cortona (18 giugne, 2010)

      We wake to hazy skies.  After breakfast, Rosetta drives us in her car to Lago di Trasimeno—five minutes away.  First she takes us right down to the lago and shows us how fishing is done on the lake.  We stop and talk to a  
fisherman who is tending to his large tangled nets.  She talks with him and we check out the small boats that are used.  We drive on and a fisherman is bringing in a 5 gallon bucket of fish to clean.  We stop roadside and check his catch out.  Even though Rosetta encourages me, I stop short of following him into the cleaning building. 
     We are in the small community of San Feliciano.  This is where she and Fernando ran a hotel, owned their home and raised their boys.  She heads up the hill in the small town.  There is a small chiesa at the top and she turns the car around.   
 We are at the  topside of the oliva olio mill, Frantoio Mancianti which she uses.  Yes, she and Johanna harvest their olives every fall and take the crop here to be crushed into oil.  In 1952 Faliero and Alfredo Mancianti took over an old mill in San Feliciano that had produced oliva since 1890.  It is now run by Alfredo’s daughter. 
     A young employee unlocks the gates and then the doors on the warehouse/bottling area.   The three of us get a wonderful tour of the whole production.  We see where the 

olives are brought in and weighed, how they are transported to the pressing room—the next level down, the old and modern methods for pressing, the residual product left afterwards (it is recycled), and the space where the olio is stored in huge antique terracotta urns (zire) in the Ziraia—storage room, before it is decanted and bottled.  We are fascinated by the whole process and the employees and family are so helpful and willing to share their life’s passion.  
     Next, we do an oliva olio tasting are amazed by the different qualities of the pressing.  I am surprised when I shallow the first cold press (virgin) and it burns my throat going down.  The quality of the Mancianti olio is known throughout Italy.  It is the same olio that Pavarotti used and his pictures are posted prominently in the office and around the mill.  We feel compelled to buy a bottle, the Umbria D.O.P. (€13) that we can cook with in Firenze.  As we leave, through the real entrance at the bottom of the property, we see the family casa, and there are the very large, ancient mill stones that had been used for centuries out front.  A tour group shows up.  They are American’s and we tell them they are in for a real treat.
     Rosetta takes her turn at being a tour guide and shows us around San Feliciano.  She takes us past the large hotel they owned and managed, Ali Sul Lago; the school where the boys attended; and even their old house.  We can tell that she stills is attached, emotionally, to the beautiful house.  They put a lot of work into fixing up they way they wanted; we see that it was built at the same time as Villa Bella Magione, having the same brick and tile styling as their current place.  The current residents aren’t always there so it looks unkempt.   Rosetta is disappointed by this. 
     As we return to Magione, Rosetta is willing to drop me off so I can take a walk in the country.  She shows me how to get back to the B &B, and drops me at a road on the edge of town.  I hope she knows what she is talking about.  I am at the end of Via Ugo la Malfa on Case Sparse Magione.  Almost immediately, I need to find a toilet.   Great.  I walk back into town a few blocks and head for the train station.  There is a bar inside, so I ask for an espresso and the key to the bagno.  It is the most bizarre key I have ever seen.  I go out on the train platform and search for the toilet.  I find the barred in rooms and attempt to open one of them.  I can not—no matter how I try.  I return the key, drink my espresso and leave—embarrassed with a full bladder.
I return to the dirt road and begin walking.  The rural homes and farms range from completely renovated to untouched for centuries.  At a T in the road, I turn to the left
and continue walking.  I approach another turn next to a very old house.  A very old couple, dressed in black, he with a beret, she is a kerchief, are sitting on a grass mound under a huge tree across the road from the house.  They are short folks and look like they have live together in that house for 70 years.  I say ‘buongiorno’ and he responds with a ‘giorno’.   The way turns right onto a smaller road.  I am unsure, and look back to see the woman looking back at me.  I shrug my shoulders indicating that I am not sure if this is the right way or not.  She doesn’t respond.
     The road becomes a path with an old wooden face and rises up.  I come to a pedestrian overpass for the railroad tracks.  It is an old metal structure that seems secure enough to use.  I cross and end up on a rural road on the other side.  The sun beats down as I walk from tree grove to grove.  Realizing I don’t have my hat, and that the sun screen is long gone, I walk with my hand shading my balding head.  I am convinced I will have sun stroke in about twenty minutes.  The fields and houses are beautiful.  I have gotten another wish, to walk down country roads in Italy.  
    The route is about a mile and I soon come the realization that I will not get back to a toilet at Bella Magione in time.  I take the opportunity to do what I have done countless times in rural Oregon and Idaho—take a relief break.  I step into a grove of trees along the side of the road, knowing full well I could be arrested and locked away for this.  I stop short when I see that there is a deep, dry ditch just ahead in the dense undergrowth.  I do my business and return to the road.  No one saw.  Later I learned that relieving ones self in public is common, even in a city.   I remember when the Vandaleers (my college touring choir) went to Quito, Ecuador.  An older  
man chose the moment we were all patiently waiting on our buss to use the rear tire to do his duty.  We were shocked. 
     I find my way, via the college dorm blocks, to the main road we had just driven in on, walk through the train underpass and come back up into town.  I find the turn around above Bella Magione and walk back down, using the front entrance.  I pass by Il Dottore’s house, and am impressed.   The lower entrance of Bella Magione has been cleared of the dumpster and I walk right into the villa grounds.  I take a swim to cool off and see that Fernando is supervising the cables guys (a young one and an old one) who have come to service and rewire. 
     We have lunch while the men reroute wires and get better reception on the TV.  Rosetta serves us a wonderful lunch:  Degustazione dell’Olio di Oliva, bruschette all’ollo e aglio e al pomadoro, Salsicce di maiale Arrosto, Spinaci all’ollo e aglio, and for dolce, Coppa amaretti con Amaretto di Saronno (a delicious flam with biscotti drizzled with amaretto).  We drink a Sagrantino/Merlot—Pucciarella 2009.  We retire for a pisolino.   I read emails and find Cristina has responded and everything is set for 3 PM, not 2 PM.  She also tells us the returnable deposit will be €150.  I quickly respond.  Bella giorno!
     At about 3 PM Fernando returns and we go out to his garage, along with the emptied big black bag, and we fix the bent, un-retractable handle.   Actually I hold the bag while he takes two pieces of scrap wood and works his magic.  He bends it right back into place.  The handle works like charm.  At around 3:30 PM we take off for Cortona.  At the A-1 we exit and take SR 371 north.  We pass over the train tracks, through Riccio, Ossaia, and Camucia, before ascending the hill to Cortona.  As we climb the hill, Fernando points out the converted abbey he and his priest friend renovated.  We also see the third Greco-Cross chiesa, Santa Maria della Grazie al Calcinaio— that was used in the “Under the Tuscan Sun’ (the wedding scene).  It’s never open.
     For the next two hours we discover the sweet town that became a movie set and then was over-run by the tourists.  Contrary to anything Francis Mayes may write in her books, the locals, except for real estate salesmen, are not pleased with the changes fame has brought them.   It’s sad really, because it looks like Cortona was a sweet little town before the tourist hordes invaded.  We use the handicap pass and leave the Journey at Piazza Garibaldi, just outside the eastern porta.  We walk slowly up Via Nazionale together, checking out all the tourist shops.  We stop for gelato at La Vita Dolce.  One of the girls behind the counter is getting married tomorrow.  She is bella, and Fernando is heart broken.   We walk up and up Via Nazionale, checking out artist shops and ceramic stores.  Marianne does not 'bite' when Fernando shows us the ceramics shop that “UTTS” used. 
   We enter Piazza della Republica and it is at once bustling with activity.  Unlike Perugia’s old town, there are a couple of service trucks parked in the small piazza.  Fernando and I leave Marianne on a bench near a kiosk advertising ‘Tuscan Sun Festival/Festival Del Sole’ in late July, early August.  This year it looks like Sting is the featured act.  There are also pictures of past years and Robert Redford is featured prominently.  I circle around and head up Vicolo Boni (UTTS: the gaggle of nuns enjoying gelato cones) to get some pictures of the piazza.  The café up here is closed and the last two employees hop on a vespa and are gone.  I recognized an arched portico where the ristorante has tables and I take pictures of the water facet. 
     I turn and realize this is the terrace that Francis—Diane Lane and the young “Gay and Away” tourist sit down to write a postcard to his mom—“taste the purple, ding dong, ding dong?!”  I sit on that spot and take pictures of the piazza and wave to Marianne below.  I look across at the city hall and the grand steps up to it (UTTS: angel choir of kids singing Italian Christmas carols).  The building is so similar to other city buildings in Tuscany, but each has their own subtle differences. 
    I walk with Fernando into the next space, Piazza Signorelli.  There is even a tourist shop underneath city hall steps.  There is no fountain in the piazza, something I have known for years.  As we pass the side of the city hall, Fernando points out the coat of arms from previous ruling families.  To my right a pigeon that can’t seem to fly hops away from us and into an open furniture store.  Across the piazza is Teatro Signorelli and a large banner for the Signorelli exhibit at the opera duomo museo is hanging from an arch of the loggia (UTTS:  Francis shows her hot new ‘white’ dress to Katherine (Lindsay Duncan) who is sharing lunch with a gaggle of nuns).   A sideline here:  we saw Lindsay play opposite Alan Rickman in “Private Lives” in New York in 2002.  The production and the two actors were brilliant.  There is a poster for Mozart’s “Don Giovanni” that will be presented later in the Cinema-Teatro. 
    Fernando and I step down into the duomo piazza passing a statue of Saint Margherita—one on Cortona’s favorite.  Her remains are around here someone, I forget where.  We are at the end of this side of town and a wall.  The view into the north eastern valley is outstanding.  I look down into the valley and see a large cimetori (cemetery).  We slip inside the duomo and Fernando knows where the light switches are this time, so I can really get a good look at the art work.  The piece that really struck me was a terracotta pieta.  He draws my attention to the pained and agonized look in the Madonna’s face.  The piece is very old.  We do not have time to see Luca Signorelli’s art in the Diocesan museum.  We return to the first piazza and find Marianne.  Fernando suggests caffé; we walk over to Gran Café Signorelli on the west side of the piazza and he orders cappuccinos.   The waiter doesn’t even bat an eye.
     Suddenly I realize this is our last coffee break with Fernando.  This dream is over and it soon will be time to go back to Bella Magione for our last dinner with Rosetta.  We take some last photos of the piazza and walk back down the hill.  I stop in at a shop and buy some of A. Bulli’s watercolor cards.  We stop at a gallery and Fernando shows me his favorite painting, an oil of a free standing Italian casa at night with moon glow through the clouds above the house.  The bella painting evokes a variety of different emotions—peaceful and melancholy.  
     He also stops at his friend, the realtor, and jokes “they are looking for property.” 
     “I have a lot of properties, what are you looking for?”
     We both choke, knowing how over-inflated the prices are and say “NO!!”
     We pass La Dolce Vita  on the way down and Fernando fakes crying and rubbing his eyes to the young lady inside.  She laughs.  We all laugh.  We do not ask him to drive by Bramasole.  We will do no more celebrity chasing on this vacation.  Besides, as we learn from another tour guide the following week, they don’t live there anymore.  How do you have respect for someone who drove up property prices and made a tourist attraction out of your hometown?  Apparently Mayes does not need to be pitied.   “She was a well-to-do divorcee with millions to invest in a hovel that these gullible Italians won’t mind I get for a steal”.  She and Ed now live up in the hills in another house they restored—this one has a swimming pool.  It’s hard to know who’s telling the truth, but our perceptions and preconceived ideas were being challenged in this fascinating country we were re-discovering everyday. 
   Fernando takes the scenic route back to Magione, along a ridge that reveals the most beautiful vista (Bella Vista) of Trasimeno.   As we drop down into the small Umbrian valley on the northeast end of the lago, Fernando tells us the story of the day the lago ran red as blood.  He is referring of course to Hannibal’s defeat of the Roman armies—an event that changed history as we know it. 
      Hannibal had tricked the Romans and Celts into coming into the narrow valley, making them think not only that the valley and its mountain pass were safe, but that his army was far away—pillaging and plundering.  On a foggy morning at 6 AM, the troops hiding in the hills surrounding the valley descended upon the sleeping armies and slaughtered 10,000 of them.  Fernando pantomimes the sword play, eviscerating me, and adding his own sound effects.  We both laugh, but the history was serious.  What would the world have been like if the Romans hadn’t been defeated?  We both know it would have been a far different place.  We drive home in silence.  The wonderful tour is ‘fine’.
     Rosetta and Fernando drive to Perugia to get the van for their next tour group.  I take my last swim and float.  I also do some pool-side yoga and warm myself on the terra cotta tiles.  This has been the most pleasurable experience.  Again, I feel the blessing of the Lord.  Thank—Deo Grazie.
Festa Davide e Marianne—Felice Venticinque Anno (18 giugne, 2010)
     We shower and dress for dinner.  Fernando invites us into their living room at 7 PM, pours us some vino bianco, and sits us on the couch in front of the big flat screen television.  He says this is a celebration in our honor.  He is quite pleased with himself.  He has created a DVD of our week with all the pictures he has taken and orchestrated it with his favorite music.  Il Dottore and Rosetta are here also.  We sit back and watch our life this week.  It is amazing. We are deeply touched and can’t believe he had time to do this.  Marianne is on the verge of tears several times, and I have to clear my throat to stifle mine.  The slideshow is beautiful and Rosetta has Fernando give it to us non-gratis.  We can not express how much this gift of the heart means to us. 
At 7:30 PM Rosetta opens the folding partition between the living room and dinning.  We are ‘blown away”.  She has decorated the room and table with paper hearts, silver ‘25’ confetti, and there is silver garland strung through the Venetian glass chandelier.   These people are the masters at the “Art” of hospitality.   They take the concept of “treat the guest well” to the extreme.   
     Fernando and Il Dottore join us.  Rosetta has prepared a feast:  Spaghetti agli asparadi selvatici (wild asparagus fresh from her garden), Arista di maiale Arrosto con fagioloini verdi (green beans), and the vino rosso is more of the Sagrantino/Merlot—Pucciarella 2009 (obviously their house wine).  For dolce Rosetta has outdone herself and touches our hearts again.  She has made an incredible Torta Anniversario all frutta e panna; it is two layers, cream frosting, with kiwi, apricot, peach slices, and a big silver 25th in the center.  I am given a bottle of Spumante Guizzo del Lago to open.  I do, even though Rosetta is concerned about the Venetian chandelier.  After lively conversation and toasting we have grappa.  We can do little more than retire for the night and pack our bags.  Turn out the lights, this party’s over. 
Sabato (Saturday) – Arrivederci Scattini - Rain for Firenze (19 giugne, 2010)
     We are up early and savor the finally morning on the terrace with our espresso.  There are clouds over the hills and Lago Trasimeno.  We have a short breakfast and I settle the bill with Fernando.  It was less than I thought it would be.  The exchange rate must be favoring the dollar more than it has been.  We bring down the luggage and get it into the car about 9 AM.  We hug and kiss Rosetta goodbye.  Fernando takes us through town once more and soon we are on the familiar S 326, heading towards north towards Cortona and then west to the A-1.  We pass Arezzo to the east and the A-1 turns northwest and soon follow the Arno almost all the way to Firenze.  Along the way, traffic slows for a car wreck in the opposite lanes.  The wreckage has been cleared, but the cement barriers that separate the strada have been moved wildly out of place; this was a very bad accident. 
     As we approach the Chianti region the dark clouds blow in from the northwest and we are quickly into the rain.  It isn’t a gentle rain; it is definitely a storm that is settling in for a stay.  Thank you France for the gift.  Before we know it we are off the A-1 and crossing the Arno into Firenze proper.  We are now traveling west on the north side of the river.  Fernando gets a phone call, but continues to drive through Firenze traffic.  He turn north at Viale Giovanni Amendola and we are soon at Piazza C. Barccaria. 
     The boulevard turns into Viale Antonio Gramsci and we skirt around the greater Centro Storico area.  We pass Piazzale Donatello and now it’s Viale G. Matteotti; the street turns southwest at Piazza Della Liberta and is now Viale Spartaco Lavagnini.  Fernando says he won’t be able to turn left at the light, so we must take a side street so that he can end up on Viale C. Poliziano to cross Lavagnini to get to Via c. D’Alessandria. 
     We make the light, but the street is crowded; progress is slow.  We pass Piazza Della Indipendenza, a two block long green space.  At the end of the parco, the street is now Via Nazionale and we slowly head southwest to the crazy multi-street intersection in front of Santa Maria Novella Stazione.  Fernando is being very watchful for the local traffic signs so he won’t get another big fine “for going five meters into the zone”.  Things here are not marked well either. 
     Fernando makes it to the front of the stazione without incident, stops, and unloads us and baggage while there is a lull in the storm.  We don’t have time for long goodbyes.  He and Marianne hug and kiss and I shake his hand.  Then as suddenly as he came into our lives he is gone.  We quickly move into the stazione, out of the rain, and into the mayhem of Santa Maria Novella Stazione. 

Our Second Week in Tuscany

Welcome to Firenze—Hope You Learned Something Along the Way
    Sabato (Saturday) -- (19 giugne, 2010)

     It really paid to research SMN Stazione on line.  We trek across the taxi lanes and head to the east side entrance.  There are people everywhere, mostly hanging out under the large broad metal awnings to keep out of the rain.  Looks like we timed it perfectly—maybe a dozen trains just arrived.  Allora.  I have Marianne wait outside while I look around inside.
     I immediately locate the baggage claim area and return to Marianne.  With her right behind, we roll the bags to the baggage deposit on the right, east side of the building, just beyond the last set of tracks.  There is a line, but it moves quickly.  We remove anything we might need for the next few hours.  The men, with uniforms, are moving fast behind the counter, and efficient.  I must hand over my passport so it can be photocopied.  Then they load all three pieces of luggage on its own cart and I get a claim check.  We are free, free at last from the bags, for a few hours.
     We make our way to the large convenience store/cafeteria, that is a beehive of action, and beyond to the large dinning area, patrolled by a thin, shaved-bald guy with the collar of his suit jacket turned up; I guess that’s his uniform.  When in doubt—improvise.  It is his job to make sure the workers that clean the tables do their job, but more importantly, to chase out vagrants who haven’t bought any food and are taking up space.   Marianne decides on lunch and I go and buy it.  It includes espresso.  I now know the ritual of paying for the food first and then aggressively standing at the bar with the receipt visibly at the ready of the next counter person to help.
     Everything is put on a tray and I am back to Marianne in ten minutes.  After the coffee, sweet cornettos and water, we look out at the torrential down pour and start to revise our schedule.   We can’t be at the apartment until 3 PM, and we are not going to get to San Lorenzo and the Marcato Centrale in this rain.  We settle for Santa Maria Novella across the street.  Getting over there seems to be a daunting task.  We find the elevator in the central area of the stazione and emerge in an underground shopping mall.    
     Nothing is marked well and we end up in another elevator in an underground parking structure.  We back track and sit by a fountain on the west side of the mall area.  Marianne is doing that “not a happy camper-thing again” but I keep her moving, even though the humidity is stifling down here.  I finally find the underground pedestrian walk way over to SMN.  It is lined with stores, but we keep a keen eye out for pickpockets.     Now, Rick Steves is very specific about this:  This is a ‘crime ridden’ area and gangs of scruffy children roam freely, picking all pockets.  Any kid is suspect and soon our paranoia is in high gear.  Thanks Rick!  We find the stair exit for the chiesa, pretty trashy, and ascend into the pouring rain. 
     Fortunately, there are many tourist junk stands right here at the back end of Santa Maria Novella and I leave Marianne under an awning and buy a cheap rain slicker.  The girl is thoughtful enough to give me a mint green plastic slicker.  Grazie signora!  Together we walk down the side of SMN. 
     We come to a cafes umbrellas and tables, but the rain is bouncing off the paving stones so hard, that even the tops tables are wet.  Marianne must stop for a cigarette.  Once she’s done, hunger is apparent so we stop in for lunch, and go into the small but attractive bar/café.  Besides, dolce, there are pre-made panini and pizza by the slice.  I get Marianne a panino and I get a pizza funghi.  It is good and we finish our food greedily.  After, I am bold enough to ask for the toilet, but Marianne is unsure. 
     By the time we are done, the rain has calmed down.  We walk to the SMN piazza and climb the steps into the side garden/cimatori of SMN.  Unfortunately, the planners of traffic control here have routed the entry all the way around the Avelli Cemetery, a peaceful garden-like area, and there are places where the down spouts and drains literally pour water on you.  Thank you—whoever!  We pay and go in. 
     It is a beautiful space. Marianne sits right under the Giotto crucifix and I take off the slicker and explore.   Even though it is cloudy outside and it darkens the basilica interior, the white plaster ceiling and arches of the nave lighten the room up.  The distinctive black and white brick arches the space is unique.  I walk from chapel to chapel checking out the paintings and frescos—Pura, Strozzi, Tournabuini, and Strozzi di Mantova.  In the space to the left of the altar, hangs Brunelleschi’s Crucifix.  The statue of the dying Christ is proportioned well, but it is thin and left me wanting more.  Brunelleschi created huge domes and buildings, so maybe this wasn’t his medium. 
     There is a large painting of San Lorenzo in the back of the nave, past the entry.  San Lorenzo is burning on his grate; he is the patron saint of cooks—“turn me over I’m done on this side.”  Marianne asks me to buy two rosaries so I go to the stuffy gift shop, the former sacristy.  We are slow about getting out of the church, because it’s only 1 PM, and we don’t want to go back into the rain.
     Eventually, we do leave, and we are happy that the rain is subsiding.  We stop at the same café for a cigarette.  We also get a gelato—lemon and melon.  The underground pedestrian tunnel doesn’t seem quite so intimidating this time as we walk back to the stazione and retrieve our bags.  We also do not have any trouble getting a taxi.  The driver zooms by the Baptistery and Piazza Republicco.  It’s almost 3 PM by now so we are glad he is driving fast.   
     I ask if he thinks the rain is over.  He says no.  There is a series of storms blowing in from France so the rain will be here again tomorrow.  The cabbie squeezes by large packs of tourists who have no idea that they are in a street and that there is a car behind them.  The statues in the niches of Orsanmichele must be fascinating, but you’re not at art in the Uffizi, here. 
“Beep, beep.!”  He resorts to the horn and the crowd part. The driver does another couple of quick turns and gets us to piazza Cimatori quickly.
     We stack our luggage by the door of the apartment building.  The piazza is small but bustling with activity.  There are two ristoranti—Birrere Centrale and Hosteria Ganino; they have tables in the piazza with large umbrellas.  There is also a Café Cimatori on the corner, a pizza place across the space on the corner, A Fun Food place (?), L’Angelo, and a trippa stand (L’Antico Trippaio).  The buildings are all four or five stories high so the sound travels up and out after it bounces off the four separate buildings.  Cristina is not here.  We’re just a little early so we ask the bar tender in Centrale if I can get due vino rosso.  We toast our success and to our future week in Firenze. 
     It’s clearly after 3 PM so I dig in the bags and find the phone.  Coverage is poor at best in the piazza, but I do contact her.  I tell her we are in sitting in front of the door and waiting.  She sounds like she can’t believe we are even here. 
     “You are on your way to Firenze?” 
     “No, we are sitting in front of the door in no.1 Piazza Cimatori.  Didn’t you email us that time?”
     “Yes, but I thought you would call.  I left you messages.” 
     “You did?”
     Christina is apologetic, “I can be there in a half an hour,” and she is gone.   Oh, well, we are just glad we made it in one piece.  We continue drinking the wine, which is very good, and continue talking. 
     I finish my wine first leave Marianne for a few minutes--take a couple of recognizance walks.  I find a frutta e vedura around the corner, an alimentari, a great paper shop, I Fratellini’s (panino e vino), Parrini’s Ceramics, a Chianti souvenir shop, a T-shirt shop, and a Tacchaci within one block.  Went I get back, Cristina is still hasn’t arrived.  We get a second vino.  We are a little hungry so I go to the Trippa stand, L’Antico Trippaio, and met Maurizio.  He is a wild man—chopping tripe with two metal spatulas.   A slightly Asian looking woman works with him.  She also confirms that he is crazy.  With their help I find due panini and acqua.  Just then Marianne calls from behind the cluster of umbrella.  Cristina has arrived. 
     We met her and her six year old daughter, Francesca.  She is not anything like I had imagined her.  She is in her late twenties or early thirties with frizzy light hair and big framed glasses.  She is sweet and very apologetic.  We apologize for not finding the phone messages.  I grab the bags and the three girls walk up the one flight of stone steps to the apartment.  I follow.  The door is big and wooden with one single door knob in the middle. The step up is nearly a foot tall.  It has several bolts and locks.  We sign the contract, give her the deposit and copies of our passports and she gives us the keys.  She gives us the general tour and basic information about how to operate things and how the keys work.  She coughs a few times and apologizes—she is catching cold.  She is gone quickly and we look around. 
     The apartment is exactly the way it was pictured in the ad I found a year ago online.  It’s over 200 years old, but it is refurbished and in great shape.  There are low timbered dark ceilings with large beams that run the length of the main room, white plastered walls with large paintings, and twelve inch terrazzo tiles on the floor.  There is a large round wooden table (with a lacey cloth) with four chairs, a sofa, a tiny TV and a fan on a small table, and a large red ottoman that can fold out into a kids’ bed.  The kitchenette is well appointed and probably IKEA.  The bath is small, but looks great.  It is raised about four inches above the main floor.  The separate bed room is large enough of a matrimonial bed (with red duvet), a wardrobe and a chest.  The room is also higher than the main room and has dark wood floors. 
     The apartment has two windows with shears, curtains, shutters and screens.  The bedroom has a portable a/c unit that vents out through the window.  We declare it perfetto and unpack.  Next-- a pisolino.
     Around 5:30 6 PM I go out to find food.  I find an alimentari, Pascia Minimarket, on the next block (Via dei Cimatori) and the ‘sisters’ there are extremely helpful getting me set up for cooking.  There is so much stuff in the tiny space; it is amazing.  I leave with two full bags.  I also stop a Mauro Frutta e Vedura and get friendly with the woman who runs it.  She finds me an onion and a clove of garlic.  I ask about bread and she says there is a shop down the street on the next block.  She points north towards the duomo.  I decide to take the groceries back to the apartment and Marianne is please I have done so well.  I tell her I need to find pane and then I’ll come back. 
     I head down the street the fruit lady pointed to, but I do not find a bakery anywhere.  I walk east on Via Del Corso, find Via Del Proconsolo, walk down past the Badia and Bargello, and hunting for bead everywhere.  I walk up Borgo de’ Greco, twist and turn through alleys and find Trattoria Anita that my twin brother, Doug, has recommended.  I step in and tell an employee that now I have found the trattoria, I will be coming back to eat—like he understood.  I am so pleased I found the place, but I still haven’t found bread.  
     I walk back to Piazza Signore, finding many incredible things, like the Palazzo Vecchio, the statues of David, Hercules, Judith, and the Neptune fountain, but no bread.  I can just see the loggia and its sculptures through a full-sized stage with a maze of scaffolding and lights.  There are two other light towers farther out in the piazza.  There is obviously going to be a concert sometime soon.  Even though nothing is going on, I amazed that there hundreds of people in the piazza.  I walk back up Via Del Cerchi and look again.  No bread. 
      On Corso, I find a chiesa that I having an organ concert.  I step in and the music literally blows me against the back wall.  The Bach fills the baroque space and troubles fly away.  Grazie Deo!  I sit and listen.  After a few pieces, I drop some money in the offering box and return to the street.  I find a wine shop across the street and buy a bottle of Chianti Classico.  I ask the salesman where I can find pane.  He points back towards Cerchi, but says “Forno” (oven).  With this new information and the wine I head back down the street. 
     I quickly find the shop and realize that it was a pantry shop that I have passed several times.  Inside I wait behind a couple of ‘happy boys’ and realize you have to have a number to get served.  I grab one and wait.  There are so many types of breads (pane) to choose from, and I get confused.  I finally settle on a baggett and half a loaf of whole wheat peasant bread.  I cook a simple meal around 8 PM—pasta with olive oil and parmesan, pane and vino rosso.  The kitchenette is small, but everything I need is there; unfortunately I have to use a steak knife to cut onion, garlic, etc. 
     Marianne and I set the table and pour the wine.  We sit and clink glasses, toasting our first home-cooked meal in Firenze.  We enjoy the food, the vino, and each other for a leisurely hour or so.  We are winding down from the day, but outside is a different story now that the rains have subsided.  The cafes start up after 8 PM and stay busy until after 2 AM.  We retire for bed after 10 PM.  The voices and the music and the ristoranti noises waft up and lull us to sleep.  We never turn the a/c on.  The next thing we hear are the bells at 6:30 AM the next morning.

Domenico (Sunday) –David and Botticelli  (20 giugne, 2010)

     I am up sometime after 7:30 AM.  There is no one is the piazza and the umbrellas are gone.  It rained again last night and it is overcast now.  Then an older couple pulls up in an old red van (small of course, it’s Italy) and opens the metal security door of L’Angelo on the corner.  I tell Marianne I am going to take a ten minute walk.  We both laugh.   This is the first day to do the museum ‘thing’ in Firenze.  I have the Academia booked for noon and the Uffizi for 4:45 PM.  I want to scope out these two places so we know what we’re getting into this afternoon.
     First I quickly I walk over to Via Calzaiouli to Orsanmichele.  I check out the statues in the niches, find St. George (northwest corner), duck inside and marvel at this chiesa that was once a grain storage building.  Then I walk over to Piazza Republicco.   There are a few people on the piazza this morning, but what surprises me is that there is a Polizia van and a group of about eight officers, in bullet proof vests, organizing for something.  They kid with each other and laugh—there is even a women officer.  Wonder what’s up?
     I walk over to the duomo piazza and check out, at close range, the Baptistery and its’ three bronze doors (south, east and north).  Then I turn to try and take in the overwhelming beauty of Santa Maria del Fiore—the Duomo.  It is mind-boggling.  Just the incredible detail of the façade is so much for the eye and brain to comprehend—the sculptures, the neo-gothic ornamentation, and the huge rosetta window.  The colors of the Tuscan marbles, white, green and pink are just outstanding.  As you face the Duomo, the campanile, Giotto’s tower is on the right.  It is equally impressive for its detail and height.  I keep walking, going to the left, north and around the Duomo.  I see where the climbing tour enters on the north side of the church.  I save that fact for a future morning—maybe Tuesday.  I briskly continue north up Via Risacoli to the Accademia. 
     This is a reconnaissance mission and I want to find out how long it takes to get there.  It is two and a half long blocks to the museum and I realize that Marianne will need transportation.  As I walk I try to figure out how to find a taxi stand or a bus stop.  Once I get to the Academia, see where the entrance is and how it is laid out, I walk back south to the end of the block and cut the corner through a small piazza with a fountain.  Via Degli Alfani takes me south east; I am trying to find Piazza S. S. Annunziata.  I pass Museum of Precious Stones, on my left, along the seemingly continuous walls of the building on either side of the street.  At the end of the block, to the left, I see the statue of Ferdinando I on horseback and I know I have found the piazza.  There is the short street, Dei Servi, and the piazza beyond. 
     As I approach the piazza, I see there is a large group of Japanese tourists looking and around and exploring the loggias on either side.  This won’t be the first time I see groups of Japanese tourists and they always seem to move in large groups.  Just before the piazza, on my right, I see a bar and decide this would be the perfect time for an espresso.  I step in and wait while a British family, the grandmother apparently ‘in charge’, gets cappuccinos and breakfast for everyone else in the other room.  I just order my drink, put half a packet of cane zucchero in, stir, and chug.  Ah, this could get addictive.  When I go back out to the piazza, the tourist group has moved on and I can get an unobstructed view of the whole space.  One the west side is a loggia that belongs to Hotel Loggiato dei Serviti, on the right, east, Hospital of the Innocents, designed by Brunelleschi, with its blue and white glazed terra-cotta Luca della Robbia medallions.  Ahead is the Santissima Annunziata church. 
     Time is getting away from me and I need to find a little dolce for breakfast, so I head back taking a short street, Fibbiai, cross to Piazza Brunelleschi, and take a curved street, Castel Luccia, that rejoins Servi.   I spot the dome and keep going.  I walk around and behind the Duomo this time, passing the closed duomo opera museo in a ochre building.  I wonder through the maze of little streets south of the dome, passing the Paperback Exchange on Via delle Oche, and also file its location away for future reference.  When I get to Cerchi I discover Forno is not open so I keep walking south, passing Piazza Cimatori, and enter the Piazza Signore.  I know I will find a pasticceria somewhere close.  On the northwest corner of the square, I find an upscale place to buy some breakfast dolce at the end of Calzaiuoli.   The barista, in his late forties, is very formally dressed—white shirt, black bow tie, vest and apron.  He is very helpful.
     I figure since I am in the busy piazza, I should check out the Uffizi to make sure I can find the reserve ticket office.  With pastries in hand, I cut diagonally, southeast, across the piazza to the Uffizi.  I enter the long courtyard and look for the office (west side) as well as the two entrance doors on the opposite side of the courtyard.   Following Rick Steves advice, I walk the long distance and take the steps up to the west loggia and find the office.  Then I go to the east loggia and find doors one and two, peering through the glass to see if I can find the elevator.  I do, so I am ready for the excursion this afternoon.  On the way back, I stop and take pictures of the loggia statues and the ones in front of the Palazzo Vecchio. 
     It’s now about 9 AM and the Piazza Cimatori is starting to come to life.  I whistle and shout “Ciao, Marianne” up to the open window and she peeks out and calls “buongiorno”.  I go up.  We have coffee and dolce, along with yogurt for breakfast.  After, I look out and notice Maurizio is hard at work.  He is feeding the Polizia breakfast. 
     Inside, Marianne tells me she has decided to skip the Academia.  I am speechless.  She has really wanted to do this.  She won’t hear of calling a cab, so I don’t argue because I know she is tired.  The 9:45 AM bells are marvelous.  I see a large group of Japanese tourists enter the piazza from Dante Alighieri, probably just saw Dante’s house.  The guide stops them and at Maurizio’s stand and I can tell he is inviting them to try the tripe.  The reaction is pretty universal—forty faces winch in disgust when they learn what tripe is made from. 
     “No, no, no!” smile the Japanese.
      “It’s buono, buono, buono!” calls Maurizio.
     Another group, Slavic or Russian come by after 10 AM.  There are some takers as well as the anticipated grimace.  The Polizia van shows up after 11 AM and they have early lunch.  Maurizio does a booming business in this piazza.  He is very cleaver to have the stand where it is located.    
     I give myself a good half hour to walk to the Academia, even though it’s really a 15 minute walk.  I head west on Via Della Tavolini, and then walk north on Calzaiuoli to the Duomo.  I get stopped by a quartet of folks would want me to take their picture on the Duomo steps.  I oblige them.   To the north, a young North African street vendor stops and calls me over to see what he is selling.  They are large scenic paintings of Firenze on plastic, I think.   He is persistent, but I keep saying “no, grazie”.  I keep walking up Via Ricasoli.  A block away from the Academia, I see that the line is monstrous.  It stretches to the little corner piazza and down Degli Alfani.  These are the folks who don’t have reserved tickets.  The line for reserved tickets is about 20 people long.  The museum prefers that you do not stand in the line until 15 minutes before your reserved time. 
     The sun is peeking out so I wait across the street, in the shade, in front of a closed Bible bookstore.  At the prescribed time I slip in behind an obviously American family, very eastern by their accents and nasal twang.  I try to engage them in conversation, but they keep to themselves.  It is funny, but not many Americans want to talk to Americans here.  The line moves and I am in even before noon.  There is a security check-point in this museum, as well as the others in this city, complete with ex-ray machines and metal detectors. 
     Once I am all dressed again, I head into the first main gallery.  The plaster version of the ‘Rape of the Sabine’ is featured prominently in the center.  The original, which I saw this morning, is in the Piazza Signore loggia.  There are many oil and wood paintings hanging around the room. 
     I take the corridor to the right and visit the Musical Instrument display.  Now we are talking my language—nothing like old instruments to pique my curiosity.  Although it is crowded, I get to see everything, including one of Christofori’s first piano-fortes.  I make my way back to the Sabine and go into the main hall. 
     Yep.  There at the far end is Michelangelo’s David.  It is big.  At the Accademia they really make you work to get to the ‘prize’ in the Cracker Jack’s box.  There are Michelangelo ‘Prisoners’ and somebody’s ‘Pieta’ along the way, but the real reason everyone is here is the David.  It is set in its own space, with a beautiful architectural dome above it.  The lower portion has a plexi-glass screen around it, but no one’s looking at the feet, which are disproportionately large--as are the hands and the head.  Nope that’s not the focus.
     Now to say the world is fixated on David’s ‘package’ is an understatement.   Scholars, artists, and perverts over the centuries have discussed this guy’s jewels since it was made.  That’s just stupid.  I don’t care. Because the best part of this sculpture, I think, is the face, and specifically--the eyes.  What an incredible expression.  Michelangelo has captured such a moment of raw human emotion here.  It’s hard to explain, but it transcends the ages.  You know exactly what he is thinking, “Holy f--!  This guy is really big!  Can I do this?  Can I even get my sling to put this rock right between his eyes?  Lord, I hope so!” 
     I walk around the giant three times, pausing once to sit on the curved bench behind.  There are so many old ladies back here.  I can’t believe it.  They could have sat somewhere else more discrete, but they sit with this big white butt in their faces.  Go figure.  I notice that the sling goes from the left shoulder, all the way down and across the back, and ends up in the right hand.  I’ve tried to do my reading to prepare for this trip and that’s a detail no one ever talks about.  I try to check out every inch of the David, checking for flaws and cracks or even chisel marks.  It is an amazing piece of art. 
     After about fifteen minutes, I slowly move away, knowing I have really seen a piece of history.  The next room has lots of plaster busts and statues by students.  Snore.  If you don’t want to take the whole tour around the space, opt out at the beginning because they don’t provide anyway to get out of the room, except the entrance door.  Too many people have poured in through the door expecting to see something, and I can’t back-track.   I have to walk all the way around. 
     The rest of the building doesn’t interest me.  There is a second floor, but I don’t want to go up, and the toilets are downstairs (it’s dark and unknown) and I am not going down there.  I settle for the gift shop.  I check out all the tourist crap (David’s ‘package’ bookmarks?), and settle on a couple of postcards.  I exit out the front into the overcast afternoon.  It’s about 12:45.  The line for tickets is even longer than it was and I find myself saying out loud “Haven’t you people ever heard of reserved tickets?!” before I can stop. 
     I follow my morning route and walk to Piazza S. S. Annunziata.  This time I take time to look more carefully at things—the detail on the loggias, the statues, the chiesa. The skies are more than threatening rain so I step across the piazza, passing the equestrian statue and two similar looking fountains with some pretty wild sea creatures spitting water, to the chiesa.  The church has an 18th century glass and metal covered courtyard just inside the façade.  I step in.  Suddenly from above the clouds let lose a down pour and the rain hits the old glass cover with a velvet thunder of a crash.  I can tell that it is a lot of rain because soon it is pouring through the gaps and cracks in the covering—making puddles in the courtyard. 
     The chiesa is a beautiful Baroque inside.  The sanctuary is huge, with side isles that have wonderful artwork in each chapel.  I find an oil of King David dancing through the streets on his wedding day.  The ceiling is overly ornate gold. 
Two banks of organ pipes flank each side of the nave near the altar.  The altar space is circular and vast, and the dome is high.  Someone is playing the organ, so I seek the instrument out, circling around behind the altar space, and sitting in the choir section.  I want to see the music and watch how this guy plays.  He is good.  It is a rare treat to watch a musician of this caliber perform.  I say a polite “grazie” to him as I leave, half startling him from his musician’s trance.
      I decide to walk to San Marco about two blocks west.  I cross the piazza in front of the church and cross towards the chiesa; there is a double row of concrete barriers in front.  Mass is being say, so I enter quietly.  I am able to sit and observe the service and look at the high Baroque architecture.  The ceiling here is also gold.  A very pleased Florentine gives loud tourists entering the chiesa the ‘evil eye’.  “Hey, people don’t you get it; this is a church not a museum?”
     When I leave, I completely forget about the Fra Angelico museum behind the chiesa (I kick myself later—several times) and walk south on Via Cavour taking in the city.  I am fascinated by the big wooden doors and door knockers.  Each one is unique.   The dichotomy of the ancient and the present day is startling—graffiti on ancient stone, punk concert posters (even Jethro Tull) on 500 or 600 hundred year on walls.  I decide as I pass on the Medici Riccardi Palazzo to go see San Lorenzo.  It’s just a block away.  The large chiesa has another absolutely plain façade.  It is closed because it’s Sunday. 
    So I walk up Via Canto De’Nelli, accosted by the hundreds of vendor booths stuffed so full of things that I can’t imagine how the pack it up secure at night.   Many vendors are selling the chef’s aprons with David’s torso and ‘package’—gross.  Others have boxer shorts (with ‘package’), and I think I should get some for my younger brother Matt, who would appreciate the humor.  I stick to the sidewalks encountering leather shop after leather shop, and pasticceria whose window displays are true works of art.  I turn north on Cell’ Ariento to check out the huge metal and glass Mercato Centrale, but it is locked up tight.
     I walk back towards San Lorenzo and see what’s happening at the Medici Chapels--behind.  I am not encouraged by the ticket price and it is also closed.  There in the street I stop and watch water-colorist paint.  He speaks some English and we trade technique ideas.  He is doing two small paintings side by side—Palazzo Vecchio and Piazzale Michelangelo.  He has done his sketch with a fine tip pen and works the same color on his brush into both pictures simultaneously.   He is doing it all from memory and I now see how he has so much inventory—mass production. 
     I head back for the Baptistery, encountering some street and side walk construction.  The rains have turned the excavated earth into a mud hole.  I pass through the duomo Piazza, now choked with thousands of tourists.   Again, I drift towards the tourist booths thinking about gifts, but catch myself and walk on.  I am back at the apartment around 1:30 PM and Marianne and I set out to find lunch.  We cross to the “Fsasiaso” Fun Food place that has kabobs and gyros.  The middle-eastern owner and his son are happy to make us a sandwich.  The shop has only been open a couple of days.   It’s fresh and alright.  We have a couple bottles of acqua minerale-with gas, in lieu of a soda.  We head back to our flat for a pisolino. 
     It begins to rain as we start to sleep.  We rise a couple hours later and think about caffeine.  Even in the rain we walk to Piazza Signore, joining the thousands of wet tourists, in a small and crowded café/bar across from the bar on the corner of Calzaiuoli I got the dolce from this morning.  I have brought Marianne’s stool so she can sit and drink her macchiato.  Everyone is huddling inside because of the rain.  The caffé scene is wild chaos.  
     We are killing time until 4 PM when we can go to the Uffizi and redeem our bar coded internet ticket for official entrance ones.  We brave the wet and crowded piazza and get to the Uffizi—passing the stage and the loggia.  I leave Marianne near the entrance door and cross the courtyard.  The woman behind the glass of the ticket booth looks down her nose for only a second at the voucher and then issues me our tickets—without disturbing her cell-phone conversation.  I cross back to Marianne.  There are hundreds of people standing the line to get tickets.  I am baffled by their lack of pre-planning.  We move to the entrance door and are ushered in, again, before our scheduled time.  Great!  The elevator is just to the left and I ride up with her to the top floor.
     The next two hours are kind of a blur because of the sheer volume of art we see.  This is where the Italian art through the ages is kept—from Byzantine to 20th century.  There are all sorts of Church/Biblical related art and well as lots of mythological.  The hallways are packed full of sculptures—surprisingly not many of women.   I explore most of the rooms, while Marianne selects a few, and waits for me.  I see many works I have known and seen since Art History in college.  I even find that double portrait of Federico de Montefeltro and his wife Battista Sforza (from Gubbio).  Yes, we are impressed by the Michelangelo’s and the like, but what got both of us were the two works by Botticelli—“La Primavera” and “The Birth of Venus”.  Marianne sat in front of the allegory of spring and nearly wept—it is that wonderful. 
     The Uffizi takes a lot of patience, not because of the huge space, but because of the tour groups—again, especially the Japanese, and their attitude that “we get to see everything up close and you don’t.”  Also, museums are usually quiet places, but the guides, speaking in every language on the face of the earth, added together are loud.  The tourists dutifully have the ear buds stuffed in their heads, so they can’t hear the near cacophony of voices us regular people have to endure.  Talk about your ‘Tower of Babbles’ when there are several guides in one confined room.  Plus, when two or three large groups get into one of the rooms, the amount of bodies are overwhelming.
     Marianne survived the mammoth trek up and down both hallways so we stop into the caffé at the end for water, yogurt and a panino.  Sorry, the €8 cappuccino was not in our budget.  The rain has subsided, so I go out on the deck to try and get a picture of the duomo.  A high wall blocks the view and you are not aloud on the step up that runs the length of the barrier.  I raise my camera as high as I can, but the resulting picture isn’t great.   I wonder, “Is this where the final shot in “A Room with A View” was taken?” 
     We are hoping to beat a hasty retreat, but the exit stairway we saw earlier are closed and locked.  We have to take the stairs down to the Caravaggio exhibit or walk all the way back to the elevator.   Although stairs are extremely hard on her knees, she opts for them and not the walking.  Students have parked themselves on the steps and are creating a real hazard for Marianne.  Once they see her and the cane, they do scoot aside.   The stairs do not take us to the ground floor, but through a maze of very hot and stuffy rooms.   We are forced to re-walk the entire length of the entire Uffizi, again.  The only Caravaggio on display is the Medusa (apparently his mother’s face); the rest are good ‘in-the-style’ painters. 
     The Uffizi really has no consideration for the handicapped.  It was a nightmare to get Marianne down to the street.  Then you are unceremonious-ly dumped on a side street near the Science Museum, in the rain, and the first-time museum guest has to guess how to get back to the Piazza Signore.   You would think that there are no handicapped folks in Italy, and that everyone knows how to traverse Firenze because they have been here before.  No.  98% of the people do not know where they are going—they’re tourists! 
     We return to our Calzaiuoli flat and have vino rosso (the Chianti I bought last evening) ‘cocktails’.    Around 8 PM we start dinner—penne with onion and garlic.  I cook while the rain pours down outside.  There is also thunder.  I cut up some baguette and I notice my fingers smell of onion and garlic and I feel like I am at home.   Maurizio closes the stand at 8:30-9 PM and the ristoranti are only serving inside.  On the TV news, we see there was a live teatro event at the Bargello—“Dracula” with Brit’s.  They must have lucked out, at least for the news story, because now it is pouring down outside.  We sleep very well.

