Bob's Travels

On this page:

Dolomites, Part II October 10, 2016
Burano October 9, 2016
Dolomites, Part I October 7, 2016
Venice September 28, 2016
Tuscany September 25, 2016
Siena September 24, 2016

Dolomites, Part II

From Rifugio Averau we descended past Cinque Torre and traversed up and down across the top of Val Cerna, where we continued to have views of Cinque Torre. We descended to Rifugio Fedare and climbed over three passes.  The last pass, Forcella Giau gave us a view down into the Mondeval de Sora basin where a 7,500 year old burial site of a Mesolithic hunter has been found. The basin took the form of a broad green curve between high points.  After a packed lunch among the white boulders high in the basin, we continued to traverse the Mondeval de Sora under the peak of Lastoi de Formin. We crossed the Ambrizolla pass under the the isolated Beca de Mezondi peak. After crossing more passes with great views of distant mountains, including the pyramid shaped Antelo, we descended to Rifugio Città di Fiume, located underneath the Pelmo mountain massif,  where we spent the night.  This Rifugio was small and very rustic but was full of trekkers.  The room shared by the men in my group had low rafters that we had to bend under and the shower had to be repaired after over use.

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It rained over night, and it was wet and grey when we started the next morning. We hiked below Pelmo (also known and the Throne of the Gods).  We traversed around the northwestern side of the Pelmo and descended a short distance to Rifugio P'so Staulanza.  We then descended a short distance down an asphalt road and turned on a dirt country road and walked to Malga Vescova,a dairy farm with a very rustic restaurant. For lunch, I had fried cheese with polenta and french fries.  It was simple and delicious. The farm wife serving us was delightful.  She did not speak a word of English, but she smiled and laughed constantly with us as we tried to place our orders.  As we paid our bills, I tried my broken Italian which in this case worked.  I tipped her and she smiled delightfully.  As we were leaving, she showed us the room where they made cheese.

During lunch, the weather had changed from cloudy and hazy to bright and crystalline clear.  We climbed steeply from behind the farmhouse, and at the top of the ridge, we had beautiful views of mountains in all directions, including a clear, dramatic view of Pelmo. We hiked through lush green meadows. We hiked up a valley to Cra di Pioda, where we began a very rocky and steep climb. I felt strong and climbed ahead of the others.  It felt like a cool, bright autumn day and the scenery was spectacular. As I approached the Rifugio a Sonino al Coldai, just below the Coldai pass, the Civetta towered above and Pelmo behind me, both among the ten tallest mountains in the Dolomites. Again, at this high rifugio there were great views, including to Antelao far to the east.

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The next morning, we climbed from the rifugio a short distance over Coldai pass. The light was clear and glowing and there were views from the pass in all directions. On the other side of the pass, we hiked around Lake Coldai and traversed for several miles around the bottom of Civetta. For lunch, we climbed steeply to Refugio Tissi, which was high on a ridge with great views in all directions. At the summit of the ridge, we were on top of a cliff with a 1,500 foot drop to Lago de Alleghe and the town of Alleghe far below.  After lunch, we hiked back down to the Alta Via l in the Val Civetta. We continued on the trail around Civetta and descended through the forest to Rifugio Vazzoler located under the high walls of Cima Della Busazza. We had descended 3,000 fee and my bruised knee hurt, and after days of hiking, my legs were tired.  I was glad to reach this nice Rifugio in the forest.

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On September 7, we descended some from Rifugio Vazzoler and traversed around the Moiassa Sud massif and crossed over the Col D'Ors pass. As we climbed, we could see back to the towers of Civetta. From there we traversed and climbed more through dwarf pines, followed by a dense Larch forest, to Rifugio Bruto Carestiato where I had a lunch of a wonderful local specialty, beet ravioli, on the sunny deck where we enjoyed more great views. When you hike for days, you get urges for things you normally don't desire.  I wasn't sure whether I wanted a Coca Cola or a beer, so I had both.  By this point, calories just didn't matter.  From there, we descended through the forest to Duran pass and Rifugio Duran where we had plenty of time to rest, shower, and wash clothes, which was good, since I was increasingly tired by the end of the day.  We were the only trekkers staying at this rifugio. San Sebastiano peak rose high above us on the other side of the pass, and we could see Pelmo in the distance.

