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IN AND AROUND  GUARDIA SANFRAMONDI 

I’ve spent a lot of time  kvelling, (Yiddish for being delighted, gushing over) the never ending panoramic views from the mountainous town of Guardia Sanframondi.  But what about the town itself?  Well now that I’ve written that, inferring I will be posting lots of information and photos.  I want to…just not sure I have enough to do it justice.  I’ll try to fill in with some little snippets and whatever else comes to mind.

Marble is everywhere here as I imagine in most of Italy and I’m not talking about statues!  So many of the houses that I saw had marble floors, marble counters, and MARBLE STAIRS!  Do you have any idea how slippery and cold marble stairs are in a house? I really liked one of the houses that was for sale but not only were the stairs marble and the house had 3 floors, the stairs curved!  I could only imagine myself rushing down the stairs in the middle of the night to get to the bathroom which was naturally on the first floor.  One misstep and I would be sliding or rather bumping down right into the bathroom.  Somehow that whole marble story got to be a long lead in for a photo I took one day as we passed by this house.

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I was told the owner of this house was a stone mason, possibly a marble cutter.

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This lot was across the street from his house

There are 5 churches in Guardia, however, Mass is only celebrated in one of them.  There is a severe lack of priests and nuns in Italy or at least in the countryside and in   the town there is only one priest!  We went on a mini tour of the medieval village one afternoon with our friend, Raffaele, a professor who taught English, and a very knowledgeable historian of the area and Italy in general.  In fact, he grew up in the walled city, and as we walked along he pointed out places where the donkeys were housed, where there was a common fountain because the houses did not have running water.  Ah I digress a bit, Raffaele took us into the Basilica of  Our Lady of the Assumption.

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The church is undergoing some renovations and repairs.

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I never found out how the priest got up into that pulpit,

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There is this huge clock which is being restored, it’s ancient but I forgot  how old  Raffaele said it was; It will be put into the spot you see in the next photo which has a temporary clock there now.

From the church, we went up to the top of the castle.  Needless to say the views are fantastic from there.

 

At the top of the castle there is a large room with tables and chairs which opens to the open roof top terrace;  events are held there, the space can be rented for a wedding. The Roof Top

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A Rare Abandoned Property Fallen Into Disrepair

All through the medieval village homes are being renovated, rebuilt, repainted by American and Canadian owners.  The interest in renewing life within the walled city with the influx of about 100 residents has garnered the town a large grant from the state to repair the streets and lights.

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There’s So Much Beauty and Character in This View

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Can You Imagine Living Here? Maybe a Couple Of Month’s A Year?

There’s much more to explore, more to see, more to taste, so come back.

To be continued…

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We checked out of the hotel, asking the housekeeper to call a taxi.  She tried and tried and the call just rang and rang. She called a second company who arrived almost immediately.  The elevator which I never previously described holds only 2 people and no luggage.  Peter went down with a suitcase, she ran down the stairs carrying a suitcase, I went down the elevator  and the cab was a ways down the block – did he miss the address?  The suitcases are loaded into the cab, we drive less than 1/2 mile down the street, turn the corner  and pull into the train station.  The cost €13.20!  I said, “what! How can it be €13.20 we went down the street.”  Of course he was offended, BUT I was more offended.  His answer was that it was Sunday and we had 4 suitcases! Are you freaking kidding me? I’m pretty sure Peter put the bags into the cab.  OMG and this was just the beginning of my day.  He mutters “we’re not trying to steal your money”, really what would you call this rip off? I slammed the door, it felt so good.

The train station at Santa Maria Novella is thankfully not as big as the colossal Rome Termini so finding our platform and carriage was easy peasey.  Still, getting the bags on not quite so easy! I was praying we would leave on time because we had to get into the Rome Termini and to the car rental places before 1pm. THEY CLOSE AT 1pm! St. Christopher must have been on board (after all we are in Italy) the train arrived early.

I remembered that the car rental desks were someplace far,far into the bowels of this ginormous terminal.  We could never get there  before  1:00 if we were going to push and pull suitcases, so I told Peter to wait with the cases while I went looking for Budget’s desk.  Now where would you think it would be?  I walk towards the wing of the terminal where the signage indicates but that leads me to a place where a uniform stops me because it is to get on a train only.  I point to the sign that lists all of the car rental agencies and he points to the retail mall.   Really? Really?  It’s Sunday, (yes I know I already told you) so many, many people are meandering through the stores that run in a continuous interior strip, stopping here and there, pushing strollers, and I like a mad woman am trying to speed walk with a cane through the bustling crowd.