Lunedi (Monday) -- It’s Still Raining and It’s Summer (21 giugne, 2010)
     This morning the procession in the piazza was amazing.  First it was the garbage truck—only the mini Ape size.  Next men with brooms came through actually sweeping the streets and corners, and then a small street cleaning machine follows them making the piazza look great.  Now I am noticing that two ellettrico buses go by every five to ten minutes—C1 and C2.  That must be a good thing to know--right; now we just need a map with the bus routes and we can get somewhere.  It’s about 7:30 AM and it’s a work day, so people are in the piazza.   Soon the older couple in the little van comes through to open L’Angelo.  I see them transfer bags of supplies to the Trippa Stand.  I realize that they supply Maurizio with his food.    He arrives soon after and is ready before 8 AM.  Marianne tells me she does not want to do the Chianti wine tour and lunch ‘thing’ we have set up with Todd Bolton.  She thinks it will rain and spending that much money to walk in the rain is not going to work for her.
    After breakfast Marianne calls Todd and cancels the tour.   I go out to find a Wi-Fi zone, first at Piazza Republicca.  I can’t get a signal and I don’t see any internet cafes.  Funny, Rick Steves says they are everywhere.  I walk down Via Calimala to Mercato Nouvo and watch the vendors open up their stalls.     I find the boar statue and get a picture, along with lots of other tourists that are out and about.  The Liberia bookstore is on the corner opposite.  I love books stores so I go in.  What a great store—old and crammed full of literature. I need to find a really detailed map of Tuscany for the drive next week, so I ask the clerk/owner and he says Michelin is the best.   I browse but don’t see any books that peak my interest (not reading Italian yet), but I do find a few painted postcards and get those as well as the map.    
    Next, I walk south on Via Por Santa Maria to the Ponte Vecchio and watch the merchants open up their jewelry shops.  I cross the busy Lungarno  
Acciaiuoli and explore the back alleys, ending up at the Uffizi.  I try the computer in several locations around Piazza Signore, but no Wi-Fi spots.  I pick into the Palazzo Vecchio and find you can walk to an inner courtyard,   so I get some pictures.   In the piazza, horse drawn cabbies are ready, but there are no takers yet.
      On my way back to the apartment, I say ‘buongiorno’ as I pass the frutta/verdura lady on Cerchi (she must be in her mid-forties I’d guess).  I pick up a couple of dolce at Café Cimatori and take them up to Marianne for a post breakfast nosh. 
     Around 10:30 AM Marianne and I go out for a stroll.  We head north up Cerchi and over to Corso where the Paperback Exchange is located.  Right away I see that Dario Castagno’s new book, “An Osteria in Chianti” is on display.  I have been emailing Castagno over the past year and getting a lot of very helpful information.  He encouraged us to come and see him and take in a wine tour in Vagliagli, Chianti.  More recently he started to balk because the Palio will start a few days after we drive through there next week (July 2) and he has lots of festas to attend.  These are really just excuses to drink all night and sleep all day--nursing big hangovers.
      The salesperson says that 'that guy' brings his books in himself.  I get the feeling she is not impressed by his work.  She is an American, now living in Firenze.  We don’t find anything, but she helps us find a Wi-Fi bar just over on Proconsolo; she hands me the business card and says they need business.   Then we head back to Pz. Cimatori and stop into the Café for espresso and cappuccino. 
     Out the back side of the café is an alleyway with another frutta e verdura shop.  We walk by it as we head down Cerchi to Mauro’s.  It is amazing, but the shop right there on the corner is a fish vendor.  I take a look inside and am impressed at the fish and seafood selection he has—all packed on ice in a glassed display case.  At Mauro’s we get asparagus, apples, and more pasta—my ‘girlfriend’s’ favorite.    
     Next, We stop at Parrini’s and look at his ceramics.  Everything is beautiful and he does ship.  We will keep that thought until later.  My plan is to get a panno next door at I Fratellini’s.  Marianne declares that she will not have a sandwich from I Fratellini’s because there are no chairs. 
     After some tense moments, w settle on Vinni e Olii da Ganino Osteria right below the apartment for lunch.  Marianne is ready at noon for food, but the ristorante employees are inside eating their lunch (traditionally—together), so we relax in the piazza and wait.  The wait is worth it.  The food is very good.  We start with a mezzo liter of Chianti Classico.  I have Cinghale and pasta--incredible, and Marianne has the riboletta.  The food is wonderful and the weather cooperates.  We sit under the umbrellas and enjoy ourselves.    We cap the meal with cappuccino afterwards and are pleasantly surprised when the kid from Café Cimatori brings us our drinks.
     While Marianne has an early pisolino, I walk down Alighieri with the netbook, past Dante’s Casa, to Angels on Proconsolo.  The two bar guys at Angels are very accommodating and set me up with a table immediately; I am the only one in the bar.   It’s a sport bar, but unlike any one I’ve ever been in.   The building is hundreds of years old, but the slick contemporary interior, the artificial turf flooring, plastic patio tables, umbrellas and chairs under the gigantic TV screen are surprising.  I order vino rosso from the young bar tender, while the floor manager gets me the password. 
     I sit under an umbrella watching Italian sports.  I savor wine and catch up on my email, including correspondence with home (Bill Hallcraft has passed, Myana is working in Oakland, but will be home of the 4th of July, and Leonard and Phoebe (our dog) are bonding).  I also let Fernando and Rosetta know how wonderful our week was with them. 
     I decide to return to Paperback Exchange and buy Dario’s book.  The clerk is warmer this time.  She has been in Firenze for eight years and is from Detroit. 
     Next, I decide I need an Italia polo shirt, so I walk down Tavolini to the T-shirt shop next to the Tabacchi.  The guy in there has everything.  He wants to sell me an €18 shirt, but I tell him I am cheap.  We find a pale blue polo with an Italia logo on it for €10.  As I look around I see a “P’ flag (the international gay rainbow) with “Pace” on it.   I ask him why he has it.  He says it’s for world peace, but I suddenly have my doubts.  I tell him I agree that we definitely need world peace.  He has started to call me ‘Professore’ because I look like a teacher.  I tell him I am a teacher, of elementary music, little bambini and he smiles.  I tell him I find it very rewarding.  I think he agrees.
     As I return to the apartment, I open the door, but the key gets stuck in the lock and I can not get it out no matter what I do.  It is so frustrating.  We have no alternative but to call Cristina for help.  She sounds terrible when she answers.  She is very sick and will have to send her father in her place.  I tell her we are in no hurry and thank her profusely.  Her daughter is so sick.  About 45 minutes later her father, Paulo, shows up.  He is very polite and is incredibly helpful.  He can not understand why the key has gotten stuck.  He eventually gets it out and gives us his key; he believes that the key was faulty.  I think I broke it.  Another crisis resolved. 
     Maggiore, our car rental company, is next on my ‘call list.  I confirm the location of the business.  It is not at the train station as we were told, but three blocks south of the stazione on Masso Finiguerra.  Good to know, but a little intimidating, since I have no idea how to get there and then drive out of the city from that location.  Oh, well, that’s five days away.  We’ll figure it out then. 
     I retire of a late afternoon pisolino with Marianne.  Much to our delight and amazement, we engage in a little ‘afternoon delight’.  This is not so unusual, but with the chatter of ristorante patrons below, it was different.  “Hal & Lulu”!
     Once I call and confirm with Annie Adair, our tour guide in Volterra (Sunday), I ask Marianne if she wants to go over to the Duomo.  We walk there in about ten minutes.  She is in awe of the cathedral.  The front facade is absolutely breathtaking.  We get inside even though it’s almost a 4:45 PM and have fifteen minutes to look around.  She is fascinated by the marble mosaic floors.  I head towards the altar, but it is roped off.  The number of tourists using flash cameras is amazing since this is a consecrated chiesa.  From where I am, I am able to see the expanse of the dome and catch the detail of it's paintings.  I am surprised by large cracks in the dome’s frescos.  Above, there are two catwalks around the space and I get a touch of vertigo just thinking about the people up there.  Soon I will be one of them.
     The space is dark and Marianne almost steps on a little baby crawling freely on the marble floor.  The clock in the back of the church shows 5 PM and we are all herded out together.  The side piazza’s view of the mini-domed chapels, Brunelleschi’s dome and Giotto’s bell tower is spectacular.  We explore on the way back to Cimatori.  It’s ‘gelato’ time so we stop in at L’Angelo--pistachio and lemon.   I have to go back to Angels at 6:30 PM for more internet correspondence and they are serving tapas.  The guys are great and encourage me to partake.  The bar is very slow in the evening (sera) even though it’s attached to a high-end hotel and a ristorante.
     I get back to our piazza and talk to Ellen, the waitress/manager at Birrere Centrale.  They take Visa--glory halleluiah!  I whistle to Marianne and she hits the buzzer so I can get in the front door.  She is making dinner tonight.  She cooks the new pasta with asparagus, roma pomadoro, and parmesan cheese.  The ristoranti become busy and fill up, while we eat up in our flat.  Soon accordion music is wafting up from the piazza—“Over the Rainbow” and his encore, “De colores”.
     We finish the evening by watching World Cup on TV.  The night life fades after eleven.

Martedi (Tuesday) Climbing Early (22 giugne, 2010)
     I wake a 7:15 AM, do some yoga to get limber, have my coffee, breakfast and shower quickly.   Today I have decided I am going to climb the Duomo dome.  I have been anxiously looking forward to this day for many months.  After reading Brunelleschi’s Dome by Ross King, recommended by Phil Dorn, I know what it took to construction this Renaissance marvel.  Dorn is a writer (L.A. and Tuscany) who wrote the very funny book “The Reluctant Tuscan”; he and I have also corresponded over the past year.  He suggested King’s book and I was one of the most fascinating reads about Florence you can find. 
     Brunelleschi never used scaffolding and he had to invent machines to hoist the building materials up to the workers.  It’s a double shell of stones and brick, and Brunelleschi ingeniously devised a series of frames, chains, and almost herringbone patterned masonry to achieve this nearly impossible feat.  It is the largest free standing dome, bigger than Michelangelo’s St. Peter’s dome in Rome (Michelangelo copied ideas from Brunelleschi).  Please, don’t get me started.  All I should say is that this is Fillipo’s true medium and his finest hour.  Sadly, he never lived to see the lantern atop the magnificent dome.
      “8 AM” chimes the bells.  “You will be late,” they seem to say.  The melody floats through the azure skies and I feel the day will be a great one.  Once I say good bye to Marianne, I walk to the duomo piazza and quickly around the chapels that surround the dome; the Duomo museum is on my right.  It’s about 8:15 AM when I get to the entrance and eight people are already in line ahead of me. By the time it opens, there are twelve.  Not everyone can get up this early on holiday.  The British family in front of me has just acquired dad, who comes across the piazza from the west, in Bermuda shorts and a backpack.  He gives a “Fonzie” ‘Ahh’ and poses.  Their daughter giggles; mum is not amused.  Behind me I have some American college guys.  The girl friend of one has run off to find some breakfast.  Their dialogue is humorous.  “It’s €8 to stand in the line.  It’s €10 to get out of the line… €12 to get back in… It’s the death penalty to leave Florence.”  And on and on…
     The ticket office opens at 8:30 AM and we file in—entering the silent Duomo, briefly and then to the staircases.  The climb begins on the north side of the cathedral by the first chapel.  The staircase is square and we rise clock-wise.  I lose track of number of levels we go up—four or five?  There is a momentary break in the climb as we come to a room full of sculptures.  Then there are about two levels of a tight spiral staircase.  All along the way are signs saying do not deface the building—“No Scripto.”
     “Yeah, right” I say to the Brit. in front of me; the comment is not lost on him.  Most of the signs are covered in graffiti as well as the stones around them. 
     Suddenly we are out on the first mezzanine for the dome—suspended five or six stories above the altar.  Can you say “Vertigo”?  You have to walk this two foot wide gangway to the next section of the dome.  There is only a plexiglass sheet in front of the railing.  You can look out and up and take in the frescos, but I am choosing not to look down.  The paintings are incredible—the dead being raised, devils and saints.  We go back into the drum walls and climb stairs again.  Then we are on the second mezzanine.  I feel like I am keeping up with ‘Bermuda shorts’ in front of me, but I am audibly breathing harder.  We’ve lost the college kids already.  I hear their voices echo somewhere down below.  Now the stairs start rising between the two shells of the dome as we circle higher around the structure.  
    The inside dome is definitely curved and gradually this curve increases the higher we climb.  The crazy herringbone pattern of bricks is clearly visible.  We pass the large round wind holes every once in a while, either above or below us.   The curvature of the two domes becomes visibly more pronounced as the space gets smaller.  I am ducking a lot and actually using the curved walls to propel me up and forward.  The final assault is over the curve of the inside dome it’s self.  The ceiling (space between the two domes) is tight.  The last section is basically a ladder--straight up.  Suddenly I am out and high above the rooftops of Firenze.  Magnificent!
     The sun is bright in the beautiful blue sky and the temperature is several degrees cooler than down below or in the walls of the dome.  After the workout, I don’t mind at all.  It is dazzling not dizzying up here.   The huge white marble lantern towers above; it’s hard to believe that it is just sitting in place (not fastened) on top of the dome—its weight is the only thing holding it in place. We have come up on the west side of the dome; its shadow falls straight down onto the roof of the duomo below. 
     It is the most amazing sight--first, to see the huge church and tower below, then to look out at the sea of red tiled roofs of Firenze.  In this first western quadrant I immediately see San Lorenzo and the Mercato Centrale beyond.  As I circle to the left under the buttresses of the lantern to the second quadrant, sadly, I see graffiti and peoples names even on the white marble.   I look down and see plants growing on the tiles of the dome; seeds blown up here by the wind.  To the southwest I can see SMN Stazione and the basilica of Santa Maria Novella.  Further out you can see to the Arno and the city across the river—the Oltrarno. 
     It is a clear day so you can see hills in the distance.  On the south side I see the Palazzo Vecchio tower, and the Badia and Bargello’s as well.  I follow the roofline back from the Badia and find the building our apartment is in; I find it.  I see the Pitti Palazzo across the river.  To the southeast you can clearly see all the details of San Croce.  I also see the Bibliotecca, and Piazzale Michelangelo up on the hill across the Arno. 
     The city of Firenze stretches so far to the east and west, but the hills north and south hem it in.  To the east I see the Tempio Israelitico, which I know nothing about other than its striking blue dome in the sea of red roofs.  To the north, the fourth quadrant, I see Fiesole for the first time, nestled up in the higher hills.  The terrain of the area is so readable from here.  Firenze is truly in a flat river plain.  To the northwest I see the town of Prato through the haze.  I circle through the quadrant—stopping to take pictures and pan shots with the vid-cam. 
     The 360 degree view is outstanding.  I go around for a second time.  The British guy offers to take my picture, so I stand with my back to the south so the apartment, the PalazzoVecchio, Badia and Bargello towers show up and San Croce as a bonus.  He and I make small talk, but soon it is time to descend.  Suddenly, a small group of American teens emerge from below.  One of the girls, fanes horror and is terrified by the height.  She cringes and cowers up against a buttress.  She plays the part well and she is dressed so well.  Could she be the “I’m soooo drunk girl”?  (That happens later tonight, more on that later.)  The rest of us descend to escape the ‘show’. 
     The two curved dome walls are so tight here; I keep scraping my balding head on the top as we go down.  I tell the Brit I am sure to leave a piece of my scalp here.  He laughs.  We have to keep making way for the folks coming up.  We offer them helpful suggestions since we have been there and back. 
     “Turn back now, while you still have the chance,” says the Brit. 
     “Hold on, it’s all worth it,” I offer.
     At the top of the drum we come to a tool and machine room.  These are some the implements that were use in the construction.  I bet they were left here and never made it back down.  The ingenious machines that Brunelleschi designed to construct the dome are gone now; just the drawings remain.  These huge devices, powered by horses, must have been incredible things to see in operation.  We go out on the mezzanines again I see the large cracks in the frescos. 
     Next are the tight spiral stairs and finally the square stairs and we are down back on the Duomo floor.  We exit on the south side of the duomo into the same south piazza Marianne and I were in yesterday evening.  I pause to look back up at where I have been.  I really did it.  Thank you, God. 
     I walk back to Cimatori, wet, but full of energy.  I stop in to Café Cimatori, saying buongiorno to the barista and mamma who runs the place.  I get two dolce and step into the piazza and whistle up to Marianne.  She we waves and opens the door and I go up. 
     Later we are back down at the café for a large macchiato and we sit behind the café on their minuscule deck, watching the frutta e verdura doing a brisk trade in the alley.  They also have a small retail and storage place down in the cellar below, and it looks like the owner also supplies some produce to Birreria Centrale; a couple of boxes of produce head around the corner to the ristorante.  Down stairs I see a bottle of Chianti that strikes my eye and remember it for future reference.
      Marianne is on a mission this morning to find fine paper products.  We head down Tavolini and find the store Il Papiro.  Marianne is in love with this shop the second we step through the door.  It’s a small space and it has about four isles.  This place has everything you can think of when it comes to paper and writing.  There are different papers, inks, pen and pen set.  There are cards and calendars, leather bound journals and desk sets.  I am not a big fan of this stuff, but I have to admit it is all great looking. 
     Stephan, a former American with European roots, is more than helpful.  He was born in New York; his mom lives in Jersey (and you can hear it is his accent).  He lives in Firenze with his father now and they are somehow connected with the family who owns Il Papiro.  Il Papiro stores are all over Italy.  He helps Marianne find everything she wants.  She gets things for herself as well as friends back home. 
     While he is wrapping everything in colored tissue paper, he realizes he hasn’t shown us how their signature hand made colored ink process is done.  He invites us to the back of the shop were the demonstration is set up.  There is a tray of liquid glue (most likely rabbit) sitting on the broad counter.  He gives the surface a quick clean and then begins.  First he sprinkles different colored inks on the surface of the glue, which spread out.  Then he takes a long needle and draws it through the inks in different ways—up and down, side ways, and even ‘S’ shapes.  Then he shows us Il Papiro’s signature design, which is the ‘peacock’.  Next he takes what he calls a comb and draws it across the already swirled colors.  Suddenly the distinctive multiple fan-like peacock feathers appear.  Finally he produces a full sheet of thick paper from under the counter and gently lays it across the surface of the paper, so no bubbles are trapped.  It floats for just a second and then he removes it; he lets the excess glue drip from the paper and shows us what he has created.  The ink has completely adhered to the paper and the designs and colors are great.  You see this kind of paper used as end sheets in expensive or old books.  Now I know how it’s done.  He hangs the wet paper up on a line to dry.  He takes down a paper that he did early today and gives it to us as a gift.  We are most appreciative and we head back to the front counter.
     Stephan is getting out of town after work on Wednesday, the day before the craziness ensues with San Giovanni day--Thursday.  He is going to il mare (the sea).  His father has a house in Castiglioncello, just south of Livorno.  Marianne has chosen a good selection of cards, pen sets, and bookmarks, two boxes of note cards, and a journal and pen for herself.  Once Stephan has it wrapped and bagged we pay and are off with an ‘arrivedercci’ and ‘enjoy the beach.’
     As we pass by Mauro’s, my girlfriend calls, “porcini tomorrow”.  I say “grazie, domani”.  I ask her about where I can find sausage.  She tells me of a place on Via de’ Neri just off of Via dei Leoni, right behind Palazzo Vecchio.  I thank her.  Marianne and I go back to the apartment with her booty.  I take off in search of fresh sausage.  I know right where this butchers shop will be.  Neri is where a great four person apartment is that I saw on line.  The shop is on the north side of the street and there is a loggia across the way on the corner of Leoni. 
     I find the shop and ask for “Quattro sausage, perfavore”.  The butcher and his wife are great and I walk out in two minutes with the 4 sausage.  I decide to walk past Trattoria Anita, again, just to make sure I can find it again.  Then I pass a store with art prints and posters on sale.  I browse through the rack out front, but decide not to purchase anything yet. 
     I head back to Cimatori and get a couple of panini for lunch from Maurizio.  I tell the woman that I am working up to trying the tripe, but not today.  We have a light lunch after 1 PM and then another pisolino.  ‘Love’ is in the air, again, and after we look at each other and say, “My, my, my, what has gotten into us?”  The same three street musicians with the same three songs, lull us to sleep. 
     After 4 PM I head out for the alimentari for more drinking water.  I start down the Lamberti, but stop at Parrini’s.  Umberto is out front painting platters.  I step over to I Fratellini’s and get a Chianti Reserva.  There is no place to sit, door stoops are occupied by college kids, so I sit on the curb.  I am fascinated by the way he is painting the first fired clay.  Eventually I get up my nerve to across and watch Lauro working—up close.  I ask “permesso” and he obliges.  
     Maestro Parrini, as he is referred to, is working on more than one piece at a time.  He has a small olive platter and a large bowl.  He works from a small bench that has three shelves.  He dips his brush in one glaze and paints the two different patterns with the same color.  If he makes a mistake or doesn’t like something, he turns the brush over and using the other end to rub off the glaze.  He puts a distinctive ornamental border around the lip of the bowl.  This must be a design of his own, because I see it on many of his pieces.  When the wines is gone I say “grazie and ciao.”  
     I walk back to the ladies at the alimentari, who recognize me and say ‘ciao.’  They sell me the largest water they have.  “Arrivederci.”  Mauro’s is closed so no onion tonight.  I return to the flat and realize I haven’t been to San Croce yet.  I really had wanted to get the layout of the area before we visit it on Thursday.  I am off again and I take Greci to the east.  This street is lined with leather shops of all kinds.  All the vendor stands in the street and the large crowds of people makes it hard to get through.  Once I get to Via Giuseppe Verdi, I can see that the bleachers for the calico storico match are all set up.  I can barely see San Croce on the next block east. 
     I walk around the piazza on Torta--the north side.  I can finally see the beautiful triptych façade of the chiesa, as I get closer, with its unusually tall central nave (large rosetta window and Star of David in the highest pediment; the bell tower is in back.  There is a statue of Dante on its pedestal just up the steps on the left side of the large chiesa—casting a distained look upon the crowd.  Since I want to check out it the leather school in back and the alternate entrance to the church I keep walking east.  Rick Steves details this in his Florence chapters and I want to check it out.   I walk Torta, passing the side of the chiesa.  Even though it looks like the church is joined to the next building down the street, right where it ends (just as Steves says) is a glass door and an arch that leads to a garden behind the church.  I walk around the back of the chiesa until I see the leather school building, and step down into the courtyard/garden of the school.  An American couple is coming up the steps and is talking out loud. 
     “I wonder if Rick Steves writes about this?” 
     “Yes.  He does,” I say casually.  I am sure that this actually surprises them even though I am eager to let them know. 
     They leave and I check the doors and see that it is after 5 PM and they are closed up tight.  I walk back through the church garden and pass an African American couple walking through the garden; they ask me what is back here and I tell them “there is a leather school, but it is closed.”  They thank me and walk on to check it out.  I get out on the street and walk back around to the front of the church.  Even though the steps are covered with people, I manage to ascend and check out the front of the chiesa.  It is ornate and beautiful.  I walk south, and down the steps so I can see the Pazzi Chapel. 
     This is a real jewel of a building and another Brunelleschi masterpiece.  The Pazzi Chapel is behind gates, and sits so beautifully at the end of a
grassy shaded courtyard.  There are arched colonnades that line three sides of the space.  The façade of the chapel is unique--an arched portico with a high balcony above.  The chapel is crowned with a small rotunda.    Knowing I will also see this Thursday, I get a picture through the bars of the gate and then walk around the south side of the piazza. 
     On this side, artist after artist has set up the stands and displays in the shade of the bleachers that are wrapped in a plastic tarp to hide the playing field.  A lot of the paintings are vey similar and the ability levels range is vast.   I find a few pictures and styles that I really love, but I know I can’t buy, because I could never get it home without wrinkling or ripping them. 
     I pass that art shop again on the way back, avoiding Greci at all costs.  I find €10 worth, mostly old opera posters, an architectural rendering of Brunelleschi’s dome, and 1920’s calendar art of Firenze.  However, the salesperson says they have a €15 minimum for credit card purchases.  I am happy to oblige and find some more posters and cards.
     Marianne is pleased with the posters, not only the content, but that I can fit them into the front pocket of the black bag.  We have a little antipasti, pane and provolone cheese, and we open the Contucci Nobile de Montipulciano.  It is very good.  It starts to rain.  A large group of American kids parade down Cerchi with their luggage rolling behind.  Clickity clack.
     The sera (evening) is warm and I cook—shedding my shirt for my “wife-beater” T.  For dinner, we have the sausage Toscana and pomadoro in a Barilla ragu with the last of the onion and three cloves of garlic.  Delizioso!  After dinner the rain stops and café life resumes.  We have a quiet evening watching Italian TV and writing postcards to family and friends.   We spend some time trying to figure out a game show.  It is based on some sort of word game, but we never figured out how it was played.  We are asleep by eleven.  The ristorante close after 1 PM and all is quiet. 
     Then at 2:30 or 3 AM, the ‘imbecile-ically’ obnoxious American teens return from the bars.  They are absolutely drunk and screaming and yelling.  I am so embarrassed to be from my country at this moment.  We hear one young girl scream at the top of her voice, “I am so drunk!”  I want to yell out the window at her, “Well of course you are you stupid little twit.  Now shut the f--- up and go to sleep!”  But of course I don’t.  I think the residents of the Piazza Cimatori would have applauded me.

Mercoledi (Wednesday)--The Bargello (23 giugne, 2010)
    Street life returns to our quiet piazza.  We sleep in.  After coffee and breakfast, I look for a post office box (Piazza Signore) and a bus schedule.  I find out that none of the bus goes straight to the Bargello, but Marianne thinks she can walk.  We are hoping to go to the Science museum after lunch at Trattoria Anita.  “Allora”, best laid plans…
     Marianne and I walk over to the Bargello, and after a security check, we enter the courtyard.  It’s hard to believe that his use to be the jail, and not a palazzo.  The grand outside stair case is magnificent.  The former prison warden’s placards are on the wall up above the steps.  We entry the glass doors to the right of the ticket/gift shop at the bottom of the stairs.  This first room is where the most outstanding statues are located.
     We’ve got Michelangelo’s Bacchus, Brutus, and David/Apollo and other copies of his works.  There are the prototypes of Cellini’s Perseus (which is at the Loggia in the Piazza Signore, and Giambologna’s Mercury and Florence Victorious over Pisa (very metaphorical).   We exit, crossing the courtyard, admiring the larger than life statues under the high arched supports for the balconies above.  I peak into the temporary exhibits hall, but there is nothing there.  We locate the elevator and Marianne goes up to the second floor.  I take the inside stairs, and interrupts a woman cleaning them.  “Pardona scusa, Signora.  Permesso?”  She is very gracious about letting pass, stopping her mopping of the marble step and the carpet.  I am a little puzzled by her method, but keep walking.
     I join Marianne on the second level.  The rooms are full of old things that really don’t interest me.  There are workers using the tower space in the northwest corner of the building to haul equipment in and out of the museum.  We enter the Donatello Room and check out the Niccolo de Uzzano bust, an early David, his Saint George (San Giorgio)—the real one, his famous David (in the fruity hat), San Giovannino de Baptista, and two Sacificio di Isacco by Ghiberti and Brunelleschi.   These were the two final contest pieces for the baptistery doors, and of course Ghiberti won. 
     Then we come to the Lucca della Robbia works and Marianne is in heaven.  These terracotta relief panels are very impressive, with their porcelain glazes of white, blue, green and yellow.  She can’t put her finger on what it is that makes her love this style so much.  These beautiful pieces are definitely the most delicate and refined of all the exhibits.  We exit and go our separate ways--Marianne to her elevator, I to my stairs and we meet on the top level. 
     This is the bronzes level.  I can imagine it was also private rooms for the warden and his family.  I step up to a window and crane my neck out for a great view of rooftop patios and gardens below.  I honestly find this more interesting than some of these exhibits.  The Verrocchio David is wimpy compared to the Michelangelo, and the Pollaiuolo Wrestling Hercules and Antaeus is kind of creepy.  The remaining exhibits are small bronzes (in case after case), and daily objects from the Renaissance.  We descend and realize the center courtyard is set up for the performances of “Dracula”.  How special—anyone else tired of Vampires, yet?
     We look for a place to sit down and have an espresso, but you can only have lunch at the cafes we pass.  We stop at a leather store on Via de’ Condota and Marianne starts looking at purses.  We walk back to Cimatori Café and have a couple of Macchiatos—grande.  After, I stop to buy that bottle of Chianti and Marianne heads down Cerchi to Condota to the leather shop La Torre.  By the time I catch up with her, Fabio (really), has already sold her two purses.  I wonder around for a look at leather jackets and faster than you can say “Brunelleschi”, Fabio has me to try on coasts.  I try on a heavy black one, which I don’t like, and then he introduces me to a summer jacket, two-tones, made of Antelope.  With Marianne’s encouragement, I have a jacket and a big discount for purses in no time.  Fabio is a great salesman, of French and Italian descent (a Florentine who has never been to the Uffizi)—with obviously great English.
     I am please with the purchase and we walk back to the apartment.  I realize we have lots of time to kill, so I decide it’s time to break out the watercolors and paint.   The Palazzo Vecchio in Piazza Signoria beckons me and I am off.  The sky over the piazza is that kind of alligator-skin cloud formation that keeps everything a little gloomy, but is great for the painter, who had to sit out in sun for hours.  I set up across the piazza from the building in the northwest side of the piazza, on the sidewalk against the building, between a jewelry store and the door to an upstairs apartment.  Because of the teaming mass of bodies I want to be well out of the way.
     I do a small, postcard size ‘quick-pic’ which starts to take an hour.  The piazza is a mass of bodies and I shut them out trying to do my work methodically—using time judiciously.  The sun breaks out and it gets hot.  Good thing I am wearing my funny fedora.  I have to constantly spray down my paper to keep things moist.  The paint is frying on the paper and in the palate.  Suddenly I hear a familiar voice call out “here is my friend, David, the painter.”  I look up, shocked by the welcomed intrusion. 
     OMG—it’s Fernando Scattini—from Magione!  He reaches over to shake my hand and I rise to greet him, forgetting about everything in my lap.  The palate and paints fly but I am very pleased to see my amici again!  We shake solidly and then he helps me pick up the paints; we also do a quick, manly hug, and then he introduces me to his tour guests--two couples from Ohio.  I shake each of their hands and tell them my wife, Marianne, is originally from Ohio.  I tell them she is taking a pisolino in the apartment two blocks away. 
     Fernando has brought them to see the Uffizi.  I can not believe this serendipitous moment.  I thought for sure I’d never see him again.  He tells me that one of the guys could give me a run for my money, referring to painting.  I tell them that they are in the most expert hands in Umbria for touring.  They nod in agreement.  Fernando tells me aside that he is thankful for the email and compliments I sent him and asks if it would be alright to use it in his website for the business.  “Of course” I say without hesitation, but I will be sending a more thoughtful statement, than the one I quickly typed in the sports bar the other day.  He is grateful, “grazie.”  Then just as quickly as they arrived, the group is gone, blending in with the thousands of others in the piazza.  I am stoked.  I finish up as much as I can with the watercolor sketch, pack up and head for I Fratellini’s for due panini and head back to the piazza.  I whistle a made-up tune to Marianne; she calls out and opens the door, again.
    Marianne is amazed that I just saw Fernando and makes me retell the story at least twice while we have lunch.  Afternoon plans drift away into a pisolino.   The next time we are in Firenze, we’ll see the Science museum, the Fra Angelico’s, and the duomo museum, and the…
    After 4 PM I go for a walk.  I head southwest, passing Mercato Nouvo, searching for Palazzo Davanzati, but instead, I find the headquarters of the Calcio Storico.  Along the way I find a street artist recreating Raphael’s “Madonna della Seggiola in a gigantic chalk pavement mural.  He has captured the eyes and skin tones of the two central figures, beautifully.  I walk up Borgo S. S. Apostoli and finally see the column in Piazza Trinita and chiesa across the street.  I cross to the church and I can find no
entrance or information that could help me.
     I cross to the piazza again south to the multi-storied palazzo of Ferragamo’s. 
I have no intension of touring the museum, but I do check out the inner courtyard.  I walk south to the Arno, carefully crossing the busy Lung. No Acciaiuoli to get to Ponte Trinita.  Four sculptures, two on this end are female
and two (male) on the south end guard the bridge.  The view of the buildings that line the streets and the river are outstanding.  I look to the southwest and see another Brunelleschi dome, this one is San Ferdiano.  To the east is another
great view of the Ponte Vecchio.  I can see young men on the south side of the river, fishing.  I cross and am ready to get a picture of this end of the bridge when suddenly an older man, just crossing the street, is knocked over by a college student on a bicycle.  He is down in an instant and he looks like he is hurt.  He can’t seem to stand back up.  I yell, “Signore!” and start across the busy street to help.  To his credit the young man is so horrified at what he has just done, he throws down his bike in the street and helps the old man to his feet.  I pick up the bike and we get all get to safety.  I think the man’s elbow is broken.  His wife is scolding the kids, and the kid is apologizing profusely.  I hand over the bike and cross the street, again, leaving the trio to tend to each other.
     Less than a block south on Via Maggio Officio, I find the unique water fountain (it’s in Rick Steves) on the corner of the five-street intersection.   I take Via dello Sprone in hopes of finding ‘Quattro Leoni’, and famous “out-of-the-way ristorante.  I find it in a small piazza covered with
tables.  It is reposo so the ristorante is closed up.  I peak in for a look.  I see Anthony Hopkins picture on the wall—his favorite place to eat during the filming of “Titus”.
     Just to the right of there I find an intriguing open door that leads to an arched room full of antique treasures and open air courtyard beyond.  This is a wonderful restoration shop and the things in here boggle my mind.  There is of course furniture, light fixtures and chandeliers, architectural ornaments, angels, horses, old signs—you name it and it’s in here.  The owner, a very business-oriented woman is on her cell in the next room.  I wave to say I’m alright, and she continues the conversation. 
     I step out into reality again and find that a honking truck has been blocked by a large motorcycle.  It is just sitting in the street.  The helmeted couple is checking out a pay public toilet.  The guy is not helpful and clueless, wondering why you have to pay to pee, so the girl moves the bike out of the way to let the truck pass.  The guy says he doesn’t have to go that bad and they get on the bile and are gone.
     I walk to Via dei Guicciardini and head south to the Pitti Palazzo.  There are artisan shops lining this street and well as ristoranti and jewelry shops.  I note the covered sidewalk cafes across from the Pitti Piazza—a huge uphill paved area.  A waiter from Bellini’s wants me to sit, but I say probably Friday with my wife, grazie.  I am concerned that Marianne may not be able to walk down here for lunch on Friday and then back up to rendezvous with Paulo on Friday afternoon.  I try a side street to find Trattoria Casalinga, but instead find backstreet artisans in dusty old shops, I hear a tapping sound, and find a café-bar on the corner that is right out of Italia, circa 1940’s.  I walk back to the main street, stopping in to see what the tapping sound is all about.  It is an upholsterer in his ancient shop covering a chair seat.
     I head back north towards the Ponte Vecchio, but find a small ristorante with outdoor seating.  It is under an arch that leads to an inner courtyard.  There are art stores lining the area, and above are many high apartment buildings.  This is where the Florentines that work in the old town live.  I like this side of the river immediately.  I follow the Medici bypass (Vasari Corridor) to the most famous bridge ever—Ponte Vecchio.  Everyone knows that it’s the only bridge in town that the Nazi’s didn’t blow up at the end of WWII. 
     Originally, fish mongers and butchers lined the bridge, but the refuse from these shops that didn’t pollute the street were washed into the Arno below.  The Medici’s soon called a halt to that mess and invented the gold and jewelry merchants on-board. 
     I follow the Medici promenade to the east when I have crossed the bridge, looking back often and snapping picture.  I look down and see the cru boats and
the grassy park below.  Then I cross to the Uffizi and find I can not get down the steps to the courtyard—students, hundreds of them, sit on every available inch of the stone.  I manage to find a tiny break in the multitude and get to the space beyond.  There are tens and tens of artists in the space.  Many are the ones I saw the other day at San Croce.
     As I walk back to the apartment, I feel the need to buy an Italian flag. Tonight Italy is playing in the World Cup and I want to cheer them on to victory.  I want to add my flag to the others that are hanging off the window stills in Piazza Cimatori.  I head to my favorite T-shirt and stuff shop on Tavolini, where the owner is outside helping a neighboring merchant put up a sign.  He is standing on the ladder using the power drill. 
     When he is through, he comes back to the shop, saying “Ciao, Professore.”  He wants me to buy a big flag, and keeps cutting the price.  I tell him it would never fit in the luggage.  So I settle on a small flag and take it back to the apartment.  When I get back to the piazza, I find Marianne outside, crying.  She locked herself out and went and bought another pack of cigarettes.  She is definitely mad with herself.  I kiss her and pat her head and take her home.  We make up a new rule that I will not take the key and I will call for her, like I have been, to let me in.
     We decide to walk to Angel’s so I can use the Wi-Fi.  Unfortunately the wine bar is packed.  England is playing and all but a corner table is occupied.  The Brits and Scotts are vocal and in great spirits.  There’s even a young family with a baby in tow.   I reposition the umbrella so we can see the TV, and I get us some vino rosso.  The bartender is not as helpful today, preoccupied with so many pretty girls are standing around the bar.  I bring the vino back and we join in the party.    England wins and suddenly the bar is disserted again.  The after show tells us that America is out of the competition.  It takes forever to get on the internet, but I catch-up on emails.  Angel’s does not serve tapas tonight. 
     We stop at Birrere Centrale on the way back and make reservations for 8 PM.  Ellen can only seat us against the wall, right outside our Apartment or inside.  We take the outside table gladly and head upstairs to have a bit more vino and antipasti--provolone e pane as a snack.
    At 8PM Marianne and I go down to dinner to the table is right outside our door.  Birrere Centrale has been in the same location since the 1800’s.  Back then it was called Bar Centrale (a beer brewery).  It is a tiny ristorante and bar with outside seating during the summer.  It is always busy with talk--voices and laugher are served up with incredible food.  Walk-ins wait about an hour; they sand in Alighieri and have a drink until their table is ready.  By a strike of luck we find we are very fortunate.  Ellen has actually gotten us a table under the umbrella, instead of down the alley.
     Tonight our waitress is Luccia; a dolce young girl who is doing her best to communicate and take us through the two menus. There is a standard menu and a daily specials one; both pages and longs and chalked full of things to choose.  First we order vino rosso and I ask for antipasti of Crostini Misti Toscano (including chicken liver pate).  Marianne will have gnocchi with gorgonzola as a primi, and her secondi—roast duck.  With Luccia’s help I have the roast pork rolled with apples and prunes.  Marianne refuses to touch the liver pate, but I find I am loving it.  We get a second bottle and Marianne stops eating her duck because it is so rare.  Never being one to be shy around food,  I share my pork we and nearly devour the duck.  So delizioso.  
     The bill is exactly what we thought it would be, and less than in Rome.  We are so please with the whole experience that we seek out Luccia and give her an unexpected tip.  She is very grateful and doesn’t think she should take it.  We insist.  Ellen, who loved the gesture, and learning that we were right upstairs in the apartment, gives us another bottle of wine.  We are blown away and ‘grazie’s’ are flying left and right.   A 13 ‘top’ of German’s, who has been waiting and drinking in the street for over an hour, is seated and Marianne leans over to Ellen as we leave.
     “Don’t let them sing, okay?” pointing up to the apartment.  “It’ll keep us up all night.”  They both laugh and we say “buone notte’ and “arrivedercci”.
     The evening is so pleasant and young (10:30) that we walk down Calzaiouli taking in the night life of the busy city.  On Via degli Speziale a street mime, dressed a little like Charlie Chaplin, is cavorting with a young girl, loudspeakers blaring music, and a large crowd has surrounded them creating a cobble stone stage for the show.  Over head and in Piazza Republicco, glow-in-the-dark ‘whirly gigs’ fly and float in the air like neon soap bubbles, and the mood is magical.   The street audience loves the gentle routine and the girl plays along as if rehearsed.  The crowd applauds and cheers and “ah’s” at the right times.  I think it would be a get ‘pick-pocket’ moment.   I nervously put a hand over my shirt, to keep prying fingers away. 
     We walk west on Speziale with the carnival happening all around us.  We decide on gelato to cap the evening and spot a very trendy gelateria with loud music and a huge TV showing music videos.  We get a (Ferrero) Rocher cone and share it.  Then we walk back to Cerchi and back to Cimatori before we head up the stairs to the apartment.  It is well after 11 PM, the latest we have been up in two week, when we finally retire.  What an incredible day!

