Archive for the “Vacation” Category

Our last day of our big European Adventure was in Milan. Just an over nighter – but we did get a taste of the city. Our day there also coincided with the first day of fashion week. As you all know, I’m in no way a fashionista – but it was fun none the less to see all the hoopla surrounding this huge event that brings in the best of the high end designers and models. As we were walking around looking for our last chance marzipan and gelato we happened upon a fashion show that was about to start. True to form they were late in getting going, but that gave me a chance to check out what was going on.

 

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The woman above was chatting up the people sitting in the front row of the reserved seating for this fashion week opener. I have no idea who she was. I’m sure the fashion police know!
Since they were slow getting started that gave me the opportunity to catch some of the models being made up – kind of fun to see, and more fun to shoot.  For my camera buddies – all the model and fashion shots were done with no flash and at ISO 2500 or higher. Speaking of the camera – as I was standing outside the tented area along side other photogs there was quite a bit of camera envy going on. Obviously they didn’t know me (and why should they?!) but they all definitely took long hard looks at my camera. One in particular kept looking almost every chance he got. Yup – I had a LONG lens on (28-300) zoomed to practically 300, and I was shooting. Before the trip, with previous reports of camera theft we had changed out my camera strap to something quite plain and reinforced. So it was plain black – no Nikon D700 emblazoned on it for easy identification. Of course with all the gawking at my gear I took a closer look at what this guy was shooting with. A Nikon D200 —- a good camera, I had one years ago – but definitely not something that can handle low light situations that were happening under that tent! Yup – camera envy! 

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Fun images above of a “behind the scenes” of a fashion show.

As I mentioned earlier we were on a quest for our last gelato and marzipan. It turns out that marzipan is a specialty found only in Sicily – something I didn’t find out until leaving there. A quick Google search revealed there was one place where we might score my last fix – and that was in Milan. A family from Sicily had set up shop there in 1914 making marzipan in all the wonderful fruit shapes and more. The good news is – we found the place, Freni Pasticceria Siciliana! I got my marzipan fix and some to bring home.

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Marzipan – fruit shapes and more! Totally amazing artistry.

Of course we followed the marzipan with some wonderfully smooth gelato –

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Milan is a relatively new city by comparison with the other cities of Italy. It was bombed heavily in WWII. So most of the building have been built since that war. No ruins to speak of like in Rome.

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… it’s to to show off where we were staying. Our time in Tuscany was spent at the Siena House B&B. It is a most beautiful and peaceful place – exactly what I needed after all the time in the cities. Located on the top of a hill there are amazing views in all directions.

Our host and hostess Malvin and Amanda are wonderful gracious people. Amanda is a fantastic artist. There are many of her pieces on the walls to enjoy. Dog friends – she also has two wonderful German Shepherds – and yes, she trains them and is active in schutzhund! Her dogs are working dogs – strong and agile. Malvin made incredible breakfasts for us while we were there. He uses the best and freshest ingredients, including from the huge garden. Breads were amazing – tender and light. The scrambled eggs and smoked salmon was outstanding as well. Through out our stay he also gave us a fantastic “cheat sheet” with latitude and longitude coordinates to all of the places we went. The list was complete with the best parking locations as well. Thank you Malvin and Amanda for a fantastic stay.

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above – some outside and some breakfasts – the last one is Siena House

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above – the shared common area
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above – our room

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Today was a big day for wine. We went to Il Palazzone in Montalcino for a private tour of the vineyards and a tasting of marvelous Brunello wine. What a treat to walk not only their vineyards but also the olive grove with hundreds of beautiful trees. Laura Gray and her husband Marco Sassetti gave us a tour that went through the vineyards, olive groves and the soon to open wine production facility that even now looks like it will be truly amazing. The tour of the estate was terrific especially with Laura explaining how and why they did things in the vineyard as well as the olive orchard. Everything is done by hand with the extra time taken to do things the right way rather than the ultra modern mechanized way. Believe me the extra effort and time honored practices come through in both their wine and their olive oil.

The vineyard is unique in many ways, including the fact that it is owned by Richard Parsons, the current chairman of Citigroup who for the most part allow Marco and Laura great latitude to make decisions as to what’s best long term to be improving the quality of the wine irrespective of yearly profit. At the same time, Richard does take an active interest in the winemaking process as discussed at the winery’s web site.

Below some of their vineyards overlooking the valley and a bottle of their 2005 Il Palazzone Brunello.

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Below Laura and her husband Marco in the tasting room. And Charlie and I under our personally selected olive tree that we will be adopting (see Club 100 description).

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Charlie and I are most grateful to Laura and Marco to take time to show us the vineyard, participate in tasting wine and oil, and in general have a great visit. We look forward to tasting the wine and olive oil we purchased in the years ahead back home in California.

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Today we started out with another amazing breakfast the the Siena House B&B prepared by our wonderful host Malvin. He is a master of bread – oh so good.

