July 2005 Archives

considering eiffel

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I am back at my desk with a few tales to tell from our incredible journey. Most of which I plan to blog here over the next several days as I emotionally and literally unpack. Some are likely to be as boring as can be but for the sake of my own personal record I don't care. If I don't recount events now I am liable to slink into the day-to-day and let things fade into my not so reliable memory. For this unseasoned traveler I can report that the last four weeks were just as amazing as I had hoped.

I have decided to backdate these posts to the actual dates instead of just letting them land when I blog them. Hopefully this makes sense to anyone who dares to read them, but for me it is mostly for that unreliable memory that I mentioned. The trip was from June 25-July 24, 2005. I have added a link for each day below just to avoid the confusion of the backward flow of blog.


DAY 1, St Eustache
DAY 2, Notre Dame, Arc de triomphe
DAY 3, Louvre video clips in this entry!
DAY 4, The Latin Quarter
DAY 5, Louvre
DAY 6, St Chapelle
DAY 6-dinner with friends
DAY 7, Musee D'orsay, Eiffel tower

DAY 9, Chartres Cathedral
DAY 10
DAY 11

DAY 12, Florence
DAY 13, Uffizi
DAY 13 continued, Baptistry
DAY 14, Duomo
DAY 15


DAY 16, 17 Montepulciano
DAY 18, Siena
DAY 19, Backroads
DAY 20, Sant Antimo, Montalcino
DAY 21, Monteriggioni, San Gimignano
DAY 22, Leaving Tuscany, onto Rome
DAY 23, Rome, Santa Maria Maggiore, Santa Prassede
DAY 24, Rome, Vatican City, St Peter's, Trevi Fountain
DAY 25, Archeological Rome
DAY 25, (PART 2) Pantheon, Piazza Navona
DAY 26, Sistine Chapel
DAY 27, Dublin, Trinity College, Book of Kells
DAY 28, Christ Church Cathedral, Riverdance
DAY 29, Megalithic Ireland, High Crosses
DAY 29 (PART 2, Hill of Slane, Tara)


DAY 29 (PART2)

hill of slane
In 433 St Patrick set his easter fire on this hill. Competition with the Druid fire on neighboring hillside, he risked death for such an act but certainly got their attention. A druid named Erc converted and later became the first bishop of Slane. So Christianity is brought to the Druids. A fire is still lighted on this hill each year at easter.

Here is Daniel, and further back, Bryan, leaving the ruins of Slane Abbey. We were almost always the last to get back to the bus, our fellow passengers patiently waiting as we did our filming. This was the site used for the cover of U2's Unforgettable Fire.


tara (sacred place)
Tara was the premier religious centre of pagan ireland. It was here where the druid king Laoghaire had his conflict with St. Patrick. Monuments of ritual and burial sites span from 4000 BC to the 7th century AD. Our tour guide Shamus took great pleasure in leading us through the pasture(off the tourist path) over the mounds that made up the burial site.

The Lia Fail.


Druid sheep.


St. Patrick statue on the hill of tara.

After the last site(hill of tara) we get back into our little red tour bus bound for dublin. Three college girls were part of our group. Notice Bryan with our big sony camera.

That evening(our last) father and son share a first beer for both of them (guinness of course) over a bowl of irish stew in one of the many dublin pubs. The pub culture is an interesting part of Ireland. It is the way in which people(of all kinds, not just singles or youth) gather after work and before going home. People stand in the streets outside the pubs with their beers and chat. Trying to find a place to eat, we walked through one of them that actually served food, and I noticed a little granny sitting politely with her guiness. I didn't see any nuns though.


megalithic ireland

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Today we walk down to the place to meet our little tour bus for the "celtic experience" or so it was called. Our guide is Shamus and although he has a heavy foot I appreciate his driving prowess as he whisks us and 11 other passengers off to our first destination.


fourknocks passage tomb

Fourknocks. Fourknocks is a passage tomb built between 3000 and 2500 BC.
The entrance of the fourknocks tomb.

Here is Daniel inside the tomb, looking at some of the oldest cave writing.




tomb map is from https:www.carrowkeel.com/sites/fourknocks/fourknocks2.html

mellifont abbey

The first Cistercian order in Ireland, Mellifont abbey was built in 1157.


This was where the monks washed their hands.



Up to this point on our trip we had beautiful weather. In contrast to the scorching sun in rome, ireland was a refreshing relief. Except for today. Rain, rain, rain. Makes it hard to take a picture. We only had a few moments at this important site and so I scrambled to get shots of these rare High Crosses.

9C. High Cross.


Muiredach's Cross.

These crosses were used as pictoral teaching tools. This kind of visual aid was akin to stained glass. Since standing stones held powerful significance for the druids, perhaps the high crosses were the new christian equivalent and by virtue of their "standing stone" helped communicate the power of the story illustrated on them.

The story it tells.


Road signs in english and gaelic.


dublin-christ church, riverdance

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After so much travel we take it pretty easy today. We leave our little bed and breakfast (opting for the continental meal this morning) and set out to explore dublin. We start at the visitor's center, a converted church now used for booking tours. I am hoping for something that gets us near some high crosses and prehistoric ireland and we find and book a tour that does just that. That will be our day tomorrow. But now we do our own walkabout.