San Giovanni Baptista Festa  (Giovedi 24 giugne, 2010) 
     We fell asleep last night to the end of “Breakfast at Tiffany’s dubbed in Italian.  It still works.   Audrey Hepburn running in the rain, crying “Gato, Gato!” Henry Mancini’s “Moon River” being crooned by a vocal jazz group in the background, and George Peppard hugging the gato and the girl in the rain.  Marianne was sniffling again on cue.
     Today is a holiday, San Giovanni Baptista, and things are not running normally—garbage trucks, buses, etc.  I take a morning walk and head towards Piazzale Michelangelo, across the Arno, to get a commanding view of the city.  I cross Piazza Signore, and head toward the river to look at Piazza de Giudici in front of the Science Museum as a possible place to observe the firework tonight.  The view across the Arno to the hills with Piazzale Michelangelo and San Miniato de Monte is ‘perfetto’.  I think it will do quite well.  Now, I head east on Neri and come out at Via de Benci.  Later, from this intersection, I will want to go up Borgo San Croce to the Tourist Information, so I remember it for later.  The Ponte Alla Grazie is easy to cross; then I head for Via Di San Niccolo.  The streets are quieter here, and I, again, am ‘loving’ Firenze as I follow the broadly bending (running East to West), but tightly packed street. 
     I find a porta in the old city wall in a parking lot right behind Il Rifrulo.  From here, I walk along and up a street that has a couple switch backs, admiring the houses with tiny lawns and second story patios that back up to the old city wall; I could live there.  I end up on Via Del Bastioni and see that the Polizia have barricaded the streets leading up to the Piazzale.  The guys guarding the barrier say that the fireworks are taking up the whole piazza and no one can go up.  Oh, boh.  I guess I won’t be seeing the city view today. 
     I head back down, taking some grand stair steps that lead to Piazza Giuseppe Poggi.  There is a large torre there that I look at from all sides.   Then I cross the busy Lungarno Serristori and walk back to Ponte Grazie on the river side.  Grand old buildings line the opposite side of the street.  The Arno with parks and a few cafes is on my right.  I look over and actually see some guy down in the muddy, brushy flats of the river bank lying out to sun bat.  Strange---at 9 AM on a busy weekday morning. 
     I cross the ponte and head south up Benci to Borgo San Croce.  It is a diagonal street that spills out right at the chiesa San Croce; it’s like an alleyway.   I am about run out of street when I finally find the obscure TI sign on the left.  They don’t have a/c so it is kind of muggy inside.  That’s when I realize how long we have gone with out really washing clothes--pew.  The two people behind the counter are extremely helpful.  I get information about the Calcio Storico, San Giovanni festivities, bus schedules and route, and good map of Firenze.  Both of them give me directions to Maggiore Rental, and information on train tickets.   They even know when the next bus strike is going to be—Friday at 4 PM.  Good to know.
     It is a quick walk back to Piazza Cimatori.  Marianne, however, is not going to participate again today.  This ‘bagging out’ at the last minute is wearing thin, but I understand her feeling and take it is stride.  We have breakfast and suddenly the sound of trumpets and drums echo through the streets and up the piazza.  The processions of the Calcio Storico have begun.  Marianne and I run down Tavolini to Calzaiuoli and witness the parade.  First, the ‘nobles’ in Renaissance costumes go by us.  Next, a legion of trumpeters march by in slow cadence, and then the drum corps.  Then the flag bearers strut past and the stop.  In the narrow via they begin to twirl and toss their flags.   They pass them to each other in effortless tosses, and then throw them high into the air, over phone or power lines to the amazement of the crowds.  The parade marches on toward the Duomo piazza.   Outstanding.
     I leave for San Croce at 10 AM.  I also take my sketch book along with the camera this time.  The walk takes an easy 10 minutes.  There are about 30 people in line ahead of me to get tickets.  A couple, Asian/American, have come over with a Princess tour from Livorno.  We talk as the line moves along.  They only have two hours in Florence, before they head to Pisa and then back to the ship.  Their cruise started in Barcelona, hit Nice and now Livorno, later Rome, Naples, and finally Venice.
     Marianne and I had first talked about doing this cruise and taking these day excursions as our introduction to Italy.  I am so glad we didn’t.  We would have never been able to do any of the things we have done these past two weeks.  I can’t believe it’s already been that long, and that in two days I will be driving out of Firenze to San Gimignano, Montalcino, and Luca.
     The interior of San Croce is getting a lot of restoration work right now, so many of the memorials and tombs on the right side of the nave, as well as the altar, are shrouded in plastic.  Arnolfo di Cambio designed San Croce, as well as the Duomo and the Medici’s Palazzo Vecchio in the Piazza Signore.  The nave here is high and long and contains many works of art (Donatello’s “Annunciation’”, Giotto’s “Death of Saint Francis”, and Gaddi’s frescos in the Baroncelli Chapel).  There are also tombs of notable Florentines:  Galileo, Michelangelo, Dante, Machiavelli, and Rossini (not a Florentine).  The place is packed.
     I sit in a pew and sketch the high and impressive nave and altar.  The high vaults and arches are fascinating.  I am amazed to see a walkway all around the upper most height of the space.  I know I wouldn’t ever want to walk on that lofty catwalk.  With so many people in the chiesa, when I try to exit, I get caught up in a tour.  To avoid them I step down and look into a basement room.  I wait for the crowd to move on and away from the Pazzi Chapel before I advance.
   Again, I think this chapel is a rare jewel among all the other masterpieces in this city.  The outer portico of the Pazzi is a work of art.  12 Corinthian columns support the double barrel arch separated by a glorious dome.  The front of the portico has a cut out arch that displays a white and blue Della Robbia circular relief with the resurrected Christ directly above the main door.  The arches have four bans of square decorations (7 in each) with circular floral medallions within, while the dome is covered with beautiful round della Robbia medallions, with the trade mark blue, white, green and yellow glazes, and scallop shells in each of the four corners of this ceiling.  There is a lemon garland wreath in the very center of the dome with a triangle in its center.  The portico is so gorgeous I don’t want to leave and go inside.
      When I step into the cool darkness of the chapel, through tall thick drapes, I feel alone; my jaw drops at what I see.  The interior space is equally beautiful as the outside.  It is small but high with the exquisite dome above.  The same motifs of floral medallions inside squares, Della Robbia, Corinthian capitols, and arches are echoed here.  The dome floats above the space, with delicate ribs rising to a round window (oculus) of light in the center.  The ribs cut the dome into 12 pie-wedge shapes and 12 perfectly round windows glow in each wedge.  The walls are white; the contrasting dark marble and colorful medallions make the chapel one of the most perfect things I think I have never seen.  Arch and circle and square.  Brunelleschi, the designer, said he was inspired by the Pantheon, and the ‘circle in the square’ motif was both Florence’s and ancient Rome’s symbol of unity and harmony of the perfect shapes.
     The altar area is up three steps and recessed back from the main space—white marble.  Two tall candle sticks and a cross are the only things on the altar.  There is a smaller dome of deep blue high above.  The blue and white circular medallions of the saints are Lucca della Robbia.  The colorful glazed terra cottas of the apostles may be Donatello’s.  The Pazzi family used this as their private chapel.   They are now best known for the "Pazzi conspiracy", an unsuccessful plot to overthrow the Medici rulers of Florence.  On April 26, 1478, during Easter Mass in the Duomo, the Pazzi tried to murder Lorenzo de' Medici and Giuliano de' Medici.  Lorenzo lived to hang all involved.
    I stop and sit in the back corner of the chapel and sketch.  The shapes and proportions are outstanding.  I feel like I have the chapel to myself, and the pigeons, which have left calling cards, flutter and coo above me.  After I finish sketching and reluctantly leave, I step out into the tranquil setting of the courtyard.  The birds are in full voice and this place is “bella molto”.  I step into the sun and realize it is already hot.  I head for the covered walkway, noting the different dedications and sculptures, and even find a memorial for Florence Nightingale. 
     Once outside the gate, I walk over to Via Giuseppe Verdi, north, and then west, trying to locate the Teatro Verdi.  I find it on Via Ghibelina as I walk west and back towards the Bargello.  It looks like the Orchestra della Tuscana and a production of “Don Giovanni” will be performed here soon.   I also find a laundromat and contemplate a laundry run for tomorrow evening.  At the Bargello there are American tourists in the street who are trying to figure out how to get in the Bargello.  I tell them, but they ignore me.  Oh, well, let them figure it out for themselves. 
     We decide to have lunch at Birrere Centrale.  Ellen is our waitress.  We sit under an umbrella and we are surrounded by a two top and a six top.  The couple to the apartment side are from Houston—both in education.  She is a former school teacher, now an administrator for a private school, and he is a professor at a university.  They tell us they know Oregon because their daughter graduated from the University of Oregon—Go Ducks!  They are traveling with Rick Steves—his book and we tell them we are too. 
     We have a chilled vino bianco during lunch.  Marianne has an Insalata Greco and I have an insalata with asparagus, brie, and prosciutto.  I keep watching the six top on the Alighieri side, trying to figure out why they look so familiar.  One of the four men has brought his wife and there is a gangly kid about thirteen.  At one point the kid offers the woman his shaded seat and takes her sunny spot.  The men find this very chivalrous and applaud him.  Then I realize exactly where I have seen all five of these guys—they are part of the Calcio Storico parade.  The kid is a drummer and the two bald guys are flag throwers.  I call Ellen over to confirm this and she does.  She lets us know that this is a long, hard day for them.  They have to march out from and back to the headquarters (over near Mercato Nouvo) to each of the twelve different neighborhoods in the city—performing the same music and routines each time.  I am impressed.
     When we are done, we thank (and tip) Ellen and step to the door for the stairs to our apartment.  I notice even an Italian couple smile at the proximity of our ‘home’.  It is well after 2 PM so we have a short rest. 
     Today, Marianne wants to go to Parrini’s and buy ceramics.  It’s a block away on Lamberti.  Just his son is in today—it is much into reposo time and Maestro is at home.  We start picking out some beautiful pieces—a small olive platter, a large lemon bowl, an even larger bowl, bottle stoppers, and refrigerator magnets.  The son is having some problems figuring out how to weigh the pieces and figure out shipping costs.  He is on the cell phone more than once with the mama.  About fifteen minutes into the process, papa shows up. 
     Maestro Lauro comes pedaling up the street on his bicicletta con cestino.  He speaks very little English, but knows his business and soon has the son straightened out.  Once the weighing and paperwork for purchase and shipping is all filled out, Lauro takes the pieces, places them on the floor and photographs them—a visual record as a backup plan.   "Ceramiche d'arte Parrini” is a workshop founded in 1979 in Campi Bisenzio (outside of Florence).    Maestro Lauro Parrini and his family run the whole operation.  Parrini was born in 1956 (the same year as I) in Montecatini Val di Cecina (by Pisa), 10 km away from Volterra—the land of the Etruscans.  He studied at Artes Institute for Ceramics in Sesto Fiorentino; he is an Arts Maestro.
     Lauro smiles--remembering me from the pervious day.  Marianne and I try to communicate how much we like his work and how honored we feel about finding such wonder works that we can have in our home.  He is appreciative.  He thinks the process of making the ceramics may take ten day.   He will make them in his shop, glaze, fire and ship.  We settle the bill with the Visa.  Then we walk to L’Angelo’s for gelato—Niccolini and Frutta misti.  ‘Train’s’ “Soul Sister” is playing on the radio (I have memorized the words) and I can not help but sing along.  “Heey, hey...” “ain’t that Mister Mister on the radio…”
     We return to the apartment and I hang my Italia flag out the window and put on my Di Natale jersey because Italia plays this afternoon.  We retire for a pisolino then turn on the game.  We actually see #10, Di Natale make goals and play well.  However the team does not win and they are out—Slovakia advances.  Outside I hear the drums and trumpets, again. Then the bells, from every part of the city, begin to ring.  The sound is a melodious cacophony.  The game must be ready to start.           
     Dinner is around 8 PM and I grill the last of the sausages, sauté onions, garlic and asparagus, creating a balsamic vinegar sauce for them, and making a combination of our left over pastas.   Very good if I do say so myself.   About 8:45 PM we hear the drums and trumpets, yet again.  I walk down to Condotta to see a very weary parade marching back from San Croce.  I recognize the guys from lunch in the parade.  The kid has lost all hopes of processing in step; he is just trying to get back home.  The others talk to each other, probably discussing the final match or where they are going to have dinner later. 
     I walk through the sea of humanity.  It’s 9:30 PM and it’s like mid-day in Piazza Signore.  There are so many people and so many nationalities.  I continue up Calzaiuoli to Tavolini and to Piazza Cimatori.  Maurizio is still chopping and serving trippa.  I hang out at the apartment until about 9:40 and then head for my scoped-out spot to watch the fireworks.  The concert stage and scaffolding have been cleared out of the piazza and now thousands of people in the twilight of the evening are congregating.  More of those glow-in-the-dark whirly gigs are hovering above the festive ‘piazza’ party. 
     At the north end of the Uffizi courtyard a young American, complete with a guitar and portable PA, is singing “Sound of Silence” and I join in as I pass.  Just then he has to stop because an ambulance if ‘whining’ its way into the piazza.  He calls out for the crowd to “get out of the way” as the medics head into the Uffizi courtyard.  To avoid the ambulance, I walk up the steps and along the eastern loggia.   I can see there a woman is down in the courtyard and the medics are attending to her.  I walk on.  At the end of the space is a traffic jam of humanity so packed in that vehicle traffic, including countless vespas and taxis, can not get down the street at the Arno.  I am stuck just under the portico of the Uffizi, and am not going any further.  So much for the ‘plan’ I had.
     I look up to the southeast and there is a nearly full moon hanging over San Miniato.    It is framed by the arch of the Uffizi portico and I realize that this will be a fine place from which to observe.  There is a breeze off the river and it cools things down here.  That is short-lived as the time draws nearer and the bodies pile up.   I start to get concerned that the sea of humanity rolling into this space, the rising temperature, and the potential for a ‘panic’ disaster might be a possibility in this tight space. 
     Ahead of me is an Italian famiglia, three generations with bambini on shoulders and the grandparents happily talking to the ‘burdened’ parents.  Over next to the pillars are a gaggle of French girls, giggling and flirting with boys, and on my left are two young couples from an English speaking nation—Canada?  Occasionally, a drunken Italian youth, demands to get through the crowd “I live over there!”  Then the saddest display of Italian behavior happens.  Two pompous Florentine youths, with there obviously ‘weary of their behavior’ girlfriends, start pushing there way through the crowd so they can have the best view.  They push and shove, dragging the girls through crowd as they advance.  They are obviously taking a superior attitude over all foreigners in their town.  Then they get stuck and can not move any farther.  It’s obvious to everyone else in the crowd that no one is going anywhere, but the two young men will not take ‘no’ for an answer.  Now they have run into the Italian family in front of me and the grandpa is not tolerating this arrogant and dangerous behavior.  The yelling match that ensues is intense.  The dudes shrieking and spitting in the senior man’s face; and he is holding his own and his ground and yelling back at them.  The boys are pointing in his face and gesturing wildly.  The older man will not move, neither will his family, or the hundreds of thousands of people jammed together in front of them. 
     Since this is happening a foot in front of me, I can’t help but get heated and also start yelling at the stupid kids to stop harassing the man.  Luckily they don’t start in on me, and after a good ten to fifteen minutes of this wrangling, the ‘dudes’ storm off, profanity flying everywhere, dragging their dates, bumping and shoving people out of their way, heading into the Uffizi courtyard.     
     I turn to the guy on my left and say sarcastically, “They are so big and tough as the nearly drag their girls out on the pavement. 
     He says, “It takes a lot of smarts for those jerks to do that.”  I sadly agree.
     Soon the first percussive shell explodes above Piazzale Michelangelo, the crowd cheers, and the show begins.  The French ‘gaggle of girls’ with their chaperon move into the crowd and soon everybody’s’ elbows, hands, butts, and ‘you name its’ are being brushed by everybody else’s ‘you name its’, as we all vie for a better view.  For over 30 minutes Firenze is treated to one of the most spectacular fireworks displays I have ever seen.  Usually you say that about the most current fireworks you have seen, except for Roseburg’s 4th of July’s, but these are incredible.  The colors, the patterns, the masses of explosions are amazing.  There are huge chrysanthemums, starbursts, double circled gyros, and even smiley faces in amongst the nearly constant barrage of ‘spettacolo pirotecnico’. 
     Actually, there were about two times towards the end that the crowd is sure it is over and happily started to disperse, but there is more amazing bursts and they turn back towards the river and watch.  The sky was choked with sulfurous smoke and glowing embers.  Once the pyrotechnics were really done everyone turns and walks respectfully away, dispersing safely.  I see some students, maybe Deutch, are absolutely drunk off their asses and leaning up against the Uffizi wall.  Why do they drink so much?  I did it maybe once as a youth, but these kids look like professional partiers. It is time to go home.  Crossing the Piazza Signore, I see embers falling into the roofs to the east.  There’s a potential fire waiting to happen.
     Piazza Cimatori is hopping and very busy at 11 PM.  Maurizio is still working, serving and hawking his trippa.  The ristoranti are doing a brisk business.  It is a holiday and both tourist and home-grown are making the most of it.  “Will I get any sleep tonight?” I think as I unlock the door at the bottom of the stairway.  Yes.  As a matter of fact, the festa stops a little after mid-night.  I guess tomorrow is another workday.

Venerdi (Friday)--Our Last Full Day in Firenze  (25 giugne, 2010)
    I am up, showered and have breakfast early.  I catch the C2 elettrico bus and head West (Ovest) to a stop on Via Palazzuolo; I find Maggiore Rents quickly.  It is on Masso Finiguerra.  I find out that everything is in order and that the car will be ready tomorrow at 10 AM.  All I need to do is get train tickets and my morning chores will be complete.  I step out of Maggiore confidently and see right across the street a cinema-plex. Advertised is “Sex and the City 2”, “A Proposito Steve”, “Avitar”, “The A-Team”, “City Island(?)”, and “La Nostra Vita” (the only Italian film).
    I contemplate trying to find Fiona Lapham’s ristorante, “Cenacolo del Pescatore”.  It is about three blocks away—to the south, Borgo Ognissanti, 68 red, but I feel I need to go to the train stazione (Nord) and get tickets for our big train adventure starting next Wednesday.  It is two blocks away.  I walk through the short jig-jog of streets and get to a very busy Via Alamanini; the stazione is right across the via, and I am unsure how cross and enter the stazione.  Once I get across the street, I recognize the lower level entrance, go down (where we were last Saturday) and take the main stairs that come up into the central part of the building.  The ticket area is across the large room.
    The line for tickets snakes back and forth between the posts and ropes in front of the ticket windows and then stretches clear across this huge room.  I get stuck in line.  I wait—seeing no progress in the line after 15 minutes.  Behind me a young American couple, with backpacks, have walked back in from the train area and are totally out-raged that they were just sold tickets for a train that left ten minutes ago.  After a while, uniformed Trans-Italia officials come out and tell everyone that the computers are down and they can not sell tickets.  “They say later in the afternoon,” he states with a shrug.  What is really going on is that there is a train strike in Roma and all ticket sells have been closed down.  I find it totally in keeping with the rest of the crap that Roman workers handout to the rest of country to promote their political agenda.  Treno Stazione – ‘Fifth Circle of Hell’-- Dante.
     I decide to make the most of my time and head to San Lorenzo.  I cross the busy street in front of the Piazza della Stazione(almost exactly where Fernando dropped us off last Saturday) to Santa Maria Novella and then across to Piazza Dell’ Unita Italiana.  I follow a good looking lady weaving through the stalled traffic with her Silky terrier.  I get a little ping of home sickness, thinking about our Silky, Phoebe.  I head up Melarancio to Piazza Maria della Aldobrandini just behind San Lorenzo.  Because I don’t have enough time for all three, I have to decide between the Medici Chapels, the chiesa, or the Biblioteca Laurenziana.   I have had a dream (a few months ago) about seeing the Michelangelo Staircase, so I opt for the library.
     Once I find it, the staircase is gorgeous—definitely a work of art.  The vestibule is as high as the interior ceiling of the library on the second level.  The wide main stair has a landing two thirds of the way up, and is flanked by two sets of steps that only go up to that landing.  The first three steps are large and like ovals stacked upon each other creating a landing at the third step.  The rest of main steps have wide curved treads with flat scrolls on each end, like extra round steps, that line up against the railings all the way to the top.  The railings are thick and the balusters are over-sized and look like Grecian urns.  The flanking stairs are straight faced and uniform without railings—just five rectangular risers to define the edge.  Massive twirls of tickle marble ribbon at the top of the flanking steps direct traffic to the main central stairs for a single grand entrance into the room above.  
     The biblioteca is an impressive space with high ornately carved wooden ceilings and row after row of wooden benches and ‘desks’.  At first the central isle seems to be carpeted, but it is really an inlayed marble floor in white, brown and black with interesting motifs with antelope skulls, ribbons and laurel garlands coming out of the mouths.  You look up at the ceiling and the same skulls and garlands motifs are echoed in full dimensional carvings above.  The stained glass windows echo the Medici shield with six balls (pills).  I walk to the front end of the large room and duck inside the manuscript museum, but realize my time is up and I need to get back to the apartment.  Back I go, taking the straightest path I know to Piazza Cimatori. 
     Before Marianne and I head to the Pitti, I make two trips to the FedEx store on Cerchi--first to get a box and then to get it shipped.  We stuff anything of little or nor use into the box, suit jackets, leather coats and purses, a large watercolor block--things that I don’t want to carry around for another week in the suitcases.  
     Once that deed is done, Marianne and I get ready of the long day we have planed.  We are walking to the Pitti Palazzo and exploring some of the art displays, the costume collection, and I will walk through the Boboli Garden.  At 2 PM we are meeting Paola Migliorini for a guided tour of the Oltrarno.  Before we leave, Cristina Guardi’s friend comes by and returns the full deposit; Cristina and Francesca are still sick.  “Mi dispace.”
     Marianne and I make it to the south end of Piazza Signore and stop for a couple of grande espresso at Cafetteria Machiotos.  Now we are ‘fired-up’ and ready to travel.  We walk to Via Por Santa Maria and head south to the Ponte Vecchio.  This is the first time Marianne has seen the bridge and it is swarming with hundreds of people.  We slowly cross.  She checks out the jewelry in some of the shop windows, but moves on quickly before any sales people come out and try to ‘help’.  At the south end of the bridge, we stop at a fancy cafeteria/gelateria and have un gelato--the most expensive in Firenze.  It’s air conditioned, but there’s even a fee for sitting inside.
     We walk the two remaining blocks to the Pitti.  The uphill climb is tough for Marianne.  It is 11:30 AM and it’s starting to get hot.  I have her wait at the entrance, in the shade, and I walk the ‘football field’ distance to the ticket office—another poor planning idea.  We are grateful that we will be inside for a while.  (Inside an old palace—was I even thinking?)  The signage is good and we eventually find or way to the elevators and to the costume museum.  Unfortunately—two things, the rooms are hot and stuffy with no ventilation and they make you walk down a staircase to get to it (what goes down, must come back up).
      There is room after room of old dresses and accessories from the past 500 years.  It was wonderful for Marianne--a snore for me.  Once we see the costumes, then we have to find our way out.  After that we have to climb the stairs again and then take the elevator back to the ground floor--exhausting for both of us.  After that exercise we decide the Duke’s Treasures can wait indefinitely.  We head for the outdoor café and I get water and we both find bathrooms.  The women's room is right off the main door.  The men's, of course, is to the back of the building, down stairs and practically the entire length of the south wing of the Palazzo.
     After the water, I leave Marianne and climb up to the gardens.  Then climb again to the first garden level, then again to the second through fifth.  It is all up hill and in the sun.  I could not see snooty seventeenth century Italian nobles walking up through these gardens in the heavy, confining clothes they wore.  I bet they were taken to the top by carriage and then walked down.
     The fountains and pools and statuary grow more impressive as you climb.  The view of Firenze is spectacular.  The duomo is clearly visible and you can see all the way to Fiesole (north).  There are people by the water or lying on towels on the grass.  It is really like a very ‘formal’ public park.  I find some shade to sit under and decide how I want to descend; I opt for the north side.  I have ‘bag’ the idea of finding the big fountains to the south, knowing I would never reach them for at least a half an hour.  I want to drop down into the area called the Grotto.  I head down, but can’t get to where I want because of the pathways.  At one point I am walking through unkempt areas with overgrown weeds and rocks, and at another point I am up against the city walls.  I found some incredible vistas and great hidden gardens and a cave-like room, but the iron gate was locked.  The ceiling is rough and cave-like, but the high baroque walls and moldings and niches and cherubim frescos are like a lady’s boudoir.   I come into more familiar territory and start to walk back up to the palazzo.  Over a retaining wall, I can see a large graveled area and in the walls surrounding the space.   In the wall can see that grotesque statue of the really fat guy riding a giant tortoise.
     I walk back up to the first garden level and then walk down to the central courtyard and the café.  I am happy to see Marianne and find that she has done just fine without me.  She has had a little lunch, befriending the middle-aged waiter, and is doing well in the shade.  I go in and get a small panino, a frutta salad (unripe melon) and a can of sugary iced tea.  After the snack I venture out into the large courtyard.  There is an enclosed pool and fountain area set in the huge arched niches along the back wall. 
     The entrance is a classical columned arch and inside the water splashes and cools me off instantly.  The domed ceiling has a round fresco of an angel with a trumpet and tablet, and each of the architectural spines radiating out of the domes’ center have carved or sculptured vegetation dripping from them.  Each of the eight sections of the dome has paintings of sky, foliage and birds.  The central half domed and columned niche at the back of the space has a statue of what looks like Neptune, and the two flanking niches have a Roman god and goddess.  There are windows above those niches that let in light. 
     The large pool has a tall single jet of water coming out of what looks like a rock and two white marble babies are ‘swimming’ in the water.  The half domed niches on the side of the space have relief sculptures of a tree growing out of a fountain.  There are scallop shells in those half domes with two cherubim holding a crown.  At one time it looks like the ornamentation was painted very brightly.  I call Marianne over to enjoy the space before we move on to the front of the Palazzo.  It’s going on 2 PM and we don’t want to miss Paola.  We wait on front.
     So here it is 2:15 PM, we are sitting at the entrance to the Pitti and no Paola.  I have called the number I was given several times with no response.  I get worried and first walk down the hill to the street thinking maybe that’s what she meant, and then I walk over to the gated area on the north side of the piazza, thinking she might be there.  At 2:30 we decide she is not coming, and walk down the hill to the main street.  We cross and pass Donatello’s and the same waiter from Wednesday recognizes me.  We just keep walking on.  “Non mangare, oggi. Grazi.”
     By now the sun is too hot to walk in, so we switch to the east side of the street.  Almost the first jewelry store we come to, Marianne sees something in the window and wants to go inside.  The high-end shop is has a/c so stopping to shop is fine by me.  The salesperson is also the bead artisan who made the jewelry in the display cases out in front.  Marianne is interested in a blue bead necklace and soon she is trying it on.  I see a poster for an opera production coming up and we are soon talking about theatre and acting and directing. 
     Marianne asks about matching earrings, but the woman has not made accompanying ones.  She does say she has some beads that are similar and pulls out a box, showing Marianne the hand made blue glass beads.  Marianne thinks the beads are a perfect match and in seconds the gal is fashioning earrings for her.  They turn out beautifully.  Marianne is very happy and puts them on the card immediately.
     After we say Adio, Marianne and I decide on something cool to drink and cross the street to the same café sidewalk-pass-way-a-courtyard with art gallery that I saw the other day.  Marianne starts with an icy drink and I have a vino rosso.  I really am not hungry, but the smell of the pizzas baking in the forno is too much and in ten minutes I am having a fresh from the oven pizza.  It is so good.  Suddenly the phone rings (in two weeks, no one has ever called us) and Marianne answers.  It is the tour guide and she is waiting for us at the entrance to the Pitti.  She claims she has called and called after waiting and waiting with a sign for us.  We are dumb-founded.  Marianne agrees to go back for the tour.  We leave the pizza and wine behind, pay the bill and are over at the Pitti in five minutes.  I run up the hill, leaving Marianne at the bottom.
     Now it is easy to find Paola.  She is parked right in front of the entrance and she is holding a sign that says “Jones”.  I introduce myself and we both spend two minutes apologizing to each other.  She explains that is has been up and down for over half an hour and that in all her years of service as a guide this has never happened.  We get in her Honda CRV, she turns the a/c.   We drive down to pick up Marianne.  She is so grateful that we have connected with Paola and that the a/c is going.
     At this point you need to know that I call this woman Paula because that’s what we were led to believe her name is.  I wasn’t until two months later, after a little detective work, and a straight asking of her name, that we were told her name is Laura.  Go figure.
    Anyway, Paula tells us that a service is happening at San Spirito and we can’t get in there yet, so she takes us to Santa Maria Carmine.  Inside the church is one of the most important examples of Renaissance art in the world—the Brancacci Chapel.   The Piazza del Carmine is a car parking lot.  Paula clearly likes this area--the Oltrarno.  It is where the people of Firenze live, and contrary to some books say, that seem to want to scare you into staying away “the seamy underbelly, notorious for drugs”, it is a charming, less hectic corner of the city.
     Tucked away in an unpretentious corner of the ornate baroque of S. M. Carmine is the jewel--Brancacci.  The frescos are by Masaccio and, either the father and son duo, Masolino and Filippino Lippi.  Just looking at it, you know that these frescos are uniquely special.  They mark the turn of art and history as we know it, and mark a change in paintings as we know it forever. 
     The small chapel contains the story of Peter.  In 1424, the Brancacci family hired Masolino de Panicale to depict Saint Peter’s story but starting with “Original Sin” and then the triumph of the “Good News he preached.  Surprisingly thrown into the story are two depictions of Adam and Eve—left side, the expulsion from the Garden of Eden (upper left, closet to us) and the right ( upper panel, opposite), Tempted by the Serpent.  The naked figures in the ‘expulsion”, walk out of Eden, fully three dimensional, with shadows cast seemingly from the light of the window in the chapel.  Eve’s face is ‘horrific agony’ and Adam can’t even show his.  It is simple but completely real.  The temptation fresco, on the right, shows the couple in ‘perfection’ in the garden, but the serpent, which has the face of Eve, slithers up the tree and hovers above them.  The Eden frescos were probably the first two painted.
     Masolino was asked by an over-booked Masaccio to help; apparently the partnership was a good artistic blend.  They actually didn’t work on the same frescos—each worked on their own.  It is said that even Brunelleschi came to help Masaccio with perspective.  This is historically one of the most important works of art—ushering in the Renaissance as we know it today.
     The panels may have been painted in order from the left top “Paying Tribute Money”, “Jesus, Peter and the Disciples”, “Peter Preaching”, “Peter Baptizing”, and “Peter’s Miracles” (raising Tabitha and healing a cripple).  The lower panels (left to right) are “Peter raising the Son of Theophilus”, healing with his shadow, and “Sharing wealth with the poor”. 
     The panels were left uncompleted when Masaccio was summoned to Rome, where he died.  Politics of the time changed and some of the frescos (especially certain portraits) were scraped off, as was the center piece Masaccio’s “Crucifixion of Peter”.  Masolino’s son, Filippino painted the last panel, “Peter’s Crucifixion”, and retouched some of the damaged ones.  A medieval “Madonna and the People” (unsure of the artist, maybe Coppo di Marcovaldo) now resides in the middle of the tall Romanesque altar in the center wall, below the tall palladium-style opaque window.  The ceiling is very baroque view of heaven (also added later).
     Paulo whispers these details so vividly and I am immediately impressed by her base of knowledge and insight.  I can also tell she is very passionate about the treasures of her home town.  At one point a tourist takes a phone call on her cell, talking casually while everyone else is so silent.  Paulo doesn’t hesitate and goes to the woman and tells what she is doing is wrong—and to take it outside, now.  The woman leaves immediately--humiliated.  Paula comes back and just could not believe that someone “wouldn’t have the respect to take the call in a chiesa and a museum”.  Brava!
     As we are leaving Paulo asks what does Marianne suffers from.  I tell her and she is very sympathetic towards Marianne.  We return to the car and take a round-about way to San Spirito, going past the Pitti Palazzo, again.  She drives through Piazza San Spirito showing us how the old artisan studios have been turned into cafes and tourist places.  I tell her of my experiences Wednesday, walk through the Oltrarno, finding artisan shops and the restoration place.  She says she know that women.  I tell her I think that the area reminds me of the Left Bank of Paris (not that I’ve ever been there, but I do read, and watch the Travel Channel) and she says it also reminds her of the Left Bank.  She tells us she studied and lived in Paris for a few years.  We park in front of the fountain and walk to the chiesa. 
    Here is another plan façade church, San Spirito, and its look is almost Spanish.  At one time it was decoratively painted.  This early Renaissance chiesa was, again, designed by Brunelleschi.  Most of the original space is still in tact, but the altar, is now a gilded Baroque nightmare of a ‘birdcage’ (Caccini).  The church is a Latin cross design with a flat roof.  It has a nave with two aisles and side chapels and is filled with wonderful light.  Paula tells us that it is similar to San Lorenzo, which Brunelleschi also designed.  He included a light-filled dome, similar to the interior of the one at Pazzi Chapel.  He used precise mathematical formulas to perfect the space based on the measurement of the square formed by the domed crossing with its sides—22 Florentine cubits (Art and Architecture:  Florence by Rolf C. Wirtz).
     The pale grey marble makes the chiesa very light and the columned archers, exactly proportionate, lift and float the space.  The ceiling is trompe l’oeil (fool the eye) painted with a hexagon medallion and small diamond pattern.   
     Paula explains that at one time the monks of San Spirito pioneered in the embalming of cadavers, just as others, like the monks at San Miniato were into herbal remedies, and those of Santa Maria Novella—apothecary.   A young art student interested in the human form was allowed to sketch cadavers here.  He later on became the most well known Renaissance artist the world has ever know—Leonardo di Vinci.
   Paula explained to us that there use to be a carved wooden crucifix at the altar, “before this monstrosity”.  For the generosity that the monks showed Leonardo, he carved the crucifix as a gift.  Story has it, that when the altar was redone, the crucifix was dismantled and lost.  In the 1970’s, a woman found it in a refractory closet.  It is believed that the pieces of the crucifix were found in a closet.  They are still performing tests on it for authenticity.  A di Vinci in a closet!
     We walk back to the CRV, and take in the café and piazza scene. Next time we are here, I want to stay over on this side of the river.   Paula then takes us south to the Porte Romano and through the old city wall.  She is driving us up through one of the ritziest and exclusive sections in Firenze, and, yes, there are some pretty opulent estates.  The hills are wooded and secluded almost and in striking contrast to the city below.  We are going to San Minato de Monte.  She is able to get us up and behind the chiesa.  We walk up a short incline, through an arched-opening in a wall, and are soon in an open space in front of the church.  There is a small shop where the Benedictine monks sell their herbals is to the right.  It is a toss up which two sites draw my attention most, the exquisite chiesa on our left or the expansive view of Firenze, the valley, hills and towns beyond.  We can even see rain clouds crossing hills 30 miles away.  The breeze cools the afternoon off and we are in awe.
     I love this chiesa.  It is perfection.  The Romanesque façade is white and green with five arches and a tall pediment above.  Everywhere there is geometric detail and symmetry.  The central mosaic, above a central rectangular window with a triangular pediment, is of Christ, with Mary and San Minias.  The eagle clutching sacks of wool at the highest point of the church means the wool guild paid for this church. 
     Minias was the King of Armenia and was martyred in the 250 A.D.  Legend says that he was beheaded on the banks of the Arno, but was able to walk or fly up to this hill.  The chiesa was built to house his remains.  Inside it is dark and it feels holy and sacred.  The floors are inlayed marble and the ceiling is wooden and painted the same as it has always been.  The Apse mosaic at the back dominates the view.   The golden mosaic inside is similar to the one outside; Minias is giving his crown to Jesus.  I ask Paula about the geometric shapes and symbols that adore every inch of the space.  They are “Romanesque symbols” is her reply.  The chapel on the left side is for Cardinal Jacopo of Portugal.  Up at the altar is the Medici tabernacle, with paintings and a roof of Luca Della Robbia terracotta.
     We stop and sit, and listen to someone playing the massive organ.  It fills the space with glorious music.  Marianne sits with Paula and I go up to see who’s playing.  The man looks like a local not a monk.  The organ console is plan but there are hundred of stop pulls.  He is playing from memory.  Once he ends the ‘concert’, I return to the women.  Paula takes me down to the crypt.  The stair cases not only goes up to the altar, but switchbacks and descends to the original space below.  The windows are made of alabaster and let in a light that fill the room with very spiritual ambience.  The altar above is supported by a lot of columns.  It’s like a forest down here.  Each column is different and, as Paula says, ‘recycled’.  The floor stones are memorial markers of the long departed.  She says Minias’s remains are in the stone altar and you can see it through a small viewing hole.
     We leave the space because the monks are getting ready for their 5:30 PM vespers.  Others have joined us inside and even what looks like a wedding party.  The chanted mass is very simple and the voices drift through the chiesa.  It is truly a touching experience that Marianne and I will both remember for a long time.
     Upon leaving, we take a look at the cemetery spaces outside briefly and then we return to the CRV.  Paula pulls out a book that she wants to give us.  It is tourist guide for Florence called:  “Florence and Its Surroundings from another Point of View—villas, art and cuisine and all that’s in between”.  She has helped the author, Veronica Biccarelli, with creating a beautiful travel companion book.   It is an alphabetical listing that covers every aspect of surviving in this city.  We are touched by the gift and comment we needed it at the first of the week when we got here.  We thank her and we know our time is drawing to a close with this perfect guide and amici.  She takes us to Piazzale Michelangelo, and briefly shows us the tourist nightmare the piazza has become.  The sea of buses and people almost obscure the statue of David and the view of Firenze.  Instead she takes us down and around to a wonderful observation deck with a café.  I comment that this could be the ristorante the Fiona Lapham first worked at in Firenze and run to the railing to get my last shots of the Firenze panorama.   
     When I get back in the CRV, Marianne tells me that she and Paula have been talking and she knows the chef, Daniele Pescatore, of “Cenacolo del Pescatore”.    I can’t believe it.  This is a small planet.  Paula takes us down the hill, and we pass by the Torre I walked by yesterday morning.  Then she takes us down a switch back street that I had walked up.  She tells us she had watched the fireworks last night from a rooftops patio of one of the houses on the right, up against the wall.  I can not believe it; these are the same house I liked so much yesterday morning.  She drives through the wall in the same place I walked through and down Via Nicolo, too.  We cross Ponte Grazie and go up Giuseppe Verdi, to Via dell’ Oriuolo, then down Proconsolo, turning on Cimatori and dropping us off a block from the apartment.  We thank her and hug and then she is gone.
     Marianne and I walk back to Piazza Cimatori and stop in at Birrere Centrale and make an 8 PM reservation.  Up stairs, we sit and look at the Florence book that Paula has just given us.  Marianne shows where she has written her email in the front cover in case we ever want to get in touch with her.  The name is L. Gensini.  What?  Our tour guide for the afternoon that we called ‘Paula’ the whole time is really someone else.  We scour the book to see if we can locate and find a tour guide that could be her—Laura.  
     It’s now 6:30 PM so we don’t get much of a pisolino—more like a ‘pause’.  We shower and dress and it’s time for our last dinner in Firenze.  Our waitress is again Luccia.  Dolce.  She is so pleasant and helpful.   We start with vino rosso.  Marianne has an insalata with apples, walnuts and gorgonzola; her secondi is the pork, apple and prune roulade that I had the other night.  I have Mezza Luna with ricotta and salvia that is swimming in burro (butter).  The pasta is so delicate and flavorful.  My secondi is a beef steak with gorgonzola, pomadoro and pears on a bed of radicchio with pinole and a balsamic reduction drizzle.  I can’t believe how good it all tastes. 
     Luccia out does herself and we again compensate her for her extra effort.  Sandro is so happy he gives us another bottle of Chianti.  He has been tolerating the floor manager (with tats and cropped hair) who is barking out orders right and left.  He smiles and shrugs, “Tomorrow will be another day.”  We kiss Luccia goodbye and shake Sandro’s hand and thank then for a perfect week.  We part with many “buona notte’s”.   We go back up stairs and pack the bags--feeling so blessed by the people we have met and things we have experienced.  We have been made ‘richer in spirit’ by Firenze and the Florentines.  We sleep and Piazza Cimatori buzzes on into the night.

