Sunday, November 27, 2005

11.22.05 Art & Chris in Italy

Today is Tuesday, November 22, 2005 and the wind is howling outside our window. The weather has turned quite cold in the past two days since we said a tearful goodbye to Art & Chris on Saturday night. Their flight left very early in the morning on Sunday and they had arranged for a car to take them to the airport at 4am. We spent a few lovely days in Rome with them before their departure, visiting the Coliseum, the Roman Forum, Palatine Hill and Trajan's market, and that was just the first day! Bob and I tend to squeeze in as much as we can in a day and we worried that we were trying to fit too many things into their days. We were just so intent on making sure they saw the "important" sights and they tried to reassure us that they were having a good time but we know that on first flush Rome can be overwhelming. There is the battle I have talked about earlier, of wanting to just sit and drink wine or cappuccino and watch the world go by and seeing and doing everything you can and you have to try to obtain a good balance between the two. We aren't always successful at it! So, in the 3 days we spent in Rome, we took them to St. Peter's and the Vatican museum one of the days. What we like to do is get in line early, around 7am since the Vatican museum does not take reservations and the lines can be quite long - even in November which really surprised us - so that we can go right through the large museum, into the Sistine Chapel with Michelangelo's beautiful ceiling before the tours arrive and we have room to move around. Then we backtrack and see the other parts of the museum at our leisure. Unbelievably, the crowds were so unexpectedly large and the staff re-routed people so that we could not go back where we started but had to follow the path everyone else was going which meant we were right in the thick of all the tours and at one point could barely move through the rooms. Of course we felt personally responsible for this unpleasant predicament and regretted the decision to not see things as we went along, exiting at the end of the Sistine. Oh well. Not much we could do at that point but grin and bear it but we had hoped to carry off this tour guide role smoothly and show our friends what savvy, experienced travelers we are and I was certain that this was not the impression they took away from this morning!

At any rate, I suppose I should begin at the beginning. We took the train to Rome on November 2 to meet Art & Chris at the airport. Their flight was scheduled to arrive at 5:35pm and we decided to get there earlier in the day and do a few things before meeting their plane. One of these things was to go to the studio of Enrico Benaglia, whose work we admired at an exhibition here in Perugia in August. We had met the artist who invited us to visit him at his studio in Rome and we wanted to be sure to do this before we left Umbria. What a lovely man! He lives in a wonderful old palazzo, which surrounds a courtyard garden that I recognized from his paintings. We rang his bell and he popped his head out of the window and waved us in. His son, a university student (who knew of and uses the Greek dictionary that Sergio's father had written!) was there to help with translations, which was very nice. Walking through this courtyard into Signore Benaglia's studio full of the props he uses in his paintings and looking out his window was like stepping into one of his paintings. We purchased one of his serigraphs, which should now be on its way to Jessica for safekeeping until our return to the states. He was kind enough to look through my journal at some of my watercolors and was very complimentary. He encouraged me to keep painting and to try doing people, which I have always shied away from (if you are reading Terri, you will probably say "I told you so.") I was flattered and hoped he meant it. He said my paintings were "fresh" and I appreciated that comment and took it to heart.

Elated, we wandered around Rome for a while and then took the train to the airport to meet our friends. How wonderful it was to see their smiling faces again and there were big hugs all around in greeting. Their flight arrived late, too late for us to catch the train or bus back to Perugia so we decided to hire a car to drive us back, which cost as much as staying in a hotel for one night and taking the train home the next day. We were glad we made this decision and they were able to sleep in and have a leisurely next day in Perugia. They seemed to enjoy this city of ours, where Art, a professional photographer, found many subjects to aim his camera at and we had a lot of fun here. We have fallen in love with the city of Perugia as we have written about many times so it was gratifying to see that our dear friends enjoyed it too and agreed that we had made a good choice in coming here. For the next two days we did not leave Perugia. We had dinners or lunches in some of our favorite restaurants or cooked and ate at home. Chris enjoyed the shops and we showed them all of our favorite places. The weather could not have been better and it was even nice enough to sit in the garden, drinking wine and enjoying the view. We were happy as clams.