More of Grafton Street and on to St Stephen's Green and Christ Church Cathedral. Here I go to work again to capture more amazing windows. This church was built in 1030. Less touristy, and tripod friendly I took my time getting some detail shots. Bryan does some filming here as well. Daniel goes and sits out on the green to do a little writing. This turns out to be the last church we view on our trip. Although St Patrick's seemed like a tourist must, I couldn't bring myself to step inside another cathedral, and St Patrick's would no doubt be a no-tripod-zone.


Medieval floor tiles inside the cathedral.

That evening we have tickets to the Gaiety Theatre and Riverdance. Since we managed a musical experience in each of the other countries on our trip this seemed appropriate for our Ireland experience. All I knew about riverdance was the signature high step tap thang. The musical is actually the story of irish diaspora. I think there was a unique dynamic to seeing this played in ireland because the audience was very responsive. It told their story. Sitting in the theatre I got a real sense of pride from those sitting around us.

The Riverdance troup that we saw was The Foyle

dublin-trinity college

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Going from Rome to Dublin is a bit of a mind blower. Catching a cab to Leonardo's airport, flying Aer lingus, and catching another cab to our hotel in the heart of dublin was the best kind of culture shock. I am convinced that cabbies are the world's ambassadors and every one we had was a delight. The one that took us into rome was like a tour guide, while the one that took us out of rome talked of everyday italian life. The driver that we were lucky enough to get to take us into dublin was cheerful and talkative and extremely proud of his heratige. The ride with him was like a crash course in irish history all given with a heavy gaelic accent. When he dropped us at our bed and breakfast right across from trinity college, I felt like I had been through some sort of portal that suddenly transitioned you from one culture to the next. Now the english-italian conversation with the italian cabbie only hours ago seemed like a distant memory.

Today we tour Trinity College and veiw the Book of Kells. We start out by going downstairs (4 flights) to the breakfast room in Trinity Lodge for a full irish breakfast (eggs potatos, bacon, sausage, toast, grilled tomato, black pudding, and more toast) which was a major swich from italian breakfasts (coffee and croissant). We ate up and ventured out to wander dublin streets.

Daniel at trinity.

Our tour guide trinity was a fourth year student. After the tour Daniel was able to ask him some questions about student life, narrowing down his choice for college next year.


Another form of sacred art takes my breath away. Viewing the book of Kells was another one of those lifetime experiences.


click here for book of kells info

Wandering down Grafton Street and Temple Bar.


rome-vatican museum, sistine chapel

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So we have been in rome and still haven't seen the Sistine Chapel. Our flight leaves that evening around 7 which means we need to check out and store our bags for a few hours and do some more sight seeing before catching a cab to the airport. The night before at dinner, we asked our waiter if we should attempt getting into the sistine with the amount of time that we had. He looked at us kind of funny, like we had a few screws loose. We had seen the line to get into the Vatican Museum (which houses the sistine chapel) a few days before and it went all the way around the vatican city walls which equals a few city blocks. But here was the thing...

When would we get back here again?
How can you go to Rome and miss the Sistine Chapel?
How could I miss the room where Michelangelo spent so much of his life and energy?

We had to try.

So we vowed to get up early and get in "the line" before the museum opens at 8:45. This meant packing, checking our bags with the hotel and checking out, riding the metro, and walking a few blocks to the "line", all before 8:45.

For us this was impossible.

But, doing our absolute best we managed to get to "the line" at about 9:30. Disheartened to discover that it was already blocks long, we took our place behind several tour groups. Hey, how many times had we stood in line an hour for a dumb rollercoaster at Disney World? This was the Vatican Museum after all. We could wait.

Daniel and I held our place in line while Bryan went off to hunt for coffee and something to munch (we had skipped breakfast). He comes back with the much appreciated coffee and we settle into our long wait.

45 minutes later we were inside the museum. Wow, what a great thing.

Perseus with the head of Medusa.


stained glass


You must go through part of the vatican museums before you get to the room that is the chapel. Unfortunately, the rules were very clear about camera use inside the sistine chapel. They made us bag our cameras upon entry and anouncements were made at regular intervals about not taking pictures and remaining silent. Of course you had your rule breakers snapping away when no one was looking, but that wasn't us. It would have been great to have a personal (and professional) record of this event, but who hasn't seen pictures of the sistine chapel anyway? So I took the opportunity to really let this masterpiece soak in. There really aren't words to put to the experience. I guess that is when the phrase, "you just had to be there", is appropriate. Standing in the middle of the room looking up and really thinking about the artist, the times in which these paintings were created, their modesty modifications over the years, and the restoration, was mind blowing. I think that even someone who had no interest in art or the like would be moved while standing in this room. It reminded me of my own conviction that art can prompt a spiritual experience.

rome-pantheon, piazza navona


DAY 25 TUESDAY JULY 19 (second half)

After saying goodbye to our guide Grace we set off on our own to view more of the city. At this point we evaluate our stamina as it has been a pretty full day thus far. The delima is we leave tomorrow for Dublin and there is still so much of this city to explore. Fatigued, we go in search of ice cream.

Bryan consulting the map.


Bryan filling up at one of the many fountains.


On to the Pantheon.


