Italy Women 2016 – September 15-October 6, 2016

Florence, Lucca, Siena, Tuscan Countryside, Cinque Terre

IMG_2869_1Ah, Bella Italia! Wouldn’t we love to explore her majestic art, architecture, and cuisine, her serene villages and vineyards, her romantic coastlines for half of the rest of our lives? Well, on this Women’s Adventure, we’ll have to settle for just a bit less than that, taking in some of the spectacular sights in the top half of “the boot”.

We’ll begin in Florence, my favorite Italian city, full of culture and beauty, and just the right size to enjoy ourselves easily. We will stay six nights, strolling on the Ponte Vecchio to the other side of the Arno, listening to the monks chant their 5:00 Mass near the Piazzale Michelangelo, stopping at a frutta e verdura market for a fresh afternoon snack. After a half day private walking tour with our guide, Elena Leo, to get a feel for the history of Florence, we will visit the old masters in the Uffizi Gallery and the exquisite statue of Michelangelo’s David at the Accademia. Franco treats us like queens at Il Porcospino, a local ristorante near the Medici Chapel.

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Fiesole’s Etruscan Arches

A day trips to Fiesole will give us our first taste of some northern Tuscany towns, with a spectacular view of Florence from above, and we can explore the Etruscan ruins nestled in Fiesole’s village boundaries. A short train ride to Prato (our guide’s hometown) and we can visit the Textile Museum, a fresco-ceiling chapel, and a Palazzo or two . . . And always there is espresso, cappuccino, gelato and other delicious culinary delights.

We depart Florence and travel by short train ride to Lucca, a unique triple-walled little city, for three nights, where we can ride bicycles on top of the old walls, picnic at one of the wall-top parks, and take a half-day tour of nearby Pisa. We will see the Leaning Tower, of course, and those of you who are adventuresome can climb the tower if you wish. The Baptistry and the Duomo are spectacular, part of the unique Field of Miracles situated within an area the size of a city block.

Then on to Siena, where the Palio is held each year at the Campo, in July and August. While we are there, we can see clear evidence of which contrata (city district) has won the prize after the last race. A half-day private tour with my friend Viviana Girola will put some of Siena in a historical context, including entry into the magnificent Duomo, as well as the side gallery with ancient illuminated manuscripts on display. Then we will be free to explore the walkways, churches, shops and alleys of this old world town. By popular demand, we have three nights in Siena. Delicious dinners await us, as well as casual daytime grazing on the Campo, full of cafes and street vendors.

After kissing Siena goodbye, we will head to the Tuscan countryside, near Vagliagli, just outside of Castellina in Chianti. Our hosts will be Mario and Elena, the owners of Tenuta Corsignano, an agriturismo, a working farm with vineyards, olive trees, herb gardens and views of Siena in the distance. We will take off most days for Tuscan towns and villages, such as Montipulciano, Pienza, Cortona, and San Gimignano, and perhaps visit Capalbio’s Il Giardino dei Tarocchi (Tarot Garden), a spectacular park with mosaic magnificence in the form of the figures of the Major Arcana. We might also have a private cooking class, a delightful half-day experience.

If you choose, you can just spend a leisurely day or two at the agriturismo itself, lounging by the pool, walking the area or napping luxuriously in the Tuscan sun. There is always time to write in your journal, one you will receive for the trip, or one you bring with you!

We will depart from Corsignano and private drivers will take us to Cinque Terre, where we will stay for three nights. Your choices are many throughout these “five lands”, and you can walk or hike from one of the five villages to another, or take the little “milk train” or boat instead, stopping here and there to explore Monterosso, Vernazza, Corniglia, Manarola, and Riomaggiore.

We will steal away one day, taking the train to the spectacular oceanside town of Portofino (remember Enchanted April, filmed in that area?) for a day of shopping (even just window-shopping) in the high end stores and galleries, all at the edge of the sparkling Ligurian sea. Sip chilled Prosecco and watch the yachts come and go.

A view from Portofino's hills

A view from Portofino’s hills

When we say goodbye to Cinque Terre, we will head for the airport (either Milan or Florence) and our return to reality!

Our trip will include AIRFARE FROM DENVER, twenty nights’ lodging (double occupancy), all transportation within Italy, walking tours in Florence, Prato and Siena, a half-day trip to Pisa, combo ticket in Pisa (the fee for the Tower climb is not included), eighteen breakfasts, three lunches, two picnics, eight dinners, entrance to the Duomo in Siena, the Uffizi, Accademia, and Medici Chapel in Florence, bicycle rentals in Lucca, Florence Street-wise maps, travel journals, and ME, your planner, guide, and all-around fire extinguisher!

Cost for above, (including airfare from Denver) is $6200.00** A $500 non-refundable deposit holds your space. A discount of $250 is yours for early registration by November 15, 2015 OR for bringing a friend not on my list . . .

For questions, please contact Joannah L. Merriman, Lifeprints, 970-481-6339. E-mail me at woodswoman@alumni.colostate.edu and check out my travel blog, http://www.woodswomanabroad.com for samples of previous trip adventures!

