Sunday, February 26, 2012

Nov 23, 2011 Arrival at Volterra

It seemed I was awake before anyone in Firenze. My alarm was set for 4.15 am this morning. The train for Volterra departed at 5.35 from SMN. Alessio assured me the streets are safe to walk early in the morning. Sometimes his mother has early morning connections and has never had any fears. He suggested I walk straight down Via Tornabuoni and then turn left when the street comes to an end. I checked a map to be sure I understood.

I passed shops such as Prada, Gucci and Chanel on Via Tornabuoni, as I walked down the middle of the deserted street. I saw a fire truck with its engines running on my normal route, which would have been Via del Sole. Thank you Alessio for this alternate way!

At 5.15 I took a picture of the empty SMN train station, validated my ticket and then checked for the correct binario. It was A1, which is a little removed from the main area. As I walked toward A1 several vendors began to roll their carts into position. They sell the morning newspapers, books, magazines, tour guides and snacks but no water. In SMN the vending machines right on the binario sell water for 1€. I always keep a coin handy.

I had an uneventful trip to Pisa, where I made an easy connection to Cecina. After a short time, I could see the sea, on the right, from the train window. I should have looked at a detailed map of Italy before making this trip. As we entered the first of two tunnels I was compelled to leave my seat and stand at the end of the carriage for a good view outside. As we left the second tunnel, I caught my breath. We were passing Leo's favorite beaches. I realized these two tunnels are meaningful to us. Often, we would talk on the phone as Leo drove from Firenze to his summer home here. He would tell me he was approaching the tunnels. We never knew if the cell phone signal would stay strong or be interrupted.

He brought me to this area, twice. Alone, we had walked at night on the cold windy beach, in the moonlight.

Today, the train passed the pine tree park, where Leo told me outdoor night movies are shown in the summertime. And then we sped right by the village's little train station. I wanted to snap pictures, but I wasn't prepared.

I left the train at Cecina with 30 minutes to spare to make another train connection to Volterra. I checked the schedule for confirmation.

I waited and waited on the platform but the train seemed to be late. When a train finally arrived, I asked a business man, 'per Volterra?' He stated no. Immediately another man, a conductor I had seen waiting on the binario, came quickly to me and said, 'Follow me! You need to take the bus to Volterra.' The train at 7:54 must be seasonal. I missed seeing the bus picture, shown after 8:00: Volterra-Saline 8:01

I am so glad I understand Italian and had no hesitation to follow him. A large Pullman bus was a minute away from departure. I thanked the conductor and climbed aboard the bus. I was the only passenger.

I learned something about Pullman busses. Check the front panel and read its destination. I also learned when it's off season, one must be flexible for unexpected changes.

We left Cecina behind and drove about 30 minutes through the countryside, only passing through one small village, until the bus pulled into a tiny parking lot behind an unmarked tiny building, which I now know to be the Saline train station. Two other blue buses were already parked there, their destinations showing Volterra. My driver stopped our bus and got out to take a break.

It was my fault for not confirming but I'm still wondering why the driver didn't say anything to me. Two passengers boarded our bus and we departed. Lucky for me I was least partially! My bus turned left, back onto road we had just taken. I was headed back to Cecina! Nowhere did I read in my research about two bus connections but then most people travel to Volterra in high season, not in the fall.

I remembered that small village we had passed through. I leaned in to speak to the driver and said, 'Please stop in the village. I need to leave the bus. I want to go to Volterra.' He responded, 'You should have transferred at Saline.'

He did pull over in the village and I hopped off. I noted a bus stop, without a schedule posted, a police station and a bakery. I chose the bakery. A man was speaking with the counter girl, but he left as I entered. I explained my situation to her. When I asked if there was a taxi in town, she laughed 'No!' She told me there was no bus schedule at the stop, either. Then she said, wait I have an idea and I followed her outside the shop.

That man I had seen in the shop was Guido Vanni, a salesman for 'Gianni Pan S.p.A' (suppliers for bakery production) and he was on his way to Volterra. She told him my story. He didn't hesitate a moment. With a smile he invited me to ride up to Volterra with him. He moved his computer off the passenger seat and cleared the floorboard of scattered sales pamphlets. He pointed to a fortress, which was perched high atop a distant hill, saying, 'That's Volterra.'