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The following day from Passo Duran we descended on the paved road until we turned onto a path and climbed and traversed around Tamer mountain. We climbed for some time to a final pass where there were more beautiful views and the ruins of a World War I era building.  We descended through Larch forests to our lunch stop at a small dairy farm, named Malga Pramper, where we had a good lunch out in the sun with great cheese. From there, we descended through the forest to the town of Forno de Zolda and the Hotel Titian.  This was a real town with a church, shops, a pharmacy, and restaurants. After the rustic rifugio, the hotel was luxurious.  The bathroom my roommate and I shared was beautiful and larger that some of the bedrooms in the rifugios. We enjoyed the luxury and the nice hotel bar and went to a gourmet restaurant for dinner.

The next day we rode back to Venice to spend a day and a half before our flights home.  In nine days trekking on the Alta Via I, we hiked over 63 miles and climbed almost 20,000 feet in elevation gain.  This had been a wonderful extended hike through uniquely sculptured scenery and with very hospitable lodgings and people.

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Burano

After the Dolomites, we had a day and a half to spend in Venice.  On the last afternoon, a number of us took a boat ride to the islands of Murano and Burano.  At Murano we visited a glass company where we had a glass blowing demonstration, and we visited the gallery displaying the high-end, glass art.  On to Burano, I skipped the lace making demonstrated and toured the uniquely pretty town.  Multiple canals crossed the town and all the buildings were painted with bright colors.

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Dolomites, Part I

In Venice, I had to wake up the hotel clerk to check me out. It was Sunday, August 29 and I was to meet my Colorado group at Marco Polo Airport. I got to the hotel office before 7:00 am, and the door to the office was locked, so I knocked on the office door. I heard someone moving and eventually a clerk I hadn't met opened the door.  There was a cot in the room and he looked still asleep as he let me in the office.

"I need to check out", I said.

"I thought you were checking out in the morning," he said.

"It is morning."

So he checked me out of the hotel.  I walked through San Marco plaza which is particularly lovely early in the morning.  There were few people and many pigeons. I walked out to the waterfront and bought a ticket for a boat ride to the airport. It was a long ride in the relatively open waters of the Laguna Veneta stopping at Murano Island and at the Lido resort before the fast ride to the airport.

I had already met with our leader Denise and her husband the previous night, and had a seafood dinner with them before the Vivaldi concert.  In the morning, I met them first at the airport and then the others when their plane arrived.  We loaded up in a couple of vans and started the trip to the Dolomites. From Venice, we had a lovely ride from Venice to Dobbiaco, crossing a river gorge over a high bridge and driving through busy resort town, Cortina. The rugged mountains grew around us as we traveled.  We checked in to a lovely Tyrolean hotel in the small town and took a ride by train and bus to a park area with a lake.  The next day we took train and bus to the Sexten Dolomites park for a training hike. We did not go as far a originally planned because of forecasts for thunderstorms in the afternoon. We climbed steeply through the forest to places where we had a view of the dramatic mountains around us.

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On Tuesday, August 30, we started our ten day trek on the Alta Via 1. We used public transportation to get to the Lago di Braies. Around the lake, ragged clouds hung across the surrounding mountains. From the lake, we climbed steeply up the dolomite wall and crossed a ravine, high on a flattened log bridge. We hiked up the ravine into a high mountain basin below shining cliffs. We climbed out of the basin steeply to a place where I pulled myself up by holding onto metal cables.  On top, we ascended through a narrow canyon and then descended through a very rock area to our first Rifugio, named Biella. The small lodge was very rustic with interesting Tyrolean carvings and photographs, and it was full of trekkers. There, I had a lunch of pasta with a crème and mushroom sauce. From the lunch stop, we followed a road and then a rough trail through a rocky landscape with very green grass. We descended to Rifugio Federa Vedla, located below a massive mountain, where we spent the night.