Across from the pantheon we find our ice cream. Getting our flavors we get seated inside this little place with its perfect view of the pantheon and we take some time to relax. The owner is a gruff old guy that obviously take pride in serving us while simultaneously chases out an unwanted teenager who was seeking the bathroom (without buying anything). He barked at her to "Go AWAY"! A few moments later (no lie) a dozen french nuns cram into the little place. I guess when on a spiritual pilgrimage to rome one needs ice cream to keep up one's strength. Bryan, Daniel and I watched as this amazing/adorable/absurd group of women between ages 20ish to 80 in full nun atire shuffled around the two tables next to us as the proprietor arranged chairs to accomodate them. The proprietor spoke some french and so they began to give their orders of flavors as he gave them various taste samples. All very animated with an obvious mood of celebration, they chatted away, taking turns posing for pictures for each other waiting for their ice cream. It was a rare sight. I just kept thinking "what a wonderfully absurd experience this was, sitting in an ice cream parlor with a dozen nuns". Well, their orders came, enormous sundaes of various flavors and all expressed delight in various ways. I caught a glimpse of the oldest woman in the group taking her first bite and closing her eyes, another one clapping her hands. How often do nuns get ice cream? I dunno, but this was an obvious treat for this group and it was such a treat to watch. My only regret is that I chickened out and didn't take their picture.


Look! It's the Holy Hand-Grenade of Antioch!


On to Piazza Navona with its beautiful fountain (Fountain of the Rivers by Bernini). Artists have their work set up for sale and street performers are entertaining the tourists. More scaffolding(told ya) over Sant'Agnese in Agone church.


Here Daniel sits with his sketchbook in front of the fountain.


On more than one occasion was Daniel's hair a bit of a novelty.


Pigeons love the fountain.



rome-archeological sites, colosseum

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In order to get the most out of ancient rome we decided to hire a guide. What really happened is we booked a small group tour (under 15people) that promised "art historian" tour guides. Tuesday morning our little bus arrives and we are met by Grace, our highly educated, roman born tour guide, and nobody else. Our great fortune was that we had Grace all to ourselves, as she put it, "today, I am for you". This was great for the moments when we had to pause for filming. Extremely animated and excited about her city's history, she led us through rome's ruins.

Grace starts us off AT THE BEGINNING with the legendary founding of rome by Romulus on the Palatine Hill. We speed through a history lesson of Republican Rome (510 BC) with its glorious senate. Here we stand near the ruins of Domitian's palace (AD 81-96). As we walk through these ancient marble bone yards, Grace points out the remanants of the colorful marble floors (she splashes water on them to bring out the color) and tells us how they were imported from around the world to build these palaces.


It is kinda wierd walking around in what feels like an abandoned park with chunks of ancient palace just laying around for one to touch or sit on.



She goes onto explain how this same marble was taken for parts to build churches when rome goes from imperial, to autocratic, to papal. It was amazing(and a bit disturbing) to think that the beautiful carved marble and inlaid floors that we had seen the day before in St. Peter's had been taken from the spot that we were now standing. These palaces had been dismantled piece by piece to build churches all over rome. I had a sudden flashback of a trip to the yucatan several years ago, seeing churches that had been built from stones stolen from Mayan temples.


Here is Bryan with our guide Grace.


Hiring a guide was a very good thing. Grace had some tricks and also the clout to jump past hours of lines (especially at the colosseum) so that we could get the most out of our day.

Inside the colosseum.


We learn that although Christians were persecuted under Nero's reign (54-64) no Christians were ever martyred in the colosseum. It's construction didn't start until 72. Christians were executed elsewhere, but not due to their religious beliefs but because they practiced pacifism and refused to fight in the imperial army. These draft-dodgers were never fed to the lions in the colesseum during the games, but were beheaded (apparently the proper form of execution at this time) for being disobedient to the law. Just like the palace marble, part of the colesseum was destroyed for building materials as well. This was stopped by Benedict XIV in 18C proclaiming it a monument to christian martyrs (which is where that idea apparently comes from). Grace explains to us that most likely that under Nero's reign the property in which the colesseum was built upon had been residential, possibly christian. This community was burned to the ground for political reasons but later made a convenient monument for Benedict. Grace made it clear that the romans did not like Nero.


Just up the hill along the "sacred way" is the capitol square. Another building designed by Michelangelo with a statue of Marcus Aurelius at its centre.


It is at this point where Grace is going to show us into the Capitolini museum with all its treasures. But under no circumstances will they allow us to take our daypacks in. Instead there is a bag check room. Although it seems perfecty safe, we have been pretty lucky with theft so far with only one stolen camera, and I opt for not tempting the odds. I stay outside in the square with our gear while the guys go into the museum. My brain is about to explode at this point anyway and I could use a break.

After they guys emerge from the museum Grace shows us "the wedding cake" and our tour ends. weddingcake.jpg


Vatican city. We were warned that the lines were so long that some people never got in, but we seemed to be in luck because we stood in line for less than an hour.


Throughout this trip the three of us were spending a great deal of time contemplating the history of the church and of our faith. Daniel was in the middle of reading "The History of Christianity" and Bryan was reading "Te Deum", which focuses on church music in history (nothing like a little light reading). I wasn't reading anything, but was contemplating the artists that created all that we were seeing, their lives, the politics that they dealt with, and what that must have been like. Having been in the thick of ministry and seeing our fair share of politics, it was intriguing to take a stroll through history and see things from the very beginning. A lot of what we saw and learned was sobering. Like learning that the beautiful ceilings in St. Peter's were lined with the gold from Spain's first conquests of Peru. Makes you kind of sick to your stomach.

Inside St Peter's.

Seeing Michelangelo's Pieta was another one of those knock-the-wind-out-of-you sort of experiences. Having spent so much of his life's work here, this place seemed to whisper his name at every turn. Bryan, Daniel and I marveled at the fact that he created this at age 25. It was both comforting and disturbing that this masterpiece is now behind bulletproof glass.


Trevi Fountain.


