Birthday Weekend—Saturday

We slept extremely well in our cozy room, and enjoyed a nice Italian breakfast (no, not a cigarette and espresso) downstairs. Had a great conversation with the hotel manager, of American parentage but raised in the Veneto. Oh, and bought a few bottles of Amarone to schlep home. We talked about what to do with the beautiful day, and Larry remembered that I had mentioned the Palladian villas around Vicenza. I told him I was taking a day off from planning, so he was in charge. A bit of Googling, and we were on our way.

The towns in this area have swallowed up most of the old buildings, so most have a modern, workaday atmosphere. It is somewhat startling to go through streets of small apartment buildings and shops, the road narrows, and suddenly you’re facing a gated 16th century villa.

Our first stop was Villa Rotunda (Villa Capra), begun by Palladio in 1566. No parking lot, so you need to creep along the road looking for a space, in competition on a Saturday with carloads of Italian families. Scored a space (the miniature car a blessing), we eventually got to the villa. With columned entries on all sides, views across its park and toward carefully placed outbuildings and statues, it is impressive from the exterior. Viewing this, you can see how Palladio influenced American 18th century architecture, from Monticello and the White House, to the porticoed whitewashed buildings in New England towns.

Inside, it has soaring ceilings, huge windows, and although the rooms are heavily frescoed and filled with objects, it still manages to feel inviting. Still privately owned, you could imagine an elderly couple reading in the comfortably furnished drawing room.

The central rotunda is amazing. No photos inside, so take a quick Google visit.

Next we found the nearby Villa Valmarana. The main Villa, La Palladiana was started in 1669. The smaller “guesthouse” La Forestina, in 1720. The Tiepolos, Giambattista and Giandomenico, father and son, painted elaborate frescoes in both homes. Father mainly painted in La Palladiana, son in la Forestina. It is interesting to see the differences in subject matter and style–one with dramatic moments from mythology; the other less about narrative and more about romantic moments or popular themes. My preference is for the son’s work.

The Villa is privately owned, it is neat to see family photos around the rooms.

Up on a wall are statues of dwarves, illustrating the legend of Princess Layana, whose parents surrounded her with other dwarves so she would not know how different she was.

For lunch, we drove up to a restaurant I had read about, Olio e Burro in Arcugnano. Slow on a Saturday, the only other table was an extended family who obviously knew the owners and chef. Excellent food, both our pastas were outstanding. Larry had a delicious thin lasagnette of radicchio and mushroom. I had fresh pasta with a farm egg yolk and shaved white truffle. So damn good.

Our last stop of the day was at the massive Villa Pisani in Stra. Either 114 or 144 rooms, depending on which source you read, it is quite the early 17th century pile. Room after room, it goes on and on, some rooms chock full of furnishings; others tattered and bare.

The gigantic ballroom was decorated by Giovanni Tiepolo, full of mythological heroes, partially hidden satyrs, all sorts of richly painted details. It is fascinating and overwhelming, I wanted to waltz In it. The Pisani Family fell into debt and sold the villa to Napoleon, so some rooms have more Regency decoration. And yes, Napoleon slept here.

We didn’t have time to explore the museum or grounds, but we know we want to come back and spend time in the Veneto some future trip. There is a lot to see and do here, and I could see renting one of the apartments at Massimago.

So back to beautiful Mestre and the train station, where Larry had an adventure trying to return the car to the closed office; and we met a young Canadian with two huge suitcases who didn’t know she couldn’t catch a cab to a hotel. She didn’t even have a place to stay–after helping get her bags off the train we pointed her toward an info desk and wished her luck.

Our London friends Jonathan and Phillipa were in town, so we had dinner with them at Alla Frasca, an old favorite in Cannaregio. Excellent food, (grilled octopus; gnocchi with shrimp and mint; mixed grilled fish; a Friuli white wine) and even better company.

Birthday Weekend-Friday

For my birthday, we thought it might be nice to have a brief countryside break. I love Amarone wines, so the nearby Valpolicella area seemed a good fit. An old Slowtrav friend recommended an agrituriso winery where he has stayed several times. I learned that they had recently opened a small restaurant on site that has been getting excellent reviews. Sold.

