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Grand Italian Adventure 2012

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Grand Italian Adventure 2012 - Page Text Content


BC: DEPARTED | ITALIA | 4 OCT 2012 | This scrapbook tells an abbreviated tale of our grand Italian adventure.

1: ITALY | ITALIA | ARRIVED 16 SEPT 2012 | Our trip spanned three weeks, from 16 September through 4 October, and took us throughout Tuscany on a grand road trip of hill towns, followed by 10 days with a homeschool group on a cultural exchange trip in Abruzza on the Adriatic. Fasten your seat-belts and prepare for an adventure!

2: We've dreamed of this "trip of a lifetime" and planned it for weeks. It is finally here and we are so excited. From Hawaii, to Arizona, to North Carolina, to Rome--Italy here we come!

3: Driving to our first destination: the ancient hill town of Orvieto just north of Rome | The country road leading to our first "Agriturismo," a working farm in the valley surrounding Orvieto. Off the beaten path

4: A City On A Hill | Orvieto is a small hill town that is so ancient, its early history is uncertain. The town's location is remarkable as well: it occupies a slowly crumbling butte of volcanic tufa, riddled with hundreds of caves, wells and tunnels of every period--from Etruscan to medieval to 17th century and later. It is constantly maintained and shored up by massive engineering works. In spite of its age, it is a joyfully lively and vigorous town, with just the right amount of tourism to bring in some wealth, yet not enough to spoil it. Orvieto quickly became our favorite town, because of its beauty and the warmth of its people. Our greatest joy was watching the locals greet each other with typical Italian passion and flamboyance during the evening passeggiata. | The view of Orvieto from our Agriturismo.

5: Exploring side streets.... | The first of many palaces...

6: AGRITURISMO | Cioccoleta | 16-18 Sept | Lovely host, Angela, and her delicious breakfast spread

7: Cioccoleta specifically refers to "pebbles," known as "cioccoli" in the local dialect, that have for centuries been deposited from the river that flows on the south side of the farm. Vineyards surround the farm, adding to the rustic beauty and tranquility. What an idyllic place for our first two nights, made all the more perfect by the warmth and hospitality of our great hosts, Alessandro and Angela.

8: THE GRAND EDIFICE: Orvieto's Duomo

9: We wandered down narrow medieval alleyways and suddenly found ourselves face-to-face with this astounding facade. Begun by Lorenzo Maitani in the year 1300, it took more than 100 years to complete. The Duomo di Orvieto is considered the most glorious example of Italian Gothic. Why on earth is it here? A priest named Peter secretly had doubts about the Catholic doctrine of transubstantiation--that during Holy Mass, a wafer of bread truly becomes the Body of Christ. One day, the priest celebrated Mass in a small town and as he consecrated the bread, it dripped blood on the alter linen. The priest took the linen to Orvieto, where Pope Urban IV was staying. The Pope declared a miracle, and soon after created the feast of Corpus Christi (Body of Christ.) He also promised Orvieto a new cathedral, to house the relics from the miracle.

10: Orvieto | Underground | ABOVE: The constant temperature in the caves was perfect for oil making, as well as food storage. This medieval olive press was probably recycled from an Etruscan structure, perhaps a temple | ABOVE: The volcanic rock, called tufa stone, that Orvieto sits atop, is so soft, and so much of it has been removed, that support structures have had to be built to keep the city from caving in. LEFT: Pigeons were raised in specially carved underground "coops" to provide a source of food for the people in case of a siege. Piccione is still considered a delicacy today.

11: On our last morning in Orvieto, we took the underground tour. We had a great guide--a student who spoke excellent English, which really added to the experience. What is fascinating is the incredible history, spanning hundreds of years. Built on a tufa cliff, Orvieto, was the hideout of many popes seeking safety. Original Etruscan wells can be seen underground, and during the middle ages, while exploring for more wells, it was discovered that the fine underground earth, called pozzolano, produced strong cement that could be used as mortar in constructing buildings. Mining for pozzolano created these huge caverns, which were later used by the people of Orvieto to make and store olive oil, house ceramic kilns, raise pigeons for food, and seek safety during bombing raids in World War II. Many families owned their own cave for storage, protection, and access to water (in fact, we saw stairs that once led to a home above). There are over 1300 caves underground, and the tour took us through two of the largest open to the public.