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The next morning, from Rifugio Vedla, we hiked steeply down a road to Ucia Pederu, a low spot and lodge where buses brought people to hike.  From there, we hiked steeply up to a rifugio where we had lunch and on to Rifugio Fanes were we stayed. My roommate Rick and I climbed to a high spot above the rifugio where we had a 360 degree view of the dolomite mountains all around us, including Sasso della Croce, Sasso della Nove, Sasso della Dieci with its dinosaur fin, and the Lavinores. I took pictures of scenery and flowers and spent time sitting in the grass.

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On Thursday, we climbed from Rifugio Fanes to the high point with a cross where Rick and I had been the previous afternoon. We walked by beautiful small lake, Lago di Limo and next through a lovely green valley towards the twisted peak, Cime Campostrin, which looked a bit like Uncompahgre Peak in Colorado. In the distance,  we could see Mormalada, with its glacier and at 10, 989 feet, the tallest peak in the Dolomites.

From the valley we climbed steadily to a Forcella di Lech pass between Cimo Lago and Puntedi Fanes. On the rugged pass, we could see the trail descend steeply to a ledge where it disappeared over the edge.  Below the ledge the trail descended steeply down tight switch backs, and we had to be careful with our footing, but the trail was good and we descended towards a lovely lake where we ate our packed lunches next to the ruins of a World War I building. From the lake, we started up gradually over very rocky terrain.

Soon we started to climb steeply towards the next rifugio above us on the summit of Mount Lagazuoi. I felt very good and climbed ahead of the others. As I climbed, I passed the remnants of World War I fortifications. I passed an old shack built into the rocks which served as officer quarters. I went into one tunnel where there was a slot for a sharpshooter and an opening for a machine gun.  In another tunnel there was still a machine gun. The Austrian troops fired down on the attacking Italian troops from these fortifications.

They are still finding the bodies of soldiers in the Dolomites.  Thousands died in avalanches, some actually triggered by the enemy.  Soldiers rolled boulders down on the opposing troops from above.  In the winter, frost bite and exposure was a threat and food supplies were not reliable.  Tunneling under the enemy became the preferred, if ineffective, strategy, and both sides dug deep into the mountains creating galleries for troops, guns and artillery. It was an unusual alpine campaign and one of the most horrible fronts of the Great War.

We climbed a short way above the Rifugio to the 9,300 foot top of the mountain where there were magnificent views in all directions of the broken, white, pink and grey Dolomites.  When we went back to the high, Rifugio Lagazuoi, I drank a large beer on the deck in front of the endless scenery, high above the valley below, and with my beer, I ate a very nice strudel with gorgeous whip cream.  What a spectacular day!

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On Friday, August 2, we climbed down from Lagazuoi, the high point on the Alta Via I.  We passed the fortifications and hiked through a rugged valley with a chaotic scattering of stones.  In that valley, we found ruins from the Great War and explored among the caves, stone walls and ruined buildings.

We hiked on under the high cliffs of Tofana De Rozes and climbed a broken trail above the Alta Via towards the cliffs above us. Near the top, we climbed through loose rock, and at the top, we crouched to enter a dark cave entrance and found a carved gallery with a number of openings allowing daylight to enter the space. This was Galleria del Castelletio, excavated during World War I with side rooms for personnel, a privy and openings for machine guns and cannons. There was still an old cannon in the opening at the far end of the gallery.  We imagined bringing artillery up the steep and treacherous climb we had just completed.  Apparently, they brought the steel cannons up in pieces.  I was particularly concerned about the descent back through the loose scree.  Denise, a thoroughly accomplished mountain climber,  gave me some helpful tips.

"Put your foot down more gently before you put weight on it."

