Tuesday, March 31, 2015

Day Eleven -- Siena

Tuesday, March 31

Of all the days I was looking forward to, I think I was anticipating the trip to Siena more than anything.  For whatever reason, and I can't necessarily put it into words, I love Siena and its cathedral (Duomo) is my favorite church anywhere I've been anywhere in my travels.

We both slept extremely well last night, although I did wake for a rather rambunctious round of DS snoring (she was out cold) but that quickly passed and we both woke around 8.  I managed to burn out the hair dryer unit on the wall.  Let's discuss the hair dryer situation here.  It seems that even the smaller family run hotels have done away with hair dryers that we would plug into a wall and use like we would at home.  Instead, they are hair dryer units, and not all are created equal.  Most of them involve a hose and some very, very weak air pressure.  This morning as I was drying my (thick but short) hair, I had to keep leaving the bathroom because it was so hot in there.  I was essentially drying my hair in phases, which wasn't helping the effort to get out of here as DS still had to shower and dry her hair as well.  Then the smell of burning plastic started and the weaker air pressure kicked in.  I decided not to create a four alarm fire and went to ask for a replacement hair dryer.  Andrea, the ace front desk guy (and owner, I believe) had a mobile replacement in about 5 minutes.   It was the BEST hair dryer of the trip so far.  Both of us actually had good hair days finally.  We returned tonight though to find that mobile unit gone and a replacement dryer unit back on the wall.  Fingers crossed for tomorrow.  Props to Andrea for his fast response time.

Anyway, we had our breakfast, which was pretty much the same as all trip, although not as extravagant as Carlo's mega feast, and off we went.  We walked back down through via Tournabuoni, through Piazza Santa Maria Novella and instead of over to the train station, hopped into the bus station and bought a round trip ticket to Siena.  The bus left at 10:10 and we were walking the streets of Siena by 11:30 after a quick cappuccino stop.

Back about a year ago, DS and I had seen an exhibition at Yale University by the Sienese Renaissance painter Francesco Vanni.  We both thought he was pretty good and now that we were going to be here, hoped to see some of his works in situ, as in researching him we found out that he had painted for a few churches in Siena.  So our first couple stops were to the Dominican Church and the Sanctuary of St. Catherine.  She is Siena's favorite daughter and also the patron saint of Italy.  The Dominican Church is known for having three relics of hers, her head, her thumb and the chains she flagellated herself with.  We saw them all and I have to say her head hasn't done well over time (a cool six or seven hundred years, but still...)  Relics continue to baffle me, but DS seems to enjoy seeing them.  It's interesting that the church feels the need to present a card along the altar in three languages stressing that extensive testing has proven that that head is really hers.  Ok then.

Anyway, as nothing in churches seems to be labeled with "who did it" we were sort of at a loss over what was Vanni's and what wasn't.  My research said one thing, the map with "you are here" and various letters indicating objects around the church said another.  A textual explanation positively identified still another painting of his. Finally we went into the bookshop, bought up all the postcards that said they were Vanni's works and went back in to find them.  Only to find the church had closed for lunch.  Ah well.  In St. Catherine's sanctuary, we had a little better luck as we went for the postcards first, and found two works of Vanni's right off the bat.  I think we have about a dozen postcards of his works, but only found 3.  Hey, we tried and it was fun.  In the sacristy of the church, we were both quite taken by a pastel on brown paper that seemed to us to be like the cartoons we've seen by Raphael, Michelangelo and da Vinci in our travels.  Of course there was no label, but the postcard in the bookshop said it was by Sodoma.  I've heard the name before, but never really paid much attention.  It's funny how piece work can turn you on to someone.

From here we walked downhill and then up (Siena is on three hills, the Dominican church on one, what we were going to see next on another) and because it was so gorgeous, we had already shed our coats.  It was about 70 degrees, with crystal blue skies and bright sun.  Had we sat in the sun for any period of time we definitely would have been too hot, but it was nice for the walking we did.  We snuck up on the Campo (main square) in Siena and took in the view of it from the ramp heading into it (one of my favorite views) before walking down.  By this point it was time for lunch so we had a pizza and glass of lemon soda at one of the tourist traps there.  So much for being speedy, as it took nearly an hour to get served.  Oh well, it was a great day for people watching and we were safely under a canopy out of the sun.  

From there we walked up to the Duomo and Duomo museum.  I bought the combo ticket that got us admitted into the two sites plus the Baptistry for a discounted rate.  We started in the Duomo museum, which has a wonderful Duccio on exhibit, what used to be the altarpiece in the Duomo.  DS was over the moon about that.  Then we waited in line about 20 minutes to climb the facade of the unfinished wing of the church to look out over Tuscany, Siena and the Duomo from on high.  With it being such a spectacular weather day, this was more than worth the wait.  We could see forever in all directions and got some great photos.  It was absolutely dreamy how perfect it was from that panoramic lookout.  I only wish we could have stayed up there longer. 

We still had the Duomo itself to explore, so we moved on to that next.  This is my favorite church not just for the ornate facade and black and white marble striped sides but also for the incredible black and white interior.  I just find it so attractive and mesmerizing, I can't help but smile when I walk in.   We followed the guidebook tour around it, hunting out the Michelangelo on a pope's tomb, a Bernini chapel and of course the Piccolomini Library, with it's incredible wall and ceiling murals.  All too quickly, our visit was over.  I think we both hit the wall mid-afternoon today and were having trouble putting one foot in front of the other.  As much as I wanted to stroll some more and see the baptistry, I sort of felt like I was running on an empty tank.  So we made a 5:00 bus back and were in Florence by 6:30.

Tonight we ate at another restaurant on our street at the corner of Tournabuoni called Le Antiche Carrozze.  A quick search on Google showed that it got fairly good reviews, so in we went.  We started with a caprese salad, with a big ball mozzarella that leaked milk everywhere when we cut into it.  Then we shared a tuscan white bean and sausage casserole and an eggplant and zucchini over pasta with red sauce and pesto. Both were pretty good, but I have to admit to being half asleep when I ate.  We had vin santo with almond cookies for dessert, and were back in the hotel a little after 8.

The good news of the day is that both of my newly purchased bags fit in my carryon.  Not much else does, but that's all that counts.  I think I can get everything else in my suitcase but I need to be really good about not buying anything else tomorrow.  Ha.

Last full day tomorrow...we have an itinerary which I think is reasonable, as long as we stay away from jewelry and leather shops.

