Sewing Machines in Italy and Germany

I was very excited about the fact that I was traveling to the home of my very favorite sewing machine brand, the Italian Necchi. The Necchi factory used to be located in Pavia, Italy—about an hour north of Florence—but there isn't much left there, I don't think. Still, I expected to see some of the original machines in the wild. I didn't see as many as I had hoped to, but I did get pics of a few Necchis and various other machines. 

One of the items on my "to buy" list in Florence was an apron with my name chain-stitched on it. These little stores are here and there around the city and they will chain stitch anything you like onto various items of clothing and household items. Chain stitching is not like the lockstitch that an ordinary sewing machine makes. The chain stitch looks just like that—a "chain" of sewing on the top of the fabric. It's a stitch used commonly on feed bags because it can be "unzipped" with just a slight tug on the thread. Some domestic machines can also chain stitch; my Singer 604 has a chain stitch attachment but I have not played with it yet. (I don't think Necchi made a chain stitch-capable machine, but I'll have to check.) 

I found a store, went in and picked out an apron, and the lady operating the machine chain stitched my name and "Master Chef" onto the apron. (I wasn't feeling particularly creative at that moment, but obviously I wasn't feeling particularly modest, either.) I asked if she minded if I took pictures while she worked and she said that was fine. 

This is the machine, a Cornely, which is a fairly common brand of chainstitching machine:

The machine has a hopping foot similar to the one I use for machine quilting on my Janome. The thread comes up from underneath the machine, and the operator has to control it with her right hand while moving the work with her left hand. I was pretty amazed by her dexterity:

And this is my apron, hastily pressed:

The first antique sewing machine I saw in Florence wasn't a Necchi. It was this one, that didn't have a name on it:

I believe it is a Gritzner Saxonia, like the first machine on this page

In San Gimignano, I went into a store selling household textiles and the proprietor of the store was sewing on a Necchi Mirella. I didn't get a picture of it because she was busy and I didn't want to bother her, but when I commented on the machine, she said proudly that it had belonged to her grandmother. 

This beauty was waiting for me in San Donato, the quiet little medieval village just south of Florence:

I didn't recognize this model at first. It has the tension on the side, like the Singer model 15 and 15 clones. When I posted to the Necchi Facebook group, an Italian lady there very helpfully supplied that this is a Necchi model BD1. It was odd to see it in the window of this building/store, which looks like a trophy shop, but perhaps it was used to sew ribbons. 

I mentioned my interest in Necchis to Ricardo, who was leading us on the tour through San Donato, and he said that his grandmother had had a Necchi treadle, a Necchi handcrank, and a newer model Necchi and had sewn on all of them. 

There were a few Singer machines here and there, too, including this industrial (a 31-15, maybe?) in a shop window:

At the leather school, I snapped some pics of the industrial machines they use to make the bags, one an Adler and one a Durkopp (or Durkopp-Adler?). The first is a post bed, or cynlindrical bed machine, which allows for sewing in tight areas:

The second is a flatbed machine:

They also had a Necchi industrial. The picture is lousy because I was taking it through a window on the fly. I was discouraged by certain members of my traveling party from being overly obnxious about getting pictures of sewing machines, so I had to take this one surreptitiously:

Alessandra, our guide for the artisan tour, is also a knitter, crocheter, and quilter. She also told me that she has her grandmother's treadle Necchi and a newer model Necchi. I got the impression from quite a few people that these machines are highly valued and tend to stay within families. 

DD#2 also sent me this picture from Munich after I had left. I have trained her well and she knows what to look for:

I would take my one of my Necchis any day over a German machine, but still, this is a lovely model and probably quite valuable. 

I think this post has gotten long enough, so we'll save the food pics for tomorrow's post.


Roma to Firenze (and Munich)

I think—I hope—that we have resolved most of this week's technical issues. Greg checked the computer over thoroughly. The hard drives tested fine and he never could reproduce the error message I had been getting, so we determined that it was probably related to last week's power outage and an external USB hub that mysteriously stopped working. I am still a bit concerned about my internet acccess; the second phone line has been having occasional, intermittent seizures. The husband assured me that even if it goes out, too, they could still dig down there and splice the short (I am trusting him on this as I know nothing about the wiring) so that I can work. 

Back to Italy. 