12: As the sun peeks over and kisses the soft, blue horizon, rays of sunshine burst forth and indicate the sun’s waking, overtaking the darkness that hovers over the sleepy vineyards. The wind rustles through the slender cypress trees; my shawl barely protects me from the cool breeze that rushes past. I sit on the porch with my journal, admiring my utopian surroundings. Distant hills appear as blue. Soft pastel hues of orange and yellow paint the sky and bring light to the fields. Long strings of grapes divide, neatly and precisely, the bands of dusty earth in between. Countless rows of purple and golden grapes coated in tan dust line the rolling hills, broken only to accommodate the topography. Heavy drops of dew gather like clusters of jewels on a pendant and weigh down the maturing grape leaves. Red roofs sit atop white houses and lie scattered along the hills. All is peaceful in this small, Tuscan village. | Narrative Snapshots of Italy.... | September 17, Orvieto-Overlooking our Tuscan Vineyard

13: Lovers arm-in-arm, converse in low voices as they lose themselves in the crowd. Young families, with infants dressed in delicate lace in strollers and toddlers on foot, leisurely stroll through the square. Click-ity-clack! Click-ity-clack! Ladies, whose heels noisily hit the cobblestone pavement, eye the faces of neighbors to catch sight of familiar friends. An elegant man rushes past to embrace a young woman in his arms, lightly kissing her on both cheeks. “Buonasera! Che piacere vederti,” welcomes the man. Finding a wicker chair and intimate table in a low lit corner of the piazza, they sit together with hands clasped to interchange in the sweet, expressive Italian language. Groups of young professionals crowd around outdoor bar tables, vociferously debating the politics of the day over glasses of vino and plates of calamari. Waiving their hands in the air, they appear to simultaneously raise and solve the world’s problems with much passion and conviction. Abruptly, at the top of the hour, the brass bells of the campanile begin their frantic chiming, creating a cacophony that jars the soul. All stop to listen, unable to carry on with other activities. As the last of the chimes fades into the evening, the background noise resumes. The melodious and haunting sound of a woman singing to her young baby rises above the background noise, nearly creating a surreal effect, accentuated by the rapidly fading light as evening overtakes day. I sit on the cold marble steps of the central fountain to drink in the sights and sounds of this perpetual evening ritual, this nightly parade, that brings the community together as one large family. | September 17, Orvieto-Evening Passeggiata through Old Orvieto

15: Old Civita | Civita di Bagnoregio Perched on a pinnacle, rising above a vast grand canyon ruled by wind and erosion, the traffic-free village of Civita di Bagnoregio is Italy's classic hill town. The saddle of earth that once connected Civita to its bigger and busier sister town, Bagnoregio, has worn away. Civita is now connected by a narrow walkway to reality and to the surrounding countryside; it takes us far away, not so much in distance as in time. There is a feeling of leaving the real world, which becomes stronger after entering the ancient city gate, cut by the Etruscans 2,500 years ago. We spent a memorable afternoon there, peering into the past....

16: Quick stop for lunch (and, of course, vino!)

17: How perfect is this: savoring a smorgasbord of gastronomic delights, surrounded by the relics of ages. Here, as in so many places throughout Italy, time seems to have ground to a halt—perfect for drinking in the beauty of the moment. Our feast consisted of a bruschetta sampler, followed by a vegetarian platter of "Ceci" beans. Delicious!

18: Outside the Walls | Civita is perched on top of a hill that is surrounded by valleys formed by the Chiaro and Torbido rivers. The view looks like a mini-Grand Canyon, as the two rivers have eroded the countryside and left this hill town. It’s breathtaking—the calanchi, or gullies, formed by erosion, with their undulating folds, creating a stark contrast to the line of vegetation below. These crevices are drawn by time and water, in a rock so fragile, and yet ethereal. Continuous erosion makes the tufa rock that Civita sits on become thinner and thinner, on an unstable layer of clay and sand. In 1695 the beginning of Civita's decay was signaled by a terrible earthquake, which, causing serious damage to the streets and buildings, compelled many inhabitants to leave the city. The continuous seismic activities that followed over the centuries, brought a long series of landslides; for this reason, Civita has become nearly deserted.

19: Civita seems frozen in time, its well-maintained facades and gardens paint a picture of life in a bygone era. The relentless march of time is seen only in surreal sight of windows and doors leading to thin air— the rest of the building having long since fallen away into the valley below, as the walls of the city constantly erode.

