Archive for May, 2009

We woke up this morning to cloudy skies and what looked like pending rain. We had a 10 am reservation for the Uffizi gallery, so at 9:35 we began our walk across town. As we walked, we ate the bread and cheese that we bought yesterday, and arrived at the gallery a few minutes early just as the rain started to fall. Fortunately, the Uffizi gallery is entirely indoors and so we spent a little under three hours there admiring art from the last seven centuries. We shared an audio guide, which gave a lot of interesting facts and put much of the art we were seeing in context. One particular favorite of both of ours was a painting by Michelangelo, which was reminiscent of those we saw in the Sistine Chapel. In a museum full of works by famous painters, Michelangelo’s still stands out because of its attention to detail and its perceived depth.

Philip and Rose in Florence, Italy

Here we are standing in the cloister of the Chiesa di Santa Croce.

Michelangelo’s paintings seem to be in a class of their own for bringing the painted surface into three dimensions. The museum was oriented chronologically and we decided to start at the end and work back to avoid the largest crowds. This worked marginally well and gave an interesting walk back through time that most visitors probably don’t see.

When we left the Uffizi, it was almost 1 pm and we were both quite hungry; fortunately, the rain had tapered, at least for the time being. We stopped by the Museum of Historical Science, which we were hoping to see after lunch, but learned that it was closed on Sundays. We would have liked to see it, but there will be other chances to see nerdy museums throughout the trip. If we have time tomorrow after our day trip, we may try and go check out that museum before it closes. We had lunch at a kebab restaurant near the Uffizi and managed to make it inside just before the rain started again. We enjoyed our gyro-style wraps, and then headed out into the light rain to find the gelateria that our friends told us about the other night. According to their source, a native of Florence, this was the best gelato in the city. We found the gelateria without too much trouble and each enjoyed a cone. While it isn’t better than the first place we found in Rome, we both agree that this gelateria is as good and was about as inexpensive as well.

facade of Chiesa di Santa Croce in Florence, Italy

The facade of the Chiesa di Santa Croce. It's similar to the facade of the Duomo, though a bit simpler.

Now fed and gelatoed, we headed to the famous church of Santa Croce, which was nearby. We paid the entrance fee and entered into the voluminous cathedral (we know we showed disdain at paying to enter churches yesterday, but this one is worth it). Santa Croce is essentially the Italian version of England’s Westminster Abbey. The church is full of dozens of tombs, some more elaborate than others, and it is hard to walk on the floor without stepping on some funerary inscription or carving. Most notably, the church of Santa Croce is the final resting place of Galileo Galilei, Machiavelli, and Michelangelo (the painter, not the ninja turtle). The church also includes a beautiful funerary monument (but no remains) to Dante Alighieri, the famed Florentine writer who penned the Divine Comedy. Other than tombs, the church also contains many beautiful chapels and several famous works. Parts of the church were blocked with scaffolding and tarps and we were disappointed that we could not view Machiavelli’s tomb or Donatello’s famous “Annunciation”. Nevertheless, the church was well worth the entrance fee and we spent a while walking around it and taking it all in.

tomb of Galileo Galilei

The tomb of Galileo Galilei inside of the Chiesa di Santa Croce.

Just outside the main cathedral, there is a beautiful chapel built by our favorite architect, Filippo Brunelleschi. The chapel contained one of Brunelleschi’s first cupolas and was very peaceful to be in. Again, due to restoration work, we could not view all of it and the altarpiece that came from Donatello’s workshop was not visible. The ceiling above the altar was also blocked from view, but we were able to watch a short looping video that showed the beautiful (and apparently astronomically accurate) paintings of constellations that are on it. Brunelleschi also designed the outdoor courtyard and cloisters for the church, and we spent a few minutes walking around there as well.

Interior of Chiesa di Santa Croce in Florence, Italy

The interior of the Chiesa di Santa Croce.

Although it had been a fairly easy day, we were both ready for a break so we decided to return to our hostel to rest. Rose took a pretty long nap and we spent a few hours writing, reading, and just hanging out. In the evening, we went for a walk to find the bus station and to determine what time we needed to leave in the morning for our day trip. After walking around for a while trying to find the bus station, we finally saw the small sign on the side of the building and knew we had made it. However, when we went into the ticket office to ask for help, both registers had the blinds shut and a closed sign in front. It was obvious that a person was still behind one of them so we attempted to ask him a quick question. We were met with a flurry of Italian words and a young man peeked out from behind the blinds with an angry look. To the best of our abilities, we think he said “Closed. Stop talking to me. Closed. I don’t exist. Closed. Why are you still talking to me. Closed” (There is less exaggeration in that last bit than you probably think).

We decided to look at an on-line bus schedule instead, and so we headed back to our favorite internet café. On the way, we stopped at a pastry shop and got two excellent pastries for a great price. We spent some time posting our blog, checking emails, and other such nonsense before returning to the hostel to go to sleep. All in all, it was a very relaxed day, but since we are here in Italy for so long, we recognize that we wouldn’t survive the trip if all of our days were packed full. The trip has been amazing so far, and we’re excited to move on soon to other places on our journey.

Daily # of gelati: 2

Fragola (strawberry)
Mango (mango)

Banana (banana)
Frutti di Bosco (mixed berries)

After the late night with our friends yesterday, we decided to sleep in a bit rather than getting to the Duomo when it opened at 8:15 am (okay, so by late night we’re really talking 10:30 pm). We woke up a bit before 9:30 and got ready for the day. Our primary goal today was to see the Duomo and its associated attractions, most significantly, the cupola (dome) of the cathedral built by Filippo Brunelleschi.

Duomo in Florence, Italy

The beautiful exterior of the Duomo is not just limited to the facade.

We started with a stop at a pastry shop to get a chocolate filled pastry, and then went to a supermarket where we bought some rolls and asiago cheese, which we enjoyed while sitting on the front steps of the cathedral. As we ate, we of course people-watched, and had a pleasant few minutes there. When we finished, we walked to the entrance of the cupola, but after seeing a long line, we decided instead to visit the museum first. The cathedral museum was pretty cool and we each got an audio guide to give us information along the way. The highlights were a lot of sculptures by Donatello, the original gilded bronze door panels of Ghiberti’s Gates of Paradise (the ones outside the Baptistery are copies, apparently), and a section about Brunelleschi and the construction of the dome. We were able to see the model that Brunelleschi built as the building plan for the dome and lantern, as well as replicas and originals of some of the tools and machines that he used during construction.

bronze panel for Battistero door in Museo dell'Opera in Florence

Brunelleschi's entry into the competition for the bronze Baptistery doors.

scale model of the Duomo in Florence, Italy

As engineers, we found this scale model of the Duomo really cool.

After leaving the museum, we were too excited to wait any longer to see the cupola, so we got into line at the entrance. It only took about 15 minutes or so until we were climbing our way up spiral staircases to the base of the dome. We walked out onto the lower balcony and were shocked at the amount of height we had already gained. The interior of the dome is very beautifully painted with scenes of heaven and hell, and we spent a while just looking at and taking pictures of all of the different figures. After we walked around half the circumference of the dome on this balcony, we climbed more stairs to the height of the second balcony where the dome actually began to curve and close. From here we began the climb into the dome and to the base of the lantern. It was amazing to be able to see the techniques that Brunelleschi used and that we have both read about in detail. We took pictures of the herringbone pattern of the brick, as well as the large beams of wood that are tied together in a ring around the entire circumference.

herring bone brickwork in the dome of Duomo in Florence

Brunelleschi used this herring-bone brick technique as one of many novel strategies for constructing the dome.

When we finally got to the top (after passing many people in the other direction in the very narrow walkway), and spent about 30 minutes on top taking pictures and just enjoying the view. The top of this dome was significantly less crowded than the top of St. Peter’s in Rome, and it was very pleasant to sit up there high above the city with the nice breeze and the incredible panorama. On our way down, we stopped for a while on the higher balcony and took some more pictures of the paintings on the interior of the dome. We then climbed down the remainder of the 436 stairs and entered into a small roped off area of the cathedral.

paintings in cupola of Duomo in Florence

The extravagant paintings on the inside of the cupola in the Florence Duomo.