We checked out of our hotel Sunday morning, got a ride to the train station, and boarded one of Italy's fabulous high-speed trains for the 90-minute trip to Florence. I adore train travel and I think it's just criminal that we have such a lousy train system here in the US. I suppose that if we weren't so busy bombing the snot out of other countries around the globe, we might have the capital to invest in our own infrastructure, but that's a rant for another day. 

Florence truly is a beautiful city:

Rome is huge and dramatic and also overwhelming. The nice thing about Florence—and many other smaller European cities—is that they are closed to a lot of vehicle traffic and very walkable. In the picture, above, you can see the Duomo ("dome") at the center. Our hotel was about five blocks from it. Gonzaga's buidling is about 10 blocks from the Duomo but on the other side. 

We arrived on Sunday afternoon just as a parade was coming through the city:

One of the main tourist attractions in Florence is the Ponte Vecchio. It's lined with lots of high-end jewelry and leather stores and is a popular gathering place. One of our tour guides recommended a restaurant called The Golden View, on the other side of the bridge from our hotel. We ate there twice: once for dinner, when I had pasta with shrimp and clams, and once for lunch, when DD#2 and I shared the most fabulous pizza I have ever had in my entire life. We had a great view of the Ponte Vecchio from our table:

Bright and early on Monday morning, our driver, Ricardo, picked us up for the hour-long trip out to a winery in the countryside. Ricardo was very personable and entertaining. When he discovered that DD#2 was there to study in Florence for the semester, he stopped talking to her in English and only spoke to her in Italian (she has had two years of it). 

I don't have a lot of pictures of the winery. I am not a very good videographer. I am quite unlike the Asian tourists, who are so busy snapping selfies of themselves that I think they must have to go home and look at all of their pictures to actually see the places they visited. I prefer to enjoy the moments as they happen and not worry about preserving them. This is my one shot from the winery:

Those casks were enormous. We had a tour of the winery and then a wine tasting and lunch. I learned a lot about Italian wines. I prefer the robust reds—or, as our guide described them, "aggressive" reds. My favorite was the 100% Sangiovese wine. This particular winery does not export to the US, but will ship a minimum of six bottles. I've been checking out the Italian wine selection here in Kalispell and it is pretty lacking. 

I also learned that I need to do a much better job of pruning my grapes. These are what typical grapevines look like there:

Mine look like weeds by comparison, although they did produce quite a few grapes this year and we have been eating them this week. 

After the winery tour and lunch, Ricardo drove us to the little town of San Gimignano (we all struggled to pronounce it). San Gimignano is notable for all its towers:

Currently it has just 17, but at the height of its glory as an important town at the crossroads of two trading routes, there were as many as 74. There are only two streets through the town. The main one is lined with lots of small shops and restaurants. We walked around for about two hours and then met up again with Ricardo. He told us he was scheduled to be our guide until 6 p.m. and asked us if we would like to see another medieval village on the way back to Florence. Of course, we said yes. He took us to San Donato. There were two things I loved about San Donato: It was up at the top of a hill and so blessedly quiet that I would have been quite happy to stay there for the rest of the day. It is also the place where I had my first Necchi sighting in the wild. You'll have to wait for tomorrow's post on sewing machines, though, to see it. 

Ricardo then drove us around parts of Florence we hadn't yet seen, including the hilltop where Galileo lived and had his observatory (it is still there), and Michelangelo Square, which overlooks the city and from where I took that first picture. It was a thoroughly enjoyable day.

On Tuesday, we spent a few hours at the costume gallery museum at Pitti Palace. I really enjoyed that. I know a little bit about fiber preservation from my spinning and knitting, but I did not know that garments such as those in this collection can only be put on display for a few months at a time and then have to have a minimum of three years in storage, away from UV light, before they can be shown again.

At 3:00 p.m. on Tuesday afternoon, we met our guide, Alessandra, for our artisan tour of Florence. She started us out at the leather school, which is not too far from where DD#2 will be studying.

The Florence Leather School is located in a Franciscan monastery that dates back to 1294. After World War II, in 1950, the Franciscan friars asked a Florentine leather artisan, Marcello Gori, to set up the Scuola del Cuoio. (His daughters and grandson now run the school.) The monastery housed many war orphans and the school's aim was to teach them the craft of working leather so that they would be able to earn a living.

