Band Trip – Pisa and Lucca

A few surprises today. We felt that seeing Pisa would not be so exciting or worth the time but actually as you walk through the old wall and see the beautiful church, baptistery and tower all bright white on an open piazza with not much near them it was worth a stop – the leaning tower was such a popular photo spot with the kids who all wanted pictures taken that made it look like they were holding it up. I was so busy taking photos of them I didn’t get any on this camera – so coming later. After a short stop in Pisa, we were off to the medieval walled city of Lucca. This town was a little like a smaller version of Florence. The kids were excited to find posters up advertising their concert.

While the kids were setting up for the concert and rehearsing many of the adults found a cute little place on a piazza to have a little Chianti. It was so relaxing to not be hurrying somewhere.

Again most pictures coming later but I do have a couple from the concert. It was held in a former church now used as more of an auditorium. It was an incredibly beautiful venue and the accoustics were superb!

Mike fell asleep anyway….he had to get up at 8AM to join us from Florence.

The concert had quite a few enthusiastic people in the audience. One elderly man came by to talk to us because he loves America and American music – he had driven from another town to attend. It turns out he has spent time in the US in Florida as a young man in 1950 and then for a couple of years in South Carolina. He walked the whole way back to our busses just to talk and then told me he would never forget me…. Hoping Bill or Kevin got a picture of him.

Dinner was in a restaurant just near the walls of Lucca – one of the few places big enough to hold all of us.

Band Trip Florence

Got on the bus early this morning and set off for Florence. We did not get on the bus early enough and ended up sitting back with the kids but they were fun and I actually slept part of the way. Our tour guide is fantastic with the kids – here he is singing with the kids.

In Florence we found Michael (our nephew) just as we were beginning our tour. We saw Santa Croce church and square, then walked through the Signora Piazza, the public piazza and them came to the Duomo.

Because we were late we did not have time to go in but left immediately for our appointed time at the Accademia Gallery to see Michelangelo’s David which one might think would be anticlimatic after seeing hundreds, maybe thousands of statues. It was not – when you see the perfectly set up display even from a distance you know you are in the presence of greatness. Sorry pictures not allowed.

We returned to the Duomo during our free time so Kevin and Judy could go inside.

Next we jumped back on the bus to Montecatimi Terme to our hotel. Walked around the downtown a couple of hours – it is just full of hotels and spas as it has hot springs there.

Dinner was in the hotel and was fairly typical of what we have come to expect for large group type food – everyone gets the same – but the pasta has been good, different every time and the veal scallopine that night was tasty.

Band Trip Day 1

Lots of hurry up and wait – and wait with big groups. But the advantages have been everything planned, tickets included to museums, people who gave greats tours and taught us so much!

We have a guide in our bus, the very personable and funny Flavio.

We made our way to Venice first on 2 large motorcoaches and then on a large boat – dropping us off a short distance from St Marks.

We walked to the Doges Palace for our tour which was led by a wonderful guide, Louisa, whose family has lived in Venice for five generations. The story of the Doges palace, the history and psychology behind the design of the building was fascinating – unfortunately no pictures allowed except in the hallway.

That’s gold leaf on the ceiling – it was everywhere – the incredible opulence of it was designed to impress people visiting with the importance and wealth of Venice and the Doge – a figurehead leader elected but for life – they were mostly older so that they were not in office too long.

The stairs were very steep and we were told they were designed that way so visiting ambassadors were out of breath and more awed by the time they reached the top.

The rooms and artwork – all items that were as they were historically were beautiful and very interesting. They included the courtrooms where people were tried and sentenced. If they were to be imprisoned the prison was next door – and the way in was through a short bridge – high up on the buildings- called the Bridge of Sighs. As prisoners were led through they had a view through small openings of their last view if beautiful Venezia (Venice)

The prison was considered fairly humane – not as bad as some places…. Six people to a cell.

Kevin and Megan

The inside of St Marks is also covered in gold leaf on the ceiling and higher areas – this very ornate church was the personal chapel of the Doges and did not get funded by the Vatican so they did not feel obligated to follow any direction from the Pope. St Mark died in Alexandria and in the 800’s the bones of St Mark were stolen and smuggled into Venice under carts of ham (which the Muslims did not want to touch and so did not examine the cargo. This made St Marks important somewhat as St Peter’s in Rome was for having St Peter’s bones.

Inside pictures not allowed to “protect copyrights” – read, to sell more books and postcards…

Next was a gondola ride which was actually very nice and less expensive when shared among six of us. Then it was goodbye to Venice….

After a 30 min drive to the small town of Fosso, the band set up and we walked to a restaurant for dinner. The food was not so interesting but Kevin reminded me to photograph it – he had been reading my blog before they joined us. First was a very good pasta with speck (a kind of bacon) but not pictured.