Chiesa di Santa Croce in Florence, Italy

The Chiesa di Santa Croce (Church of the Holy Cross) as seen from the top of the Duomo.

The interior of the cathedral, with the exception of the frescoes in the dome, is very stark and seems misplaced compared to the very intricate façade. We spent a few minutes looking around to what we could see, and then exited out onto the plaza. We decided not to climb the campanile (bell tower) since it didn’t go as high as the dome and didn’t really offer much more in the way of views of the city. By this point, Philip was getting hungry, so we went back to our Panini restaurant from two nights ago to get some sandwiches. We also tried what Italians call a milkshake (really more of a slushy, but nevertheless excellent), which was a very refreshing shot of strawberry after walking in the heat.

After our 2 pm lunch, we decided to explore some churches in the area, and began with Santa Maria Novella. However, when we got there, we learned that it had a 2.50 euro entrance fee and we didn’t care enough to pay it (there are so many stunningly beautiful churches in the city that are free to enter that it feels foolish to pay to enter one that won’t be any more beautiful). We both realized that we were a bit tired, so we chose to return to our nearby hostel to rest for a few minutes, use the bathroom, and talk for a bit with our hostess. We both feel like we’ve already seen, or plan to see tomorrow, what we most care about in Florence, and through talking to our hostess, elected to take a day trip elsewhere on Monday. We’ll tell more when we return from it, but we guarantee it is a place that you have heard of.

After a brief rest, we headed back out to see a few more churches in our area of the city. Both of them were very beautifully and their interiors were far more ornate than that of the Duomo. The Basilica della S.S. Annunziata had an ornate gilded ceiling, a large altarpiece at the back of the church that would suffice as the main centerpiece for most other churches, and a rather large, well painted cupola of its own. As we were sitting there looking around, organ music filled the church and we became aware of the wonderful acoustics. After enjoying for a few minutes, we walked to the nearby Chiesa di San Marco. This church was mostly closed for renovations, but we were able to see a small portion of the interior that was on par with Annunziata.

Philip and Rose in Florence, Italy

Enjoying another day of traveling around Italy...what a life!

After viewing these churches and stopping at a supermarket to get breakfast for tomorrow, we again returned to the hostel where Rose took her afternoon nap and we both rested, journaled, and went through our pictures from the day. We went out in the evening to an internet cafe to take care of email, blog posting, and other such business. Philip enjoyed a kebab wrap sandwich for dinner and we went to bed early to catch up on rest before our big day at Uffizi tomorrow.

Daily # of gelati: 1

Mora (blackberry)
Kiwi (kiwi)

We slept in until nearly 9 am today before arising and getting ready to go see Florence. We moved to a slightly smaller room, since the one we were in last night was designed for three people instead of two (we booked it that way because it was actually cheaper online to book the 3 beds in one room than 2 beds in a different room). After conversing a bit more with our hostess, we left the hostel on our way to get breakfast at a Pasticcheria (pastry shop). We each got a breakfast panino and took our sandwiches to the steps of the Duomo to eat there and, of course, people watch. The food was good, but the highlight was watching the street salesman react to the presence of police officers. It is quite a sight to see 10 or so dark Italians grab their merchandise and melt into the crowd in a matter of seconds. When the cops show up, a busy marketplace can turn into desolate pavement just like that. We watched this for a few cycles until we had finished our breakfast and decided to walk to the other side of the river to explore that side of the city.

Philip and Rose in Piazzale Michelangelo

Here we are standing in Piazzale Michelangelo enjoying the wonderful view over Florence.

On the way, we stopped at the famous church of Orsanmichele. This church used to be a grain market but was converted into a church back in the 1300’s. The interior was beautiful and the architecture was quite unique as the building was not originally built as a cathedral like so many others we have visited. In fact, several of the churches we visited today were abnormal, but we’ll talk about that when the time comes. After seeing the inside of the church, we walked around to the back where we found a ticket office for all the museums in Florence. We took advantage of the opportunity and walked up to the counter and reserved our slot at the Uffizi gallery for later in the week (we walked by Uffizi later and the long lines to get in just made us smile!).

statue of David in front of Palazzo Vecchio

Why wait in a long line to see the real statue of David when you can see this exact replica standing in front of Palazzo Vecchio.

We walked down to the river and went across the famed Ponte Vecchio (old bridge), which was the only bridge in Florence that did not get destroyed during World War II. It is the home of Florence’s jewelry merchants and gold smiths, and has some amazing views of the river from its center. Crossing the bridge, we finally managed to get away from tourists and began to walk around this side of the city. We stopped at a market where we bought some bread (garlic bread, as it turns out), some fresh mozzarella, and a liter and a half bottle of water. We took our second breakfast (brunch) to the Pitti Palace and ate it in the shade on the piazza. After eating, we decided to flip through Rose’s guidebook of Italy to get a better plan of what we wanted to see in Florence. Neither of us are particularly interested in art, so the myriad of Florence’s museums, while amazing for the art lover, do not interest us greatly. However, we did find a handful of museums that we think will be interesting, as well as numerous churches and piazzas. Feeling better, and now with a more concrete plan, we left the square in front of the Pitti Palace to go visit three churches on this side of the river.

Ponte Vecchio in Florence Italy

The famous Ponte Vecchio spanning the Arno River in Florence.

The first church was the Chiesa di Santo Spirito, which had a very large but simple stucco exterior, but was quite beautifully ornate inside. When we walked in, the lady there told us, somewhat tersely, that we only had five minutes (we figured out later that this was because the church was closing for the siesta time), so we quickly walked around inside.

When we left that church, we walked to another a few blocks away, Chiesa di Santa Marina del Carmine. This church contains the Brancacci Chapel, which we will talk about soon, and we bought our tickets to see that. Unfortunately, this church too was closed for siesta and wouldn’t open again for several hours. We had 25 minutes to spend before we could visit the chapel, so we walked to yet one more church a few blocks away. This church, Santo Frediano in Cestello, was also closed (surprise, surprise), so we looked at the schedule to see when it would open again. Now, we know that the siesta is important around Italy. However, this particular church’s hours are pushing the boundaries of reason in this matter. It is only open from 9:30 to 11:30 in the morning, and again from 5:00 to 6:30 in the evening. Slightly disappointed, we returned to Santa Maria del Carmine with the hope of coming back to this one before we leave Florence.

We entered into the courtyard of the church complex, which was very peaceful and rather beautiful as courtyards go. Many of the walls were frescoed and the massive trees growing from the corners of the lawn gave an impressive appearance. The Brancacci Chapel is one of the sights that Philip has been most excited about seeing, due to its importance in Renaissance history. This chapel, painted by Masacci, is recognized as the rediscovery of perspective in art (Brunelleschi played a part in this as well). The Brancacci Chapel is the place where most Renaissance artists, including Michelangelo, went to learn how to paint perspective. It is not too large of a leap to say that the painting of this chapel was a pinnacle moment in art and quite possibly the beginning of the Renaissance.

Brancacci Chapel in Florence

The Brancacci Chapel in Florence is possibly the birthplace of the Renaissance...many great artists came here to learn how to paint perspective.

Anyways, we began by watching a 30 minute movie (really 45 minutes, but it’s Italy and time is not that important here…unless they’re closing the doors for siesta). We watched as the video talked about the society of Florence at the time and then described in detail the frescoes in the chapel (It would be more correct to say that Philip watched, as the calming music and soothing English-man voice in a dark room put Rose to sleep 15 minutes in). There was a beautiful version of “The Last Supper” in the room where the movie was shown, but we have no clue who painted it. It’s definitely very different than Leonardo’s famous version. After the movie finished, we went around the corner and were able to enter the church and the chapel. The chapel was stunningly beautiful and it is difficult to describe in words how amazing it was to be in there. If you want to no more, check out the pictures or talk to Philip as we’re sure he could talk for hours about it. We also took a few minutes to look around the church, but plan to go back before leaving Florence since we could only see a little bit from our nicely roped-off area.