Third Week in Tuscany
Sabato (Saturday) Taking It on the Road -- How’s My Driving? (26 giugne, 2010) 
     I have to admit that even though I have really planned and re-checked connections, I am concerned about getting the car and driving today.  I am awake by 5:30 AM and the alarm goes off at 6:30.   If the truth were told, I think I am more concerned about getting train tickets than the car.  The plan is to get to the Tabacchi by 7:30 AM and get a bus ticket.  Marianne and I have breakfast and do a final clean.  We want to make sure the apartment is in better shape than when we got here.  When the Tabacchi doesn’t open until 8:30 AM (which it never has all week) it’s time to go to a different plan.  I might be able to run over to the station after we get the rental car paperwork all sorted out...
     We call a cab and take the bags down stairs.  At 8:55 AM the taxi shows up (an Alpha Romeo no less).  We say goodbye to Piazza Cimatori and we are off.  In less than five minutes we are at Maggiore Rents on Masso Finiguerra.  On this particular Saturday morning there is a street market only on the street in front of the car rental.  The cab driver gets us through the barricade and right up to Maggiore, honking at pedestrians walking in the street.  The business is in full gear and cars are coming in and going out.  It’s a bit chaotic to say the least.
     I take care of all the paperwork, even though I have temporarily misplaced the online contact I printed from my computer three weeks ago.  The car, a Silver 5-speed diesel VW Golf, gets driven up and parked out front.  Marianne decides she is going to sit in the car and wait for me while I do my run to the train station.  I get everything loaded into the back of the car.   I tell her I won’t stay if it looks like it’s going to take over a half and hour.  Then off I run.        
     It really isn’t a long distance, but I would never be able to get the car over there and find a place to park.  I make it to the stazione quickly and go in by the tour bus turn-around on the main level.  Slipping through a side door and into the central part of the terminal, I am dumbfounded by what I see.  At 9:10 AM in the morning, the line for tickets stretches even farther than it did yesterday at 10 AM.  I stand in line for a few minutes and realize this line is not moving--again.  That’s when I decide that God is going to make this happen some other way.  “Let go and let God”.  I ditch the line and walk briskly back to Maggiore Rents.  Along the way I stop and buy two bottles of cold water. 
     Marianne is still in the car and actually happy that I didn’t stay at the stazione for a half an hour.  “Maybe we can get tickets when we get back to Firenze on Wednesday?”  “Maybe.”   Armed with a good map of Firenze and an ‘inked out’ route that will get us out of the city, we are ready.  Unfortunately, the map stops south of Porta Romana, and the way to get back into the city will remain a secret until next Wednesday.  I only have to go back in and ask the clerk how to start the stick shift car once, and then we are off.  Only about five feet, when we have to stop for pedestrian that are checking out the cheap plastic souvenirs at vendor stand at the street fair, and I stall the car.  I get it started and we are off again.
     I only kill the Golf three times more before I swing around west onto Borgo Ognissanti, south on Via Curtatone, and east on Lugarno Americo Vespucci to Ponte Vespucci and cross the Arno.  Traffic is relatively light.  Thank you very much.  Through some tiny miracle I get us to Viale Aleardo Aleardi, and am driving along the city wall on Vaile Francesco Petrarca.  As we pass Porta Romana on our left, I recognize where we are.  We were here with ‘L.’ yesterday afternoon.  We drive through narrow city streets heading south.  The street/highway widens.  We pass ‘gas station’ row and I scope out an AGIP station of the other side of the street for our return entry--Wednesday.  We also pass a large cemetery on our right, and then we head into another village, Certosa, and the street narrows again. 
     The signs say the A-1 is ahead, but it is confusing which road to take.  We see a sign for Volterra and take a right on P-4.  We wind up and above the village and soon we are in the country on a high hill.  I know this is not where we want to be, so I turn the car around and head back down into Certosa.  We are back on the Firenze-Siena Rac, quickly passing under the A-1 or Strada Sole, and soon the road turns into a real highway, and finally, a four lane freeway. 
     The Golf handles very well and it is hard to keep the speed down because most of the traffic is at least ten kilometer faster than the posted speed limit.  I make sure that I slow to the posted speed when the radar box warnings appear.  No need getting a speeding ticket and having it waiting for me in Roseburg when we get home. 
     The road is very good--some pot holes, but a very even drive with good curves and exits marked well.  The country rises and falls away dramatically as we pass through hills, and cross canyons and rivers.  Marianne cautions me about me speed every so often, but the drive is a pleasant one.
     In about 45 minutes we are at our exit, Poggibonsi.  In the Cadillac at home we have a CD of old Italian pop-tunes from the 70’s and 80’s.  One of the songs, “Vagabondo”, we have re-named to “Poggibonsi” when we had seen it on the map while we were planning.  Almost instantaneously both Marianne and I break into a rousing chorus of “Poggibonsi, Poggibonsi…”  I guess you had to have been there to see the humor in the moment.
     For the most part, the route to San Gimignano is well marked.  If it wasn’t any signage immediately apparent, we just stop in the median and try to read the signs.  “There it is ‘San Gimignano’ to the left!”  It becomes apparent that most of the traffic was going to S.G. and soon there was a long, slow parade of cars heading up into the hills west of Poggibonsi.  The country side just keeps getting more beautiful as we rise.  At one point we clearly see the towered town on a hilltop a couple of hills away through the trees.  It is an inspiring sight and we both start to get anxious about getting there. 

Our Third Week in Tuscany
San Gimignano (Saboto 26 giugne, 2010)
     It doesn’t take long to make the correct turns and go around the traffic circle and arrive at Piazzale Martini Montemaggio.   We are climbing the hill to the southern end of San Gimignano.  The plan is for Marianne to wait on the park bench outside Porta San Giovanni while I park the car in one of the two pay-parking lots on the west side. 
     Marianne gets out and I drive off and immediately miss the first lot and end up driving around the west wall of the town.  I find a way to turn around and drive back the way I came.  I pass the second lot, but it is full.  I make it south to the first lot and pull into the gate, ready to pull a ticket and get the arm to rise, just like the car did in front of me.  Just my luck the machine says that the lot is full.  Now I am stuck and I have to back out, but I can’t because someone has pulled in behind me, expecting to follow me.  I use the horn just to get his attention and make great hand motions to indicate that the lot is full and you have to back up NOW! so I can get out.  He gets the message and back ups.  I back out and am thinking about a Plan C, as a Polizia brings a sign out to let folks know the lot is full.  Just a little late, don’t ya think, Mr. Uniform?
     I know from reading Rick Steves and studying the Google Maps of San Gimignano that there is a free parking lot down, way down the hill to the south.  I guess I will have to parked down there and climb this steep hill.  Then when we are through later this afternoon, I will have to walk back down and bring the car back up for Marianne.  Okay.  I guess I need my exercise today. 
     There is the same kind of ticket gate and security arm here as up above.  Is this now a pay lot?  There aren’t many cars in the lot and it doesn’t look like it is not well maintained.  I back in, trying to get as much of the car in the shade as I can.  I almost run into a sapling oak tree that has managed to grow in the grassy lot.  The ticket gets put on the dash and I grab Marianne’s chair and cane.   I plop my fedora on my head and head up the hill.  It’s a good twenty minute walk, but the view just keeps getting better and better as I ascend so I don’t mind.  When I get to the top, I cross the road and walk through Piazzale Martini Montemaggio; the fountain isn’t working.  Little lizards dart in and out of the walkway make of composite decking material.  I check out the WWII memorial before crossing the street to Marianne.  She is thankful for both the chair and the cane.  Together we walk through the Port San Giovanni and up into San Gimignano.
     It’s all up hill.  I guess we shouldn’t have been surprised.  Everything in Italy is built on a hill.  No more than a store length from the porta on the left, are steps and an alley.  I tell Marianne to wait and I run up the steps to a tiny piazza and see the backdoor of the ristorante, Chiribiri, which Annie Adair had suggested for lunch.  I step around to the left and go in the front door on the steep alley.  The space is small and graceful marble steps lead down into a roughly square room packed with tables.  There are arches embedded in all four walls and there are large wallpaper photos on the walls of old brick buildings on two of the wall.  Through the back wall is the entrance to the kitchen; it looks modern and updated with stainless steel, etc.  The kitchen is very busy back, and since it is almost 11 AM, they are scrambling to get ready for a long day of business.  A tiny closet of a toilet is just to the right of the kitchen door.
     A tall, thin, older gentleman is setting tables.  I ask if we need to make reservations and he says “si”.  We settle on a time, I figure 2 PM is a good time, and I am glad to see there is an air conditioner.  I thank him and tell him we will back.  I walk down and rejoin Marianne.  She looks back at the steps and gives me a “what are you trying to do to me” look.  I look at her and say “Civita” and she shrugs and we move on up Via San Giovanni.  There are so many shops selling everything—ceramics, linens, paintings, food, you name it they are selling it.
    Several blocks up we stop at a very nice bar/patisserie and wait for an outside table.  I get Marianne seated, get rid of my extra baggage, and go in for espresso and cornettos.  The women behind the counter are appreciative of my second grade Italian and even give me a tray to take out to Marianne.  I even have a chance to use the toilet.  Recently remodeled and clean, I was surprised to see signs like ‘gentlemen, please aim’ and even a donation box.  Yes, I gave them a euro.
     Outside we had a nice break with our sweet espresso and pastry that was soaked in Amaretto.  We practice “Dolce Far Niente” and watched swarms of tourist walk by in an endless procession.  It is warm already and promises to get hotter in the afternoon.  Currently the street is just shaded enough, but in ten minutes the sun will be straight overhead and will show little mercy.   
     Marianne finishes her last cigarette and declares she is done.  As we start the climb again, we pass a Tabacchi and she disappears to buy a second pack.  So much for the “I can quit any time I want” statement--she wasn’t apparently ready to quit smoking yet.  It kind of puts a wedge between us for the next few minutes, but I am back to exploring the town soon.  At the intersection with Quercecchico Innocenti, she pauses to sit on a half wall.  I see a high-end shop selling paintings, and hope I can stop in on our way back down.  
     Up a little bit farther, just be for the via goes under Torre Grande, we head for an arched tunnel to the left with a stone bench built into the wall and sit.  Perched in the corner on the main via is a mime.  She has a beautiful white flowing gown, a short cut bodice with puffy shoulders and long sleeves and white gloves; a beautiful brimmed hat wrapped in white tool with strings of pearls for decoration completes her costume.  She is in white face with whimsical eye liner that circles into little curly-Q’s on her cheeks.   She has a portable CD player near her and a delicate piece of Baroque music with flutes creates an enchanting spell. 
     Someone throws a euro in her tip jar and she responds with a great big “power” sign.  I fish through my pockets and find small change and through it into the jar.  She speaks, “Bank cards are good too”.  I step away so I can get a shot of Marianne and the mime.  The mime blows her a kiss and Marianne clowns with her by feigning shock that the statue has come to life.  Then a young family stops; their two tiny girls, maybe three and five, and they are transfixed by the mime.  They giggle, but they are not sure what to make of the statue that moves.  Both of them shriek with delight when she bends down close to them with her big expressive eyes, touching the tops of their heads.  The girls laugh so much when their dad tries to take their pictures with the silent lady in white they can hardly keep still.  It is absolutely adorable.
     While Marianne rests, I head up through the arch and find another street; this one is the ‘locals’ north-south car rout on the west edge of the town.  The city wall is beyond and I can see the Fortessa up the hill.  I start back down and find the entrance to the courtyard of the Palazzo del Popolo.  I am hoping I can find the entrance to the grande torre so I can climb it.  This palazzo has been the seat of civic power in San Gimignano since the 13th century.  There are interesting frescos, an ancient well, and stairs lead up to other cambers, but not the torre.
   I return to Marianne and I walk up into Piazza della Cisterna and find a farmers market is going on in the space.  There are a couple of trucks with tarps extended over tables with produce.  From this spot we can not see the well, so we move around past several outdoor cafes in order to see it—trying to stay in the shadows.  I stop at a tourist shop, find some post cards and hand them to the clerk.  She is wrapping the tourist purchases in catalogue pages—great recycling.  My luck, I get the men’s sexy underwear page—oh boy.  I pay and thank her and walk out with my manly thong and bikini underwear wrapping.  I hand it off to Marianne for save keeping, thank you.
     The piazza is a fine place to study architectural features and floral decorations.  I take time to photograph the buildings and the well.  There are beautiful details everywhere.  The favorite potted plant here is a red geranium (gernario rosso).  The main feature of San Gimignano are the 13 or 14 (I didn’t get to count them) medieval towers.  The one on the north side of this piazza has weeds growing between the stone blocks up on its 4th and 5th stories.  I can see the grande torre is on the west side of the piazza, behind some other buildings and a torre.  I see a young student sitting up on the cisterna steps sketching in a notebook and casually get up behind her to check out what she is doing.  She is drawing an upper window in the Albergo Cisterna and doing a very good job.  I have time to look into the 13th century well and see that it has been sealed off.  Sadly countless tourists have thrown garbage and cigarette butts into the shallow space.  Yes, the finger grooves from countless hands, ropes and the centuries are a worn and permanent reminder of the wells’ function. 
     When Marianne is rested we move on up into the Piazza Del Duomo.  When we step into square, it is shaded on the south and east sides.  We face the chiesa which is on the west side.  To the left, the loggia beside the city hall is having a face-lift restoration.  As everywhere else there are brightly colored flags adoring the building.  Straight ahead is the Duomo with a plan façade, with two simple arched doors and a large round window; there is a wicked amount of steps leading up to the chiesa, but to the left is a cobbled ramp, beside the city hall stairs, that disappears under an arch;  this looks like a less daunting way to get up there.  
     To our right, among the row of building is a large arched open space—an open covered courtyard with a barrel vault ceiling.  It looks like this is where the locals hang out.  In fact there is the customary group of older men sitting in a half circle of chairs looking out at the swarming crowd in the piazza.   They are talking and solving the problems of the world.  It looks like one of them has a serious problem and the others are responding sympathetically.   Kids are playing in the cool dark area, dogs are resting, and the women are over on the side talking and fanning themselves.  Marianne sits in the shade on a stone bench just outside the arch.  I leave her and cross to the ramp and ascend to the Duomo.
     The duomo biglietteria (ticket office) is up in a small square beyond the city hall to the south of the chiesa entrance.  Before I go in to buy the ticket, I have to check out the musician over in the southwest corner of the piazza.  He is playing Mozart and he is accompanied.  He has a portable CD sound system on a small cart with cupboards and two fold-out shelf extensions which the speakers are on.  He is a balding guy with dark hair and a goatee in a pale Hawaiian shirt, red socks and balloon pants and black Birks.  He is playing a standard silver flute, well, but he also has an antique bass flute and a large carved wood (maybe Indonesian) flute.  I politely step around behind him and his folding metal music stand to check out what he is playing.  It is Mozart, but the manuscript is very old and looks like hand copied.  I say “Mozart, bello” and he smiles and nods in agreement.
     I cross back to the biglietteria and get my ticket and as I head towards the Duomo or Collegiata, I pass a watercolor artist set-up.  The artist is not there at present, but he has started a new painting.  He was examples of his work hung all around and he even has a printed biography with photos.  He is Deutche and has been in the area for a number of years.
     The entrance to the Collegiata is back and to the side of the altar.  The outside loggia leads you to a baptismal font by Girolamo di Cecco and the fresco above is an Annunciation by Sebastiano Mainardi.  I take off my sunglasses and step inside. This is a beautiful space and I like it immediately when I enter.  The rounded arches, supported by pillars, have the same black and white motif as Siena.  The high vaulted ceiling has insets of deep blue, and Christ Risen is in a circular painting above the arch that reveals the altar.  Most striking are the frescos that line the walls of the nave.  Juxtaposed from each other are scenes from the Old and New Testaments—the old stories complimenting or echoing the events of Jesus’ life.  Each panel is fully realized and tells the Biblical story with great clarity, just as it must have for Italians in the middle ages.  Although it is depicted as 14th century Italy, the ageless stories speak to me instantly.  Bartolo di Fredi painted the Old Testament and the New Testament ones are recently attributed to "La Bottega dei Memmi".   Between the front doors is Taddeo di Bartolo’s “Last Judgment”, which quickly brings to mind Signorelli’s frescos in Orvieto (and Hieronymus Bosch).  
     The crown jewel of frescos is in a small chapel in the transept to the right of the altar.  The Chapel of St. Fina was built in 1468. The altar, by Benedetto da Maiano, is a work of art but its frescoes by Domenico Ghirlandaio are beautiful.  The fresco to the right is "St. Gregorio foretelling St. Fina of her approaching death" and the left one is "Her Funeral Rites".  Anyone who has seen Franco Zeffirelli’s semi-autobiographical film, “Tea with Mussolini”, knows this exquisite work; Lilly Tomlin, Judi Dench and the ladies ("Scorpioni") sandbag the frescos to save them from the Nazis.  (Later they chain themselves to the shop openings down in Piazza Cisterna to also save the city.) 
     In this fresco is the grief and tragedy of a child’s death and funeral.  She lies in state so precious and stately while the prominent men of San Gimignano and other clergy (choirboys too) look on in utter morning and sadness.  It is not the numerous formal portraits of real faces, masterfully done, that make this painting special; it is the face of the girl—St. Fina.  The scene, complete with three miracles:  the curing of the nurses palsied hand (boys howdy, doesn’t that nurse look like Maggie Smith?), sight returning to a blind choir boy, and the chiesa bells rung by angels is silently, absolutely breathtaking.
     As the story goes, in 1248 Fina became sick with tuberculosis that paralyzed her.  Because of her great faith, she laid on a table--waiting. During five years of sickness, worms and rats feed on her and both her parents died.  She encouraged everyone that visited her and the citizens of San Gimignano loved her.  In spite of all, she wanted to die so she could meet Jesus Christ.  On March 4, 1253, while her nurses were waiting for her to pass, Saint Gregory the Great appeared to them and predicted that she would die on March 12th.  Fina died on that date when she was 15.
     I exit through the front left door and I walk down the steps.  Marianne is where I left her.  We walk up into the next piazza to the northwest and find a used book, record, you name it sale.  There are about four or five vendors have tents lined with tables full of old stuff.  I see lots of things, but all in Italian.  There are art shops and galleries everywhere.  The time is getting close to 1:40 PM and lunch is waiting gown the hill.  We walk back to the Duomo Piazza and see the old men are disbanding—probably heading home for their lunch.
     We pretty much retrace our steps back down Via San Giovanni; Marianne stops at the same places she rested at when we walked up the hill.  I find the gallery on the side street and stop in for a second.  I can tell right away this is an upscale place.  There are some absolutely beautiful landscapes and town views of S.G.--wonderful.  There are also some more modern pieces that I don’t find as interesting.  There is no one in the shop and no one comes out to offer help.  I bet a hasty retreat and rejoin Marianne.
     I take one more side trip, east, on Via Piandronella.  After coming through an arch, the narrow street, buildings on the left, chest-high wall on the right breaks forth into a panorama of the town on the hillside below, and ahead, the view of the valley and hills beyond.  It looks like afternoon clouds and heading up into thunder-boomers across the beautiful vista.  Down here is the Le Vecchie Mura Camere and Ristorante.  I almost wish that I had booked lunch here; it is so beautiful.  I head back to Marianne who has made it down to the steps leading to the alleyway that Trattoria Chiribiri is in.

Chiribiri -- Gibberish, But the Food -- Great! (26 giugno, 2010)
     Trattoria Chiribiri is a popular place to eat.  It is packed, and we have to wait a few minutes while the staff clears tables and resets.  The owner shows us to our table and we order acqua minerale—no gas and a mezzo litre of vino bianco—a crisp and floral Vernaccia di San Gimignano.  The 1940’s “Andrews Sister-esque” song “Chiribiri” that Fernando had introduced us to over a week ago is playing through my head.  I have to hum it.  The tight little ristorante is a happy space to linger in for lunch. 
     Marianne orders a side insalata and ricotta and spinacio crepes with a Bolognese sauce with meat.  I go for the Lasagna al Forno for a primi and rabbit that has been wrapped around vegetables and other meat for secondi.  The sauce is incredible!  It is so savory and rich.  We top the meal off with sugary espresso and we are ready to fly.  As Marianne has her post lunch cigarette in the tiny piazzale behind Chiribiri, I check things out.  
     First I look into the stainless steel kitchen with everyone, including the owner taking a well deserved break; I tell them “delizioso” and “grazie” and they smile back with a great big “prego”!  I also run up the hill and check out the streets and buildings above the alleyway.  When, I find a small chiesa in the piazzale, the ancient wooden door slightly ajar, with an altar covered in votives and flowers and a carved and painted crucifix hanging on the wall above. 
     I walk with Marianne down to the same bench outside the porta, telling her I will honk the horn three quick times as a signal, and I head down the hill to find the car.  On the way down, I pass a ceramics workshop.  It is perched on the step hillside and I am taken by the terracotta statuary in the lush garden and the cheerful decoration on the bowls and platters displayed on the outside walls.  No one is there—it is reposo.    I continue down and find the car quickly.  It’s almost in the shade, but the interior is so hot, I let it air out for a few minutes before getting in to start it and turn on the a/c.  I close doors but leave the windows down.  I drive around to the exit and two security arms.  I insert the ticket and it says €4.  Great, but where do I put it.  I find a slot, and it takes a five—no change.  The arm does not go up--even more great.
     I find a call box button, but there is no answer.  Oh, wonderful, I think I am stuck in the lot and I can’t get out, and even worse, I don’t know where the office and the officers are that could help me.  I notice other cars coming to exit so I pull back and off to the side of the area.  The cars go through the other gate with no problems.  I pull into the other gate, but I don’t have a ticket any more.  Crap. 
     By chance I look down to the ground and there sitting on the cement curbing beside the machine is a discarded ticket.  I get out of the car and pick it up, get back in, and feed it into the slot.  It takes it and then nothing.  No parking cost, no ticket, and no raising gate.  I start the arrow prayers big time, now.  I press the call box button.  Nothing.  I press it several times.  An Italian voice comes on—Thank the Lord!  I try to explain that I can not get out and that I have paid already. 
     “Where is your ticket”?  The voice asks. 
     “It’s inside the machine and didn’t come back out.” 
     I hear grumbling and mumbling on the other end.  I try to restate my dilemma, but he is gone with a ‘click’.  Suddenly, ahead, the security arm rises.  I am amazed and delighted.  “Grazie, grazie!” I yell.  I shift the car into gear and nearly stall in it trying to get out of the gate.  I drive the car back up the hill, honking three times as I start to round the piazzale.  Marianne has moved to a bench on the other side of the street and out of the sun.  She is up and crossing the street quickly.  She gets in the cars and we heading down the hill.   I tell her my story of the security gate and we laugh all the way out of town. 

The Road to Volterra and La Primavera (26 giugno, 2010)
     The road out of San Gimignano down to Castel San Gimignano is a really crooked one.  However, it is beautiful.  Woods and farms cover one hill after another.  I see many B & B’s along the way, and I even pull into a dirt driveway to get a picture of San Gimignano through the trees.  I want to come back here and stay so I can look at this view—all day. 
     We wind down the hills, past a prison near some apartment houses, and finally get to Castel San Gimignano.  Highway SS68 winds through the small village and then west.  The road seems to travels only the hills and ridges, giving us great views of the valleys and sweeping panoramas of Tuscany.  Here the trees were cut down long ago and few if any hills have forests, unlike Umbria.  We get behind a slow moving car, obviously a tourist, and we become part of a slow moving parade heading west towards Volterra.  The half an hour experience gave us a better opportunity to see the vistas.
     Once we get into Volterra, we first the Esso Station and turn south onto Viale dei Filosofi.  After some twisting and turning around the north side of the city, the road’s name changes to Viale Gabriele D’Annunzio.  We ascend and come to a couple of good switchbacks.   We find Via Porta Diana and turn right (north).  As we go down hill, I know that La Primavera is very close.  I mistakenly turn right into a private drive.  Realizing my mistake I have to back out onto the narrow street and keep looking.  Straight behind me on the other side of the via is the front gate to the B & B.  Once I am pointed north again, we find the parking entrance and turn in to the left, and up a short drive into the graved and well kept parking area.  The single storied B & B has a three story apartment building behind, but the gardens and lawn areas are so idyllic that the building doesn’t seem to exist once you enter.  Huge lavender bushes, flowers and pomegranate trees surround the lot.
     We ring the buzzer at the high rot iron gate and soon the owner, Silvia Pineschi, is coming down the walkway to greet us.  She has short dark hair with bangs, glasses and a wide smile.  She has been expecting us, even though it’s only about 3:45 PM.   Silvia lets us in and takes us up the deep steps, with immaculate squares of pea gravel, that lead past the two single rooms with outside entrances.  Huge terracotta pots hold flowering plants that I don’t recognize.  The property is separated from the street by a high rock wall and several trees.    Silvia takes us up to the beautiful central patio.  It is surrounded on three sides by simple pale melon stucco walls—with the B & B entrance center, Pineschi private residence on the left, and a windowed wall on the right.  The curtained double front doors have six glass panels and wooden ones on the bottom.  The patio is a herring-bone brick pattern with several terracotta pots with beautiful plants, and a sitting area with two chairs and a small couch –bent wood, and a small coffee table. A charming iron gate with tall brick columns leads to the street and completes the perfect outdoor space.       Marianne and I are enchanted by the garden space.  I tell Silvia that we are so fortunate to have found her B & B while contacting our tour guide, Annie J. Adair of Tuscan Tour, on line.  I tell her that Annie suggested Affittacamere La Primavera to us and she is very pleased.  We had made reservations at the Seminario, but in really examining where the place was, we realized that we needed to be closer to the city center.  The Seminario Sant’Andrea, though very cost-effective, is way down a hill and out of walking distance for Marianne.  I would be great for young travelers, but not us.  Plus the videos and pictures I had found on-line looked like it was very old and hadn’t been kept up.     La Primavera on the other hand looks pristine--immaculate.   The inside is even better than the grounds.  We enter the common room and immediately are in some-one’s home, not an albergo or a fancy hotel, but a well cared for home.  The living room has blue and white plaid sofas and chairs and a small fire place.  To the right is a room, and to the left, up one step is the breakfast room.  The space has a large covered table set for eight, with sideboards, china cabinets, and shelves.  The room is decorated with dishes and teapots as well as framed needle point work.  In both rooms the pastel coral walls with white moldings are very restful and understated colored stencils crown each door and opening.       Above the front door, with lacey café curtains, is an oversized round ceramic platter with a brightly colored contemporary splash of flowers.   All the doors are three-tone:  butter and baby blue frames around two white panels.  The walls are covered with small, tastefully arranged pictures (old prints and birds).  Silvia has hung a trio of small white burlap bags tied off with pale blue ribbon holding a bouquet of lavender in the opening above one of the sofas.  Behind it is a raised hallway with three more rooms. Marianne is immediately in love with everything and she and Silvia talk while I bring in the bags.  I have decided to leave the large black bag in the car minus our Eagle Creek packs.  Silvia gives us the lay of the land and tells us when breakfast is served.  Apparently no one else is here at the moment.  There is a wedding this weekend and the bride’s relatives (British) are staying here.  Silvia tells us she grew up with the bride here in Volterra and she is marrying a local boy.   We both tell her we think that is wonderful.  Then she shows us to our room.     We are in room four, and I think she gave us the best room in the house.  Wow!  It is a large room and the walls are pale apricot.  We enter on white 10 inch tiles and the clean, very modern bathroom is on the left.  It is also the same pale color with stencil work and white fixtures and tile accents.  After Apartment Calzaiouli this bathroom is the “Taj Mahal”.  After one step down into the spacious bed-room, there is a painted wardrobe against the left wall, a large bed with matching side tables and lamps center, a writing desk with lamp under the large window on the right wall, and a covered table with tasteful schotzkes on the fourth wall to our right.  Our room is absolutely fantastic!  The space is cool, quiet, shaded and inviting.       Silvia has done an outstanding job of turning her old family home into a work of art.  Her husband, Mateo, does all the grounds keeping, gardening and all the maintenance for the place.  They have created a haven that we could stay in for a good long time.  Now we started to question why we were only going to be here two nights.  We both feel like we are on an extended honeymoon.  Romance is in the air.   We collapse into bed for another pisolino.  Later I shower in the best shower in all of Italy.
Volterra—It’s All Up Hill from Here (26 giugno, 2010)
Anxious to find shampoo and drinking water, I decide to walk into town. Silvia has provided me with a map and has shown me where the ‘supermarket’ is located. I head up the main street, Via Guarnacci, and through the northern porta, Fiorentina. The climb is fairly steep and the ancient buildings rise high on either side of the via. It looks like many storefronts are occupied, and I see a woman painting the walls of an empty space, getting it ready for a new business. The town is busy for a Saturday afternoon. When I reach Piazza San Michele; it is down right crowded. I notice that there is a group of people at tables outside the chiesa, gathering signatures—some sort of political event. I pass the street the store is on, Via Gramsci, drawn up the hill by the sound of trumpets, drums, and a loudspeaker. There are tons of young people, families, and brightly colored team shirts everywhere. The street changes to Via Matteotti and narrows towards the top. There are stores of every kind and it seems like it is market day. Off to the side, I see a street vendor, using a wooden
wheelbarrow, selling crudely made wooden swords and shields. There are cafes and ristoranti and bars everywhere I look. I follow the noise and activity. At the top the via curves to the west and one block over I am in the main piazza, Piazza dei Priori with about a thousand other people. Suddenly I can see what the excitement is all about. This is the junior flag throwing tournament. No wonder there are team
colors and families everywhere. I pull out my camera to take a picture and the view finder announces that the batteries are dead. Great.
      I am able to get near enough to the large area in the piazza to see that currently there is single thrower competition going on. The flagman has a groomsman assist-ing him and the drum and trumpet corps is several paces behind in perfect formation. The groomsman (boy) tosses the bright flag to the soloist and he goes through some very fancy maneuvering, tossing and jumping around the arena. He is maybe eleven or twelve and doing very well, but not flawless. Once his routine is over the crowd cheers, but not as loudly and his family, and then the whole team ceremoniously march from the arena. It is a slice of Italian life I possibly would never have known about, unless I had walked up here. As I walk back out of the piazza to Via Matteotti, I think to myself, “If I lived here, I would probably be one of the coaches that drilled the trumpet/drum corps.” What a cool thing.
      I leave Piazza dei Priori and get back on Matteotti. I head down the hill and find Via Gramsci and turn east. Following the store fronts on the right, I find closed garage doors where the market should be. Oh well, I check out the farmer market that is set up in the middle of the via. I wonder from one umbrella and table to the next. Here is porchetta and pecorino, verdura and frutta, and many hand-make treasures. The pecorino is very enticing. I try to get a sample of cheese, but a rather rude family cuts in front of me and I decide
I don’t need it. The girl behind the table has seen how I was cut off and smiles knowingly while the family’s mother orders everyone to sample the pecorino. I am so tempted to buy an eight inch wheel of cheese for around €13, but I stop short because I have no way to keep it cool for the next six days.
      I walk on and finally come to a Tabacchi shop. I ask directions for the supermarket and if it is open. The older woman is sure it is open and sends me back the way I came. I get to the shuttered up store, just as I knew, and it is definitely closed. The owner must be taking a larger pisolino than everyone else. There are stores everywhere lining the street and I stop in and check some of them out. I inquire about an alimentari and am told to go up Via Matteotti. I head back up the street, turn and climb the hill again. I am very careful to check out each store and try to read the signs. 
     The alimentari is on my left about halfway up the block. I enter into a dark and incredibly over-stocked minuscule space. The Signora and I exchange “buona sera’s”. She is very helpful in her broken English and shows me the water selection. Next she takes out an aluminum ladder and climbs up. I am concerned that
she may fall off, but she says she needs no assistance. She reaches up above the cooler case and digs in an old cardboard box. She pulls out a giant sized shampoo and I politely ask for “piccolo”? I could imagine hauling that ten pound bottle around Italy. She finds the smallest one she has (I don’t have the heart to tell her its body wash) and I gladly take it from her. I also steadythe ladder and she descends—shakily. The water and the body wash (Vidal Sassoon) only total about €4. We exchange “grazie’s and ciao’s” and I am
     The walk down the hill is easy. As I pass San Michele, I see that the political organizers have encountered an older signora that does not share their political views. In fact is scolding these grown men that are arguing with her as if they were her own naughty, spoiled children. I wish I knew enough Italian to figure out what they are yelling at each other. Better yet, I would sure like to know what the political ativism and petition signing was all about.I turn down Via dei Sarti and find a Frutta e Verdura. The sent of Nertarines draws me in. In no time I have apricots and nectarines to take back to Marianne. I am back at the B & B quickly and find Marianne on the patio.
      She is devouring Castagno’s “An Osteria in Chianti”. She tells me she wasn’t too sure about the book when she started, but now it’s getting good and holding her interest. I tell her where I’ve been and what I’ve seen. She is pleased with the shampoo (body wash). We talk about dinner. She can not walk up into the city, so we decide on ‘take out’ pizza. I am sure that I can find it.  Couple by couple, we meet wedding guests. First, are two girls, one with brightly berry-colored hair, from Venice. They ask if we are going to the
wedding, but, reluctantly, we say we aren’t. Next, I go inside and meet the bride’s uncle and his wife. They are English. He hasn’t been in Volterra for twenty years. Then we meet a young Brit., in the army, stationed in South Wales and his girl friend. A friend of the groom, he sets to polishing his belt and shoes for the festivities tomorrow. He tells us has been to America—Kansas, Ohio and Michigan. I tell him about my ancestry in Anglesey, Wales.  We also hear rumors that the ceremony is in the city hall and the reception is at a castello or an agriturismo. I am hoping someone asks us to join the party.
      Later, I walk back up into town scoping out pizza to go. I find a nice ristorante, Pizzeria Tavernetta, just a few blocks up Guarnacci. But I head on up the hill to explore more. Instead of turning right this time I turn left. Via dei Marchesi takes me east. Albergo Nazionale (which had been one of my earlier choices for lodging) is on my left and to my right, south, Piazza Martiri della Liberta and the open spaces of the valley to the south beyond. I pass a few very interesting ristoranti, including Ristorante Enoteca del Duca—with
a great arch for the front door. A Spanish guitarist is playing in the street. I miss read the map, thinking I could take a leisurely route to find La Vena de Vino over on Via Don Minzoni, across the street from the Etruscan Museum, and just beyond the Fortezza. I turn the corner to see some very steep steps that lead up to Via Castello and the Archaeological Park. I decide this isn’t the way I want to walk, so I head back to familiar surroundings. I start to feel guilty for being gone so long and head down the hill to the Pizzeria Tavernetta
to order two pizzas. The young lady, who speaks some English, tells me it will take a good twenty minutes. With time to kill I walk up to San Michele and take Via di Sotto. The street dips and rises and the sudden views of the valley below are awesome. I pass Piazza XX settembre, passing the museum of torture, and head up Via Don Minzoni. Up the narrowing street I see the signs for the Etruscan Museum on my left and I find Alab’Arte on my right.
     Two doors down I find the familiar hand painted to sign “La Vena di Vino”. I have found it! I peek inside and am shocked to see a tiny the space, no more than ten feet across. The bar space starts just inside the door and runs about 15 feet back. There must be a tiny W.C. back there. The right wall is lined with about four tables. The trademark bras, hundreds of them, hang from the rough ceiling. Many are signed. Above the entry is the top (including trunk and back hatch) of a white VW Bug; it covers over the a/c unit. 
     The space is a bit stuffy and I don’t really know if I could drink a glass of wine in here. Bruno is there and greets me. He is jovial and welcoming. He has a saved bald head and a huge smile. I tell him that I have come half way around the world to have a glass of wine in his enoteca. He laughs and re-commends a local red. I tell him I may have to drink it outside and he personally escorts me to theoutdoor seating of the café across the narrow street. It is an old wooden structure, raised off the cobblestones, with a half wall around it and a roof. The café is deserted. He gets me seated and tells me to enjoy. I am not too sure of taking up the café space, but he assures me he has an “arrangement” with the owner. I causally enjoy the wine and the breeze blowing up the street. Bruno is preparing for a big night and crosses back and forth from the enoteca to the café getting supplies for the evening. He checks on me to see how I am doing. All too soon the wine
is gone and I know pizza is waiting for me. I return the wine glass to the
bar and thank Bruno and compliment the wine. I tell him I have to get back
to the wife and he laughs. I would love to come back here later and see if this place starts getting crazy, but I have a pizza delivery to make.
     The ristorante has actually not started to serve yet, at 7:30 PM, so the pizza isn’t quit done when I return. I talk with the girl and find out that the forno is up-stairs. Originally they just cooked up stairs and sold it on the street. Then they were able to get the space we are in right now, and then the ad-joining space with the nicer dining space. The pizza comes from upstairs and I take the two card-board boxes out the door with a cheerful grazie and buona sera. It takes, maybe, four minutes to get the pizza to the B & B.
     Marianne and I eat it at the breakfast table, sharing some wine that we still have from Birrere Centrale. The pizza is so good. Marianne requested just a Margherita and I had to have funghi on mine. We are very careful not to get anything on the table. We feel a little naughty having not asked Silvia for permission, but she and Mateo are out for the evening and the wedding guests pass by heading out for fancy dinners in town.
      It has been another full day in Tuscany and we retire to the cozy confines of our room. The bed is so comfortable and the breeze coming through the large shuttered window is so calming. We attempt to read in bed, but simultaneously we put of books down, turn out the lights, and fall asleep almost immediately. What does it feel like to sleep in a country house in Tuscany?
Pure bliss.
Volterrian History with Annie Adair (Domenico 27 giugno, 2010)
        We just had the absolute best night’s sleep that we’ve had in Italy so far.  We wake to so many birds and the bells—it’s Sunday.  After another great shower, we head for breakfast and find we are the first ones to arrive.  The other guests must have had a great time at dinner and beyond last night. 
     Silvia has set a beautiful breakfast.  There is yogurt with fruit, prosciutto and provolone, coronets and croissants, juice, regular American coffee (as thin as tea water) whole wheat toast, black berry preserves (Silvia’s own).  The couple our age comes to the table, casual and sleepy.  They live southeast of London—halfway to the channel.  He is a professor at a university and she works for an American Bank (Chase?) in London.  They have only been together for about eight years. 
     Soon we are joined by his son and daughter in-law, also in the service—stationed in Frankfurt.  After them the groom’s friend and girlfriend (whom we met yesterday) make an appearance.  We are told the wedding ceremony will be at 10:30 AM in the city hall.  Then the guest will head out to an agriturismo in the afternoon for the reception.  No invitations for us—drats.  We would have to decline if asked, because we are having our tour guide, Annie, meet us hear at the B & B at 9 AM.  We found Annie Adair via Rick Steves and worked out a 3 hour tour by way of the internet.  The girls from Venice show up and it is our cue to excuse ourselves so the wedding party can sit together.
     Marianne and I hang out on the patio is the sublime peace of this Sunday morning.  I have to get something from the car and make my way to the gate.  I am cautious about walking past the massive lavender bushes because of all the bees—major allergy.  Then I see something that truly is amazing.  Some of the large bees are not insects but really humming birds.  I have to blink my eyes and refocus.  Yes, these birds are the size of my pinky--the end joint.  I see their delicate bill and ultra-fine feathers that decorate their heads.  They are so quick that the only color I see is dark.
     Annie arrives at 9 AM, and we make fast introductions.  The twenty something woman is immediately personable and bubbly, but not ‘cutesy’ in her delivery.  She is petite and wears a simple sleeveless dress and her smile is welcoming and friendly.   She has forgotten that we requested a car for Marianne, which her husband and daughter just drove off in, and apologizes profusely for not having it.  After we tell each other about our lives, she begins the tour.  Annie delivers an animated, fresh take on Volterra and its people.  There is a lot of information to take in, but we listen intently.
     The first people that are known to be living in Volterra were the Villanovans, from Turkey.  Next there are the records of the Etruscans in the ninth century B.C.  Their civilization thrived for centuries.  Velathri was the north end of their empire.  Somewhere around 550 B.C. the Etruscan Empire entered its Golden Age.  When Roman came to power and wanted to conquer the Etruscans, they found it very difficult.  In fact it took two hundred years to finally conquer them in the third century B.C.   The Romans exerted a gentle rule over the city of Volaterrae.  The Romans always thought the Volterrians, were a strange people.  They allowed their women to go about the city unaccompanied.  The slaves dressed as well as the masters, etc.  The city walls were expanded to a much greater area back then. 
     Unfortunately, Volaterrae supported the democratic consul, Marius, and was conquered, again; this time by Sulla after two long years, during the Civil Wars.  The Empire didn’t last much longer after that. With the fall of Roman and the invasions from the north, the walls shifted again.   Volterra was even home to Lombardi kings for a time.  In medieval times the walled area shrank again, retreating up the hill.  The population, now packed in more densely, sought protection within the walls.  In 1347 the plague killed only about half the population of Volterra, fairing much better than Siena.
     Next Florence tried to conquer Volterra in 1361, and again in 1472 (the War of Volterra), Lorenzo il Magnifico, and the sacking of the city by Federico da Montefeltro.  The Volterrians rebelled in 1530, but were squelched by Francesco Ferrucci.  Volterra remained under Florence control until the unification in 1860.  Through all the hardships and domination the spirit and soul of the Volterrians has remained strong and vibrant. 
     Just listening to Annie, you can sense the pride that she has for her Italian home and of its people.  Originally, she was from the Washington D.C. area, getting her BA from Brown University.   She has lived in Volterra since 1998, after first coming to Italy on vacation she fell in love with Volterra and spent the rest of the vacation there.   She decided to stay six months to learn the language and immerse herself in the Tuscan way of life.  Annie met Francesco three months after that. Francis Gronchi, originally from Volterra, has a Doctorate in Political Science from the University of Siena—his specialty is contemporary history and politics.     After a few years in the States in the D.C. area, and the economical/ political climate of the times, they decided to move back to Volterra.  Annie says they couldn't resist Tuscany -- from the food and wine to the pace of life, and the simple beauty of it all.  She and Francesco created Tuscan Tours as a way of introducing visitors to the land they love.  They also do weddings, but not the wedding of Silvia’s friend.  Currently Annie is nailing down details for a wedding they are planning next weekend.  In fact, she has to stop from time to time during the tour ‘spiel’ to talk on the phone to caterers, etc.
     Annie finishes her talk and Marianne says she has decided to for-go the walking tour.  Knowing how steep the climb is, it is probably best that she doesn’t go.  Annie is very apologetic, again, about the mix-up with the car, but I can see she is forming plan ‘B’ even as we say goodbye to Marianne and head out the garden gate.  Annie is like a friend, she just keeps talking and talking and allows one to interject and add to the conversation.  We talk about Volterra, walking up Via Diana to Porta Florentina.  She tells me a little about Roman Teatro just to our right. 
     Inside, we climb Via Guarnacci and then Matteotti.  We check out shops and talk more about Volterra history.  She points out a tower palazzo on the street and shows me the main medieval entrance.  It is on the second floor and it is very narrow.  Annie tells me how it was only accessible by a rope ladder and that invading soldiers could not enter with their armor on.  The bottom floor was used as a storage area, with no inside stairway to the upper floors.  It was highly defendable. 
     We talk politics, the Tuscan way of life, and about other Americans in Italy.  We pass the petition table in front of San Michele and I ask her what that is all about.  She says the government has imposed a mandatory wage reduction for government workers, police, teachers, etc.  Suddenly I see that these folks are not just ‘Communists’ trying to disrupt society—they are teachers upset at the typical way their government treats them.  I tell Annie about our bus tour in Rome and she is shocked, but not surprised.  I tell her I couldn’t get train tickets in Firenze and she suggests going to the other Tourist Information on the south east corner of the Piazza dei Priori—Monday at 9 AM.
     I suggest an espresso and Annie thinks it is a great idea.  We stop in at a place where she knows the women behind the counter.  She wants a dolce, and asks if I want one, but I decline her offer.  She chooses a tiny bowl of pastry with a rice pudding in it.  The espresso comes and we drink it standing at the bar.  She insists I try the dolce and I am surprised that it isn’t too sweet.  Actually, it is very good.
     With fortified energy we head up to Piazza dei Priori where the junior flag tossing championships are in full swing.  The crowd and the announcer are in ‘voce forte’.  Annie first talks about the city hall and the many family coats of arms adorning the façade—past ruling families.   Then she points out a sculpture of a lion (Firenze) crushing a dragon (Volterra) on a high pillar.  She tries to tell me the history of the piazza and of the city hall.  Across the piazza on the north east corner is an old palazzo that was used as the city hall until the current one was completed.  She shows me that is where I can get train tickets on Monday.  Annie tries to continue the tour over the excitement of the festival, but it is obvious the crowds and pageantry are winning this contest.  We look up at the clock and it is just after 10:30 AM.  She commends that the wedding ceremony must be going ‘well’ with all this noise and we leave.  She then takes me south down Via Porta all’ Arco.
     The via immediately starts going downhill.  It curves gently to the southeast and passes a café/enoteca, and neatly cared for buildings.  The care that the Volterrans (and all Italians) take with there flowers and plants makes the ancient stones a work of art.  Pale blue and yellow flags hang from the second stories of houses along the way—a geometric wave pattern.  This is artisan lane and it has shops on either side devoted to works of the Volterran craftsmen.  Alabaster is the main attraction here.  However it is Sunday and these shops are closed.  Shops include the Web & Wine, etchings and silk screening, book bindery and papery, alabaster, a cooperative of farm-priced produce including cheese, cured meats, and oils.
     I look down at the cobble stones and notice ancient sea shells in the rock.  Annie tells me that at one time the area where the rock was quarried was part of the sea floor.   I realize that Annie is taking me on the same sort of walking tour that Rick Steves talks about in his Florence/Tuscany book.  Annie says she has now had her fifteen minutes of fame, appearing in his “Hill Towns” video.  “Yes, I’m the girl in the orange sweater.”  She is so cool and laid-back about the notoriety and says Rick was almost not going to come to Volterra, but through a ‘glitch’ in travel plans, ended up here for a night.  Steves says Volterra is one of his favorite towns and does visit when he can.  Interesting how his tour is Annie’s tour…
     We reach Porta Arco quickly.  The inner gate is definitely medieval, with smaller blocks of stone from the 13th century wall, but as you walk through thick porta you pass back through time.  The outside is Etruscan porta with large stone blocks, and it is encased in the subsequent wall building of the past 25 or so centuries—constructed in the 4th century B.C.  The ancient tuffa is pocked and roughed up by time.  There are three heads in the arch, eroded and almost unrecognizable, were added in the 1st century B.C. 
     Annie tells me that the Volterrans are very fond of this Etruscan gate.  She calls my attention to a plaque on the city wall dated June 30, 1944.  The citizens of Volterra had been occupied by German forces and they caught wind of the orders to destroy the porta the next morning.  In an act of pure love, the women, children and old people of Volterra ripped up the cobble stones from the via and stacked them inside the porta.  It took all night, but in the morning when the Nazis came with the explosives, they saw the porta was completely blocked.  Since the order had been to block the gate, the commander figured the order had been carried out and left.  It blows my mind to think that these people were able to accomplish this selfless act to preserve history.
     I look out over the valley and realize I really like this place.  The view out to the valley to the south is beautiful--farmland with broad poggios and far as the eye can see.  Annie says that we could see the ocean if there wasn’t a haze.  They often go to the coast since it is so close--45 minutes.  I correct my thought--I love this town.
     I ask Annie if she had had any theatre experience and she says no.  I tell her that her delivery is wonderful.  She says see couldn’t see just delivering dry, boring facts.  It deserves animation and spice to bring it to life.  We talk about my teaching and singing and she tells me her step-father is also a singer.  We move back into the town and turn and go up a unique little street that twist one way and then another.  Its name: Via Laberinti—the labyrinth.  Italian streets are so great.  There is a pride of ownership that always shows through.  The doorways and gates are works of art.  The plants and flowers are everywhere and add colorful touches.  Of course, Tuscans, according to Umbrian, Fernando, hang their laundry to dry in the front of the house—only in the back for the Umbrians.  Colorful sheets and underwear add a character to these streets all their own.  Here in Volterra, the awesome views of the valley pop out when you least expect them adding another dimension to the painting.
     After Annie makes another quick phone call, we walk up the steps that take us to the Baptistery.  Here in the piazza that surround the building, school groups are practicing and warming up for their final competition.  Flag throwers are doing some pretty amazing tossing and the trumpet/drum corps are drilled and practiced.  I tell Annie that if I were working in Italy that would be what I would be doing with my weekends.  The thought is a wonderful one for me.
     We find a spot next to the duomo, across from the baptistery, and a distance away from the ancient city hall.  Annie points to these three places and then to the Polizia stazione across the street on our left--it used to be the grave yard.  So here we have birth (the baptistery), life/law (the city hall), and death (the old cimatori).  The only thing that could help you into, through, and out of life was the church (the soul).  This was the life of medieval Italian.  She tells me that the cimatori was moved and the Asylum occupied the stazione until it was moved out to the northeast side of town.  Ancient Etruscans and Villanovans shared the common ceremony of cremation.  This rite was insanely unique in the world at that time, but not for the ‘easy going’ Etruscans.  The Florentines worked on conquering and one by one took away the Volterrans rights and governing powers and then their money.
     We step inside the Duomo, which a plain façade, for a quick look.  The huge columns that hold up the nave are Pisan Romanesque.  The decoration is pure Florentine and I see the six balls/pills of the Medici everywhere.  I am impressed by the terracotta statues in the chapel by the front door and the marble pulpit.  There are relief carvings and names of eleven apostles at the last supper, but Judas in not there.  He hasn’t left to sell out Jesus; his is the ugly dragon under the table.  In a chapel is a Fra Bartolomeo painting, The ‘Annunciation’.  Annie tells me that he was a student of Fra Angelico.  She asks if I saw San Marco in Firenze.  I sadly tell her I got in the chiesa, but not to the museum.  She also points out the painted and gilded ‘Deposition’ up by the altar.  I look at the windows in the transept of the church and see they are made of thin alabaster—letting in an almost holy light.  I immediately remember the windows of the Duomo in Orvieto.
    Annie has to hurry me along because her husband, Francesco is going to leave her the car.  She has hatched plan ‘B’ unbeknownst to me.  She has decided to pick up Marianne and drive us around Volterra and take us to the alabaster workshop.  We leave the chiesa and turn up Via Turazza towards Piazza dei Priori.  We meet Francesco right at the intersection of dei Marchesi.  He has their daughter, Sophia (wisdom) with him.  She is a real sweetheart, with red hair.  I shake hands with Francesco and Annie gets the keys.  They kiss and we leave dad and daughter and head down Matteotti.  Annie tells me that Sophia loves to sing.  She even likes opera.  Her favorite aria to sing with right now is Maria Callas doing “The Poppy Song”.
   Annie and I turn onto Gramsci and I notice that the farmer’s market booths are gone.  She calls attention to different points of interest, including Piazza XX Settembre and the torture museum.  We are heading towards “Vena di Vino” before I know it.  I think for sure she is going to take me to the Etruscan museum, but we stop at Alab’ Arte.  The showroom is full of beautiful art pieces of every kind.  She introduces me to Giorgio Finazzo, one of the owner/artisans.  She talks to him and I look around.  I really like the jewelry, especially the long necklaces, and I am sure Marianne would like one. 
     Annie tells me that Giorgio will show us his shop in a while so Marianne can get something out of the tour.  We leave the shop and I realize that I could take a few pictures of “La Vena di Vino”.  She doesn’t have a problem with it, so I run up two store fronts to the enoteca.  Inside the boys, Bruno and Lucio, who I greet in Italian and by name, are getting ready for the day.  I get a picture of them and the bras and I am back with Annie in a flash.  We walk down the side street, Via Orti San’Agostino, north, to Porta Marcoli.  She points out the alabaster workshop and asks if I think Marianne could climb up the short, but steep ramp to the porta.  I say I think she can.  If she could climb up to Civita two weeks ago, I bet she can to this too.
     The car is in the lot right out side the porta.  I realize it is the lot that I had asked the guy from the Seminario about a year ago on the internet, but he said it was always full because the locals park there and walk to work.  Annie drives a tiny, chartreuse, Italian SUV-kind of car.  It suits her well.  We jump in and leave the lot.  We pass a Polizia women and Annie stops a moment to ask permission to get Marianne in to see the workshop.  The women says okay, but not to block the ramp for more than five minutes.   Off we zoom and are at La Primavera in record time.  Marianne is surprised to see us.  We pack into the car and off we go.  Annie and Marianne are equally as chatty with each other.  Marianne tells Annie that I have been trying to contact Dario Castagno. 
     “Oh that guy,” moans Annie. “He’s not even a guide; he doesn’t have a license.”
     “Oh that interesting,” I say.  “He invited to take us on a tour of Dievole Winery in Vagliagli, Chianti.” 
     “He is so lazy.  It really isn’t that hard to get a license.”
     “Sounds like too much Tuscan wine,” I say making a reference to one of his books. 
    “It’s like Francis Mayes,” Marianne chimes in.  “The way she took advantage of Cortona.  We have a friend, Wanda, who stayed in Cortona a couple of years ago, and when she asked a local lecturer from Cortona if the town is better since Francis Mayes, the guy paused and said no.  The people of Cortona can’t afford to own property here anymore.”
     “Liked the movie, but I don’t feel the least sorry for that rich divorcee,” says Annie quickly.   “She had millions in the settlement to buy her dream home from the naïve Cortonese because they really don’t know what a ‘gold mine’ they have.  Then she exploits the town, making lot of money and she doesn’t even live in her ‘Bramasole’ anymore.”
     First we stop at the Teatro Romano and get its history.  Next she takes us through the neighborhoods (borgos) of Volterra.  She stops so we can see a chiesa on a hill that is only a façade.  The rest of the building has fallen down the hillside as has some parts of the town—similar to Civita.  We drive on.  She points out the old asylum that is now Hospital, and an abandoned abbey that is also close to falling off the hill.  She even has time to show us the ancient roman baths that have been used as a place for Volterran women to wash clothes thousands of years.  Finally she points out a farm to the south that is known for its organic methods of growing produce and raising animals.  They own a ristorante in town, Del Duca, and Annie highly recommends it because of the local food they serve from their organic farm. 
     Annie then drives us to the alabaster workshop.  Giorgio shows us around the dust covered shop.  It’s like it just showed inside.  There is alabaster dust everywhere.  He points out, through Annie, that the dust is far less likely to affect the lungs than many others stone dust—like coal, etc.  There are two show rooms and a desk.  In the back is a larger space, where the lathe is and you can tell it gets used a lot.  On shelves all around the room and up to the ceiling are plaster statuary covered in powdery dust.  These are used and models for a large bulk of the work they do.  The men use centuries-old techniques, including using calipers and other measuring devices to transfer to their sculptures.
     Giorgio works up front on delicate and beautiful sculptures, while his partner, Roberto Chiti works the lathe—something that, it sounds like from Giorgio’s description and facial expressions, Roberto doesn’t like a lot.  He is the one who gets completely covered with the powder daily.  We are so thankful to Giorgio for showing us his shop on a Sunday that we buy many small pieces—that we can get into the suitcases.  We thank him profusely and bid him a buono Domenico.
     Annie gets us back to the B & B shortly after 12:00 and we say goodbye to her as well.  Out of my mouth pops, “We thank you from our hearts.”  Maybe it didn’t sound too corny, I think, as she drives off.  We both sit on the patio and revel in the ‘Annie whirlwind’ we had just experienced.  We like Volterra very much and are kind of sad this is our only full day here.