In 19BC Agrippa decided to build a long canal to bring spring water to rome. In 1732 Clement XII comissioned Nicola Salvi to create this fountain to adorn the end of the canal. The sculpture(according to the trusty green guide that I am plagarizing at this moment) represents Salubrity and Abundance with the center figure representing the Ocean riding in a chariot. This is where people came to get their drinking water. While at this fountain we noticed police flanking it. Whenever someone tried to stick a toe in the water they blew a whistle!

Rome still has natural spring water that constantly flows from fountains all over the city. While walking on this very very hot day we noticed one of these small fountains as a policeman in full uniform, walked up to it, stuck his mouth under it and took a drink. We had seen others drink from the fountains but were a little dubious until this point. Hot and parched I figured, "hey, when in rome..." and had a drink. The next day our guide informed us that water is still rome's greatest resource. You buy one bottle of water and when it is empty you simply keep refilling it all over the city. The water comes out of the fountains cold, clear and sweet. What a great resource!

Tourist crowd at Trevi.


While walking we bump into the president's house. Flanking this balcony is St. Peter and St. Paul.



Bryan and I go up to the terrace to have some breakfast before heading across the street to the basilica. The tower bell rings at quarter to 11 to call for mass. Daniel was fighting cold symptoms so he stayed in bed.

I did not take this picture, it is a promo shot from the hotel of the terrace.

We head over to the church and take a seat with other attenders. There is a slight juggling act with tourists coming and going while services take place. The mass is in italian (of course) but I didn't need to understand the language to appreciate the beauty. And we heard the Palestrina Choir. This was another one of those exeriences that was kind of surreal. Walking in the pathway of the historical church can broaden ones perspective. I felt like each day of the trip was adding another part as we continued to see the places where so much history was made. As the service went on I saw our friend at the front sitting with some of the other priests. We watched and listended as mass was said and communion distributed. Lots of pomp and ceremony. After the procession we just sat in our chairs letting it soak in as others got up and went out. After a while we got up and looked around this amazing building. On the outer part of the nave we notice our friend sitting in one of the confessionals taking confessions (in seven languages). When he is free we give a wave and walk over for a little chat. He welcomes us with a warm hand and asks if we liked the chior. He likes to talk but soon we say our goodbyes as another service is about to start.

Here is the inside of Santa Maria Maggiore facing the back of the church. This basilica was built in 432 but added to by several popes throughout the centuries. Mosiacs from the 5C line the upper walls.


Mosiac on the outer face of the basilca.


After lunch at a cafe across from the basilica, We head out for a walk around this historic neighborhood. I was surprised by the stark contrasts in this city. One minute you are inside very grand cathedrals, and then outside, just steps away, you find graffiti and stacks of garbage.


Santa Pudenziana is the oldest church in rome and is said to be where senator pudens, who lived in a house on this site, welcomed Peter under his roof. Today we witness a small Filipino community that uses this historic building for mass. Humble and imperfect compared to the grand spectacle of the mass at santa maria, Bryan and I find ourselves moved by the heartfelt gathering going on here. There was even what appeared to be a youth service underway in the courtyard.


Following the map in our Green Guide, Bryan leads us to what appears to just be a long wall with a humble door marked with this.


Probably founded by Andronicus and Junia (between 33-37 AD, Aquila and Priscilla may have worshiped in this "titulus" or house church. The present building was put up in 822 over the original home, and now houses Santa Prassede. Another relic bearing church, this one has the marble post that christ was tied to for scourging. Again we step back into history.

This byzantine mosiac was created around 824. The full arch depicts christ with all of the apostles.


Still in use as a benedictine monastery, the one caretaker that we saw didn't appear to be a monk, but who knows. A very tall man in a checkered shirt with squeaky shoes (which really flew in the face of all the signs of "silence please" everywhere) took delight in showing various tourists the coin operated machine that turned on the lights to allow you to view the mosiacs. Bryan kept feeding it euros so that I could take pictures.


leaving tuscany-onto rome

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A final coffee with Maria Rosa and we pack up our suitcases for our next destination, Rome. We leave our quiet villa and say goodbye to Ermanno, the owner of this charming place. He had been so gracious to us throughout our stay, lending us a road map, assisting with suggestions and directions all through the language barrier. He spoke a little english but more french. We speak a little french and no italian. Somehow we created a french-english-italian sort of soup that enabled us to communicate. Ermanno had even invited us into his home down the road. Another stone cottage but much more lived in, he had his home office. An architect with a gift for interior design which was obvious by the villa, Ermanno was still working on parts of the property. In fact, as perfect as the villa was there was one thing Ermanno still hadn't gotten around to do. All of the light fixtures were unfinished. Being the remodeling fools that we are Bryan had to restrain himself from picking up a toolbelt and doing some wiring.

Here is Ermanno posing for a picture in front of his villa. Grabing two fruit trees he says in english with a heavy italian accent, "my land".


Even the outdoor spigot was creative.



We get in the car and find a little roadside place to grab a panini (sandwich) and we are off to rome. Always somewhat on the clock we take advantage of the two hour trip to film some road footage. After I unsuccessfully try to hold the camera steady, we stop to rig the tripod so that the camera is propped up just infront of me and against the dashboard for easier filming. Two hours of timelapse from petroio to rome!

Our hotel, the Mecenate Palace, was across from Santa Maria Maggiore(shown here).