By this point, we were both up for a bit of walking, so we decided to walk a ways to the Forte di Belvedere, a medieval fort that completed the walls of Florence. Unbeknownst to us, there is significant elevation gain between where we were and where we were going that just doesn’t show up on a two dimensional tourist map of Florence. Unfortunately, when we finally made it up to the fort, we learned that it was closed for an undetermined amount of time until they could figure out how to make the fort safer. Apparently, somebody died in the recent past; we assume by falling over the edge (mothers shouldn’t worry, Philip and Rose are fine and doing well). We left the fort and walked to Piazzale Michelangelo, to give Rose her first real look of the entire city of Florence. Unfortunately, we had to descend almost the entirety of the elevation we had gained getting to the fort, just to climb that elevation again to ascend to the piazza.

The views from the piazza were stunning beyond belief, and gave us a new perspective on a city that we had only known as crowded and dirty to this point. We are both of the opinion that Florence has the most beautiful skyline in the entire world and is marked by the three majestic buildings of Palazzo Vecchio, Il Duomo, and the Chiesa di Santa Croce. Seeing the city from above also gives an appreciation for just how tall the Duomo is as it rises above everything. We spent a while taking pictures and enjoying the view, and then climbed a bit higher to the Chiesa di Santa Miniata al Monte. This church was quite unique because it had two levels at the front, as opposed to the single level of most churches we’ve seen (the best way to describe it is like a split-level house with the majority of the church on the center level). The church also had an attached monastery and cemetery and the outside areas were very beautiful.

view of the Duomo in Florence from Piazzale Michelangelo

View of the Duomo from Piazzale Michelangelo

We got lunch at a small restaurant in the piazza and took our sandwiches to a grand staircase where we ate while looking at the skyline and laughing at the antics of the birds. We also met some people from Oklahoma City and did our best to lend them our cell phone. Unfortunately, between the four of us and an Italian waiter, we could not figure out how to make the call back to the States (we’re assuming her phone number was wrong because it really shouldn’t be that hard). After lunch, we walked all the way back across the city to our hostel, of course stopping for a gelato along the way. As we passed beneath the Uffizi gallery, we got caught in a stampede of tourists on Segways (you know, the futuristic standing while riding device). Apparently, for those who abhor walking so much that they’d rather stand and move at 6 mph around the city, one can take a Segway tour of Florence. We’d both like to try a Segway at some point but a multiple hour tour could be a bit much for us. We’ll stick to walking.

segway tour in Florence

We barely avoided being run over by these over-zealous Segway tourists near the Uffizi Gallery.

When we got back, Rose took a short nap and we journaled a bit. We got ready for the evening and went to the Duomo to meet our friends from school for dinner. We found them easily and enjoyed a nice meal from the Menu Turistica at a quiet restaurant which worked out quite well. For only 13 euro each, we got first and second courses, water, wine, and an amazing fruit salad for dessert. Philip is even considering changing his opinion of the tourist menus in response to this one occasion. We had a lovely evening with them and it was really nice for both of us to have other people to talk to for a change. We went and got gelato afterwards and sat and talked for a while on the steps of the Duomo. For the first time since we’ve been in Italy, the evening was very windy and at this very moment the rain is falling from the sky. Hopefully, this will make tomorrow a cooler day as we go investigate the Duomo and Brunelleschi’s cupola.

friends in front of the Battistero in Florence

We met up with Ross and Shawn for dinner in Florence. Here we are standing in front of the famous bronze doors of the Battistero (Baptistry).

Daily # of gelati: 2

Mango (mango)
Mela Verde (green apple)

Crema (cream)
Mora (blackberry)

Today began earlier than either of us were ready for as we got up at 6:30 am! After finishing packing our bags and getting set for the day, we went downstairs to grab breakfast to-go. Bread and beverages in hand, we walked to the bus stop to catch our 7:19 am bus to the station. Our planned train didn’t leave until 8:47, but the route required that we change buses at a piazza in town (basically, we had to fly from Chicago to Denver with a change in Los Angeles). When we got on the bus we asked the driver to tell us when we had reached the closest stop to the train station and we got off there instead of taking the convoluted route. As it turned out, the station was only about a 10 minute walk entirely downhill from where we got dropped off. The moral of the story is that 6:30 am was way too early to get up and we got to the station with plenty of time and ended up catching a train that left 30 minutes earlier. On the bright side, we stopped at a Pasticcheria (pastry shop) during our walk and got a fantastic apple custard pastry, which we enjoyed once we got on the train.

Philip and Rose in San Gimignano, Italy

We're still having an amazing time 10 days into our trip around Italy!

After the 20 minute train ride, we arrived in Poggibonsi and got our bus tickets to go to San Gimignano. All went well and before too long we had covered the 11 km to the city and were dropped off at the city’s south gate. We lugged our packs to the highest point in town to the tourist information office where we got a map and some information about how to spend our day. We also asked about where we could keep our luggage for the day and were met with blank stares and finally a “not here”. A bit worried, we went next door to the Civic Museum and the Torre Grossa where we climbed about 30 very steep stone steps just to get inside to the ticket office. The man there was very nice and after a bit of coaxing and a conversation with his co-worker as well, we were able to leave our backpacks there until we left town.

tower through an arch in San Gimignano

Looking through an arch at one of San Gimignano's remaining towers.

The Civic Museum contained many rooms of beautiful frescoes and some sculptures. For us, it was worth the brief walkthrough we gave it before heading to our desired attraction, the Torre Grossa. This is the highest tower in the town of San Gimignano and the only one that can be climbed by the public (This rather small town currently has 13 towers but at one point had over 70). The climb was not too difficult and the views from the top were absolutely stunning. We spent about 15 minutes at the top taking pictures and looking in all directions. Neither of us fell off, fortunately, but Rose did almost suffer a concussion by walking head first into a metal beam (she stopped inches short and her heart only skipped one or two beats, so all is good). We descended from the tower and came down into the Piazza del Duomo.

view from atop Torre Grossa in Sam Gimignano

One of the many beautiful views from atop the Torre Grossa in Sam Gimignano.

The Duomo was not yet open for visitors so we decided to walk around the city some while the sun was still not too high in the sky. We walked down the main road to the northern gate of the city, and in the process realized just how small this town is. Just inside the northern gate, we found a nice leather shop that sold a particular type of black wallet/purse that Philip’s mother was looking for. We also found a very good bakery that also sold pizza and Panini and Philip got a slice of excellent zucchini pizza for a mid-morning snack. We walked outside the gate and began to walk around the outside of the city walls. A few minutes into our walk, we found a nice park and sat down for a few minutes to rest. We continued our walk by weaving through the streets of the town, doing our best to avoid the main road and trying very hard to get lost. Along the way, we stopped at churches as we passed them and peeked inside to see their interiors. Most of the churches in San Gimignano were the simplest that we’ve seen yet and did not have the ornate designs like those in other cities. One church, however, La Chiesa di Sant’Agostino, was very beautifully frescoed and the area behind the altar was magnificent.

frescoes inside Sant'Agostino in San Gimignano

Frescoes inside the Chiesa di Sant'Agostino in San Gimignano.

We came to the Archeological Museum, which was included on our combination ticket with the Torre Gross and Civic Museum, and which contained a few rooms of pottery and artifacts that had been found in the area. All in all, it was pretty mediocre and did not have the artifacts or signage to compete with the museum we visited in Chiusi. Nevertheless, there were a few cool things to see, and after we left, we headed back to the bakery from earlier to get lunch. For six euro, we got a chocolate-pudding filled pastry, a sandwich for Rose, and a fairly large (for Italy) sausage pizza for Philip. The sausage was phenomenal and reminded us both of our breakfast at the Maple Festival in Pennsylvania (hooray maple memories!). We took our lunch to the fortress at the west of town, and ate it on a shaded park bench on a hill. We finished our time in San Gimignano by exploring the fortress and walking around the park at the top.

staircase in San Gimignano, Italy

Is it a road or is it a staircase? Such is life in San Gimignano.

view of San Gimignano

A beautiful view of two of the towers in San Gimignano.