We knew a few days earlier that Italy would be having a transportation strike on Friday. The vaporettos would not be running, so we would need to walk to the train station, not a problem. What we were unsure of was how many trains would be cancelled that day. As it turned out, just a few were cancelled. So about 100 confused people had gotten off trains at the station, waiting ot the docks for vaporetto that wouldn’t be coming.

In Beautiful (not) Mestre, we picked up our rental, a tiny Fiat 500. We started driving west, the highway lined with industrial plants and nondescript office parks. Ah, here are grapevines finally, in the valley floor and climbing hills. We first stopped in the town of Soave. Well preserved walls partially enclose the old town, and climb the hill to the Castello at the top. You can climb the rough steep hill too, or do like we did and find the hidden road to the top. Pretty views up there.

Whoops, rookie mistake, the Castello would be closing for lunch in 30 minutes. We poked around Soave a bit, and then got to the serious business of finding a place for lunch.

Google map recommendations and TripAdvisor Italian (sometimes more reliable than reviews in English) pointed us to Osteria no. 1, in the Volpecella town on F. . Very lively, with a dapper owner singing along with the radio, good smell from the kitchen. Food was slightly gussied up traditional. Mmm, glass of Amarone. We began with tortellini stuffed with radicchio, honey and smoked cheese. Really good. Then pork with fried leeks on a pumpkin purée for Larry, and beef cheeks in an inky dark Amarone sauce for me.

I love Romanesque churches, and had noted some in the area when I was doing research. We found two beauties, each closed up tight. I’ve noticed that these old churches in France usually have a key at the local Marie (town hall) or a note on the door with phone number of key holder, who is usually delighted to show you the village’s pride and joy. But in Italy, you’re out of luck unless the key holder is cleaning. One of the churches was in a cemetery, where graves all sported flowers and decorations for All Saints Day next week. None of the ladies fixing up graves knew who had the church key, ah well.

We then drove to Massimago, the winery-agriturismo Ian had recommended. A beautiful building and grounds, up on a hill surrounded by vines and forest. We arranged for a tour and tasting later that afternoon, checked into our pretty room, and went to read on the patio by the pool.

With Ariana from the winery, we climbed the steep hill terraced with grapevines, learning about the five major grape varieties grown in the region, the wines they produced, and drinking a glass of fresh white wine halfway up. Massimago is an organic winery. The grapes have been grown here for decades, but the family has only been making their own wines for about 15 years.

At the top of the hill we visited the fruttaio, the shed where grapes are dried for 3-4 months before being crushed and slowly fermented for Amarone. This can be a delicate process, highly dependent on the grapes and environment. Rot is a big danger.

Down in the cellars, we tasted five wines, with nibbles of local cheeses. We both really liked the 2013 Amarone, which will be even better in five years or so. Amarone can be a big fruit bomb, but this was nicely balanced.

Dinner downstairs that night was a real treat. We did their five course tasting dinner, each course accompanied by their wines. First a little mouthful of bread made with wine, topped with a light cheese. Then stuffed zucchini flowers. Risotto with ginger, rosemary and a bit of licorice. Sounds odd, but delicious and worked well with the wine. Boned rabbit, topped with shaved black truffle, yes please. We’ll go apologize to the huge rabbits we saw in nice hutches on the hill tomorrow. I’d have never thought of cooking eggplant in red wine, but it too was great. Dessert was also excellent , a tart cherry and beet sorbet with local nut crumble. Ariana had noticed it was my birthday from my passport, so the chef brought out a little slice of cake with candle, very nice. About my only criticism was that the portions were too large for a tasting menu, we had to be careful to not finish everything, particularly the risotto.

We slept well.

This and That

Thursday was a bit dreary, with the sort of clammy weather that feels cool one minute, steamy the next. We decided to walk over to Palazzo Grimani, an enormous 16th century palazzo built in a Classical design. Giovanni Grimani acquired a huge collection of Roman statues, which are now back in the room designed for them. It’s a fascinating palazzo to visit, with some very different Classical, Renaissance, and Mannerist elements.

Upstairs, I really enjoyed an exhibit of paintings by Helen Frankenthaler. Her huge canvases at first look simple, until you let your eyes roam to take in all the details of color, line and texture.