Monday, March 30, 2015

Day Ten -- Pisa and Florence

Monday, March 30

Despite, or maybe because of, the fact that dinner went so late last night (nearly 11 by the time we got back to the hotel!) we both slept the sleep of the road weary.  I fully expected to hear our next door neighbors leave at 5:00 a.m. for their early flight and never did.  I first awoke when it was already light out, which I think is a first this whole trip.  We were ready to abandon any hard and fast schedule and just go out on our own.  I felt good when Abby said at the end of the day "I like doing this, just seeing something, walking a bit, eating something, doing some shopping, and repeat".  It was nice and relaxing to just wander a bit.

What I had on the agenda for today was to change hotels and go to Pisa.  We did both by about 11 am.  Changing hotels was a breeze, very quickly got a cab to here (moving from San Lorenzo to Ponte Vecchio neighborhood) and our room was already available.  I'd hoped to have the room I had with Mom way back in 2004, which had a sneak peek out over the Arno, but we are a few down from that.  This, I think, is the best hotel we've had all trip, although I liked the one in Volterra.

We headed right out for the train station, which was about a 15 minute walk and easily bought tickets at the automated ticket machine.  We were on the train and in Pisa around 11:30.  Pisa doesn't have too much to recommend it, other than the glorious Campo dei Miracoli (Field of Miracles) which houses its tower, cathedral and baptistry.  The walk from the train station to there takes you through the main shopping street and across a bridge over the Arno.  On this trip more than ever before, I'm really noticing the color palette here in Tuscany, the warm oranges, yellows and browns.  I'd just never really taken note, I guess.

I'd been to the Leaning Tower before so knew what to expect, but it was so funny to see DS take it all in.  It baffled her brain, made her laugh and was quite unbelievable.  She thinks, and I agree, that whomever was responsible would have been fired today.  But not just one, but three people, were involved in making the tower what it is today.  One who got it wrong to start with, and two who tried to "correct" it when adding on additional floors.  It is more curved than leaning, when you see it in person. Photos don't catch the "adjustments" like the naked eye does.

The baptistry and cathedral have beautiful exteriors and gorgeous interiors, including Galileo's lamp in the cathedral.  It was neat to see again.

We grabbed a focaccai caprese and headed back for the 1:30 train to Florence (yes, we were really only there about 2 hours tops).  We still have a lot to cover in Florence so we wanted to get back and not waste an entire day in transit.  On arrival back here, we went to Santa Maria Novella church, which had some unbelievable frescoes by Masaccio.

Then we stopped in a leather shop off San Lorenzo that our guide recommended.  She said she'd long known the owners and to mention her name if we went.  Well...let this trip become known as the "how much can you get in a 21" suitcase anyway?" trip.  Because we both got ANOTHER bag.  The discount was significant so hard to refuse.  I have no idea how I'll get this one home, but I'll figure it out on Thursday.  The problem comes when we visit the New Market outdoors near our hotel and I find two other bags that I want (and buy two wallets to match the bags I already have).  Oy.  And I did actually research how much it would cost to take an extra piece of luggage home (which I would still have to buy here) and the cost is too exorbitant to be worth it.  I do not need any more bags.  Repeat after me.

We did pop into the Duomo in Florence, which, as I remembered, is not nearly as intricate or attractive as the exterior.

DS had to pick up the two rings she bought yesterday and had sized overnight.  And while she was at it she bought yet another pair of earrings.  The shop gave her a fairly good discount on the rose gold, which is pretty unique to this region.

We tried to take in the Van Gogh multi-media exhibit and the Bargello today, but both closed randomly early on a whim and we missed them.

Tonight for dinner we tried Ristorante Toto, which is just down from our hotel.  The menu was irresistible, as I'd been trying to find pappa al pomodoro for DS so she could try it (a thick bread-based tomato soup) and two restaurants on our street have it.  It would be nice to eat so close by and just hop right into the hotel, so we did.  We started with the pappa al pomodoro and a plate of pecorino cheese with honey on bread.  All were wonderful.  DS had pesto gnocchi which she was was good, certainly better than last night's but not as good as the ricotta gnocchi I had in Volterra.  I had tagliatelli with a cream sauce and white truffles and I thought it was excellent pasta but I couldn't really taste the truffles, which was a disappointment. I washed it all down with a half bottle of Brunello de Montalcino. Our server seemed to disappear so we didn't have dessert there.  Instead, we stopped at the mini market next to the hotel and I bought limoncello and a white chocolate bar.  Just as good.

Planning a day trip to Siena for tomorrow.  Hopefully tomorrow the sun will return sometime before mid-afternoon.  It was warmer today for sure, even a bit muggy especially in Pisa, but we saw no sun until late in the day.  Ah well...

Sunday, March 29, 2015

Day Nine -- Florence

Sunday, March 29

Europe springing forward meant that the night was ridiculously short.  The alarm went off at 6 (5:00 to our body clocks) and we were up and out and heading toward the Uffizi by 7:45.

I can't say that this was the most comfortable sleep I've ever had.  The bed was very bouncy, more narrow than I remember a twin being and rolled around as I moved, so I awoke about three feet away from the wall.  Oh well, we're only here two nights.  Breakfast was ok, it had pretty standard offerings, except no eggs at all, not even the hard boiled type, so we were without protein in any sort to start the day.  But motor on we did.

Both of us are suffering pretty severely from calf cramping.  I'm taking a prescription anti inflammatory prescribed for me for other things and using a topical formula we got at a pharmacy here.  DS is also doping up on what the pharmacist gave her, to little or no effect in either case.  It's not crippling but does make us think twice every time we go near stairs, as that's when it's worse.  We know this is from the hiking Friday and I'm hoping it's better by Tuesday when we head to Siena.  Additionally, it's probably a good thing we are breaking from the group after tonight because they are starting to fall prey to colds left and right.  What I don't want is that to fly home with, so fingers crossed we can dodge it.

The day dawned bright and sunny although in the low 40s with wind.  By late afternoon it was close to 70, so I'm glad I suffered with just my windbreaker early on.

