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Italy-With Pictures.

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posted on Aug, 24 2015 @ 06:51 PM
Having recently returned from an extended visit to my family's homeland I wanted to share some of the more interesting and unique experiences with my fellow members.

After hearing my family and I discuss our previous trips to Italy my wife said last year, "When do I get to go?", to which I replied, "How about August?", which she found to be a sufficiently acceptable answer and the planning began soon after. As I travel almost every week for business I have been able to accumulate a large amount of airline miles and hotel points which made the expense portion a bit more manageable.

After taking off from Newark International in the late afternoon we landed in Rome's Fiumicino Airport the next morning which made the time transition much easier to deal with. We then hopped on the local train to Roma Tiburtina Station where we changed trains for the inter-regional to Chiusi, Tuscany.

PART I: Country Living in Tuscany

Our neighbor who lives around the corner from us in West Orange picked us up at the station and drove us to her family's home town of San Casciano dei Bangi (Saint Cassius of the Baths) where she has a couple of villas. Why 'of the Baths'? More on that later.

The town is part of Italy's Borghi piu belli d'Italia (most prettiest villages) and is located about 40 miles southeast of Siena in the Tuscan Hills with a spectacular view of both Mount Amiata and the southern end of the Val d'Orcia (Bear Valley). The perspective from the central Piazza shows the amazing views of the surrounding countryside.

View of Mount Amiata:

The Val d'Orcia

Our villa was located a few small blocks off the main piazza past the main church of Saints Cassius and Anthony and across from the Palazzo dei Pace (The Palace of Peace-which housed the Arch Bishop at one point and is now a retreat). The villa is located between the castle of the Bolonga family and the campanile (bell tower) of the church.

The façade of the Church of Saint Cassius:

This is the castle during the day:

View from the castle of the Val d'Orcia:

The first night we were there we were guests of honor for the dinner of our Contrada called Porticciolo (Little Door) in preparation for the next day's Palio (annual athletic event). For those who do not know a Contrada is a part of a town or city that forms a social group and has a team that participates in events. San Casciano has four Contradas, the other three are Gattineta (Little Cat Place), Campanile (The Bell Tower) and Il Pozzo (The Well) which correspond to the other portions of the town. Each Contrada displays flag all over their portion of the town to mark their boundary and help promote a little civic competition.

Here is our flag:

The town decorated with flags for the Contradas:

The actual Porticciolo which is now the 'backdoor' to the town but at one point, prior to the piazza being completed, was the main entrance:

Our traditional meal was all seafood, we had Spaghetti alla Bachina (Breakwater or Jetty sauce since they use small crustaceans found near the jetty), a seafood frito misto and various homemade desserts. Oh, yeah, and plenty of wine. There are plenty of toasts of loyalty to the Contrada which our friend would not take since she is part of Campanile, even though her brother was the chef for Porticciolo, as team honor is paramount.

After dinner everyone heads to the square to mingle, and by mingle I mean trash talk and make bets on the next day's events. The central square at night is quite pretty with a fantastic view of the castle looming right above:

The next day brought the Palio with its five different events. A large parade of each Contrada in its team colors, ours is the red and gold, is first blessed and then accompanied by drums and trumpets, as they make their way through the town, concluding in the piazza.

The Blessing:

The Parade:

As special guests we were given seats right at the finish line.The first event is the sack race:

Then each team has one whack at breaking a clay pot that the team captain helps position the striker in front off with verbal cues only:

Then comes the greased pole that needs to be climbed twice to ring two bells:

Followed by a timed event to see who can fill a barrel with the most water by running with a pitcher on their heads and using only one hand to steady it. Sadly the picture for this did not come out, but take my word for it, the event was hysterical.

The reason you need to fill the pitcher is the final event, the most anticipated, which is the frog wheel barrel race where a frog, whose legs are secured with a tie, is carted along to the finish line and must be placed, alive, in the bucket. The problem is the streets are cobblestone and if you go too fast your frog can fall off which causes you too fall behind as you try to scoop him up and place him back on the wheel barrel:

If you thought these events were funny, wait until later.