Polenta but a very soft one – the meal two nights before with cuttlefish had polenta that was more like a soft cornbread. Also stew that was like pulled pork. Also a dish of radicche (not sure of spelling) something like spinach, asparagus, kale rolled into one.

Most of the kids would not touch this but it was pretty good.

Concert was well promoted and many local people came. They seemed to really like it and the band did very well. Megan had a trumpet solo (for the family)

View from rehearsal

Dinner and Sunday

Venice has been likened to Disneyland and it is a little like Las Vegas – it never sleeps. We can hear people all night if the window is open. Almost like those two fantasy places – except old.

For dinner Saturday night we walked the streets and seriously considered Bancogiro again. But we found a cute place that turned out to be the oldest restaurant in Venice.

And inside

This is probably my third favorite restaurant so far. I had a seafood salad that was wonderful with octopus in it!

Canneloni stuffed with cheese and in a cream sauce

My Cuttlefish Veniziane style – very dark and a different texture and taste – good but not as good as the salad and some other meals (therefore the 3rd place rating) Bill had a fish filet with vegetables that was fine.

Dessert was pear cake, ice cream with orange and chocolate sauce. Yummy!

Walked off a bit of the dinner, saw a political rally (elections were the next two days) and a square with nightclubs and many young people.

The next day we went out to do a tiny bit if shopping and then we took the vaporetto and walked to the car park (near the train station) – as close as cars get to the islands. There we met

Siberian cat breeders Cristiana and Petro and they drove us to see Palmanova and their house and if course cats. Pictures are in the other camera.1

Then they took us to Mestre where we met the Burnsville band trip at Antony Hotel, a much larger, newer but still nice hotel in the outskirts of Mestre – a larger more modern city very near Venice but on the mainland. Dinner was at the hotel and typically had pasta course and a main course. Good food but typical of large banquet type food.

S Marco and the Vaporetto

The title pretty much sums up the day – we started out to San Marco after breakfast in our pensione – also pictures from the lobby of Pensione Guerrato, a former (800 yr old building) convent in the Mercato (market) area.

First stop was one of the oldest medieval churches in Venice right near our hotel.

Then we queued up to get in the Basilica – sorry no pictures are allowed although I was able to get one from the entrance on my other camera (without flash) but it might be out of focus due to low light. The outside is very ornate with lots of Eastern influence and the inside goes along – gold leaf everywhere, very ornate and fairly dark and HUGE. Not so large and tall as the Duomo in Florence but big still.

There are not many places to sit in the piazza, and the police will make you move if you sit on the ground. There are several restaurants with outside seating but you have to pay a cover charge and eat/drink there to sit. We did and and it was a wonderful place to relax over coffee and lunch and people watch.

I didn’t get the picture on this camera but there is a 3-4 piece “orchestra” behind us playing classical music and some people danced as they walked by.

Next we boarded the vaporetto by St Marks and rode a couple of different lines around the islands and grand canal. That took a couple of hours and between the sun and the wind I am burned a bit – did I mention that it was sunny today? Guess the owner of our hotel in Varenna was right when he said the Italian weather forecasters lie – it was supposed to rain.

Ended up walking on the back side of our restaurant from last night and saw they had outdoor canalside seating during the day so stopped for a refreshing drink called “Spritz” but other than wine, orange juice and seltzer – the other ingredient was not familiar. We had little appetizers too.

The Venezia hat I bought due to the sun.

Venice at night

After dinner we wandered little streets and squares

and then walked to San Marco Piazza and just looked around – it’s very lit up at night.

In one photo you can see the raised platforms they put up to allow people to be above flood waters that often happen at high tide.

Basilica is kind of spooky at night

Below note the platforms

Rialto bridge at night

Rode the vaporetto home and got to bed about midnight.

Venice the first day

Venice is so picturesque but too bad it’s cloudy – and probably will be cloudy or raining the whole 4 days we are in the area. We walked and found an interesting lunch place with only Italians there and ironically it turned out to be an Italian chain – probably 20 of them around Italy. Food was good but “nothing to write home about” – although I guess I am…

After lunch we walked more streets and found this fun kids playground equipment – like a trampoline with a belt that keeps you in place….kids must live it – like mini-bungee jumping

then took the Vaporetto around the grand canal and to Lido and back.

Again too bad it’s cloudy.