Anyway, off we went at what felt like the crack of dawn to the Uffizi, which is the granddaddy of Italian painting galleries, particularly the Renaissance artists.  Our group met up with a an American tour guide who took us through the Uffizi highlights.  Cynthia was a great presenter and I learned a lot from her.   We saw the Botticellis, Raphaels, Titians, the one Michelangelo tondo and a handful of other significant woks she thought important.  After a quick second breakfast in which we took in some much needed protein (tuna and buffalo mozzarella panini), we went off on our own to seek out the four Carravaggios they have here and then looked at the foreign artists, including Rembrandt (3 self portraits and one of Luke?) an El Greco, a few Goyas (including one that was just in the Boston MFA show) and two Metsus.  Also on our we took in the exhibition on Gerritt Von Honthurst, a Dutch painter known for how he portrayed darkness in a Carravaggist style.  I enjoyed this a lot as it seemed to me like we'd not been exposed to him much at home.  There was also another Carravaggio in this exhibit.  Unexpected bonus.

One of the pretty neat things in the von Honthurst exhibit was a very large painting of his that was owned by the Uffizi but in 1993 it was heavily damaged in a Mafia car bombing which rendered it unrecoverable.  This exhibition did a nice job of using projections over the damaged canvas to recreate what it looked like, highlighting the characters in it, and bringing it back to life even if just in facsimile.  It was a nice testament to the work.

We had a quick but overpriced gelato at the head of the Ponte Vecchio overlooking the Arno in the warm bright sunshine.  To think, at about the same time on this Sunday morning at home, I'd be brushing another 1-3 inches of snow off my car and heading to the gym.

Thus began the gold shopping in earnest.  We covered the first half of the Ponte Vecchio, with me falling victim to a bracelet and two rings and DS finding two rings she liked that they'll size on the spot for her.  We made sure to buy classic Florentine pieces that we'd never find at home so as to make a wise investment.  We took a much needed break for lunch at Open View Golden Bar, which has a nice view of the Ponte Vecchio from the Oltrarno side.  We shared a crostini misto plate and a buffalo mozzarella pizza with a ricotta-stuffed crust and a bottle of rose wine.  We could not resist the dessert of a mascarpone-stuffed calzone smothered in dark chocolate.  Yeah, that was pretty deadly.  I got a complimentary limoncello there too, which is always a nice touch.

Recharged a bit to carry on through the rest of the afternoon, we window shopped the other half of the Ponte Vecchio -- I think our work there is still not done -- and then walked to Santa Croce church, but not without at least four stops to seriously consider still more bags in leather shops that happened across our path.

Santa Croce is a nice church, with a facade somewhat similar to the Duomo, but its main draw is the graves of famous Italians, like Michelangelo, Donatello, Dante, Rossini and Macchiavelli.  It was sort of sad to see Michelangelo's tomb now and how not up to snuff the sculptures on it are; Vasari did the best he could, I'm sure but it just wasn't up to caliber of the man inside the tomb.

We made a quick stop at the Hard Rock Cafe for the usual collectors' items.  The HRC is new here since the last time I was here.  It's funny how so much has changed yet so much has stayed the same over time.  Then we crashed for a bit before dinner.

Our final group dinner was at a restaurant owned by the folks who own this restaurant. Like the non-Carlo meals on this tour, it was pretty standard.  We started with ribollita soup which was actually pretty good.  We then had ziti in tomato sauce and gnocchi alfredo.  We both agreed that we'd had better gnocchi on our own, for sure.  The main course was roasted potatoes, roast beef (which the chef came out to flambee and carve) and salad.  That was all pretty mediocre.  Dessert however was looking up.  It was a dessert cart with all sorts of offerings, but the one that caught my eye was a tiramisu with strawberry and orange rather than coffee.  That was really delicious.

Dinner ended pretty abruptly when the first person decided to leave.  We made it back to our room and started to pack when we heard voices of the family we like who came here to say goodbye.  We did have a nice time with them, and I'm glad I went out to say bye to them.  They said "you two were the funnest part of the trip"...oh my!

Saturday, March 28, 2015

Day Eight -- Florence

Saturday, March 28

For whatever reason I have been religiously awake at 5:15 every day here.  Granted, I was out cold at 9:00 last night, but still.  I am up just before the birds and then once they get going I can't get back to sleep.  There was one overzealous dove who greeted the day both mornings in Levanto right outside my window. 

Carlo the Second (he of the food chef fame, not the city guide fame) put on yet another immense spread at breakfast this morning.  Instead of the wonderful tropical salad yesterday, I had a gorgeous baked pear.  No sugar, no brown sugar, nothing artificial, just a perfectly baked pear.  I will dream of that, and Carlo's skills in the kitchen, for a long time to come.

We got on the bus at 8:30 after a group photo by the shoreline in Levanto and had about a 5 hour drive to Florence.  Ordinarily I would think that's a waste of a day, but my calves are absolutely screaming from yesterday's hike and I think they are enjoying the break.

I had to remind the guides that we are springing forward here tonight, as Europe goes to Daylight Savings time a few weeks after we do.  That means we lose an hour and will make our already early rise and shine tomorrow for the Uffizi even earlier.  I doubt I'll be up at 4:15 but you never know.

I am beyond excited to get back to Florence.  Our guide had a sort of surprise stop for us en route to Florence, which at first I was hesitant about.  It is the US WWII Cemetery.  They have about 440 US service men and women interred there.  It ended up being a very emotional stop and one I felt glad about doing.  It was still a beautiful day out so the white crosses (like at Arlington National Cemetery) against the green, green grass and bright blue sky were something.  But also to learn about the men who died here during the war, and how the veterans service is attempting to reinterpret their story now that most who were alive then are passing on.  It was all very interesting and touching.  The American who gave us the tour said if we were only to just pass a cross and read the name on it aloud because they may not have been said or visited for many years.  That was the least we could do, I felt.

We arrived here about 12:40 and got our rooms.  The hotel here is right off Piazza San Lorenzo.  Our room is number 6, which is up, down, up again, and up further still twice to reach.  The benefit to it, other than the cardiovascular workout to get to, is that there is absolutely no street noise, which is good, since it's on a fairly busy pedestrian area, even at a later hour.  The room is obviously a family room, as it has four beds in it.  The bathroom is up three little steps and is ridiculously cavernous, about the size of my kitchen at home.  We'll be fine here for just two nights.

As soon as we dropped our bags, we headed out since we had two hours before our orientation walk.  It didn't take me long to get oriented and I realized we are right off Piazza San Lorenzo where the Medici Chapel is.  We arrived about 1:10 and were told they were closing at 1:45.  We managed to get through the Chapel of Princes and then to Michelangelo's New Sacristy with ample time.  With a stroke of luck, we ended up being the last two people in the room with nine Michelangelo sculptures, it was just just heavenly.  On top of that, I finally, after a few trips here, got to see the drawings on the wall behind the altar that Michelangelo did.  Those were fabulous.  He was ticking the days off as he worked, with the hashmarks that we'd use today.  There were some sketches of a window for the Laurentian Library, a female body with a dog, a soldier, a comic.  That was unreal for me to FINALLY get to see, as usually it is closed off.