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After breakfast we headed out to Perugia to check out the town and it’s buildings and it’s underground city. It was nice and also very easy to get lost. Enter the iPad – our walking navigation master. Under threat of downpour we managed to find the car in the nick of time. Of course the rain did not stop us in getting to our next stop. A suggestion from Malvin sent us to our next destination – lunch! Ristorante Siro where we had the most incredible antipasto for two. A huge platter of meats, cheeses, veggies, melons, olives, salad, hot Sicilian style rolled sandwiches, egg dishes, and more. Absolutely amazing.

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After lunch the rain was coming down in buckets. We almost decided to skip the next stop, Assisi. But, we decided to make the drive and then turn around if the rain did not clear. I’m glad we did, because as we got there the rain let up and stopped. While the little shops in Assisi are basically all kitch with ticky tacky religious items the town is very charming and seems to be the quintessential old European town. No graffiti, few if any cars, trucks, and scooters. Practically all the small streets are photo ops because of the lack of all the modern things you find in the other cities.

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(check out the size of those meringue cookies on the right!)

The basilica is also very nice while it is covered inside with frescos it lacks the ostentatious ornateness that we’ve seen in all of the other churches and basilicas. Of course it’s a no photos allowed inside. I didn’t see any signs (and I’m quite careful about that) and as I was bumping my ISO to some ungodly number I heard a guard almost holler over to me “No Camera!” Sigh. Strange though – further in a lot of people with the little point and shoots were managing to sneak a few photos before the photo police stopped them.

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So – my reward for following the rules begins here first with a little background. We’ve named our GPS Fred. Fred is always telling us  turn left, turn right and shows the path on the screen. The path is always right, but sometimes his right and lefts seem to get mixed up. So – we climb in the car and put in the coordinates to get us back to the B&B. Fred analyzes the route, sorts through over 4,000 possible routes and picks one. How he decides exactly which one to use we have yet to determine. Sometimes Fred opts for the fast auto strata route, other times it’s more “scenic”. Today though there may have been a little divine intervention. First he takes us on a road which is fine and we see this – I holler “God Beams” and boom there’s even a place to pull over which in itself is a miracle.

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The above photo is straight out of the camera.
So we continue on the route, the road is basically a fairly major road, well paved, wide, etc. Fred suddenly says “TURN LEFT”, so we do – on to a narrow not well paved road. We joke about where Fred is taking us now, it is some sort of short cut or what?! Looks like it could be a short cut, then as we round the bend we see this…
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Again – the photo above is straight out of the camera.
Yup – it’s the reward for keeping my camera from taking pictures in the Basilica of St Francis.  So, that is the story of Fred and the God Beams.

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Here we are, just chillin’ out and getting a breather from the hustle and bustle of the cities. It is Sunday and we head off to Siena. Siena is a beautiful old town in wine country. They’ve got the churches like all the other towns and cities that are the center piece of the towns with almost every church having a “town square” of sorts in front. The thing that captured me the most is the beautiful countryside.

The morning started out with a beautiful sunrise that had me hopping out of bed for the camera.

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Taken on our walk before a wonderful breakfast.

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A gelato (ubersmooth rich icecream) shop in Siena – those mounds are different flavors of gelato.

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One of the many shops in Siena with fruit, pasta and wine.

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On the was to Castellina from Siena.  Enjoy!

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We are Torrita di Siena,  It’s a time to sit, relax and enjoy the scenery. Of course we will be checking out some of the towns, the wine and food.

Here are some photos of the marvelous B&B where we are staying.

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As we were sitting and sipping wine, we made friends with the most adorable little kitten. Think I can fit him in my carry on luggage?

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A wine time sunset ……

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Since today is a travel day, yup we’re on the move again, I thought it was a good time to show off the wonderful apartment we had in Rome. The apartment is huge – living room,  fully appointed kitchen stocked with anything you could want – including a full pantry, a large bedroom, bathroom, and huge close perfect for luggage and keeping all your stuff organized. The ceiling is brick throughout and it’s a treat to look at and try to find the oldest date stamp!

When we arrived, the apartment owner, Alessandra, met us at our car and took us to the apartment. Located a couple blocks from the Vatican, it is in a building that was previously a convent.  A huge door, and I mean HUGE opens into a common courtyard. The apartment is on the first floor so there’s not a lot of stairs. After hiking all over Sicily this is a piece of cake. Alexandra showed us the apartment and sat down with us to tell us about the area. some history of the building and places to check out. Of course we asked her where the best gelato was and the best pizza, etc. I can’t forget to mention the wonderful welcome basket full of fantastic food and cookies – and yes we actually were too tired to go out for dinner one night and cooked in – with the basket of goodies and the full pantry dinner was a snap. Note – restaurants in Italy don’t open for dinner until 8 pm!

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Above – the huge front door, then looking into the common courtyard.

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The entry, dining and living room – and the brick ceiling that is throughout the entire apartment.

