And finally, the dogs!

Over the past many posts, reference has been made to photos of dogs in Italy.  By the time we flew home from Rome, several others had joined me in taking snapshots of dogs any time we saw one.  These are not photos of any great artistic merit, but they were fun for us, and some are interesting to see.  If you’re curious, go ahead and follow along as I post them, a few days at a time, on Dogs of Italy!

Ciao! -Ann  (and this time I mean it – this is the last post!)

Our Last Italy Blog Post (Sniffle)

Here are some things I loved in Italy that you don’t see every day in Suffield, CT.  Of course the art and sculpture and ancient architecture are omnipresent and overwhelming.  These are some of the OTHER things that made an impression on me.

(Note: This is a really long post because there are so many things I want to show and because I am having a difficult time posting the photos at anything except full size.  My apologies!)

1. DOMES!  Looking up from beneath every dome was just amazing.

Glass dome in a marketplace in Milan

The Duomo in Florence, with a dome so large it was thought to be impossible to build until Brunelleschi developed a revolutionary architectural technique.

St. Peters dome, Vatican City

The Pantheon, Rome. Built around 100 AD and still standing strong.

Church in Castel Gandolfo. This might be my favorite because the outside of the church was so unimposing that the fabulous dome came as a stunning surprise.

2.  SHOPS!  Anything you want.  Some of our group shopped everywhere all the time.  Others never looked at things to purchase.  I may have been among the most frugal, coming home with only a new purse and a belt requested by a friend.

Carnivale mask shop in Venice

Chandeliers in Murano glass shop. Ornate or gaudy, take your pick.

Outdoor produce stall, Bologna. Every city had these great markets.

Meat shop, Florence. Italy is famous for its smoked and specialty meats, yet we rarely saw anything resembling a pasture in the countryside. Our guide said the cattle and hogs are kept indoors all the time!?!

3. STYLE!  Italians wear about 85% black, with about 80% of both men and women wearing a scarf knotted loosely around their necks.  Lots of conformity there.  Here are a few that wore something out of the ordinary.

Swiss Guard at Vatican

Seen in Assisi. I am told this man, a devout follower of St. Francis, had feet which were raw and bleeding.

Water drops, Milan. Your guess is as good as mine!

Crossing guard/police woman, Assisi. Note that the person to the left remarkably not in black is an American.

4. ANIMALS!  As a veterinarian I don’t dare NOT show a few of the animals we ran into.  My 100’s of dog photos will get their own blog, but here are a few others.

Carriage horse, Florence. There were lots of these in Rome, too.

Family of ducks, Arno River, Florence

A flock of sheep north of Naples.

A flock of sheep north of Naples

Tuxedo kitty, Castel Gandolfo. Almost every city was paved with this type of block and hardly any grass. City dogs rarely encounter grass or soil.

5. FOOD!  Always delicious.  Not always photogenic, but here are a few items.  I was tempted to repost the photo of my favorite unexpected meal – the fried cheese with mushrooms –  but that would be too much.

Related to lemon? From under the citrus arbor at Villa Carlotta, Como

Caprese salad - a favorite everywhere!

Risotto with veggies and crab meat, Milan.

Pizza, of course. Delicious in every city, though supposedly invented in Naples.

Gelato. My favorite flavors were pistachio and cappuccino. I think Annmarie had gelato 3-4 times a day!

Wine, wine and more wine.

6. IN A CATEGORY BY THEMSELVES!  These were interesting but don’t fit into any easy box.

This sculpture at Villa Carlotta in Como was covered in small dots.  They are measuring points that were used in part to help select properly sized and shaped pieces of marble at the quarries.

These yellow bikes were available all over Milan.  Pick them up at one spot, ride them where you need to go, and return them at another yellow bike station.

In Venice, Mary, Laura and I combated Renaissance art fatigue by visiting the Peggy Guggenheim Museum of Modern Art a gem of a small museum overlooking the Grand Canal.  In the sculpture garden, Yoko Ono had planted a live olive tree as a wishing tree, with visitors encouraged to write wishes on slips of paper and hang them in the tree. On the left you can see the tree with all the hanging wishes.  On the right, my favorite wish!

Speaking of chickens, I saw this poster out of the bus window in Bologna.  I don’t really understand what their message is, but I love the graphic!