After settling into the hotel, Bryan and I go for a walk and meet this talkative priest from Santa Maria Maggiore. This basilica is one of the four "major" basilicas in Rome, another of which is St Peters. The priest, S. Priore, Dr. Jan-Raffaele De Brabandere is part of the Apostolic College of the Vatican, is a doctor of sacred music, was a professor of something I don't remember, and speaks seven languages. We just happen to catch him locking up the church. Dr. De Brabandere and Bryan engage in a discussion about each other's occupations, church music, and the state of the church, as well as a little italian politics. Our new friend tells us that we must not miss the 11:00 service tomorrow as the Palestrina Choir will be singing. Another treat for my musical husband. We discover later that Santa Maria Maggiore Basilica was the very place that Giovanni Palestrina began his historical career. Wow.


Here I am with Jan-Raffaele. He insisted upon trading information so that we could send him a picture for his "book". Such a dear man, we promise to visit again tomorrow.



Getting a late start we're off to find the charming hilltown of san gimignago. On the way we run into this little castle town of monteriggioni. Built in 13C, it was described in Dante's "Divine Comedy". In need of food we lunch at a little cafe inside the castle walls. The town square is abuzz with people setting up for some sort of fair. Turns out it is a medieval arts fair. How appropriate.


san gimignano

This fun little town was smaller that siena but with some great shops and atmosphere and unique towers. We even bumped into a contemporary gallery that Daniel spent a chunk of time in. After being steeped in historical art and all things old, that place was a nice break.



more intriguing door knockers.



Stop the car! We have sunflowers!



Bryan stopped the car on the side of the road at this location and we all had a laugh as I snapped a picture of this. Our Green Guide had a picture on the front with this same shot. We figured that the photographer had parked in the very same spot.



After our breakfast of coffee and breads with Maria Rosa, we decide to take it easy at the villa for a while. Bryan goes off to film cool critters and flowers in the garden, while Daniel writes at the little antique desk that overlooks the courtyard. I find a place to set up the paints that I brought to attempt to paint this:


Ha. Oh well.


Then we hop in the rental car and zip down the winding roads in pursuit of the 9th century abby of sant' antimo.

Here you see Bryan in the vinyard filming the abby in the distance.


Stone capial carvings.


More winding roads and we are in montalcino, another major wine city. We stop here for dinner and sample some of the goods. To Bryan's delight there is also a "wine and jazz festival" about to be held within the fortress walls. Music starts at 9:00. We eat and stay for what ended up being a wonderful night with great jazz under the stars.


We got to see "Doctor 3" at Jazz and Wine in Montalcino

hilltowns of tuscany- backroads

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Daniel decides to to hang out at the villa while Bryan and I venture out to no where in particular mostly searching for photo opps. I am hunting for that perfect shot of sunflowers. There are fields of them in bloom here and I vow that before we leave I will have my shot.

In our wanderings we trip over Sant' Anna in Caprena a tiny monastery in need of some attention. One humble little man seemed to be its only caretaker. Build in 1324 the goldmine here was the unfinished frescos painted by Giovanni Antonio Bazzi (Sodoma) a pupil of Leonardo da Vinci. The artist was just 25 when he painted this, his first commission. Out came my tripod, somebody pinch me.


We stop for a picnic at this very tiny town made up of a few villas an old olive press and a small church.

Here is Bryan opening a bottle of chianti for our picnic lunch of bread, cheese, olives and fruit. We made use of this stone bench overlooking this beautiful valley.






Monte Oliveto Maggiore

Before heading back to our villa we paid a visit to the large benedictine abby of Monte Oliveto founded in 1313. This large and active complex housed an extensive library, gallery, church and cloisters with more frescos by the artist Sodoma. No tripod please. Bummer. The church was the first that we encountered that had rigged a tacky touristy coin-activated system that would light up the hand-carved choirstalls if you fed it a euro. Kinda cheesy.

The library.


That night we ate in Pienza at La Buca delle Fate.

hilltowns of tuscany- siena

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Siena is one of the larger hilltowns. Here is the city square.


Daniel decides to grab the camera and do some filming of the buildings in the square. These buildings are indeed the color "siena" of which the paint color gets its name.


Here is Bryan looking into one of the charming markets. He was on the hunt for a dessert called panforte.



Taking pizza to a whole new level.


No, it isn't just a tacky street light.

Each alley spoke from the center square had a different funky street light. Upon further reading in our trusty Green Guide we found that each design represented the 17 virtues of siena and are the contrades (groups, teams, i dunno) that compete in the famous horse race held in the square. This race is a big deal. So much so that on the morning of the race a mass is said to bless the rider and horse in his contrade's church. You find the contrade flags for sale everywhere as souvenirs.

This light is the contrade "wave" which represents the virtue of joy.

Inside siena's amazing cathedral with its striped marble.


Motor bikes are the preferred mode of transport due to the narrow and very steep streets.


hilltowns of tuscany- montepulciano

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Going from the hustle and bustle of the tourist packed florence to the much quieter hill towns of tuscany was like jumping countries. The little bit of italian that we learned had to be relearned because there were subtle differences even in the dialect. Ancient and charming we would spend the next week going exploring each town from our home base villa just outside of petroio. The first day we bumped into San Quirico D'orcia where we bought some yummy things from a little market. Cheese, olives, some dried bread, and some wine, one bottle that actually made it all the way home with us and is sitting in my kitchen right now. Each hill town has a fortress wall around it and each town has its own church, tower, museum and town square.

Here is a view from the city of montepulciano where some of the worlds best wine comes from.