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The dining area, kitchen and bathroom.

 

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Shower and bedroom.

 

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Closet area – so much room!!

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Another day to check off the “must see/do” list – The Coliseum! But not just going to The Coliseum, we did something a little different. We took a tour of the Coliseum underground. This is actually below the level of what was the arena floor. In the photo below the smooth  area in front of the wood railing is where the arena floor existed. This should give on a little more perspective on the photo below it.

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This photo shows the labyrinth of hallways and holding areas that were below the arena. You can see the reconstructed floor at the top of the inner area.

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Going into the area below was fascinating. There were channels where they brought water in to flood the arena so they could have small boats as part of the exhibitions. There were many areas with holding cells for the animals (lions, bears, etc). In the floor were circular areas where posts of winches had stood. They used those to raise the cages with the animals such as lions to the arena floor. Check out that stone work on the left – huge blocks angled to fit and support. To the right some of the arches in the mazes below where the arena floor was.

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The Roman Ruins are in the middle of Rome – duh! It makes it extremely difficult to get photos without the accompanying current day accoutrements. Of course there is a crush of people, not as bad as the Vatican though. But that’s me too, so I can’t complain.
Looking at all of the ancient buildings it is apparent that they’ve gone through many “lives”. The earliest uses not associated with the Catholic church and then those after. It seems that the popes of the early years were conquerors themselves. Even The Coliseum has a cross on it.

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When in Rome – see the Vatican. We took a tour under the Vatican, a necropolis both pagan and Christian. Quite a bit of history of course, secret symbols and signs. Very interesting tour with only 12 people. It was in an area of no photography allowed, as were some other areas we went to. I did take photos when I could.

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There are probably thousands of statues and carvings in the Vatican museum – room after room, row upon row. While looking at the statues was an experience of the arts, the crowds were not. It was shoulder to shoulder, pushing and shoving. I’m not big into crowds and after awhile I really wanted to start stomping on everyone else’s feet. Not my cup of tea. Sculptures were beautiful – people not so.

Every sculpture and carving has a story to tell if you get a chance to look at it long enough before the shoving mass moves you on.

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I of course had to get some photos of the animals. Some looked as if they could break through the stone and walk away. There were many of lions and lion hunts as well as lions hunting. That seems to be a common thread I’ve seen before. There must have been a lot of lions imported! Check out the lion on the right – the colors in the marble are amazing.

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As usual,  the dogs captured my camera as they always do. The one of the left looks very much like one I photographed in the British Museum, I’ll have to go back and check that one out again.

 

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The colors in the chapels are amazingly vivid and everything is covered with the paintings – the ceilings are unbelievable, but the leave me to wonder if they can be truly appreciated as the detail of the paintings and carvings way way up there are lost to the naked eye. 

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By the time we got through the museum and the Sistine Chapel (a no photography allowed area) we felt like this sculpture!

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September 14 (a little late posting) Was the day of ruins. After spending the night at the hotel across the street from the Pompeii ruins we headed over to see Pompeii as soon as they opened. The gate we went in was on the end where the coliseum is, and few people use that gate, basically making our explorations seem like we practically had the place to ourselves. It was pretty amazing seeing things that are in the books and being right there basically on top of everything. Again – like the museum in London there were no ropes in most of Pompeii allowing us to roam where we pleased.
In August of 79AD Mt Vesuvius erupted for three days covering Pompeii in volcanic ash about 6 meters deep.

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Looking down one of the many streets in Pompeii. Looking through several structures. In the background of both is a quiet Mt. Vesuvius.

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Most of the homes have a peristilium, or an inner courtyard surrounded by columns on to which other rooms of the house opened.

 

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We found several frescoes in Pompeii – although not as many as I thought we would. When we found them it was a bit of an unexpected treat. There were many “kitchens” that we found with the urns and counters with built in urns for cooking and food storage.

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Above is the fresco in the thermopolium and next to it the serving counter. A sort of Pompeii restaurant.

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Some of the Pompeii sights. The closer we got to the center of Pompeii more and more people were filling the streets. I got the typical shots everyone gets with all the people in them. Well – can’t always have the place to ourselves!

After Pompeii we headed to Herculaneum. This is another town that was destroyed by Vesuvius’s eruption.  While Pompeii was covered with ash, Herculaneum was destroyed by boiling mud  at temperatures around 400 degrees from the volcano.  We found Herculaneum to have more to see. Frescos were more than just pleasant surprises, they were everywhere as well as mosaics on the walls and also the floors. Again – we had practically unlimited access and there were very few people there.
While Pompeii is a got to see it thing, Herculaneum is a definite not to be missed place to go.

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Part of Hurculaneum from above.

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Two of the many kitchens there. Those urns are pretty darned deep – bet they had really long ladles!

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One of the many frescos on the left. On the right intricate mosaics. Yup – I had to put one up with a dog in it!

After here it was on to Rome.

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