Of course there were sewing machines (!), but the highlight for me was when we were on our way out. Alessandra beckoned for us to come into one of the side rooms off the main hallway, and there was Francesca, one of Marcello Gori's daughters, sitting at her workbench. Francesca is extremely well known as the designer of one-of-a-kind leather handbags that have all sorts of embroidery and other embellishments. She only makes one of each design and they sell well upward of 500 Euros each. Francesa graciously took several minutes to show us what she was doing and explain the process of training her assistants, many of whom go on to become famous designers themselves. 

(You'll see the sewing machines in tomorrow's post.)

After we left the leather school, Alessandra took us to a jewelry workshop where the owner explained to us the background and history of typical Florentine jewelry pieces. (The owner only spoke Italian, so Alessandra translated, but DD#2 told me later that the owner was speaking slowly enough that she was able to understand just about everything she was saying.) We then headed to a papermaking store where we saw a demonstration of paper marbling, another Florentine specialty. 

Our last stop was not too far from our hotel, at the Officina Profumo-Farmaceutica di Santa Maria Novella, founded in 1221 by Dominican friars. (Our tour guides were not shy about sharing some lesser-known but far more fascinating pieces of information, and Alessandra commented that while the Franciscans were focused on activities like helping war orphans, the Dominicans were much more interested in making money.) The pharmacy currently serves as a museum and shop. It smelled really, really good in there. I was wishing that I could have had my friend Susan with me because she would have enjoyed that visit a lot. I brought back some soap for her. 

Florence has something like 75 different museums. DD#2 is taking a class on museum studies this fall. She has always been fascinated by museums so I wasn't surprised she leaped at the opportunity to take a class like that. I envy her. She is going to have a lot of fun. 

I mentioned earlier that our itinerary required that we fly from Florence to Munich, because all of the Gonzaga-in-Florence students were gathering there to begin their semester. Fortunately, we were able to drop DD#2's giant suitcase off at the school instead of having to take it with us to Munich. (She had a much smaller suitcase for opening tour.) That gave me an opportunity to see the Gonzaga campus, which consists of this building:

We got a tour and I also got to see the pensione where DD#2 will be living. It's right around the corner from this building. The pensione staff provides meals for the students four nights out of the week. The other nights, the kids will either cook for themselves or eat out. 

We flew out of Florence Thursday afternoon and landed in Munich, which also happens to be the headquarters of Bayerische Motoren Werke AG, otherwise known as BMW. (!!!!!!) Oh, my. If you didn't know that Munich was the headquarters of BMW before you got there, you would by the time you left the airport. There were murals and advertisements everywhere displaying pictures of every-available BMW model. I saw models I had never heard of before. These displays were all over the baggage claim area:

Once again, I was left shaking my head at the absurdity of our government, which passes all sorts of rules and regulations making it impossible for us to get the range of vehicle choices that they have in Europe. By this time, I was starting to feel like I live in a third-world country. And I desperately missed my BMW station wagon.  

DD#2 was able to meet up with the Gonzaga group at the Munich airport on Friday, and my mother, sister, and I all flew home on Saturday. I landed in Seattle around 5:30, headed straight to the hotel and had a glass of wine and some dinner, and collapsed into bed. I drove home on Sunday.

I'll talk about sewing machines and some other related items in tomorrow's post. 


Technical Difficulties

This seems to be the week when everything has decided to stop working. The husband informed me when I got home on Sunday that the DSL had been down since that morning. The main service box is on a corner up the road in a spot where drunk people people driving home late at night tend to hit it. He assumed that that was what had happened. I was too tired to deal with it right then, but on Monday morning when I woke up, I did some troubleshooting. We had no dial tone on that line. I checked on CenturyLink's website—via my cell phone—to see if they had listed an outage for our area. The website indicated that there were no issues. I was also able to do a check of our line from that website, and that indicated that the problem was with our line.

I checked the line at the box coming in to the house and there was no dial tone, there, either. I put in a request for service with CenturyLink and then called my supervisor to tell her I couldn't work that day. Although I don't like being without internet, I really appreciated having that day off from work to catch up on cleaning, laundry, and paperwork. 

The tech came around 4:00 p.m. He went to the box down the road to see if the problem might be fixed easily there, but was back within a few minutes. After about 15 minutes of testing the line at our house, he determined that there was a short in the line somewhere between our house and the box across the street. Because the husband built our house, he knows where all the utility lines are buried, so he and the tech walked around with some special equipment and tried to pinpoint the short. They ultimately decided that the entire line would have to be dug up and replaced. It's not in conduit and really needs to be. 