The ancient stone in these places gives you a real sense that you have gone back in time. The streets are brick and extremely narrow which is why some of these towns restrict their traffic to the locals, so you park outside the walls and walk in. Minutes after photographing this charming archway came a mini van zipping down the hill through this little arch and winding down the hairpin turns. The picture was kind of surreal as the compact car had a little old nun at the wheel, white habit flapping in the open window, rosary swinging wildly from the rear view mirror. After moving out of harms way I had to laugh at how obsurd that picture was. So obsurd I didn't think to snap the picture but just stood there with my mouth hanging open as this nun flew down the hill in her mini van!


Snooping through this sleepy town we bumped into this little door that said "wine tasting". We had discovered Cantina del Redi an ancient wine cellar that descended into the hill over 500 meters. We followed our nose through these cave like corridors marvelling at the old stone and giant barrels of wine. It was a wierd feeling because no one was around and all there was to guide us were the lighted tunnels and an occasional arrow that pointed you toward the "wine tasting". We finally emerged into a little enoteca (wine tasting bar) with one person in attendance apparently cleaning up. I guess we missed the party as she just looked at us kind of funny as we exited out the door into the welcomed daylight.

vino nobile di montepulciano 2003.

I became fascinated by the variety and age of door knockers.

Santa Maria Asunta

This 6th century town's cathedral housed a number of art gems like this reredos painted in 1401 by Taddeo di Bartolo.


goodbye florence, hello tuscany

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We pack up our stuff for the next destination which is a little villa in tuscany. This is the portion of the trip that I think will be a little more laid back and restful, once we get there. Turns out that getting there was more of a challenge than I first planned.

The original plan was to get on a train in florence and go to chuisi, rent a car and drive 20 minutes or so to our villa. But our train ended up being an hour late coming in so we took another that put us into chuisi at just after five oclock. Here we are desperately grabbing a snack before the train.


The car rental place was closed. These are small towns and you just don't snap your fingers for transportation so after some contemplation we boarded a train back to florence. From the florence train station we grabbed a cab to the airport where we could rent a car. Car rented we hit the road toward our destination in the tuscan countryside hoping to get there before dark. We didn't make it. The sun went down as we got near but it was completely dark when we found ourselves somewhat lost looking for the little dirt road that our remote villa was on. At one point we had taken a turn ending up in some farmers driveway begging directions without knowing the language. After several twist and turns, backtracks and begging directions Bryan somehow got us onto a road that he declared, "feels right". At 11:00 pm we are greeted by the caretaker, Maria Rosa. Having waited up for us she met Bryan exclaiming "Where have you been"!(we think judging by the hand gestures, we don't speak italian, she doesn't speak english). She managed to show us our villa while communicating that breakfast was between eight and nine am. Feeling bushed and a bit rattled I was refreshed by the charm of this little place. A two hundred year old stone cottage, the owner(who we met the next day) had remodeled it for several tenents but we were the only ones there and had the place to ourselves.

Click here to see our villa.

I didn't take many pictures of our villa because to my delight it looked just like the website.


We started today with a visit to the amazing duomo (cathedral dome). One thing that was as consistant as the art in the places we visited was the restoration of it. You maybe able to see the crack that is going through the lower part of the dome. Every single major cathedral that we visited was scaffolded. This was a minor disappointment as it sortof shredded the romance of a place, but it became a running joke as we went from location to location. "Look more scaffolding"!

Here is the duomo.

People walk or ride bikes or motorbikes. Here are my guys outside of the cathedral trying (unsuccessfully) to blend in as statues. Notice the scaffolding behind them.


Lunch in piazza della republica just steps away from our hotel. Here we have pizza and on a rare occasion coke to drink. Soda drinks are consumed mainly by the tourists as wine is the main thing. At this point I was desperate for some carbonation so we "splurged" as cola costs twice as much as wine. We found that in some places the difference was as staggaring as a bottle of wine at 2 euros compared to a can of coke at 4 euros.


After lunch Bryan and I venture out to take more pictures. Here he is with his back to me in a small section of one of the smaller churches (don't laugh this one was small) Not yet a tourist point I was free to use a tripod and photograph whatever I wanted. With only a handful of people coming in for service I could see why these grand cathedrals were becoming museums needing to generate income by selling religious trinkets.


That evening we shifted from art to music. Miraculously when we arrived in florence Bryan had spotted a poster in the square advertising a free concert being held in the piazza (square) just outside the uffizi. Beethoven's 9th conducted by Zubin Mehta (very famous conductor) with choir and orchestra. I didn't have a clue who Zubin Mehta was but it was obvious that it was Bryan's turn to get excited. So that night after dinner at a restaurant in the square we took in a concert under the stars. It was a rare thing to be in this ancient city among the statues and art casually listening to this amazing music with the good people of florence and other travelers like ourselves. People came out on their balconies in the buildings that surrounded the square to enjoy the concert too. A truly amazing night.

After the uffizi we wandered into the famous florence baptistry with its incredible mosaic dome.


After spending an our or so looking up we decided to move on and wander around florence some more. A friend of ours once said that if you go to florence you can't help but bump into churches, and it is true. We were wandering and discovered an interesting looking corridor just off the street, so we went in. We had stumbled into a benedictine monastery. Further snooping brought us into this little cathedral where several people dressed in white sat on their knees in silence. We quietly took our place at the back of the church. Apparently we were just in time for service. After a long period of silence and people trickling in, the service began. Most of it was in song by the monastic order wearing white. We looked on in wonder as one of the monks went down the eisle swinging the incensor filling the room with perfume signifying our prayers. It amazed me that this little building was crammed with priceless art. All was peaceful and quiet except for the crystal voices that were being raised by the nuns. Bryan carefully got up and walked to the other side of the back of this little church to do a little filming. The service continued until suddenly there was this awful, shrill sound of what I thought was a fire alarm. Maybe the incensor created too much smoke. The alarm stopped and the service continued. Turns out Bryan had leaned a little too close to one of the priceless works of art and tripped an alarm!