From here, we headed back to the Civic Museum to get our packs, got some gelato, stopped at a Tabacchi to buy bus tickets, and went to the bus stop to go back to Poggibonsi. While there for over 40 minutes waiting for the bus (we were early and the bus was late), we talked to a girl who was part of an art history class in Italy. Apparently, the word on the street was that a bus strike would be happening today, starting at 3:30 pm. Our original plans for the day had us leaving San Gimignano later than this and we were quite thankful that we had decided to head out earlier than planned. We rode back to Poggibonsi and got our train tickets to come to Florence. The train ride was only about an hour long and was very peaceful. In Florence, we found our hostel without too much trouble, thanks to good directions and a large, street-side map.

tower in San Gimignano, Italy

San Gimignano was once a city of almost 100 towers...only a few remain standing.

Our hostel is beautiful and the lady at the desk is very helpful, though only in Italian. We’re both pleased with Philip’s ability thus far to comprehend and even communicate, though more fluency is necessary before we head south later in the trip. We spent a few hours resting, writing, and going through pictures, and then went out into the town to give Rose her first look at the amazing Duomo of Florence.

Our evening concluded with a short walk to the Duomo where Rose almost fainted at the site of Brunelleschi’s dome. We spent a few minutes admiring the doors of the church and the baptistery, but soon left to find dinner with the knowledge that would have plenty of time to investigate the church in the coming days. We got two excellent panini at a café down the road and sat on the base of an obelisk facing a different church. We enjoyed our food and our people watching for a while, and then left to find our post-dinner gelati. Before heading back to the hostel, we stopped for a while at an internet café to take care of emails and catch up on our blog posting. Again, internet is not as easy to come by as we hoped and we apologize for the delays in getting our journal posted. We assure you that we are faithfully writing each and every night, typically writing a bit more than the previous night each time we sit down to journal. Tomorrow, we investigate Florence and have plans to meet some friends from school for dinner in the evening. Buona notte!

Daily # of gelati: 4

Limone (lemon)
Fragola (strawberry)

Tutti Bosco (all berries?)
Pera (pear)

Lampone (raspberry)
Ananas (pineapple)

Mango (mango)
Ananas (pineapple)

The morning started off with the lovely rattling of pipes as other guests flushed the toilets and took showers. Rose rolled out of her bed to begin getting ready for the day, while Philip pulled the sheet over his head and pushed into the corner. After a bit of coaxing, he finally got up and got ready as well. We had breakfast at the hostel and were served a lovely combination of bread, jam, and beverage (hot chocolate, strong cappuccino, or coffee). Breakfast was simple, but sufficient, and before too long, we were walking to the local Tabacchi to by bus tickets to takes us to the center of the city. Our bus was 15 minutes late on a 30 minute route, but nevertheless, we made it to the center of the city just before 10 am. We walked a few minutes to the Piazza del Campo and visited the tourist information office to get a map and some suggestions of sites to see. The lady in the tourist office was VERY helpful (far more so than our hostel host) and gave us not one, but two free maps of the city. We sat down outside in the Piazza and looked through our options for the day.

Philip and Rose in Siena Italy

Here we are high above Siena on top of the unfinished Duomo wall.

We decided to begin by visiting the two sites that closed the earliest, the Crypt and Baptistery of the Duomo. Since we cared most about seeing the Crypt, we went there first and purchased our 10 euro tickets that would cover all five of the Duomo related attractions. We were given complimentary audio guides and walked into an ancient and beautiful room completely covered in frescoes. Short history lesson: the Duomo of Siena is built on top of a previous cathedral from earlier centuries. In 1999, they found beneath the current baptistery, this room completely filled with debris. In fact, the floors of the baptistery and cathedral above had no other foundation other than the debris piles below. Engineers figured out a system of metal framing to support the floor from below and they were able to completely excavate this beautiful room. In doing so, they uncovered the best preserved frescoes ever found from the 14th century. These frescoes were stunningly beautiful and the great preservation allowed us to see the amazing use of color and artistic technique. The audio guide provided very useful information and was the right length for our attention spans. After over a half hour in this one room, we walked to the adjacent chamber and could see more remnants of the ancient cathedral. Considering we are both engineers, our visit to this Crypt was one of the highlights of the trip so far (it’s not actually a crypt as there it was never known to be used as a burial place, but it was called that when it was found in the location where a crypt should be).

After we left the Crypt, we walked around the corner and entered the Baptistery of the church. The room was very ornate and the highlight was the gorgeous baptismal font in the center. It included sculptures and bronze work from many famous artisans, most notably to us Donatello and Lorenzo Ghiberti of Florentine fame. We walked around inside several times and were never sure if we ready to leave because we kept finding new details with each pass. We learned that the building is still used for its designated purpose on a regular basis and we both commented on how this was a far cry from the simple sprinkling we received as infants.

facade of Duomo in Siena Italy

The beautiful facade of the Duomo in Siena.

When we left the Baptistery, we walked up the hill toward the façade of the Duomo and ran headfirst into hundreds of kindergarteners. Apparently, the end of the year not only includes the school play in Piazza del Campo, but also the Track and Field day in front of the Duomo (We both agree that it must rock to be a little kid in Siena). We dodged the running children and went into the Duomo, where we decided to pay for another audio guide since the first one was so useful (Again, since we are “frugal” we decided to share one and spent the next two hours walking around with our ears tied together by headphones. The Duomo is magnificent, particularly with the intricate inlaid stone work on the floors. In every cloister, nave, narthex, transept, and aisle (basically every few feet on the floor), there are intricately detailed scenes of marble. We spent a while going through the church and listening to a lovely British telling us about the history and art. The pulpit, in particular, was very intricately carved with almost 400 individual human or animal faces carved in white marble. One of the coolest parts of the church was the attached Piccolomini Library, a beautiful room with 10 large frescoes outlining the life of Pope Pius II. Also on display were beautiful choir hymnals from the 14th century, a sight that brought out the nerd in both of us.

school field day near Duomo in Siena

Italian students enjoying their "track and field day" next to the Duomo in Siena. Our track and field days were never in locations this cool!

We also spent some time going through the associated museum, which contained many of the original sculptures of the cathedral that have since been replaced with replicas for the sake of preservation. The museum also contained a stair case to the top of the unfinished façade of an even larger church that would have surpassed the Duomo of Florence, Siena’s largest rival. The new church would have used the current Duomo as just one of the transepts and consequently would have been massive. Because of structural concerns, the plans were abandoned and the constructions were left unfinished. The view from the top was excellent and gave a panoramic look around the city. The staircase to get there was the steepest, tightest spiral staircase in existence and passing people going the other direction was intimate, to say the least.

view from top of unfinished Duomo wall in Siena

The view from the top of the unfinished Duomo wall in Siena. If they had actually finished the project, the current Duomo would just be a side aisle of the new cathedral!

By this point, we were both starving, so we finished going through the museum and got Panini at a nearby restaurant. The sandwiches were quite tasty and we enjoyed the meal sitting in the shade of the Civic Museum at the base of the Piazza. As we were finishing our meal, a police officer came along and said hello. We thought he was just a friendly officer but he soon informed us that we were not allowed to eat while sitting against a government building. As we moved away, the other 30 people who were doing the same as us also got up and began to mill about. A few of them returned to their seats as soon as the officer left, but we decided to finish our meal elsewhere. On our way out of the plaza, Philip got his necessary post-lunch gelato.