I’d been wanting something to roast vegetables in bigger than the gratin dishes in the apartment, so we wandered owner to housewares store Ratti. A large store by Venetian standards, with an upper floor for appliances. I found an inexpensive baking sheet, and a vegetable peeler. Larry perused the Moka offerings.

Nan had texted asking if we were free for lunch, so we headed west, first going to a Biennale installation in a church. Eh, rather middle school in earnestness and lack of development. Much better experience at lunch at Osteria al Cicheto on Calle Misericodia in the far reaches of Cannaregio. About eight tables packed tight, small menu, good smells. The three of us shared two antipasti, (a salad with goat cheese; and a swordfish salad) two pastas (Vongole; and duck Ragu) and two secondi (stuffed calamari; and slow roasted pork) And eight glasses of wine over a very long lunch–we closed the place. Very good food, nice wines, fun conversation.

We were very close to the Ghetto, so after lunch went over for the 3:30 synagogue tour. We hadn’t been there in many years, so wanted to revisit. The Jewish community officially began in 1516 when Jews were first allowed to live in Venice, (although closed in by gates) and at its height had 5,000 residents crammed into a very small area. Many of the buildings in the Ghetto had 7-8 stories of low ceilinged rooms to squeeze as many people as possible into the space.

Jews came from Germany, Spain and the Middle East, and were limited in what occupations were open to them. They formed synagogues, schools and charitable institutions; the Sephardic community was relatively wealthy while they were involved in trade in the 16th and 17th centuries. Several synagogues were built, and at the Jewish Museum you can go on a tour to visit three.

Nice walk through Cannaregio, and a quiet evening at home. Oh look, transportation strike tomorrow!

Blue Skies

I had to resort to taking something to help me get back to sleep at 1 am, so slept well past my usual 5 am. We eventually headed out, and crossed the Canal and roamed around San Polo for a while,getting happily lost in the maze of tiny calles.

We had seen an intriguing sign on a palazzo fronting the Canal, “Love is Blind–Blind For Love.” Palazzo Tiepolo Passi is hidden down a teeny alleyway off Calle Savonarola. You climb the stairs, and are welcomed by a docent. The artist, Caroline Lepinay, has created an experience retelling the myth of Cupid you can encounter with your senses–and if you reserve, it happens in a magical way. First, without your sight.

The docents take groups of four blindfolded people through the small exhibit blindfolded, leading them to each element, where they encounter the pieces by touch, by hearing music and voice, and by smell. The docents are themselves vision impaired, which gives them the unique skills to help visitors use their other senses. Afterward, you take the blindfold off and retrace adding sight. Yes, perhaps it is a bit gimmicky, but that doesn’t take away from how you experience it. You can reserve through the website. Love is Blind

We walked around some more, peeking into little shops and dodging down side streets to avoid crowds. San Polo was definitely more crowded than Cannaregio. I was looking for a jewelry store I’d first found on our first Venice trip almost 20 years ago. She uses Murano beads, and her pieces are reasonably priced. (Although I’ve eventually had to have things restrung as the necklace stringing is delicate) Ieventually found Donà Maria Luisa, just by chance. We chatted for a while, and I was sad to hear that she is going to be retiring soon. She talked about how so many of Venice’s visitors now are happy to buy cheap imitation Murano glass jewelry, and it is getting more difficult to do what she does. She is looking for someone to take over her shop, anyone interested?

We continued walking to Rialto, and ducked into Al Arco for some chichetti and wine. We didn’t have luck hovering for a table, so stood and chatted with someone who works at the UN who had been stationed in Lebanon. We also stopped to share a glass and tramezzini at the bar next to Casa di Parmigiano. We picked up some ravioli de zucca for dinner.

My joints were complaining by now, so we decided to just take a vaporetto ride to enjoy the afternoon. We boarded the no. 1 at Rialto, and grabbed seats outside for the trip to Lido, then back again. Gorgeous day to enjoy being on the Grand Canal with the beautiful palazzos and boats of all kinds. Happily, no Grandi Navi this afternoon.

Eventually returned home, iced the knees, then went over to the “secret bar” for aperitivi on the rio. The evening futbol game was going on in the Campo, which makes me so very happy to see. This little piece of Venice is still here.

