The long-discussed, once postponed trip to Italy finally took place. Robert and Maryann Minutillo of Washington, D.C. and Richard Minutillo and Dorothy Nestor of Roslindale MA spent several days in early May, 2002 touring Tuscany, Umbria and Lazio.
Most of the images are actually links, and if you click on them the full-size image will pop up in a separate window. Be warned, however, that these images are rather large, especially the panoramas. So on a slow link you'll have to wait a while for the download.
There are also scans of photos from Dorothy's and Maryann's film cameras, and, of course, Richard's videos.
We've included detailed menu information courtesy of Maryann because, well, because 'qui mangiamo bene!'
Bob and Maryann left D.C. on the 2d, heading for Pisa, where they stayed overnight, and then picked up a rental car. Richard and Dorothy were due to leave Boston on the 3d, and fly directly into Florence, where the plan was to arrive early on the afternoon of May 4. Best laid plans
Richard's schedule for making connecting flights trough Paris were, well, ambitious. The connection was missed, and the next available seats were four hours later than planned. After finally landing in Florence, Dorothy's passport and other assorted papers were left on the airplane, and not missed until passports had to be produced in order to check into the hotel.
Hotel staff assisted contacting the proper authorities at the airport, and after a dinner that was somewhat tense for Dorothy, we were told that the passport and other papers had been found and were in the hands of the airport authorities, waiting to be claimed next morning. Blessed relief.
Our hotel in Florence was the Monna Lisa, a wonderful small hotel on Borgo Pinto, just a few blocks from the duomo in a neighborhood that included a couple of very nice trattoria. Our rooms were in the rear part of the complex, and overlooked the courtyard.
The hotel was quiet and elegant, owned by a Countess who lived in the place and sat every night in one of the public parlours. The desk staff was especially friendly and helpful.
That first night with all of the excitement about the lost passport, we had the first of two dinners at the Trattoria Acadia, our 'local' eatery. The food had a wonderful, calming effect. The next morning, Sunday the 5th, Richard and Dorothy took a cab to the airport to fetch the missing passport, and then headed back into town on a bus that stopped by the terminal, and by Santa Maria Novella.
On the walk back to the hotel Richard discovered that he was quite comfortable walking around Florence. Meeting up with Bob and Maryann, another walk and ended up at the Academy Museum, to view the famous David of Michelangelo. Dinner Sunday night was at the Francescano near Santa Croce. We all ate and drank particularly well that night, and made lots of plans for the next day.
Next morning, however, Monday the 5th, the early plans were changed, due to the effect of involtini, or specifically of their sauce, on the elder Minutillo. Richard and Dorothy headed off on their own to the Museo della Opera of the cathedral, where a lot of the original statuary is housed, including Donatello's Mary Magdaline. Then at noontime, all four of us headed of to Fiesole for lunch.
The ride to Fiesole established the pattern for all of the roadtrips: Bob drove, Richard navigated. Seemed to work out. Fiesole is a hill town just northeast of Florence, and we had a lunch reservation at Trattoria le Cave di Maia, which is actually just outside Fiesole. The early afternoon was lovely, the restaurant had a marvellous terrace, the food was spectacular, and we received our first free Limoncello's.
After eating we explored Fiesole and its Roman ruins with their spectacular view of the Northeast, and Richard climbed a particularly steep and hairy 'panoramic view of Florence' route.
After returning to Florence and taking a little rest, we explored around the hotel for a different trattoria, making the first of many pledges to eat something simple and light. We found a couple of places, picked one, and had another terrific neighborhood meal.
Tuesday the 6th was a major museum day. We had tickets for the Uffizi in the afternoon, and decided on the Bargello for the morning.
Bargello is a remarkable place, with lots more Donatello's including the bronze David. It also houses Andrea del Verrochio's David. The room housing the Verrochio was closed for some purpose, but we were lucky enough to reach it while it was briefly open, and we got to see the piece and make our mental comparisons with the Donatello.
Afterwards we headed up to the Galleria degli Uffizi, pausing for a brief lunch and a walk across the Ponte Vecchio to check out the Arno and the tourists (and the gold.)
After the Uffizi, Dorothy and Maryann headed to a leather shop which had been recommended, and Richard and Bob returned to the Monna Lisa with instructions to make dinner reservations at il Cibreo. The Hotel staff told us it was virtually impossible to get reservations on short notice at il Cibreo, and then they did it anyway.