After that, we stopped at a pizzeria and I we shared a vegetarian and a four cheese pizza and a bottle of red wine.  Then we met up with the tour and did a very cursory orientation walk just of the immediate neighborhood, which ended at the Accademia to see Michelangelo's David.  That is always a great stop for me, as I think nothing beats looking at that amazing sculpture.  We stayed there until the Accademia closed and managed to be one of the few left there as well.  The Art Gods were on our side for sure today.

I'd done some research before we left home and reserved a restaurant tonight called La Giostra.  It was about four blocks behind the Duomo.  I think this one just might go down in history as a top 5 meal.  We started with a glass of Prosecco and a plate of amuse bouche including (hold on to your hats here): bruschetta with tomato and olive oil, eggplant in balsamic, red pepper in balsamic, potato dumpling and celery root in a creamy mayo type sauce.  For antipasti we had carpaccio of eggplant, zucchini and pecorino, which was to die for, just so simple but great flavors.  Our main course was gnocchi with pistachios and pears in a gorgonzola sauce, which had me over the moon.  It was absolutely perfect.  We had all that with a bottle of sangiovese-cabernet which was a nice pairing.  (For those keeping score, yes, that was two bottles of wine today, but hell we are on vacation!)  For dessert we shared a semifreddo with strawberries and raspberries, and the house gave us a limoncello.  All in all, an excellent meal.  I hope I can manage good choices the rest of the week!

It is so good to be back here.  It's been almost 10 years, believe it or not.  It's nice to see how constant it is, with David and the Duomo remaining unchanged as they did for hundreds of years before I was ever here.  I'm anxious to see more...

Europe springs ahead tonight so we lose an hour.  We have to leave at the ungodly hour of 7:45 so we're up at 6.  Off to bed now.

Day Seven -- Cinque Terre

Friday, March 27

For the last six months or so, I've been making a deal with the Travel Gods.  I've been bartering with them, agreeing to take whatever weather they throw at us on this trip, if only they would give us the stereotypical blue skies and bright sun on our one full day in the Cinque Terre.  And all my bartering paid off.

But a word first about breakfast.  Last night, we met another Carlo, who was not nearly as attractive as the Lucchese Carlo, but this Carlo could cook.  He made a feast for us last night that was more like a wedding reception on steroids, the really good, make you happy, make you bloated type of steroids.  We both dreamt of and articulated our hopes for breakfast.  Could he be as good for breakfast?  Oh, indeed he was.

The breakfast buffet, served with Carlo at the helm, was everything from scrambled eggs (HALLELUJAH!!) and fried prosciutto (oh bacon, you are SO yesterday) to a gorgeous tropical fruit salad, poached pears, croissants with three kinds of jelly and Nutella, toast, a full antipasto table, buffalo mozzarella and hard boiled eggs.  With fresh juice and cappuccino, it was a dream.

So then, sitting at the train station waiting for the train to our first stop of the day, Abby and I discussed the worth of Lucca's Carlo vs. Levanto's Carlo, and we decided we'd both take Levanto's Carlo home in a heartbeat.  Yes, what we're saying is the food was THAT good.  Better than....well, you know.

We decided last night that we'd head to Monterosso, the next town over and first town south of us in the five connected villages known as the Cinque Terre.  Monterosso is the largest of the five towns and has the most to see.  Also, at this time of year, pre-Easter and pre-tourist season, it has the most open.  We followed the walking tour in our guidebook which took us to a church that was completely ravaged by the floods in 2011.  There were photos hanging nearby which showed the utter devastation and explained how quickly the town mobilized to save the church and the store owners most important to the town's livelihood.  Tourism is really it here, and without it, they'd have not much.  The fact that they got things cleaned up so fast and back to normal is not only a testament to their hard work but also an indicator to how they rely on the tourism dollar.

From the outset I realized how incredibly vivid the colors are here.  Of course it helps to have a beautifully dry, crisp blue morning sky and bright early spring sun (that fortunately lasted all day) but even the colors of the buildings along the water felt like they were popping against the coastline.  It really is picture postcard beautiful.  No wonder why it is so touristed.

We followed not only the sea level tour but also the walk that wound its way up and around the cliff overlooking Monterosso to a former convent that is kept by a capuchin monk.  I walked into it by myself and was relieved to escape the warmth and brightness of the day and just relax in the quiet stillness of the church.  I was met with the sound of a handful of monks chanting behind the choir.  It was just beautiful.  I sat there for a bit before DS joined me, and we admired the handsome Van Dyck of The Crucifixion that was hanging in there too (apparently Van Dyck spent some time in Levanto) before we headed back out to start our hike.

There are four "official" hikes that connect the five Cinque Terre towns right along the coast.  But due to mudslides, rockslides and a lot of winter rain, only one was open and that was the one that connected Monterosso with Vernazza.  I'd done a bit of research last night on the routes and learned that this was the most challenging of the four coastal hikes and would take about two hours.  And it did.  But it was worth it.

After one last cappuccino in the town square in Monterosso, we started off with a flat steep section, which then led to about 20 minutes of nothing but stairs going up and up and up.  It became rolling hills for a bit, with varying terrain of uneven rock, uneven cement, mud and a bit of solid dirt.  It was narrow at times, felt unsafe at times, was hard to pass others or required that we stopped to let them pass. It was trying as it got hotter higher, harder, and seemingly endless.   Finally though, I caught a peek of Vernazza through the trees and it was all worth it.  I'm not sure if I liked Vernazza so much because of how hard we worked to get there, but it was just as I imagined, both from on high and once we hit the town at sea level.  In the end it took us about 2 hours and 20 minutes but we made it.  And immediately hit a restaurant for food and a bathroom!

Lunch was at Trattoria da Sandro, on the main street running through Vernazza.  I had triofe pasta in a pesto sauce and a lemon soda.  DS had vegetarian ravioli in a walnut sauce and it was just as good.  Refueled we struck back out.  But not without a gelato first.  We found an artisanal gelateria on the main drag and I had cherry, chocolate and a combination of white chocolate chip that was quite good.  With that we did a quick pass around Vernazza (these towns are all of a few hundred people and filled with nothing but shops and restaurants, so there isn't too much to "see"; I found that once we got the postcard shots, it was ok to move on) and then bought train tickets ($1.80 each hop) to Corniglia.