Inside the abby during the service.

the uffizi, a day with botticelli

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One of the things that drove me in planning this trip was the idea that I could stand face to face with art that I had studied in college in books. One of the artists that impacted me was botticelli. I can't explain why I latched on to this particular artist. It is kind of like trying to explain your favorite flavor, you aren't sure why you like raspberry, you just know that you do. In particular Primavera is the painting that leapt out of my art history book 20 years ago and whispered, "come see me". Since that moment I got married, had a son, started a career, changed careers, and owned a gallery/cappucino bar that, with the help of my sister, painted a copy of a section of this painting on one of the walls. Someone might call that obsession. Anyway It was one of the driving forces in planning this trip.

One thing, if you ever plan to visit this gallery make a reservation for the day (and time) you want to go. This is one of the moments where all my trip research paid off. I had read somewhere that if you just tried to "pop in" to this famous gallery you would likely stand in line for four hours or more. It's true. The day we went I had my little reservation slip in hand at the 10:30 am time(our reservation) and we waltzed right in past a huge line. While doing so I noticed a sign that had been posted that reservations were all booked for that day. I can't even imagine how disappointing that would have been.

The uffizi houses a good chunk of the worlds great art. The other major chunk is in the louvre. Unlike the louvre palace with its marble floors and regal spacious rooms where art hangs like it belongs, the uffizi was more confining, musty and in need of attention. A lot of the artwork was behind glass (unlike the louvre) and gave you the impression that the italians were a little more paranoid than the french (about their art). The uffizi also allowed no photos, not just no tripod, but no photos, period. So I put my camera away. This was ok with me because I really didn't need to work today, I came to visit with an old friend. The rooms are laid out chronologically and I had to really hold myself back from not running through the first few hundred years worth of art before getting to botticelli(1482), after all, there was a mindblowing number of masterpieces to see.

Finally we entered the "botticelli room" and there she was (this is where blair cries, again) "the birth of venus" and "primavera" on adjacent walls, with several other of sandro's works. You can study these things in books, but honestly there is nothing like looking at the real thing. I don't know how long Bryan and I spent in this room, but it was an extended amount before taking our audio guide through the rest of the gallery. What I didn't know at the time was although separated from Daniel who I thought was a room or two ahead of us in the gallery, he had actually gone back to the botticelli room where we found him hours later with his sketch book sketching the venus. Another botticelli fan was born.

No pictures were allowed but Bryan managed to snap this one with his phone to mark this momentous occasion for me. I am so glad that he did. Here I stand in front of "primavera".


zurich to florence

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Father and son engaged in lively conversation in our dining car as the Italian countryside whizzes by


Off the train and to the hotel we check in and opt for a long nap. Who cares what time it is.


Here are the guys strolling past these amazing buildings with their green and rose colored marble.


sleeper car from paris to zurich

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Chartres to paris, paris to zurich (switzerland). Today I learned a valuable lesson. Don't get up at 5am to take pictures if you plan on taking a late sleeper train to another country the same day. It is killer. Lesson learned.


This part of the trip I had left somewhat open for a few days to if we so choose, go numerous directions with our eurail pass in hand. The choice to stay and extra day in paris and then go to chartres narrowed our travel choice as we were due in florence on the sixth (tomorrow). I had checked in advance about the possibilites but had not locked down a reservation for this part of our trip which meant that a direct train from paris to florence was not available. So we went through switzerland. This took some time sitting in the train station figuring out numerous iteneraries to offer the clerk at the window. We found that writing all the info down and pointing to it rather than trying to explain in another language was more direct and painless. Of course Bryan did this part. Daniel and I sat with our luggage until it was sorted out.

zurich train station the next morning




Wanting to catch the stunning morning light in this charming town before departing Bryan and I got up at 5am. We let Daniel sleep (poor boy was so sick of churches by now) but we ventured out after coffee and croissant into the cold morning air.

Here is Bryan walking the labyrinth with the HDV and steadycam.



chartres again

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Here we sit at our cafe across from the cathedral.

An exhibit was going on inside the cathedral of an artist/priest. The contemporary nature of the work was an inspiring contrast to the ancient art of the cathedral.


bye bye paris hello chartres

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Staying an extra day we finally leave our place in paris to hop on the train to chartres. Notice the luggage. We got really used to using these great little daypacks that separate from the larger backpack. Now putting the whole thing on our backs seems kind of silly because after all, the larger pack has wheels. Granted we don't look like the hip backpacking family but who cares. The wheels got lots of use after this. I can't say enough about how great this luggage worked, especially considering how much photo gear we were carrying (minus a stolen camera at this point). It was amazingly deceptive.


Off the train and into the town of chartres. Travel weary, we roll our luggage, bumpity bumpity, up and down the streets of chartres, me lagging behind, "ok where is the damn hotel".


WOW, there is the cathedral, notre dame de chartres. ok, I am better now.