20: Cortona: Under the Tuscan Sun Cortona, surrounded by Etruscan walls around 3000 years old, retains much of its history through its architecture and layers of history built upon the Etruscan core. And yet, the piazza is just as alive and vibrant today as it was over many millennia. We enjoyed a nice stroll and dinner near the piazza, watching the evening passeggiata. | A beautiful view at sunset

21: Meeting friends in the ritual evening passeggiata! | A respite from soccer | Discussing important matters

22: Birds on a line...Men on a bench | A Small, Side Street Market | The Town Square is Alive! | A Picturesque Side Street

23: Bed & Breakfast | Casa del Frate | 18-19 Sept | History of LA Casa del Frate: ... La Casa del Frate is set in an ancient Tuscan house with wooden roof and stone walls, and surrounded by a quiet, relaxing garden. We had the joy of staying with Paola in her beautiful childhood home that was recently enlarged to include an adjoining section that had been owned by friars. The walls between the former duplex have since been opened up, forming one large home with many bedrooms. Until a few years ago, La Casa del Frate was a hospice where a Franciscan monk, every year from the beginning of autumn until February, would come and stay for the "search," that is to collect the offerings and donations of the people and the benefactors. These offerings consisted of oil, wine, cheese and money to be used to support the Franciscan monks at Sanctuary della Verna.

24: San Gimignano The epitome of Tuscan charm and beauty, San Gimignano was captivating. Famous for its medieval architecture, and unique in the preservation of about a dozen of its towers, San Gimignano’s skyline is unforgettable. We especially enjoyed getting a 1300AD perspective in the unique museum, with a full replica of the ancient city.

26: For 2,000 years, a market has been alive within the walls of San Gimignano. We joined in...

27: Cooking Class at Il Vicario with Katia, Fulvio, and Mama! ...and our new Aussie friends from down under

29: We visited the museum on our last day in San Gimignano and wished we’d found it first! The San Gimignano 1300 Museum makes it possible to better visualize San Gimignano in the year AD 1300. The centerpiece is a scale model of the town. Architects, historians, and artists worked nearly 3 years to crect this model as accurately as possible, with 800 handcrafted structures, 72 towers, street scenes, and figurines. The lighting and recreated street sounds complete the experience, sending you back in time. We had fun finding various locations, as well as browsing the other sections that included staged and historically accurate scenes of medieval life and panels detailing the history of of San Gimignano. | San Gimignano Museum

30: Life erupts in the market with a flurry of activity to stimulate the senses. Local Italians proudly display—and loudly announce—their merchandise on table after table: a bounty of fruit and produce interspersed with clothing, trinkets, and small household items—nearly anything imaginable. Captivated throngs of tourists amble through the compact walkway, entertained with the buying and selling frenzy. I, too, meander through the crowded market, eyeing the unique Italian novelties. The hot sun filters through the frayed and weather-worn tents. A droplet of perspiration runs from my forehead down the perimeter of my face. Finding enough Euro in my change purse, I hand over the coins to the elderly Italian man behind the nearest table and point to my desired beverage. In exchange he passes me a Chinotto, the equivalent of an American coke. Popping the lid off, I sip the refreshingly sweet carbonated drink. Perfetto! Intense, aromatic fragrances stew in pots; proud, plump women serve their famous family pastas, infused with fresh herbs to heighten the bold tomato flavors. Scarves border the wrinkled faces of the aging Italian women who sit along the edges of the market, fanning themselves. The buyers and sellers seem caught up in a dramatic contest to see who can achieve the most advantageous financial transaction: when quoted a price for an item, the would-be buyer appears shocked—“Mama mia! troppo caro!”—and responds with a counter-offer, which appears to greatly offend the merchant. Dramatically a merchant throws his hands up in the air. This melodramatic vignette plays itself out over and over, with hands and voices raised, but generally ends in a happy agreement. | September 20, San Gimignano's Jovial Market

31: I lean against a brick wall building in the shade opposite the Duomo, marveling at the white marble exterior with black stripes, embellished with striking geometric shapes in black and gold. The spires seem to climb to heaven and add to the immensity of the faade that dwarfs and overwhelms the small piazza. Ecclesiastical marble statues protrude from the walls—their complexion weathered throughout the years. The white marble, beaming in the bright sun, is almost harsh on the eyes. My mind wanders, becoming absorbed in fascination at the thought of constructing such a grand edifice. I imagine the artisans and laborers of long ago, painstakingly crafting each embellishment and motif with beauty and rich symbology. What vision and drive the architects and designers must have possessed. How could they have accomplished so much with so little of the tools we pride ourselves on today? With my vintage Kodak camera in hand, I endeavor to capture the profundity and magic of this holy site. The sounds of footsteps on the cobblestone street fronting the Duomo echo off the surrounding buildings, amplifying the patter. Food carts populate one corner of the piazza, emitting a concoction of aromas. Savory pizzas and earthy espressos blend with other indistinguishable delights to tickle the olfactory sense. Crowds of tourists gather in clusters around the square. Many, lost within the maze of similarly constructed marble and brick buildings, intently gaze at maps, looking up and back down as if to verify their coordinates. Kneeling, one tourist targets the colossal structures through his viewfinder, while others pose in front of the life-like historic figures to capture this moment. Snap, snap! I smile at the juxtaposition of new and old caught on film—the vigor and freshness of life portrayed against this archaic and lifeless relic from another age. | September 21, Florence-The Splendors of the Firenze Duomo

33: FIRENZE The birthplace of the Renaissance; the resting place of art.