Sadly, although winning the pole and water barrel events, Porticciolo finished second in the frog race and saw victory go to Il Pozzo for the third straight year. But no worries, strategizing had already begun on next year's Palio.

edit on 24-8-2015 by AugustusMasonicus because: networkdude has no beer

posted on Aug, 24 2015 @ 06:51 PM
The following day we went to visit the reason San Casciano has the name 'dei Bagni', the hot water springs, or baths, dating to the Roman Era. There are two sets of springs, the first is part of a 4 star hotel about a mile from the town which hosts dignitaries from all over Europe. The hotel was built onto a Medici palace that once occupied the grounds:

And also has spectacular views of the surrounding landscape filled with olive trees and Mediterranean Pines:

The second set of baths are nearly right below the town and are free. These still have the original Roman foundations and the temperature is a constant 108*:

Later in the week we took a ride with our friend and her brother to Pienza, the nearest large city, and visited the Palazzo Piccolomini which is now a museum. The Piccolomini (Little Moons) were one of the most prominent families in Italy from the 13th century onwards and their main claim to fame is having had two Popes, Pius II and III, come from the city.

The campanile of Pienza:

The Palace itself is quite an architectural masterpiece with both the interior and exterior. If you think the rear façade looks similar to the Coliseum then you are correct since the marble and travertine were taken by Pius II to build the palace:

From the gardens you have an amazing vista of the Val d'Orcia and Mount Amiata:

Tuscan life is very laid back during the summer and particularly since we went during the Ferragosto or 'Augustan Festival' named for the first Roman Emperor Augustus and a national holiday since then. Many Italians take off several weeks in August and spend that time enjoying the countryside much the way we did; eating and drinking and staying up late.

A good portion of the week was spent visiting local vineyards and wineries which all use the local Sangiovese grapes in producing Chianti, Brunello di Montalcino, Carmignano, Vino Nobile di Montepulciano, Morrellino di Scansano and blends called Super Tuscans. One of the wineries we visited was a friend of our friend's and was nestled in the rolling Tuscan countryside:

On the way there we saw the local livestock, the famous Chianina cattle, the oldest breed of cattle in the world:

The are also the largest, although the guys in the photo are only calves, they grow to 3,500lbs and are prized throughout Tuscany. More on them later.

There was also a wine tasting on the mountain above San Casciano, called Fighne, which also has a castle, where many of the local vintners came to allow people to sample their products. I am being kind when I call it a 'tasting' as it was more like a wine drinking since there were no buckets to spit out the wine or dump your glass into.

You were expected to drink. Every. Last Drop. Sorry, no photos from this event as 10 glasses of Chianti, Brunello and Morrellino will impair your photographic capabilities. I learned this in hindsight.

The following weekend we visited the next town over, Celle sul Rigo, for their Palio. First we climbed their newly restored campanile for a unobstructed and phenomenal view of the scenery. In the first picture, if you look closely, you can see San Casciano in the distance. The castle is on the right and the bell tower is on the left. Our villa was right between the two:

Another view of Mount Amiata:

And the Medieval Fortress of Castiglione d'Orcia which guarded the valley:

Unlike San Casciano, Celle had a single event for their Palio, however it may top them with its weirdness: cheese rolling. Yeah, their game is called the Palio di Cacio or the Cheese Game and they take it very, very, very seriously. People practice year round as the course is the streets of the town, with all their cobblestoned twists and turns.

Starting in the main square the four Contradas carefully select their cheese:

They will then grind the rind down on the stucco walls to make it flatter and roll their cheese down the streets:

Yup, that is a piece of cheese making its way down a 1,000 year old road. The crowd chases the rollers around like it were golf, positioning themselves strategically at all the tough corners. In this photo one of the rollers is hooking his cheese around an uphill, right hand turn which leads back up to the piazza:

Just after the Palio completed it started to sun shower so we made our way back to San Casciano to eat at the local pizzeria. On the way to town we saw a rare double rainbow gracing the beautiful Tuscan hillsides:

At the end of the weekend we enjoyed one last home cooked meal with our friend and her brother and the next day departed for the second segment of our journey. Everyone we met was welcoming and gracious and epitomized what it meant to be family and community. We missed them as soon as we stepped on the train.

Up next: Firenze, the City of Art and the birthplace of the Renaissance.

posted on Aug, 25 2015 @ 12:54 AM
WOW!!!!! Amazing photos! I especially loved the castle ones! Thanks so much for sharing these!

posted on Aug, 25 2015 @ 03:21 AM
a reply to: AugustusMasonicus

O M G !!!

the places you visited are but only a few villages away from my old hang-out in Italy. I used to visit there a lot, it's only about 20 k's over the border from Toscany to Perugia. You can imagine the memories and feelings this conjured up.