Raviolis and salad for dinner.

Essentials

We decided this time to get the Venezia Unica transportation pass instead of two weekly passes. The Unica is meant for residents, (Or those from abroad who cough up the fee) and gives an enormous discount on the Vaporetto. It is good for five years, so makes sense if you’ll be in Venice for several weeks during that period. So I guess we’ll need to come back to get even more of our money’s worth, right?

We walked the length of Strada Nova, crossed the horrible new bridge past the train station to P. Roma. (And why oh why did they use slippery green panels underfoot, they’re a death trap in high humidity so everyone tries to walk in the narrow paved part in the middle. Don’t get me started on the pod for the disabled that never worked)

We had our passports and had filled out the forms, and even so the process took time and yet more paperwork. We hopped on the vaporetto and went to the Rialto markets for some shopping. Mascari for wine, Casa di Parmigiano for cheeses and prosciutto; figs, greens, herbs,; and some little purple artichokes and zucchini flowers from Sant Erasmo, the farm island in the Lagoon. I pick the stands with the lines of little old ladies.

After stowing groceries back home, we realized we’d skipped breakfast and were hungry. Walked over to Ai Promossi Sposi. Seafood antipasti, and frito misto were delicious and hit the spot. The resident adorable dog sat at my feet the whole time, flashing big brown eyes and casually putting his head on my knee. Nice try buddy, I don’t want to be responsible for your upset stomach.

After a rest in the apartment, we walked west, zigzagging through the Fondamentas and bridges to Palazzo Albrizzi, site of three countries’ Biennale pavilions. it is always fun to visit these palazzos used during the Biennale, with the juxtaposition of past and present. Granada had the most interesting one here, with a focus on Memory, including a mesmerizing installation of projected images through jars, which blended and shifted. In another room was hanging photographic and text mobiles centered on family; and another with huge, beautifully composed photos. There was also a fascinating film that veered between hauntingly beautiful and very disturbing in imagery as the family storytelling unfolded. more about the Granada work here: Granada

Picked up the loan of a knife from Nan, then back home to pick up a few things from the Coop and a bottle of Friuli white from the vino sfuso. Followed by a preventative ice pack on my knee.

For dinner, I made sautéed little artichokes with garlic and lemon, and ricotta stuffed zucchini flowers in a very light batter. Salad, figs and prosciutto, cheap Prosecco.

Soft Landing

Easy flights, and we even slept for an hour. It was interesting how empty the flight from Chicago to Venice was, with many rows of three seats only occupied by one person. (And why Chicago? This is what can happen when you book flights through Philly using a bump voucher a year in advance, the schedule changes, and you get the choice of three hours in Chicago or six in JFK)

On the Alilaguna boat were a large family group from the South, spending a week doing the 2 nights Venice, 2 Florence, 2 Rome thing. I wish them luck in their tour of train stations. My first trips to Europe in my 20’s were like that, and the memories are a blur.

We met the apartment owners daughter at what I’ve called in previous trips “cranky fruit and vegetable guy stand.” The apartment is spacious, functional and clean. A bit short in aesthetics and cookware, but for $110 a night it will do nicely. Kicking myself for not putting a good knife into the checked bag, and I’ll need to find a baking sheet somewhere. If you lean out the window with a chiropractor in attendance, you have a view of the rio below. The same Cannaregio neighborhood we’ve stayed before, good shops and restaurants, easy to walk or vap anywhere. There is a school across the street, so lots of exuberant voices at times. I think we’ll be happy here.

Grabbed a table at the reliable Trattoria Storica for a late lunch while local guys knock back grappa with the owner. First spaghetti Vongele of the trip, yum. So nice to eat outside again! Larry is in a t shirt, the Italians in puffy coats and scarves.

Then we did some minor food shopping (cranky vegetable guy less cranky this year; maybe he got lucky) and unpacked. The apartment has tons of storage, although once again the rod for hanging clothes is way above my head. Met up with Nan at the bar at Algiobagio for aperitivi and handing off some US shopping. No photo, too busy yakking. Very pretty light on the Lagoon.