We spent a few days in Florence and had a great (convenient & inexpensive) hotel (Hotel Olimpia) right in the Piazza della Republica, near Orsanmichele with a view of the top of the Duomo and the bell tower. In the evening there was music in the piazza, like the woman who sang Ave Maria one night and a band playing traditional Italian songs and even a carousel. Having learned our lesson when our kids were with us, we made reservations in advance at the Uffizi and the Galleria dell'Academia and was able to show them The David and all the amazing paintings and sculptures in both of these spectacular museums in Firenze. They enjoyed the street performers who appear like statues, not moving until some generous person drops a coin in their jar and they show their gratitude. There is so much to photograph, it must have been a feast for Art, as it always is for Bob and I. The weather could not have been better and the crowds much less than they were just one month ago. I don't think they enjoyed the traffic in this bustling city but after a while Firenze grew on them and I believe they liked it better than they expected to. We made sure they saw and walked on the Ponte Vecchio, Florence's most famous bridge and ate gelato in all the good places. We had a recommendation for dinner at a place called Quattro Leone in Oltarno, which turned out to be terrific and inexpensive and another called Dino's which was good but a bit pricey and a further walk than we had expected. Every time we go to Firenze it tugs at our hearts. We love this beautiful city and we're glad that we have had many opportunities to go back and walk its streets, soaking in its lovely Renaissance charm and warm colors. Our timing was not always best, arriving too late for the market in San Lorenzo and missing the sunset on the Arno but all in all it was a fun few days and I know that Chris had a good time shopping for her beautiful red leather purse and window shopping all the interesting shops there. On our last morning we found our way up to the Piazzale Michelangelo for one of the most spectacular views over the Arno and the city, a wonderful way to end our little sojourn there.

It was our plan to drive back through Tuscany and the Chianti region. Stopping in San Gimignano, one of the highlights of the trip was this beautiful city with its 14 towers and golden stones; on to Siena and its lovely red bricks; to tiny Rada and Greve in Chianti, where we spent the night and wandered its charming main street. We wanted them to see the beautiful vineyards of Tuscany and they were truly amazing, now turning red and gold, climbing up the hillsides and down in a blaze of autumn color.

We took some day trips in the car, to beautiful Assisi, Corciano, Torgiano (enjoying a light dinner at our favorite restaurant there, Il Cacciatore, which, if you ever go to this tiny town not far from Perugia, you must try) and Deruta where they found the perfect lamp for their dining room. The Nulli brothers have the most beautiful shop on the main stretch there in Deruta and Rolando even gave us a demonstration of how he throws pottery on the wheel! This was one of our rainy days and we ran from the car with umbrellas, looking at several other factory shops, but finding this one to be the best. (It is one of the places recommended in Jessica's Lonely Planet guidebook of Tuscany and Umbria and we can see why.) We spent another day in Orvieto, one of our favorite cities. It has some really terrific little shops and I bought a handmade plate with a Pinocchio image on it that I have liked and admired each time we go there. We went to the Cascata delle Marmore, the Roman waterfall near Terni, stopping at the Abbazia di San Pietro in Valle where a sweet and gentle woman, Theresa, showed us around and allowed us to take her photograph and we promised to send her a copy, which we have already done. Our friends Len and Leslie (she, British born and he from Atlanta, Georgia - they have lived and worked in London all their married life so that Len has a sort of hybrid Georgia/British accent which is impossible to place but quite charming we think) invited us all to dinner at their apartment. We hoped that Art & Chris would be comfortable with these plans, but as Len and Leslie were returning to England and not coming back to Perugia before our scheduled departure it was our only chance to see them again for a while. They are very gracious hosts and the meal was delicious, conversation flowing with the wine.

One morning we walked over to one of our favorite places, Il Tempio Michele Arcangelo, the circular 5th century church and the nearby Torre Sant'Angelo with its incredible views and interesting Museum of the City Walls. We stopped at another favorite little place, Il Tempio, a small enoteca (wine shop) that carries "prodotti tipici" - typical Umbrian products and where you can sample local wines and cheeses in the little room upstairs. The man who owns it is friendly and welcoming and he is always delighted to be able to offer you samples of his products for a very small fee. He put before us a little feast of different types of cheeses and salamis (we weren't so sure about the one made from the head of a pig but we all tried to be gracious and tasted it anyway) and we sampled a few different kinds of wines including a terrific desert wine that everyone agreed was the best they had tasted.