After our 2 pm lunch, we spent most of the afternoon walking around the city and exploring the areas around the different city gates. In the process, we stumbled upon many beautiful churches and stepped inside most of them to check out their “inner beauty” (sorry for the pun, it’s late). We also went to the final attraction of our combo ticket and briefly saw a collection of sacred art. At one point, we were looking at a cool fountain beneath an arch and when we turned around, we saw a naked lady leaning out of the window.

naked lady statue in Siena Italy

We were shocked to find this lady peeking out a window at us as we admired a fountain in Siena.

We then cut across the city to visit one of the few areas we had not yet seen, which contained the small soccer stadium (compared to Milan, England, or Spain) and the Medici Fortress. We walked all the way around the rather large fortress before finding the entrance right around the corner from where we started. We had a pleasant walk through the gardens on top and nice views of the city with the sun low in the sky. The inner courtyard of the fortress is now used as an amusement park and it was yet another interesting look into Italian life.

carnival in the Fortezza Medicea in Siena

Imagine our surprise when we walked inside the ancient Fortezza Medicea near the outskirts of Siena and found a carnival.

We spent a few minutes watching young Italian children riding the spinning swings ride before heading back to have dinner at Piazza del Campo at one of the many restaurants lining the plaza. On our way, we learned firsthand that is nearly election time in Italy. As we passed Piazza Salimbeni, we ran face on into a Communist rally, complete with platform, microphone, and cheap bread sales (hooray, Communism).

Communist rally in Siena

Our first ever communist rally!We decided to pass on the 1 Euro loaves of Communist bread.

Anyways, we had a lovely dinner at Piazza del Campo under the cool night air. At the table next to us were a group of eight people (we think, American) who were conversing loud enough for us to overhear their conversation. They began with a discussion of feminine hygiene products, moved on to one woman’s tales of bartering in China, and concluded with a different lady (possibly drunk) calling the waiter, “little boy,” and trying to ask how much it would cost to buy one of the wine glasses to go. They were a bit frustrating but mostly just very amusing. As can be expected, we finished our evening with yet more gelato. We decided to walk back to our hostel (we have it down to about 30 minutes now!) rather than take the bus, and spent the remainder of our evening writing, packing, and getting ready to leave Siena in the morning for the next leg of our adventure.

The Palazzo Pubblico and Torre Mangia in Piazza del Campo in Siena

The Torre Mangia rising above the Palazzo Pubblico in Piazza del Campo in Siena.

city gate of Siena

One of the gates allowing access into the city of Siena.

Author’s note: The weather was absolutely perfect today and the sky was covered with thin clouds. This protected us from the direct heat of the sun and made our day in Siena downright pleasant.

Daily # of gelati: 3

Albicocca (apricot)
Fragola (strawberry)
Ananas (pineapple)

Ananas (pineapple)
Amarena (cherry)

Menta (mint)
??? (caramel)
Albicocca (apricot)

After the previous two early mornings, we decided to sleep in a bit and didn’t get up until 8:15 am. We got ready and cleaned up the apartment, and then went upstairs for breakfast with our hostess. She made scrambled eggs with cheese, a wonderful fruit salad, toast with marmalade made from her home-grown oranges, pastries, prosciutto, cheese, and tea. Breakfast was fantastic and our hostess’s dining room (and the rest of the house we saw) are beautiful. She offered to give us a ride to the station and it was an interesting experience to wind through the narrow roads of a medieval town in a FIAT. Despite traffic and closed roads, we made it to the station with plenty of time and got our tickets for the 30 minute train ride to Chiusi.

When we got to the Chiusi station, we were unsure of where to go and asked a young newspaper salesman where to go. His English was pretty good and he indicated that the bus stop to ride to the historical center of Chiusi was two kilometers away. At this point, we were wondering if our decision to stop in Chiusi was wise or practical, but we walked out of the station to check it out for ourselves. We found a few buses parked nearby and, by talking to one of the drivers, discovered that the town was actually two kilometers away; the bus stop was less than 50 meters from the station (okay, so maybe the first guy’s English was not as good as we thought!). We caught a bus up the hill and were dropped off right next to the Duomo in the center of town.

Philip and Rose in Chiusi Italy

Here we are just before heading underground to explore the passageways beneath Chiusi.

We walked into the nearby tourist information office and the man there was extremely helpful. He allowed us to store our bags there for several hours, and gave us maps and explanations of where to go and what to see (in English, of course). We started our explorations by taking the last tour of the day of a labyrinth of Etruscan tunnels beneath the city. We were the only two people on the tour and the guide was happy to give the tour in English. The labyrinth was definitely worth the trip and the tour concluded with us first standing inside a 2000+ year old cistern and then climbing the town’s bell tower. When we got to the top, we neatly dodged the 20 or so elementary school children who were already there and enjoyed the views. There was a balcony of sorts all around the tower, but an iron gate blocked us from reaching it. As we were about to head back down, Philip reached for the gate and turned the handle on a whim…and it opened. We were able to go out onto the balcony and see the countryside and town in every direction.

Stairs in the bell tower of Chiusi

The labyrinth tour ended with a climb to the top of the bell tower. This is the view looking down inside it.

When we came back down from the tower, we were getting hungry and decided to get pizza at a restaurant recommended by the man in the information office. Along the way, we stopped inside the Duomo to see its architecture and artwork. The church was very beautiful and had the majority of the upper walls were covered in mosaics. When we had finished, we found the restaurant and sat down in the garden for our pizza with artichokes and ham, and bruschetta. The restaurant was fairly full when we got there; to the best of our knowledge, there was a tour group of 60 year old people eating their way through Italy. Lunch was excellent and offered a nice rest from the heat.

The Duomo in Chiusi, Italy

The simple, but yet still impressive, Duomo in Chiusi.

Afterwards, we found our requisite lunch time gelateria and each enjoyed a cone. We walked around a park at the edge of town for a bit and then went to visit the Archeological Museum. The museum was filled with Etruscan pottery, sculpture, and other artifacts, dating as far back as the 9th century B.C. There were very good information signs in Italian and English about Etruscan civilization which gave a lot of much needed context to the artifacts and the region. We spent over an hour reading and walking through the museum before realizing that it had a second floor of exhibits as well. Because we were running out of time, we power walked through the down stairs, which was full of artifacts from the 1st century B.C. and later; this was the time when the Etruscans were absorbed into the Roman Empire.

We left the museum and walked around more of the town, which turned out be quite smaller than it appeared, but still very beautiful. We returned to the tourist information office to get our belongings, and caught a bus back to the train station. With tickets to Siena in hand, we sat on the platform waiting for our train to arrive. We were both confused by the very small, non-electric train that was sitting on our track, but we both assumed it would leave before our train arrived. As it got closer to departure time, we did more investigation and discovered that this train was, in fact, the one we needed. We boarded it and were on our way to Siena. The ride was beautiful, though very sunny and the train became uncomfortably warm without air conditioning.

Street in Chiusi in Tuscany, Italy

A mostly empty street in the quiet Tuscan town of Chiusi.

When we go to Siena, we were again confused where to go and asked for help. Unfortunately, the first couple of people we talked to in Siena were not the same friendly type that we have become accustomed to in other cities, and we were given poor information. We took a bus from the station to the main bus stop in town, still with no clue as to the location of our hostel. When we got off the bus, we heard a shout from the other end of the bus stop and saw a fellow student from Philip’s aerospace class. Apparently, he and his cousin are backpacking around Europe, sleeping on park benches and eating pizza. While this sounds like fun, we’ll stick to the beds and showers that we’ve planned and save the park benches simply for Rose’s naps. We asked a lady at the information counter at this bus stop for more help, and she told us to get on a different bus to get to our hostel. We did so, and eventually made it to our hostel after passing the train station in the opposite direction.

Our hostel is further away from the medieval part of town than we anticipated, and is a bit different from the Bed and Breakfast of our previous two nights. Most notably, where most of our hosts have been very helpful and warm, this one pointed us to a dispenser of tourist maps for two Euro when we asked for information. Nevertheless, we have a place to stay, and after relaxing for a few minutes, we left in search of food and the city.

a beautiful courtyard in Siena Italy

A stunning courtyard in Siena.