Sunday Afternoon in Volterra--Smell That Smell! (27 giugno, 2010)
     Marianne and I sit on the patio of the B & B La Primavera and read.  We feast on our frutta.  The wedding party members start showing up and we greet them as they make their entrances and exits.  The Brits are hoping for a bus to the agriturismo so they will be able to party.  A woman in her late fifties shows up and goes into the Pineschi’s private entrance.  She looks like she could be an aunt.  Two friends of Silvia and Mateo’s show up with a unique and handmade gift for the groom.  It has antlers and a picture frame.  We have no idea what it symbolizes, but we are sure the groom will get a kick out of it.  Finally, Silvia and Mateo come out and we say goodbye to them and hope the party is a good one.
     About 2 PM, I am hungry and so is Marianne.  I tell her I will go get some panini and make a reservation at Del Duca—8:30 PM.  She likes the idea and reads while I head off in search of food.  I first climb Matteotti and find Del Duca and make the reservations.  The lunch crowd is gone and no one is inside.  The owner speaks very little English and the waiter is so accommodating, but we aren’t communicating well.  He calls in the sous-chef, Isaac.  Isaac is American.  I ask him where he is from.  Seattle.
     “Shit,” I say surprised it slipped out so effortlessly. “I am from north Idaho and my wife and I live in Roseburg, Oregon.” 
     “I know where Roseburg is—south of Eugene,” Isaac says.   My wife and I drove through the area and visited some wineries.”
       “Great,” I say.  “How can you stand to be here in this beauty everyday?” 
     Isaac smiles knowingly.  I can tell he appreciates where he lives.  He helps me make the reservation and I am off.  Small world. 
     I make a ‘bee-line’ for “La Vena di Vino” and get another glass of wine—this time Lucio’s recommendation.  I order the panini and enjoy the wine.  I take one last look at the enoteca and head back down Sotto.  I stop and actually take time to sit on the bench just past the piazza and marvel at the northern view.  Incredible.  I notice that this little area has gardens and flowering pots all around it.  I bet some signora tends to this space with loving care.  I look over to the houses stacked on top of one another, and I think I actually see that woman shaking out a rug.  She is staring at me so I think she must be the signora.  I smile at her, but she ignores it.
     The amble back to the B & B and Marianne and I have lunch.  I bring out the last of the wine and the jug of water and we have a relaxing lunch.  I tell her that I can not go on any longer.  I must go to the Laundromat and wash my clothes.  She reluctantly agrees and we retire to the room and sort out the dirty clothes.  I use a plastic shopping bag to put the laundry, throw in some hangers for my shirts, and our packets of Tide soap.  The coolness of the room lowers us into bed and a welcomed pisolino.  We are so amazed by this routine we have so easily fallen into in this country.
     Later, armed with a map and my bag of laundry, and wearing just my shorts and the t-shirt I have been sleeping in, I make my way to the laundromat.  I take the back way, trying to be less conspicuous.  I skirt the piazza, avoiding the final wrap-up of the awards ceremony for the tournament and end up on Via Roma.  The place is easy to find and a machine is open.  It takes euro coins (3) and a pour the Tide into the dirty clothes and hope for the best.  It is too warm and humid inside to wait so I cross the street and read “Jake’s Women” while sitting on a door stoop. 
     Soon the obnoxious fragrance of the Tide is wafting out into the street.  It is horrible.  I think if the smell is so over powering out here in the street, the clothes must reek.  About 15 minutes into the cycle and happy group of Americans walk by and one of the guys comments about the smell of the soap.  I think he thought it was Italian soap.  He says I bet the person who owns the clothes will be very surprised by their smell.  I speak up from across the street and say I am actually horrified by the fragrance.   They laugh, understanding my predicament, and move on.  I don’t have the heart to tell them it’s just good old American Tide.  Pew!
     I really have to watch over the dryer cycle because the heat is set high and I don’t want anything to shrink or burn.  In less than 15 minutes, I am hanging shirts, and in 20, folding underwear.  Soon I am walking back to La Primavera and exploring the back streets of Volterra with my stinky but clean laundry.  I almost step into a shop to buy a Chianti shirt, black with the red graphic of a wax stamp and the black rooster, but she wants €20 for it and I don’t want to spend that much.  Oh well, maybe I can find it cheaper somewhere else.
    Back at the B & B I hang my clean, fragrant shirts in the wardrobe, and put the other things in the Rome bag.  It’s after 7 PM, so I slowly start to get ready for dinner.   I haven’t brought my leather Keen sandals (my dress shoes) in so I go out and change shoes in the parking lot.  Marianne puts on her new dress and her Firenze jewelry.  She looks great.  We drive around the hill around 8:00 PM, taking our time.  I make the correct turns and end up on Viale dei Ponti.  It is a very nice street, with a broad sidewalk promenade on the down hill side.  It is lined with trees and old ornate street lamps.  As we get to the top, I scope out the underground parking lot entrance.  I drive up and drop Marianne off in Piazza Martiri della Liberta.  I wait until she is off the street and sitting before I drive back to the parking garage.
     I am able to swing the Golf around and get into the entrance.  I stop to get the ticket and the security arm goes up.  I am hoping there isn’t a repeat of my parking CF from yesterday.  I find a very convenient space and back in confidently.  I don’t see the stairs up to the bus turn-around above so I walk out to the street and take the promenade.  I get a few pictures of the valley, the baptistery and head up to find Marianne.
    When I get to the top, there in front of me is someone I know.  I casually say “Buona Sera, bella Annie.”  She sees me and smiles.  She can’t believe that we are running into each other.  I say we took her up on her recommendation for dinner.  She says we won’t regret it.  She asks where Marianne is and I point.  Marianne waves back and she stands to join us.  Annie tells us she has just given a ‘Vampire’ tour and rolls her eyes.  I get a picture of the two ladies.   She says that Francesco is picking her up to go to dinner and points.  Sure enough the chartreuse Fiat is in the bus turn-around —waiting for her.  He waves and Annie introduces Marianne to him.  Sophia is in the back and we say “Ciao Sophia.”  The family drives off and we say “Arrivederci, Gronchi’s!”  We walk slowly to Del Duca, because it still isn’t 8:30 PM yet. 

Ristorante-Enoteca Del Duca -- Romance in The Air (Domenico 27 giugno, 2010)   
    Del Duca is at the end of Via dei Marchesi and Via di Castello.  It opened as a ristorante and enoteca in 2001 by chefs-owners Genuino Del Duca and Ivana Delli Compagni.  It is in a 12th Century building with 16th Century updates.  The interior of the ristorante is pretty much white plaster with wood accents.  The wine collection and enoteca looks outstanding.
     The back patio where we are seated is enclosed by the ruins of Etruscan Acropolis, which the Florentines destroyed in 1472, and is at the foot of the Enrico Fiumi Archeological Park just uphill to the east. There are gardens tucked in to the rocks and up steps right behind our table.  A short back wrought iron gate provides access.  It is a great and cool place on this summer night. 
     Da Duca advertizes that the menu changes according to seasons and availability of fresh products.  All the products come from the Marcampo agriturismo down in the valley.  I see a place to barbeque in the corner of the garden.  They boast a Tuscan evening every Wednesday that includes: ham and cold cuts, bruschette, soup and T-bone steaks on the grill.
     The back of the ristorante looks like the back of a Tuscan house, with pale lemon stucco and large lanterns.  The pass-thrus to the kitchen are the windows.  I see Isaac inside and wave as we pass to our table.  The wide terracotta tile patio has about a dozen celadon green clothed tables with those massive high tech square cloth umbrellas that are supported from the side and out of the way of the table.  There is a ristorante dog that is very well behaved and does not get in anyone’s way.  As the light of the day fades, lamps come on and the wonderful garden lights create a romantic ambiance.
     We order a bottle of the house red, Marcampo wine, which is a blend of sangiovese and merlot.  The waiter pours the wines and we toast to the last 25 years.  I feel closer to Marianne right now and so in love with her.  She gets a little misty eyed and we kiss.  I feel we should celebrate tonight—our good fortune to be in Volterra and that we are leaving to discover more of Tuscany tomorrow.
     Marianne and I start with a zucchini soufflé with prosciutto.  It is served with bruschette drizzled with the sweetest balsamic I have ever tasted.  We take our time and stretch the event of dinner on into the dark.  Primi: Marianne has chosen hand rolled gnocchi in a creamy pesto and sausage sauce.  I have fresh tagliatelle in an incredible carbonara sauce with slivers of black truffle garnish.  I have died and gone to heaven.  It is beyond wonderful.  The wine compliments and enhances the flavors in a way I have never experienced.  We get more romantic and talk about all our years together, how we feel so old, but so young.  We acknowledge that we love each other more now then back then.  We also agree we love Italy and its people.  We order a second bottle of wine.
     For secondi Marianne is having stuffed pigeon.  She can’t believe how good it is and I keep teasing her about all the birds in the piazzas that the cooks could choose from.  I have suckling pig with fagioli (white beans).  It wasn’t really what I was expecting, but the young pork is delicious.  I know I am supposed to eat the crackly skin, but I just can’t--concerned that my cholesterol levels are skyrocketing.  We have delicious espresso with cane sugar and a drop of cream.
     By 10 PM the patio is full and the happy mix of voices adds to the charm of the evening.  To our right is a couple, he is older and she is much younger.  There is another couple to our left.  There are families and double couples and even an eight top of Americans—from Texas I think.  We have the waiter get a picture of us before we leave.  Both Marianne and I realize we need to do a little walking to work off the meal.  We peak at Piazza dei Priori before I take her back to Piazza Martiri della Liberta.  A bar/ristorante is very popular with the locals tonight.  They are very boisterous and there is music blaring.  I think they are watching World Cup, even though Italy is out of the competition.  I leave Marianne with a group that includes women and child near the bus stop, cross the street, find the stairs to the parking garage and go down. 
     I am not sure I should be cautious or just blow the feeling off.  The stairs come down with in ten feet of the car.  Now how did I miss this two hours ago?  I pull out and get to the security arm.  The led reader panel is not displaying anything I can understand—like €4 or something.  I look again.  I now understand what it says.  “Go the inside booth and pay”.  I turn off the car and go in.  I pay the €2 and get back in the car.  The arm goes up and I try to get out on the narrow street.  I end up having to do a three-point turn to get back into my lane.  Soon I am up the hill and picking up Marianne.  I notice that there are several parking spots in the buss turn around.  I guess I could have parked there, like everyone else.  No wonder the parking garage was nearly empty.
     We descend the hill, with the promenade on our right and the valley below.  The street lamps and the trees make the drive so romantic.  We get back to the B & B and see that the patio lights are out.  We relax in the cool of the night.  I get ‘ticked’ that Marianne has another cigarette.  For my benefit she tells me that the pack is almost empty and that’s it—no more.  I can’t believe how quickly she picked up the habit again.  That’s a negative about Italy—so many people smoke.  Marianne just did what comes naturally for her.
     We go in and get ready for bed.  The room reeks of Tide.  I hang my rinsed out sleep shirt out the window to dry.  We don’t even pack bags.  Somewhere up in the Bastian next to the park a youth dance is going on and the music echoes off the apartment building behind.  There is a wide variety of World music, even a contemporary version of “Auld Lang Syne”, and Lauper’s “Girls Just Wanna Have Fun”.  I hope it doesn’t go too late.  I am anxious for tomorrow, getting train tickets, and driving to Montalcino.  I remember that we are going to Mate winery on Tuesday and meet Candace.  Sleep takes me after 1 AM. 

Tuscany Cross-Country San Galgano and Montalcino (Lunedi 28 giugno, 2010)
     I wake up late today—8 AM.  I didn’t get much sleep.  No more espresso before bedtime for me.  I am ready for breakfast after I pack and shower.  Marianne goes ahead of me so I eat alone later.  The place is all mine for a while.  Soon however, in groups of twos, the Brits and the Venetian girls show up.  Soon there isn’t enough room for everyone and I give up my chair to make way.
     I walk up to the ‘IT’ on the Piazza Popolo at 9:30 AM.  An active younger woman and an older assistant are in the small, already stuffy and hot space.  I tell her I need tickets from Firenze to Lucca and then Lucca to Rome.  I was hoping to get a train that went down the coast so we could see it, but the only way to get back to Rome is Lucca to Firenze, via Eurostar to Rome.  She has my train tickets printed out quickly and I am pleased with the cost.  This beats standing in line at the train station all to heck.   
     I am back to La Primavera in short order and get to talk to Graham and Lorraine, the brides uncle and his wife, who live about 30 miles south of London.  Graham says it’s about 20 miles to the coast from the town where they live.  They have been to New York, Boston and Florida.   He really enjoyed Epcot Center when he was there.   Marianne has settled accounts with Silvia, €160 for the two nights. 
     We say ‘ciao!’ to Volterra and drive once more around the hill, pointing to all the places we now know, and head towards Montalcino.  I even do some passing on the two lane road, R68, which we had been on two days ago.  We take the turn onto P 27 and head for Il Merlo.  The road is mostly over the hill and down, through wooded areas.  The area is noted for mining and we see many mine entrances and slag piles through the trees.
     I take the opportunity on the empty, mainly S-turn road to practice a driving technique that I did when I was younger and hadn’t thought of until I rode with Fernando--crossing the center line to straighten out the curves.  As long as you can see what’s ahead it is very safe.  I just haven’t done it because I drive Roseburg streets and the freeway back home.  Here it just seems like the logical way to do it.  I used to ‘straighten out the road’ when I lived in Idaho and Montana.
     We drive to Casole d’Elsa, a pretty little town on another hill.  We join P 28 for a very short time and then turn east on P 27, again, at the bottom of the hill.  We are trying to get to S 541.   I know we are in the right place when I look up and see the Castello (Castello di Casole) above us on the hill and know that there is where the planned development, is located.  I found it on-line a year or so ago, followed its progress, noted they haven’t completed the project, and hoped to see it while we were here.  The project, Castello di Casole, headed by a Colorado company, Timbers Resort, has backed an Italian team of designers and developers to restore and renovate the castello and all its farmhouses (podere) into luxury, high-end residences.  It’s near Querceto.  I ask Marianne if she wants to visit.  Her answer is a swift, “NO!”
     SP 541 heads south out of Siena and ends up in Maremma—Grossetto.  Once it gets through the farm valley near Pievescola, it heads up south into the hills and it gets twisty.  Rick Steves says that it is not a road for the “queasy of stomach”.  I didn’t see what the fuss was all about—just a windy road.  We pass Frosini, a former castel now a villa in a tiny village, but by now stopping and looking isn’t an option, because Marianne is having trouble navigating and things pass by so fast she can’t keep track of where we are on the map.  I try to keep her calm, but she does hit the wall and the tears start.  I reassure her that I have a good idea where we are going and not to worry. 
     We are heading for San Galgano--an abandoned abbey that is out in a field—literally in an area called Montagnolo.  Rick Steves adds it as one of those ‘see it if you have time’ things.  Dario Castagno devotes a story about it in his first book, “Too Much Tuscan Sun”.  There on a very stormy, gloomy tour, he accommodates to very weird tourists that perform some sort of fertility ritual or a ‘waiting for the spaceship’ kind of thing.  Very bizarre.  We, on this beautifully sunny day, are doing fine; as we look for the turn off onto S 441 and I’m glad it’s not a rainy day.  We find the turn after a gas station.  We turn south and I see an abandoned podere in a field for sale that is in need of a lot of work.  I ask Marianne if that’s the place for us.  She is amused—slightly.
     We are at San Galgano before we know it, at about 12:15.  The parking lot is a full quarter mile away from the abbey; Marianne won’t be walking that distance.  However, there is a bar/café with cameri (rooms) about twenty yards away from the abandoned structure, so I drive in and park there.  Marianne does not want to walk to the abbey and check it out so I take her to a table out front.   I go in and get espresso and dolce.   I also find the restroom.  The young guy behind the counter gives me a tray that I can take out to Marianne.  We eat out in a little park-like setting under tall trees in front of the building.  The view of the abbey is great.   After checking out the toilet, I warn her that “not only are there no seats on the toilets, but the doors don’t have locks either”.  I finish my snack and leave her with her cigarettes. 
     The walk is quick.  There are about a dozen people walking in and among the ruins.  It is a fascinating place, but it loses some of its impact with me because it is filled with platforms and chairs.  There has been a performance here over the weekend.  Mozart’s opera “Don Giovanni” complete with sets, lights, etc. was here Saturday night.  I find a poster and realize it was the same one I saw in Firenze.  I just never read the poster all the way through; it clearly says it will be performed at the Abbazia San Galgano 26 giugne, 2010.  Oh well, we were in Volterra at the time.
     I check out as much of the abbey as I can.  I also go over to the chapter house, envisioning a reception that might have taken place in these spaces last Saturday night.  I see the remaining fragments of the cloister and walk around the building.  Enticed by other visitors, I decide to go to the chapel up on the hill, and follow them up the rutted dirt road.  The monks have lots of vineyards and they have attended to the fences well, but not the road.  The chapel is intriguing, but it is closed and won’t be open for mass (sung) until 1:30 PM.  Rick Steves says there is a sword in the stone and severed arms in there.  Oh well, you can’t have everything.
    I walk back down the hill, the front way this time on the paved road.  I pass a snack café on the right before getting down the hill.  The vista of the fields and far hills are outstanding.  At the bottom of the hill I meet up with the road back to the abbey and walk the quarter mile road back to the café.  The bees in the trees that line the road are buzzing loudly.  The views of the ancient abbey across the field are beautiful.   
     Marianne is happy in the shade, but we both need real food so we are off.  We drive back the way we came and soon meet up with S73.  From there we head into Monticiano.  I have scoped out this town for a place to eat months ago on the internet.  When we get into city limits, I recognize the streets and turn into the Albergo Ristorante "Da Vestro".  We are grief-stricken.  It is closed--every Monday (Chiuso lunedi).  I can’t believe it.  I guess I have to read the web site at lot better next time.  Oh well, we pull into the sleepy village on Monticiano and discover a small traffic circle in the middle of town with all the important building, Polizia, chiesa, etc. and a enoteca/café around it.  There are red umbrellas out front of the enoteca, so we pull in, parking in a no parking zone. 
     Marianne sends me inside for water and panini.  Inside the owner is on the phone and a couple of friends are checking out a video on YouTube.  Once the he is free, I order the panini, water and ask him for a recommendation on the vino rosso.  First he suggests Brunello, but I tell him we will taste that tomorrow.  He suggests a great red from Grossetto.  Before I know it, Marianne has crossed to a Tabacchi machine and is trying to buy more cigarettes.  She can’t figure out how to use the machine, but a young man from a near by shop comes to her aid. 
     It takes the owner just a few minutes and he brings out the food and drinks.  The wine is very good.  The sandwiches are not.  The porchetta is very gristly with lots of fat.  We have just about had enough of the cheese and fatty meat ‘thing’ so we put it aside.  Marianne had been talking to the couple at the next table when I came out.  They are Scottish—from Glasgow. 
     They tell us all about an incredible wedding they just attended in Lucca.  The guests, lots of them, literally invaded and took over Lucca.  When they check into the reception at the beginning of the event, they were all given identical souvenir canvas bags.  From then on for the whole weekend, everyone knew who everyone was because of their canvas bags.  We talk about Scotland and how we would like to visit.  They tell us that even in the hottest months, July and August; it’s a ‘crap shoot’ with the weather.
     We leave them to their lunch and get back on the road.  It’s another 14 km’s of twisty hill road, but beautiful to E 78.  When we pass San Lorenzo a Merse I know we are close.  The junction is in another valley of farmland.  From here we have the choice of going north a few km’s and taking P 33 & P 34 into Buonconvento about 19 km’s north of Montalcino, or south on E 78 to Paganico and then east on P 64 and north on P 14 & P 117 to Montalcino.  Marianne makes the decision—south on E 78.
     The road is good and we soon rise into the high hills.  About twenty km’s into the journey, we leave Tuscany and come to the first tunnel.  It is at least three km’s in length--really.  We have never been in such a long tunnel before.  I find it amazing that this well-lit of a highway exists underground in the middle of Italy.  After a few minutes of sunshine, we go through a tunnel that’s about one km.  Then later a very short one that goes under a rocky ridge.  From there down the hills to Paganico, there is road construction and a huge line of cars gets behind a slow moving delivery truck.  In fact we can’t take our exit because of the construction in Paganico. 
     We find an exit a few km’s south and head back into town.  SP 64 is not well marked here.  In fact the only mileage signs that have a familiar name, Monte Amiata, appear only once and we forge ahead in faith.  The farmland and hills are wonderful through this stretch of road and the train runs for a time beside the road.  We pass over the Omborne River and pass through Borgo Santa Rita.  After the turn off for P 51 to the south, I find the north turn off for P 14; we cross back into Tuscany.  This is wine country and the largest producer in the area is Banfi.  We come to Stazione di Sant’Angelo-Cinigiano.  Other than the train and the Banfi plant, there isn’t too much there.  I mistakenly take the second left to Argiano and the Banfi Castel, not the first left to La Pieve and Tavernelle (P 117). 
     The Banfi vineyards and the castel are wonderful and scenic, but not even a half a km past it the road turns turn dirt—a white road.  The Crete is powdery white here and mixed with the gravel it is a slow and dusty drive.  I keep telling myself the view is spectacular.  After about twenty minutes on the road we finally see the large water reservoirs, we regain pavement, rejoin the main road (P 117), and pass by Tavernelle.  We both breathe a sigh of relief and I increase my speed to 60 km’s per hour and try to blow some dust off the car.  Immediately to the right is the turn off to Mate winery—which we will visit tomorrow.  The road rises into a wooden area and we find the first turn towards Montalcino.  Inside of a minute we connect up with P 14 and quickly get to the southern hill outside of town.  Hotel al Brunello surprises on the west side of the road, and we say if ‘Il Sogno’ falls through we can come back here.  We drive through the winding outskirts of town of this south hill. There is a natural saddle that connects the hills and brings us right into Montalcino—on the north hill.  Right below the Piazzale Fortessa three roads converge in a traffic circle.  Besides the on we’re on there is a central road that goes south to Sant’Antimo, and a third that wraps around the Montalcino hill and switchbacks down; eventually it connects with S 343, the Cassia Way, and heads to Siena.  That’s the road that we drove on with Fernando almost two weeks ago.  Has it already been that long?

Montalcino & Il Sogno di Musicisa (Lunedi 28 giugno, 2010)
       The B & B I booked, Il Sogno di Musicista (The Dream of the Musician), is on the west side of the town, off a small piazza next to the Duomo—the highest point in town.   As far as I can tell, we can not drive up to the B & B.  I drive around the hillside on the west, on Viale Strozzi and find the free public parking lot.  Only now it is ‘pay’ public parking.  I get a ticket from the machine and try to call Signora Gigliola Bastiani, but I can not get her.  Cell phone coverage is very poor so I decide to climb the two blocks worth of steps straight up to the Duomo to find a better signal.   There are so many steps.  I mean it.  This is more of a cardiovascular workout than I want to have in the hot sun right now.  Dante’s steps!
     Once I am up on top and walking past the Duomo, I see a parking lot behind it.  I hope that is where we get to park.  I also get through to the Signora on the cell.  She speaks no English, but she understands that I am at the B & B.  She sounds like she is panicking and turns me over to her husband, Paulo.  He half way understands what I am saying.  He explains that they do not live in town and it should take about twenty minutes.  Okay.
     I walk about the piazza looking for the sign for the B & B. I eventually find it, No. 42, and sit in one of the tiny bistro table’s chairs out front.   I have time to look over the neighborhood and I like what I see.  The only street, Via Spagni (running north-south) is a sleepy dead-end on the east side of the piazza.  There is a tiny central parko, with grass and a large tree, raised above the street by a few steps.  There are a couple benches with old men on one of them and a war memorial.  The old villa, on the west side, is center in the piazza and a cobble stone drive goes around the grass in front of it.  The Duomo is on the south side and the B & B is over on the north side.  There are about three, two-story residences in this little corner of the piazza.  The walls are covered with plants and vines--especially the residence next door.  The drive area drops down to the via.
     Il Sogno doesn’t have any living plant—pots yes, plants no.  There is a small garage-like area, built out from the building’s wall, blocking the area from the street; there is a tall shrub and a tiny gate to an obscured area.  Large vines of jasmine are growing all over the brick above the garage and the smell is great.  It is a wonderful spot to stay—I only hope the inside holds up under scrutiny.
    I kill some time by walking into the street and checking out what the construction noise is all about to the north.  A young worker has a small Ape just down the block; he runs in and out of a residence, but I can’t figure out what he is doing.  To the south the street widens into front of the Duomo—looking very old, with weeds and pigeons all over it.  There is a broader piazza with benches on the other side of the street.  There are two very tall pines that balance the area and keep watch over the chiesa.  From here the hill drops off dramatically to the east into the town below.  I see steps and a steep narrow street below.  Soon some tourists walk Spagni up from town to check out the chiesa.  One of the men drinks from an old water spigot that is in a stone column in the piazza.
     After a little while a car comes racing up Via de Spagni and parks on the street next to the parko wall.  Gigliola is driving and Paulo pops out from the passenger seat.  He is short and wiry and has gray hair, almost spiked; he is wearing a black muscle shirt and black jeans.  He is covered in splatters of white paint.  He apologizes for his appearance; he is retired but this is what he is doing with his time.  Signora is out of the car with a bustle of energy.  She has a bouffant permanent hair-do and designer glasses.  They are both outgoing and welcoming. 
     We walk over to the B & B and she opens it up.  The floors are all terracotta tile.  A stairway, beautiful wood, greets us and I get concerned; Marianne can’t climb them.  To the right is a doorway into a kitchen/eating area.  There are three tables delightfully decorated.  The kitchenette is IKEA and they show me every piece and part of it.  At the back of the room is the door to our room—the Carmen Camere.  Thank God it’s on the ground floor.  It is small, done up real pretty, with a wardrobe, desk, small flat screen TV, and screened door, and a matrimonial bed.  Score!  I ask how I can get the luggage up and Marianne, and where the parking is located.  Paulo explains that where the car is now is the only visitor parking.  The parking lot behind the Duomo, he says, is just for residence.
     Paulo will drive me down to the parking lot and then I can follow him up to drop-off Marianne and the luggage.  Then I will have to drive back down and leave the car in the lot.  I hop in and he does a three point turn in the street and off we go.  We pass the Duomo and head down Via Spagni where it curves around and down to Via Ricasoli.  He turns right and then right again at a small parko.  We pass a COOP(the Italian version of Safeway) on the right and turn left, and take another right.  This street ‘T’s with Strozzi and I know where we are. 
     Paulo drives me right to the car and Marianne who hasn’t minded the wait.  He waits while I get in the car and then I follow him up the hill to the B & B.  I am allowed to park in the paved space in front of the B & B to unload.  Marianne tends to the unpacking. Before I drive back down, Signora fills out a parking form, Paulo making sure she has the right dates; I place it on the dash, and drive back to the lot.  After I lock up and leave the car I notice there is thick dust, the Crete Senesi, all over it.
     Up at the B & B, Paulo and Gigliola give us a map and show how to find things in town.  They recommend two ristoranti; she likes San Giorgio’s and he likes Giullare—with beefsteak.    We tell them our plans for sight seeing tomorrow and when I say I want to find Santa Maria Vitalieta near San Quirico he lights up.  They apparently live in San Quirico.  Paulo points out many things to see and I nod in agreement.   Gigliola makes sure, for a third time, that we don’t lock our selves out by showing us how to use the keys.  She tells us to put the money in the desk drawer and the key in the mail slot when we leave.  She also tells us a couple will be upstairs in one of the rooms tonight and then a family tomorrow night. 
     The Bastiani’s leave and we explore our camere.  It has very warm tones, pastels, similar to La Primavera, but it has an old Tuscan-style ceiling with exposed beams.  There are “Bizet’ touches everywhere—after all it is the Carmen room.  None of the pictures on the walls have hooks, only bows and ribbons—very Victorian.  There is perhaps too much in the way of frilly things on all available table tops, so we have to move it so we can make room for our stuff.  The room is just fine.  The bathroom, however is the tiniest space, tucked under the staircase, I have ever seen.   It will be a real challenge to use it—especially the shower.
     Marianne settles in for a pisolino and I walk down La Spagni into town.   First I find the IT in the city hall and get a good map, plus a ristorante guide.  Next, I hunt down the two places the Bastiani’s have suggested.  Unfortunately, even if I drove Marianne to one of them I could never find a place to park.  The main part of the area of Piazza Garibaldi is built around a tight S-curve that snakes through the upper piazza (with enotecas and cafes) and down to the east and a lower level with some fun looking cafes.  North of Garibaldi, past the long thin city hall with a tall clock torre, the street drops into Piazza del Popolio. 
     I settle on an outdoor café just at the foot of Via Bandi, Le Potazzine, as a place I can get Marianne if she will walk.  (Potazzine is the Italian word for very colorful and vivacious birds which inhabit the Tuscan countryside—the advertisements say.)  I walk up to COOP on the corner of Viale della Liberta.  It is an air conditioned supermarket that reminds me of a market on the Oregon coast (Yachats).  It is jam-packed with everything.  I find a large jug of water and pay the least I have paid for water the whole trip.  The walk back up along La Spagni is relaxing and not a strenuous as the steps from hell.
     I join Marianne for a pisolino and we sleep until 6:30 PM.  We get ready and I try the shower.  I haven’t ever showered in a phone booth before.  That would have been generous space.  This stall is minuscule.  Even with all my yoga, I could barely get the shampoo off the floor of the shower.  The lack of space makes you work fast and we are ready to walk down to dinner in 15 minutes.  Marianne is up for the challenge.  She has no problem with La Spagni and we stop at the corner of Ricasoli and check out the Societa Philharmonics “Giacomo Puccini” Scuola di Musica on the corner.  There are two simple, but beautiful chiesa on Bandi as the descent increases.  The smaller on the north side of the little street has a colorful mosaic above the entry door.  We pause as the street gets really steep, but Marianne is always pushing forward.  At the last part of the journey there are about ten steps.  Once we get to the bottom we make a bee-line to the first out door café on the piazza, La Vineria Le Potazzine.  Marianne just sits and makes herself at home. 
     A waiter comes out.  He is personable and speaks English, but I can tell from just the way he begins something isn’t right.  He apologetically explains that the ristorante/enoteca is only open for lunch.  They start serving dinners on the first of July in three days.  He will check with the owners, but it doesn’t sound hopeful.  Marianne smokes a cigarette and then the waiter returns.  Yes.  We can have dinner.  They will stay open for us.  The waiter is not a ‘happy camper’ because he has been working since 9 AM, and I gather there might be others on staff that hasn’t been working as long that could wait on our table.  He will do this for us and not let it get to him.
      Gennaro gets us water and a menu.  He suggests some vino and we are game to try the owners Brunello.  At €12 a short glass, it better be good.  Marianne loves it and I do too.  Gennaro, still disgruntled, fixes the wobble in our table.  I am a little uneasy because I am sitting on the downhill side of the table.  I keep feeling like I am going to fall backwards into the piazza.  In fact, I spill about €2 worth of Brunello on my shirt the first time I tilt back the glass. 
     Gennaro, in his early forties, is one of those people you can meet anywhere in the world; he will befriend you, help you and show you a good time.  We had a waiter like that in NYC at the Oyster Bar in Grand Central Station.  Bob.  He went out of his way to make our dinner an incredible experience.  After a monstrous dinner, including lobster, he brought samples of every dessert they had.  We realized that the restaurant was closed for the weekend and they would just have to throw them out, but he went ‘light-years’ out of his way to make the experience a memorable one.  Gennaro is in that same league.
     Born in Naples, he spent most of his time in Rome.  We questioned him about his English, and were pleasantly surprised he had spent time in London.  He is a florist by trade, but through circumstances he didn’t wish to relate, he was stuck in Montalcino and not having a very good ‘chapter’ in his life right now.  He is obviously having some conflict with the owner/boss who at the moment is with the younger waiter messing around with a tape measure and a length of plastic pipe.  It wasn’t hard to figure out who the fair-haired son was at this ristorante.  It also looked like the owner’s two teenaged daughters and their mother were hanging around waiting to go home to dinner.
     Marianne has a second glass of the Brunello and I cheap-out with a good vino rosso.  We start with bruschette pomadoro.  Marianne has a rosemary potato and insalata mista with pomadoro.   I have tagliatelle pasta with pecorino and prosciutto and roasted zucchini.  Gennaro makes the experience memorable.  He tells us he has his day off on Wednesday, but we tell him we have to get the car back to Firenze that day.  He really wanted to show us around and we really wanted him to do that.  We for go dolce and slip him €10 for a tip.  When we leave, he gives Marianne a double kiss and I get a quick hug.
     We walk back up Bandi.  I look back and the sky is pastel rose and cerulean blue.  The torre from the chiesa are glowing apricot in the light.  We move on.  I keep marveling at Marianne.  She is being a real trooper.  It takes about 20 minutes, but we get back to Il Sogno.  There are clouds in the sky that is turning a gorgeous shade of deep blue.  The swallows are darting about, chasing each other it seems in the fading light.  The street light, which is right above the small garage, comes on and the piazza is lit in a warm light.  I open our last bottle of Chianti from Sandro and we sit and drink in the cool of the sera.
     Our neighbors show up.  It is a woman in her thirties and two young sons.  At first we think they are twins, but when we ask, she says they are eight and seven.  She opens her small garage door and brings out a hose.  While she waters every plant in the area, the boys kick around a soccer ball.  They take turns being the goalie and the kicker.  There is a wide arch for a recessed garage at the end of the area and they use it as the end zone.  The older one is very agile, but his younger brother can block any kick.
     The boys go in for dinner and we relax in the quiet.  The piazza is magical.  We talk about living here.  I look over at the old villa, now apartments, and say I want it for our house.  We could rent out the bottom and live upstairs.  We finish the wine and retire to the ‘Carmen’.  I open the outside door and stretch the modern ‘invisi-screen’ over the opening.  From the bed, complete with a delicate little canopy, we watch the Brazil/Chile world cup soccer match.  Brazil two--Chili zero.  Then it’s lights out.  Sogno dolce.

