San Gimignano and Siena. 12/28/18

We are packed up and ready to go when the taxi comes to take us to the airport so we can pick up our rental car. We have rented 7 passenger Ford Galaxy that we can all, plus our luggage, fit in (but barely.) Our first stop is San Gimignano, the famous “tower” city. Encircled by 13th-century walls, the town centers on a square lined with medieval houses. It has a skyline of medieval towers giving it the nickname as the Manhattan of Italy. The Collegiate church of  San Gimignano is a 12th-century church with frescoes by Ghirlandaio.

Medieval houses
Sarah in the square
Ryan and Jon and towers
Collegiate church of San Gimignano

From the moment you step on the portico of the church there are fabulous frescoes such as this Annunciation.

Annunciation in portico, by Sebastiano Mainardi and dated 1482.

Inside the church is resplendent with frescoes, some by Ghirlandaio and most from the 14th century.

Overview of church
Left wall
Right wall
Back wall – the Seven Deadly sins

There are three tiers of fresco stories on the side walls. The top lunettes are creation stories, the middle register has. Old Testament stories,  and the bottom tier is New Testament. I have pictures of everything but I will just put a couple in.

Lunette- Creation of Eve
The Last Supper

Speaking of the last supper, it is past time for lunch and we eat at Antica  Marcellaria.

I have a delicious plate of tagliatelle with truffles, Ryan has pici with tomatoes, and Jon orders papardelle with rabbit ragu
Sarah, every adventurous, orders rabbit cacciatore while John has osso buco

We all take a look at the museum of the church, then Sarah goes to get gelato, Jon and Ryan climb a tower and find an interesting museum, and John and I take a leisurely stroll and find an overlook to take a picture of the beautiful Tuscan countryside.

Tuscan countryside as seen from the hill town of San Gimignano

We proceed to the car park and make our way to the garage outside of Siena where we will shed ourselves of the car and be driven to the hotel by the garage attendant. There are few cars allowed in Siena old town and we are right in the midst of it as our hotel is right across the street from the Baptistry.

View of the Baptistry from our room

Later we head to Siena’s campo for drinks and snacks under the outdoor warming lamps

Ryan, Jon and Sarah at Bar Il Campo
Mary and John

The Leaning Tower. 12/18/18

Amazingly we have never been to Pisa. For years we have heard, “Don’t go to Pisa. there is nothing there but the Leaning Tower.” Wrong. Not only is there the Leaning Tower but also a great Cathedral, Baptistry, and a fabulous museum. (Especially if you are into 13th and 14th century art.)

After assuring each other that we would not take silly pictures of ourselves with the Tower that is exactly what we do. It is such fun!

Walking into the Piazza Dei Miracoli in Pisa
Sarah supporting the Tower
Mary trying to straighten the Tower

So you totally do not feel like a fool doing this because everyone else is doing it too! And even though it is really difficult to capture in pictures how leaning the Tower is, it is really leaning. Amazingly so.

Definitely leaning
M and J with Tower
Selfie

The Tower has been leaning ever since it was completed in 1372. And they have kept trying to fix it ever since. It has an inadequate foundation in ground that is too soft on one side to support its weight. Through efforts in th 1990’s the tilt has been reduced from 5.5 degrees to about 4 degrees and the building has been stabilized. You can buy a ticket for 18Euro to climb to the top. We choose not to. Instead we buy the much cheaper ticket to see the Cathedral, Baptistry, and Camposanto.

We start our touring at the Cathedral. It is a beautiful building inside and out.

Front facade of the Pisa Cathedral
Interior

As we begin our exploration of the church we are struck by how few people are inside. Outside there are hundreds or more taking their silly selfies but in here maybe twenty? Good for us!

Over the altar is a mosaic of Christ Enthroned between the Virgin and St. John completed in 1320. The style is not quite as Byzantine as the mosaics in Monreale or Cefalu on Sicily. Sarah and I think it is nice that Jesus has a tummy in this mosaic.

Apsidal mosaic

There is also an early 14th century pulpit by Giovanni Pisano depicting episodes in the life of Christ.

Pisa Cathedral pulpit

To the left of the altar there is a Madonna and Child painting from the 1200’s attributed to Berlinghieri.