We walked around the neighborhood, just enjoying the first day in Europe fog. Things were fairly quiet in this corner of Cannaregio, fingers crossed that the crowds are less this time of year. The weather is perfect, upper 60’s this week but will get cooler next week. No rain in sight. But the forecasts here change hourly, so who knows.

Oh, here’s the bridge where my knee went “pop” two years ago. Larry reminds me constantly to not rush on stairs.

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We were starting to fade and not terribly hungry, so walked over to Bar Sbarlefo for a few chichetti to share and a lovely glass of Amarone. Then we split a cone of gelato from Ca D’Oro, pistachio and chocolate. Said hi to the Canal, and home to bed.

Dusting Off

I’ve gotten out of the habit of travel blogging. Quick Facebook posts are so much easier! But I do regret not having the detailed accounts of my experiences that blogging brings. My memories go deeper when I write, and the trips feel more vital when I can revisit as time passes. So I’ll do as much blogging on this Venice trip as I feel is enjoyable, and just do brief sketches if it gets burdensome.

Two and a half years ago, we were in Venice for the Biennale. I had twisted my knee before leaving, realized on the flight that it had gotten stiff and swollen, and it was definitely not working as it should. On our second day I was going down a bridge at a fast clip, and suddenly heard and felt a “pop” in my knee. It would no longer support me, and Larry somehow got me back to the apartment. I spent the rest of the trip hobbling around with a cane and knee brace, swallowing as much ibuprofen as my system could tolerate. Add to that a cracked tooth which then got infected, a visit to a Venetian dentist for antibiotics, and yet more ibuprofen. I was in such pain that I’d wake in the night crying. I considered calling the game and going home, but grit my teeth and spent the week alternating between slowly dragging myself around and sitting in our favorite bar with a spritz.

Venice needed a do-over.

This year, we’ve rented a simple, inexpensive apartment in Cannaregio for two weeks.

https://www.booking.com/hotel/it/dreaming-venice-apartment.html

Museums, wandering and getting lost, Biennale, long fishy lunches. Two days in the Valpolicella wine area for contrast. A Venetian seafood cooking class with the friend of a friend, a Murano tour with sweet guide Andrea. Serendipitous meetups with friends from London and Florida. Two weeks of slight removal from the insanity of the current USA. I’m ready.

More Perugia

Perugia-157465Perugia was full of things I wanted to see, but as our time was running out we had to pick and choose. We decided to go to the southern part of the city, to visit the National Archaeological Museum and the Basilica San Pietro. After asking advice, we decided the best option was to drive into the city and park at the Piazalle Europe garage. Google led us on a winding route up, down and around, finally dumping us at the garage set into a hillside. From there, we took a series of escalators uphill, having to look around a bit to locate the last one that took us up to Corso Cavour. Walking along through groups of students, through the 15th century Porta San Pietro, we finally found the entrance to the university courtyard where the Basilica is hidden away.

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The church was initially part of a convent, and the original cloister is here, opening now to University buildings and a grubby cafe as well as the Basilica. You go through a frescoed entryway into a surprisingly huge space, dark with enormous paintings and wood, with a gilded ceiling above. San Pietro was heavily decorated in the early 16th century, and there are a few Peruginos and Vasaris scattered about if you search through the gloom.

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But most interesting to us was the fabulously carved 1526 choir, encrusted with fantastic beasts and beautifully detailed inlay. Spectacular artistry and workmanship. Expressive faces, animals both real and imagined, elaborate scrollwork, detailed narrative scenes. Religious or territorial glory, or for the sake of inventive joy in creating beauty? I suspect the moneymen and the artists may have had different thoughts on that.

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We retraced our steps to go to the Archaeological Museum, housed in the former convent of San Domenico. A fine little museum, with some carefully curated collections. And like most of the museums we’ve visited in Umbria, empty of visitors. A basement-level series of darkened rooms holds a reconstruction of an Etruscan and Roman tomb with many beautifully carved urns. Many more Etruscan urns line the cloister; and in rooms are some large Roman sarcophagi, delicate Etruscan bronze fragments, the Cippo di Perugia (3rd –2nd century BC), which is the longest Etruscan inscription ever found; a series of rooms with locally-found prehistoric pottery, artifacts and descriptions of prehistoric life. And now I really do need to do some more serious reading about the Etruscans.