You hit the best place at the best time! You had it all. the food, the wine, relatives, the medieval Festival, the frog wheel barrel race, the cheese rolling, the views, the hot water springs...... omg, I remember all these things too. and the talks on the piazza......

You must have had a terrific holiday. great sharing, thanks.

posted on Aug, 25 2015 @ 04:00 AM
Thanks for posting. I really should visit Italy, always wanted to go for the food

posted on Aug, 25 2015 @ 05:55 AM

originally posted by: Night Star

WOW!!!!! Amazing photos! I especially loved the castle ones! Thanks so much for sharing these!

Glad you enjoyed them, the castle is very cool. The night of the Palio the winning team, which was Il Pozzo, is supposed to host a party for the other Contradas in their quarter of the town but it started to rain. They ended up moving it the ground floor of the castle instead. The weather cleared up in an hour but we ended up hanging their until 2 in the morning while they played music and drank wine.

posted on Aug, 25 2015 @ 05:58 AM
Great photos, thanks for sharing.

posted on Aug, 25 2015 @ 06:03 AM

originally posted by: Sanssouci
O M G !!!

the places you visited are but only a few villages away from my old hang-out in Italy. I used to visit there a lot, it's only about 20 k's over the border from Toscany to Perugia. You can imagine the memories and feelings this conjured up.

We actually drove through Perugia's province on our way to Acquapendente ('Hanging Water' due to all the waterfalls) to do some shopping for clothes and food. They have the most amazing cheese shop just outside of town.

Here are a couple of pictures of the main square and shopping district:

You hit the best place at the best time! You had it all. the food, the wine, relatives, the medieval Festival, the frog wheel barrel race, the cheese rolling, the views, the hot water springs...... omg, I remember all these things too. and the talks on the piazza......

You must have had a terrific holiday. great sharing, thanks.

We definitely went at the right time. Most everyone, except the retailers, were also on vacation and were willing to go sightseeing with us as well. It was fun to get an Italians perspective on many of the places we visited.

posted on Aug, 25 2015 @ 06:05 AM

originally posted by: woodwardjnr

Thanks for posting. I really should visit Italy, always wanted to go for the food

Out in the villages it really is all about the food and the wine.

I would certainly make a point of visiting if you can swing the vacation. While my family is Campanian and I like the region the region of Tuscany is unsurpassed in culinary offerings. It should be on any first time visitor's places to go.

posted on Aug, 25 2015 @ 06:06 AM

originally posted by: EnigmaAgent

Great photos, thanks for sharing.

Glad you liked them.

I still have plenty more that I will post. I will get the next batch out today at some point.

posted on Aug, 25 2015 @ 09:09 AM
a reply to: AugustusMasonicus

I'm looking forward to seeing your other pics!

posted on Aug, 25 2015 @ 09:10 AM

originally posted by: Night Star
I'm looking forward to seeing your other pics!

Any particular sights you wanted to see most? I may have pics of them...

posted on Aug, 25 2015 @ 09:34 AM
a reply to: AugustusMasonicus

Yes, it appears you ate and drank well.
fantastic presentation. I am glad you had such a good time.

posted on Aug, 25 2015 @ 09:43 AM

originally posted by: network dude
Yes, it appears you ate and drank well.
fantastic presentation. I am glad you had such a good time.

Not over yet. Stay tuned for more food and sights.

posted on Aug, 25 2015 @ 01:46 PM
PART II: Art and Culture in Florence

After a brief train ride from Chiusi to Santa Maria Novella Station in Florence we grabbed a quick cab ride to the hotel, checked in and took the local bus to Florence's Centro Storico or 'Central District'.

Florence is widely regarded as the birthplace of the Renaissance and is filled with architecture from that period. The wealthy and powerful Medici family was instrumental in bringing in the most renowned artists of the times, from Michelangelo and Raphaelo to Botticelli and Donatello. They all worked under the patronage of the Medici family creating some of the most iconic and recognized art in history.

The amazing Uffizi Gallery and the Palazzo Pitti are the two most enduring of the Medici palaces existent in Florence. The former house the most extensive collection of Renaissance art and is a must stop for anyone visiting the city while the latter is an expansive garden on the south side of the Arno River, near the Ponte Vecchio.