We took them to another of our favorite places, the textile mill in the former church, Guiditta Brozzetti, Tessuti Umbri Battuti a Mano, (Umbrian linens made by hand) where they make linens on ancient looms from antique patterns. The young woman who owns it is the great-granddaughter of the woman who started this company after the death of her husband in order to support herself and her family. Marta is a beautiful young woman with short dark hair and the biggest eyes and she told us that she is the first in this lineage of women who have run this business to be a weaver. Her love for this company and the work that they do is so evident in her demeanor and in her attitude that it was a joy to purchase a few of these delicate pieces of Umbrian art.

We sat at the tables both inside and outside Sandri, the famous coffee bar/bakery on Corso Vannucci, walked down to San Domenico and San Pietro through the neighborhood called "Borgo Bello" and into the Orto Botanico. We walked along the Acquadotto (the Aqueduct). We peaked in to see the Roman mosaic in one of the University buildings. We went into the Cattedrale San Lorenzo and the Sala di Notari, stopping at the Fontana between the two to admire the details of Pisano's sculptures. We proudly (as if we had something to do with it!) showed them the Perugino frescoes in the Collegio di Cambio that we think are the finest example of Perugino's work in Perugia. (Pietro Vannucci was known as Perugino because he was from this area.) We drank a lot of wine/beer, ate a lot of gelato, talked and laughed a lot and simply enjoyed being together again.

We have met so many nice people since we've been in Perugia. Another couple, Janet and Steven, also from Great Britain (you might remember my telling you about them - they brought me a copy of the Edwardian lady's watercolor journal), invited us to join them and their friends at an olive oil festival on Isola Polvese, one of the islands in Lago Trasimeno and we agreed to meet. The day got away from us and we ended up arriving at our meeting place later than originally planned and then the ferries, which were supposed to run every 45 minutes did not and unfortunately by the time we arrived on the island, most of the festivities were over! I felt terrible about it but at least we rode the ferry out on the lake, the highlight being all the pretty kites flying over the boat by the little children on board and that was simply delightful to watch. When we arrived, we scrambled to receive a slice of freshly toasted Umbrian bread, rubbed with garlic and drizzled with the first press of their newly made olive oil and sprinkled with salt, which was simply delicious, along with a small glass of wine and we wandered around the island for a bit.

We wanted to take Art & Chris on a little drive around the lake and ended up getting lost, taking a wrong turn outside Tuoro and ending up in a densely wooded area with no opportunities to turn around and go back. It grew dark and we were getting quite hungry. When we finally realized where we were, it was not far from Cortona so we drove to this beautiful town, just across the border into Tuscany, and walked around there, finding a place to have dinner and relax a bit after the tense drive. Cortona is the city made famous by the book "Under the Tuscan Sun" and the loosely translated movie of the same name. In spite of all its fame, it is still one of the most beautiful cities we have visited and it looked lovely at night with all its lights twinkling. We have always enjoyed these cities in the rain and this was no exception. We walked around carrying our umbrellas, looking for a good place to have some dinner and stopped at a little place off the main square. Bob and I did not always hide our annoyance with each other during these drive times, which I am sure was not the most pleasant for our friends in the back seat trying to ignore us! My sense of direction and my navigation skills leave a lot to be desired and of course I think Bob is too impatient and doesn't slow down enough for me to read the signs so you can imagine what it's like when we get lost! Not to mention the previous comment about wanting to appear so savvy and experienced as if we knew exactly where we were going at every minute and as if we knew all of Italy like the back of our hands, which of course we don't!! Not to mention that the twisting and turning roads made our friends a bit queasy! Gracious and understanding always, they did not say anything to make us feel bad but we were mortified at getting lost and worst still, at getting so upset with each other!

The important thing was that we were together again and we felt so honored that they wanted to come and see us. We hope we did not overdo it but of course we know we did. We hope they forgive us for our "bickering" and that they saw, in spite of all that, that we are having a wonderful time here. It is often challenging to travel just the two of us, compromising on what we want to do and making decisions about where to go and how to get there, and it's more complicated when there are four of you to please. We hope they went home with good memories of their first trip to Italy and that perhaps they saw places they will want to return to again, for a closer look. Italy, for us, is a place that deserves more than just a passing glance. We know that we have hardly scratched the surface. And now our time in Umbria is at an end. We have had so many incredible experiences and yet there is much we have not seen. We have been fortunate to be able to return more than once to some of our favorite places and grateful for these last few weeks, which for them was a first look and for us, another Farewell Tour. We hope it was as good for them as it was for us. We will miss them!

Ci vediamo, Arturo e Cristina,
Rosemary e Roberto

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