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Oh, one very cool thing we discovered this week–if you have Google Translate on your phone, you can click the little camera icon, and hold up your phone onto text–and it translates it! Very useful in museums.

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One exhibit I was very interested in was an early 20th century collection of amulets and charms. Collected by an archaeologist (he was the Museum’s director at one point, I believe) and ethnographer named Bellucci. Many of the items were still being used at the time of collection, as long part of folklore and daily life to protect against downturns of weather or health, the evil eye, bad luck, or human malfeasance. Many blended aspects of long-held pagan and Christian traditions. Also included were cases of items used long in the past, from Neolithic, Roman, Asian, and African cultures. Arranged by type and use, there were also some English descriptions along with the Italian. I could have spent all day in these rooms.

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Um. Protecting the family jewels, as it were.

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It was getting on to 1:30 (the Museum doesn’t close for lunch, very nice) and we were starving. We headed back to the car and went in search of a place where we could get a late light lunch, following our GPS through a neighborhood of upper-middle class suburbia. We found ourselves at one of the branches of El Testone, on a strip of road that looked like new Jersey with car dealerships, supermarkets, and businesses. This is Italy, too. We ordered some grilled meats for the boys, (the lamb was wonderful) a torta with greens and cheese for me, and a few beers. Good, cheap, local.

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We had anticipated needing to go to Deruta to pick up the ceramics we had ordered, but they weren’t ready yet. Still finding ourselves in the neighborhood, we arranged to meet Barb and Art for a coffee near their place. After some conversation, we ended up following them to their favorite ceramics house, Tassi. Family operated and small, and I was happy to find a divided antipasti tray I liked.

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Back home, a last walk around Spello, and then to pack up for our drive into Rome tomorrow.

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Some Spoleto

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I recalled really liking Spoleto way back when, finding it a lively, “real” town where the boys enjoyed a great playground, climbing steep streets, and poking into a variety of sights during our day. I had a long list of places I wanted to visit, and figured I’d be happy to get to just a few on a daytrip.

As you approach Spoleto, you can see the dramatic Rocca at the top of the hill, with the old city spilling down the slope to the newer city at the foot. There are several interesting churches that were built around the old city walls. We first tried to find San Salvatore, where the first church was built in the late 4th century, then rebuilt in the 7th or 8th using much older Roman elements. The church abuts a cemetery, and driving up the pitted road I was sad to see the church is closed for reconstruction.

Just beyond is another old church, the 12th century San Ponziano. There is a small community of nuns in the attached house, and we lucked into a caretaker who was only to happy to take us inside and show us around. The original but crumbling facade has carvings with symbols of the Evangelists, and finely detailed Cosmatesque inlay.

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The church was heavily remodeled in third-rate late Baroque, but the real treat is downstairs in the 10th century Crypt. You go down a steep flight of stairs, past a Lombard sarcophagus. Here are some early frescoes, some untouched, others rather clumsily restored. A few had a definite Byzantine style to them. Roman pillars support the structure, including two strange triangular ones. I’ve read that these are likely turning posts from a Roman racetrack. We tipped the friendly caretaker, and continued on, parking at the Spoletosfera lot.

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By the way, the Spoleto tourist map you can get from the tourist office is very useful. It pretty accurately  details the major sites and streets, as well as the awesome system of three routes of sloping walkways or escalators you can use to save your knees.

The walkways dropped us at Piazza Liberta, where we picked up some maps and brochures from the tourist office. Just in back is the 1st century Roman Theater and the Archaeological museum. Since the drizzle was stopping, we decided to spend the morning walking, and perhaps later go to one of the museums in town.

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We navigated through the streets, passing through the Arco di Druso, built in 23. Nearby is Sant’Ansamo which has a crypt with Roman fragments and 6th century frescoes, sadly closed up tight. We walked through the market square, then circled until coming to the stairs leading down to the lovely Duomo. Very few tourists; in most places we were the only obvious visitors.

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I find the exterior mashup of Romaesque and Gothic more beautiful than the Baroque  interior, but the intricate floors and the Lippi frescoes of the Virgin are wonderful.