And speaking of posters, this is the bottom of a framed art poster that was above the beds in our hotel room in Florence, the most renown city for art in Italy. From a gallery in Canton, CT, two towns over?  Really?

Outside the Uffizi Gallery, on a walkway overlooking the Arno River, are these interesting chains of padlocks.  These are considered “Locks of Love” and suggest that those that place them there will never break up.

Ah Florence!  Center for fine leather craftsmen, source of beautiful, timeless shoes, bags and accessories.  And then there are these great items.  I think either of them should be incorporated in the SVH dress code!

In the most unexpected places we’d find small visual gems. Interesting doorways, lovely window boxes full of flowers, small pieces of sculpture incorporated into buildings.  This was on a random building in Assisi.

This logo is as omnipresent in Italy as the Citgo triangle or the Shell Oil shell, rising high above gas stations.  Our guide Esther claims that the design of a 6 legged dog stems from honoring the teamwork of dogs (4 legs) and man (2 legs).

You can’t appreciate the wonders of Rome and the Vatican without becoming totally immersed in art, most of it created with themes from the Bible or the lives of Catholic saints.  I have photos of all the sights that you can see in every Italian guide-book, and home made duplicates of most of the common postcards.  Here are two images that interested me, though perhaps not for the usual reasons.

In the hallways of the Vatican on the way to the amazing Sistine Chapel are endless decorated passages, sculptures, gilded ceilings, etc.  I love this one because of its trompe l’oeil, an artistic method of painting on flat surfaces in such a way that they absolutely look 3-D.  No matter how long I stared I couldn’t convince my eye that this wasn’t sculpted.

This sculpture is in St. Peters Cathedral, to the left of the apse.  It is of St. Veronica, and warranted a photo because she shares her name with one of my favorite nieces.  St. Veronica is known for wiping the brow of the suffering Christ after he was lowered from the cross.  Hence the flowing fabric in her hands.  The sculpture is magnificent but my niece is more beautiful.

With this, the blog on Italy is finished.  It was a simply wonderful trip, well planned, full of surprises, and made better by the great group of friends – both new and old – that were along for the ride.  I know Mary and I will travel together again somewhere, and I promise that we’ll blog our way through that trip, too.  We’re thinking  Spain, Gibraltar and Morocco will be next.  But maybe, just maybe, these coins, tossed over the left shoulder into the Trevi Fountain, will do their job and bring us back to Italy.

Thank you for joining us on this adventure, and for your great comments on the blog both here and on Facebook!

Ciao! -Ann

Arrivederci Roma!

Let me first say that I LOVE oldish my Dell laptop because I used it on the flight back to Boston for 7 hours straight on battery alone, with the screen brightened to the max, and it didn’t give out.  Now, back to the blog…

With Mary gone, my room was switched so now I share with friend and fellow veterinarian Hazel Holman.  We had traveled together before Italy so I was very comfortable with the change.

On Saturday afternoon 13 of us piled into a bus for a hair-raising ride outside Rome to a small village called Castel Gandolfo in a region known for its vineyards.  I say hair-raising because the driver was frighteningly bad.  For example, this photo was taken as the bus sailed past this sign indicating that the road was too tight for such a long vehicle.  So we backed up into the busy intersection.  Other times he went the wrong way down a one-way street, and was in such a rush that he careened through rest stops to get ahead of slow traffic on the highway.  We sorely missed Eustacio, our driver for the previous 2 weeks. Our guide Esther alternated between wild eye-rolling and miming prayer.  I would say, however, that the trip was worth the white-knuckles. This town is high on a hillside with beautiful vistas of the valley below on one side and a large lake on the other.









The shops are small, clean and beautifully decorated, as these street photos show.  It is the papal summer residence (if he chooses to go) so one portion of the town is Vatican property.  Looking down on the lake we saw several colorful dragon boats training for an upcoming race, each with up to a dozen paddlers on each side and a man in the rear to steer.

From Castel Gandolfo we drove to an even higher point to explore the Pesoli family wine making business.  The interesting tour was provided in Italian by the owner, and then translated for us by her English friend.  Though I don’t have any good photos, let me assure you that the 4 wines we sampled were delicious, as was all the food they offered.  The Pesoli’s also produce olive oil and a wine jelly (good on cheese.)  Though the wine was heavier than our suitcases would bear, almost all of us purchased some of the latter.

