Wednesday, 7 June 2017

Milan

Our last day in Italy was spent in Milan visiting 4 very impressive sites.
We started at the Cathedral which is the 4th largest in the world and took nearly 6 centuries to complete. Built in the Gothic style, it was started in 1386 and the main spire was topped with a statue of the Madonna in 1762.
 This is a copy that sits behind the alter.

There are still some uncarved blocks of stone waiting to be carved into statues.
It was built to hold 40,000 worshipers and has 52 hundred foot tall sequoia size pillars representing the weeks of the year.


The La Scala Opera House opened in 1778 as a replacement for an earlier house destroyed by fire. It is the world's most prestigious opera house. We visited the museum and had a peek  into the theater catching a glimpse of the huge bohemian crystal chandelier.



I'm sure nearly everyone has seen a copy of the Last Supper by  Leonardo da Vinci. We can now say we have seen the original, painted on the refractory wall in the Church of Santa Maria Del Grazia.



Our final stop was the courtyard of the Sforza Castle which was built in the late 1300s as a military fortress. We didn't go inside which now houses several museums one of which contains Michelangelo unfinished Pieta Rondanini. We satisfied ourselves with seeing a picture.


We walked more than 10,000 steps again today and tonight we will enjoy our farewell dinner together. Then time to pack up our bags and get ready to fly home tomorrow. Like all good things trips must come to an end and I think it is fair to say that we are all ready to come home, see our friends and family and sleep in our own beds.

Tuesday, 6 June 2017

Como

Our hotel is about an hour away from the beautiful lake district of Italy, very close to the border with Switzerland.  Today we went to Lake Como where we enjoyed a private cruise on the lake. 

We had been warned that there was a high probability of rain today so we all went with our rain jackets and umbrellas.  When we arrived in Como the sun was shining but the threat of rain still loomed so we carried our rain gear with us, thinking if we brought it, surely the rain would stay away.  For the most part, we were right.  Our cruise was lovely and we saw many very expensive villas - including this one in the picture owned by Versace, the famous Italian designer and one owned by Sophia Loren. 

George Cluney sold his a few years ago.
We saw one villa with it's own private outside elevator.

It was only as our tour was ending that the rain began.  We huddled under an awning and decided that 2 hours of free time by the lake in the rain was a bad idea. We waited for a let up in the rain and made our way to the bus, which fortunately was parked quite close by.


 We changed our plans and spent two hours in a lovely mall just outside of Milan.

It was a definite change of pace but it worked out well.  Many of us enjoyed roaming though a big Italian grocery store, comparing prices and looking at food that is not quite so common at home. 
We were back at the hotel around 4 and enjoyed some down time before dinner at 7.

Our day will start early tomorrow as we sight-see in Milan - our final day of touring before we head home.  Depending on how the day unfolds, I may or may  not get a blog uploaded.

Monday, 5 June 2017

Verona

Today was a travel day as we left Venice to make our way to Milan with a short stop in Verona, which like Rome, has an ancient Arena. It is used today for concerts and operas because it has excellent acoustics.


Verona was made famous by Shakespeare's Romeo and Juliette.  Crowds of people come to see the legendary balcony and to touch a statue of Juliette in hopes of love and virility.  As you enter the courtyard, the walls of the archway are covered in love letters and notes.




The market square is quite lovely and vendors are selling fresh fruit and vegetables as well as lots of Italian souvenirs.  I think our group are bringing home quite a few purses.

We had another unfortunate pickpocket incident when one of our group was jostled so hard that her hand come out of her purse and her cell phone was stolen.  Italy is a lovely country but the rate of crime and preying on tourists is a bit of a downer.

After lunch, which was gellato for most of us, we were back on the bus.  The sun has been shining every day of our trip and only yesterday afternoon when we were back on the bus have we seen any rain.

Today we are off to the Lake District and it looks like we may be in for some showers.

Sunday, 4 June 2017

Venice

What an amazing day we had in Venice - it is truly a unique and amazing city.  Our hotel was only about 20 minutes from the port where we boarded a ferry to go to the island.  It was a very enjoyable ride.  We arrived just a bit after 10 and met our local guide at 10:30 in St Mark's Square, the heart of Venice.  Surrounded by the Basilica of San Marco, Doge's Palace, the Procurator's residence and the Bell Tower, not to mention many shops and restaurants, it is considered to be the city's main symbol.
Our first visit was to the Doge's Palace, the seat of government of Venice for centuries, as well as being the home of the Doge - the elected ruler of Venice.  It was the venue for law courts, civic administration and for a time the city jail.  It was first constructed in the 9th century but due to a series of fires and subsequent rebuilding, the palace we see today in a splendid example of Gothic architecture. 