Bella! The Val D’Orcia (Marcoli, 29 giugne, 2010)
     Both Marianne and I sleep in—9 AM and it’s 9:30 before we get breakfast.  We take our breakfast out on the patio at the bistro table.  The Italian couple who came in late last night is having their food is the kitchen when we come out.  They are from Modena--home of Ferrari.  They both speak a little English.  She is pretty and he looks like he is going to do some bike touring-- dressed in a black spandex shorts thing—one piece skin tight.  Out at the table Marianne says he’s hot.  I go back in to start the espresso and try some small talk.  I ask if he is competing or cycling for pleasure.  He says pleasure.  We all want caffeine but we’re all having a little trouble with the automatic espresso maker.  Eventually we figure it out.  There is boxed milk, on the counter, but it is nearly impossible to open without a knife.  I give up, but when I come back in I see that they have opened the box and are boiling some milk for their lattes.  I ask if I can use some of the milk and they are happy to share.  I just pour some into our cappuccino cups and add the espresso shots.
     By 10:30 AM we are hiking down to the car.  I think Marianne has more trouble with the downhill steps than going up.  Her knees always hurt now.  I head south to the traffic circle and take the middle road to the south.  We drive out of town on P 22 to Sant’Antimo, just outside of Castelnuovo dell’Abate.  This road keeps to the valley and the farms and vineyards are beautiful today.  It only takes about 13 minutes to get to the Abbey.  The signage, again, is poor and we get on the wrong road, as did a twenty-something couple now going back towards town.  We can see the abbey down in the valley, but we can’t get to it; so we also turn around and head back to town.  Sant’Antimo sits in a small valley with Castelnuovo dell’Abate on the hill above.  It is another one of those Tuscan ‘picture perfect’ spots that we will never get tired of seeing. 
     The monks have got a new parking area, pay of course, and then about 30 yards of dirt road that brings you to the abbey.  It is constructed of light marble and shimmers in the morning sun.  The monk and guest quarters are off to the side, in its own special garden area.  The chiesa is open daily for visitors 10:30 AM - 12:30 PM and 3- 6:30 PM, except Sundays/Holidays 9:15-10:45 AM & 3-6 PM.  The monks worship seven times a day.  We have missed Holy Mass (9:15 AM) but the incense is still wafting from the entrance.  The next service, Sext, is at 12:45 PM.  The interior is the same marble.  White columns line the nave and the high space around the altar glows with light that pours in from the second story windows. 
     There are about a dozen visitors who observe the no talk/no picture policy.  I find post cards and deposit €4 in an old beat up tin box.  The light filtering in through the smoke and gives the space a very reverent feeling.  I explore.  Under the altar is an ancient chapel.  It seems to be carved out of the stone, but it is an ancient barrel-vault made of old stones.  There is a small altar inside with a fresco of Christ post crucifixion above it.  It seems like Christ’s tomb.
     The 12th century French-Romanesque chiesa has the standard central nave with two flanking isles design; they are a step down from the nave floor.  White marble columns and arches support the second story of the space; the upper story windows are dark.  The tall inner space culminates at the rounded altar space.  The columns and arches circle the space and frame a large, carved crucifix.  It rises out of the simple carved stone altar table elevated on three steps.  The windows behind the space bring in a heavenly light.  The round altar space must be three stories high with three double arched windows bring shafts of light into the hazy atmosphere.  The dark-timbered dome floats visually above it all. 
     What is so unique about this chiesa, inside and out, are the monochromatic carvings, light on light, which decorate corners and niches and facades.  They are everywhere and seem to hold ancient meaning.  Some of them are easy to understand, others, almost bizarre.  To be sure there are items for sell here--recordings of the monks doing services and books.  “A Stone that Sings and a brother narrates…” promises to reveal all the secrets connected with the Abbey.
     Sant’Antimo specializes in retreats.  They have two guest-houses for “moments of peace and prayer” not a ‘holiday’.  The monks use Gregorian chant in all their services.  They call it the original way to pray.  In fact they offer chant and polyphonic music lessons.   It is one of the few places in Italy to offer this.   Marianne suggests that I might want to look into taking the classes when we come back to Italy next time.  Of course she also wants me to take painting classes, so our next visit is pretty well planned already.  The monks want you to know that they do have a bookshop, “L’Arca di Sant’Antimo” where you can purchase books and CD’s.  It’s also on-line: , and .  Tel +39 0577 835699.
     We drive on P 22 through Monte Amiata, which winds down to a small creek and then back up.  On the ridge the road joins with S 323, the Cassia Way,  and we turn north and admire the view of the Val D’Orcia from the west side this time.    There is little in the way of trees, just grass and farm land. The volcano, Monte Amiata, is southeast and all around are beautiful vistas.  We we drive north and are at Castiglione d’Orcia in no time.  I turn off and take the south road up to the village.  On the next poggio is the awesome monolith, Rocca d’Orcia, and its village built up around its steep perch.  I park outside the town wall and leave Marianne so I can explore.  The Rocca, standing proud, with a commanding view--360 degrees seems so close.  I go through the porta, stopping to marvel at the ancient timbers in the ceiling above.     At the centre of the town is the Piazza il Vecchietta.   The piazza is dedicated to Lorenzo di Pietro (1412-1480); "Il Vecchietta" was a painter, sculptor and architect.  A lower-rise fountain is in the middle of the sloping space and dates back to 1618.  The city hall, with a clock, is also here. 
     I descend, meander through the hillside village.  Every street is interesting and to the unfamiliar eye, a labyrinth of passages.   I really have to remember where I am going so I don’t get lost.  There are fuchsia-colored petunias and red geraniums everywhere.  Besides the ancient cobblestone there are terracotta tile for pavers.  Pride of ownership is in evidence in this pristine village.  Down towards the bottom of the hill, I find the little Piazza dell Popolo, lined with benches and trees, and a three-tiered water fountain.  As I walk down the steep street I can actually see fish in the bottom basin of the fountain.  I cross the street and look out at the vista to the east.  I realize it was time I got back to Marianne so I retrace my route back up the hill and eventually find the porta.
      I rejoin Marianne and we both agree that is time for lunch.  I drive back down the hill and join S 323 which winds down and around the hills northward towards Bagno Vignoni.  It is set on another hill.  This small spa town also has a pay parking lot.  I let Marianne out at the traffic circle and she walks the short street to the unique central piazza.    I try to park under trees for shade.  I run into our B & B mates from Il Sogno.  They are also sightseeing.  I notice that there is no bike or rack on their car.  I had been absolutely mistaken.  He wasn’t cycling; he just wears the black spandex as fashion.  Oh…
     I catch up with Marianne who has found the central piazza—a large pool of water.  Bagno Vignoni is noted for its thermal spas.  During Roman times, the central pool was where everyone bathed.  Now you legally can’t even stick your toe in it; contrary to what Francis Mayes says in her recent book.  We find a ristorante, Osteria del Leone, with a garden patio and have lunch.  The service is so largo, we can’t believe it.  Marianne has a soufflé and I have macaroni with Gruyere that is delizioso.  We both have insalata mista as our secondi.  Espresso caps the meal. 
     It is almost 2:30 PM and my plans to cross the Val d’Orcia to see Monticchiello are fading like a forgotten dream.  I really do want to try and find Santa Maria Vitalieta if we can.   The road north is scenic, but we can not find a paved road anywhere that heads towards the chiesa.  In fact there is construction outside of San Quirico d’Orcia and it makes trying to find a parking place anywhere to do anything very unappealing.  Sadly our tour of the Val d’Orcia has come to an end.  We get on R2 and head west to Montalcino.  The exit for P14 has a strange little ‘whoop-tee-doo” but we get back to town quickly. 
     We decide to stop at the Fortessa and check it out.  There is a pay parking lot, but we hope the Commune di Montalcino parking permit works here as well.  To get into the Fortessa is free; to climb the ramparts is €4 each.  We decide to have a glass of Brunello and watch people on the ramparts.  The bar tender is just full of himself and offers little help with choosing a wine.  Our young waitress is very nice and talkative.  She wants to go to school in America.   Marianne smokes her last cigarette—she says.
     We are returning to the car and Marianne asks me to find a Tabacchi and get her more cigarettes.  I hate to do this.  It is so enabling, but she cons me into it.  She stays in the car and I walk down Via Ricasoli and to Piazza Garibaldi.  Just as a whim, I walk down to Le Potazzine to see if Gennaro is working.  Elena the floor manager is very vague about his working schedule, but says he is ‘not here right now’.  As luck would have it the young man who runs the Tabacchi shop has just ridden up on his bicicletta and is just opening up after his pisolino/reposo.  I manage to talk him into selling me two packs of Marianne’s favorite cig.s. 
     I get back to the car and Marianne is practically snoozing.  I drive her back up to Il Sogno.  Because it is getting close to 4 PM, and I really want a shower before we visit Candace, I park the car in front.  I feel guilty, but there is no one around that even remotely cares the car is there.  Around 4:30 PM, we decide to drive around Montalcino and check it out before the ten minute drive to Mate winery.  Marianne wants to find Hotel Dei Capitani, and I want to see what the northern porta is like.  This is not such a great idea, because the narrow streets and turn-a-rounds are hard to negotiate.  I get nervous and we never see the porta and Capitani doesn’t look like a place to stay, even though it has a pool and everything.  (Later, in checking the internet, their website boasts many services including parking and elevator.  If we stay again, I’ll consider staying there.)
     In fact, things start to get really dicey with the driving.  Preschool has just let out and I get stuck on a steep street, Via Lapini, waiting as mom’s pick-up their kids.  Of course, I stall out and starting the car would inevitably cause us to roll backwards down the hill.  Then I remember the ‘start the car with the park brake on’ technique that Annie showed up in Volterra.  It works like a charm and I am able to avoid running over small children.  I get back to Via Roma and breathe a sigh of relief.  We get back on Strozzi and head south out of town.  We take the right lane of the three-forked road.  This is the same road we came into yesterday.

The Mate Winery (Mercoledi 29 giugne, 2010)
     I have scoped the route out to Mate winery a least a dozen times on Google Maps.  Once you know what you’re looking for, it’s easy.    It takes us ten minutes to get to Localita Santa Restituta—the road the Mates live on.   It’s still twenty minutes to five, so I decide to drive a little further and check out Tavernelle.  It is a tiny town on a ‘T’ of two streets.  It has a chiesa, with a tiny red pick-up truck in front.  I walk up and down the street checking out the small village and taking pictures.  I really don’t see anyone, but there are a few cats around.   I come across a house that I recognize; it found it on-line when I was looking for places to stay close to Mate winery.  It’s a house on the main street with a two bedroom apartment for rent/sell.  It’s amazing what you can find on the internet. 
     After checking things out and killing some time, we drive back to Santa Restituta and slowly drive the dirt road across the field to the east.  The dusty road winds down into a gully with a sharp turn at the bottom.  Suddenly a big winery truck is barreling up from below.  I really can’t see both of us getting by on this dusty road, but we respect each others space and we make it by him.  He is followed by a tiny green pick-up truck that churns up even more billowing clouds of dust.  When the dust settles I can hardly see out of the windshield. 
     How did I end decided to go to a winery that most people have never even heard of, let alone will never see a bottle of their wine on any store shelf in the Untied States.  I have to blame it on Candace Mates’ husband, the writer Ferenc.  I found his first autobiographical book about finding a house in Tuscany, “The Hills of Tuscany”, a few years ago when I started devouring books about Italy.  His second one, “A Vineyard in Tuscany”, grabbed my heart and my imagination like no Frances Mayes book would ever.  I knew if I got to the Val d’Orcia, I had to find it and met these two fascinating people.
     Ferenc, originally from Romania, immigrated to Vancouver, Canada when he was young.  He met Candace, an artist, and they traveled the west coast of the US, lived in New York, and eventually settled in Montipulciano.  Once Ferenc got it in his mind that he wanted to grow grapes and make wine, he found a run-down friary outside of Montalcino and went to producing Brunello.  Why not go for the best, I always say. 
     “A Vineyard in Tuscany” (finding the friary, starting the winery), Ferenc Máté gives readers a blow by blow account of the process.    The only catch was Ferenc’s nose, even though it’s a Hungarian beauty.  No ‘nose’ to detect the subtle nuances of the wines bouquet. Candace, however, possesses the acute skills of taste and smell, and two things far more important, a work ethic that never quits and a keen business savvy.  She is to be admired for the amount of back-breaking work and dedication needed to make the winery a success.  Getting outstanding review on their wine didn’t hurt things either.  Their son, Peter, has helped out in the past, but is off at school, now.
     I had been emailing Ferenc off and on for about a year, and when he offered to share his corner of paradise with us if we made it to Italy, I jumped at the opportunity.  I think once he knew that we were serious about visiting, he bowed out with “If I am even there because I am so busy with my latest book, etc.’, he turned us over to Candace.  She eventually invited us and set up a day and time. 
Dear David and Marianne - 
Thanks for your e-mail. Yes, we're all busy, but we set aside a couple of hours at the end of each 
day for tastings and sales. So, just let us know which day you'd like to come by and we'll be 
expecting you. 
Thanks again, 
On 26 Jun 2010  
Candace, Ferenc, Peter: 
We are in Montalcino June 28 & 29.  We are currently in Volterra.  If we may, can we come 
to the winery either Monday (28) or Tuesday (29) late afternoon?  What will work best for you?  
David and Marianne Jones 
P.S. Other than heading south of Montalcino, we have no idea how to get to the winery.
Once we were in were in Firenze, I sent a quick email that we were in Tuscany.  Candace sent a response. 
Then in Volterra we worked out the exact plan:
Hi David and Marianne - 
Tuesday at 5 would work for me. I've attached directions from Montalcino.
See you Tuesday, 
Mille grazie!  You are so kind. 
If we run into a snag, we will call. 
D & MA Jones

     Candace emailed up directions in Firenze, but I am hoping there are no red herrings along the way.  
We come to a fork in the road.  The road to the left has a tiny chiesa and the road on the right has two 
houses smack up against the lane.  I am for going to the right, but Marianne thinks we need to go left.  
Left it is.  In two minutes when the road runs out up at La Villa, I know we are in the wrong place.  
I find a way to turn around and head back down the hill and take the other fork.  It’s definitely a one 
lane road through the houses; I can see a kitchen on my side.  We are soon down the road and to the 
chiesa.  We park in the upper lot and I try to call Candace.  Reception out here is terrible. 
     The Banfi vineyards to the west are incredible.  I imagine I am looking out but not seeing the dirt 
road we got on yesterday.  There is some very loud construction going on that disturbs the tranquility 
of the area.  It’s 5 PM and we drive south for a minute and find the front gate open.  It is a simple old 
entrance and the trees are very full around it.  To our right the Mate vineyards are so much more mature 
than the vines in the Umpqua at this time.  I even see green grape bunches that are coming along beautifully.  
We decide not to park in their shaded personal parking area, but we do note the nice Italian and German 
cars.  I can just guess which on is Frence’s.  I drive up to the production room which is nearly buried in the
hillside—cleaver construction.  It has large glass windows, a little patio space with a bistro table, and a gravel 
parking area.  I park there and walk down the hill to find Candace.
     I go to their private parking area and start walking up the gravel path.  The trees are so full and her 
gardens are so lush.  It is almost like a forest in here.  I see movement in the foliage and call out “Hello, 
Candace” and she responds, “Hello David”.  She descends through the garden and I see her for the first time.  Candace is a beauty.  She stands about 5 feet with light brown (almost strawberry blond) coif of curly hair.  
She is thin and graceful and dressed simply in a linen top and pants.  She is brown from working in the sun, 
and her smile is contagious.   I notice a single blue stone on a gold chain around her neck.  Candace apologies 
if we had to wait long and I assure her that we have just gotten there.  She is at once charming, well-spoken, knowledgeable, and gracious.
    One of the things that first captivated me about Candace, besides the winery, was that she is a painter.  
Her style is hard to put a name to.  I would venture modern, impressionism, but it goes beyond those titles.  
I get a feeling of Chagall when I look at the few things I’ve seen of hers, specifically on their wine labels.  
She says she really isn’t a painter any more, not with the rigorous demands of the winery.  But, I don’t see 
her staying away from painting for ever, not when you live in the beauty of Italy every day.
     We walk down to the parking area and Candace is surprised that I didn’t park there.   I tell her I didn’t 
want to block their parking area.  I can’t tell if she is unhappy that she has to give a winery tour or if she is 
distracted.  She is at once a bundle of energy and tired beyond her years.  I would guess she is my age or 
younger, but working the vineyard and winery makes her life a hard one.  Her voice is raspy and she has to 
cough ever so often.  She is getting over a cold.  We walk up the hill to the production room. 
     Originally it was her husband Ferenc’s idea to have a winery.  Once they moved from Montipulciano 
and restored an abandoned farm and a 13th century friary that includes a tower, a courtyard, two hills, a 
canyon and waterfalls, then they tackled the vineyards.  With the help of professionals, neighbors, they 
planted their four fields.  This property has been involved with wine since Roman times, 2,000 years ago, 
when wine was sold there.  There are Etruscan ruins on the property and their Merlot vineyard is in an 
ancient and ideal location.  They were both very lucky and made all the right decisions to make their winery 
a much respected producer of fine wine.  Candace, who thinks he tends to exaggerate some points, kind 
of shrugs and sighs when we discuss certain points in the books and what really transpired.

   Some facts that you can find at, and I urge you to go there are: 
The Mate vineyard is between 300 and 400 meters above sea level. There are 7 hectares of vineyard 
designed by Fabrizio Moltard, agronomist to Angelo Gaja. The clones, picked out for each field by 
France’s Pierre Guillaume, comprise: Sangiovese (in fossil-filled tuffo), Merlot (in sandy clay), Cabernet Sauvignon (in galestro), and Syrah (on mineral-rich, southern terraces). They plant a high density of 
6,200 vines per hectare, (3,000 per acre), three green pruning’s a year keep yields extremely low to concentrate flavors. Grapes are hand-picked and fermented in small temperature-controlled stainless 
steel vats or new wooden barrels, and punched down by hand. The wines are aged for up to two years 
and a half in Allier French oak barriques and tonneaux.  Their neighbors were world-renowned wine 
makers Angelo Gaja and Gianfranco Soldera.  Demanding the very best, the Mátés hired Gaja’s 
agronomist and France’s Pierre Guillaume to select the best varietals and clones in planting their four

     I give Candace a ‘heads up’ that Marianne is having arthritis pains and is using a cane.  She understands 
and greets my wife warmly.  Marianne is hiding in the shadows of the production room entrance.  It is warm.  
Once Candace ushers us inside, the coolness of the space is pleasant.  The smell, fermentation, must, etc.
is very enjoyable.  It tickles my nose, and gets the juices flowing, but it is so great.  They have really out done themselves when it comes to this space.  They planned and devised it so well.  The three original stainless 
steel vats are big, but not massive. 
     Candace says she really doesn’t like aging in oak because it masks the true favor.  We all are both in 
agreement that we don’t like the old trend of falsely infusing oak into wines.  She feels so fortunate that they 
got the best possible help in planning and planting the vineyard. 
     Candace takes a pause in her lecture to get a glass of water to sooth her throat.  I am so grateful she is 
doing this for us, but I also know that too much talking is also uncomfortable for her.   The room is dark, 
but the large, wire bins of wine are visible.  There is a little left from their reserves, which means business must 
be good.  We want her to continue, but tell her that she needs to do what’s comfortable for her.  Being the 
woman she is, she forges on.  We talk about so many things that I lose track.  We talk briefly about Peter, 
her son, and how many people help her with production.  She is pretty much ‘it’ for sales and marketing.  
She appears to be is very business savvy.
     After a time we step out of the production room and she takes us across the gravel road to the vineyard.  
I can’t get over how full the vines are—it’s great.  She talks about the selective thinning they do to that 
concentrate flavors of the grape.  The pruned foliage, grapes, etc. is thrown into the soil, and the process 
of enriching the soil and enhancing the flavors continues on.  I ask if they have a bee or wasp problem when 
they throw the fruit away and she says no.  This is unlike the Umpqua Valley where wasps will come from 
miles away to feed on the discarded grapes.
     We look out over the vineyard and to the west and get on the subject of Italian laws and not building 
anything new—only on existing foundations.  Candace mentions that the law applies to some more than it does others.  As an example she gestures across the gentle slope and points out a very odd, out of place structure 
beyond the chiesa.  It’s a wine tasting room that their neighbors are finishing.   It is a modern California style 
wood and glass building that is grossly out of place here in the heart of Tuscany.  Marianne and I both can see 
that it is wrong for this area.  Candace is at a loss to explain how they got the permit for the brand new 
     Candace turns back towards the estate and asks if we would like to taste some wines.  We both say 
“yes”, reservedly, but inside we yell “hell yes, we thought you’d never ask!”  She has me drive Marianne 
down to the parking area.  The shade and the trees are so inviting.  We walk up through the garden and 
around to the tasting room.  It use to be where the kept the wine barrels, and the kitchen was used for tasting.  Candace said that stop doing that because once people were through tasting they then expected dinner, and 
that was awkward. 
     We enter the room through arched French doors, and the age and beauty of the restored friary is 
instantaneously apparent.  The thick rock walls and ancient timbered ceiling create the perfect place to 
talk about, appreciate and drink wine.  In the middle of the room against the left wall is a table with four 
bottles—a sample of their four varietals.  On the right wall is a very old bench or church pew with a low
table in front.  In the corner on the right in the corner is a sink and a bookshelf is by the door.  I notice that 
there are multiple copies of Ferenc’s books, including editions in foreign languages.  What is so striking are 
her paintings, three of them, which hang on the walls.  They are captivating works and this is the perfect place
to display them.
     Candace proceeds to talk a little about each wine, the characteristics and evaluations that judges have 
given them and the awards they have won.  She starts with the Brunello di Montalcino.  The depth and 
intrigue of this wine captivates me beyond words.  I have never tasted anything like it before.  After having 
tasted a few times these past two week, I know what to expect.  The Mate wine delivers its promise of 
excellence.  Candace tells us its true character comes through with food pairings.  I couldn’t wait to get a 
bottle home to compliment one of the pork or beef dishes we plan on recreating from our Tuscan dinning 
     Next, we taste the Merlot/Mantus, Cabernet Sauvignon, and Banditone Syrah--All of equally high 
quality and depth.  I particularly liked the Cab.  It was not a heavy, thick wine and I could imagine slipping 
and savoring it with friends.  Candace also talks about their Albatro Sangiovese/Merlot IGT Tuscana.  She 
apologizes that she does not have any to share.  Candace strikes me as a very intelligent, savvy individual.  
You can’t just say “Let’s start a winery” and expect that you’ll produce something this good.  You have to 
know what you are doing.  The Mates are very smart people and they went right for the ‘jugular’ when it 
came to creating these wines.
     Without hesitation, we decide to buy a half case and risk the 20% shipping charges.  Candace writes 
up the order and we sign and pay for it.   She asks if we have read all of Ferenc’s books, and I tell her I 
have all the Tuscany books, but I haven’t read his Ghost Sea—a fiction.  I ask “Isn’t he working on a sequel 
to the book?”  She says yes, that’s what he is doing right now.  He is past deadline.  I can guess that since 
he started doing Tweeter and Facebook, which could tend to make him lose track of time and get behind.  
Marianne makes reference to having to deal with artistic Hungarians and Candace laughs broadly in total 
agreement.  The two women talk about Hungarians driving you crazy.
     As we are leaving, Candace reaches down and picks up a copy of “Ghost Sea” and gives it to us.  
We are so surprised and pleased by her generosity.  It have a feeling that we sensed I really wanted to meet 
her husband, but that the creative genius was up in his tower, creating dealing with past deadlines and not 
very sociable right now.  She may have figured this was all she could offer me in the absence of her husband.  
I, on the other hand, felt I met the person I really wanted to meet.  Candace is a unique woman, the type you 
can’t help admiring.  She, to me, is the true creative genius of the family.  She is the artist, whether the medium 
is oils and canvas or grapes, soil, climate, and a hundred other variables. 
    We talk about wines in our region of the world, in particular, Abacela, who is producing Tempranillo wines (Spain).  Candace is very interested in hearing about that.  I also talk about the chiesa, Santa Maria di Vitalieta, which she knows about but hasn’t been able to see.  I encourage her to try.  We talk about her garden and the 
beauty of the area.  Soon we are saying goodbye and getting in the car.  This was one of the truest highlights 
of our trip.  What an incredible experience.
Montalcino Bella Sera (Mercoledi 29 giugne, 2010)
     The ten minute drive back to town is peaceful.  I drive up La Spagni to let Marianne off and Gigliola and 
Paulo are waiting outside.  She is visibly fusing about something.  Marianne gets out, and I catch something 
about the guest haven’t arrived yet, and I am off to park the car.  When I get back, the parents of the 
delinquent family have arrived.  They are Americans, from Washougal, Washington.  It’s about three and a 
half hours from where we live; it’s just across the river from Portland, Oregon.  I even applied for a teaching 
job there back in the 1980’s.  They have left their two kids down in the parking lot in there car.
     Paulo takes Kurt down to the parking lot, just as he did for me.  Lynn talks about her son, who plays saxophone.  He has just graduated and wants to be in the Air Force.  Unfortunately, he probably won’t get 
into the Air Force Band.  The daughter is a couple years younger—going to be a sophomore.  Kurt drives up 
with the kids and the Bastiani leave.  The kids check out their room and manage to mess up the invisi-screen
in there window which looks out over the piazza.  We talk with Kurt, a Firefighter, and Lynn, his wife, about
their travels in Italy so far.  Kurt has family in Sicily and they have spent some time there.  Over the past few 
days, they have been to Venice and Cinque Terra.  Well tell them where we have been and that we are going
to be in Lucca tomorrow night.
    It’s after 7 PM so I am off to get a lead on take out pizza in town.  I finally find the tiny Pizza place on 
Piazza Popolio.   The woman tells me about twenty five minutes, so I look around the piazza.  There are a 
few cafes down here and lots of shops.  There is a great view of the city hall as well.  From this northern perspective, it is uncommonly thin and the clock torre looks very tall.  There are people sitting and walking 
and talking everywhere.  This is the place to be.  I see two bouncy teenagers wondering the street and realize they’re the kids from Washougal.
     I stop into MONTALCINO56A (Tessuti e Vini Pregiati)—a kitchen, wine, home décor and fabric shop.  
If Marianne could only have been able to come in here, she would love it.  My eye goes to a table a printed table cloth (Tavola—Linen).  The owner speaks enough English for us to converse.  I get the tavola and tell him I 
like his music.  It’s Jazz.  I ask who the artist is and he shows me the CD.  He also points out the poster near 
by that is advertizing the Jazz and Wine Festival at the Fortessa in July.  I tell him I am leaving tomorrow and 
will not be able to attend.  I tell him I would really like to and he says the artist on the CD will be there again this year.  She is from the Bay Area (San Francisco).    He has been there.  I tell him I am from Oregon.  He flips 
to the next CD in his pile and it’s by the group “Oregon”.  I laugh out loud at the coincidence.  We exchange 
derci e grazie’s.
     The piazza is not quit done so I go and get a pistachio gelato—expensive.  I check out a couple of gallery window while I wait.  The Pizzas, a Margherita and a Zucchini/Artichoke are huge.  I take my take out up the 
hill.  I decide to take Costa Spagni; it is straight up, with a combination of steps and steep ramps.  I chose it because it is a straight shot to the Duomo.  The sunset behind the chiesa is incredible.
     I call buona Sera to Marianne as I get to the little piazza.  She calls manga, manga mi amore.  I grab the last of the chianti, a little water and we eat out in the piazza at the bistro table.  Kurt and Lynn come down, dressed 
(a little) for dinner.  She likes the look of the piazza, but they are going to try one of the ristoranti that Gigliola 
and Paulo recommended.  They are off and out of sight quickly.
     The evening is again, bella.  The color of the sky and clouds, and the play of the swallows are so wonderful.  It has looked like the clouds are going to build into rain, but they don’t.  We are eating early, 7:45 PM, but we 
need to get to bed early tonight.  We will be driving back to Firenze, via Chianti is the morning.  Marianne heads to bed and I enjoy the Tuscan sera until dark—La dolce vita!
     I journal and think about all that Candace had said.  We talked about their son, Peter, who has helped with 
the winery, but is away in Berlin, Germany.  He is studying (she hopes) although, he was suppose to be 
studying German the last time she and Ferenc were there, but he refused to converse in German with anyone.  
The Italian school system didn’t do Peter any favors.  The bright, smart, over-achievers get the attention, and 
the rest of the students are just passed along.  It was like that for me when I was young; luckily I had a mom 
that pushed me to learn (sometimes too much, but that was her job).   So Candace and Ferenc enrolled him in 
an English school in Rome.  It made all the difference.  As an educator, I love hearing success stories like that. 
     It took Candace a year and a half to complete her sommelier courses and get her license.  Her philosophy 
of viticulture is a pure and simple one—that’s the best.  She doesn’t go in for blends (Super Tuscans, etc.).  
Keep it pure:  Merlot, Syrah and Brunello (Sangiovese).  She is doing something very right, because all of her 
wines are superb.   I ask her whether is has read “Passion on the Vine” by Sergio Esposito.  She wasn’t too 
happy with it because he fell in love with the vine of a guy who’s in the next field.  He’s the one who got 
permission to build that ugly tasting room.
     I keep thinking about the Mate property and its location.  It is absolutely stunning.  How fortunate we 
were to get the chance to visit with Candace.  It was another true blessing.  Grazie Deo!  Now I have to 
pack and get some sleep.  I have to drive back to Firenze.  Uggh.  Basta!  Boh!

Montalcino to Siena (Mercoledi 30 giugne, 2010)
    I am up at 7:15 AM—a little before Marianne.   We shower, helping each other retrieve soap, wash cloths 
and shampoo since the stall is so compact.  Packed and ready for breakfast by 8:30 AM, we decide to leave 
some things behind.  Marianne had me pack hand towels, wash cloths, toilet paper and soap in the event the 
B & B’s didn’t have those amenities.  Well, they all did, except we need soap and shampoo in Firenze.  Now 
we have started lightening our load.  No use in dragging this stuff with us wherever we go, especially since we 
have to fly home in four days.   Is that an ‘elitist’ American thing—discarding as you go?
     I walk down the mountain of steps for the last time and bring the car back up.  It is cool and pleasant and it never rained yesterday, even though the clouds threatened.  It looks cloudy to the north, so maybe it will be 
raining in Firenze this afternoon.  We pack the car, leave the money in the desk drawer, the key in the mail slot and leave Montalcino.  I have liked this town and I really think that three nights stay should be the minimum not two.  You really have one day to explore and get to know the place you are staying.  As I said before--hindsight is 
     The drive north to Siena is uneventful.  We were on this stretch of the Cassia Way, R 2, two weeks ago 
with Fernando and nothing has changed; we are just seeing it from a different angle.  Marianne, however, can’t really remember it so we just enjoy the ride together.  When we get near Siena the road takes some usual twists and turns.  You really are at the mercy of Italian signage here.  I remember the turns and tricks from Fernando.   At Cerchiaia, after the road rises up the little poggio (hill) in town, you turn left onto SR 6, Strada Massentana Romana, passing the Tamoil Diesel Self 24hr. station on the right.  It curves to the northwest, down the poggio, under SS 223, and then parallels the highway (SR 6 going west) for a few kms, along the foothills of Siena.  Suddenly you come to a big ‘whoop-tee-do”—an elongated double-traffic circle.  You have to navigate both 
of them, circling back around to the east, and then, fighting Massentana Romana traffic coming out of Siena, 
turn to the right, which swings back around to the west and enter the highway.  We were on the Tangenziale 
Siena Ovest and skirting around Siena in no time, without any horn honking or traffic accidents.  We can’t 
believe what we just did.  Wow!
     West of Siena the highway goes through two tunnels.  It is just after the second that I plan on getting of this road to find P 222—the scenic route through Chianti.  The exit, for Badese, is well marked, and we take the 
road to the south and into the congested area between Acqua Calda and Belverde (to the north).  We manage, through a series of one-ways and traffic circles to find P 222 head north.

The Road to Abilene/Vagliagli All Over Again (Mercoledi 30 giugne, 2010)
     Here, our progress hits the first snag of the day.  I want to go to the village of Vagliagli (Vah-yee-ah-yee) 
where Dario Castagno lives.  Marianne doesn’t; she calls this our second trip to Abilene (see “Chasing ‘Tuckerberry’ Poreta (giugne 15, 2010)”).  The village is only 4 kms north on P 102, which we will pass in 
maybe two minutes.  I can’t really explain why I want to go there.  I just want to see it, and maybe, if Dario remembers that he offered to take us on a little tour of Dievole Winery, we could get an early lunch and some 
wine tasting for €40.  Even though Marianne says she doesn’t want to go there, it might be interesting to check 
on rural Chianti.  In Castagne, P 102 shows up and I take the right. 
     The road twists and winds up and down the back of ridges and poggios.  It really reminds me of places in central Idaho.  Other than some occasional expensive looking villas, this is rural Italy.  The crop is grapes, but 
the farms are very old and if not poverty then low income is the rule here.  Near Vagliagli, P 9 turns off to the 
east and there are signs for the Sculpture Park.  We talk about going there, but even though Rick Steves recommends it, we don’t want to prolong this part of the trip.  We curve up into the village of Vagliagli.  The 
lower section on a facing poggio is new, with apartments stacked up on the hillside.  We drive north across the short ridge to the old part of town.  There are only about two or three blocks, but there is a small piazza with a square of green and a war memorial.  I park and have a look around.  Marianne doesn’t want to even get out 
of the car.
     I walk up the hill, passing Bar S. Cristoforo/Café Bei a Nannini on the right, Alimentari Rovai on the left 
and at the end of the shot street, I come to Piazza Vittorio Emanuele.  There is a small chiesa with a bell torre. 
I am pleased to see how incredibly well maintained all the properties are.  Everything is so clean and well-kept; there are flowers in pots and containers everywhere you look.  It is a tranquil and pleasant little place to live. 
I can understand why Dario chooses to continue to live here.  I walk to the end of the main street and do not 
see much else besides residences.  I know that there is an Osteria and a Ristorante close by, but I can’t seem 
to get to them from here.  I stop and admire a healthy blooming hydrangea and find what appears to be a travel agency; no it’s ABV Artefice di Belle Vacanse srl (Locazione Dimore di Qualita—Quality Holiday Homes in Tuscany).
     I stop in to ask directions and a young, sweet girl, Isis Matysiak, tries to help me as much as she can.  
I ask if she knows if the road to Fonterutoli is paved, and if there is another way to get back to SR 222.  
She has to go down into her boss’s office and talk to him.  When she comes back she tells me it is a dirt road 
and that it would be best to just drive back to SR 222.  I knew that was probably the case.  I had had an 
ulterior motive here, I wanted to see if I could find Podere Ferrale, but is too isolated to find in a rental car.   
I found the rural hamlet, now a podere (farm) years ago when I did a search on-line for real estate in Tuscany.  This is where I could imagine retiring.
     I tell the young lady that we had been asked by Dario Castagno to visit Dievole, but I thought he would 
have been celebrating the Palio too much to remember to join us at the winery.  She smiles and asks if she can 
call him for me.  Surprised that she has his personal phone number I balk and say “no we wouldn’t want to 
disturb him”, he probably doesn’t remember giving us the invitation, and never followed thorough with any 
specifics about actually contacting him when we made it to Vagliagli.  I could imagine her calling and getting 
him up (11 AM) after a nasty night of drinking.
     In fact, that’s exactly what had taken place.  Dario is a big talker.  He makes his living either talking or 
writing things down.  He seems to have a hard time following through with things—at least from my perspective.  I have the emails to prove it.
     In August of 2009 I found Dario on Facebook and started email exchange about visiting Tuscany in 2010: 
“Gloria Deo!  We are going to Tuscany.  The first thing I wanted to know was “Is Tuscany over run-by 
tourists and tourism.  I also asked about an Agriturismo I found on-line, Podere Ferrale.  Secretly I wanted 
to win the lottery, buy the podere and grow grapes and olives there when I retired.  Well, pay a caretaker to 
take care of the grapes and olives…
Ciao David 
Thanks for your note. Fortunately due to very strict laws the 
Tuscan countryside is still unspoilt and as it has always been. Also we have a very low density of 
population so "our" Tuscany is still as we authors describe it. The Tuscan craze has seemed to have 
dimmered and because of the crises fewer tourists flock here. 
The podere Ferrale is on the border between the boroughs of Castellina and 
Radda, the place is quite beautiful ( I slept there in 1979 when it belonged to 
a schoolmate of mine) The Etruscan tombs I mention in my book are very close and following our 
studies we believe that Ferrale was the original acropolis meaning 
2500 years ago (!) 
My second book A day in Tuscany is available in the US bookshops while Too Much 
Tuscan Wine (by far my least worst book!) at the moment is only available through my site.  If you 
decide to order it please inform me whom I should sign them too ( in both cases I send them direct 
from home) and I shall also send you a DVD I shot based on my second book 
I hope that Too Much Tuscan Wine gets published (I'm seeking for a new US publisher) and in that 
case I shall return to the US and Portland where I have a big following! 
Later I wrote about places to stay that we could afford.  An albergo south of Siena, Sovicille, looked fine 
for under €90 a night.
Nah Sovicille is not a nice place...check this one out:; 
For musical events digit Chigiana on google 
Casale San Lorenzo is a beautiful place, out in the ‘wilds’ of Chianti, northeast of Siena.  At that point I 
hadn’t negotiated renting a car with Marianne, so anywhere in the country was out, especially for €120 a 
night.  I also asked him about the Palio winner…
Re: Tuscan Tours,etc. 
Ciao...the Palio was won by Tartuca...I will not be attending the event in 
MA...just my oil will. 
Alma Domus is well located...I think though that the snag is they have curfew 
I recomend the Comapagnia dei vinattieri, enoteca i terzi, Guido, Nello 
uoi really MUST rent a car or even a scooter (thought of that?) public transportation will take you to the 
towns but you will miss so much of the beauties of Tuscany. 
I never got hold of a publisher and am currently seeking for a job, I might be working as a waiter nest 
"Ciao, I charge only 20 euros per person for a two hour wine tour at Dievole"

Re: Reading A Day in Tuscany... 
Ciao David! 20 euros for 5 glasses of wine plus a tour and snacks is too much? 
What are you going to be drinking in Italy, water? 
Re: Rely to 20 Euros...  
"mmm the 30th is a bad day as I will be in Contrada (palio days) but yes maybe we can work something 
I was pleased to see the pending publication of your next book "Osteria".  
Number four!  Bravo. 
I realize why you have been so busy for the past few months.  Congratulations. 
Knowing that you will be very busy with book tours, etc. as well as Palio preparations, I don't want to 
take up much of your time. 
We are driving from Montalcino to Firenze via Chianti.  We just are not finding an easy route back into 
the city to Stazione SMN.  Do you have any ideas? 
I know you thought you might have some time the morning of June 30 to do a tasting a Dievole, but I 
think you will be too busy. 
But let us know us what you can and want to do.  I will be in Vagliagli around 11 AM. 
Absolutely the best to you, 
David and Marianne Jones

Lost in Chianti...Literally
Ciao, from Montalcino Take the ss2. As soon as you arrive in Siena at the first traffic light turn left in
direction Firenze, enter the highway and exit Badesse, then follow signs for Castellina in Chianti, then 
San Donato. Return on highway in direction Firenze. It realli is easy and panoramic Once in town follow 
the directions for centro stazione (but you have to leave the car...right?) Tell me where
Thank you for directions.  If we can get to Vagliagli, we’ll be there around 11 AM.
No reply…
In July after the trip I emailed:
We were in Vagliagli on giune 30 around 11 AM.  I stopped into ABV and very nice young lady helped us.  We didn’t know if we should have called.  Who won the Palio lugilo 2?
Re: Chianti giugno 30...!
Ciao you spoke to the cute German girl named Isis Matysiak (she looks Italian but is from Berlin) 
On the 30th I had a mammoth hangover!
....ah yes Selva won
 The last email just confirmed everything I expected about the    
    I thanked Isis for her help and walk back to the car.  I ask Marianne if she would like an espresso.  She 
says “Yes, but I won’t have anything to do with this ‘trap’, this “Road to Abilene” Dario has set for you”.   
I say I am over it and it’s time to move on.  We go over to Café Bei a Nannini and sit out on the front deck 
at highway yellow plastic furniture.  I go in and order the espresso and the woman says she’ll bring it out.  
We both agree that the village is pretty.  It has been a nice side trip, but we have to get on up the road.  I 
suggest we stop in Greve in Chianti and have a light lunch.  The main piazza there, triangle shaped, is close 
to the road.  I just hope parking isn’t a pain in the neck (a CF).