We walked for approximately 35 minutes along a single road, and fortunately, found ourselves at the gate to the city (We must give credit to the one guy we asked for directions, though all he told was to go straight like we were going). We walked into town and followed signs for Piazza del Campo, which is the most famous area of Siena. After about two kilometers, we finally arrived and entered the square (the afore mentioned helpful guy said it was only 200 meters…but hey, he was the first friendly person we’ve met so we won’t complain). The Piazza is stunning and is very unique since it descends from the entrances to the façade of a large palace. To our surprise, the square was filled with people and at the center were a band, a spotlight, a children’s orchestra, and about 200 other young kids sitting in chairs. We think it was some sort of school play or concert, but can’t be sure. Either way, we’re both jealous of these kids and their stage/set. Philip found a crepe at a restaurant on the edge of the piazza and we both sat on the ground to watch the festivities for a bit. Before leaving the piazza, we each got another gelato and ate these as we walked a few hundred meters to the Duomo.

Palazzo Pubblico and Torre Mangia in the Piazza del Campo in Siena Italy

The Palazzo Pubblico (town hall) and the adjacent Torre Mangia lit up at night in Piazza del Campo in Siena.

The Duomo appears magnificent and is similar in appearance to the one in Orvieto (at least what we could see at night and on the outside). We spent only a few minutes there before beginning the long walk back to our hostel. Once there, we showered and got ready for bed as it was late and we were tired from the day’s activities. Tomorrow, we are going to explore Siena in the daytime and hopefully get a better feel for this beautiful city.

Daily # of gelati: 4

Pesca (peach)
Fragola (strawberry)

Ananas (pineapple)

Latte-Menta (minty milk?)
Stracciatella (chocolate chip)
Kit Kat (Kit Kat?)

Ananas (pineapple)
Pesca (peach)

For a second day in a row, we were up by 7 am, which came all too early after the late night of polka. We both got ready for the day and we walked across town to catch a 7:50 am bus to Civita di Bagnoregio. Along the way, we enjoyed a breakfast of pastries and toast that was given to us by our hostess the night before. We stopped at the nearby Tabacchi to purchase bus tickets and were on our way for the hour long trip.

The views from the bus were spectacular and as we left town we could see Orvieto on the hill behind us. As we drove through vineyards, rolling hills, and farmland, we were both amazed by the inherent beauty of the countryside. However, the route was not very straight and Rose had some issues with motion sickness. She wasn’t the worst, though, as another lady actually had to step off the bus for a minute to regain her stomach. After several stops, we arrived in the town of Bagnoregio and departed the bus into an already scorching hot day.

We walked through Bagnoregio to get to Civita, a very old city isolated on a small hilltop and connected to the rest of the world by a long footbridge. The views of the city from almost anywhere are stunning. On this particular morning, the sun was shining strongly and the entire valley had a washed look, perhaps due to very high humidity. The valley has numerous three dimensional contours and features, and our pictures do not do justice in the slightest to the beautiful view. However, we bought two postcards that should give a rough idea of what we saw.
We walked across the footbridge and up the long, arduous, ramping staircase to reach the city.

Civita di Bagnoregio in Italy

The tiny town of Civita di Bagnoregio on its perch above the valley.

Civita is possible the quaintest city in existence, though that may be changing as tourism becomes its primary source of income. Recently, the town’s permanent population was as low as 14 and we heard today that it had increased to 20 (It’s interesting to think about how a person like Rick Steve’s can both save a town from desertion and also change its entire essence just by writing about it in his guide book. That said, we’re both glad for his recommendation as we never would have seen such a beautiful town had he not written about it). We spent an hour and a half walking around the town and we’re pretty confident we walked down every single street in the town. We even ventured down the hill at the back of the town and found a former Etruscan cave that had been turned into a shrine for a saint. We also went into the town’s only church and we’re amazed at its beauty for so small of a town. The church was either finished in or started construction in 1138 A.D. It was a bit unclear from the church’s hostess and none of us were bilingual enough to get clarification.

Rose at the entrance of Civita di Bagnoregio

Rose standing at the entrance of Civita di Bagnoregio.

After we sat at the entrance to Civita for a bit to enjoy the views of the valley, we walked back across the footbridge and straight into a gelateria for our favorite method of battling the heat (Today was the hottest day we’ve had yet, and we’re a bit concerned that it’s not even summer yet). While we were there, the ice cream lady was pulling the tubs of gelato out of the freezer and we were able to see each flavor in turn as it came out. The gelato was legit; each fruit flavor had several pieces of the appropriate fruit sitting on top and the taste was amazing. (Apparently, not many people eat gelato before 10:30 am…who knew?). We enjoyed our gelato in the shade and then returned across Bagnoregio to check the bus schedule and decide when to return to Orvieto.

Philip in a street in Civita di Bagnoregio

Philip standing in a narrow street in Civita di Bagnoregio.

We had about an hour and a half to spend before the next bus arrived so we walked around the town for a bit. We found a steep footpath behind a church and decided that it looked like a fun place to explore. After numerous exhausting steps, we found ourselves at the top of the town and upon walking for a few minutes, came to a church dedicated to San Francesco d’Assisi. The church was quite large and we sat inside for a few minutes to look at the artwork and architecture, and to bask in the cool air of the stone building. Somewhat refreshed, we began to walk downhill to head back towards the bus stop and came to a supermarket where we decided to get a lunch of fresh mozzarella and croissants. We returned to the bus stop and ate our wonderful lunch there on a park bench. As we were waiting for the bus, the local school let out for the day and high school students swarmed the streets, offering an interesting look into Italian life.

The bus ride home was sauna-like and our best guess is that the driver had once tried to be a Formula One newspaper delivery man. Although it wasn’t particularly unsafe, at one point we did blow through a stop sign, making a right turn at approximately 35 miles per hour. At one of the bus stops, an old man was a little too late getting across the road and we don’t think he realized how close to death he was. The driver pulled the bus to within a few inches of the guy and gave every indication that this was normal protocol. Unfortunately, the ride home was very windy (and due to the driver, very acceleration intensive) and Rose again got motion sickness. She managed to keep lunch in her stomach but required some time on a park bench when we got off the bus before she could walk again. We moved from that bench to our bench from yesterday, where Rose promptly fell asleep (for reals, this time) and Philip spent a half hour watching trains go by. To her credit, Rose was at least horizontal on the park bench for this nap.

Eurostar train in Orvieto

A Eurostar train passing through Orvieto.

After she woke up, we headed back across town to our apartment, stopping at a Kebab restaurant so that Philip could get a panino. (For some reason, Rose was still not too eager to ingest large quantities of food and abstained from this meal. When we returned to the apartment, we attempted to do a bit of laundry. 15 minutes and a full ransacking of the apartment later, we finally had the necessary extension cord and receptacle adaptors to allow the washing machine to run.

After resting a bit, checking emails, and repacking our bags, we went back outside to eat dinner and walk through town one last time before we left. We went back to the same Kebob place as earlier for dinner so that Rose could a panino as well. Since it had been a few hours, Philip decided to get another one. We walked to the entrance of the town and ate our dinner on our favorite park bench while watching trains go by. We’ve really enjoyed Orvieto, but are ready to move on in our trip and head further north in the morning.

Daily # of gelati: 4

Fragola (strawberry)

Caramella (toffee)
Fragola (strawberry)
??? – sadly, can’t remember 😦

Limone (lemon)
Ananas (pineapple)
Mirtillo (blueberry)

Lamponi (rasberry)
Ananas (pineapple)
Kiwi (kiwi)

Today began early at 7am, as we had to finish packing our belongings, walk to the Metro, ride to the train station, and catch a 9am train to Orvieto. We made it without incident to the train station and enjoyed a breakfast of hard ricotta cheese, croissants, and strawberries. A brave little bird showed great interest in our strawberries three different times, but we managed to chase it away and protect our food. The train left on time and our biggest concern was figuring out where to sit. (We ended up in a private cabin with air conditioning, but apparently that was still second class as the conductor didn’t say anything about it when he came by to punch our tickets.) Since Umbria is a landscape of rolling hills, the train went through more tunnels than we could count. In some of the longer tunnels, the pressure change from the fast moving train in a narrow space was so great that we had to pop our ears multiple times in a matter of seconds.