Two interesting distractions from the vineyard tour were the hang gliders that floated around just off the cliff-edge of their property, and the neighbor’s guard dogs, who with tails wagging barked ferociously at us from the top of the wall.







The next morning we were drawn to the Sunday Morning Flea Market at Porta Portese on the far side of Rome from our hotel.  Our guide Esther told us to take the #3 bus to Trastevere and get off near the end.  We had no trouble boarding the crowded bus, and rode through various lovely and unsavory neighborhoods for about an hour before arriving.  It was another good way to get a feel for the city.

The flea market (the largest in Italy) was massive, extending for at least 10-12 blocks of tightly packed stalls.  We were told you could buy anything you wanted there, and I believe you can.  Among all the clothing and shoes and books and house wares and pet supplies and curtains were booths specializing in fur coats, hosiery (below), paintings, jewelry of all kinds, purses, belts, and wedding gowns.

And then there was this particularly Italian booth!

The rest of our day was spent using the double-decker buses to get around town, this time finally making it to the Spanish Steps, a towering sweep of stairs near the heart of Rome’s shopping district, then enjoying our last outdoor meals and packing for the long flight home.  This photo  shows only the bottom third of the Spanish Steps.

Stay tuned to this site for a last post (or two?) sharing some things we’d never ever see in Connecticut but that just didn’t fit in our daily posts!

Ciao! -Ann

Getting around in Rome

One way to see all the major sights in the central portion of Rome is from the top of a double-decker bus, getting on and off as you please.  Several of us purchased 2-day tickets and headed out.

Among the places it stops is St. Peter’s Square at the Vatican.  Since we’d spent a great deal of time there previously, we didn’t get off the bus, but these photos show the interesting contrast between passing by on Saturday at noon and passing by on Sunday at noon.  The Sunday crowds are so huge that the bus is routed farther away, but I think you can appreciate the swarms of worshipers.


Two members of our group, Jerry and Linda, attended Mass and stayed for the papal blessing.  The pope stands at a balcony in quarters and blesses the crowd in 10 different languages.  For these Catholics, the experience was extremely moving.

We got off the bus and walked along the Tiber River, beautifully shaded by sycamores.

Across the river the Hall of Justice sits.  This building is an example of how commonplace ornate monumental structures are in Rome.  Something to dazzle wherever you look.

We followed a pedestrian trail suggested by my new travel guru, Rick Steves, visiting Piazza Navona and the Pantheon on our way to Trevi Fountain.  Mary and I both threw a coin over our left shoulders into the fountain, ensuring we will return to Rome.  Since the photos of us doing that are monstrously unflattering, here are photos of a bride and groom that were sharing the same experience.

What I learned today: you can find all kinds of interesting things to buy in Rome.  Here’s Marion and Linda with adorable tile clocks they picked up, and across the narrow alley from that shop is a woodworking shop with this very cool motocycle.


Mary left at 2:00 for a week in England while I stayed on with our group for another 48 hours.  She was a perfect traveling companion, sharing lots of wine, meals, experiences and laughter.  Below…she’s off!

Ciao! -Ann

Rome wasn’t built in a day

The group sponsored by WEU (Wilderness Experiences Unlimited of Southwick, MA) has finally made it to Rome, our last stop.  We are: in front, Laura and Annmarie; standing L to R, Vivien, Hazel, Debbie, Linda, Linda, Nancy, Marion, Linda, Jerry, Ann (me), Marilou, Elaine, Mary, Karen and Pauline.  The man with his back to us and the woman toward the right in red aren’t part of our select bunch, though I’m sure they wish they were.  Thirteen days on the road, and we’re all still happily talking to each other!

Our first stop in Rome is at the historic region of ancient Roman ruins, dating back to 800 b.c., whose most dramatic structure is the Colosseum where we started our tour.  Clearly a feat of engineering marvel, the Colosseum has always  impressed me by its sheer size and seating capacity, a place to attract and hold crowds.  But I never realized that the floor, originally a wooden surface covered by dirt, was in many ways like modern Broadway or Las Vegas stages: trapdoors opened and acts rose out of the tunnels running under it, or animals would be brought down off the stage through these openings. In the photo below they have build a wooden platform to the right to demonstrate how the labyrinth of tunnels had been covered, and the stage accessed from side arches or through the floor directly up.