Also in the Centro Storico is the world famous cathedral of Santa Maria del Fiore (Saint Maria of the Flower) also known by its popular name; The Duomo (The Dome). Originally begun in 1296 it was not completed until 1436 when self-taught architect Filippo Brunelleschi devised an ingenious method of using a double herring bone pattern to lay the individual bricks that form the internal structure of the dome. This method was lost to time until just recently when his construction techniques were uncovered.

Our sightseeing began by a trip to the cathedral complex which includes the Duomo, the Campanile of Giotto and the Baptistery (which was under restoration). The exterior of the cathedral is covered with green and white marble as well as travertine and is visually stunning to behold:

We then headed over to the famous Ponte Vecchio (Old Bridge) which is overflowing with jewelers, some of the with stalls that have booths dating to the Renaissance. Florence is also famous for its Gelato so we hit one of its more well known spots, Gelateria Vivoli and made our way to the bridge. If you look closely you can see that many of the shops are suspended over the river on supports anchored to the bridge:

The Ponte Vecchio itself is jammed with tourists hoping to get a deal on jewelry (you wont) and taking in panoramic views of the Arno. Here is a picture if the bridge looking back towards the Centro Storico where you can see how crowded it is during the day:

Walking back towards the historic district the Dome of Saint Maria looms over every view:

The entire city is filled with amazing Renaissance architecture that is still in amazing shape and meticulously maintained. Horse drawn carriages clip clop around the city taking sightseers on tours of all the famous buildings and monuments:

After taking in many of the streets and doing some shopping we headed back to the hotel, got cleaned up and headed out for dinner. Besides art and architecture Florence is also famous for something else; food. He had made reservations at one of Florence's landmark restaurants, Perseus. Dinner begins with a basket of focaccia and warm Tuscan bread accompanied by a plate of Tuscany's version of pork and beans. A rich concoction of cannellini beans, lardo and tomato ragu:

Remember the Chianina steers I mentioned earlier? Florence's most famous dish is its Florentine Steak. Cooked on a grill until rare and served with a drizzle of high quality olive oil, sea salt and freshly ground pepper. Do not ask for it medium, do not ask for steak sauce, do not come without an appetite. This monster porterhouse was 1.5 kilos (over 3 pounds) and we finished it. All of it. It was melt in your mouth tender and one of the greatest steaks I have ever had:

We travelled back to the hotel full, but ready to go for the following day.

posted on Aug, 25 2015 @ 01:47 PM
The next day we used our pre-purchased tickets for the Duomo and get on line for the climb. It was nearly two hours before we got to the front and the halted the line just as we got to the front spot. While we were standing there an Italian man came over and asked me which line was for which sight and I explained to him the details. He recognized my American-accented Italian and thanked us in English. It would turn out to be a fortuitous meeting. We eventually gained entry and climbed the over 450 steps 350'+ to the cupola. On the way up, at the ring that forms the base of the dome, I took some pictures of the inside of the cathedral, looking down:

And up at the allegorical fresco of a deception of Hell at the bottom to Heaven at the top:

After completing the climb you reach the cupola and have an unobstructed panorama of Florence and the surrounding hillsides:

This is of the campanile which the Duomo towers over:

To give you a better perspective of how high you are this is the campanile from the ground:

One last picture from inside Santa Maria looking up:

After a quick bite to eat at one of the local pizzerias we headed over to the Uffizi Galley, home of one of the greatest art collections in the world. Sadly, the line was almost 3 hours long so we opted instead to visit the outdoor sculpture gardens instead. This was in front of one of the numerous Medici palaces in the city:

Some of the more notable are Perseus slaying Medusa:

Hercules battling the Centaur:

An exact copy of Michelangelo's David:

And the Fountain of Poseidon:

posted on Aug, 25 2015 @ 01:47 PM
We walked around a bit more and grabbed another gelato near the Ponte Vecchio. Gelato in the afternoon is a serious Italian tradition that everyone should incorporate into their daily ritual. We then wandered back to the Uffizi where the line had dwindled to a mere 2 hours. We decided to brave it and jumped on. We were moving forward when the two people behind us began to speak in accented English. One was an Australian on holiday and the other was our little Italian friend from the Duomo earlier in the day. We recognized each other quickly and struck up a conversation, his name was Marcello and he lived on the exotic Italian island of Sardinia. It turns out he was both an architect and an art teacher and was researching for his next semester.

