Monday, May 31, 2010

Monday, May 31st, Lucca Italy


In 56 BC, Caeserm Crassus, and Pompey met in Lucca and agreed to rule Rome s a triumvirate. By the time of the Roman Empire's collapse, Lucca was the capital of Tuscany. Most of the architecture, and the design of the city, is based on Roman designs. Caesar wanted anyone from the rest of Europe to get to know Rome before they got there by seeing Lucca.

Ken and Dianne wanted to see Lucca because, among other reasons, it's the hometown of Frank Ragghianti the husband of Ken's aunt Ines. It worked out that we could do it on their 30th wedding anniversary, and we plan on having dinner in one of the town's many piazzas tonight after a Puccini concert in one of its spectacular churches.

To see the photos taken tody, click on Lucca on May 31st, or to view a photo video of them, click on Lucca PhotoVideo


Sunday, May 30, 2010

Sunday, May 30th, Lucca


We’ve only eaten out three times so far: two dinners and one lunch. Abbadia San Salvatore has only a couple of restaurants, and our interests have been focused on soup, salad, and pasta. Of course, they do all of them well here. How can you go wrong with ingredients like porcini mushrooms, fava beans, light breads, homemade wheat pasta, great cream and tomato sauces, and good local wine.

Not having an internet connection has reminded us how much we take it for granted. The computer phone card our host provided doesn’t seem to work, and there is no wifi café in town. Phone and email correspondence provide an important link to the rest of our world, and, except for Pat (who seems quite content to not be in touch), we’re all feeling a bit out of it.

This morning, we left Abbadia San Salvatore for our next stop along the travel route - Lucca. Ken and Dianne are celebrating their 30th wedding anniversary tomorrow, and they wanted to do it in Lucca. We packed up everything early in the morning, said our goodbyes to Alexandra, and headed up the road for what turned out to be another perfect Tuscan day. We took a short detour from our original route (that's part of what traveling without serious deadlines allows), and explored the fortress on the top of a hill we had seen from Abbadia San Salvatore. It's called Radicofoni, and it's a beautiful towered natural park which housed a rebel count in the 14th century who stole from the rich and gave to the poor. Kind of like an Italian Robin Hood without a forest. Supporters have gone to great lengths to transform it into a terrific nature educational experience, and it's visited by school programs from all over the country. Truly a spectacular site, and worth the side trip.

The drive just kept getting better, and included great weather, unreal views of wildflowers and amazing tuscan colors, an outrageously scrumptuos lunch in Greve in Chianti following a visit to its famous butcher, and an all-that-we-ached-for bed and breakfast in Lucca. I know that sentence contained far too many over-the-top adjectives, but it's hard to describe our experiences in anything but glowing terms. Later, we walked into the walled city at sunset, and strolled through the old town streets to end the day.

Our plans for the next few days are to have more great meals, and spend the last two days well in northern Italy. We'll be heading to Naples on Tuesday, and begin the southern portion of our travels.

To view the photos taken today, click on Radicofani, Greve, and Lucca


Saturday, May 29th, Siena


Still in the afterglow of yesterday’s almost overwhelmingly successful visit to Casa Nueva on Luigi’s 125th birthday, we set off today for Siena. Stopping in Vivo D’Orcia to take a photo of a relative’s house (we weren’t sure which one it was so we took photos of several), we then were reminded of what season it was. A beautiful field of red poppies stretched from near the roadside to the distant estate lands of picture-perfect Tuscany.

Once in Siena, we looked for the closest parking space possible to the town plaza, and soon found ourselves navigating narrow streets amidst hundreds of pedestrians before we located a space. On our way to city center, we discovered an Internet store, and Di and I checked into our email, and I posted to this blog to let all of you know we were having trouble obtaining an Internet connection while here in Abbadia San Salvatore. We had lunch in an outdoor restaurant near the plaza, and then visited the Duomo to admire the marble floor designs, and extensive façade and pulpit sculptures.

For the photo video, Click on Day Trip to Siena, and for the photos on Picasa, click on Day trip to Sienna


Friday, May 28th, Vivo D'Orcia and a special day


On the 125th birthday of Pat and Ken’s grandfather (Demetrio Luigi Crociani), we visited his childhood home. Exploring from 22-year old memories, we drove through the town of Vivo D’Orcia looking for familiar sites. Where was the cemetery? Where was the church?

We found the cemetery first. In it, we found lots of Pierguidi cousins. Fewer Crociani, Martini, and Franchi cousins were there. But some key relatives were there. Luciano Pierguidi, a great-grandfather, was one of the oldest gravestones (born in 1850). Orlando Crociani and Ezio Pierguidi (great uncles) were also there.

We had passed a beautiful park-like bridge on the way to the cemetery where it seemed a good place to walk. Down the hill, we discovered an old church (Monestary de San Marcello) which turned out to be that of the local cardinal who became Pope (Marcello II) for 22 days in 1555. Acting on the familiarity of an old road near it, we walked along it until we came across the Hermitage, which became the huge castle-like home of the Cirvini family, and a nearby house with a caretaker cutting a lawn. Inquiring if he knew of a “Casa Nueva”, he replied that it was close. Ken and Pat then told him who they were related to, and he insisted they meet the woman who employed him. He summoned her from the house, made introductions, and a brief and joyful discussion of family connections ensued. The house they sought was, indeed, nearby, and the caretaker would lead us to the trailhead.

