Italy 2006:  Chapter IV

Umbria * San Gimignano * Florence * Tuscany * Chioggia

About 11 a.m. on this Saturday morning, September 9th, we crossed from Umbria into Tuscany. 

All of a sudden we saw crops of sunflowers, corn, tobacco, lemon trees, and olive farms, as well as grapes, of course!

Our first stop was a car park in San Gimignano, we were steered to the toilette where I laid out my 50-cent euro and stepped into the chamber.  But spying a ceramic hole in the floor, at floor level, with a space on each side of the hole for each of my feet, I promptly left without getting my 50-cents worth.  Some ladies used it, however, apparently without incident.

"This place was made famous by the bishop of that name," said Mhairi.  "It once had many towers.  The more towers a place had, the more wealth it had.  It was like keeping up with the Joneses.  Today San Gimignano has only three towers left.  It is located in the heart of Tuscany."

The city was quaint and hot against the stone, but not quiet.

Allan and I sat in the shade of the town square and enjoyed the music, along with a sandwich and glass of wine.  It's where I bought a couple of t-shirts and a singular quilted basket for dinner rolls.

Mhairi arranged for us to visit Castello Vicchiomaggio for a tour of the winery and a wine tasting. 

There must have been six or seven different wines that we sampled.  A specialist in the business told us about body and color, swirling and alcohol content, and vintage and vineyards.  We were also given bite-size pieces of bread and proscuitto to soak up the wine and clean up the palate.

The sun was setting as we arrived in Florence.  Our first stop that evening was at a public park high above the city where we encountered Michelangelo's David all by himself, perched in the center of the parking lot.  Three men in our group (Al, John, and Lloyd) dared to keep him company while they posed for my camera.  Seeing is believing.

That evening of September 9th, Allan and I were fortunate to be seated at the same table with Bob and Norma Irvine of Riverside, California, honored guests in our tour group who were celebrating 60 years of marriage ..Our meal was served at the Grand Hotel Mediterraneo where we were staying.  It got pretty hot that night because the air conditioning wasn't very efficient.

After another good breakfast Sunday morning, September 10th, we visited the Uffizi Gallery in Florence, "the world's largest collection of Renaissance art," stated Mhairi, who was our amazing expert of all things artistic as well as Italian.

From one of the windows of the museum we saw a series of bridges across the Arno River.  The one in front is the only bridge that survived bombing during World War II.  It is unlike other bridges because it's lined with shops.  Other bridges were rebuilt or replaced in a more familiar fashion. 

In the Museum, where we could not use our cameras, we saw original works by Leonardo da Vince -- including a painting when he was only a teenager -- and also a painting by Michelangelo that is one of few of his "separate" paintings.  The evolution of art -- as the artists came to discover nature  -- meant movement from entirely religious themes to themes that also incorporated animals, family, friends, and, quite specifically, themselves.

Down the street we saw where Leonardo da Vince worked for a time (the dark brown brick building).  Mhairi took us through a museum that exhibited scientific, musical, mathematical, and engineering talents of the famous artist and sculptor much maligned in recent times by a boring movie.

Some of us then attended Mass at 12 noon at the Basilica Franciscana of Santa Croce, a huge church with a colorful façade that resembled the ornate Cathedral at Orvieto.  The Mass was all in Italian.

The detail of these churches is always to a great degree, and this is the outside of the church.

Its dome became visible as we walked around the corner.  This was the church of Michelangelo's family, where he grew up.  Michelangelo was all set to buried in Rome, where he did much work (remember the Sistine Chapel?), but someone stole his body and buried him at home in Florence.

This is the tomb of Michelangelo (1475-1564).  In this Basilica of Santa Croce we also saw the tombs of Galileo (1564-1642) and Machiavelli (1469-1527), and a couple of other famous people.

For perspective on time, I envisioned Christopher Columbus sailing the ocean blue in 1492 and discovering the New World.  Did you know that Mr. Columbus was born in Genoa, Italy?

After Mass, Allan and I had lunch with Floras at an outdoor café next to the Basilica.  My lettuce salad with anchovies and olive oil and balsamic vinegar was excellent.  We shopped a couple of hours on side streets emanating from the Basilica plaza, purchased a couple of small luggage pieces at an open market mall (recall the lost luggage?), and followed the Arno River back to our hotel.  By the way, motorcycles are all over the place in Italy, especially down the center line of the streets.

We began that evening for dinner under an outdoor arbor, which also intrigued neighborhood children who peeked in on us.

Mhairi, our tour director, posed with our three men (l-r), John, Allan, and Lloyd.

Mhairi also posed with their three women (l-r), Rosalie, Sue, and Jan.

Posing seemed to be the thing to do tonight.  Notice the rainbow of colors in our glasses.  We also enjoyed wonderful appetizers of toasted breads with hot ham and cheese, and stuffed fried olives.

My camera kept working inside the restaurant.

Food did eventually arrive.  It was scrumptious broasted chicken and we devoured it all.

But we had more wine than dinner, it seemed.  That's Mhairi, of course, and our handsome bus driver Agnello.  All the way back to our hotel, everyone on the bus sang old favorites with Mhairi.  'Twas a grand evening all around.

The next morning was Monday and the five-year anniversary of the infamous 9/11.  We sang "God Bless America" as we began our trek out of Florence at 9 a.m.  We had tried to see the American Cemetery in Florence, on the way to dinner last night, but it was closed.

The sun had its hat on once again and it spotlighted Gypsies on the streets of Florence as we motored out of the city.  Said Mhairi, "In fact, they are Romanians.  They acquired the name Gypsy because they are darker skinned, and people thought they came from Egypt."

North of Florence we drove through the Apennine Mountains and dozens of long tunnels that had been blasted through the mountains.  Then the mountains and tunnels disappeared and we saw cornfields.   "It's flatter land here in the north," said Mhairi.  "The mountains are further away from us."

"This area is sometimes known as the Breadbasket of Italy because of its fertile soil," said Mhairi.  In fact, it reminded me of the Breadbasket of the USA where we also grow corn and soybeans in southwestern Minnesota.

Whoever heard of it?  Not I!  But I won't soon forget it.  I loved Chioggia, a small, one-street city that we entered through ancient stone arches and across canals lined with fishing boats.

We were all assigned rooms in Hotel Grande Italia, on the sea near a pier and a plaza.  Ours was Room #408.  Notice the heat rack where towels are hung to be warmed.  As was common in our Italian hotels, only four people fit on the elevators, without luggage -- two, with luggage.  (Did I say luggage?  Allan's was still missing.)  Notice the beams and slanted ceiling above the bathtub.

John Flora reported that he had to take a shower on his knees the next morning because he hit his head on the beams. 

We strolled the solitary street as the natives were doing, ending up sitting under an umbrella with a glass of wine, watching middle-aged ladies dressed to the nines, walking hand in hand.  Young families carried their babies and pushed empty strollers so everyone under the umbrellas could see them.  Old mamas hung onto the arms of their sons who held the hands of their wives."

It was always fun to run into Audrey, Irene, and Carole.

It seemed to be another evening for photos.

Hi, Mhairi and Agnello.

Hi, Don Whitney in the plaid shirt!

Thank you for looking in this direction.

Is that you standing (us) up, Roma?

I believe there are more wine bottles than people.

The next day we sailed for a museum in Venice where we saw everything from soup to nuts.

NOT the End.
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