Arrividerci!

**Double occupancy. Single occupancy available for additional cost of approximately $1000-$1100, depending on the value of the Euro at time of travel. If you are flying from somewhere other than Denver, or if you have miles you’d rather use, please talk with me. Travel insurance is a must, I’ve found, but I will offer a group rate or individual policy for the full value of your trip as well as for lost luggage, trip delays, medical coverage etc. Details about that upon registration.

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Siena And An Important Commemoration . . .

Tuesday, September 11, 2012

Why is it that I can never type today’s date without feeling as though I shouldn’t be celebrating anything?  9/11 has become its own planet, wrapped in sorrow and disbelief, no matter that it has been eleven years since the twin towers collapsed, taking thousands of people with it.

Life DOES go on for all of us, but the solemnity of writing the date still envelopes me.

Today we leave Rome, headed for the train station.  We board a train to Florence and the Stazione Santa Maria Novella, where we meet Stefano and Fillipo, our private shuttle drivers, who will load our luggage into two shuttle vans.  Our Florence hotel, the Hotel Pendini, is centrally located, and we leave our luggage there, but for an overnight bag, before we head to Siena for one night.

Arriving in Siena, we check into the Hotel Chiusarelli, just a block from the Chiesa San Domenica, a beautiful, simple church whose claim to fame is that it houses St. Catherine of Siena’s head in a glass case on a side altar.  The Italian Catholics are big into collecting body parts of saints, and St. Catherine is the Protective Saint of Siena.

Our guide, Viviana, meets us at a café across from the hotel and we begin our tour of this stunning hill town.  The Duomo (I call it the Zebra Church) never fails to captivate me.  Viviana’s information is always fresh, her knowledge is impressive, and the history of this church, the town, the rivalry between Siena and Florence, and the magic of the Palio competition makes Siena a must-stop for my Italy Women adventures.

We complete a wonderful day with delicious dinner at Le Logge, just off the Campo, and we toast to the memories of all who lost their lives on September 11, 2001 with a moment of silence in the midst of the pleasures of travel.  We are the lucky ones.

My pedometer tells me I walked 5.47 miles today.

The Worst, Best and the Rest of Rome . . .

Monday, September 10

The Rome whirlwind goes by with glitz and overload, especially when one goes to the Vatican.  I know, it’s something you just have to do when in Rome, but frankly, this is the last time I’ll make a trip to the smallest country in the world.  And referencing the title of this post, I think for me, the Vatican experience is the worst of Rome.

The Basilica is exquisite, overpowering, full of story and art, and though the Vatican Museum is also art-full, somehow my eyes glaze over, especially when I think about the link between political power and the Church’s co-dependent relationship with the richest families in Italian history.  Stolen art from other countries, contests to see who has the most body parts of saints, and overwhelming statuary, tapestries, paintings . . . all of that would be enough, more than enough.

But squeezed into every section of the Vatican Museum are souvenir shops and counters, selling ridiculous amounts of books, plastic artifacts, gold crosses, rosaries.  A veritable Vatican Coney Island.  Heresy, I know, but I think I’ll be hard pressed to visit Rome again.

Rome is hot and sticky, teeming with tourists and Romans alike, wandering the streets as though there are no cars at all . . . and some of that is part of the charm of this dirty old city.

The Rome upside is that it is walkable, moreso than I had remembered, and just going back to the Spanish Steps, soaking my bare feet in that cold fountain pool,

My feet were nearly blue, but it surely did feel wonderful!

inspiring several Italian women to take off their shoes before the politizia could shoo us off . . . now THAT was fun!  The policewoman scowled at me and said, in Italian, that this was not a bath, and if I wanted a bath, I should go back to my hotel.  I told her it was only my feet that were taking the bath, and that I was happy she hadn’t come along until about 30 minutes into the soak!

Our final Roman dinner, at the Fortunato just near the Pantheon, was an opportunity to have the best steak tartare I’ve ever eaten!  Delicious food, yummy wine, all on a Roman terrace, with the dusk settling over the Pantheon over my right shoulder.

10.72 miles logged on the pedometer on Sunday, 7.11 miles on Monday.  I’m training for the Camino de Santiago even when I’m in Italy.

Getting Into The Roman Groove

Saturday, September 8

Breakfast (Colazione) at Hotel Smeraldo is lovely, with trays of salami, ham, and cheese.  Yogurt, cereal, fruit, rolls, and coffee round out the fare.  After breakfast I meet with my group in the lobby, armed with our Roma passes.   Like a line of ducklings, we wander out, snaking through small piazzas, looking for Bus # 116 which will take us up to the Villa Borghese and the Borghese Gallery.  One of my favorite places in Rome, the Borghese Gallery houses, among other spectacular artwork, mosaics, etc., the statue of Apollo chasing Daphne, by Bernini.  Spectacular . . . and I am awe-struck again.  (Unfortunately, absolutely NO photos allowed, so I revel in the real thing, and buy a postcard . . .  ).

No photo can convey the exquisite beautiy of this piece . . .