Corniglia is the only town not on the harbor.  The train arrives at sea level and you have the option of either climbing the 385 steps to the town or take a shuttle bus up to this tiny clifftop town.  We opted for the bus.  We were there not more than 20 minutes and we'd covered the handful of lanes that make up the town. One odd thing is that you can't see Corniglia from the towns on either side of it, so I have no real photographic evidence I was even there.

We walked down the 385 steps (no easy feat on tired legs) and caught the very next train to Manarola.  This is a cute little town that sticks its foot out into the sea.  By this point we were sufficiently tired that we sort of gave up on doing the walking tours of the villages no matter how short they were.  We stopped, got the photos we wanted, saw the sights described in the books that we wanted to see, and moved on to the next city.  It is somewhat unfortunate that the same reliance on tourism that I mention above lends itself to what I didn't really care for in the towns.  They were really commercial.  They were lots of shops and restaurants that cater to tourists, I just can't really imagine any locals hanging out near them, which is unfortunate.

Our last stop was Riomaggiore, which has a very narrow little inlet to the sea, and not much else to mention it.  Just about everything there was still closed up pre-Easter so we couldn't even find a place to eat dinner.  So we headed back to Levanto.

I'm so glad we had a most excellent day for the hike.  We had light sweatshirts on for part of the morning but the rest of the day was in short sleeves and capri running pants and sneakers.  It was casual, comfortable and we got a hell of a workout in (almost 23,000 steps, 153 flights of steps and over 10 miles).  But I don't know that I'd return here unless I knew other trails were open.  I felt like I saw what I needed to and don't need to revisit it, but I also enjoyed the day immensely.

After cleaning the grime and sweat off ourselves, we had dinner at Risorante Moresco, near our hotel in Levanto.  We started with Insalata Caprese (mozzarella and tomato) which was melt in our mouths wonderful.  I had the gnocchi with crabmeat in a red sauce, which was really good.  And we split a frito misto, which we ate the calamari and shrimp on, and not much else.  I tried a couple sardines, but that was it.  We split a bottle of Cinque Terre (bottled in Monterosso) white wine.  With a limoncino dessert, it was a nice way to end an epic day.  In bed early, off to Florence at 8:15 tomorrow!  So excited, but it is our last stop...

Thursday, March 26, 2015

Day Six -- Lucca and Levanto

Thursday, March 26

I think we both slept much better last night now that we figured out how to shut the heat off and leave the windows open.  Nevertheless, I was still up about 5:15, ahead of the alarm.  We had to eat at 7 in order to be on the bus by 8:15.  I think it's a drawback of being on a tour, having to factor in how slowly and amorphous a group moves.  I certainly wouldn't have gotten us up that early if we were on our own.

Breakfast was the same as yesterday.  Enough to get us out the door but not necessarily anything to write home about.  Overall I liked the hotel.  It was in an excellent location and well appointed, comfortable once we figured out the heat and friendly staff.

We left Volterra for Lucca at 8:15 and arrived there at about 10:40.  We had one stop en route at yet another rest stop where I picked up a cappuccino in a bottle, a tube of Smarties and a bag of Fonzies (think white cheese curls).  By the looks of what everyone else bought, we all needed something salty.

Lucca was different from Volterra in that it seemed bigger, is definitely more commercial and is not on a hilltop isolated from its surroundings.  It's a walled city but the walls just let you out into the city around it.

Our guide for the morning was the very dashing Carlo.  What he was lacking for in palpable excitement he made up for in the visuals.  He led us through Lucca, showing us various churches, squares and towers and explained to us the history of Lucca.  It is both Renaissance and Medieval, and you can see that as you walk around.  From one corner to the next, you can be crossing through a couple hundred years.

The cathedral was interesting in that it held a cross that Nicodermis (took Christ down off the cross) claimed in a letter was THE cross, however Carlo felt it was somewhat too Middle Eastern to be that.  In any event, that cross, and the story of how it somehow wandered on its own by boat and donkey cart without drivers to Lucca, was the reason why Lucca became a major pilgrimage destination, right up there with Rome and Santiago de Compestella.  Who knew.

Also in the same cathedral was a Tintoretto that was pretty stunning (The Last Supper) as well as a tomb made of marble of a young girl who died. The tomb was one that Michelangelo studied for its beauty.

We left the handsome Carlo and went off on our own for lunch.  We found a pizza shop that also makes Cecini, which is a garbanzo bean flatbread.  It was tasty but not necessarily a meal, so we also had a slice of margherita pizza.

After lunch we strolled a bit, bought some Laudree macarons (only $16, which is down from $25 in NYC!) and I climbed the tower with a garden on the roof for a nice view of the city.

I think as a whole, it was a good experience to see Lucca, but we both definitely like Volterra better, as it was a lot less commercial and more "doable" in the time we had.

We took off on our bus at about 2:45 and arrived in Levanto at about 4:00.  Passing near Carrara on the way, we saw lots of large lots full of enormous blocks of marble just waiting for something to be done with them.  Although our guide says that what usually happens now is that the Carrara marble ends up in the Middle East, and not Europe or even the United States.  Depressing.

Once we got here and checked in, we went out on an orientation walk.  I really only wanted to see how to get to the train station to get to the other towns.  Once we found that out, we bailed, and just in time too as it became a heavy mist and better to spend in our room with a bottle of limoncino that we'd just picked up at the market.

I spent the hour before dinner dissecting the trail maps between the five trails and deciding how we are going to tackle the five towns tomorrow.  The sad truth is that only one of the four coastal routes between the towns is open.  Mudslides and flooding in recent years have washed out routes that they can't safely reopen.  But within each town there is enough hiking to panoramic overlooks and promontories that I think we'll get to see what we came here for and get the workout that we've been training for/toward all winter.  Still hoping for the best for weather.  That light rain seems to have stopped tonight. Fingers crossed.

Tonight we had a pesto making demonstration by the hotel chef that as just amazing.  He told us that you never should use a food processor to make pesto because the basil leaves need to be ground and not cut and burnt like they get in a food processor. After tasting the fruits of his labors, I'd agree.  Good glory was it amazing.