Fortunately—very fortunately—we have two phone lines coming in to our house. We did that when we built it in anticipation of at least one of us running a business from here and needing a separate phone line. That second line only has the fax machine on it. The tech was able to move the DSL and phone service over to that line, which was still working, and restore our internet service. That was huge, because it looks like it's going to be a few weeks before the contractors can get out here to dig up the line and replace it. I couldn't have been without internet—and no way to work—for that long. 

Yesterday morning, my Mac desktop started throwing up an annoying dialog box every 30 seconds telling me that one of the hard drive sensors was going bad. I e-mailed my tech, Greg, and he said that it sounded like one of the hard drives was about to fail and that I should bring the machine in. He rebuilt most of that machine for me last summer and put a new solid-state hard drive in it as my main drive, but left the previous hard drives in there for me to use as extra storage. He thinks it is one of those old drives that is failing, but I need him to check them out and determine which one. I dropped the machine off with him yesterday afternoon and now I am just waiting for him to let me know what needs to be done. In the meantime, I am working off DD#2's old Mac laptop. There probably won't be any additional blog posts about the Italy trip until I get the desktop back, which hopefully will be this week. (I use a PC, reluctantly, for my transcription work.)

I am waiting for the fridge to fail. It's been limping along for about six months now. This seems like a good time for it to stop working. 

In other news, the forecast for tomorrow is for rain and a high of 57 degrees. You have no idea how happy that makes me. We are still under a thick cloud of smoke. The husband picked corn while I was gone and that's all in the freezer. I am gathering tomatoes and freezing them in anticipation of a big canning session in a few weeks. This weekend is going to be devoted to canning some more beans, a batch of BBQ sauce, and maybe some beets. We're making applesauce at the church tonight to serve at our fair trade festival in November.  Life goes on, even when the technology fails. 

And there has been sewing (yay!). Hopefully I'll have some to show you soon. 


Roman Ruins

These posts are going to come fast and furious for a few days. I need to write about my experiences in Italy before they fade too much. 

My mother and I took no chances and set the alarm for Saturday morning. We were up, dressed, and fed in plenty of time to meet our driver for the short ride to the Colosseum. The day was sunny and started out cool, but it soon warmed up. 

Francesca, our guide from the previous day, met us at the Colosseum, again armed with our preferred access tickets. This is what the Colosseum looks like from the outside. I have no idea how to do panorama shots on my camera or in Photoshop and I don't have the time right now to figure it out, sorry, but I think you can get a sense of the scale:

We entered the Colosseum as the Romans would have, through the gates at the bottom. Francesca told us that each attendee would have been given a "ticket" (made of bone?) with the gate number engraved on it. They would have entered at the gate on their ticket, and in this way, tens of thousands of people could enter and be seated—on marble bleachers—in a short period of time. Spectators would have spent the entire day there watching variety of games. 

As we walked through the outer sections on the way to the center, we stopped and looked at some of the displays. One of the things I found so fascinating was that after the fall of Rome, the Colosseum was repurposed in a wide variety of ways. People moved in and lived there with their animals. Merchants set up shop. I was particularly enchanted by this spindle and whorls:

and also by this chunk of marble with a wonderful cable design engraved on it (Book of Kells, anyone?):

There were lots and lots of marble statues:

Eventually, we made it to the center of the Colosseum. You'll have to use your imagination again and pretend that there is a huge wooden floor covering the oval center. What you're looking at is actually the basement of the structure, where the animals would have been housed and the gladiators would have prepared for battle:

We left the Colosseum and walked toward the Forum. Along the way, we stopped at this excavation site:

When one thinks of Rome, one thinks of a rather static city in time and place, but the Roman empire stretched over centuries and there are actually many, many layers of ruins built on top of each other. Part of the problem is deciding how much and where to excavate. Do you excavate around the perimeter of the Colosseum to get to the ruins beneath? What happens when you discover ruins beneath those ruins? Our guide in Florence said they have the same problem there; an old Roman theater has recently been discovered, but to excavate it would mean dismantling a medieval building that sits on top of the old theatre ruins. It's a rather mind-boggling concept when you think about it. 