A walk through the Villa Borghese grounds to the lookout point above the Piazza del Popolo, then a stroll to the top of the Spanish Steps and down to the fountain, where we can fill our bottles with water from the fish’s mouth.

On Via Condotti, the high end shops do NOT beckon to me, but it’s interesting to see the suited-up concierge outside each entry door.  We ducked down a block or two and had a delicious light lunch.  More walking walking walking and we were at the Pantheon.  The McDonald’s across the Piazza from the beautiful round-domed building is no longer, and a waiter at what is now a lovely restaurant in hat location confided that there was “funny business . . . connected to the mob” which caused the shut-down of the greasy fast food place.  Excellent!  The Pantheon does not deserve to have to look at the golden arches for the rest of its historical life.

Anne and I went in to the Pantheon just as it was closing to tourists, because a Mass was about to begin.  We simply said we were attending the service and the guards let us in, though their looks were dubious.  Do you think I LOOK like a Catholic, rather than a heathen?

The priest appeared to be as old as Abraham, his black four-cornered hat atop his white and balding head, escorted in by a young assistant.  The usher lifted the front hem of the old monsignor’s dress as the Monsignor took one step toward the altar and plopped into his carved chair.

He had his role, but it was only for half of the service, while the lay participants and the younger assistant read the various parts of the mass.  Anne and I sat, amazed by the ancient priest, and we snuck off at the Communion.  More walking before we caught up with Sue, Marie, Laurie and Amy for dinner on the Piazza Navona and back to the hotel.

7.28 miles logged on the pedometer for today.

Market Week in Provence, Part 3

May 9 and 10, 2012.  Mid-week in Provence found us in St. Remy, and to our surprise, Wednesday was Market Day in this town famous for the fact that it is the home of the mental hospital at which Van Gogh spent about 15 months.  Down the path to the hospital and surrounding it are eighteen plaques, what I call the Van Gogh Stations of the Cross . . . on each plaque is a reproduction of one of his paintings, along with an excerpt from his journals, or a letter to his brother, or some other bit of his writing which helps put each painting in context.

No matter how many times I enter the hospital, I am always struck again by the austerity of the room in which he slept, the simple horror of the tub where he received his shock treatments, and the beauty he created despite his tortured mind.  The hospital is still functioning, and the young patients take great inspiration from Van Gogh’s dedication to his work despite his mental illness.  Many of the patients’ paintings are for sale in the inevitable gift shop.

The presence of the street market made today’s visit to St. Remy even more full of color and the buzz of the local shoppers.  Fresh fish, vegetables, eggs, jams, sausages, olives as well as table linens, purses, dresses, and street musicians filled the streets from downtown to the visitor’s center.

What’s for lunch??

Though we are beginning to recognize some of the vendors, the variety of booths and tables of merchandise never stops surprising me.

Next time I come to this intriguing little city, I won’t even look for a restaurant.  I’ll just graze ecstatically among the market’s offerings!

On our way back to our villa after lunch, we spotted a glowing field of poppies, so we pulled off the side of the road, walked to the field, all of us with cameras in hand, and clicked and clicked until we thought we might have had our fill of the view.  Incredible!

Brilliant poppy field with a backdrop of the Luberon Mountains

Our days are full and lazy in that order.  Plenty of places to see while it’s sunny, and then back to the villa to relax, read, swim, graze at a table full of market fare, and sleep, sweet sleep before we begin again.

Thursday’s market venture found us in Aix-en-Provence, where the market stretched down long avenues and wound through alleyways and plazas.  After a morning of shopping and lunch in front of the merchandise market, we returned to the villa in anticipation of our dinner, prepared for us on site by Chef Ronald, http://www.chefronald.fr, and we were not disappointed.  You can check out his website (click on “English”) and go to the menus for a mouth-watering list of possibilities, with photos.

More on that in the next post!

Almost Time For Liftoff!

April 27, 2012. In one week, six women will be winging their way to Paris for the France Women 2012 Adventure!

Departing from Arizona, New Mexico, Colorado (the fearless leader), British Columbia, New York and Vermont, we will all meet Saturday morning, May 5, at the Charles de Gaulle airport, board a TGV (the fast train) to Avignon, rent our cars and drive out to Villa St. Roch in Robion, the Luberon Valley of Provence. A week there, one night in Gigondas with Thierry and Dominique, the owners of Les Florets, and then back to Avignon to return our cars and return on the train to Paris for another lovely week!

If you’d like to read about our adventures along the way, you can go to this site and click on “Follow”, enter your e-mail address, and then “confirm” your request when WordPress sends you a confirmation e-mail.

After that, you will get an e-mail every time I write a post about our calm and exciting travels.

Paris Days

Monday, October 18, 2010. Last night we walked quickly to the Rue Cler, at least six of us did, looking for a quick meal. Kay, Marie and I found Chinese food appealing, while Anne, Tonda and Sue decided the next-door restaurant looked better to them. One way or another, we were all exhausted from our day of driving the French highways, and we were very glad to tumble into our respective beds at the Hotel Muguet.