Our guide was great at explaining the history of the building and also the process of democracy.  We even went through the bridge of Sighs to see the prison cells of the jail.  The bridge was so named since legend said that the prisoners would look out the small windows and sigh at the last sights of Venice as they went to jail.

Some of the group went with Silvia for lunch while others decided to simply grab a quick sandwich or gellato  walk beyond the walls of the square and see a bit more of the city.  It is a great place to "get lost" roaming from one area to the next, down narrow lanes and over any of the 200 bridges.  With the help of a map, we were back at our meeting point for entry into St Mark's Basilica which is built in the shape of a Greek cross with five domes and decorated with the most amazing mosaics - tiny tiles creating amazing images.

The day ended with a Gondola ride, including musicians. For forty minutes we  were  taken though the tiny canals and serenaded, while basking in the late afternoon sun.


 Then it was a walk back to the ferry, quick shopping at one of the many tourist kiosks, on the bus and back to the hotel just before 7.

It was a long, somewhat tiring but beautiful day. Tomorrow we head for our final destination, Milan with a short stop in Verona. 

Saturday, 3 June 2017

Pisa

Today was a travel day as we left the region of Tuscany to journey to Venice with a side trip to Pisa to start the day.
The Leaning Tower of Pisa, 200 feet tall, 55 feet wide and weighing 14,000 tons is an iconic symbol and one you do really want to see when you are in Italy. It is the bell tower for the basilica and has been leaning  ever since it was built in 1173.  Over the years many attempts have been made to straighten it, or at least stop it's descent to earth - it is an ongoing fight with gravity.


We had hoped to see the inside of the church however the next timed tickets were after lunch and we were not staying that long. So we satisfied ourselves with some pictures and a walk around the square. As always there were loads of other tourists with each one trying to get the perfect picture holding up or pushing over the tower.


It felt like  a bit of a gauntlet race getting from the bus stop to the entry point in the wall because of the number of people selling things...umbrellas to keep out the sun, watches, sunglasses, hats, purses and shirts. Some of the vendors are quite persistent.

After our stop in Pisa we drove to our hotel in Marcon just outside Venice where we will spend the next two nights.

Friday, 2 June 2017

Chianti

Our day yesterday was filled with beautiful scenery as we toured through the hill country outside of Florence. We were in the region of Chianti, made famous for the wine of that same name. Our first stop was San Gimignano, a walled city perched upon a hill which is most famous because of the medieval towers which grace the skyline. 

Only 14 of the original 72 have survived.  It was a bit of a walk to get from the bus park inside the city walls and a steady incline to get to the main plaza so a few of our folks decided to simply wait near the bus and people watch while others did the walking tour.

Our next stop was Siena, a city founded by the Romans in the first century.  In the center of the town is a fan shaped Piazza, where every year they run a famous horse race, with one horse entered from each of the small regions of the city.  The city is is decorated with flags that represent each neighborhood, and the winner of the race has bragging rights for the year.


 Our final stop was at a vineyard / castle in Chianti where we did an amazing wine tasting and olive oil tasting, followed by a delicious 4 course meal in one of the lovely rooms of the castle. 

The views everywhere we looked were simply breathtaking and the pictures cannot do it justice.
This morning we are leaving for Venice with a stop in Pisa.  It should be another great day.

Thursday, 1 June 2017

Florence

Today we were in Florence. The city of Florence was once the Capitol of Rome and the Medici family were the most famous and influential in the city.

We were immersed in art at the Uffizi gallery with an excellent guide named Roberto who had a degree in art history.



The gallery was  built in 1560, once a place of business it is now home to the greatest collection of paintings and sculptures. We concentrated on the most famous done by Michelangelo, DaVinci and Botticelli. We gained a great appreciation for these masterpieces.



After our visit we walked with our guide to Holy Cross square where we met Silvia and went to a restaurant for lunch.



It was there that Margaret discovered that she had been the victim of a pic pocket.  Her small wallet was gone and so was her water bottle which had been at the top of her purse. Fortunately there was not a lot of money stolen but it is still upsetting. A quick call to the credit card company to cancel cards and order a replacement and we were back underway.

It was free time which many of us used to shop. Florence has beautiful leather work and many of us are coming home with new purses.