Walking from the Colosseum to the Roman Forum we passed these panels that Mary and I found particularly interesting. In the upper left the small white dot in the middle of Italy shows Rome when first founded by Romulus and Remus.  Then each succeeding panel indicates in white the progressive growth of the Roman Empire up to its maximum, when it covered England, and most of southern Europe, northern Africa and the mid-East.











Our local guide, Giancarlo, then spent a few minutes with us at the Forum, describing the actions taking place there  from the mundane to the dramatic.  At one point he personally acted out portions of Shakespeare’s Julius Caesar, while  being sure to attempt rectify the misconception that Caesar was power-hungry.  According to Giancarlo, after Caesar was murdered it was revealed that his will stipulated that all his wealth to be divided among the poor of Rome, and he was buried there in the forum at a site that is still revered today, though ensuing rulers of Rome weren’t as eager to be generous.  This photo shows a mound above the site of Julius Caesar’s tomb, visited and decorated by tourists and the poor to this day.

Here is the point I want to make about touring Italy.  Honestly, you don’t know whom to believe!  Even though these local guides are tested before they are permitted to give us their spiel, sometimes the information is dubious.  For example, Giancarlo claimed that many gladiators were able to survive their battles and earn their freedom.  Today a different guide (on a bus) said that fewer than 2% survived.  The number of people at risk should Mt. Vesuvius erupt again is either 250 thousand or 700 thousand.  Considering that fabulous monumental structures were erected for lesser figures in history, should we believe that Julius Caesar is buried here under this lump of dirt?  I just don’t know.

We checked into our hotel, were taken out for a mediocre dinner and headed for bed.  Vatican city beckoned in the morning.

After two weeks in Italy it is easy to become somewhat jaded.  Paintings, sculptures, fountains, cathedrals, etc. are so ubiquitous, majestic, amazingly beautiful and inspiring throughout the country that,  even in the face of the world’s greatest masterpieces, you might think it difficult to be dazzled.  Well, the art at the Vatican didn’t fail to be stunningly fabulous.  What is a shame is that, among the sheer numbers of things to view, it is impossible to admire everything, and masterpieces are passed by without a glimpse because something even more lovely awaits a few feet further on.

Since I can’t begin to post photos of all the fine pieces we saw at the Vatican, let me just post one, which is a little bizarre.  This sculpture is apparently of a goddess that symbolizes fertility.  Her lower torso is decorated with wild animal heads (naturally.)  Her arms are extended outward in a welcoming manner.  And her 20 or so breasts represent her nurturing nature.  But wait!  According to our reliable expert guide  Giancarlo, those droopy things are not breasts, but rather bull testicles, an image of fertility.  Despite my veterinary training, I was unable to determine whether he was correct or not since palpation is forbidden.


While 4 hours touring the Vatican wasn’t enough exertion for many of our group, Mary and I, along with Linda B. and Marion were simply pooped and went back to the hotel, then out for lunch at a sidewalk cafe in the neighborhood.  Even when the menu is translated into English just after the Italian, interpretation isn’t always correct.  I ordered potato leek soup (scrumptious) and grilled cheese with mushrooms, a delicious sounding combination I’d never considered before. Instead of a sandwich, here’s a photo of what I got: a big chunk of cheese is fried on the grill like a pancake and then smothered in sauteed mushrooms.  It may not be  healthy, but this dish was simply “to die for” good.

After we’d finished off lunch with cappuccino and gelato, Mary toiled away on yesterday’s blog post while I read on our little balcony.  That evening many of us went to a restaurant that featured opera singers putting on a performance of many popular arias with a little shtick thrown in.  It was silly, but enjoyable.

Today I learned, after finding that sore feet and a sore knee make me one of the slower walkers among our group, that perhaps I wouldn’t be able to even keep up with that octogenarian mentioned in my first post!  Clearly now I realize that he’d be better off with 79 year old Vivien, who seems to have boundless energy!

Oh, here’s what Mary had for dessert at lunch yesterday. Lemon – yum!




