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.
From the moment you step on the portico of the church there are fabulous frescoes such as this Annunciation.
Inside the church is resplendent with frescoes, some by Ghirlandaio and most from the 14th century.
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.
Speaking of the last supper, it is past time for lunch and we eat at Antica Marcellaria.
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.
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.
Later we head to Siena’s campo for drinks and snacks under the outdoor warming lamps
Orvieto is an excellent example of an Italian hill town being built on the flat top of a volcanic plug with almost vertical sides which are topped by defensive walls. People have lived here since Etruscan times and the name Orivieto comes from the Latin meaning “ancient city.” At the highest point is Orvieto Cathedral whose first stone was laid in 1290.
When you are in the town the cathedral is almost hidden to you as you walk along narrow, cobbled streets which makes its reveal even more spectacular. It is a gem set in a large piazza. Having taken a look from the outside last night, today we explore the interior.
Although most of the walls are stripped of their original frescoes there are some still at least partially saved. Here is a beautiful Madonna by Gentile da Fabriano who was active in the early 1400’s.
You have to use your imagination to see this huge space covered with all these brightly colored frescoes. On the other side of the church another fresco erupts from the wall almost completely intact.
In fact at one time there were so many frescoes that the artists started laying one on top of the other!
Up at the altar the frescoes are basically intact and have a cohesive theme, the Life of the Virgin by Ugolino.
The last chapel we visit is the New Chapel. It was frescoed by Fra Angelico and later by Luca Signorelli. There is a stark contrast between the two styles. Signorelli’s figures are full of movement and vigor plus they are mostly naked which is kind of strange in a church.
There is another chapel, the Corporal, dedicated to the Miracle of Bolsena and the reason this cathedral was built. It seems that a priest was carrying a consecrated host wrapped in a white cloth. As he was doing this he was having an inner struggle about the existence of God within the host. This doubting caused the host to weep blood and stain the cloth. The cloth is now displayed in a beautiful chapel in the cathedral. Last time we were here you could go in but now it is restricted to praying people and no pictures are allowed. Luckily I have saved a few from our first visit in 2016.
Our combination ticket allows us access to the Museum of the Cathedral where older or less loved pieces of art are displayed for the few who want to see them. Today we are apparently the only people so inclined since they have forgotten to man the desk or turn on the lights. Sarah runs back to the main entrance to get someone to help us. The admissions lady comes up the long staircase and claps her hands sharply to make the lights come on. It is a surreal scene of infomercial meets ancient art!
We are left entirely alone in this museum. I am very good and manage to squelch my impulse to touch something really old. John manages to set off an alarm by leaning in too close but no one comes running. It is raining and cold and there is a giant outdoor staircase to climb to come and admonish us so they give us a pass. Here are some art pieces we enjoy.
We have covered a lot of ground this morning. Time for lunch! We have lunch at La Pergola, a restaurant that was recommended to us the last time we were here. No other diners are here when we come in at 12:45. By 1:15 every table is full. This happened at lunch in Viterbo as well. I guess only tourist rubes do not realize that the proper time for lunch is at 1 PM. Duly noted.
By the end of lunch we can barely keep our eyes open. Hello, jet lag! We decide to take a siesta and venture out again later in the afternoon. We all sleep deeply not even moving until alarms jangle us awake.
We visit the Church of St. Dominic which is a weird church older than the 13th century cathedral. In the mid 20th century the government wanted to build a girls’ school so they cut off the whole nave and left only the transept. Then they reoriented the direction of the church. The whole thing seems out of whack. We go outside and do a little exploring. You can see where the whole back of the church has been cut off and bricked over. The girls’ school has morphed into a museum of finance. It seems like a desecration.
The streets are pretty lively with shoppers and workmen putting up Christmas decorations. Don’t they know that Christmas officially starts the day after a Halloween!! It’s December 14th! All that hyped up retail activity missed! Sights along the streets –
We decide to try out a nearby wine bar for dinner and we end up having a wonderful meal.
This dinner of humble ingredients is so good that it is hard to not let out little “yums” as we eat. Amazing! Away from the big tourist centers there is so much fabulous food!
Well, here it is 4:30 AM and I have been up since 3AM. John has been up even longer. The third night is usually the worst from our experience and now sleep should start to improve. Damn you, jet lag!!!
The best remedy for jet lag is simply time. I have tried taking melatonin, eating meals at the right time of day, taking walks in the sunshine, and all the other old wives’ tales’ remedies to cure the hazy brain and the wakefulness in the middle of the night. Time works the best. An hour adjustment a day is about all your body can handle. Living on the West Coast means we have to adjust nine hours worth. If you can do it in a week my hat is off to you. We took a nap today around 5 PM because it was impossible to stay vertical any longer. I am not ashamed to admit it.