His mission to was develop a lesson plan about the Uffizi displays by with a big caveat, they had to be in English. We joked that he should be our private tour guide. He remarked that he would most likely not be very good at it and we laughed. The Australian bailed out from the line which left the three of us. We chatted about art and history for a long time while comparing favorites. I was impressed with Marcello's broad range of knowledge and he with my passion for classical history. Almost two hours later we got into the museum and my wife, in an unprompted act, paid for his ticket. He was so appreciative he did give us a guided tour of the Uffizi Gallery.

It was an unbelievable five hours as we went from hall to hall and room to room while getting a detailed and passionate explanation of the development of the Renaissance through the great artists of the era. The first gallery contains busts of every Roman Emperor from Augustus into the Christian era with various other historical and mythological figures, all in perfect condition:

Some of the more impressive were Julius Caesar:

His grand nephew Augustus:


Vespasian and his son Titus, builders of the Flavian Amphitheater, better known as the Coliseum:

Trajan, who ruled over the Empire when it was at its physically largest:

His adopted son Hadrian (he of the eponymous wall):

And Marcus Aurelius, the Stoic Emperor, portrayed by Richard Harris in the film Gladiator:

The artwork was also amazing as we received a concise history of the evolution of the painting styles from the 15-17th centuries. Starting with Giotto's Madonna, with its two dimensional form did not have the depth of later works but was an inspiration for many of the later masters:

Including Filippo Lippi's Madonna and Child:

Lippi's Madonna with Child and Saint:

And Botticelli's San Marco Altarpiece:

The great Leonardo Da Vinci is also represented with Baptism of Christ:

And Annunciation:

The influence was also passed to the Flemish Masters beginning with Rogier van der Weyden's Entombment:

One of the highlights were Botticelli's iconic Birth of Venus:

And Primavera:

These lead up to Pontormo's Supper at Emmaus (Is that an All Seeing Eye on top of the painting?):

And finally culminate in the phenomenal works of Raphael's Madonna:

And Caravaggio's Medusa painted on an actual shield:

We spent nearly five hours in the gallery seeing almost every important piece and receiving a wonderfully explained history of their significance. Marcello, who had admitted that he had never been the Uffizi and only knew the pieces through images in books, was like a child, jumping from room to room and exclaiming, 'Magnifico' and then 'Dio mio' as we entered the galleries of Sandro Botticelli, Raphael Sanzio and Leonardo Da Vinci. When thanked he profusely and he stopped us saying he needed to thank us instead as it gave him a chance to practice his English and to enjoy these magnificent masterpieces with new friends.

We offered to return the favor if Marcello ever visited the New York where we would treat him to a trip at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, where the lines are non-existent and the entry fee is optional. He agreed, bid us an emotional 'Buona Notte' and departed to meet his waiting family.

We made our way back to the hotel, had a drink at the bar and we both discussed the amazing serendipity of running into some with such knowledge and passion who was willing to share that with complete strangers who only had in common their love for Florence and the Masters of the Renaissance.

The next day we prepared for the final leg of our journey. We were heading to the birthplace of one of the greatest empires that humanity had ever seen: Roma.

Up next: The sights and history of Rome.

edit on 25-8-2015 by AugustusMasonicus because: networkdude has no beer

posted on Aug, 25 2015 @ 05:31 PM
i love your enthusiasm, it makes it very enjoyable to share the trip to Florence in pictures with you. the gelato, oh well, i can only wish and remember traditions so lovable. and the pizzas and the olive oil, dio mio. looking forward to the Rome pics!

posted on Aug, 25 2015 @ 06:48 PM

originally posted by: Sanssouci

i love your enthusiasm, it makes it very enjoyable to share the trip to Florence in pictures with you.

You know, I felt the same way about my wife's reactions. I have been to Italy several times already and have seen all of the sites I am posting about and then some. It was much more fun to re-experience it with someone who thought the whole trip was surreal.

the gelato, oh well, i can only wish and remember traditions so lovable. and the pizzas and the olive oil, dio mio. looking forward to the Rome pics!

What can I say? What would Italy be with out the food? Still pretty damn great but the food puts it over the top.

Rome pics in the next day or two. I have a ton of them I need to go through to pick the most interesting.

posted on Aug, 25 2015 @ 08:13 PM
a reply to: AugustusMasonicus! Those pictures are amazing! Breath taking architectural designs, beautiful works of art, awesome food...Wonderful!!!!!!!!!! I can't tell you how much I am enjoying this thread!

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