34: We spent a day sight-seeing by bus, with a long stop at the San Lorenzo Central Market--an entire city block of fresh and prepared foods (yum!), surrounded by outside stalls selling leather and other things (think gloves!)

35: Art, art, and more art! We explored Florence's Duomo, with its huge dome, and the myriad of art at the Uffizi, which spans centuries of history. Fortunately we didn't have to wait three hours in line (left) to tour the Galleries, since we had purchased tickets in advance . (Thanks, Rick Steves!)

36: Italian food and culture go hand in hand--and we definitely immersed ourselves in the local traditions, eating and drinking as the Italians know how to do best.

37: M A N G I A | M A N G IA

38: From the large street, a narrow alley, bordered by cliff-like buildings, juts off and gives way to a small enclave—out of the way of the busy, morning commuters. Small shops line the perimeter of this enclosed cave-like hideaway. The peaceful sounds of water pour forth from the fountain, which this small street encircles, becoming the focal point of this tiny oasis. Cheerful shopkeepers call out greetings to each other, bringing life to this sleepy lane, as they open their small shops before the frenzy of the day begins. The fragrant aroma of coffee lingers in the air, revealing that all of Italy is now awake. A young ‘signore,’ donning a crisp and clean apron, joyfully rushes to welcome me with menu in hand. “Eccolo, eccolo,” he sings as he pulls out a seat for me. Giving me all of his attention, I ask in my best Italian, “Posso avere un cappuccino?” He grins to tell me I have asked for his fondest morning delight and rushes to bring back that which he prides himself on. I sit outside the empty café overlooking this secret hideaway. | September 21, San Gimignano-Cafeteria Bellavia

39: With both hands clenched around the old, coffee-stained saucer, the long-legged Italian waiter comes leaping out of the café to bring me my cappuccino. Gently putting the coffee down on the dark wooden table in front of me, his eyes greet mine. His wide eyes are filled with apparent joy as if to say, “See what I have made for you.” Encouragingly he nods, “Drink, Drink,” and eagerly watches while awaiting my affirmation. Frothy milk peaks over the brim of the glass. Carefully I place my hands to guide the freshly-made coffee to my lips. Velvety milk and rich espresso glide down my throat. I close my eyes in pure enjoyment. “Bennissimo! Perfetto!” I cry out to him. Without words, the young man, now gleaming with a smile, dramatically puts his hand over his heart and takes a slight bow.

40: Landry Academy Homeschool Group! | Touring Roma! | And we're off! After having met the homeschool group, Landry Academy, at the Rome airport, we were shuttled to our quarters at the Spanish Steps and began our tour of Rome. | Above and middle right: Our stately room with a view of the Spanish Steps in the stunning Relais Pierret Hotel. Bottom right: Jo and Catherine at the magnificent Trevi Fountain--after throwing a coin! | We ate our first pizza lunch together on the famous steps. This was our first chance to get to know our new travel partners--in an amazingly majestic setting. (Oops...what do you mean we aren't supposed to eat on the steps?)

41: The Vatican! | Our great tour guide! | Italians once thought that America's streets were paved with gold, but in reality their ceilings are plastered with gold! The ceilings were part of the Vatican Museums, among the greatest in the world, housing the huge art collections of the Roman Catholic Church. We finished by visiting the Sistine Chapel.

43: Beautiful friends made! | Eastbound: Off to Pescara on the Adriatic | After our two days touring Rome, we packed up and ventured to Pescara by train. In our four hours aboard, we caught a glimpse of the rich Italian land and made new friends...Ana and Carlo, who came to the Rome airport to bid us farewell with home-made biscotti!

44: Service to Francavilla Al Mare

45: Trabocco Pesce Palombo Experience! | De Cecco Pasta Factory Tour! | Fish, fish, fish! | The pasta is put through this coarse bronze die which gives it a roughness that allows the sauce to better adhere | A trabocco is built right on the edge of a drop off, so that fishermen can easily cast their nets and catch fish. | Only in Italy and Turkey do they fish in this way. | Here are some of the 11 different dishes we feasted on! | We are proud De Cecco customers now!

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