Such a nice man. I did take a picture of his truck, but I felt uncomfortable asking to take his picture. He was in his fifties, with a neat brownish streaked gray beard. He was dressed warmly in workman's clothes. I recognized his customer service attitude, necessary for sure in his profession.

He explained the villages of Saline is named for its salt mines, left here by an ancient sea. I told him I had studied Volterra and the war (bloody slaughter I thought to myself) when the Medici family had taken Volterra.

I asked for his business card and thanked him for his kindness. I promised to send him See's candy from California.

After driving up the many switchbacks, we arrived and with a friendly handshake, he dropped me off right at the medieval gates to the historic section of Volterra. It was 8.30 in the morning.

Nov 22, 2011, Afternoon at Gucci Museum

I checked in at Edison Libreria to get two books still on my reading list. I searched but could not find my favorite Florentine commissario detective series. I asked for assistance. People who love books can find books with minimum information. The bookseller took me right to the Marco Vichi area. I picked up four books, including his newest 'la Forza del Destino'.

At the cassa (checkout register) I asked for and received an Edison frequent buyer card and received immediate credit for future discounts. I was not required to show ID or to provide a local address. I now have in my possession, frequent user cards for three stores.

I walked through the city looking for pictures, heading toward the Gucci Museum.

A gypsy girl in typical clothing (Zingaro/Zingari)

La Bottega dell'opera di Santa Maria Fiore

La Bottega dell'opera di Santa Maria Fiore.  They make copies of outside statues, then place originals in the museum.

Toys are adorable and expensive.

I always stop to admire and support the street artists.

The sun sets early here in the autumn. In the dusk I walked through the crowded streets toward Piazza della Signoria. The Gucci Museum opened only a few weeks ago and I had read all the details in the November issue of The Florentine newspaper. Cost for entry: 7€.

The Gucci Museum was incredible. I have to compare it with the Ferragamo Museum because there is no comparison. Ferragamo's basement museum was interesting, but it has the feeling of being the stepchild to the upstairs shoe store.

Gucci has created an elegant, friendly, informative and captivating atmosphere. I was reluctant to leave after having stayed for two hours.

At the entry desk, I was invited to check my winter coat and packages. I was given a small brown folder, with the explanation that it would hold the information cards available in the various rooms. I was guided into a screening room to view a film about Gucci, the man.

Each room has attendant hovering nearby. Their clothes and demeanor! I want to be just like them.

The museum has three floors and various rooms organized by product line, with displays of past models of luggage (Gucci's first effort), purses, a Cadillac upholstered in Gucci fabric and lastly a dimly lighted room with stunning dresses. No pictures allowed. The dresses were displayed with no barrier between viewer and dress. One is able to fully walk around each dress, close enough to see the stitching. Hillary Swank's dress, worn to the 2011 Academy Awards, was a gorgeous, delicate fluffy cloud of white ostrich feathers. Each feather had been individually attached by hand. It was so difficult to not touch!

Several rooms were showing films. I watched how purses are made, from the first hand-cutting of the fabric to the construction and attachment of handles. A room was set aside to showcase the Gucci company's commitment to the restoration of film classics. I watched 5-10 minute clips of five or six films, showing before and after restoration work.

On the third floor, the sound of a waterfall drew me into the final film room. I sat transfixed. I knew what I was seeing. Leo...

For ten minutes I was spell bound watching Tristen's Ascension which illustrates a soul rising into heaven. Tears which I've been holding back on this trip started flowing and I couldn't stop them.

Watch Tristen's Ascension: Watch Tristen's Ascension at Gucci

Afterwards, I carefully made my way to down the flights of stairs, back to the ground level gift shop and bookstore. I had already seen a Gucci museum bag I wanted as a souvenir. The silent tears would not stop. A very very sweet Gucci commessa asked if I needed help. I shook my head no and she walked away.

A minute later, she returned carrying a black tray and a sparkling black glass of cool water. I thankfully accepted it. I told her I was really fine, but the film upstairs showing the soul going into heaven had released a lot of emotion. I told her my sweetheart had died here in Firenze two months ago, but I had been in California and I had even missed his funeral. She told me she understood what I had said and was so sorry for my loss. She agreed watching the film was an emotional experience.

I thanked her for her kindness and she left me to browse..but then she returned a moment later with a napkin covering a rich chocolate cookie.

I bought my museum bag and she gave me her card. Gucci now has a special place in my heart. Official site of the Gucci Museum

Dinner was a wonderful picnic in my room.