Here's another example. This is a church with old Roman temple architecture around it. Apparently, an effort was made to pull down those columns, but they were so massive and so entrenched that they couldn't be moved, so they were left in place:

This is a view looking over the entire Forum. It really does require a good imagination to visualize this as it would have looked at its heyday, with intact structures and lots of people milling about:

I feel badly that I am giving you such a brief overview of our tour; I did take more pictures than these, but I fear that if I showed them all to you, we would be here all day. I am trying to choose the ones that give the best impression of what we saw.

Engraved on the gate at the entrance to the Forum is the phrase Senatus Populusque Romanus. Again, from Wikipedia:

SPQR is an initialism of a Latin phrase Senātus Populusque Rōmānus ("The Roman Senate and People", or more freely as "The Senate and People of Rome"; Classical Latin: [sɛˈnaː.tʊs pɔpʊˈlʊs.kᶣɛ roːˈmaː.nʊs]), referring to the government of the ancient Roman Republic, and used as an official emblem of the modern-day comune (municipality) of Rome. It appears on Roman currency, at the end of documents made public by inscription in stone or metal, in dedications of monuments and public works, and was emblazoned on the vexilloids of the Roman legions.

Sure enough, while walking out of the Forum and back into the city, I saw this:

By this time, it was noon and Francesca had to leave us to do another tour. She suggested we walk a short distance to the Jewish ghetto for lunch. After lunch, we all decided that a trip out to the catacombs was in order. The catacombs are located on the Appian Way, which was a highway in and out of Rome. We had a bit of a communication problem with our taxi driver, who thought that we wanted to go to the part of the Appian Way that held the shopping district (not an unreasonable assumption when you have four female passengers). With the help of my sister's smartphone, he got us out to the catacombs and dropped us off, with the instructions that we should walk the mile or so back to the little village and get a taxi there when we were done. 

I don't have any pictures of the catacombs. Photos aren't allowed. We bought our tickets and gathered in groups according to our preferred language (English, German, French, Italian, etc.) and a guide was assigned to take us about 40 feet down and through some very damp, very narrow passageways. The catacombs were used as mausoleums for the first Christians and consisted of long, shallow indentations in the walls into which the bodies were placed. The tombs were then sealed with marble. For an extra fee, the deceased could have something engraved on the marble. It was a bit disconcerting to walk through there, but fascinating at the same time. 

We had a very pleasant walk back from the catacombs to the village. It was all downhill, there was a nice breeze, and we were far enough outside the city that it was quiet. One of the things I found most challenging about this trip was the constant level of noise and crush of people. I knew beforehand that it might be a problem; the older I get, the more introverted I get, and if I don't have the chance to get some peace and quiet and alone time every day, I start to have problems processing everything. There came a point in the trip where the sensory assault was almost physically painful. If you're not an introvert, you might have trouble empathizing with that, but trust me, it's not fun. I very much enjoyed the walk and was a bit sorry when we got back to the village. 

There were no taxis in the village. The ones that did zoom by already had passengers. My sister went into a little convenience store and had a chat with the owner, who volunteered that her husband would be happy to drive us back to the city. We all crammed into his little Alfa Romeo and he deposited us back at the hotel. We paid him what we would have paid a taxi and everyone was happy. 

Now you get a bit of an editorial: I did not take a lot of history classes in high school or college, but it doesn't take a lot of in-depth knowledge to get a good sense of the rise and fall of empires, especially when you are standing in the middle of the ruins of one. I saw so many parallels that day between the trajectory of the Roman Empire and the trajectory of the American Empire—because we are one whether you want to admit it or not. The visit to the Colosseum and the Forum left me feeling very uncomfortable because I think the American Empire is a lot closer to collapsing than most people realize. America is never going to be great again, at least not in my lifetime, no matter how many slogans the politicians throw around. We are simply moving the deck chairs around on the Titanic. And before anyone tries to tell me this is all Trump's fault (I have no liking for the guy, believe me), I would point out that this process has been going on for a long time and it has been aided admirably by both sides. There are no righteous political parties in our system. I also think we are too far into the process to turn it around. Call me a fatalist if you want to, but at least I looked history in the face and acknowledged the lesson it was trying to impart. 

Tomorrow: Traveling from Rome to Florence. 


I Went to Italy

My trip to Italy was the Big Thing I alluded to a few weeks ago. DD#2 is spending her fall semester in Florence. Gonzaga has a campus there and she is one of about 175 students who will be there until just before Christmas. My mother, sister, and I accompanied her over to Italy and the four of us spent a week traveling in Rome, Florence, and Munich. 