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We visited the 12th century Basilica di San Eufemia, which has a wonderful carved Lombard column and a soaring two-tiered gallery. The spare interior just has a few fresco fragments but is beautiful in its stone simplicity.

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Casa Romana is worth visiting, the remains of a wealthy home decorated with mosaic floors.

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We walked and took the walkways up to the 15th century Rocca and walked around it to view the Ponte delle Torri, a medieval bridge and aqueduct based upon an earlier Roman one. Sadly, it has been closed since last year’s earthquake.

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By now it was past lunchtime, so we took the walkway down and crossed town. A few of the moving walkways were stopped due to some flooding, with the tiling dangerously slick.  Someone didn’t think things out very well, wonder if this is a usual occurrence?

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We found our way to a restaurant someone had recommended, 9Cento. Cute place with modern takes on traditional food. We shared a great antipasto salad of fresh beans with nuts and pecorino, and then all had different pastas. Evan had the winner, a meat-filled ravioli in a light sauce.

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We were all drooping by the time we finished, so decided to leave off a museum and just hunt out one more of the lower town churches on my list, San Pietro. As we approached, the hearse and cars in the lot showed a funeral was in progress, luckily the major reason to visit are the magnificent Romanesque carvings on the facade.

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Readers of this blog know how much I adore Romanesque symbolic and narrative carvings, and this 12th century church is a fantastic example. Death to sinners, Death of a Just Man, a wolf disguised as a monk, work and heaven, many allegories. We spent some time looking, until the cigarette smoke from those taking a break from the funeral drove us off.

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We stopped back at Madonna delle Lacrime  outside Trevi to see if it was open. Third time’s the charm–one of the nuns from the medical office next door unlocked the door for us so I could finally see the Perugino fresco inside.

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Back home, hung out and read, cooked a simple dinner, then we had a gorgeous sunset from our little porch. I could definitely see spending some more time in Spoleto as a base for a future trip to focus on Southern Umbria.

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Strolling Spello and Foligno

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Tuesday morning we hung around the house and Spello through the morning light drizzle. Larry and Evan took a long walk down, up and around town. From the top near the Rocca you can see the outline of where the Roman theater was.

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We had a nice long lunch at La Cantina in Spello. The antipasti of salads and the roast lamb were outstanding.

 

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I had been wanting to get to the Palazzo Trinci, a Romanesque building that had been rebuilt in the Gothic style in the 14th century. We parked in the Porta Romana garage again, and walked through the pedestrian zone to Piazza della Republica. The Duomo has a gorgeous façade, with highly stylized Romaesque carvings. Find your zodiac sign above the door.

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From the street, you enter into the Palazzo’s large brick courtyard, with a tall Gothic staircase to climb to the ticket office. (The staff were very accommodating about leading me to elevators. With no other visitors that we could see, it at least gave them something to do!)

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The top floor has a large picture gallery, which we quickly went through, not finding much of great interest. But after enduring a few rooms of dreary low-level religious art, you get tot he heart of the Palazzo–a series of rooms decorated in the 15th century with secular themes, very unusual. Documents discovered in the Trinci family archives led to the discovery of the artist, Gentile da Fabriano and his workshop. There’s a loggia illustrating the story of the founding of Rome, and up a little flight of stairs a jewel box of a chapel with the life of Mary.

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And then a fascinating room featuring the Liberal Arts on two walls; and the Planets on the others. (the people in this room were having a meeting–the only other people we saw inside!) The Liberal Arts are all women working at assorted tasks with props, it is fun to find Geometry, Arithmetic, Philosophy, Music, etc.

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Here’s a corridor which leads to the Duomo. On one side are heroes from antiquity, and the other, Ages of Man. How’s this for a cozy room? Enormous emperors staring down at you.

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Downstairs are several rooms of Roman bits and pieces, a wonderful little gothic stairway with original geometric decoration (ask the staff to let you in there if it’s closed off), and black and white Roman floors in the basement. We also wandered and found a series of rooms about the Foligno Quintana, with a few fun videos of the parade and joust.

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We walked out into the late afternoon, hearing nothing but Italian around us. Another marvelous regional museum, in a non-touristy town, with no one inside. Do go!

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