We arrived at the train station in Orvieto and took the Funicula (cog train) up to the actual town on top of the plateau. When we arrived at the top, we discovered that our hotel was on the complete other side of town from the station and began the mile long walk whilst dodging oodles of tourists and tour groups. (Did you know that Disney actually does tours of Italy? We didn’t until today. If you’re wondering, impromptu reviews were all positive!) We arrived at our B&B and were stunned at how beautiful the building and interior looked. We met the owner and she showed us our apartment which was also quite nice. We dropped our luggage and headed back out into town to explore the sights.

skyline of Orvieto, Italy

Our view of the skyline of Orvieto as we walked to our Bed & Breakfast.

Our first order of business was to go to the Duomo so that Rose could see how beautiful it is. The mosaics and frescoes are gorgeous and the architecture is impressively large. We did not go inside at this time since mass was in session. Instead, we walked around town a bit and eventually found a local pizzeria in which to get lunch. We took our excellent 2 euro cheese pizzas back to the Piazza del Duomo and enjoyed them in the shade while viewing the church. We then went across the street and got our tickets for a tour of the underground caves beneath Orvieto, and while waiting for the tour to start, found a gelateria with the most apathetic ice-cream lady ever. Despite her lack of personality, the gelato was phenomenal, and tasted like it actually contained yogurt and lots of berries.

The tour of the caves was definitely a highlight of the trip so far! We went into two sets of connected caves and our tour guide gave us very interesting information about the town and the caves beneath. The first cave we went into was dug by the Etruscans in approximately the 8th century B.C. and modified throughout the years since then. Inside were remnants of millstones from medieval times for making oil from olives: everything from extra virgin olive oil to lantern oil. Another part of that cave was expanded later and used to quarry stone. In the process, an ancient Etruscan well was found with a depth of approximately 90 meters from the surface. Inside were footholds so a person could descend nearly 300 feet straight down in a shaft 120 cm long by 90 cm wide.

mill stones in the Orvieto Underground

Rose's artsy picture of ancient mill stones in the caves beneath Orvieto.

The second set of caves was along the outside of the town and had windows in the side of the bluff. These caves were primarily used in the Middle Ages as coops for pigeons to supply food to the town. This was done in an attempt to prevent starvation when the town was under siege from enemies. Between pigeons and deep wells, the inhabitants did their best to hold out from attacking armies. At some point, the inhabitants of the city started throwing so much garbage over the edge of the town that it provided a means of entry for enemies climbing the bluff and the Pope ordered the pigeon coops to be closed. As a result, these caves transitioned to other uses; one that we saw was a pottery workshop with several kilns dug into the rock. The tour guide said that there are over 1200 unconnected cave systems under the city and experts estimate that there are man-made caves beneath 1/3 of the city.

After we left the cave tour, we went back to the Duomo to go inside since mass had ended. The inside, like the outside, is impressively large and the alternating layers of black basalt and pale yellow toufa give an interesting appearance (in the words of Rose, “like prison stripes”). The frescoes inside are in mediocre condition, but the parts that remain are quite beautiful. It was cool to see the differences between the large, yet stark, churches in Orvieto, versus the very intricately detailed, heavily sculpture, churches of Rome.

Duomo in Orvieto

The ornate facade and striped exterior walls of the Duomo in Orvieto.

By this point, we were both pretty tired, hot, gross, and sweaty, so we walked to the entrance of town to a quaint little park with gorgeous views of the valley below. More importantly, Philip was able to watch the trains go by every couple of minutes. We sat in the park a while and Rose almost fell asleep while sitting upright. Apparently, when it’s nap time for Rose, nothing will stop that. After an hour or so of enjoying the shade and the park, we went to explore the well of St. Patrick, a 60 meter deep well in which one can descend to the bottom. The descent to the bottom of the well was quite long (248 steps, in fact). The architecture was really unique as it had two different spiral staircases stacked on top of each other in a double helix. The bottom of the well was completely covered in coins, and is possibly the world’s richest wishing well. Philip added his 2 cents (euro cents, that is) to the well from a window about 30 steps below the top. The coin took a long time to fall and made an exciting splash when it finally hit water. As we left the well, we noticed a board listing numerous rules in both Italian and English. What do you know, rule number four stated that one shall not thrown anything, such as coins, from the windows. Oops.

Possa di san Parizio in Orvieto

Looking down the Pozzo (Well) di San Parizio near the main entrance of Orvieto.

We then returned across the city to take our showers and relax a bit during the hottest part of the day. Rose took a brief nap, since Philip wouldn’t let her on the park bench, and we both were able to regain some energy. Afterwards, we went for a walk to go grab dinner and explore more parts of the city. In the process, we stumbled upon a small church at the bottom of a hill with a procession beginning. As we looked on, 10 men in blue robes left the church carrying a large altar/statue and others were holding official looking banners. As we walked away, a marching band started to play music, and about a half an hour later we were startled by the cacophony of fireworks outside. As we speak, there appears to be some sort of festival or party going on and lively polka music is resounding around the town. Our dinner was at a very peaceful restaurant where we ate very well for a reasonable price. Rose began with a pear, sheep cheese, and arugala salad with a drizzling of honey. Philip had a potato gnocchi with basil pesto. We shared a wonderful lamb chop (yes, just like the old TV show with the creepy lady and the sock puppet) with an amazing assortment of grilled vegetables.

All in all, dinner was fantastic and we concluded the evening with a brief walk and some gelato for dessert. As we were walking past the Duomo, we saw a group of Italian toddlers playing in the piazza and the little boys were chasing the little girls. At one point, all five of them took off running down the street away from the church with many of their parents following 20 meters behind. It was the cutest site ever…until one mother finally caught up to her daughter and began yelling in an awkwardly loud voice in Italian.

Philip and Rose in the hilltop town of Orvieto

It feels good to see another Italian city and we're very excited to be in Orvieto!

Authors’ note: The majority of this entry was written around 6 pm, which is roughly when the polka music began. It is now 10:01 pm and the polka is still going strong.

Addendum to Author’s note: At 11 pm the polka stopped…and the Village People began singing the YMCA at 80 decibels. Fortunately, the party ended at 11:15 pm and we were able to get to sleep, ready for another day of Italy.

Daily # of gelati: 3

Yogurt con Frutta di Bosca (Yogurt with mixed berries)

Melone (melon)
Pere (pear)
Lampone (raspberry)

Ananas (pineapple)
Pesca (peach)
Pompelmo Rosa (pink grapefruit)

We woke up late today, which was a very nice start to our day of relaxation. After getting ready, we headed out the door with our typical bread and cheese in hand, and enjoyed our light breakfast during the walk to the cell phone store. Fortunately, we found a clerk who spoke moderately good English, and we were able to finally get a cell phone for use during our travels.

Philip and Rose in Rome, Italy

We're still going strong, five days into our trip!

After leaving the store, we walked across the river to Piazza del Popolo and went into the church Santa Maria del Popolo. The church was beautiful inside and the stone work was reminiscent of the Vatican. Unfortunately, the Chigi Chapel (of Angels and Demons fame) was closed for restoration and we weren’t able to see much of the artwork inside.

A beautiful church in Rome, Italy

A random church we stumbled upon while walking around Rome.

We left the church and walked around the corner to a museum about Leonardo da Vinci. The museum was in a very old stone building and contained several rooms of machines built to Leonardo’s specifications. There were simple machines such as gears and bearings, as well as more complicated devices like flying machines and underwater diving suits. We spent about an hour going through the museum, both enamored by the engineering in front of us. (Even on vacation, we’re still both nerds!)