We had an apertif and snacks and then a glorious buffet put on by this same chef Carlo (yes, another Carlo).  It was predominantly seafood, pesto and veggies:  fish soup (9 kinds of fish), seafood salad, pesto lasagna, artichoke risotto, fried crab claws, stuffed sardines, fried veggies (like tempura style), fried calamari and roast beef and rabbit.  I tried everything but the meats, and it was all wonderful.  This could go down as an epic meal.  There was local white and red wine, both of which were really good, and for dessert profiteroles with chocolate sauce and homemade limoncino (as the Ligurian limoncello is called).  I wonder if it's unreasonable to have extremely high expectations for breakfast tomorrow if Carlo's in charge of it....

At some point toward the end, someone put the Village People on the PA in the hotel restaurant and we were doing a conga line to YMCA.  I will deny it when I'm sober again, but it was fun.  We sat with still another group of folks and found them great to talk to.

This hotel feels like your typical beach resort city hotel.  There are actually three beds in our room and we have a balcony that, when you look hard right, you can see the sea.  We are maybe four hotels in from the water.  We have lost a towel warmer in the transition to Liguria, though.  That's tough as I think we've both grown to rely on it!

Early to bed, we're hoping to be on the 8:40 train to the next town to start our hike!

Wednesday, March 25, 2015

Day Five -- Volterra

Wednesday, March 25

It was somewhat difficult sleeping last night until we regulated the room temperature.  We couldn't seem to get the room cool enough to sleep (which is a rarity for me) and instead just shut the vents off and opened both windows, sleeping with them wide open from 12:30 onward.

It was fairly quiet most of the night, despite our room being on the front of the building. There is next to no automobile traffic in Volterra, but what there is inevitably goes past the hotel, since it's the "main street" of the town.  Still, I slept pretty solidly until 6:25.  

The breakfast here isn't as extensive as what we had in Rome. A few pastries, a little cereal, some cold cuts and cheese and bread.  No cappuccino, which I sorely missed.  We had to meet our guide at 9, so we squeezed ourselves into a table with others on the trip.  It's a very small breakfast room not capable of handling all 29 of us plus other guests at once, so we ate in shifts.

It was raining and somewhat damp feeling today.  Not heavily raining, but enough to be a nuisance.  During our first break in the tour, we zipped back to the hotel to put another layer on as we weren't warm enough in the jackets that were too warm for us yesterday in the Forum.

I've been watching the weather for the end of this week since we left home.  I will give up any decent weather any other day of this trip, but for the day we hike Cinque Terre, I want beautiful blue skies and sun, and it looks like we might just get that.  So I'll shut up and suffer through this and hope travel karma pays off.

Our guide Annie took us through the main sights here in Volterra.  We started at the city hall, which was the model for other city halls like those in Siena and Florence.  Then the Duomo, which, oddly, used to front the square until the locals built the city hall and built that right in front of the Duomo, showing that city government came before religion.

We then walked on to a panoramic overlook which on a clear day I'm sure would reveal a splendid view of the Pisan countryside.  Right under that overlook though is one of the only remaining Roman theaters built from stone.  Even though building the theater out of stone was illegal at the time, they got around it by building a temple to Jupiter there, which using stone was allowed for.  So even then, finding loopholes was ok.

The history of the Etruscans is incredibly interesting, and while I can't give particulars of time and date based on a limited lesson this morning, it seems to me that they were different for their time, perhaps ahead of their time, and that perhaps they were seen as odd, especially by the Romans who of course tried to invade.  Volterra was a powerhouse in its day, with a population of over 25,000 at one point (right now it's about 12,000).  They weren't afraid of defying current fashion or social mores, like letting women read and write as well as teach.  Hey, they weren't half bad.

Our next stop was an alabaster workshop where we watched a craftsman make a bowl from scratch.  That was really interesting and a memorable experience, especially for DS, who teaches a section on alabaster at the museum at home and who was lucky enough to be able to buy the bowl from the craftsman.

The Etruscan Museum here is really the big draw, and I found the highlights that Annie took us through to be interesting enough but I grew weary of urn lids and pitchers pretty quickly.  Annie was a wonderful guide, who is very passionate and excited about her subject matter, so it was easy to get pulled along in her presentation, which was great.

We did a bit more window shopping on the way to finding lunch.  We stopped in the alabaster shop run by the two craftsmen we saw this morning, and bought some trinkets (fortunately small enough to squeeze into my wee suitcase) and then at an Etruscan jewelry shop where I bought still more trinkets in the form of jewelry.

Lunch on our own was at a little pizza place near the Etruscan museum.  I had a goronzola and sausage pizza and a glass of orange Fanta.  It really hit the spot.  We had a limoncino shot for dessert.  

We are trying to strategically plan our clothes for the rest of the trip and decided with the rainy and now windy weather we'd try to do laundry here rather than waste precious time in Cinque Terre or Florence.  That was certainly an experience!  Our guidebook mentioned a self service laundry near the main square so we went to that and I managed to navigate the menus on the washing machine and dryer to completely restock us for the days to come.

So now that we had a full week's worth of clean laundry to get by on, we set out on still more shopping.  We both stumbled upon gorgeous Italian leather handbags that caught our eyes, so we bought them, vowing to find a way to get them home even with our restricted luggage capacity.  I also found a ring and a Tuscan ceramic tile that says "Attenti al gatti" (beware the cats) which will go nicely with my "beware the cat" that I got for Morley.

There is an exhibition on here at the Pinacoteca of a painting by an artist from 1540 of Christ's descent from the cross.  It is notable because the artist, at the time, was considered mentally unstable and painting way beyond the style of the day.  The thing is, the way he painted then, nearly 500 years ago, was a style that is very much in fashion today (and very out of the ordinary then).  In all seriousness, he could have been any of the contemporary artists we see at home now.  This particular exhibition included that one painting of his, and then at various other locations in the city, there were other artists' interpretations of that  piece. It was really very cool to walk around and see how others saw it.  And it was another exhibition for our list this year.

We met back up with most of the group at 6:00 for a wine tasting with Francesco, who is Annie's (from this morning) husband.  He was fabulous, and I've taken wine classes before.  I still learned a lot.  We sampled four wines, a San Gimignano white, a Chianti Classico, a supertuscan and a Brunello di Montalcino.  They had antipasti there to go with the tasting and to show how the wines changed taste as we ate.  It was a great hour and a half.  So glad that was included as part of the tour.