The il Cibreo experience starts with a complimentary 'welcome wine' and a staff person sitting at your table and 'explaining' the menu. It ended, in our case, with another staff person bring Bob a compliemtary slice of flour-less chocolate cake so he could compare it with his own recipe.
On Wednesday the 8th it rained. Richard and Dorothy headed out to Santa Maria Novella to see the Massacio, and explore the museum and cloister.
Bob and Maryann found their way to the Museuo dell'Opera. After a little leather shopping by Richard and a brief rest at the Hotel, Richard and Dorothy went back out to Santa Croce and the marvellous Pazzi Chapel by Brunelleschi, but alas the chapel was closed.
In the evening, we gathered for a farewell dinner at Trattoria Acadia, with complimentary Lemoncello for the ladies and grappa for the gentlemen from our hosts.
Thursday the 9th we reluctantly checked out of the comfort of the Monna Lisa and hit the road, heading ultimately for Perugia, but via a stop in Arezzo, for the Piero della Francesca frescoes. The frescos were admired, lunch was taken nearby at The Scaracen, and Dorothy and Richard made their way up the hill to Passageo del Prato adjacent to the cathedral, with it's extraordinary views.
We then drove on, past Lago Trasimeme, to Perugia.
Navigating entry into Perugia was a matter of adjusting for conflicting, strangely oriented maps, a lack of street signs, and avoiding an extremely complex, multi-leveled city center. We found the rather mid-level and utilitarian Perusia et la Ville hotel, eventually discovering it perched on a hillside on the edge of town. Richard and Dorothy changed rooms, requesting a better view, and got a room on the top floor with a spectacular panoramic view of the surrounding Umbrian hills and valleys, including Assisi. From the rooftop, the views were even more spectacular.
We risked dinner in la Ville, a small separate building at the hotel that housed the breakfast room downstairs and restaurant upstairs. We almost missed the delightful anti pasti because of our confusion (and the head waiter's,) and Bob's veal proved to be virtually inedible. Tragic!
Friday the 10th was reserved for Perugia itself. After some reconnaisance amied at locating laundry and dry-cleaning facilities, we got lost trying to find parking near the centro sorico. Eventually Bob located a fairly convenient parking area and we took the elevator up to the square, with it's famous fountain.
We walked around town past the high-class hotels (in which we hadn't been able to get reservations.) Dorothy got brusque treatment from one of the world's most famous and least friendly candy stores (Perugia Chocolates, home of the Baci), and we all got bad service at a plaza cafe for lunch. Still, Bob really enjoyed the architecture and the setting of Perugia, and we later found a much frieldlier coffee shop just off the main square where Richard got a hot chocolate which was literally that: hot, thick chocolate.
After Richard and Dorothy took an afternoon break to do laundry
(conveniently, during the day's brief but intense rain storm) we all drove back to town and returned to the cafe adjacent to the coffee shop where we had an excellent dinner.
Saturday the 11th we made our day trip to Siena, travelling west back into Tuscany. Richard was especially impressed with Siena, the feeling of il Campo
the views from the top of the cathedral's unfinished and abandoned nave, and above all magnificent collections of the Palazzo Publico.
There was a lively local party going on in the courtyard of the Palazzo all day, but the highlight of the tour had to be the Sala del Mappomondo and the famous painting of Guidoriccio da Fogliano long attributed to Simone Martini, although of course Ambrogio Lorenzetti's fresco cycle, "Allegories of Good and Bad Government" in the Sala della Pace are just as well known. The Duccio Maésta in the museo dell'opera, the Martini Maésta, the Pisano sculpture from the duomo; well, Siena is a sensational town for an art historian.
A light snack sufficed during our walks through town, and on our return to Perugia in the evening we found a small local trattoria off the square where, no surprise, we ate very well, and began our plans for Rome, hoping for a stop in Orvieto along the way.
Sunday morning May 12, we checked out of Perugia, but had to revise our plan to stop in Orvietto.
It seems that an environmental protest was going on, and all civilian traffic was banned from the center of Rome all day. At first it seemed to fit our plan to spend time in Orviet and arrive in Rome late in the afternoon, driving straight to our hotel, and then dropping the car at the rental agency. Unfortunately, we could not enter central Rome until after 7PM, and we were afraid there would be quite a crush. Also , it seemed that the rental agency closed at 2PM. So we abandoned Orvieto, and headed straight for Rome.