Leaving Ostia this morning for Viterbo around 9AM put us in a lot of heavy traffic going towards Rome. On top of that our Google maps’ GPS took us over a mountain instead of some straight-forward way. Conversation in the car, Sarah,“Did you see that white stuff? Do you think it’s snow? Me, “Can’t be. Must be some powder that spilled.” John, “Could be. The temperature is only 3 Celsius.” All Californians in the car gasp. It was snow.
When we get to Viterbo we find the cathedral by driving through a pedestrian zone, a tried and true Pilat method for avoiding traffic and collecting tickets in Italy. John is very gallant and offers to drop Sarah and me off and go find a parking space. We wonder if we will ever see him again.
We have unfinished business at the cathedral. The last time we were here we could not go in due to an armed forces celebration. While we wait for John to join us Sarah and I peruse the art in the cathedral. The two most notable pieces of art are a painting by Gerolamo of Cremona and a 12th century Madonna and Child. Any existing work of art from before the 14th century is pretty exciting since many are devoid of the stylized Byzantine look that is prevalent in 14th and early 15th century paintings.
John final returns from parking the car. He looks pretty frozen since it is really cold out especially with a stiff wind. After he looks around a bit we hurry to the Church of Santa Maria Nuova that John has found on his walk from the car. Usually churches are closed between noon and three for the holy lunchtime and we just make it in before the doors lock. Due to the time crunch, I just hurry around snapping pictures willy-nilly so that now I have to work to figure out what is what.
The interior has many early frescoes.
This last one is an amateur art sleuth’s delight. Everyone in the fresco is holding or near to their attributes which makes them easily identifiable. On the left John the Baptist is wearing his hair shirt and pointing to a scroll, St. Jerome in the center appears as a hermit with rocks to beat himself with, a lion, and a red cardinal’s hat, and St. Lawrence on the right holds a martyr’s palm frond with the grill that he was burnt on at his feet.
The Church is closing and we are hungry so it is time for us to head to Buongiorno Napoli, a pizzeria in Viterbo. It is our third visit. The lunch special, pizza and a small beer is up to 7 euros this year but it is still a great deal.
After this we head to Orte where once again we navigate through twisty and narrow streets, find that the museum we want to see is closed, and get blocked in to our parking space by a truck while taking a quick look at the cathedral, all of whose artwork has been replaced by some neo-classical garbage. Alas, you can’t win them all.
We are soooooo tired and decide to give up on the sightseeing for today and check into our uninspired hotel, The Hotel Duomo, in Orvieto. We are met by a very brusque hotel manager and whisked into our rooms.
We grant ourselves an hour or so worth of napping and meet again at 6PM in hopes of seeing the Duomo lit up at night.
It is a dark and stormy night and really cold and raining. We walk over to the church and take some pictures of it and ourselves, visit a grocery store to buy tissues and water, and then head back to the hotel where Mr. Brusque serves us some cheese and chips with wine. We really do not need anything else for dinner.
Remember way back in the beginning of this post I mentioned that you can only manage but not beat jet lag? I went to sleep at 9:30PM, woke up at 12:30 AM, and have now spent 2 1/2 hours writing this post. I hope to take a nap around 3AM and sleep until 7 AM but I am not holding out any great hopes. Oh, and John just woke up too!
On 12/11 we started our long anticipated trip to Italy for my 70th birthday. Sarah is with us and Jonathan and Ryan will join us on 12/22. I say long anticipated because if you want good seats using frequent flyer miles you have to start 330 days in advance. So I booked these tickets January 18, 2018.
Travel always involves hitches of one sort or another. While we congratulated each other for having a flight that left in the late afternoon and avoided the dreaded fog, we forgot that the plane taking us to Rome was supposed to arrive in the morning. So that plane gets diverted to Las Vegas and we are delayed enough to miss our connecting flight from London to Rome. British Airways handled the situation well and, Pilats, we handled it the best we could.
After securing our rental car we drive the 12 miles to a local airport hotel in Ostia and crash. Funny thing about booking a hotel in Europe is that you are never actually sure of what it will be like. For instance, I booked a single room for Sarah and a double room for us. This is what we got, two rooms!
Breakfast is always an adventure too. Since none of us slept past around 4 AM we were the early birds at breakfast. Maybe in Germany when they say breakfast at 7AM, it is there and ready to go. In Italy it is more of a process that starts at 7AM. But we find more than enough to eat. They even have scrambled eggs! Mostly though it is heavy on sweets and meat.
Today we are off to Viterbo and Orte before landing in Orvieto for the next three nights. We have an unfortunate rainy day. Here’s a picture from the wet balcony of the hotel in Ostia looking out over the Tyrrhenian Sea. More later.