Thursday, February 23, 2012

Nov 22, 2011, Morning at Mercato Vecchio (Firenze)

This morning Alessio gave me a printout of the train connections for Volterra. I went first to drop off a box of See's candy at The Florentine newspaper, which keeps me current with local events. Their address is Via dei Banchi, 4. I rang and they buzzed me in. I climbed two sets of stairs. It was dark as night inside. It's so nice to know how to work the inside light switches. I'm always silently thanking Leo for teaching me so many things. I was a bit surprised they were not terribly friendly at the newspaper, but everyone seems stressed these days due to the world economy.

Next stop was the Santa Maria Novella (SMN) train station, just a few steps away. I bought tickets for both Volterra and Cremona. I love those automated machines. Volterra cost 23€ round trip and Cremona €35 each way.

Then onto foodie heaven, the Mercato Vecchio near in the San Lorenzo area. The market opens early and closes at 2pm. I have plenty of time.

Note to self: Who was San Lorenzo (St. Lawrence)?

Lorenzo de' Medici's (Lorenzo il Magnifico) home is nearby. San Lorenzo would have been his name day saint. I need to research name days. Leo's Onomastico was 26 and he considered it his lucky number.

I entered the Mercato's outside white tent which has housed the Ortofruticolo (fruit/vegetables) section for the past several years. It used to be upstairs, but I can't even find the staircase now.

I note the dried whole pepperocini have tripled in price since May. They had been 1€ a packet. The packaging seems to be from a different supplier but the vendor is the same ancient woman who has always been here.

On my shopping list are tangerines.

I can't get my fill of them. They're seedless, juicy and so fresh. I bought six. That should hold me for the next day or two. I took pictures of their vegetable presentations which are always artfully setup. These vendors are serious, curt and just tolerate me walking and looking. They must get up really early because they look tired. I always buy something before I start taking pictures. I'm sorry I'm not a local. I would love to have a conversation about the preparation of this luscious produce.

I entered the main building, taking a picture of the door, with its winter hours of operation.

I walked all around taking pictures of fresh fish, poultry and meats, prosciutto, soft, hard and wet cheeses and salami of all sizes, including some made from donkey, horse and wild boar.

The meat counters are for locals but the many spice vendors cater to tourists. The signs are in English. I saw a signs stating, we speak English, French and German or We vacuum pack. Today I see at the poultry counter 'We have wonderful turkeys for Thanksgiving Day.' "Tacchine Super" The turkeys here are not tightly wrapped in plastic. They are fresh and huge. They're also limited in number.

There are plentiful ducks, chickens and roosters, all sold with their feathered heads intact. The meat counters all have a small stuffed animal inside the case to indicate what's in the case. A dignified plastic horse stands on one counter. I won't eat horse meat.

A friend would like some truffle salt. I found it at a stand I especially like. Its name is "La Bottega Golosa" or The Gourmet Shop. All its commesse are Japanese. They are customer service (tourist) oriented. I wonder if they own this stand. I found the truffle salt. I decided to do some Christmas shopping too. I add another bag, filled with cooking goodies, to my arm.

I realized I left this morning without eating breakfast. I love the Italian style of eating three meals a day, no snacking all day. At the cassa I paid 3 Euro, then took my receipt and stood in line at the proper counter. Last May I had seen a handwritten sign tacked on the wall, 'Don't ask me to cut the sandwich in half.' That sign has been taken down.

I recognized the man making sandwiches and I watched as he made mine. I brought away a Trippa panino (Tripe French dip). I requested both spicy red sauce and mild green sauce.

At the dried meats/cheeses, I chose fresh mozzarella cheese, packed in brine, a piece of another pungent cheese and 4 fette (slices) of Parma proscuito, all for less than 5€. From another vendor I bought a large milk. All these treasures will go onto my window ledge. I'm set for dinner for tonight and tomorrow.

Within 15 minutes I was back in my hotel room, enjoying the Trippa panino, milk and a tangerine for dessert.