We made it safely back down to the Alta Via and continued around Tofana De Rozes and down to Rifugio Pomedes, where for lunch I had a purple blueberry pasta with cheese and bacon. We next descended steeply on a trail through the Larch forest. At the bottom, we crossed the road to Cortina and began to climb steeply. We hiked through forest until we reached a large dolomite tower, rising as a monumental rectangle two hundred feet into the air. We hiked under the rock which was the primary massif of Cinque Torre a rock formation with five towers.  We continued to climbed first through lush pastureland where we passed a herd of sheep. Then, we climbed more steeply through rocky terrain to Rifugio Averau at Forcella Nuvolau pass, where we would spend two nights. Again, there were spectacular views from the Rifugio.

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Venice

I saw the grandeur of Florence.  Florence changed the world and created the greatest acceleration in the arts and science in human history.  There is profound order in that city.  Venice can't claim any of those superlatives.  Florence is tied to the hard work and productive lands of Tuscany.  Venice is tied to the sea and to foreign lands. In Venice there is more decadence and decay, but Venice is glorious with its special and unique beauty. Venice presents itself with a broad flourish.

They work to keep cars out of the old, central part in Florence, but in the early morning especially, there are delivery vans, taxis and cars in old Florence. Venice is made up of many islands separated by numerous canals with boat traffic and occasional pedestrian bridges.  There are no wheeled vehicles in Venice. It is a grand place to walk.

I took a taxi to the train station in Siena and regional rail to Florence.  From Florence, I took a fast train to the Santa Lucia train station in Venice.  On the train there were many tunnels with glimpses of rugged forests in northern Tuscany followed by the flat Veneto plain. It reminded me of old Tidewater in Virginia, except here there were scattered Italian buildings. Later, there were sharp hills jutting from the plain before it was flat again. I had time to think on this train ride. I saw this trip as an entry to a new life.  When I returned to the States, I would no longer be an executive, no longer a department director, and no longer responsible for so much.  I wasn't ready before.  Now I had fully separated myself from that old life. Thank you Tuscany; I'm ready now.

I arrived in Venice at the Santa Lucia station which is located on the Grand Canal, the main street of Venice. I found a vaporetta (a boat bus) that would take me to San Marco plaza where my hotel was located. I ended up on one of the faster routes which did not go on the Grand Canal but instead went around on the much wider Canale delle Giudecca. The San Marco Plaza is an enormous piazza and it was full of people. My hotel was in a small building on the densely packed and heavily visited Calle Larga San Marco next to the great Piazza. The plaza is anchored by the Campanile, the Basilica San Marco and the Doge's Palace.  The Doge was the ruler of Venice, elected by the aristocratic families of the city.  In the palace, I was most impressed by the Sala del Maggior Consiglio (the Hall of the Great Council) with its enormous paintings by Tintoretto, Veronese, and others. I went through the Bridge of Sighs to the prison, the route prisoners took when convicted in the palace. I admired history and art in the Museo Correr and the Accademia.  I was in the Accademia in the evening and was practically by myself. The focus of the Accademia tended to be 16th century art and particularly the art of Tintoretto. I was amazed throughout the city by the Gothic architecture with an oriental flair.

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The community mythos says that Venice was founded by Romans fleeing from Attila the Hun in the fifth century.  They escaped to the many small, swampy islands in what is now the Laguna Veneta.  In medieval times, Venice became the great trading city of the world and the premiere naval power of the Adriatic and Eastern Mediterranean. Eventually, fill operations created more land and long wooden poles were driven into the substrate to create foundations for buildings.

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The next morning, I walked by the enormous Santa Maris della Salute Cathedral to Punta della Dogana, the scenic point on the south side of the entrance to the Grand Canal.  The morning view over the water to various parts of the city was wonderful.  Then I had a cappuccino and pastry waiting in the lovely piazza Campo San Barnaba for the Ca’ Rezzonico to open.  The Ca’ Rezzonico is a large, opulent and decadent palace from the baroque era.  I experienced the gilded rooms, antique china and art in that palace.  After that, I mostly walked the narrow streets, bridges and many piazzas of the various districts of Venice. Back in the neighborhoods, where the local people lived, there were gems to be found.