Ciao! -Ann

Savoring Sorrento & Capri

Mary here today – Leaving Pompeii, we traveled along the rocky shoreline on a cliff side road which revealed the most amazing views of the Mediterranean around every bend.  Mt. Vesuvius stood out in the distance over shadowing the 700,000 inhabitants on its slopes and in surrounding towns.

Our destination was Sorrento, a lovely old town perched high above the water where the confusion of bustling traffic on very narrow roads and bends makes for an interesting ride!  The main event here was a day trip by boat to the island of Capri.  Minibuses took us from our Sorrento hotel down the winding road to the harbor to catch the ferry.

It was about forty minutes  to Capri and once we docked, we transferred to a motorboat for a guided tour of the famous grottoes and amazing rock formations.  The water was unbelievably clear but you could sense the danger of actually swimming into the grottoes without an experienced guide.









This is an island long known as a vacation retreat for the rich and famous – priceless villas, little streets and alleys with designer shops to match and a hotel where our guide promised we would “see famous stars sitting outside in the evenings.”  Well, we decided that with the crowds we saw (and it was still March), no famous person in their right mind would put themselves out there….






As we walked through tropical gardens looking down on amazing water views, we were told that the path you see way below was a favorite walk of Jacqueline Onassis when she vacationed here.

This is my last blog as Ann will do the entries from our next and final stop on this tour; Rome.  During these past two weeks of our tour, I have seen things and toured places I never thought I would experience.  For me personally, one of the most enlightening aspects of this trip has been my introduction into the world of those passionately involved with dogs.  We have probably taken pictures of no less than 200 dogs we have encountered in Italy – wherever we are, we are all looking out for the one to be photographed.   At any given moment, I catch snippets of conversations on the qualities of different dog foods, vet techniques and treatments, past difficult puppy deliveries, medications and supplements, up coming doggie events and shows, not to forget the stress of dog care on those left in charge at home. All of this has added a delightful element of entertainment so thank you – and you all know who you are!  Finally I must thank my friend Ann for her patience and help in learning how to blog – I’m still far from fluent in this but I hope to get better for the next trip!

Perugia to Pompeii

Mary here today – We were sure the weather gods would continue to smile on us but it was indeed foggy and rainy the day we were scheduled to visit Perugia.  The first iffy weather we have had since the start of our amazing tour.

Perugia is an ancient hilltop town occupied originally by the Etruscans who pre-dated the Romans in 400 BC.  From their hilltop outpost (see photo above), they looked across the Tiber River to the Umbrians on the mountain opposite who occupied what was the first settlement in Assisi.  Not a lot is said today about the Etruscan society but we learned that their claim to fame was, in fact, the invention of the arch – wow, what an effect that had on civilizations to follow!  Here is one of the original ones, still standing in old Perugia, looking down on today’s traffic hustle.  Ann’s favorite fountain is on the right and was the first one we had seen in all of Italy protected by a fence.  When Ann asked the guide why the iron fence was there at all, he told her that it was necessary to protect the fountain from graffiti artists in the Middle Ages!









Heading south on the Autostrade towards Naples, Pompeii and Sorrento, we had our longest coach trip to date; several hours from central Italy to the south.  Even though the topography changed, the outstanding impression one gets is of a country with a very rich agricultural base – everywhere you look there are fertile fields, verdant tracts of land, blossoming orchards, farmyards of chickens and herds of sheep and all this just a stone’s throw from the highway.  No wind turbines in view but acres devoted to solar panels instead.

Passing the Bay of Naples, we arrived at the ruins of Pompeii and met our local guide.  Touring this ancient town leveled by six feet of volcanic ash in AD 79 from the eruption of Mt. Vesuvius is truly an unique experience.  Here we are, walking on a 2,000+ year old road, where white marble chips were inserted between the stone slabs to act as ‘cat’s eyes’ to guide Pompeii’s residents in the dark.

Before long, we came across several sociable well-fed dogs who the guide told us have made the ruins their home after being abandoned by their original owners.  They are fed and cared for by the Pompeii Archaeological Society but can be adopted and shipped to new homes at Pompeii’s expense.  Very tempting of course, but I and my dog loving companions managed to resist (after some serious consideration!), as they did all seem happy and well adjusted.







Here we are, touring the Roman baths, a focal point of social life in every such Roman town.  Water for bathing came from the hills 60 miles away in aquaducts whereas water for washing was collected from the rains.  Skylights made sure that the baths were lit no matter what time of the day or position of the sun.