We took an hour or two break (in my case a nap)

Then we walked around down mostly smaller uncrowded streets

and came upon an interesting square with a ristorante that on ground level was a wine bar and upstairs tables for dinner. Wonderful bustling and good looking waiters with leather aprons – wait that came out wrong (but couldn’t resist leaving it in). They did wear leather aprons though. Unfortunately it was too dark to photograph the food but it was beautifully presented. We had watched the chef preparing plates while we waited 10 min or so to get a table and his attention to detail convinced us it was worth the wait. We only heard one table of about about 9 where English was spoken. The outside

downstairs watching the chef

Wine bar


Sorry not great pictures but ambiance was wonderful and food was maybe the best we’ve had and wonderful local wine! Bill rated Billy’s in Manarola as best and I lean towards this. Katie, you would have lived this… Here is what was so good – translations from the menu Appetizer was sea bass capaccio with buffalo mozarella and yogurt mint dressing, primi course was gnocchi with herbs, scallops and red chicory, secundi was ombrina (a whitefish) with basil and ginger with asparagus. We shared those courses. Dessert I had Ventian creme on biscuits and Bill had Rice roll with pineapple and spicy chocolate.

The building was a bank and where rich venetians send servants to collect or pay debts -so as not to dirty their hands with handling money.

On to Venice

Train we wanted to Venice is booked so waiting for the next one.

While we wait here is a picture of the elevator (max 2 people) in our hotel – lobby is on the 4th floor.

Here is how we fit with our backpack suitcases – the light aqua and pink is me.

Took one wrong turn walking the 1/2 mile to the train station and found an awesome church – Bill’s comment was “another pretty church”. Pictures are on the other camera.

Goodbye for now to Florence – we will be back in 4 days for a few hours with the band tour group.

And we are in Venice – view from our pensione looking down at the vegetable and fruit market and Grand Canal.

Last Night in Florence

Mike came to the hotel after class and we took him out to dinner. Turns out he had never seen underneath the Duomo where the old church was excavated and had never been in the museum of artwork found in the old church excavation or things moved there from the Duomo like Michelangelo’s Pieta so hope he’ll get there.

We ate at Pennelo, right next to Dante’s house….

Dinner was very good but maybe not spectacular – most restaurants in this area cater more to tourists.

Tortelini with artichokes

Ravioli stuffed with spinach and cheese with oil and basil on it

Penne with spicy sauce

Bill and Mike also got a second dish and we ended with a cream dessert and of course a good Tuscan red wine

Mike went to meet friends (after enjoying dinner for 3 hours) and we went to bed….

Off to Venezia tomorrow, but it’s supposed to rain. 🙁 Today was sunny and perfect – 70 degrees (F)

Uffizi and Duomo mostly

We were lucky to get reservations for the Uffizi gallery so after walking through various old areas of Florence, we went to wait our turn to get in. Talked awhile to a man outside who paints and sells watercolors of Florence and ended up buying three small pictures. Looked at all the outside statues first…including a living one.


Living statue

No photos allowed in the Uffizi, except in the halls. And most of those are on my “real” camera.

While there are thousands of great pieces of art, by far my favorite was Michelangelo’s Holy Family (the only surviving canvas painting by him) and next Leonardo da Vinci’s. Pretty obvious why they are so famous.


We ate lunch upstairs – 4th floor with great views of the towers and churches of Florence.

We also saw several other churches including Orsanmichele

and followed lots of the smaller less busy roads, then while eating gelato

on the steps of the Duomo- otherwise known as Santa Maria del Fiore – we realized it was still open and so went to see the inside. It’s a very beautiful cathedral – but so cold inside. Marble is cold to touch, and you are enclosed in a huge marble structure. Coming outside to 70 and sunny felt great!

But before doing that we saw a stairway that went down below the main church so we went to look, thinking it might be a crypt. We learned that below the structure of the current cathedral there was the excavation of Saint Reparata church, from 3rd century and remodeled and added onto before the newer Duomo was started in the 1200’s. Also visible is parts of a roman structure predating St Reparata – just incredible to see! Part of the old mosaic floor is still there!

So after leaving that I had just enough energy for part of the Duomo museum and at least 80% of the reason was to see Michelangelo’s unfinished Pieta. He sculpted this when he was 80 yrs old and almost destroyed it when he became angry about a defect in the marble. His helpers/students stopped him after damage was done to just one arm. He never did finish it but Nicodemus the man helping to hold Jesus is a self-portrait. It is beautiful.

Another interesting one was Donatello’s Mary Magdalene – her face was a study in misery

Right now as I write this the Duomo bells are playing and it’s amazing so close to us. Interrupted a bit ago by a Renaissance parade below our window

The churches here play their bells at different times so that they are not all competing so every few minutes you here more.

Now I am resting my poor legs before taking our nephew out to dinner. Note- walking the dog twice a day for a mile or two did NOT prepare me enough for all the walking and climbing. We are hoping all the walking will make up for all the eating!! But for sure flat Venice will be a treat!

Seven days have already gone by – but sixteen to go still 🙂 Kevin, Judy and Megan – can’t wait to see you!

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