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When we returned to Venice from the Dolomites, we rode on a slow vaporetta down the length of the Grand Canal, viewing the beautiful old buildings on this main thoroughfare.  The boat traffic in the canal was heavy. Continuing to walk around the old city, I enjoyed a meal of clams and pasta in a restaurant with a back outdoor area under a beautiful green arbor.  Our group had a dinner on the Campo Santo Stefano.  San Marco was the large civic and ceremonial piazza of Venice.  However, some of my favorite piazzas in Italy were the smaller, more intimate, neighborhood piazzas in Venice.  Many of these piazzas contain a cistern/well which collects rainwater, since in this tidaI environment, fresh water was difficult to find.  I enjoyed the Campo Santa Margherita in the Dorsodura district. Walking through a neighborhood inhabited by local residents, I came upon the Campo Bandiera E Moro which was full of children playing.  But my favorite Piazza was the Campo Santo Stefano. Like many of the best Venetian piazzas, it had a shady area with trees, some grand buildings, outdoor cafes and a statue. Like the other neighborhood pizzas, Santo Stefano provided an intimate, comfortable place to relax or have a meal. Santo Stefano is a linear piazza, comfortably narrow and but with a changing experience as one walked its length.  On one end was the Chiesa San Vidal, a grand old church which now serves as a concert hall.  In this hall, I heard Vivaldi.  It was one of the peak experiences of my time in Venice.

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The Baroque Composer Vivaldi was born, lived, composed and performed in Venice. In San Vidal, among the beautiful sculpture and paintings, I heard Vivaldi intensely and vigorously performed by Interpreti Veneziani.  They played the Four Seasons and a Cello Concerto by Vivaldi.  The interpretation was interesting and dramatic. The Cello player performed the Concerto with great brio and expression. It fit well with intense beauty of Venice.

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Tuscany

On August 25, I toured Tuscany.  I had asked the Alma Domus people to set me up with an all day tour that would take me around the countryside and to some hilltop towns. So my guide, whose name was Francesco, picked me up in the lobby of my hotel in Siena. I was the first customer and Francesco told me I would be the only person until we picked up a couple in San Gimignano.  So we headed towards that town.  Francesco told me about the area and we stopped for an initial view of the town with its walls and towers. San Gimignano is a UNESCO World Heritage site, and is another medieval town frozen in time by the plague of 1348.  San Gimignano prospered because it was located on pilgrim trail from Canterbury to Rome, but later the trail was moved away. Francesco let me tour the medieval town on my own for a couple of hours and then we picked up the young couple. It turned out they were on their honeymoon, he was from Toronto and she from the Netherlands.  Like most people I have met from the Netherlands, she spoke perfect English with an American accent. They lived in London.

I met more than one international couple on my trip.  Waiting to climb the Duomo in Florence, I spoke with a young couple, she from Turin Italy and he from the Netherlands.  They both spoke perfect English.  I asked if he spoke Italian or if she spoke Dutch.  Neither spoke the other's native language, so they conducted their relationship in English.  I saw this as an interesting sign of an increasingly global culture.

Driving around the countryside, we had pleasant conversations.  Francesco told us about the local culture, agriculture and history.  Like many other non-Americans on this trip, the couple had to ask me about the upcoming American presidential election, but they were very polite about it. We talked about popular music and Francesco told us that he listened to Nirvana when he was young.

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After San Gimignano, we stopped at the Torciano winery for a wine tasting in a lovely flowered arbor attached to the rural winery.  After a lesson from a woman of the family on how to taste wine, we tried five wines while we munched antipasto. They gave us some nice lasagna for our lunch. I liked the Vernaccia white and the Chianti.  The high-priced, full bodied Brunella excited the others who actually knew something about wine. Needless to say, we were feeling pretty good when we resumed our tour.