I can’t leave Pompeii without mentioning this man, caught by the volcanic ash and hoping his scarf will protect him from the toxic sulfuric fumes.  There are many such figures on display but many of the originals have been taken to the Naples historical museum to protect them from damage.

And finally, just because I know you have all been wondering, no, noodles were not invented by the Italians but rather were brought to Italy by Marco Polo from China – who would have guessed?

Ciao, Mary

Our Pilgrimage to Assisi

We left Florence at the relatively late hour of 9:00 (we’re often on the road by 7:45) to head a couple of hours south to the town of Assisi, famous for the birth, life and death of St. Francis, founder of 3 religious orders and a huge influence upon Catholics and non-Catholics alike.  While the cathedrals and basilicas we have visited  thus far were mostly built and funded by wealthy citizens hoping to butt ahead in the line to heaven by their good works, St. Francis’ philosophy was quite different.

Once a major wealthy playboy and partyer of the 12th century, St. Francis had an epiphany.  To properly follow Christ, be Christ-like: abandon all worldly goods and serve your brothers and sisters.  To St. Francis, all of God’s creatures are our brothers and sisters and our life’s mission must be to help them.

This statue of St. Francis is in an alcove off the cathedral in Assisi, also called the “new church” because it was built in the 1500s.   What you can’t tell from this photo is that the dove in his basket is alive, happily sitting there.  Our guide told us that at any given time there is always at least one dove there, sometimes two, and this has been true over the centuries despite the alcove being indoors, in a somewhat inaccessible location, and crowded with tourists.

After the visit to the cathedral, Mary and I performed our own daily ritual – we found a place to get cappuccino and a pastry!

We left the area of the new church and headed up the hill to the magnificent old city of Assisi, a place dating back to Roman times.  As it was a hazy day, you can’t really feel the impact as we approached the city.

A Jesuit met our group and gave us a brief lecture on the life of St. Francis, and what we would see when we toured the “old church”, the basilica built starting at the time of his canonization just 20 years after his death in the early 1200s.  As is true of every religious structure we have visited in Italy – I’ve lost count how many – the painters, sculptors and architects succeeded in their goals: to create an educational and inspirational space.

After we visited the basilica, we set about to visit the town, which dates back to at least the 5th century Roman times.  The town is cris-crossed with small paths, stairways and roads, all paved with stone or brick, leaving just beautiful intimate views.  Here are two, though my gallery of “picturesque alleys of Italy” is nauseatingly large.












At one of the highest points of the city are ruins that date back to Roman times.  There was significant damage to many structures in Assisi from an earthquake in 1997, so repairs are being made.  Note the fabric protecting the section to the right which is under repair.  It shows a photograph of how the structure should look when the work is done.  We saw this clever device in every city that had major repairs going on.

For the past week, everywhere we turn there is something new to find  intriguing or beautiful or hilarious or just plain fascinating.  Here is the lesson for the day:

Italians have square bottoms.  Of course you cannot tell that simply looking at an Italian, because NONE of them have visible posteriors.  But here is the proof that their fannies are square:

Also note the following interesting facts about bathrooms in Italy:  1. They almost always are stocked with paper.  2. Toilet seats are optional, appearing about 50% of the time.  3. Flushing mechanisms are so variable as to be elusive, ranging from typical flippers, to foot pedals, to buttons to push on the wall, to the spot you push on the tank above the toilet on the left to – my personal favorite – the public toilet in a mall which flushed about every 3 seconds continuously, giving you a slight pleasant misting in the process.

Enough for now! 

Ciao! – Ann

Fun in Florence

Mary – It’s my turn today and here we are in Florence, once again amid antiquity and charm, narrow streets where you have to watch carefully to avoid being flattened by speeding scooters, bicycles, cars and vans of all types.  An observation we’ve made in many places is that it’s often tricky to tell whether you are walking in a pedestrian only zone (sometimes cars drive by here too!) or on a thoroughfare for vehicles – “Is this really one way?”  Just when you think you’re untouchable, the sound of a bicycle bell or vehicle horn warns you to hurry to the side, often onto a ‘sidewalk’ only a few inches wide…..