Finally there’s the Budget/Avis car rental desk.  I wait my turn, I look at the clock, it is about 12:45pm.  I hand Andreas my paperwork and license and he asks for my passport. Uh oh😱.  I tell him I don’t have it with me,  it is in my luggage in the middle of the the terminal. I look at the clock. He says, “I must see your passport “ I suggest he call Kemwell, the company through which we rented the car  they must have the passport number. “No”.  I remind him I couldn’t have gotten into the country without a passport and I have all the other paperwork. “No I must see your passport, madam”. I know my voice is raising into that octave that nears hysteria as I point out I have a broken foot and the passport is way back in ther terminal. He says, “Madam you must get your passport or you cannot rent the car”.  I say, “ I cannot possibly walk there and back before 1:00”.  He says, “ You are wasting precious time then, I leave at 1:00”.  “OK, I will go and you wait for me to return”. “No, madam I leave at 1:00”. I said, “This is absolutely crazy and ridiculous. Look, I will leave you my credit card and my license and go to get the passport”.  He pushes them back.  “No, I will be gone at 1:00”. At this point I was really losing it. I said, “Are you nuts? I have a broken foot and you want me to race back through all the people in the stores and back again before 1:00!”  He says “ you come back tomorrow”. I am just one octave lower than screaming, “I can’t come back tomorrow”.  He actually said ”You can”. I swear he must have felt protected from the maniacal woman by the high counter. I grabbed my license, credit card and cane and headed back into the sea of shoppers. By the the time I reached Peter I couldn’ t breathe let alone talk.  Thank God I knew exactly where the passport was.  I just looked at Peter like a wild woman and said “Don’t ask”!

Now like the caricature of a typical New Yorker, cane in my left hand, passport and hand bag in my right I literally am jamming, pushing, shoving, and since I’m in Italy muttering, “permission, excussi” all the way back to the fucking (yes I can, it’s my blog) Budget rental desk, where I practically collapse on my cane. There is a man in front of me and it is now about 2 minutes to 1:00.  He leaves, I slam the passport down, the credit card, the license and give Andreas a twisted smile.  He takes everything calmly and proceeds to process enough paperwork, typing, stamping, shuffling, like I was just obtaining citizenship.  “Ah the car 🚗 you requested Madam is not available, so we re going to upgrade you at no cost”.  I nod, surely he didn’t expect me to say thank you.  However it is a diesel and must be returned full tank or pay €64!  Days later I find out that gasoline is almost a $1 less per liter than diesel fuel and why am I not surprised?

OK – the car is on the 5th floor of a parking garage about 300 meters down the street.   I remember the garage from last year but last year we drove to the garage to return a car and it wasn’t a SUNDAY!  Slowly and I mean slowly I walk back AGAIN through the maddening crowd to find Peter.  We are tired and hangry (a millennial word for that aggravation that comes from being hungry).  And now we set off for the garage.

 

 

 

 

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Io ho fame (I am hungry) and so is Peter. So out of desperation we walk away from The Accademies towards the Duomo.  We’re not planning on going in, just another interminable line, but to admire this beautiful structure from all sides is enough for this day!

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Giotto’s Tower

Giotto’s Tower looms over a plaza filled with tourists eating mediocre food from not real restaurants but this is what you do when you only have limited time to see multiple places in a city like Florence.  I hated the fact that I was eating a dry tasteless panini when last night’s butter chicken, so juicy and flavorful was rapidly becoming a distant memory.

Partially fortified and buoyed by the Morretti beer 🍺 I ordered ( who knew it would 12 oz)?,  we started out heading toward our hotel or at least we thought so.  We ended up in the Plaza dell Republica where there was a charming carousel.

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The night before Peter had discovered a flea market near our hotel – funny how we seem to have a magnetic attraction to such places!  He told me about the this great industrial building housing myriad food stalls and a cooking school.  Flea Market is music to my ears so if we can just figure out how to get a cab, we will be good to go!