We next stopped at Monteriggioni, a medieval hilltop settlement which looked more like a garrison than a town with its high walls.  In fact, the city of Siena used this fortress for the protection of its outlying areas. Like the other hilltop villages we visited, it had great views of the surrounding countryside.

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We next stopped at another winery known for its Brunello.  On the way, we stopped for the newlyweds to take pictures in a field of head-tall sunflowers. After we went into the winery and looked at some of the traditional equipment and talked about the rural culture, we sat at a long table to taste wine with another tour group of mostly British people.  By coincidence, the group included a couple from Wales who I had met and conversed with at the restaurant the evening before in Siena. I have found the British tend to let go and have fun on their holidays.  So our wine tasting turned into quite a party with a great deal of joking and laughter. When the newlyweds left the table for a moment, I told everyone they were on their honeymoon.

After the couple came back, the word was out. We were all surprised when the paterfamilias of the vineyards came to our table and began talking to the newlyweds.  He hugged the bride and gave a speech in Italian, with our guide translating, telling the couple the importance of being faithful and loving to each other.  He hugged and kissed the bride again and hugged the groom.  He then turned music on and danced with the bride. The whole group laughed and applauded and had a great time.    The bride was slightly embarrassed but hopefully, it was an experience they will never forget. At the end, the family brought us a shot glass of grappa, a liquor made from the remains of the wine making process. Following the lead of the family, we toasted the couple, counted down from five, and down the hatch.

Our last stop on the tour was to another ancient, hilltop town Montalcino.  Montalcino is in the Val d’Orcia, and area that has been designated as another UNESCO World Heritage site. This is an area of wide-open, classic Tuscan landscapes portrayed in much art from the paintings of the Renaissance to contemporary photography.  It had been a grand day in medieval towns, wineries, and sunlit rural landscapes.

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Siena

On Tuesday, August 23, I moved myself and my belongs south from Florence to Siena on a bus.  I knew the Florence bus station was tucked away somewhere near the train station, but I couldn't find it.  "Dove autostatione?," I asked several people. I got answers I couldn't understand.  Finally, a man took me a block to the bus station.  It was a nice bus ride through Tuscany.  The rolling hills, farmlands and villages flowed by me.  On several hills in the distance, there were ancient towns, with walls and towers. After I disembarked at the bus station in Siena, I couldn't find my hotel.  I walked the wrong way showing people the written address to ask directions without much success.  Finally, I found the hotel down a small, ancient side street. It was the Alma Domus Hotel which was a modern hotel in an old brick convent building still owned by the convent. From my room there was a wonderful view of the Siena Duomo on the hill above me.

Siena is full of brick buildings and has a particularly medieval feel.  The city thrived before 1348 when it was struck particularly hard by the black plague. Two centuries later, Florence conquered Siena and permitted no further development.  So in many ways, much of Siena is a city preserved in time. The great cathedral in Siena is a fully Gothic cathedral and is particularly spectacular. The front facade is fully elaborated with sculptures, and the rest of the building is striped with dark marble, but the cathedral was never fully finished.  There is a tall unfinished facade for the unfinished nave. I climbed the facade and was given a sweeping view of the city from the top. The Siena Duomo may be my favorite in terms of its interior, which was dark with black and white stripes. There is a beautiful bronze statue of John the Baptist by Donatello and a number of fine paintings. The Piccolomini Library is particularly striking with a brightly painted ceiling and a series of colorful and exquisite frescos by Pinturicchio.

I visited the flowing Piazza del Campo, the great civic space of Siena which is anchored by the Palazzo Pubblico with its tall clock tower. This is a fine space, but people were concentrated in the shady portion. There was a woman playing the tsymbaly in the Piazza and at another time near the Duomo.  The tsymbaly is a musical instrument similar to a hammer dulcimer.  I enjoyed the music and bought a CD from her. I finished the day eat dinner outside, near my hotel with a beautiful view of the Duomo on the hill, glowing in the evening sunlight.  I had a fine dinner, including Tuscan steak.

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