Tuesday, July 20, 2010
Spanning the Centuries. A week in Northern Italy.
After Turkey, I took a convoluted route to get to Milan where I met up with my friend Gil, who lives a short ways from there in the small town of Manerbio. It was so great to be in his care. He whisked me off to his floral and gardening shop (Flores) which was just so beautiful and tastefully done in an 17th century building. I loved it there, so many nice growing things to look at. So many nice hand made things too. I met his friend and owner of the space, Marilena. She was just lovely and made us a nice fresh lunch... pasta cooked to perfection, a simple salad, and a giant bowl of fruit. I felt I had died and gone to heaven. She fed and took care of us several times, always fresh tomatoes, bread, and plenty of tasty olive oil.
Gilly showed me around Manerbio and the next town over of Cremona. In Cremona we had beers next to the Cathedral in the piazza with hundreds of sparrows flying over head. I spent a couple days hanging with him, an afternoon helping in the shop, and just generally recovering and taking it easy.On Gil's day off we set out on a road trip. We headed to the Dolomite Mountains, which is the southern section of the Alps in Northeast Italy. It was such a beautiful trip, driving through small mountain towns and farming villages. It was nice to watch the architecture change as we got closer to Austria. I just loved all the grapes, fields and fields, anywhere the sun shone.... even on steep slopes. Grape vines upon grape vines stacked like books up the mountain side. We drove on and on further north and into higher altitude. We made it to the sella pass where we had sweeping views and could almost touch the snow on the highest peeks, it was just amazing.From there we headed to Trento to meet up with some of Gil's friends (Marco and Giulio). Again, I was treated to such warm hospitality, a nice home cooked meal in their house which is in the old servant quarters of a 15th century villa. Giulio is the grounds keeper of the villa and he gave us a tour. I had no idea what I was in for, but he spent hours explaining everything about the property, all the murals, furniture, and history of the people who lived there. It was just so magical. He was such a generous and enthusiastic guy who just wanted to share. Gilly dutifully translated everything and I felt so lucky to be there. The oldest building in the compound was a convent from the 1300's. Apparently this place survived through the centuries and all the wars, because it was hidden on the hill and couldn't be seen from Trento. The murals spanned the rein of Charles the 5th, the old and new testament. I saw hand embroidered fabrics from the 1500's and paintings of all the dignitaries who lived there. This experience is difficult to put in words. I loved it so much. AND, I saw a fox, running into the grape fields and the sun was setting.... I'm getting goose bumps remembering now.... Giulio could tell I was curious about the plants too, around the property and even thought it had gotten dark, he took me around with a flash light to show off the strawberries, plums, and herbs!!!The next day, back in Manerbio, I took a train to Venice. After crossing the first canal, I was in love. Everywhere I turned was another photo opp or something worth marveling at. It was a maze and I got lost several times but not for long. I packed a lot into my day in Venice: St. Marks Basilica and square, the clock tower, the Rialto Bridge, the Peggy Guggenheim collection, the musical instrument museum, more churches than I can remember, and a glorious views from the bell tower. I walked and walked and took hundreds of photos. It defiantly was Venice on speed, but now I know where to spend more time when I go back!!The following day, I took another train to Verona. It was such a hot day, that I found myself lingering in clothing stores just for the AC. I did love Venice more, but Verona was so romantic with the supposed story of Romeo and Juliet being inspired here. I saw her balcony, the roman, arena, Duomo and Anastasia Cathedrals, the Roman theater and archaeological museum, Lamberti Tower....The last time I was in Italy was 11 years ago and I am so happy I went back, I had such a new and different experience and much of that is due to having a friend there and the inside scoop. It was great to go into a restaurant where Gil was a regular and for him to know what to order. We went to a small pizza place my first or second night there and I went back on my own one night. The owner had already closed and the lights were out, but he recognized me and went back in to make me a pizza... and he remembered... no cheese. It was delicious.