Dinner was on our own so we went to Ristorante Enoteca del Duca, which I had researched but not reserved ahead of time.  This was meant to be one of those white table-clothed, romantic, well-dressed restaurants but we went in our tour garb and were served a fabulous meal.  We both started with the pecorino souffle with black truffles, and I had the ricotta and spinach gnocchi with gorgonzola and black truffle sauce.  Yes, there is a theme here, but I can't shake it.  I figure we'll be eating seafood up in Cinque Terre so I have to get my pasta and my truffles while I can.  The waiters gave us prosecco to start and their own homemade limoncello at the end as a courtesy.  The service was outstanding and it was one of the best meals I've had, easily in the top 5.  The souffle was simple and lightly seasoned, so it was a great, light starter.  The gnocchi were unreal.  They were like gumball sized bubbles that just melted in my mouth into ricotta goodness.  I can't even explain how delicate they were.  It was just perfect.  We both finished with a chocolate mousse that was a nice way to end.  Well, that and the limoncello.

I've managed to pack all of my clothes and all my purchases, so we're in good shape.  Moving on to Lucca and then Levanto tomorrow.  Weather improving once we leave here.

Tuesday, March 24, 2015

Day Four -- Rome to Volterra

Tuesday, March 24

Truly slept the sleep of the dead last night.  I fell asleep mid-conversation with DS and woke at 5:15 on my own.  We had a slightly later departure today, 8:15, and we had to pack up and get our stuff out too.  Same delicious breakfast as yesterday, which I'll miss, especially the granola and the cappuccino.

A few words about this hotel here in Rome, it was just wonderful.  The beds were comfortable, the room was large and well heated/cooled.  We were both very comfortable and happy.  The bathroom though was awesome.  It really good sized and and had heated floors, heated towel rack, bidet and a nice shower.

We dragged our bags about 4 blocks through the morning rush (which I'm sure the commuters like me loved) to Piazza Republicca where our bus met us.  Dino is a driver and he's a cute, friendly Italian, certainly not hard on the eyes.  He drove us to the Colosseum where we met our guide Iliaria.  She was really friendly and knew quite a lot.  As this was a return trip for me, there wasn't a lot for me to learn but it was good to hear it all again.  The day was beautiful, bright sunny skies and warm even in the morning.  I didn't even try the fleece today, just went with my light windbreaker which I was able to take off around 10 a.m.  This is just incredible touring weather. 

It took about 4 hours to see both the Colosseum and the Forum.  It was quite crowded with a lot of school groups on spring trips, but it wasn't as bad as it could have been.  We're lucky to be here just ahead of busy season.  The guide at the Vatican Museums yesterday said that last year on Good Friday they had 33,000 visitors in one day.  The guide today said on days like that, you pay to enter and go through security and you stay in that same line the entire way through museum all the way through to the Sistine Chapel.  That's just not my idea of fun.

Took the autostrada to Volterra, stopping for lunch at a roadside cafeteria.  It was pretty much the Italian equivalent of truck stop food and in my opinion pretty vile.  It served the purpose of getting us food en route from Rome to Volterra (a four hour drive) but it was barely edible.  We each had spaghetti (how can you screw that up?) with a side of chopped veggies (Eggplant, zucchini and red pepper) in olive oil.  It was just too greasy and didn't sit well from the moment it went down.  On top of that the drive from the autostrada up to Volterra was a lot of climbing and tricky turns, so a test for even the toughest, steadiest stomachs.  Having left Rome at 12:30, we arrived at Volterra at 5:30, disembarked at the main parking lot and it looked like the invasion of Volterra as 29 travelers toting 19" suitcases rolled through the main thoroughfare of Volterra to our next hotel.

The ride through Tuscany was giving me the itch to do another bike tour here.  I spotted Siena and San Gimignano from the bus and that just made me want to get out there and ride.  Volterra itself is a lot like San Gimignano, another hill town, only minus the towers.  It's fortified with a tall brick wall and looks out on to the spacious countryside around it.  Our hotel is right on the main street near one of the gates.  Our room is on the the top floor facing the front.  We have, instead of two twin beds, a queen and a twin.  I drew the long straw and got the queen for tonight.  As I sit here typing, I hear a church bell going off incessantly, a sound which, when I hear it again at home, will make me smile.  

Dinner tonight was at Don Beta, a local family run establishment right here on the main street and just down from the hotel.  It was again served family style and we all ate as a group around a u-shaped table.  The antipasti was prosciutto, salami, cheese and bread.  The pasta was quite a nice surprise. It appeared to me to be a spinach tortellini with radicchio and a walnut cream sauce that was spectacular.  I could have eaten an entire bowl of that.  The main course was a nicely marinated boar tips.  We all thought was lamb but in the end they told us boar.  Not bad if I'm honest.  There was no dessert, but the house wine was flowing and there was limoncello.  Definitely a better meal than the first night.

I must admit that I'm warming to the group idea a bit.  We sat with a different set of folks tonight and it was a lot more fun.  We were also required to play a name game, which could have been painful but really wasn't (or the wine numbed the pain).

We're in bed early for once, and get to sleep until 7 tomorrow rather than 5:30.  What a treat!

Monday, March 23, 2015

Day Three - Rome

Monday, March 23

Much too early of a start today, 5:45 the alarm went off, that's practically get up for work time.  I slept like a log, right through to the alarm.  It's that sleep of the somewhat jetlagged, still not unwound from home sleep.

Same breakfast at yesterday and we were there right when the breakfast room opened for fear of being late for the group's departure at 7:45.  One thing they have instilled in us is not being late.  Even the stragglers from yesterday were up early.

The group headed out and for the nearby Metro stop.  I'd thought it'd be nothing short of a circus trying to get 29 people to buy Metro tickets, but both today for the Metro and yesterday for the bus, the guides already had a big stack for us.  And today they gave us an additional one to get back to where we started once we broke from the group.  Great planning on their part.

We took the Metro to Ottaviano stop, nearest to the Vatican.  We walked about 10 minutes to Piazza San Marco and jumped right into the line to get into St. Peter's Basilica.  At that point the line was from the right most side of the basilica clockwise to the bottom middle of the piazza.  It took about 1/2 hour to reach the security check, as we were all cut off by large school groups from France who were going in to be confirmed in the basilica.  I can imagine that must have been an honor, but didn't appreciate a few hundred kids plowing by us and slowing down the line.  In any event, we got in about 9:30 and had an hour to wander on our own, as the guides aren't allowed to take tours in.