San Lorenzo (Saint Lawrence):  "Lawrence of Rome (c. 225 – 258) (Latin: Laurentius, meaning "laurelled") was one of the seven deacons of ancient Rome who were martyred during the persecution of Valerian in 258." Wikipedia -- St. Lawrence of Rome

Lorenzo de Medici (Lorenzo il MagnificoWikipedia: Lorenzo de' Medici

Name day or Feast Day:  (Onomastico)

"In Italy, one's name day is referred to as his or her "Onomastico" and is viewed as almost as important as a birthday, at least in the Southern regions (where there are historically, stronger Greek influences). Often people receive small gifts on their Onomastico. In Italy (especially in the South), children are often named after saints. Some children are named after the saint on whose feast day they were born, others are named after the patron saint of the town they live in, while still others are named after a saint that the parents feel a connection with." Wikipedia: Name day

Sunday, February 12, 2012

Nov 21 2011 Perugia and Perugina

It's 3.45 in the afternoon and I'm on the A bus going in the opposite direction from Perugia.  Fingers crossed this bus turns around at the end of the line and returns to Piazza Parttgiani where I started from at 12.45.

We just passed the sign for Pila, the end of the line. I guess that means we're heading back. The driver has just turned off his engines. Break time. I've done this before on other buses, no worries.

I found a Chocolate Baci, left by Asumi or Alessio, in my hotel room two days ago. The message enclosed in the wrapper said: 'Expect the unexpected.' Such a good saying to remember when traveling or for everyday living.

My day started today with the alarm set for 6.30. I ate cold pizza and milk for breakfast. The window sill stands in for a great travel refrigerator. Alessio gave me the hotel might key yesterday so I quietly left at 7.30 this morning without seeing anyone.

It's a 15 minute walk to the train station. I arrived in plenty of time to find the correct binario (platform) and validate my ticket. It seemed easy. I've learned to always check with the conductor. This morning, everything seemed accounted for.

However today, it was impossible to see from the platform that there were two trains on the same track. A girl ahead of me asked 'per Perugia?' and so did I. The conductress pointed down down the was a good walk toward our train. This is why I always always arrive early.


4.05 and Bus A is on the road again, several of us also having rested during the pause, plus some new people hopped on while we were stopped. The homes here are in the countryside. I see kale and huge cabbages growing in kitchen gardens.

I am thinking it's almost time for me to drive a car here in Italy. I would like the freedom to explore on my own.

Pansies are still in bloom and bright orange persimmons hang in leafless trees. The temperature is 11 degrees C. Add 40 or 50 to convert to Fahrenheit.

Middle school children are boarding the bus now. One happy black boy is carrying a package of new paint brushes and a tray of water colors. A girl carrying a violin. All with backpacks with small animal key chains dangling. A boy and a girl kissing, makes me think of Alessandro. Marrying too young has long term repercussions. Here is a matron lady wearing tall black boots and a stylish red beret. I love the diversity present on these buses.

I see we're 7 k outside of Perugia and we've just passed the Perugina/Nestlé factory where I boarded.

After a pleasant 20 minute ride through an industrial area, we pull into the main bus stop, right in front of the train station. Now I see all buses stop and start at the train station during their circular routes. I used to have a fear of bus riding when I first started traveling but now I've discovered the logic of bus routes. It's easy when you realize most routes are circular.

I've just purchased a return ticket to Firenze from an automated ticket dispenser. The train departs in one hour, at 17.39 (5.49). It always takes me a moment to do the math. 18.00=6pm. I looked through the bar for something to eat but found nothing interesting. I'll just wait and have cold pizza tonight in my room.

This morning, on the train, about an hour outside of Arezzo, I was checking my watch when suddenly the conductor announced over the speaker that we were to disembark at the next stop, which was Terontola and catch a train on binario 1. I confirmed my understanding with another passenger. The train is crowed with students heading to the University of Perugia.

At the stop, we all got off and I followed the crowd up the stairs and as a group we all jumped on the waiting train.

I was a little confused as to where to get off in Perugia. There are three or four stops in a row, all containing the word Perugia in their names. I asked another student for directions to Centro Storico (the historical town center). The correct stop is one single word: Perugia.

Just outside the train station is a bus stop with perhaps 9 Bus lines labeled A B C G, etc. I took pictures of the informational boards. Tickets cost 1.5€. I bought two tickets, one to go and one to return.

Now that I've done thus once, it will be easy when I return the next time.

One could go straight to the Perugina factory on Bus A, from the Fontevegge area, where the Train Station is located. (Reservations are required for the factory tour.)

To go directly to the Centro Storico (Historic Center), choose a bus line which stops at Piazza Italia.

To go indirectly to the Centro Storico, using the escalators which travel though the old castle and then arrive at Piazza Italia, take any bus heading to Piazza Partigiani from the train station. The escalators are located directly across from the bus station ticket office. There is no charge for riding the escalators.