Chianti Drive & Greve in Chianti (Mercoledi 30 giugne, 2010)
   Isis suggested taking the road that goes around through Petroio and Quercegrossa, but I opt for the known 
route P 109 back to Castagne.  It takes about ten minutes and the drive is beautiful.  You can see Siena on 
the hills to the south.  The city is impressive on its hills and ridges.  We turn north onto SR222 and travel the 
rural highway, up into the hills, quickly arrive in Fonterutoli.  It is very hilly and when I get a good look at the 
road, Via Verdi, that I could take up to Podere Ferrale, we both say “No way!’  It is so rutted and 
unmaintained; all my thoughts of a country place just vanish.
     We pass through Castellina in Chianti and wind up the hills and valleys through Casanuova di Pietrafitta, 
Grignano, Pieve di Panzano, Campana, and finally Greve in Chianti.  The town is packed in to the surrounding 
hills, but the main part of the town, is flat.  The signage to the piazza is very visible, and so are the signs for 
public parking.  Unfortunately parking is about three blocks, up hill, from the main piazza, Giacomo Matteotti.  
Even the newly completed lot has a name--Piazza della Resistenza.  Marianne is game to walk down the hill to 
the highway, but once we reach a shaded parko just off the highway, she puts her heels down and says she 
will not walk anymore. 
     While she cools off with a cigarette and watches a young couple with a baby, I cross the highway, walk 
past a triangular green space with a contemporary fountain (female I think), walk past the chiesa, and turn into 
the piazza.  It is narrow at the south end, but widens at the north.  The city hall is up there, and the whole space is surrounded on the east and west by a system of loggias, and more cafes, ristoranti, shops and tourists than one could think possible.  The chiesa anchors the piazza.  I cross back to the parko where Marianne is and get her across the street.  It is a shorter walk that she thought, but finding a café would be a good idea.  The city clock strikes 
twelve noon.
     Piazza Giacomo Matteotti (Italian Socialist leader, lawyer, head of the Socialists, 1924, denounced the 
Fascist Party and two weeks he was kidnapped and murdered by fascists) is a unique space in the heart of 
Greve, the unofficial capitol of Chianti.  The piazza has been used for commerce since 1290.
     We find Caffe le Logge on the east side of the piazza.  It is a beautiful ristorante/enoteca--inside and out.  
Their outside seating is impressive and covered by those great square umbrellas.  We find a little bistro table
right in the corner with the planters-- umbrellas overhead.  I notice that a guy at a table across the ‘aisle’ is reading an English newspaper.  Although he is an American, he never talks to us once.  I leave Marianne for a few minutes while I walk around the piazza with orders for acqua naturale.  I walk the loggia and check out the different shops.  
I step out into the busy piazza and look askance at a contemporary sculpture, rusting iron, of a man’s torso 
sans head.  It seems strange to place it in front of the city hall, but it is Italy.  The three story building has a 
clock face and just a large bell up on top.  I cross to the central statue and memorial to Giovanni da Verrazzano (Italian explorer of North America, in the service of the French Crown--most well known for discovering the 
New York Harbor, Block Island, and Narragansett Bay)—a hometown boy. 
     Over on the west side of the piazza I find Antica Macelleria Falorini, a Norcineria, specializing in Salumi, Prosciutto Saporito di Greve, Tipica di Greve in Chianti, Finocchiona, and Bistecca alla Fiorentina.  The shop 
is jam-packed with everything possible hanging from the curved rafters.  Outside is a stuffed cinghale.  Just 
then a guy in a butcher’s jacket walks by with two huge prosciutto.  I look out in the piazza and a younger guy 
is off-loading more.  He carries one in each hand.  He stops and smiles when I ask if I can get a picture.  He 
‘hams it up’ showing me how strong he is—lifting the hams high.  After ‘eye-ing’ a black Chianti Rooster 
‘T’-shirt for €25, I head back to Marianne.  She tells me the waiter has not even been to the table yet.
     We catch the waiter’s eye and he comes to talk to us.  We get water and menus. We look at the menu 
and I see a graphic likeness of Al Jolson ‘ala minstrel singer” is their logo.  I wonder what the significance of 
this could be.  We both order.  I go in and find the toilet--avanti diritto e destra.  The family is behind the 
counter making drinks, panini, and cooking.   This is the place locals go for a morning pastry and caffé and to 
catch up on local gossip. They make a good panino and basic pasta dishes. Marianne has ordered crostini  
with garlic and an omelet with gorgonzola and parmesan, and a cappuccino.  
I cringe at her possible ‘faux pas’ (no cappuccino after 10 AM!) and she says she doesn’t care.  I get crostini Tuscana (chicken liver) and a truffle omelet with very strong cheese and ask for a local Chianti.
     The vino and cappuccino show up in about five minutes.  The crostini arrive in about 15.  It is definitely 
getting on to one o’clock and I am beginning to get nervous about the hour drive to Firenze.  I try to find the 
waiter and ask him to bring the omelets as soon as they are done.  At 1:00 PM, when they arrive I ask for the 
bill.  We love the food, but we know we are going to be late.  I have to wolf down the food and pay and then 
run for the car. 
     It is warm and the exercise is not agreeing with my omelet.  I pass a cinema (Teatro Botto) along the way—‘Eclipse’ is playing.  In the piccolo traffic circle out front is a strange looking round terracotta ‘planter’ 
with four faces on it.  I also see a contemporary rooster sculpture on a rock next to the parking lot.  I am able 
to bring the car right down into the piazza and pick up Marianne.  We are out of town as fast as we legally can.

Lost in Chianti  (Mercoledi 30 giugne, 2010)
     We are out of Greve and driving north.  I am sorry we didn’t have more time there, but we are up against 
the clock.  Chianti is a beautiful corner of Tuscany and I will come back.  About three kms north of town, I 
start looking for the turn off that will take us over the ridge and down to the autostrada.  I think I find it at 
Greti and we are off, climbing hills and driving twisty roads.  I am looking for Luciana, Santa Maria Macerata 
and Fabbrica so I can get of the highway at Tavarnelle.  Somehow we end up in La Quattro Strade and we 
are lost.
     We drive west out of town but I don’t see any signs.  I see an olive olio producer and stop.  It is a large 
house, with a gated side yard and I see it has a store--chiuso.  I grab the map and knock on the front door, 
and go to the call box at the fence, but I can’t find anyone.  Then, from above I hear a child’s voice.  I look up
and see two kids maybe ten years old.  I ask if they speak English and they say no.  I ask about the autostrada.  They have no idea what I am saying.  Then suddenly their mother appears.  She also does not speak English, but understands ‘autostrada’.  She motions she will come down.  When she gets there she quickly straightens me out—pointing right where we are on my map; I circle it so I won’t lose it.  She says “avanti, avanti ovest” and indicates with an over-handed motion to keep heading west.  She touches San Casciano in Val de Pesa.  I 
‘graci’ her molto and get back in the car.  It is about five kms to the town and we follow the signs.  We pass 
under the A-1 and go through town, ending up on a ridge heading north—SR 2.  I just knew it.  We are lost 
     Suddenly the road dips down the hill into the gully and we are meeting up with the A-1.  Boom-- about ten 
kms out of Firenze; we are on the same highway we left Firenze 5 days ago.  It seems so much longer.  The 
early afternoon traffic is brisk but we get into SR 2 and drive through the southern suburbs of Bottai, Galluzzo, 
and San Gaggio.  I stop at an Agip station and get the car filled.  The station attendants are great at giving 
directions in English—2 and 2.  Second left and second left.  We are to Porta Romana before we know it.  

Return to Firenze—No Problem (!?!) (Giugne 30, 2010)
     These next few paragraphs are really for my benefit.  Sorry.  It is a kind of therapy, a cathartic exercise, to d
eal with the trauma of trying to drive back to the car rental office.  No matter how I look back at it now, it still is a wonder that we ever found our way back to where we started.  To date, I haven’t woken up in a cold sweat at night re-living it in a dream—yet.
     On the southern, Oltrarno-side, of the Arno, we head up Vaile Francesco Petrarca past the southern city wall.  
I suddenly realize I can’t go back in the same way I left Centrale Storico, so I pull into a parking lot when I see a Polizia.
     I very respectfully ask the officer for directions “back to the Stazione Santa Maria Novella, por favore, Signore?”  He takes time to help, stopping his parking ticket writing.  He points out where I will cross the Arno and where I will turn east off of Viale Fratelli Rosselli--Via il Prato.  We both ‘molto grazie’ him and get out on Viale Aleardo Aleardi.  This boulevard curves north and heads towards the Arno.  Unfortunately only the southbound lane crosses the river.  The northbound lane skirts around Piazza Pier Vittori then you turn west on Via Pisana and quickly north on Via del Ponte Sospeso and north on the one way for a long block.  Then you hit the traffic circle, Piazza Taddeo Gaddi.  
     The Ponte alla Vittoria crosses the Arno and Piazza alla Vittorio Veneto on the north bank goes underground for a short way and emerges as Fratelli Rosselli.  The construction on this boulevard is so bad we have no way of turning on Via il Prato.  So we keep driving on, looking for a right turn—any right turn.  The only one we can take is on Via L. Alamanini just before the train overpass.  We are now driving east and actually right next to the train station.  I can’t find a right turn to get off this street until we are practically in from of the station.  I turn onto Da Siena.  I don’t see any ‘local traffic only’ signs, but I truly believe I am going to get pulled over by a Polizia any second.  I know that Via Dell Albergo is a one way north so I have to turn at Via Della Scala and head back towards Fratelli Rosselli; I can’t believe it. 
     I suddenly find Via Degli Orti Oricellari and I can turn left to the south.  Via Palazzuolo is one way, the wrong way, so I go one more block south and Oricellari changes to the short boulevard, Via Curtatone.  The next block is Via Montebello, a one way east, and the way I need to go.  I drive one long block and find Via Masso Finiguerra!!  I turn left, north, and go two blocks and we are at Maggiore Rents!  Praise the Lord!  I find a place to park the car in front.   I stop driving, turn off the car and get out quickly.  I am so elated.  I never want to drive again.  I get the luggage out of the car; I notice that there is a tiny round hole in the drivers-side tail light.  I do not ever remember seeing it even in the Greve parking lot a little over an hour ago.   I ask Marianne to quickly go in and call for a cab.  I try, but unsuccessfully, to find the car rental agreement, but the woman behind the counter looks it up on the computer and soon we are all checked in.  The hole does not seem to be an issue.  I was so glad I got the extra insurance.  From now on I highly recommend it.
     The cab is waiting and I help Marianne in and the driver with the luggage.  We are off and flying.  The cab driver has to skirt around Piazza Santa Maria Novella and finally north to Via Panzani.  He drives around Piazza della Stazione and to the main entrance--€12.  It is the bags, I guess.  I get the heavy luggage and Marianne gets the Rome bag and we are inside the stazione heading for the train to Lucca on track 4.  Then the heat and humidity in the building hits us like a Mack truck.  Inferno!

SMN Stazione and the Trip to Lucca (Merolidi 29 giugne 2010)
     I suddenly see what time it is.  It is 3:00 PM; the train leaves at 3:08.  We could make the train, but Marianne stops up short and puts her bag down.  She will not go through ‘hell’ to scramble on board.  She digs her heels in right on the platform next to the train and refuses.  Even the train leaves the station late, Marianne is not dissuaded.  She wants to go to the restroom. 
   I have to dig for a €1 coin, and then watch her walk to the toilet while the train pulls out.  I just sit and wait with the bags.  The train schedule says the next train leaves in an hour—4:38 PM.  When she returns, we find a bench and sit.  I get her some water and we wait.  The train for Lucca is due in ten minutes and suddenly the line (binary) changes from track 5 to 8.  Crap!  We have to run to get on.  Even though we are early for the train, we are late and there are a lot of passengers waiting to get on; we can not sit together.  I end up with the big black bag in between my legs and the back pack on my lap.  I don’t even see where Marianne ends up.
     The packed train pulls out of the station.  It never even gets up to speed before we have to stop.  More passengers get on and it is standing room only.  We spend the next hour and a half stopping at every possible station--even stopping on the tracks.  This is what they refer to as the ‘milk run’.  We stop in all the stations in Prato, Pistoia, and Montecatini Terme.  Bit by bit and sometimes in large masses, we lose passengers.  In Pescia, home of Pinocchio, we wait twenty minutes or more.   Somewhere along the way, a black passenger gets into a yelling match with an older passenger.  It looks like he didn’t get his ticket validated.  The conductor, looking good in his uniform, walks by, but really does nothing to stop the verbal assault.  The black guy gets off at the next stop.
   We also stop in Collodi and the only guy left in our car gets out to smoke; it takes that long.  I use the toilet and when I flush, the rim rotates around and around to empty the bowl.  Interesting.  I go to wash; I get soap, but the water doesn’t work.  There are no towels either so I spend the next half an hour with soap on my hands.   I think there was a tunnel between there and Capannori, but I hardly notice.  Finally we roll slowly into Lucca almost two and a half hours after we left Firenze.  This is the last stop, but we are on the track that furthest from the station.  The platform is like a half a meter lower than the train cars steps.  Who figures these things out?  Do they do it just to make people angry?  So once I help Marianne get down, I get the luggage off the train.  Then we have to take the underpass.  It is dark and a little disconcerting down there.  Marianne is so ‘not amused’ at this point, and I just want to get to the Albergo.

So This is Lucca (Merolidi 29 giugne 2010)
     One shouldn’t make snap judgments about a place based on the first twenty minutes in town—or the train station. We finally get to the front of the station around 6:30 PM and there is a line of about 15 people waiting for a taxi—and not place to sit.  I devise a way for Marianne to sit on the black bag and then I go try and find a restroom to wash the soap off my hands.  I never find it.  When I return she tells me no cabs have shown up.  I call Albergo Diana.  I tell the man on the other end who I am, that we are at the train station, and that there are no taxis.  I tell him we will get there when we can. 
     It takes about twenty minutes, but enough taxis show up to get us all into Lucca.  We guess that there are only three cabs in town, because we see the same cab drives more than once.  It costs €12 to get three blocks to Albergo Diana.  The street, wide enough for one car, has just been resurfaced and our shoes stick to the asphalt.   We get the bags in the vestibule and met the Signora.  She speaks no English, but her son, Giovanni, does.  He is in his forties with 1970's style long hair.  We check in and then follow him, rolling the bags behind us, down the side street to the dependence—the newer rooms with a/c. 
     Marianne sits in the minuscule courtyard at a table and smokes.  She makes a friend, a man, who is sitting and reading.  Giovanni has a tough time getting the key card to open the front door, but we finally figure it out.  I take the luggage up the flight of stairs to the room.  Like many European guest rooms now, the key card needs to be placed in a card cradle so the room gets electricity.  This includes lights and a/c.  He shows me how to use the a/c and leaves.  I check out the room.  It is long and thin, a big bed to the left, table-desk straight ahead, and a sitting area and wardrobe to the right.  The bath is through a door around to the right.  It is in a word—gorgeous.  White marble everywhere with bidet and toilet, wide sink, huge tube-shaped shower, and a tall French doors that lead to a Juliet balcony.  I open then and look down into the courtyard.  I see Marianne and say ‘Ciao’. 
     Once I get the bags situated, I go down stairs and prop the front door open with an umbrella stand—concerned it won’t open again.  She has introduces me to her new friend, an Irishman named Terry.  We visit for a time.  He is here with his wife and it is their last day in Lucca.  I tell Marianne about the key card and electric set up and head to the office to get a second key.  When I return we go up stairs and she checks out the room.  We figure we can stick one card in the cradle and leave the a/c on when we go out with the other key.  Problem solved, I head out to find the bus station and get our tickets for tomorrow morning.  I also want to find Trattoria Leo and an alimentari for a jug of water.  I walk out to Via Molinetto and north to the Duomo Piazza.  As I head west I pass through Piazza del Giglio and see the big teatro on the south side.  I walk northwest to Piazza Napoleone and get on Via Vittorio Emanuele II.  It is about five blocks to the buss station and I walk briskly into the lowering sun.  I pass a cinema with hundreds and giddy tweens and teen girls; it’s “Eclipse”—OMG.  The snack bar/shop is on the other side of the via.
     After getting there I wait about ten minutes in the line for bus tickets in a muggy little station with lots of unhappy people and lots more flies.  I get the tickets (€6 each round trip) and march back east towards Napoleone.  I turn north at Via V. Veneto and go north two blocks to Piazza San Michelle.  Two blocks north of there is the ristorante that Phil Doran has recommend to us—Trattoria da a Leone.  I find they don’t accept credit cards and it is miles from the albergo—so I need a plan ‘B’.  On the way back I ask several folks about an alimentari.  No one seems to understand my rudimentary Italiano and absolutely no one speaks English.  I pass by ristorante Teatro on the bottom floor of Otel Universo, just across from Piazza Napoleone.  I ask if there might be a table for two at 9 PM, and they aren’t sure.
     I walk four blocks south to Corso Giuseppe Garibaldi and can’t find the alimentari.  I find a bar and get two of their biggest acqua naturale--€3 each.  I head back to Molinetto and pass chiesa San Giovanni.  Folks are streaming inside for a concert.  The large banner proclaims this the year of Puccini.  I wish we could go, but definitely not tonight.  I see a café getting ready—wine tasting after the concert sounds great.  I find my way back to our albergo and Marianne is reading in the courtyard.  She has reached a decision; she does not want to go to Pisa. 
     “It is too early tomorrow morning to get on a bus.”  She declares.
     I am blown away by this, but take it in stride.  “Sweetheart, this is the ‘number one’ thing you wanted to do,” I say.
     “Yes, I know.  It’s breaking my heart, but I can’t do it.”
     I ask, “Why didn’t she say anything 45 days ago when I purchased the ticket to climb the torre.  You could have held out for a more reasonable hour.  I don’t get it?!”
     At least this solves the problem of getting her a taxi at 7:45 AM in the morning.  I shake my head.  Why should now be any different than the whole trip.  I am so frustrated I want to cry.  I hate this town.  Nobody speaks English and they lie to you about where the alimentari is.  I change the subject and say let’s find dinner.  She agrees and we go to supper.
     It takes us about ten minutes to get to the ristorante, but luckily there is an outside table for us.  In fact, there are lots of them.  The waiter is curt and it’s not making the experience a great one.  Until the sun goes down it is hot.  The locals use the tiny street that separates us from Napoleone as a major traffic thoroughfare—cars and bicycles everywhere.   Even the Polizia keep driving past right next to the table.  It gets dark and a breeze kicks in.  Suddenly things cool off and everything gets better.  Even our conversation is more relaxed.  The waiter realizes that we are serious about eating and also lightens up.
     There is a lot of construction activity across the street in the piazza and I ask the waiter what is going on.  He rolls his eyes and tells us that luglio is concert month in the piazza.  We ask if it is good for business and he really doesn’t think it bring anymore folks into the ristorante.  The music is loud and the crowd is there for the music not to eat out.  We look over.  With the seating stands we can only partially see the Palazzo Ducale on the other side of the piazza.
     Marianne and I start with melon wrapped in prosciutto.  Perfetto.  My pasta has tomato and basal with a peppery seasoning that is pleasantly unexpected.  Marianne chooses a lobster linguine with olive oil and hot pepper sauce.  She is in heaven; the shell fish, sectioned, has thin claws and, of course, the heads are still attached.  The waiter recommends the sea bass for secondi.  It has roasted potatoes e vedura and the combination is great.  We cleanse our palates with lemon sorbet, but we refuse espresso.  Sleep is a wonderful thing.  I know that even though I have experienced no food or pollen allergies, my body can’t process caffeine after 4 PM.  I would literally be up to 2 PM like I was on Sunday in Volterra.  The waiter behaves as if I am ‘wimping out’, but I really need to get up at 6 AM in the morning.
     We ask if we have permission to come back tomorrow night and he laughs and says ‘si’.  We walk back to the albergo slowly, enjoying the night life of Lucca.  One of the last places we pass is the café with a wine tasting in Piazza San Giovanni.  It looks like business wasn’t too good to night.  Maybe tomorrow night we will participate.  I shower, enjoying the a/c, set the alarm and sleep.   Okay.  Yes, I like Lucca.

Pisa Viaggio and Back (Thursday Giovedi 1 luglio, 2010)
       I am up by 6 AM and out by 7 AM.  It’s not that I am anxious or anything, but I have a few connections that I need to make for transportation to Pisa and I am not sure I have it nailed down, yet.  The climb has been booked for 9 AM; which I did 45 days ago, so that’s no problem.  It’s just the bus.  I don’t trust that things will run on time.  After Marianne made the decision to not go to Pisa I feel mixed about leaving her for half a day.  I kiss her goodbye and say I can still get a cab here before 8 AM and get us to Pisa in time.  “No,” she mumbles and rolls back over to sleep.
     I like cities early in the morning; Lucca is fresh through rested eyes.  Things are just waking up and people aren’t too revved up on caffeine, so they stop and talk.  I walk across the teatro piazza, around Piazza Napoleone and head towards the bus station.  It is already warm and muggy.  I’ve got a 10 minute walk, but I’ve even allowed time to stop and find a little breakfast.  I pass a lot of places, but not everyone is open yet.  Down near the cinema there is a bar opening.  The metal rolling blind is just rattling up and the guy is already in white shirt, black tie, and apron.  Someone else is first however and is finishing up his first caffeine shot of the day.
     I head to a bistro table in the back.  The TV is on and blaring sports stories.  I take off my cameras and fedora, pull the Rick Steves out of my back pocket, wipe my forehead and order a cappuccino.  The bar guy is listening to the latest on the World Cup.  It looks like the Netherlands are gearing up to be the winners this year.  The South American teams will play each other out and then Europe will swoop in for the title.  I ask if he thinks is going to be hot today and he begrudgingly says “si”; it is now summer (l’estate) after all.  There isn’t anything in the display case that looks natural or fresh so I settle for an apple cornetto and enjoy my caffeine and steamed milk. 
     Piazzale Verdi at 7:45 AM is quiet and deserted, and just like I thought there is a problem with where the bus is actually leaving from.  The bus area is set up with about 4 lanes and islands in between that have lamp posts and signs with stop designations.  Last evening the woman in the ticket office of the bus station said it will be either number 11 or 8.  Great.  They happen to be on different lanes.  So I move from one lane to the other checking the destination information signage on the front of the buses.  Only today, they aren’t fancy manufactured or computerized signs, they are cardboard signs hand-written by the driver.  Quaint.
     There aren’t a lot of buses going in and out and it’s obvious that the clumping group of people is waiting to go to Pisa.  About ten minutes before the departure time, a bus does pull up.  The sign does not say Pisa, but wait, the driver changes it and it does say Pisa.  He turns the bus off and goes over and into the office.  The line of people is free to get on, but since the bus is off, there is no a/c.  To me it’s nearly dangerous to stay on the bus until he starts it up again—too humid.  I validate my ticket, but decide to wait in the fleeting cool of the morning in the piazza, before the sun has a chance to invade the piazza.  The driver returns at the exact time the bus is to leave and starts it up.   Those of us outside clamor into get a seat and off we go. 
     The morning passengers are quiet.  We leave the “Wonderland-like un-realness” of walled Lucca, and I am hit with the work-a-day world of the real Lucca outside.  It’s the same rudeness I would experience if I were in Portland, LA or any other city’s urban sprawl; the traffic and the commercial trappings of this setting are just like anywhere else.  I guess commercial blight is a universal constant.  I turn my eyes away from the McDonald’s and KFC’s, the discount stores and the pawn shops and focus on my adventures today.  Oh, well, everyone’s got to make a living. 
     The bus stops at practically every stop going out of town.  This is another one of those transit lines that stops at every stop.  Luckily the driver doesn’t stop at the bus stops that are empty. 
     Suddenly my mind screams with a startling realization.  I forgot my ticket voucher back in the notebook in the room.  Crap!  What will I do?  It seems like Marianne’s “Let-it-be-on-your-head” curse for going by myself might just be getting me.
     The bus heads south on SS 12 radd—Via Nuovo per Pisa and the urban mess clears.  We are heading up a valley towards the hills.  On the other side is Pisa.  Every hillside has high-end villas.  I remember Phil Dorn talking about the road that leads to Camaiore and see amazing villas.  Even though those are northwest of Lucca, these villas down here ain’t shabby.  I suddenly start to develop “Villa Envy”.
    Phil Doran, a very successful television writer (shows like “Sanford and Son”, “The Wonder Years”, “Who’s the Boss?”) wrote “The Reluctant Tuscan”—a delightful and true-story (embellished) account of he and his wife’s purchase, restoration, and Italian encounters of an tiny old house somewhere outside of Lucca-Carrere area--has been compared been compared to a cross between “Francis Mayes and Dave Barry”.  On yet another whim, I contacted him, via email, and ‘flattered’ him into helping us with trip details.  I’ll spare you the emails, but Phil did correspond several times and really helped us with our Tuscan tour.  He and Nancy love Lucca and Firenze.  He told us how to shop, what their favorite ristoranti are, and even recommended reading “Brunelleschi’s Dome” (Perry King).  That was a fascinating read.  He even told us we should rent a car and visit the ‘villa-area’ northwest out of Lucca towards where they live.  He, however, did not invite us to the house.
     Once in the hills, we go through a long tunnel and then emerge in a different world.  There is a ristorante/pizzeria right at the mouth of the tunnel; the town of San Giuliano Terme is below on the hillside.  We hit a series of switch-backs and I catch a glimpse of the three major buildings of the Campo dei Miracoli in the distance on the Pisan plan.   Even from this distance it is impressive. 
     The olive trees are scrubby and the vegetation seems more arid up here.  The Pisa plain is flat as can be and stretches forever.  Pisa got its name in 600 BC from a Greek word meaning "marshy land.”  The plain is very developed and well populated.  Once off the hills we pass the ancient walls of the Pisan Republic. 
     By the 1200’s, Pisa was at the height of its power.  I was an active seaport and its trade business with Europe, Muslim countries and North Africa, and even was the center for transportation for the Crusades in the Holy Land.  It rivaled Genoa and Venice.  However in 1284, they lost an important battle with Genoa and the rest was history.  The port on the river Arno silted up and large vessels could no longer get to Pisa.  It was also bombed by the allied troops in WWII to add insult to injury.
     SS 12 becomes Via del Brennero when starts running east/west where the city wall starts, and then Via Contessa Matilde at the Campo dei Miracoli.  The bus turns south and drops us off across the street Via Bonanno Pisano from the piazza, outside the walls of the campo.  
     It’s almost 8:30 AM.  I realize the only way to salvage this portion of the tour is to throw myself on the mercy of who ever is in the ticket office.  I pull the Rick Steves out of my pocket and get the details of how to find the ticket office: Yellow building behind the Torre.  I am on a quest and time is of the essence.  I don’t run, but I do walk really fast.  I avoid the hundreds of tourist-trap vendors and head east towards the campanile.
     I really don’t like it that instead of stopping and looking at this insanely incredible white marble works of art I have to go to the ticket office.  It’s still early so I am not concerned, yet.  The inside of the yellow building is a surprisingly modern glassed-in ticket booth.  There are two people working—a woman and a man.  I go for the woman--throwing my self and my story of stupidity before her.  I explain how I had to catch the bus from Lucca so early.  I tell her I have ‘no brains’.  Plus I am willing to re-pay for the ticket, €15 and €2 for on-line reservation, if that’s what it takes.  She pauses for a second probably realizing that I really don’t have any brains and looks for the transaction on line.  She prints out another voucher and hands it to me.  I really can’t believe it was that simple.  I “mille grazie” her to the point of absurdity and exit with my tail between my legs—the torre ticket.
     It is 8:40 AM and I have time to walk around.  While out on the sidewalk to the campanile, I run into two English blokes, that are here and having a great time.  They ask me if I will take their picture so they can send it back to their office and basically taunt their co-workers.  I take theirs and then they offer to take mine.  I thank them afterwards and head over to the steps out the back side of the Duomo.  They are many people sitting and waiting. 
     I walk around the torre and really check it all out.  This is Pisan Romanesque ‘cheesecake’ to the ultimate.  You can’t help but think as you look at the campanile “when this 200 foot tall, eight story, and 55 feet wide 14,000 ton leaning ‘thing’ going to topple over”.   Even though there is construction netting around the space up under the belfry it is still impressive.   Once they stabilized the lean a while back, then they started to clean it.  Construction of the torre originally started in 1173 and the architect is unknown.  The first phase of construction is attributed to Bonanno Pisano or Gherardo di Gherardo—depending on with source you read.   After wars with Genoa, Giovanni Pisano and Giovanni di Simone continued the second phase of the building.  Finally, Tommaso Pisano finished construction, erecting the belfry, which tries to stand straight on the titling tower.  The bell-chamber was finally added in 1372. The repair work, done 1990 to 2001, brought the torre back to a tilt that may have been familiar to Galileo.
     I come across a well to do Indian family taking pictures.  They, like everyone else who visit here, are instructing the kids on where to place their hands in the air to pretend they are holding up the tower.    Mom is a little more bossy than most and I walk away not wanting to hear the way she handles her kids. 
     At the entrance gate a nice young woman is waiting to open at 9AM.  We’ve got about 15 minutes and I am perfectly content to wait.  Unfortunately, she has to keep repeating herself every time someone new steps into line.  Plus she has to instruct a German family, and the Indian family, that there is a line, and you can not just walk in front of the people who are already patiently waiting. 
     At 9 AM we are ushered inside.  I see a cat lounging on the cool marble decking down at the base of the torre.  It looks perfectly content to sit and clean while the world goes by.  I, unfortunately get behind the Indian family on the ascent.  Not only are the kids very loud, but there is the distinct smell of body odor from mom directly in front of me.  I stop and double check my under arms, but no, it’s her.  She stops frequently to take pictures and slow the line’s progress behind her.
     Going up the torre poses no problem for me.  After climbing the dome of the Duomo a week ago in Firenze, this was relatively straight-forward.  The five degree tilt of the torre becomes very pronounced and you go around the spiraling stairs--on the south side you really feel the lean.  In fact the first few times around, I nearly lose my balance.  The experience almost becomes it a fun house at an amusement park.  I look down and see the centuries of wear on the marble steps.  It is amazing to think how many millions of people climbed these steps before me.  It doesn’t take long until I see the construction netting out the windows and I know I am almost to the belfry. 
     Suddenly the stairs rise into the open and I can see the bells.  They are large and neatly suspended in seven of the eight openings in the belfry.  The seven bells are tuned to a musical (diatonic) scale.  Two armed Carabinieri are up here--uninformed of course.  I walk the outside circular balcony, armed with both my digital camera and camcorder.  I take a guys picture with his camera and he reciprocates with mine.  That is kind of the unwritten law on top of these places; everyone is happy to take your picture.  I find the stairway to the very top and amazed how thin the passage is.  Again, the steps are incredibly worn by countless visitors.
     The view at the top is dizzying and dazzling all at once.  I hold on to the inner railing, figuring I could fall 15 feet, but not eight stories.  At 9:15, there is an announced warning and then the bells go off.  The melodious peel of the bells is so loud, but exhilarating.  I have my camcorder on and try to record it all.  You haven’t lived until you experience something like that.  I go around the top twice, just to make sure I didn’t miss anything and then I descend the narrow stairs back down to the belfry.   I don’t meet anyone coming up, but there are a couple of boys that race past me, seeing which one can get to the bottom first.
     At the bottom I see a swarm of Polizia, media and important looking people are gathering in the street in front of the campanile.  As I skirt around the crowd, I notice that there is a government official in the center of the crowd; I can tell because he has a long green, white and red ribbon with a large medallion hanging from it around his neck.  It all looks pretty auspicious to say the least. 
     I walk down the block trying to decide if I want water or breakfast.  Climbing a torre can give you a powerful appetite.  I find a ristorante, the picture perfect outdoor Italian café and I step inside to see if I can get an omelet and an espresso.  They are more than willing to serve me something outside.  As I find a table to sit at, the entourage from down the street come parading by in electric cars, low emission vespas—green transportation.  I ask the waitress what is going on and she tells me that this is the official kick-off of the governments push to “go to zero emissions” campaign.  We both applaud the effort, but both know that getting everyone to switch over, let alone pay for the new and expensive technology won’t be easy.
     The mushroom, cheese, onion omelet is great of course, and I get crostini with it.  The water and the espresso cap things off, and I have to find the toilet when I am done.  This ristorante is beautiful, just like every one I have seen.  The restroom is also immaculate.  I walk back to the Campo and debate whether to go inside the Duomo and Baptistery, and I decide that I won’t.  I am kind of missing Marianne and I just want to go back to Lucca and be with her.  When we come back to Pisa, the next trip, we will do this together.  I know that she could have done this; she has proven she can do so much already.
     I walk back towards the exit past the vendors and realize I have not bought even one touristy souvenir this whole trip.  I avoid the aprons and underwear and other tacky junk.  I settle on a halfway descend looking refrigerator magnet and a tiny glittery white resign paper weight of the campo buildings (baptistery, duomo and torre).  I completely forget to get a key chain for our cook at school, Barb, who specifically asked me to get her one. 
     Out in the piazza, tourists and trade are at a feverish craze.  I pass by a young couple with a baby and a toddler in a stroller.  I look down and the toddler is occupying herself with a travel book.  I look again, and I swear the kid is reading the book, or at least focusing on each page, checking out the pictures, and then turning the page to next page.  She is engaged.  I just thought that that was so cool.  You would not see that in the United States.  You would probably see something sticky sweet in her hand and she would be crying. 
     I locate the bus information on a lamp post on the street corner and find that the bus won’t leave for an hour—after eleven.  Shoot.  Now what am I going to do.  I don’t want to go back into the campo, because it is so crowded.  I decide to buy a bottle of water and sit at a table in a snack bar.  The owner is great and I buy a huge bottle of ice cold water and hid out in the shade.  It is a great place to just sit and people watch.  The owner, Massimo, is working hard.  He keeps things clean and totes heavy boxes in from behind the snack bar from a small parking area behind.  He spies a family, not Italian, hanging out at his tables.  They haven’t bought anything and he chases them away with typical Pisan bravado. 
     I ask if I should go, and he says “No, no, no.  Stay, per favore.  You pay.  They no pay!”  “Grazie,” I respond.  He is pleased and goes on about his work. 
     I must admit that I loiter as long as I can.  I have no idea what I am going to do for 50 minutes.  After a while, I venture out into the crowd and check out the double row of vendor booths along the camp wall.  These vendor stalls are more like umbrellas—with much exaggerated pointy tops.  They can raise the canvas canopy up to create a shaded area and when they close, the close up the umbrellas and the canopy locks down over their junky junk.  The crap is so crappy.  There are more versions of the David apron I saw in Firenze.  Each one gets tackier and tackier.  It’s embarrassing.  There are also aprons for the ladies as well.  When I get to the ones with pictures of unborn babies in pregnant tummies, I have to walk away.  Speaking of tacky, there’s a McDonald’s right here in the piazza.  “I’m lovin’ that”—not.

Discovering Lucca—and Puccini (Giovedi luglio 1, 2010)

    In Pisa, I go and stand in line on the street with the other folks, many I recognize from the ride earlier this morning, waiting for the bus back to Pisa.  It arrives pretty much on time; it loads quickly and we are off.  As the bus turns onto Contessa Matilde, I see a crafts market or fair.  It is unique in the grassy area behind the old wall.  It is African.  I see hand-made drums and xylophones and African natives in brightly colored dress.  The men are in fezzes and the women in turbans. 
     The trip back is a little shorter, and there are not as many stops.  Lucca is a lot more active than it was at 8 AM.  I locate the TI just north of Piazza Verdi--again not well marked, but it has everything an American tourist might need, especially someone who speaks English.  I pick up a more detailed map of the city and set out to find Puccini’s house.  Heading east on Via San Paolino, I walk three blocks to Piazza Cittadella.  I go a block north and east and I am in a small piazza. 
     There is the center is a bronze statue of Giocomo Puccini, sitting smart with a cigarette in his right hand—left shoe on right knee.  Behind him is a small café, Puccini, and across the tiny space to the east is the building where Puccini’s house is located.  There’s not really much to see.  The descendants of the opera composer are still fighting with the city to stop turning the residence into a museum; the city would like it preserved--too bad for everyone else that visits.  Looks like it is bed changing day for the residents; pillows hang from the second floor balcony over the front entrance.
     I walk east on Via Di Poggio into the Piazza San Michele and get another beautiful view of this ‘Linzertorte’ of a chiesa—Pisan Romanesque.  A large statue of Archangel Michael is perched up at the top of the façade.  Apparently it was built so that the wings could move, but that hasn’t happened in centuries. 
     I have decided to walk over to Via Fillungo and find the café where Puccini hung out, and maybe have an espresso.  From San Michele I walk around to the north and take a little jog of a street for a block and end up on Fillungo.  I am looking for # 58, but I am in the 90’s.  I head south thinking it is the right direction.  I pass a small chiesa on Vicolo San Carlo and many high-end shops.  Suddenly I am at the corner of Via Roma and Via Santa Croce where Fillungo becomes Via Cenami.  I have gone too far, but I do find Edison Bookstore here; it is classically elegant.  Once out of the store, I head north.  In two short blocks, before the via turns northeastward, I find Di Simo Café.
     The names “Ricci and Pieri” are displayed next to the café name on the sign above the entrance.  “In this Cafe, that almost has fully received the original deliver furnishings still has - as the plaque says, that the then proprietors, Angelo Ricci and Fernando Pieri, - between the end of the 19th Early 20th centuries and 19th Century--a true ‘concert of friendships’ was established." It is not a large shop front, but it is so eighteenth century elegant.  It just calls you inside.  Back then the owner was Giulio Simo.
     The 1880’s interior is still looking wonderful and I doubt if anything has been changed in this place in a hundred years.  There are tall display cases flanking both sides of the space.  The pastries and confections inside are works of art.  There are lots of wine bottles, ancient coffee services, and a huge 19th century espresso machine.  Further back behind the cash registrar (very contemporary) are huge tea urns.  In the back of the space is a grand piano and a large plaque on the wall behind it says: Cafe Caselli.  The text is in Italian and I can’t read it all “…Host and promote the harmonious "concert" was druggist Alfredo Caselli, an extraordinary personality, a generous friend, confidant of cultured big artists…”
    There are three other rooms or spaces off the back and I poke my head into each one; I can’t locate the kitchen.  Of course there are pictures of Puccini everywhere and so many posters of countless promotions of his operas.  I really want to play the piano, but I don’t want to get in trouble or anything.  Not wanting to be a bother, I lightly touch the keys and play a phrase or two of “O Mio Babbino Caro,” and “Nessun Dorma”.  How wonderful it must have been to take your coffee in the café with Puccini and the artistic elite like Giovanni Pascoli, Giuseppe Giacosa, Alfredo Catalani, Pietro Mascagni, Libero Andreotti and Lorenzo Viani.
     I go the bar and order an espresso, adding my customary espresso spoon full of cane sugar.  I am pretty much enjoying every part of this experience.  What a ‘rush’ to be in this place.  I use to know nothing about it and now come to find out that it was a ‘happening place’ a hundred and thirty years ago.  It is so cool. 
     I finish and go to pay.  I pull out a €5 bill to give the bartender and he says “no”. 
     “Sorry?  I don’t understand”.  “It is the smallest bill I have and I can find no € coins. 
     He again says “no”. 
     I dig in my pocket for any change I might have.  The bartender smiles and says “no gratis”.  Wow.  He doesn’t want me to pay for it.  I am blown away by his generosity.  “Gracie” I declare over and over.  He just waves it off and smiles.  This guy is really cool.  Maybe he appreciated my piano playing—I doubt it.  I leave with a caffeine buzz and a warm feeling in my heart.
     As I head back south towards the albergo, I see the Torre della Ore (clock tower), but feel I need to get back and see Marianne.  A block after I get on Cenami I come to Piazza San Giusto and its chiesa.  There are a couple of tiny cafes with outdoor seating and I know I have found a place for lunch. 