It has been interesting to see DS's reaction to the art she's seeing and the Pieta today was no exception.  I was enthralled by what she saw in it that I hadn't before.  It is interesting to hear a schooled viewpoint.  Right near the Pieta is the new tomb for Pope John Paul (now Saint).  Since I was last here in 2007 they've moved him from the crypt to out in the basilica, more befitting of a modern day saint, I suppose.  Because of the aforementioned confirmation services, we weren't allowed up near the altar or the baldachino but I think we got enough of a flavor from where we were.  It was more striking for me being there on this my third trip to Rome, as we were just in London and visited Westminster Abbey and St. Paul's Cathedral, both of which are dwarfed by this.

Walking back toward the group's meeting spot, we were approached by one of the dozens of people hawking tours of the Vatican Museums.  When DS scowled at them, one yelled to the other "they're Germans".  Now we try to be a LOT of things, but German isn't one of them.  DS yelled back "German? What the hell?" and they said "YES, GERMAN!" apparently not picking up on the accent.  Interesting encounter in any event.

While waiting for the group to rally, we hit a gelato stand (yes, it was only 10:30, but this is vacation and breakfast was almost 4 hours earlier, and we had a 3 hour tour to go before lunch).  Our guide recommended The Old Bridge which was sort of across from the Vatican walls on the way to the Vatican Museums from Piazza San Marco.  Well, we weren't disappointed.  I had caramel, ricotta and pistachio and chocolate, with a big scoop of panna on top.  So damn good, very creamy and rich.

The group moved on to meet our guide Antonella, half Italian, half British, at the Vatican Museum entrance.  Let me tell you the line for single entry to the museum was easily 1/2 mile long.  It snaked back to well before where we met our group.  The special group entrance wasn't nearly as long but still about 20 minutes to get in.  The guides had provided us with earpieces and remote radios that we could listen to them on from a large distance, and as much as I ridicule them when I see them, they helped greatly in mob scene like this.  As one who loathes thick crowds, this was a ridiculously painful experience, but there's just no way around it.  Practically the entire experience was chest to back, shoulder to shoulder with thongs of people.  While the Borghese smartly limited its crowds to just 360 at a time, the Vatican seems to care little about crowd control, forgetting that the empty Greek and Etruscan galleries yield to the most poplar Sistine Chapel, which is where just about everyone who entered was heading anyway.  Whatever else the saw along the way was just a bonus.

We however lucked out.  I'd only visited the Vatican Museums once before on an after-hours tour, with just 15 other people, so I'd been spared this experience but only saw limited parts of the museum, which did not include the Pinacoteca, home to a gorgeous Caravaggio.  Fortunately, Antonella took us in today to see that and the Raphael tapestries, both huge scores in my book (especially since I saw the cartoons for the Raphael tapestries back in London at the V&A in December!)  We skipped a whole lot of other things as we pressed on toward the Sistine Chapel.  It seemed as if we maybe were about to suffer from a bout of crowd control when we arrived to find the entrance to the Chapel closed off.  But DS, eagle eyed as ever, saw them open it briefly and we jumped from the group and through the opening.  Phew, made it in.

Inside the Sistine Chapel was not as packed as I expected and the security did a decent job of routing traffic around but as crowded as it was, it still could not distract from how gorgeous that ceiling is.  The only way to summarize it is that I feel truly blessed to have seen it, again, and come away humbled by his genius.  That he painted it standing, leaning backwards, that he used no guidelines to keep the lines straight, that he ended up blind and unable to bend forward to read from this is all just symbolic of him suffering for his art.  Just incredible.

We were on our own from here on out, so we started to walk back toward the Metro and stopped at a pizza shop for a four cheese pizza and Fanta lemon.  Fortified, we took the Metro two stops to Flaminio, which is right at the Piazza del Popolo.  My plan had been to do a Caravaggio crawl through the historic center, but the best plans are  foiled by erratic opening times of churches and limited time in the city itself.  Santa Maria del Popolo didn't open until 4:00 and we were there about 2:30, so I wasn't wasting 90 minutes there waiting.  We checked out the twin churches there in the piazza and walked down to see the Spanish Steps and the Trevi Fountain, which is drained dry and under scaffolding but we could still walk through the statues and toss our coin into the dry well, ensuring our return to Rome.

From there we walked over toward Piazza Navona, stopping along the way into a bar for our first Negroni of the trip.  That was pretty strong but tasty and I'm sure even though it was 3:30 here, it was after  somewhere in the world, but if not, this is vacation and I've earned this sort of decadence.

We popped into Santa Maria Sopra Minerva to see the early Michelangelo sculpture of Jesus there near the altar.  It still amazes me how you can see such notable art for free just by popping into churches!  Next up was San Luigi dei Francesi, with it's wonderful cycle of Caravaggios, three in a small chapel. I'd seen them before but will never say no to seeing them again, especially in situ.  His realism is just so striking.

Just a block over is Piazza Navona and Tre Scalini, where we stopped for their acclaimed chocolate tartufo ice cream and a strawberry prosecco cocktail.

We walked back down toward Largo Argentina, a ruined section of the city where it's thought that Caesar was assassinated.  For me, it's most notable for its cat sanctuary.  They keep, spay and vaccinate nearly 200 cats who inhabit the ruins.  It's sort of neat to see the cats lolling about in the ruins, but also standing a chance to get adopted if they're so inspired.  I'd been there before and was happy to visit again and make a donation to the cause.

A couple blocks past that is the Vittorio Emmanuel monument to the reunification of Italy.  I'd thought we'd climb to the top of it, but instead we went up to the Campidoglio and looked out over the Forum from there, then walked down to the street level and took in a long view of the Coliseum and Trajan's Market from there.

At that point it was close to dinner.  I'd reserved a table at Armando al Pantheon, a favorite of mine from previous trips.  They were completely prebooked and were turning people away left and right.  This meal did not disappoint.  I started with the bruschetta with black truffle and olive oil, which was just awesome.  My main course was spaghetti carbonara, which was just perfect and very very filling (very cheesy but not in an Alfredo way).  And we both had the semidfreddo for dessert.  With a glass of Montepulciano del Abruzzo, it was excellent, and just as good as I remember.

After one last look at the Pantheon, my favorite place in Rome, we splurged for a cab back to the hotel, as we logged over 21,000 steps on the Fitbit today and both of us were tired and sore.  Both of us were packed pretty quickly and ready to roll out of here tomorrow.  Onward to Volterra.