Yes, Munich.

For some reason, the school decided to have all the kids meet in Munich. This week, they are traveling by bus from Munich, down through Ravenna and Verona and ultimately to Florence, where classes start on September 18. I never did get a good explanation for why they had the kids meet in Munich, and as you'll find out later, it made for some logistical gymnastics, but it all worked out in the end. 

This trip had so many moving parts that it made my head spin. I think it's probably going to be best if I label things by date, both for clarity and so I don't forget what happened on what day. Here we go:

Monday, August 28: Both girls and I left mid-morning and headed to Spokane. DD#2 wanted to see her boyfriend once more before she left. His birthday was the next day, so I took them all out to dinner to celebrate. 

Tuesday, August 29: We drove from Spokane to Seattle. DD#1 couldn't go to Italy with us because of her fieldwork schedule, but she had a week off and wanted to spend it with her boyfriend at his parents' house west of Seattle. Her boyfriend is starting his second year of dentistry school at the University of Washington. Interestingly, his first year of dentistry school was in Spokane. He is enrolled in a special program to train doctors and dentists to work in rural areas (he grew up in Alaska), and for the first year of that program, the students get sent to Spokane. He actually had classes at the same campus where DD#1 was working on her OT degree. They were both hoping that he would be able to do his second year in Spokane, too, because Seattle is hideously expensive. However, he had to go back to Seattle. He'll do his second and third years in Seattle and then spend his fourth year in an internship in Othello, Washington, where he worked for a month this past summer. Othello is in the middle of Washington state and it definitely fits the definition of rural. There is nothing there. 

We had arranged for DD#1's boyfriend to meet us at the mall near the airport. We got lunch, the two of them took off, and DD#2 and I wandered around the mall before finally heading to the hotel to get a good night's sleep. 

Wednesday, August 30: Our flight from Seattle to Chicago left at 7:30 that morning. Part of the reason we flew out of Seattle was cost—the tickets would have been almost $1000 more if we had flown out of Kalispell—and the schedule was better. I am pretty much done with flying out of here. It's so much easier and cheaper to fly out of Spokane. Seattle is a bit more challenging, but doable. I was a bit concerned about making our connecting flight. We only had an hour and 15 minutes, which is not a very large margin of error. Thankfully, our flight got in about 10 minutes early. I say thankfully, because we had to spend those 10 minutes trying to figure out where our flight to Italy was leaving from. I had to ask three different people—including a very snotty United agent who told me she couldn't help me because we were flying Delta—before I found out that we had to leave the terminal we were in, take a tram to a different terminal, go through security again, and find our gate. It was dicey there for a while. (Don't get me started on people who can't follow the instructions for going through security.) We made it to the gate just as they were starting to board the plane. 

[When DD#1 was studying in Spain, my mother, DD#2, and I flew from Cleveland to Madrid on United. I will never willingly fly United again. We got stuck in Newark, New Jersey, for an extra day, and the gate agent who rebooked us on the flight the following day really needed to be fired for the way she was talking to customers. We all filed a complaint with United and I think they gave us each a whopping $50 voucher.]

The ride over to Rome was a bit bumpy but I loved flying Alitalia. The flight attendants had the most elegant uniforms and the food was really good. 

Thursday, August 31: We arrived in Rome at 7:30 a.m. My mother and sister were flying in from Charlotte and were supposed to arrive at 9:45 a.m., so we just sat and waited for them. For this trip, my sister had us work with a company based in Charlotte that does tours in Italy, and that turned out to be a really good decision. We had private transportation to and from the airports and train stations and private guides for our tours. After my mother and sister picked up their luggage, we met the driver who took us to a very nice little hotel in the heart of Rome. Although it was still early and only one of our rooms was ready, they let us check in. We were able to clean up and change clothes, after which we headed out to find lunch and orient ourselves to the area. In the evening, we had a wonderful dinner at Ditirambo, a restaurant that had been recommended by the tour company. By then, we were all exhausted and ready to go to sleep.