Lunch—Luchese Style (Thursday Giovedi luglio 1, 2010)

     I get back to the albergo annex and Marianne is reading at the little bistro table in our tiny piazza.  She tells me it is really a driveway and she points to a wall that I now recognize as a garage door.  She tells me a man drove intot he space, opened the door, drove in, and closed it.  Whatever car this guy has, it must totally fill the space.  I am surprised he wouldn’t hit the tables when he pulls out. 
     Marianne has had a fine morning and is hungry.  I tell her if she is willing to walk, I have found a place.  She also says that she now knows a short cut to Piazza Del Giglio; Giovanni told her about it early in the day.  Great.
      I put my things away, except for my new map and we head west up the alley.  At the end of the alley is an open space, and a fine looking tiny albergo with a few tables is at the end of the building.  It has its own café.  We turn right and then the alley really gets small as it jogs back to the west.  I am a little uneasy about this area, especially with the graffiti (first I’ve seen in Lucca) on the walls, but we are alright.  There are a dozen vespas parked long this alley and we see the kitchen and then the dinning room of another interesting ristorante.  Suddenly we are on Giglio and the Teatro is standing tall on our left.  It is a great short cut.  For the next hour I tell her about my morning viaggio.
    We take our time and circle north to Piazza San Giovanni and walk between the buildings and past Via Del Battistero, and enter Piazza San Giusto.  There are tables out front and we order water.  I go in and choose a couple of salads and pastas.  The owner brings it out to use and we “beat the heat” watching the Luchese retreating for reposo.  The lunch is leisurely.  Marianne suddenly asks me to give her the camera.  She tells me she can’t believe it but there is a bankers’ car parked in front of a ‘no parking 0-24 (su tutta la piazza) sign’.  She laughs and says the car has been there for a half an hour!  Where’s the Polizia when they are needed?
     Marianne is refreshed and energized enough to do a little walking so we head up Cenami to Roma.  We check out Edison Bookstore and then walk west to Piazza San Michele.  We find a wonderful 1800’s gelateria right on the southeast corner and sit outside under an umbrella.  We have nicoli and pistachio.  After a time, we walk around to the west side of the piazza and check out the façade of San Michele.  Besides all the other details, I also see a white marble Madonna and Child framed in a golden sunburst on the southwest corner of the chiesa.  We walk south on Via Vittorio Veneto to Piazza Napoleone.  The trees that line the north and east side of the piazza are really intriguing.  I don’t know what they are but they have obviously been there a long time (plane trees).  They cast a great, cooling shade and we stop to sit and check the day’s construction in the piazza.   The Palazzo Ducale is all but obscured now.  The stage has been set up today, but so has the bleachers around the piazza and now they are covering their back sides so that no one can see into the venue. 
     This is Lucca's Summer Festival that takes place, starting this weekend, ever July.  A great number of international artists have performed there since 1998, including Bob Dylan, Elton John and Santana.  This year the list of music is impressive: Mark Knopfler,  ZZ Top and Jeff Beck, Seal, Crosby Stills and Nash, as well as Italians Eros Ramazzotti,  Karmina Ammar, Rosario Fiorello, Paco de Lucia and Paolo Nutini (Scottish with Tuscany ancestry).  We both agree that this can’t help business around the piazza at all.
     As we walk back towards the albergo, we pass our ristorante, Café Teatro, and decide to make reservations for 9:00 PM.  This time the person on duty is pleased to make reservations for us.  I ask for an outside table.  We head back to the albergo, cutting across Piazza Giglio and taking our short-cut back to the room for a pisolino. 

Torre Guinigi--Trees in the Air   (Thursday Venerdi luglio 1, 2010)

     We sleep until 5 PM.  I get up and head for the Guinigi Torre.  I really don’t know how to get there, but I kind of take a diagonal northeast run and find it in about ten minutes.  It has just reopened after the reposo and there are not many people waiting to climb.  I see a couple that is staying at Albergo Diana in the lobby area.  It costs €3.50 to climb the 227 steps.  I pay and follow a young ‘early-twenties’ couple up the stair case.
     If you don’t know the Torre Guinigi before you come to Lucca, you will soon enough.  Of the dozen or so towers in Lucca, it’s the only one with trees growing on the roof.   The tree-crowned tower and the palace belonged to the Guinigi family, of ‘Gothic nobility’, and are located in a very intact medieval neighborhood.  Originally there were four towers, but only one remains.  The Guinigi’s, rich merchants and an influential family of Lucca from the 13th century, built their impressive homes between via Sant'Andrea and via Guinigi.  It is made of red brick and has stone arches and columns on the ground floor facades, large internal rooms, and a passage for carriage access. 
     The Gothic Palace is a towering (pun intended) structure.  It has ‘triforium’ and ‘quadriforium’ (groups of three and four) windows with ogival (Gothic curved and pointed) arches on the upper floors. The open loggia arches on the ground floor were added in the 1500’s by the family, now bricked up, are decorated by coats of arms, cornices and plaques.  The tower, attached to the palace, was built to attract attention, admiration and even envy and not so much for defensive purposes—in the tradition of noble families and descendants of Feudal Lords.  During that time lots of bell-towers were going up in Lucca and the Guinigi’s wanted to make sure everyone knew how rich they were.  The Torre Guinigi is crowned by seven holm oaks to symbolize rebirth and was added by the family in the late 1300s.  Since then it has been one of the symbols of the town.
     As I climb the first five or six floors, I lose, track, the view out the windows keeps changing—as does the temperature.  We go from a view of the brick building outside to the terracotta tile roofs to the blue sky above.  On each floor is an over-sized poster, medieval and in Italian, and not professionally done, that definitely refer to old events—looking somewhat like illuminated manuscript.  At the top (of the palazzo) there is a fire door (modern); when opened there is a whoosh of wind and you entry the ancient torre itself.  The brickwork is many centuries old and the windows have nothing in them but wire mess to keep people in and pigeons out; the later really isn’t true judging by the droppings. 
     The first rise of steps, all metal, is fine, but the walk-way is see-through.  It’s obvious that we are up a ways.  I look up the inner shaft of the torre and see that the thin metal stairs and walkways are attached to the wall leaving the lofty space of the torre wide open—and very tall.  My vertigo kicks in big time.  I didn’t have any trouble with the Duomo Dome climb in Firenze (except the walkways around the altar area) and in Pisa, just the top of the belfry.  However, here in the Guinigi, Holy Mother of God, you can’t help but look down with ever step you take, because it is all open.  I count about six stories of ascending metal monster above me.  Needless to say I keep to the outside, against the walls, and try to focus on holding the railings and climbing.  I hear the voices of children below and above in the hollow shaft.  I know that I would have never been able to do this climb when I was a kid.  I don’t even know how I am managing to do it now.  Up and up I go towards the top.  I guess there are some ‘killer’ views out the windows, but I am busy here and don’t have time to look out as I pass.  At the top you basically go up a ladder to get to the garden.  Suspended above the height I think anyone might have a problem with it.  
     Needless to say, when you emerge on top, the paranoia melts away all anxiety because the view is outstanding.  With the shade of the holm oaks, it is cooler up here and the sight of the red tiled roofs that stretch out in all directions below is spectacular.   There is a definite wind up here.  I attempt to circumnavigate the walkway, wide enough for two people facing each other, bordered by red brick half walls.  There is also a metal railing around the whole perimeter, so I am more at ease.  Both my camera and camcorder are out and I am ‘double capturing’ the view. 
     In the ‘quick-draw’ of the moment, the admission ticket slips out of my pocket and floats, momentarily, on the wind.  Standing beside me, the guy from the albergo springs into action.  He reaches out and tries to catch the flying paper.  The ticket, of course, just floats out of his reach and sails blissfully out over Lucca.  I tell him to let it go as I ‘death-grip’ the railing and watch the ticket lazily descend. 
     The street and building layout is an interesting labyrinth of jumbled lines, curves and ovals interrupted by open spaces, taller buildings, chiesas and towers.   The ramparts are so cool.  They circle the town in an oval, and every bastion is a fanciful heart or spade (card suit) shape.  Some are green, and some are just dirt. Beyond the walls, where the regular folks live, is a whole other world that stretches on and on.  To the south, you can see the Pisan hills, and, closer, to the north, the hills and Apennines are closer than I thought they would be.  I stop at the south side, the east, and the west to view the city and countryside.  However, the north, which has an extra thin passage, is entirely blocked by a German family with their three young and hyper-active kids. 
     No one is enjoying the northern view because these folks are blocking the only way to get around the rooftop garden.  There are not many of use up here, maybe a dozen, but we are very aware that these folks are not playing by the rules of fair ‘sportsmanship’.   They are not even supervising the kids, who are running through the brick planter boxes, handing off the tress, and scaring the rest of us as we watch, in disbelief.  The kids are even jumping off the brick planters and hanging off the railings!  The parents are oblivious to this and to the fact about ten people have lined up and are waiting their turn to see the north view.  Boys Howdy! 
     After a good ten minutes of us all being discreet and polite, I say the “hell with it” and actually step up into the raised beds of the garden and walk over to north side.   Not to worry, there is nothing but dirt and the seven trees in them.  I am not ‘obvious’ or anything as I step down from the brick planter right next to the German couple.  They look a little stunned that I am so close to them, but I just smile.  They herd their flock to the east, as the twenty-something couple also climbs over the planters for a better view.  We are successful in our ‘coop’ to gain the ‘north’.  Soon other tourists are able to walk freely around the tours and take in the view. 
     I sit in the shade and look out and try to make out towns and features in the distance.  You just don’t want to leave—it is perfetto.  Plus you want to delay the inevitable descent as long as you can.  Yes, it was as bad as I thought it would be, but I made it—and I lived to tell about it.  I consider it a personal triumph.  I learned that I can challenge myself and face my fears.

Again, I Hate Train Stations  (Giovedi luglio 1, 2010)
     After the triumph of the Torre Guinigi, I walk slowly back to the albergo, seeing and appreciating everything.  I find the post office, I discover the Comme di Lucca Istituto Musicale L. Boccharini (gia G. Pacini), a ristorante and a large fountain—pool in the duomo piazza.  I stop inside the Duomo but it is so covered in tarps inside, restoration, I can’t see anything.  I check at the desk for Giovanni, but I think the signora says he isn’t back until 7 PM.  I am concerned about getting a taxi in the morning and only Giovanni can help.  I also think she is telling me about her son or sons and her grandchildren.  I nod my head and smile at the appropriate times.
     I return to the room and Marianne is watching TV.  We discuss going on an earlier train; we don’t want to miss connections in Firenze because of a slow running train.  I walk to the train station (up over the rampart, down the dark interior steps and ramp inside, across the huge grassy area outside, and across the very busy street) and get in line.  
     There are two officials behind glass; I want the woman, but I get the man.  He has long, unkempt hair, and he barks at everyone—especially Americans.  I ask him if the tickets we have will work for an earlier time.  He says “si”.  I ask him what are the earlier times and he forces a train schedule through his turntable airlock.  I step away, but realize I have one more question.   Right then a good looking Luchesean women crowds in and I have to wait until he very politely takes care of her.  I can then ask what binary it will leave on and he growls out “Check the monitor”!   That does me no good right now, because the monitor only shows current information, not the next days.  He’s mad, I’m mad, and I nearly swear at him.  I figure we’ll get here early so we don’t have any surprises.  I walk back over the wall and find a bike rental on Corso Garibaldi.  Chrono Bikes is a funky, hip shop with brightly painted walls.  I talk to a young guy, British or South African, and I leave knowing all about renting bikes in Lucca.  The street in front of Chrono is blocked off from traffic and it makes a great area to spread out the bikes (or bicicletti).  I look across the street and next to a fun little bar is the alimentari; now I know where it is.  I go back to the albergo and tell Marianne what I know about the train in the morning.

Okay Everybody Let’s Bicicletta!   (Giovedi luglio 1, 2010)
     The walk from the albergo dependence, on Dogana, to Corso Garibaldi and Chrono Bikes is about five minutes.  I talk to Brit working there and he tells me everything I need to know about the rental.  I tell him I am ready, but I first need to buy a bottle of water.  I run across the street, get a small bottle at the bar and return to rent the bike.   They will need you driver’s license or passport to hold while you rent.  It cost €2.50 for an hour.  He shows me to a bike with a basket on the front and I shake my head in disapproval.  I just want a ‘guy’ bike, okay?  He obliges and I am off on my bike, going south towards the wall; it’s around 6:15 PM.  I end up immediately in traffic at Porta San Pietro so I have to traverse the street, avoiding traffic, until I can cross.  I get off the bike on the other side and walk it up the gravel path on the grassy bank to the top of the rampart. 
     The path is paved and a good twenty feet wide.  I am almost surprised at the number of folks up here.  It’s busy.  I start biking towards the sun.  The path is lined in trees and it is not as warm up here as in town.  I pass through the structure above the San Pietro Porta and pedal on.  If people aren’t biking they are walking or, in the case of the jocks, running.  I pass Baluardo Santa Maria and the sun is directly in my eyes as it is big and orange in the sera sky. 
     It is really apparent that this is the place to see and be seen.  I like this a lot.  It is absolutely the perfect thing to do.  From here you can look out and get a great view of the outside city.   I pass Baluardo San Paolino (Catalani) and soon I am above Porta Anta Anna.  Over on my right is Piazzale Verdi, where I picked up the bus this morning, and I can see down Via Vittorio Emanuele II almost to the other end of town.  Baluardo San Donato is next and I see a band stand/stage is being readied for a performance. Now I see the city and I am truly appreciating every bit of it. 
     Lucca has a rich history that is preserved because of this wall. The Roman city, the medieval city, the Renaissance city, and the nineteenth century city are all rolled into one and this bike ride is an exciting voyage through history.  Besides theses 500 year old walls, Lucca stands out as a colorful jewel of the past; its white marble Romanesque decor, the yellows and orange-red of  buildings, the grey of cobble stones, and the green of grass, tree and flora is almost unreal.
     Lucca was an independent city-state through 1847, not too long before the unification of Italy in 1861.  The city sided with the papacy, but in the mid-1500s it became a stronghold for the Reformation (1542 and 1545--Piero Martire Vermigli and Bernardo Ochino). Between 1550 and 1650 the Luchese incorporated the medieval wall in this new wall design.  It kept away the Pisans and Florentines and nobody bothered to attack.  The only time it really saved the city was in the flood of 1812.
The ramparts, 100 feet wide at the base, cover over four kms.  It is basically their city park.
     Pedaling along I can not think of anything I would rather be doing after a days work or climbing torri.  It is perfetto right now.  I pull into Baluardo San Croce, the fourth bastion for me, and see that someone has graffiti-ed the brick.  It’s a quote in English:  “See the stars how they shine.  They shine for you”.  I did not know the quote, but it is wonderful.  Later I found out it was from the Coldplay song “Yellow” Parachutes (2000). The song's lyrics are a reference to band vocalist Chris Martin's unrequited love.  Even though it mares the ancient wall, it is a beautiful lyric.  There is also a memorial to WWII soldiers there in the bastion.
     The green space all around the walls make this city park extend forever.  I bike on, passing some ‘bella’ private residences on the north side.  This is where I would live, in those houses with large patios and balconies, even though everyone on the path can see right in your windows and see all your business.  I keep moving, passing runners in designer Lycra, some for the second time.  I am keeping my eyes peeled for the next big church near the rampart.  It is my landmark so I can find Piazza Anfiteatro.  I think it is Santa Maria, but it is really San Frediano.  At Piattaforma San Frediano, I take the ramp down into the crowd piazza del Collegio.  It is a parking lot behind the chiesa. 
     I take a side street, Via Anguillara, and end up on Fillungo.  I know from the map I had looked at earlier right where I am.  Because the crowds are so thick, I take to walking my bike north as the street starts to curve.  I know that I am practically outside the Anfiteatro and the Bed and Breakfast owned by Vallerio where Doug and Jim have stayed.  Too bad I don’t have the address with me (and the bike) I could stop in…  At Piazza Scalpellini, I find the western entrance to the Anfiteatro.  It’s so great to emerge from the dark tunnel of a pass-through and into the light of this unique piazza.
     The large oval of buildings is pale yellows and creams with dark green and black shutters circle the entire space.  The red of hundreds of geraniums accent the windowsills and high balconies with little pops of color.  There are dozens of outdoor cafes and ristoranti with big square umbrellas in rows that ring the space—all up against the buildings.  There is nothing in the stone paved middle of the piazza.  The nineteenth century Piazza Anfiteatro built on the remains of the ancient Roman Amphitheatre.
     I immediately decide I need to take pictures from the four passageways.  Once I get the view from the west, I move on to the south and so on, walking the bike and standing it against walls when I stop. 
     Over near the eastern porta, I find the shop “Puccini Memories”.  The small shop has a large door with banners from ‘Butterfly’ and ‘Turandot’ flanking the opening.  Above the door is a graphic sign—a representation of Giacomo with a black fedora and mustache and no face.  Actually the shop finds me and pulls me in with “O mio Babbino Caro” playing forte, which I can not help but sing.  I step in the shop and notice a woman right inside.  I apologize for disturbing her listening by singing out loud.  She doesn’t really respond.  They have got everything in here, especially CD’s.  Anything Puccini is here.  I get nervous about really buying anything and step back out.
     Over by the north porta is another Chianti shop.  I find the black roster logo again, but it is on a lycra bicycle one-piece shorts outfit and I know I wouldn’t ever wear it.  The sells girl doesn’t know why not.  I smile and leave laughing at the mental picture of me in lycra.  Women and child avert your eyes!
     I find the west porta again and get back on Fillungo.  I find the side-street and see the chiesa at the north end and ride back towards it.  It’s surprising that I am finding my way around this town.  I get to the chiesa and through the parking lot/piazza and head up the ramp to the top of the rampart.  The bike I have is a very good one and I don’t even need to shift gears.  I am back up on the Mura Urbane and I am hardly winded.  I pass over Porta Santa Maria and then pass Baluardo San Martino on the left.  The foot and bike traffic start to thin over on the northeast corner of town.  Porta San Jacopo and Baluardo San Pietro go by and I can see several derelict buildings.  I am surprised anything would be abandoned and in disrepair inside the walls.
     As I go past Baluardo San Salvadore, I see a large chiesa and mistake it for the duomo.  It’s big and it has a bell torre so it must be time to come back down off the rampart.  I end up on Via dei Bacchetttoni and nothing looks familiar at all.  I follow the street to my right--I think west (really south) and end up riding through the wall and out into the green space.  Boy, I thought, did I take a wrong turn.  I realize I am on the southeast corner of town, and I can either turn around and go back or pedal along the path until I find a way back into town.  It’s kind of fun to bike outside the walls.  I go past Baluardo San Regolo and Colombano.   Then I see the train station off to the left and I know where I am.
     I use the same step and ramp passage inside the Baluardo and emerge up on the Mura Urbane.  I look down and see Corso Garibaldi.  I walk the bike to the bottom and just pedal the short five or six block to the bike shop.  I would like to explore but decide to return the bicicletta.  Good thing.   It’s 7:30 PM.  I bring the bike back to Chrono and my license is returned to me and I hand the guy €3 bills.  He goes to give me the change and I say keep it was worth every penny.  Gracie! 
     If you are ever in Lucca, you have to rent a bike and tour the ramparts.  It will be a light of your visit—I guarantee.  If you’re halfway in shape you are going to love it.

Our Last Evening in Tuscany     (Giovedi luglio 1, 2010)
      I am feeling so good after the bike ride.  I can’t tell you how wonderful it was.  I pass a street musician (maybe a gypsy) playing an ancient looking zither with small felted hammers.  The large soundboard is trapezoid in shape and there are a mass of wire strings.  I notice that the thick supports are like turned table legs.  The guy is short and stout, and he is sitting in a folding lawn chair, wearing a blue Hawaiian shirt, shorts and white sandals.   The smile on his face (how could you not) definitely says he enjoys plays this old instrument.  He is definitely Eastern European and not Italian, but the music is great all the same.  I find a €2 coin and throw it in his tip can.  I note that he has a little hand truck and an electronic tuner.
     As I walk back down the alleyway to the albergo dependance, I see Giovanni walking away and turn the corner down by the albergo.  Marianne tells me she has just talked to him.  She has arranged for a taxi at 8:30 AM.  Good girl!  We retire upstairs for a shower.  I find that I can do so much more in the heat of Italy if I have a pisolino and a shower—three times a day--just short ones that reduce my skin temperature and wash off the sweat.  Too bad I didn’t really learn about the proper use of the bidet.  Apparently men use it too.  When we got to Spokane later in the summer, Sam Coza told us his great uncle in Calabria “doesn’t feel civilized until he washes “behind his balls” at the bidet.  We dress casually and are ready for the ten minute walk to Ristorante del Teatro. 
     The heat is dissipating and the city is becoming magical again.  We take our short-cut and cross Piazza del Giglio.  We pass Bar Astra and Ristorante Giglio (beautiful 19th Century ambience).  We stop and check out Hotel Universo.  It looks posh.  They have an elegant looking indoor ristorante and Jazz Club.   Rick Steves puts it in the “Forgettable” category, saying “…once elegant, now old and tired…” (Db €100 & “superior” Db €130).  Of course he calls Albergo Diana “dreary” and the dependance “slightly nicer”.  We like Diana Dependance (Db €85) with air conditioning, but it is out-of-the-way.  You may also like that.  We will choose something more in the center next time, although it would have to be quiet like Diana.  Parking, on the other hand, is always going to be the issue in any Tuscan town.
     We arrive at Ristorante del Teatro at 9:00 PM and the staff bend over backwards to meet and greet us and show us to our table outside.  We discuss wines and get a bottle of house Bianco—waiters choice.  He pours and chills it on ice.  We are given bread and we mix olio and balsamic as a dip.  First we have melon wrapped in prosciutto, as we did last night.   It is a light and refreshing way to begin.  Then we get serious and order primi and secondi.  Marianne has ravioli and I have a scampi penne with pomadoro and crème.  We both enjoy our choices and share with each other.  For secondi, Marianne has scampi and prawns, and I, very unlike me, have Bistecca Florentine.  We ask the waiter to select a house rosso; he suggests a Luchesean wine which is very good. 
     When the secondi comes, first Marianne is impressed by her scampi, but I am blown away by the Stek.  OMG!  It is the size of a roast.  The massive T-Bone is accompanied by fagioli (white beans) because it is far too decadent to have just a piece of meat—oh those modest Tuscans.  Marianne also ordered palm frites, but soon realizes that it is too much.  I have never had, or wanted, this much beef in a meal.  It is so great, rare, it pulls me in to eat and eat.  I don’t even dare to add salt; it is that good.  Just the perfect seasoning and grilled so well.  With the wine and a little fagioli it goes down well—for the next half an hour.
     During dinner a duo of musicians set-up; one has an expensive looking keyboard and the other—violin.  I have seen them making the rounds to the various cafes and ristoranti in the area.  They play and I have to stop eating.  They are so good.  Their repertoire is classical to contemporary jazz and everything in between.  They are excellent.  I excuse myself and go put a tip in their jar.  I say it is clear you have had classical training.  The German born keyboardist says “no” just lots of practice (and by ear!).
     We share our entrees with each other, but I is obvious that I will never finish this much meat.  I pause and stop many times, as we talk about our Tuscan adventures.  We toast each other for our choices these past two weeks and our many accomplishments over the past three weeks.  We reminisce about Rosetta and Fernando and make plans to stay in their guest house.  From there we plan what we will do next when we come home to Tuscany again. 
     We will visit Lucca and Pisa, Firenze and Siena, Montipulciano and Chianti, before staying in Magione, Umbria with our new friends.   We will drive again, probably renting a car at the Pisa airport, which we want to do instead of Roma.  We will also want to do a Venice, Bologna to Cinque Terre northern trek as well as a Pompeii-Sorrento-Capri-Amalfi jaunt, so the trip looks be over a month.  We will stay in towns for four days or more and it will be either in May or October.  Right away we see it won’t be for another four years or until I retire.  I can’t stand to think it will be that long from now.
     After about two hours of dining we need to cap dinner with a single piece of Tiramisu.  Marianne compares it to Rosetta’s and to the one she makes.  I do not think I have ever had a finer meal it my life.  For €134 it certainly had better be.  We include a tip, which is not expected, but these guys really went out of their way to make our final night in Tuscany a memorable one.
     We amble, arm in arm back through the Piazza del Giglio and see a crowd gathered around the outdoor ristorante at Albergo Universo.  A couple, dressed to the nines, is performing a Tango show in the piazza.  We watch for a time, their portable stereo broadcasting an Argentinean flavored dance-tune that bounces off the far walls of the teatro and the other buildings in the square.  We walk back, checking out the crowds at other ristoranti, as their evenings start in earnest.  We savor our last night in Tuscany as it begins to flee away.  It has been so incredible.
     We go back to our room and pack.  The reality that this is the end seeps in through our wine and epicurean euphoria.  We rub witch hazel on each others backs to cut the heat.  Then we sleep like bambini.

The Taxi and Train Retreat   (Venerdi 2 luglio, 2010)
     Two bottles of wine!  But no hangover.  The bistecca, however, was my companion all night.  We are up at 6:45 AM watching the Roman version of the “Today Show”.  It’s more like a game show introduction; Meredith Viera is a gorgeous Italian beauty and Matt Lauer is a short guy with a day’s stubble.  We are out of the room by 8 AM and wheel the bags, klickity-klak, down Dogana to the albergo front desk.  “Buon Giorno, Giovanni!”  He makes us a breakfast of cappuccini and sweet rolls.  We leave the bags in the vestibule and take breakfast in the Dependance courtyard.  How civilized we are this morning. 
     At 8:30 we stroll to the office and Giovanni phones for a taxi cab.  I thank him so much for everything he has done for us.  I tell him he is another highlight of our trip.  He is gracious.  I relate my first impressions of Lucca (Wednesday night) to him and how much we now love the city.  We really want to come back.  I tell him about what signora told me about his family.  He corrects me and says he has one girl, and his brother has ‘due’ bambini.  
     The taxi arrives quickly and we say arrivedercci to both he and the signora.  We get hugs and double kisses.  The cab driver already has our bags in the back of the taxi and we drive north into the Duomo Piazza to turn around.  On the way back another driver blocks our way and forces our cab driver to backup.  He lets go with some choice words as a second car impatiently comes through the narrow lane; he even honks.   Our taxi driver explains that it is two-way street, but that some people don’t have any patience or respect to wait.  The added adrenalin gets us to the stazione in record time. 
     I check the monitor, and yes, the main line train to the largest city, Firenze, is on the farthest track—binari 4.  We gird our loins and drag the luggage down the ramp and under the tracks and up the stairs on the other side.  It feels like the day is going to be a hot one judging by the warmth out here on platform 4.  There is a little shade and a slight breeze, but the humidity is about 100%.  We decide that we want to be in the forward train cars, so we can be as close to the Firenze terminal as we can.  Once we have a bench to sit on, I go to the self-service vending machine and get a couple of waters. 
     While we wait for the 9:10 AM treno, we talk to a couple of Australian sisters (well into their sixties) who have just finished up their Tuscan holiday.  Ann and Mary are seasoned travelers who are also heading for Rome.  They have a hotel room waiting and will be staying somewhere in the middle of Rome.  They tell us about their current exploits and old adventures, like Dubai Hotel with a lounge $400 drink minimum in Dubai, UAE.  Bloody outrageous!  Mary does not mince words.  In fact her take on things is pretty colorful.  Ann plays piano, but she had a recent wrist surgery, shows the scares, and “now my bass line (left hand) isn’t worth piss”.  Mary adds “She’s got a plate in ‘er wrist.”
     The train back to Firenze is so superior to the one two nights ago, it makes the trip that much more pleasant.  We are in one of the front cars.  When we enter we can hardly get into the car because the door keeps smacking into a woman’s bag that is pretty much sitting in the isle.   Marianne finds a place to sit together in a four-facing-each-other section.  Our luggage fits neatly into the extra seats and overhead.  Every time the door to the car opens, that womens' bag gets hit--bang!  It doesn’t bother her, but anyone coming in the car practically trips on it; she has no intention of moving it either—thank you very much.
     There are much fewer stops and we only momentarily wait at Pescia.  Along the way a very striking African woman, in full and beautiful native dress, sits alone.  She reminds me of the African celebration I saw outside the walls of Campo di Miracoli in Pisa yesterday.  The train takes on more folks as we get closer to Firenze.  Pistoia and its three stations take the longest; we are in Firenze in an hour and a half—on time.

Firenze to Rome (Venerdi 2 luglio, 2010)
     At SMN Stazione Marianne and I get off at the same binari and platform where we got on Wednesday.  It’s hot.  We even go to the same bench, same seats and rest before moving on to the café.  I suggest we take the back entrance, through the main terminal area.  We find it very familiar territory this time around.  Our friend, the Italian “Kojak” is there; he is doing his job and kicking ‘free-loaders” out.  I go through the cafeteria this time and get a good lunch with pasta and chicken.  We relax and take our time.
     When we returned to the inner lobby, I do not find the train’s schedule listed on any reader board.  We are taking the Eurostar back to Rome.  It is a special train and has its own designated binari.  I find the information booth and all she can tell me is that it will be ten minutes late.  She also says that the binari won’t be announced until ten minutes before the train arrival.  Typical. 
     So we wait and we guess about where to wait.  SMN, as always, is hot and humid. If we know what track the train was coming in on, we could sit on a comfortable bench, instead we wait somewhere in between on our uncomfortable luggage.  Since binari 5 was the only track not listed on the reader board, we guess that this is the track the Eurostar will come in.  Good guess—it does come in on that track.  Sad—the train is 15 minutes late.  We try to line up under that signage on the platform that says car 2 Stand Here, where our assigned seats are located.  The train, when it arrives, is not in that order, and there are five number two cars.  So we have to hunt for the car after it pulls into the station and the boarding rush commences.  Slight CF.
     After go through a few train cars we find our seats.   Marianne is not seated next to me, and actually two rows forward.  I am in a single seat on the other side of the isle.   However, all the luggage spaces in our end of the car are full and I have to lug the big black bag through the car in search of another luggage rack. 
     The Eurostar is a sleek, fast moving modern marvel.  I recommend it to anyone if they need to go long distances.  We are in the first class section.   The trip is quick—maybe shorter than going from Lucca to Firenze (the fast time).  There are lots of tunnels and bridges.  When you rise and submerge your ears plug up like on a plane.  Sometimes it is a little more intense than a plane. 
     At one point we emerge and I see Arezzo out the left windows.  I track down the hillsides and I think I see Cortona.  Swoosh.  We go back under.  Swoosh.  We emerge again and I see Lago Trasimeno and then Lago Chiusi.  I look out the right windows and see Montipulciano in the distance.  Swoosh, we are underground again, briefly, and then we are up again and I see Chiusi Scalo.  Swoosh.  Swoosh.  I can see Orvieto on its hill.  Swoosh.  Swoosh and we are in the Tiber river valley and I can see the hills that rise to Amelia, Terni and Spoleto.  Swoosh-Swoosh and we are back in Lazio.  There are sunflower fields everywhere as far as I can see.  What a quick way to recap our journey—three weeks gone so fast.
      I have almost forgotten just how large Termini is.  I bet you cold fit all of SMN in one of the main areas.   Even though 
it was three weeks ago, Marianne couldn’t really remember the layout.  I grab the bags and guide her along to the front of the stazione.  Yes it is big and it takes twenty minutes to get from the train to the taxi stand.  We have decided we will pay the €40 for a cab ride, instead of the uncertainty of the Leonardo Express and the connection to the hotel shuttle bus.  We will be glad to just get to the Garden Hilton and rest before tomorrow mornings flight.
     We walk to the taxi stand in front of the stazione marked Airport and we immediately have a taxi.  Antonio, the cab driver, is very helpful and his European SUV is ready.  We get Marianne and the bags in and we are off.  He flies through Rome: down the Nationale, to the Colosseum, and out a few different broad and ultra-crowded stradi.  I am very glad he 
is driving and we are riding in air-conditioned comfort.  The main stradi have a center lane for buses, some sort of train 
and the taxis.  We are out of town so fast.  It is amazing.  Slightly more amazing is that in this place they can whisk you 
out of the country faster than the slow torture of coming in.  Go figure…
    Antonio has a GPS, but misunderstands when I say Garden Hilton Inn.  The name is actually Hilton Garden Inn.  Once we get him to refrain from dropping us off at the Hilton right across from the terminal and follow the signs to Hilton Garden, we are fine.  This hotel is way off somewhere else.  I would never be able to find again.  The sleek, modern, box of a six story hotel is sitting out on a nearly deserted plan.  We give Antonio a €50 for all the trouble.  He refuses it at first, but we assure him he as gone above and beyond.  Gracie!
     Alexandra, at the front desk of the Hilton Garden Inn, is so efficient at setting up our room, a 3:30 AM wake up call, 
the morning shuttle (4:30 AM) and box breakfasts.  We take the elevator to the 6th floor and then proceed to the room 
that is the farthest away at the end of the longest hall.—Room 650.  We turn on the a/c and crash.  The bed only has a thick, immaculate white duvet.  The room is cool, but the cover is hot.  We sleep from 3:30 to 6:30 PM.
     We realize we haven’t eaten, that seems really funny to say, since around 10:30 this morning.  We do one final dress for dinner and go down to the restaurant.  It is our last meal in Italy.  Marianne has linguine with pesto and garbanzos and an insalata.  I have a seafood fettuccine with clams, tiny octopus, and a white fish, and a Caesar insalata.  I get a vino rosso.  Marianne has to have Tiramisu for dolce.  We are back in bed by 7:40 PM. and ready to sleep.

The Flight Back   (Sabato  3 luglio, 2010)
     Luckily I set my alarm for 3:30 AM because the hotel wake up call comes as we are heading out the door.  I have gotten everything I can think of, but at that time of the morning something is going to be overlooked.  
My sunglass clip ($80 to replace) is the victim this time.  We are down stairs and on a large van with about five other people and leaving at about 4:20 AM.  It is foggy (and stinky) and quiet out this far from Fiumacino. 
      FCO is huge with three terminals.  We are dropped off at the first one.   There is no signage anywhere to let us what to do or where to go.  Marianne and I go inside and there is no one around.  Not a soul.  Could we have been let off at the wrong place?    Marianne thinks we should be with the other group and so we head out onto the sidewalk, luggage behind, sprinting to the second terminal.  We are so early that the doors aren’t open and won’t open for a while.  Security reasons.  At 4:30 AM?  After 10 minutes of jogging and trying to get into the terminal we get in and know we are not in the right place.  We actually find someone who tells us where we should be (Terminal One) and we sprint back.  Only the doors at the end of the terminal are sealed—security—so we have to go back to the middle of the terminal and exit.
     Needless to say after twenty minutes of this we are exhausted.  We get back to Terminal One and go all the way, the full length of the huge room to the Air Italia ticket counters.  Then there are the very last possible area another 70 feet away is a line of folks.  When we get up to it there is a cardboard sign with KLM Amsterdam handwritten on it.  We just look at each other and roll our eyes.
     Once we get through the line, Marianne gets a wheel chair and someone to push her.  I pull the bags and we head for the security check.  It is all low-key and very friendly.  Once we clear the check point, there is a cart waiting.  This time I get to ride on the golf cart with Marianne, an Asian man and his elderly mother.  The nice Italian man drops us off at on waiting area and we wait an hour for the flight to be announced.  We eat our boxed breakfast and I find the restroom. 
     We get to board first and are treated ‘royally’ by the Dutch attendants.  KLM is the best.  We take off and say ciao to Italia.  The flight is very westerly this time over the Mediterranean, Elba, Genoa, Milano, the Alps, Geneva, Brussels and then a 15 minute circle of Schiphol.  After the half an hour to taxi-in and unload, a pretty blonde assistant is there to whisk us both, private shuttle this time, to the gate.  We stop for a passport check, but we are at the Delta gate very quickly—Terminal C to E8 in ten minutes. All the security person at the gate said was: “Did you get anything from anybody?”  “Who packed the bags?”   Simple questions like that.  Then 
I have to pull out the computer, take off my shoes and belt and pocket contents, briefly frisked and go through the scanner. 
     In no time we are on the plane at 9:15 AM.  However the plane doesn’t leave until 10:15 AM.  The flight back over the ocean and Canada seems longer this time and the computer for the entertainment system has to be rebooted over and over again.  The most excruciating part of the experience was the baby that cried, no shrieked, for most of the nine hours.  The poor parents, mostly likely from Australia, tried everything short of a pillow over the face—theirs, to cut short the agony of the shrill and unrelenting tones of their offspring.   You can’t tell me that no one else on that plane didn’t have a similar thought at least once during the flight.   Without sleep we get back to Portland at 11:45 AM Oregon time.  At PDX flights entering from overseas are dropped at a special terminal (Customs) at the far from the main terminal.  Our task is to take our carry-on through a check point, collect our luggage, have it searched and then get on a bus for the five minute trip to the terminal.  After waiting a least a half an hour it was clear that our big black bag is not here as were about forty other bags from some pretty unhappy travelers.
     We are asked to load onto the bus and go to a special place in the terminal.  It is so special unless someone who has 
any brains left after a 26 hour flight has a keen eye, you can’t find it.  We walk for miles and finally do find the special make-shift desk hiding back behind escalators and offices and down a hallway.  We are nearly last in line, and after hearing so many folks yell at the two guys trying to get names on lists and retrieve baggage claim checks, I refuse to follow suit.  I remain pleasant and the business that needs to get done happens without incidence.   The upshot of the whole things is that there was never enough time for KLM to load our bag on the plane in Amsterdam.    It was sent with everyone else's and might be in Minnesota right now.   The airline 
would send someone out the next day, the Fourth of July, and take it to our home.  
     We catch the shuttle back to the Ramada.  It is the same guy that drove us to the airport almost a month ago.  At the motel we unload the bags and I go get the car.  It is still where I left it and other than dusty it is fine.  I bring the car around for Marianne, load the luggage and off we go.  After getting through the traffic of 
the Portland area we stop at Burger King in Wilsonville for a whopper.  It is crowded and dirty and covered with “Eclipse” promotion crap.  Oh, yeah, we’re home.  When can we go back?
 Much Later  (September 24, 2010)
     Marianne and I had guests over last night.  Our good friends, Myana and Leonard Schulz and Molly and Doug Park-Sample.  Myana has taken a job down south in the Bay area (she came back for a long weekend) and Leonard is trying to gather up their seven plus years life together in their house and get it ready to sell.  Ironically, Myana bought he house from us--the first house I owned--nine years ago.  Molly lost her father about two weeks ago.  I was time to celebrate.
     We chose an entirely Italian dinner menu, complete with antipasto, primi, secondi, and dolce--plus wine for each course.  Since our Italian adventure, we have had some really great wines that we bought from Candace Mate at the Mate winery in Montalcino, Italy.  The guests also brought wine--some Italian.  Marianne set the table with linen from Montalcino (the linen store Montalcino 564 on Piazza del Popolo--Grazie Massimo Gorelli).
     We started with Tuscan misti bruschetta: Pate I made and a tomato, basil, parsley and olive oil spread ala Marianne.  I also opt for just oil oil and balsamic on my Tuscan bread.  About an hour later we started our primi--spaghetti pasta with a pesto, parsley, and olive oil sauce and meatballs with mozzarella inside ala Leonard.  With it we each had a glass of Candace Mate's Cabernet Sauvignon.  This is a full body cab that paired wonderfully with the meatballs and pasta.
     Next we took a break in the action, talking and catching up on everything happening in each of our lives--passings, jobs and commuting, welding projects, the politics of a community college, church, and dwindling funding for public education.  I started the outside grill and worked on the flank steak.  I also prepared the dinner plates.  First I finely cut some radicchio and splashed it with a little balsamic.  Next I sprinkled blue cheese crumbles and pine nuts throughout the radicchio.  Once the meat was cooked rare to medium rare and cooled, I cut it on the bias and put it over the radicchio.  Marianne helped me get it on the table quickly.  The combination of the marinated meat, the melting cheese, and pine nut-radicchio combination was outstanding.  I learned that from our dinners at Birreria Centrale in Firenze. We also each had a glass of Mate's Brunello di Montalcino.  Absolutely, hands down, the best wine of the evening.  Salute Candace!

     It took a considerable amount of time to consume, savor and enjoy the secondi.  After, we slowly sipped wine and talked on into the night.  
     When it was time for dolce and coffee, I brewed some very potent decaf and made espressos for Molly and Myana.  Marianne's Tiramisu (a little pick me up) was absolutely outstanding-- thanks in part to Rosetta Scattini's recipe and her expert guidance back in Magione three months ago.
     Bliss:  Good food, good wine, and good friends. Buone Notte!