We hiked through the woods, across an old bridge, and along an overgrown road took us to the ancient family homestead. Pat and Ken’s great grandfather, Pietro Crociani, was the caretaker for the Cervini family, and lived at Casa Nueva. A two-story stone structure with a large stone barn nearby, it also had old stone ovens where the town remembers Margherita Pierguidi making the best bread in the area.. Ken broke an old wire lock, and we went inside and looked around for the first time.

Pietro Crociani, Margherita Martini, Luciano Pierguidi, and Angiolina Franchi were all children of sharecroppers in the Tuscan hillside village of Vivo D’Orcia during the American Civil War. Not that the War touched them in any way. But their lives probably felt akin to the children of 1860’s southern farmers. A strong central family, aligned with the church and living in a large fortified structure, controlled all the land. All of them tended sheep and gathered chesnuts in the forest. Only one of them made it to the fourth grade in school. Their children turned teenagers at the turn of the century, and half of them headed for the industrial freedom of New York, and the agricultural expanse of the West.

On the way back, I took some GPS coordinates on our Garmin. We decided that the idyllic and tranquil steam leading to the home was the perfect spot to place Erma’s ashes. We put her into the ground beneath some beautiful wildflowers, said our goodbyes, and sang a couple of her favorite songs. Pat also placed a bit into the stream nearby. On her father’s 125th birthday, Erma returned to the family home.

To see the photo video of the photos, click on: Vivo D'Orcia, and the photos themselves on Picasa (Vivo D'Orcia)


Thursday, May 27th, Around Monte Amiata


Today, we had several adventures. In the morning, we drove to Pienza and then to Montepulciano. Both are classic Tuscan hill towns dating to the 12th and 13th centuries. Fortified walls, large church towers, windy stone-paved streets, with seven hundred years of living etched into its plazas and buildings. Though the fields and cypress trees provide dramatic photo elements from every view, it is the powerful long dormant volcano known as Mt Amiata that dominates the landscape. Of course, Ken and Pat look at it with eyes that only descendants of the mountain’s highest village can. I can see their pride they read its name in every viewing placque, listen to it mentioned in tour guide presentations, and watch tourists by postcards of it.

We crossed over Monte Amiata this afternoon to find a local park which was reported to contain several kinds of deer, and a few captive wolves. It took the directions from the owner of a great local restaurant where we had lunch, but we finally arrived at the Fauntistico Park del Monte Amiata, where a refreshing mountain hike shared deer and great valley views but no wolves. Rumor has it they are brought out once a week, and Dianne has ambitions of returning on the weekend to try to see them.

Later in the day, Ken and Di did their wash in a town lavandaria while I wandered around taking photos and testing out the range of the short-wave radios I had brought with us. It turns out that they do reach about 2 miles before the volume and clarity cuts out. I figured that we might need them if we took different routes at ruins and other tourist sites.

In the early evening, trying out best to stay awake and maximize our sleeping time tonight, we rescued two small kittens from the fireplace. Before we arrived, a mother cat had gotten into the house from the yard and given birth to a litter. The caretaker had gotten two out, and we could hear the meowing of at least one more. We were able to coax out the first, and listened closely for the faint sounds of the second as the evening ended. Warm milk and my impression of a mother cat’s insistent instructions finally convinced it to make the journey out from the far reaches of the soot cavern under the fireplace. Four cat-lovers can now sleep contentedly, at peace with their souls.

Here's a link to a video of the photos on YouTube (Around Monte Amiata), and to Picasa for the photos themselves (Around Monte Amiata)


Wednesday, May 26th, Arriving in Abbadia San Salvatore

Fifteen hours after departing San Francisco, we landed in Italy and were met by Pat’s brother (Ken) and his wife (Dianne). They had arrived six days ago, and spent most of the time in Rome. Taking a taxi out to the airport, they then met us outside the baggage carousel, and we walked to the rental car offices. We would share a Ford station wagon, which had just enough room for all of our luggage in the trunk.

The drive out of the Rome airport was exciting. We always enjoy being with Ken and Di, and exploring new lands with them is a lot of fun. They both have taken some Italian language lessons on their computer, and it has proved helpful in communicating with those we've encountered here in Italy. Of course, Ken and Pat have a big head start in understanding Italian. They heard quite a bit of it around the house from their grandfather and his children.

Our stay in Abbadia San Salvatore is off to a great start. You'll see on this first photo video (Abbadia San Salvatore, and from the full set of photos on Picasa at Abbadia San Salvatore, the setting for our rental home is idyllic. The exception is the driveway, which is not friendly to those unfamiliar with stick shifts, and stall-control on steep hills. But we can't really complain. The house sits just below the town on the road up to it, and our housekeeper (the owner's mother) is a perfect hostess.


Saturday, May 29, 2010

No WiFi in Abbadia de San Salvatore


Unfortunately, the phone internet connection at our house in Abbadia doesn't work. We'll be looking for access to the Internet at Lucca on Sunday night to upload our photos and text. Stay tuned, and we'll have lots to transmit.

Gregory and Pat.

ps. We're having lots of fun.

Saturday, May 15, 2010

Return to Italy


On May 25th, Pat and I and her brother Ken and his wife Dianne will take Pat's mother's ashes to the Italian ancestral hometown on a mountaintop in Tuscany. We'll visit the area for four days, and then travel to Lucca for Ken and Di's 30th wedding anniversary.

Then we'll head south to Naples and Sicily, to eat our way through Italy for the next three weeks.

Stay tuned. It should be fun.