Friday, September 1: When we travel, my mother and I usually share a hotel room. We are both early risers (the rest of the group is not), and so this gives us an opportunity to get out and locate the nearest source of coffee without bothering anyone else. We're both so used to getting up early that neither of us thought to set an alarm. You can imagine my surprise when I rolled over that morning and looked at my phone and discovered that it was 8:23!!! We were supposed to meet our driver for the ride to the Vatican at 9:15. Yikes. We managed to make ourselves presentable and gobble down some eggs, bacon, and cappuccino before the driver arrived. 

Our guide at the Vatican was a lovely woman named Francesca. The tour company had arranged for preferred access tickets ahead of time, so we breezed past the line of people that stretched for about five miles and went right into the Vatican museums. Francesca did a wonderful job of explaining the layout of Vatican City and giving us the background on the different areas. We didn't spend a lot of time in the museums because I think it would take several days to see them all. From the museum, we went to the Sistine Chapel. DD#2 had actually been to Italy with her grandparents about five years ago, so she gave us the lowdown on the Sistine Chapel. Shoulders and knees must be covered. It is supposed to be viewed in silence, but they cram several hundred people in there at a time and it's nearly impossible to keep a group of people that large quiet. Every so often the guards would jump up onto a bench and yell, "Be quiet!" which really didn't help to make the atmosphere any more reverent. Nonetheless, it is a stunning sight to look up and see that ceiling. 

It was about at this point that I remembered that I should be taking some pictures. No pictures are allowed in the Sistine Chapel, but from there, we went into St. Peter's Basilica. The first piece that greets you, on the right side, is Michelangelo's Pietà:

From Wikipedia:

The statue was commissioned for the French Cardinal Jean de Bilhères, who was a representative in Rome. The sculpture, in Carrara marble, was made for the cardinal's funeral monument, but was moved to its current location, the first chapel on the right as one enters the basilica, in the 18th century. It is the only piece Michelangelo ever signed.

This famous work of art depicts the body of Jesus on the lap of his mother Mary after the Crucifixion. The theme is of Northern origin, popular by that time in France but not yet in Italy. Michelangelo's interpretation of the Pietà is unprecedented in Italian sculpture. It is an important work as it balances the Renaissance ideals of classical beauty with naturalism.

The piece is now behind bulletproof glass. In 1972, a mentally disturbed man walked into the chapel and started hammering at the sculpture. He broke Mary's arm and her nose. The nose had to be replaced with a piece of marble from the back of the statue. 

The basilica itself is visually stunning, almost more so than the Sistine Chapel:

The dome:

It's hard to convey with a picture the size and scope of St. Peter's Square, so I am not going to try. Google a good picture and use your imagination. It's really huge. 

From the Vatican, we took a taxi—still with Francesca as our guide—to a neighborhood known as Trastevere. We were there to eat. We started out at a small farmer's market with some permanent stalls arranged around the outside. Francesca ordered a large plate of different hams and cheeses and we each had a caprese salad of tomatoes, buffalo milk mozarella, and basil. 

[I came home and said to the husband that I no longer have a plan to get a cow; I want a buffalo so I can make buffalo milk mozarella. I ate it every chance I got for the rest of the trip.]

I am going to do a blog post devoted to the food on this trip, because I have quite a few things to say about it. For now, I'll just show you a picture of the place where we ate and the photobombers who weren't supposed to be begging, but they were so cute:

That's my sister, Beth, on the left and Francesca on the right. 

This is a big pork-eating area and the Italians do the most amazing things with ham. I said to Francesca that I was almost ashamed to call myself a pig farmer. We are lucky to get our pigs processed with as much variety as we do. I can't imagine any processor around here making the kinds of bacon and prosciutto that we had in Italy. Look at this:

Cured hams are hanging out in the open air everywhere. I am pretty sure this would give the USDA people nightmares. 

Francesca also had us try rice balls, which she said are labor intensive to make. They are pieces of mozarella with a layer of rice around them that are then fried. Yum. 

By that time, a thunderstorm had rolled in. We took refuge in another church for a bit. I loved going into all the churches. 

We left Francesca and headed back to the hotel to change and get dinner. As I mentioned earlier, I am going to do a post about food, but I need to mention that one of the things I wanted to experiment with on this trip was eating wheat. I had some pizza for dinner with no ill effects, and from that point on, I ate pizza, bread, and pasta with abandon. I'll talk a bit more about why I think I was able to do that in a later blog post. 

Tomorrow: The Colosseum. 

Page 1 ... 2 3 4 5 6 ... 219 Next 5 Entries »