After the museum, we climbed up the hill to the Borghese gardens above the Piazza and enjoyed a nice lunch of panino and pizza from a street-side vendor. We spent a few hours walking around the gardens and sitting in the shade on park benches. We considered going to see the Borghese museum, but soon decided that seeing a few more sculptures was not necessary for our day (We also learned that a reservation was required for the museum, which we did not have). It was really fun to walk around the gardens and see Italian families spending the day in the park and hanging out around the fountains.

Fountain in the Borghese Gardens

A cool fountain in the Borghese Gardens in Rome.

On our way back to the hostel, we decided to make a few stops at other sites we hadn’t yet seen, such as the Mausoleo Augosto and the Piazza de Tribunali. The government building at Piazza de Tribunali is incredibly large and very beautiful. We also walked out onto the bridge to get some pictures of St. Peter’s across the Bridge of Angels.

Saint Peter's Basilica behind the Bridge of Angels.

Saint Peter's Basilica rising up behind the Bridge of Angels...we had to run out onto another bridge and dodge traffic in order to take this picture.

When we got back to the hostel, we both took our requisite naps, each sleeping for over an hour (Rose slept for almost two). The extra rest was quite rejuvenating and when we woke up, we went to dinner at a place recommended by some people at the hostel. We walked a few blocks to a place that sold Greek-like gyro sandwiches on foccacia bread. The food was inexpensive, very tasty, and full of protein. The restaurant was approximately 100 degrees Fahrenheit inside, so we took our dinner outside and sat in the Piazza to eat. Afterwards, we went to the nearby gelateria and each had a cone.

Castel Sant'Angelo in Rome, Italy

Castel Sant'Angelo as seen from the side during our explorations of Rome.

Tomorrow, we head out of Rome to explore the rest of Italy and some of the smaller towns of Tuscany. We’re very excited to see the rest of the country and experience more rural environments. Rome has been amazing and we look forward to spending another day here at the end of the trip before we head back home.

Daily # of gelati: 3

Cocco (Coconut)
Mango (mango)

Fragola (strawberry)
Spagnola (tasty)
Cookies (Cookie?)


Today began with an 8 am wake-up and a trip to the local supermarket. We chose to go with our usual and walked out of the supermarket with a large block of cheese and three freshly baked small loaves of bread. Breakfast was phenomenal, which we ate while walking to the Vatican. We arrived at the entrance to the Vatican Museums just before 9 am and it was already packed. Fortunately, we only had to wait one hour from the time we got there until we had our tickets (reduced price for students, of course).

Philip and Rose at the Vatican Museums

Here we are just before entering the Vatican Museums.

We spent several hours touring through the museums: the Egyptian exhibit, the Etruscan exhibit, tons of Roman sculptures, and beautiful Vatican artwork, sculpture, and paintings. It was quite crowded, as expected, but we refrained from shoving or yelling at people in tour groups. We took second breakfast on a quiet bench in the Etruscan exhibit (apparently nobody cares about the Etruscans) and spent a pleasant few minutes eating more bread and cheese. We weren’t entirely sure that food and drink were allowed, but two guards saw us and ignored us so we figured it was fine.

After second breakfast, we continued with our walk around the museum, admiring the floors and ceilings at least as much as anything else there. The intricacy of the plaster and painting on the ceilings is incredible! The floors, as well, are beautiful marble and often have quite detailed inlays. The craftsmanship is so good that there is virtually no detectable seam between the different stones. A highlight of the second half of the museum was our journey through the map room. We spent several minutes at each map, looking in detail at the many cities and admiring the paintings. Rose was quite a good travel partner and showed amazing patience during the entire affair. After at least 45 minutes, we finally left the map room and moved on to the less important parts of the museum such as the Sistine Chapel (just kidding, but the map room was still really cool!)

Philip in the Map Room at the Vatican Museums

Philip was the happiest person in the world when he was in the map room. Rose was amazing and tolerated more than 45 minutes of nothing but maps!

After walking through more rooms of gorgeous architecture and beautiful paintings, and far too many rooms of stark, modern religious art, we finally arrived at the Sistine Chapel. While most of the ceilings in the Vatican Museums are beautiful and intricately painted, the paintings in the Sistine Chapel seem to be on an entirely different level. The attention to detail surpasses anything else we’ve seen and the figures seem to pop out of the ceiling in three dimensions. It was interesting to see how lax the guards were at controlling the talking and picture taking by people. You have to love a tourist who is willing to step around the sign saying no talking or picture taking to take the picture they want, while talking to their travel companion.

We were both getting hungry by this point, so we decided to venture out to find lunch before returning to St. Peter’s for the afternoon. We walked a few blocks away to a small bakery/pizzeria where we shared a 4 euro pie with artichokes. It was an excellent chance to talk a bit of Italian with the chef, which Philip took advantage of by asking directions to the nearest gelateria. We got our gelati and walked back to St. Peter’s square to go visit the Basilica.

Saint Peter's Basilica

Saint Peter's Basilica up close and personal.

The line into the Basilica was short and we managed to walk right in. The Basilica was extraordinary and is quite possibly the most beautiful building in the world. In every direction there are beautiful stone work, gorgeous mosaics, and incredible paintings. In particular, the mosaics in all of the domes were incredible and shined very nicely from the light streaming in through the lantern windows. While were admiring everything, a series of marching bands entered through the main door in a euphonious procession. We’re still not sure why they were there, but we did learn that the acoustics of St. Peter’s are quite good.

After leaving the main church building, we went around the corner to buy ticket to go into the main cupola (dome) of the building. We decided to save 2 euro each and gain cardio endurance by taking all 551 stairs, rather than skipping the first 230 with an elevator. Just past the top of where the elevator ended, we went through a door into the catwalk above the center of the church. From here, we could see in stunning detail the mosaics inside the dome. We could also look down to the floor far below and see the people like ants and the beautiful stone all around. We then left the catwalk and continue our climb all the way to the base of the lantern at the top of the dome. The views of Rome from the top were spectacular and the only downside was that there were way too many people on top. Fortunately, no one fell or got pushed over the railing and, to our knowledge, all tourists made it down safely.

The interior of Saint Peter's Basilica

Looking down inside Saint Peter's Basilica as we continue our climb to the top of the cupola.

view across Rome from the top of Saint Peter's Basilica.

The view from the top of the cupola is amazing. In this picture, you can see the Pantheon, Coliseum, Roman Forum, Piazza del Popolo, Borghese Gardens, and more!

After descending all 560 stairs, we exited back into the main basilica, just in time to watch the marching bands make their exit. Once we could pass, we walked back around the corner to tour through the Vatican Grottoes where Popes are buried. This was a really cool experience to see their intricate tombs and read a bit about what each one did. Again, it was disappointing to see how tourists blatantly ignore signs and announcements to stay silent in respect for the sacred place. In fact, there was a group of 40 or so yellow-hat wearing school children that were far better behaved than most of the adults.

After visiting the Grottoes, we were both pretty tired and decided to head back to the hostel to relax and freshen up before dinner. We did a bit of writing for the blog, and then we both took naps for about an hour. Rose’s was intentional; Philip’s started off as reading, transitioned to resting of the eyes, and concluded as peaceful sleep. We woke up refreshed and hungry so we headed back out into the city to get dinner.

In total, we spent about three and a half hours exploring the city and enjoying a lovely dinner at a restaurant we found on a quiet square. We began by walking up to the top of Piazza del Popolo to enjoy the sunset over Rome. After our dinner, we spent some time lingering about the Spanish Steps and then went back to the Trevi Fountain to see it at night. Since we left our map at the hostel, it took us a bit longer than we expected to find the Trevi Fountain, but we eventually made it safe and sound. We each threw a few eurocent into the water to ensure our eventual return to Rome, and began the 30 minute walk back to our hostel to call it a night.

View across Rome from Piazza del Popolo

The view across Rome at dusk.

Daily # of gelati: 3

Fragola (strawberry)
Ananas (pineapple)
Mela Verde (green apple)

Frutta di Bosca (mixed berries)
Ananas (pineapple)

Caramelo (caramel)