On our way out of Florence,Fabio took us to a place else with the most beautiful view of the city. It was a lovely way to conclude our day in Florence.
The traffic was bad going back to the hotel but the drive gave us all time to rest from all the walking.   We have been walking many miles every day.

Wednesday, 31 May 2017

Endurance and Patience



Today is a two word day – Endurance and Patience; endurance to make it up and down all the hills and stairs in Asissi and patience with ourselves and others when things happen that are frustrating or distressing, like forgetting a wallet at the hotel or thinking you have lost it somewhere…both were found and retrieved.
 Leaving the hotel

Our hotel in Asissi was beautiful and the town is very picturesque, perched on the side of the hill…that should have been a clue that walking might be difficult.  For the superstitious among us, just after we left, a black cat crossed our path.

We were only a short drive from the parking for the Basilica of San Francesco, the mother church of the Franciscan order, named after St Francis in the town where he was born and died.  He was born the son of a very wealthy family and after experiencing a personal call from God he gave up everything taking vows of poverty, obedience and chastity.  


The church is built into the side of the hill and is actually two churches, the Upper and Lower as well as a crypt where the remains of the Saint are interred.  Both churches are decorated with frescos by numerous late medieval painters from the Roman and Tuscan schools.  Our guide was a font of knowledge about the church. We were not allowed to take any pictures inside the churches.
To get in required walking up a steep hill followed by multiple sets of stairs, up and down.



 Following the visit to the church we had to walk to the town square – it was a long, slow, uphill climb.  It was a testament to the endurance of our group, especially the ones over the age of 80 that we all made it. Those who walked faster and wanted to see more went with the local guide to the other side of the town to see the other important church in the town, while the rest made their way to the square. 

Lunch in the square, sitting at tables was a well-deserved and needed rest – but it required a bit of patience as the single waiter was not very speedy; a drink was spilled, orders forgotten, but in the end, we enjoyed the ambiance of the place and marveled at our endurance and the beauty and history of the place.  When you travel in Italy and walk the streets of Asissi as people have done for thousands of years, Canada’s 150 years of history pales in comparison.

It was a shorter walk to the bus and Silvia, our guide assured us there was an escalator so we wouldn’t have to walk all the way down – there was an escalator, but only one and it was coming up!  Oh well, endurance and patience – to the bus we went.

Leaving town we stopped at a ceramic factory and store where we sampled wine, olive oils, truffles and chocolates. Then it was time to rest on the bus as we made our way to Pistoia, outside of Florence in Tuscany.  Today is the half way point of the trip – we left home last Wednesday and we will return home a week from tomorrow.  May our endurance and our patience, carry us through…along with a healthy dose of laughter and friendship.




Amalfi



After days of walking Tuesday, was a bus driving day.  We checked out of our hotel early and boarded a min bus for a trip down the Amalfi cost to the town of Amalfi.  It is less than 25 km but because the road is narrow and filled with hairpin turns it takes more than an hour to drive. 

 
It is a testament to the skill of the bus drivers that there are very few accidents on the road. It is a positively beautiful drive, even as it might be a bit hair-raising for those who don’t like heights.  The road is built over the edge of the cliffs and the houses and hotels are built on terraces, seemingly carved out of the rock.  The water is a beautiful green and the flowers are stunning.

We stopped for photos overlooking at the village of Positono and the little stand where I bought spices 7 years ago was still there so I was able to replenish my stock of Italian spices.

We had a short stop in Amalfi and then made the return trip to Sorrento where we met up with Fabio our driver and got back in our regular bus to make our way to Assisi. 

Part way we stopped at Villa Adrianna, the ruins of an estate, built by Emperor Hadrian in the 1st century bc.  Unfortunately it was not a very tourist friendly spot since they closed the washrooms in the visitor center, where they used to be, and to get to the washrooms and inside the ancient walls it is at least a 300 m walk uphill and it was hot.  For those in the group who were up to the walk it was enjoyable to wander among the ruins but for others it was disappointing that there was nothing in place for tourists with reduced mobility.

We were late getting to our hotel because there was lots of traffic. Our hotel is magnificent with beautiful gardens and a panoramic view. 

 We are only spending one night in Assisi so tomorrow we will enjoy a visit of the town, learning lots about St Francis and then we will continue to our next hotel close to Florence where we will stay for 3 nights.

Milan

Our last day in Italy was spent in Milan visiting 4 very impressive sites. We started at the Cathedral which is the 4th largest in the wo...