By some miracle, we found the rental agency 10 minutes before closing. We left the car double parked in the stret, and the agency called us a cab. So by mid-afternoon we were settled into our rooms in the Hotel Genio, just off the Piazza Navonna.
While the hotel was a bit dowdy, and the interior rooms had air-shaft views, there was a pleasant roof-top terrace, the location was convenient, and the staff proved to be friendly.
Our afternoon exploration of the Piazza Navonna was fun, even though we learned the hard way not to buy beer at a tourist cafe without first asking the price, and in the evening the hotel recommended us to the Passeto, an excellent restaurant just across the street where, as was our custom, we ate well.
Monday morning Richard had planned to call the Vatican Museum to confirm our Tuesday tour reservations, but in fact the reservations were for Monday, and it was already past time to confirm. The ticket agency suggested that we proceed to the Vatican anyway and just tell them we couldn't get through on the telephone. So, we headed off on foot to Vatican City, walking along the Tiber, past the Castel Sant'Angelo
and eventually reaching the impressive Bernini collonades outside St.Peter's.
As it turned out, the ticket agency had misdirected us to the Basilica, and we had to walk half-way round Vatican City to find the entrance of the Vatican Museums. Once there, however, we found that the agency had in fact contacted the museum and that our reservations were OK. Embarking on the tour, we patiently followed our guide, Nicki,
through the various chambers of the Vatican, ultimately coming to what we all wanted to see: the Sistine Chapel, after which we were back where we started, at the entrance to St. Peter's Basilica
We snacked on pizza on the way home, rested in the hotel, and then found a local 'antique trattoria' for dinner, which was followed by coffee in a very 19th century tea room.
Since Monday was the Vatican, Tuesday the 14th had to be for Classical Rome. The day began with a stop at the Pantheon,
just east of the Piazza Navonna. Since it was so close, we decided to walk: not the best judgement we ever made.
A few more bad judgments along the walk to the Forum found us tired, a bit cranky, and walking the 'wrong way' around the Palatine hill, past the Circus Maximus and eventually reaching the entrance of the enclosed park surrounding the Palatine museum.
Bob and Maryann decided to look for a place to rest and eat, but Richard and Dorothy plunged in to explore the park, check out its views of Rome, and finally energe to the north at the Capitoline hill and the ruins of the Forum Romanum.
The ticket for the Palatine hill park was also valid for entrance into the Colosseum, so we crossed out of the Forum, past the Arch of Constantine and the fake centurians (3 euros each for a picture!) and into the Flavian Amphitheatre. Despite the tourists, and our relative exhaustion on the 11th day of travelling, it was great to finally sit in the heart of ancient Rome!
It was almost better to find a taxi and make our way back to the Genio for a long nap.
Bob and Maryann had meanwhile had lunch, visited the Forum, and explored a part of Rome they declared to be the "most livable," although it was probably also the most expensive. Richard and Dorothy followed them back to the high-rent district for dinner, and a trek afterwards to the Piazza di Trevi, so Dorothy could see the fountain at night.
Wednesday the 15th was to be Richard and Dorothy's last full day in Rome, and a very early departure was planned for Thursday, so naturaly we all made vows to eat early, eat lightly, and travel by cab. Dorothy and Maryann headed to the Piazza di Spagna for a little light shopping, while Richard and Bob headed to Santa Maria Maggiore, intending to go on to San Pietro in Vincoli, to see Michelangelo's Moses. Santa Maria Maggiore was certainly impressive, the last truly Roman basilica to be built in classical times. San Pietro in Vicoli, however, was closed for restorations.
We all met back at the hotel for a light lunch at the Passeto, followed by a long nap. After Richard and Dorothy completed some preliminary packing, we all trooped off to the Gilletto, the most famoud gelateria in Rome (and back in the area near the Piazza de Colonna) for a light desert. Richard and Dorothy returned to the Genio for an early night, but Bob and Maryann were just a little peckish
Richard and Dorothy arrived back in Boston mid-afternoon on the 16th, after smooth connections and a failrly nice meal on Air France. Bob and Maryann flew home to Washington via Chicago on the 17th. They were late leaving Rome, missed connections in Chicago and, alas, ate rather poorly.
Plans are already in the works for October 2003. Nobody threw any coins into the Trevi Fountain, but you can be sure that we will return.
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