There is an amazing amount to see here in this vibrant city.  Our local guide here took us through the Duomo where Brunelleschi stunned the world by being able to construct a dome over the transept which had been open to the elements for 25 years waiting for a bright spark to figure out how to come up with a roofing solution.  No, Ann and I did not climb the 450+ steps to the top of the Duomo, just in case you had bets on this!  Our guide showed us the high water mark where the local river Arno rose an astounding 9ft in 1966 and destroyed priceless works of art.  We walked by the Medici Palace and then to the Santa Croce where Michelangelo, Galileo, Dante, Machiavelli and others are buried or memorialized.

It is immediately obvious that Florentines really enjoy their city and are very proud of their heritage, the center where the Renaissance flowered and the Medici’s ‘reigned.’  The art museums are heavy into ‘Madonna con il Bambino’ but after a dose of all that, we headed for the Ponte Vecchio and then on to open air markets, quaint squares, even the local pet boutique which had a sign in the window announcing new styles for the 2011 season!   Manny – it’s all here….

“No, you can’t see what I have hidden underneath this blanket!”

I should also mention that our group was taken up to the Etruscan town of Fiesole for a delicious Tuscan dinner followed by a stop at a park overlooking Florence by night.  Here’s some of our group getting ready to enjoy! (Left to right Mary, Esther, Hazel, our fearless leader Laura, Debbie, Marilou, Linda, Linda again, Nancy, Linda yet again, and Marion.)

In finishing for today, let me say that it’s just beautiful here – a feast for every sense.  Ciao for now, Mary

Venice to Bologna to Florence

While Mary did an excellent job of describing Venice yesterday, I (Ann) just want to make it totally clear: we both LOVED this city and weren’t ready to leave.  Beautiful, exciting and just plain fun.

But, now on to Florence with a few hours delay to explore Bologna.  This ancient city, just northwest of the Apennines was largely destroyed in WWII, and our visit was brief. But here’s what I found most interesting.  Bologna is the seat of Europe’s oldest university, dating back to before the Battle of Hastings in 1066.  And before that, it was a region where young men gathered, chipped in and paid wise or talented men to teach them.  Eventually this system was replaced by the first university, whose two main subjects taught were medicine and law.

This photograph shows a reconstruction of the amphitheater where students were taught anatomy, in the near seats, and where the general public could pay a small entrance fee and get to watch dissections in seats further back along the side walls.  (Such fun!)  These dissections were only allowed to take place during the 2 months prior to lent partially for religious reasons (it is considered an impure season) and partially because the dead bodies kept better in the winter.

The professor, (the only person allowed to speak) would sit in the highest seat and describe what was being shown. The associate professor would sit in the seat below him and silently point out body parts with a stick.  The actual dissection would be done by a barber.

As with so much of Bologna, the original of this building was destroyed in the war and this was constructed from photographs of the original.

Another very interesting sighting in Bologna was the tradition of young men and women who graduate – whether from high school, or college, or even having just passed their last exams prior to an actual graduation ceremony – to wear laurel leaf crowns in celebration of their accomplishments.  These crowns are apparently accompanied by the enjoyment of lots of vino, as at least one young scholar hit the deck before our eyes.  Check out the cute shoes on the girl on the right!










I am afraid we have been somewhat lax in photographing the statuary in Italy thus far, though it can all be seen in books.  This is the main fountain in the piazza in Bologna.  Neptune is at the top, surrounded by literally dozens of figures.  To the right I’ve picked just one of many supporting figures to show more detail.










From Bologna we drove on to Florence.  About halfway along the 90 minute drive an accident shut down the autostrade, so our coach driver bravely hopped off onto back roads through gorgeous Tuscan countryside.  Despite some thrilling moments on hairpin turns, we all agreed it was a much nicer route into this most famous of renaissance cities.

Some more things I’ve learned:

The term “Ballot” as in voting comes from the word balls, because the Venetian representatives would vote by putting either a red or a blue ball into a receptacle, and the balls were then counted.

St. Bartholomew (one of the 12 disciples) was skinned alive, and is depicted in statuary and paintings as just muscles, bones and sinews with the skin draped around his body.  (Ew.)

There is such a thing as “blood oranges.”  These were served on the breakfast buffet in Como, and often orange juice served here is dark red in color.  They are sweet and delicious.  Here’s what they look like.

Ciao! -Ann

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