I purchased a book on Perugia this morning but haven't had a moment to open it. I'll be better prepared for the next trip here.

It is Monday afternoon and most of the shops in the historic area were closed. I only allowed myself 1.5 hours to walk around and take a few pictures. The views from this hill town's rim are stunning. The air was a little smokey today. I can smell smoke from the fireplaces which are being used in the valley below.

I didn't buy lunch for lack of time but I did buy a small bowl, from the only ceramic shop I found open. It's painted with a local design, which resembles yellow and blue peacock feathers.

At 12.30 I retraced my steps back down to Piazza Patrigiani to catch the 1.00 A Bus to the Perugina Headquarters. It was a 25 minute ride and conveniently I was dropped off right in front of the factory gates in the town of San Sisto.

I followed the pedestrian foot path through the outside employee parking lot. I was one half hour early before my tour reservation for (14.00) 2.00 pm.

Arriving at the main building, I found  there were three possible doors to enter. The main entrance, the Museum or the Gift shop which was packed with 40+ High School students and their three adult chaperons.

I first entered the main entrance and the very friendly guard redirected me to the Museum door. Its sign stated: Closed until 14.00.

With 25 minutes to spare, I entered the Gift Shop. Both eating and buying chocolate brings joy to both girls and boys. Everyone was in line with handfuls of chocolate bars and bags of mixed Baci. I noticed they were only buying food and they had all bypassed the trinkets.

With my arms full, I nervously watched the clock. With one commessa weighing and the other one manning the register, the line crawled slowly forward. I was the last to checkout. Just as I reached the counter I realized we were all on the 14.00 tour. The kids were racing down the ramp into the museum. I quickly followed and our two commesse closed the Gift Shop and became our tour guides. One commessa offered to stash my two large shopping bags behind the museum office counter. I gratefully accepted.

We first were escorted into a screening room, where we watched a 15 minute film (in Italian) about the history of the company and the positive health effects of chocolate. I believe!

We were lead into the main Museum where we saw old product posters and glass cases displaying various candy lines. The Perugina Chocolate Cooking School ceiling is partially cut away, letting us look down to observe a class. They also had posters of the film 'Lezioni di Cioccolato' (Chocolate Lessons) which supposedly takes place here. It's one of my all time favorite Italian films.

We followed our guide through a door (Ingresso Fabbrica) and up a staircase ascending through a cloud of delicious smells of warm fresh chocolate.  I filled my lungs right up with some deep breaths. No allergies here for me. It was the smell of paradise. Some of us had looks of pure joy on our faces.

We entered a room with a counter laid with fresh chocolates. There was a generous assortment of unwrapped chocolate bars and the famous Baci, some in their blue starred foil and others, probably imperfects, were naked. There were also plates piled high with a new line, showing roses on pink and brown wrappers.

It was a feeding frenzy and I was right in the middle of it, grabbing handfuls of wrapped items while I ate sticks of fresh chocolate bars. When we left that room my coat pockets were filled and the counter top we left behind was left almost empty.

Still munching we ascended more stairs and entered a glass catwalk which took us through the heart of the factory production line.

They were making Easter Eggs today. Uova di Pasqua, the 6 inch tall ones, which have a toy inside and are wrapped in cellophane. We saw quality control stations, with boxes of broken eggs parts. No picture taking allowed, unfortunately.

The Baci production line was also running. We were able to witness the whole wrapping process, which is entirely automated. The Baci are wrapped in foil, a box is folded, then the Baci are directed into the boxes. The boxes are then closed. The women monitored the conveyor belts for quality control but the machines did everything else.

Having worked as a packer in my uncle's factory during high school, I was really aware of and enjoying, what I was seeing.

The tour lasted one hour. It was fully worth the trip from Firenze. Guess what everyone is getting for Christmas this year ! As we exited the production area, our tour guides were busy setting up the snacking table for the next group. They called out to us that we were not to take any, but I did snap a quick picture.

I walked back out and stood at the bus stop, with my two shopping bags packed with chocolate. I stood alone there, waiting for bus to arrive for about 20 minutes. There was no bus schedule posted, but I knew it would eventually arrive.


Now it's time to relax on the train. The 2.5 hour trip home tonight appears to be direct to Firenze SMN. With two bags bursting with fresh chocolates beside me, I have no inclination to snack. Amazing.