Madonna and Child by Berlinghieri, 13th century

Next we visit the Baptistry which is beautiful and ornate on the outside and rather austere inside. Most of the Baptistries are dedicated to St. John “the Baptist”, duh. The building was started in 1152 and completed in 1363. The shape of the building is reminiscent of a Pope’s hat.

Pisa Baptistry

Inside, as I said, it is pretty devoid of decoration. The baptismal font and statue are from 1246 and the pulpit completed in 1260. There are tombs in the floor. The chamber is said to be acoustically perfect. The info on it says that visitors go in and sing every day. Since there are just the three of us in here, there is no singing. Too bad Jonathan is not with us for this part of the trip, he could have beat boxed!

Interior of Pisa Baptistry

Lastly we visit the Camposanto Monumentale or Monumental Cemetary. It is walled in and said to have been built with a shipload of soil from Calvary. There are tombs in the pavement and various Roman artifacts. There is also an enormous fresco titled the Triumph of Death by Buffalmacco, 14th century.

Vision of Hell – looks pretty gruesome!
Judgement
John next to monument to Fibonacci
Mary touching something old

We have finished our visit to the Piazza dei Miracoli and drive over to the National Museum of St. Matthew. But first we must find some lunch! We walk around assuming we will find a restaurant. They are pretty few and far between. The first one we try is full. Finally we find a pizzeria and spaghetteria called La Tombola, which is an Italian game similar to Bingo.

Finding a good restaurant is often just a game of chance. We have happened upon a pizzeria which makes an odd form of pizza. I look up afterwards to see if there is a special type of Pisan pizza. There is not.

Odd pizza from La Tombola

After our strange pizza lunch we head over to the museum. Heading up to the second floor to our area of interest, we are gobsmacked by the extent of 13th and 14th century art. Usually there is like one thing from the 1200’s in a museum. Here there are rooms dedicated to the first half and second half of the 13th century. There is a whole room of crucifixes from the 1100 and 1200s. We should have come here first! Now we are tired and have only until 3:15PM on our parking ticket.

Here are only a few of the awesome works –

This interesting painting from the late 15th century was commissioned by an Italian family and painted by a Flemish artist. St. Catherine does not look at all Italian. She has the pale complexion and dress of Northern Europe.
In the predella below the St. Catherine painting and painted by some local Italian artist is the real way St. Catherine was killed- not on the wheel she always carries but by beheading.
Here is our old friend Masaccio painting St.Paul in 1426. You can see by the modeling of the figure that Masaccio is definitely leaning towards the Renaissance but the gold background and embossed halo are definitely Gothic.
This 1422 Madonna of Humility (sitting on the floor) who appears to be having a staring contest with Jesus is painted by Gentile da Fabriano in the flamboyant International Gothic style with its elongated and elegant figures.
Cannot pass up the opportunity to take a picture of St. Anthony The Abbot with his little devil-pig
These figures of Christ with the Virgin Mary and John the Baptist along with Saints Catherine and Sylvester are from the mid-1200s. There is nothing Renaissance about them. They are on gold backgrounds with Byzantine faces, elongated boneless hands, and ornate folding of their garments.
Room with 13th and 14th century crucifixes
13th century crucifix with imagined musculature

It has been a big day for us and once again none of us wants to eat dinner. John and I catch up on news on CNN International and BBC World. Tomorrow we should be almost over jet lag ( I hope)!

The Funeral Crashers. 12/15/18

I am a planner. I think our vacations work out better if I have a plan and we try to accomplish the agenda. But sometimes unintended events happen.

Today we are visiting the Church of St. Andrew and the Church of St. Juvenal in the morning. We have saved St. Juvenal for our last church visit. It is the oldest church in Orvieto and covered in early frescoes.

It is really cold out this morning, in the low 30’s with a stiff wind. It has been years since we have experienced this much cold. Tears are actually streaming down my face. We are relieved as we step inside the Church of St. Andrew. St. Andrew was an apostle and the brother of St. Peter.

The Church was built in the 12th century and has an unusual 10-sided bell tower.