Not the tourist mecca that is notre dame, chartres cathedral was relatively empty. Quiet and serene and tripod friendly we spent hours in this medieval church. We have gone back in time again as this building was begun in 1194. Another relic bearing cathedral, this one claims the tunic of the virgin mary.


It is late in the afternoon and I am pretty focused on photographing these amazing windows (167 of them), the guys are in another section of the cathedral, Bryan filming and Daniel taking in the imagery and chatting with one of the priests. Services are held here by a small number of townspeople and as I am so focused on what I am doing on the otherside of the large screen (that took two centuries to carve) begins a vesper service. It is a rare moment when you are face to face with such ancient beauty accompanied by the lifting of sweet voices that echo like angels all around. I had to catch me breath.

the screens.


After having dessert at a little family owned cafe across from the chapel we wandered around the grounds taking in this amazing structure. It is surrounded by a fortress was that looks down on an imaculately kept labyrinth. We continued to wander around this magical place as the sun started to set. Next to the cathedral was the museum of decorative arts and to our delight and suprise music started to play and lights projected onto this building. A charming multimedia played on the face of this structure as people casually gathered to enjoy the entertainment. We watched for a while and after it looped a couple of times we decided to move back toward the cathedral.

This time we approached it from another side and as we did we noticed something really strange. The faces and figures carved in the stonework looked as if they had been painted in pastels which looked really wierd until we realized that colored light was being projected onto it from an ajacent building. We marveled at this for a moment and then heard more music coming from the front of the building. We followed the noise and by now it was totally dark but as we rounded the corner, what a surprise. Another multimedia projection on the whole face of the cathedral was in process. The multimedia consisted of imagery made from the windows of the cathedral(the same windows I had photographed earlier). Groups of people sat lazily on the park lawn at the foot of this great building and we took our place among them. The music continued and there was applause at the finish from all who had gathered. The stars had come out and the program began again. We sat through it three times laying on the cool grass. What a perfect ending to a magical day. Hard to believe we were hauling luggage around town just a few hours ago.

sleep, shop and chill

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This was a working vacation and it was time for a "day off" which is really hard to do when there is so much to see. Making this choice was totally necessary considering the duration of the trip so today we opted for a day to sleep in, do a little shopping near our room, and basically chill. Bryan and I even took in a movie (english movie with french subtitles) which was really fun. Of course the movie we chose was the Interpreter which dealt with international issues and the UN the main character being a language interpreter. The combination of all that was a bit of a mind blower. At one point the character was speaking in french, and since we were in a french theater there were no subtitles for that which left us laughing in the dark. It was a good restful day.

Here is a shot of one of the "smart cars" that you see commonly driven all over europe. This one happens to sport an advertisement. Parking is scarce and gas is expensive so you see these half size vehicles zipping around everywhere. What was really funny was to see them parked sideways, two to a parking spot. We never saw an SUV.

musee d'orsay, a day with vincent



Today was a shift in gears by a few hundred years going from gothic relics to french neo-impressionism. I had the priviledge of running into this guy who politely introduced himself and even let me take his picture. I had so many questions for vince and we had a nice little chat. Standing in a room filled with his work with him looking on as you admire it puts you in an interesting frame of mind let me tell you. His style and use of color seemed such a departure from his fellow and preceeding impressionists that I found myself unexpectedly drawn to it. This museum houses such a special collection that it is hard to describe. Viewing an artists work by seeing a room filled with it has a much more significant impact than seeing a single token example. Room after room was like this. Degas, Monet, Cezanne, Renoir. Yes there were more tears. My only regret is that I didn't have a whole week for just this museum.


considering vincent.


Next it is on to Eiffel's tower where we pay homage to one of the world most photographed monuments. They say that most of the time she has her head in the clouds which makes for hazy photos and today was no different for us.

Here the guys plant an unexpected kiss on me as the timer on my camera snaps this fun family photo. If you are reading this mom, yes, I have gained some weight, you will just have to get over it.

About an hour later Daniel's camera is stolen which was not so nice. Totally insured and replacable. What wasn't easy to replace was the wonderful pictures that he didn't get to take and I was down one gifted photographer on the business side of this trip. bummer.


A ride to the top of eiffel was a wish come true for Bryan. Here we see a little mockery aimed at me, even so, this was an important moment for him as he was denied the ride 20 years ago while on a euro tour with a high school music group.


We did the lift to the top which involves a stop in the middle which for someone like me who gets slightly disoriented in high places is an exciting ride especially when I was lucky enough to get the window spot(smashed up against it) in the overcrowded elevator. Makes for great video footage though. Lines are outrageous and patience is a great thing to unpack at this point as you inch your way around the ropes toward the lift. I took the time to notice the people around me and it was really fun to observe all the people from around the world gathered for the same reason, to go home and declare that they had been up the eiffel tower. I marveled at the variation of groups, families and nationalities as we repeatedly passed each other in this winding line. Small children playing peek-abo, families chatting and laughing in various languages and the token high school kids from a group tour who seemed less interested in where they were than some dating drama(ok I was eavesdropping, what can I say). I am not sure how long it took to get to the top but at this point in our trip we weren't paying that much attention to time. The only indication was the scene that we witnessed with the angry american woman who apparently missed her chance to get to the top and was blaming some poor french eiffel attendent (i don't know what his title was) with a verbal punishment that the whole tower heard.

view from the top.


Even though we didn't mind the lines, going down was a bit different and we opted for the stairs for part of the trip. It is really fun running down the stairs on the inside of all that gridwork at night.


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This page is an archive of entries from July 2005 listed from newest to oldest.

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