John and Sarah in front of the Church of St. Andrew, Orvieto

Inside you can see the stunning rose window featuring St. Andrew carrying his X-shaped cross or saltire. Traditionally it is said that St. Andrew requested an alternate cross to be martyred on since he was unworthy to die in the same manner as Jesus.

Rose window featuring St. Andrew

The church has a statue of St. Andrew and fragments of old frescoes.

St. Andrew with saltire
Damaged fresco of St. Julian explaining to his wife that he had accidentally killed his mother and father.   St. Julian, “See, somebody told me that my dad was sleeping with a harlot. So I rushed in and stabbed them both. My bad, it turns out it was my mom. But, no worries, I will become a Saint anyway!” Wife, “Okay then.”

Before I leave the subject of St. Andrew’s Church, here is one of the best ever pictures of Sarah in a church taken at St. Andrew’s,  April, 2016.  It is very Annunciation-ish.

Our final church visit is at Chiesa di San Giovenale or St. Juvenal. He was the first bishop of Narni in Umbria during the 4th century. There are conflicting reports of whether he was a martyr or merely a confessor. His legend suggests that he saved Narni from  invaders by calling down a divine thunderstorm. He was removed from the Catholic Calendar in 1969.

Even though St. Juvenal is no longer a major saint he has a pretty wonderful church in Orivieto.   It is said to have been built in 1004 on an Etruscan temple dedicated to Jupiter and we are eager to see it again. 

We barge in through a side door and an entire congregation turns and looks at us. Uh oh we think, there must be a mass going on. We quickly move to some seats. The service continues.  This is when we notice a casket. Oh no! We have crashed a funeral!

We cannot leave or look around at the art or take pictures. So we respectfully sit and stand with the rest of the group. We offer the sign of peace to our neighboring parishioners. Luckily there have been some other late arrivals to take the glares off of us. But we know they are thinking, who are those people? Where did our departed meet them? Boy, is he tall for an Italian!

When people start rustling around for communion we make a break for the back door under the icy stares of the undertakers whose open hearse is waiting right in front of the church.  I wish we had walked around and not used the side entrance.

Hearse at St. Juvenal’s

I can only tell you that the church looked lovely inside. We had not seen it with all the lights on. The 12th and 13th century frescoes were glowing. And to the mourners, we are truly sorry to have crashed your funeral and hope you forgive us.

We hurry away before anyone can accost us, retrieve our car, and make the drive to have lunch in the countryside near Todi at the Roccafiore resort and restaurant. So much of this trip so far has been a walk down memory lane.  In 2016 Sarah discovered this wine that she liked on a trip we took and she wanted to go to the winery.  We discovered that they had a restaurant and we had a great lunch there and now we are going again.  Lunch at the very un-rustic Roccafiore Restaurant – 

Bread service and amuse bouche
First courses – Mary, scallop with pumpkin cream and black ink tulles, Sarah- Salumi plate with lardo, John – Cacio e pepe scrambled pasta

Seconds, Mary – Octopus with mashed potatoes and pickled ginger (?), Sarah – underdone paccheri with shrimp, John – beef cheeks

So lunch was good but not as good as we remember the first time. We did get to buy two bottles of their Fiorfiore grecchetto which is pretty yummy. I wonder if there will be any left by the time Ryan and Jon get here next weekend.

We drive the hour back to the Hotel Duomo and it is definitely time for our coma-like siesta. We will meet again for dinner. 

Although the idea of bundling up and facing the frigid evening temperatures to go somewhere for a light dinner is challenging we decide to brave the elements and go in search of munchies.  Not too far away is Pippo’s run by the jolly Signor Pippo.  We cannot tell whether we are too early or too late because we are the only patrons. John cavalierly tells Signor Pippo to give us whatever he thinks is best on the antipasto menu.  Here is what a light dinner looked like.

Salumi, porchetta, and cheese platter with bread, tapenade, artichoke, and chopped liver bruschetti, and a jug of sangiovese

Needless to say, even with our best efforts we had a lot leftover. We pass up dessert.

Tomorrow we are off for five nights in Lucca. I am looking forward to unpacking, doing some laundry, and not budging for almost a week. Along with sightseeing in Lucca we will be visiting Prato, Pistoia, Pisa, and whatever else I come across while planning things to do.