Peter spots an empty taxi and with a lot hand gestures and some Italian we learn that she cannot take us BUT she points to a rather large yellow and black sign that says TAXI and lo and behold we have finally discovered how to get one’s own cab.  Finding a Taxi stand is another whole story.  We head to the stand where there is one cab and a couple hop in which allows our new friend, the woman driver, to pick us up, all according to protocol. Just like New York lol.

It’s been a long day for me and I can only  imagine how long the leather, scarf, and souvenir dealers have been there – probably at least since 9am.  They are tireless in their pitching, their seductive beseeching of a special price just for you.  I knew what I was looking for and actually found it in one of the first stalls, much to the delight of  the dealer who was definitely not Italian, I think perhaps Indian or Pakistani. Just like New York all over again. I had a great time negotiating the prices of some items.

We ambled through the colorful stalls replete gorgeous handbags and smart leather borsas (bags)  for men.  Leather belts, leather jackets in styles I’ve never seen but will look forward to seeing if the look comes to America.  One particular red swing style with black trim and a stand up collar caught my 👁.  That’s all you have to do – hesitate for a moment and they pounce on you like a jaguar leaping from a tree branch onto an unexpecting guinea hen.  “Madam must try it on, come inside my shop for a minute. I have your size, It is a beautiful coat, no?” Talk about fast talk…if only they were selling cars they could make so much more money.  Well the jacket was stunning and I would never see myself coming or going….but I wasn’t really in the market for a leather jacket.  I looked at the price tag and immediately it was discounted, still I fended him off saying perhaps I would be back tomorrow. The man escorted me back into the market and whispered in my ear, “don’t worry about the price, for you I make a special price” and he reduces it another €40!

Time to go back to the hotel, refresh, relax and think about dinner. All the places I had heard about and those I looked upon my own, were nowhere near where we were staying. Florence is a walking town but not with a broken foot, the cobble stones were killing me so we were taking taxis a lot and never one for less than €11-€13 which is pricey considering the conversion rate is not in our favor (and hasn’t been anyplace in Europe for years!!). Therefore we’re going to eat in the hood.  Peter had walked past a quaint ad lovely restaurant by the name of La Fontacine.

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I ordered a delicious dish of sliced Bistecca Florentine sliced, and served over insalta rucola con  pinoli e una ciotola di ribollita.  

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The ribollita is a white bean, greens and bread soup to die for.  I’m not kidding!!! I asked the Maitre d’ if he would ask the chef for the recipe but alas the chef had departed for the evening🙁.  I am determined to find a recipe for this marvelous meal in a bowl. In fact, a friend of mine, Heather Smith was just in Florence and wrote to me about this yummy stew she had there called ribolitta!

A little nightcap of gelato from the corner shop and back to the hotel, the end of another long day.

C’iao for now!

To be continued…

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I was warned about the lines to get into The Uffizi so I made reservations for us to go at 10:30 am Friday morning.  I set my phone alarm to wake us up at 8:30 and asked Alessandro to call a taxi for us at 10:15.  He assured me he would be around. He was NOT. I used WhatsApp to try to reach him but nada. So we went across the street and had a cornetto and caffe, and then asked the waitress to call us a taxi.  The taxi system in Florence is Extensive because they always come in 2 or 3 minutes.  Why the hell you  can’t flag one down yourself is a total mystery.  We had to find someone every time we wanted to go anywhere Or as I was wont to say, “ I have always depended on the kindness of strangers”.

As we approach The Uffizi, I see the llllooooonnnnggggg line.   I look at our tickets and don’t see any information as to where to go.  We have to find someone !!!!! There are so many private tour guides hawking, it’s hard to tell who is official. We are directed to door #3 which amazingly has a minute line and we check in.  Then we’re told to go to door #1 where the line extends to the parking lot.  Oh no,no, no!  I head toward the door bypassing the line and am stopped by two young men. One takes a look at me and my cane and boot and takes my arm and says to come with him.  He escorts us down to another door, gives instructions to another guard and we are in! Now we wait while another nice man gets me a wheelchair and takes my driver’s license.

Peter gets to push the wheelchair and I don’t think he is thrilled about it, and I have my own reservations about his driving skills.  We encounter a staircase and look for the lift.  Interesting size of the elevator, I have to go straight in and I mean straight barely clearing the doors.   We are cruising a long hallway where the doorways are marked with the names of one master artist after another.  We skip Giotto because it is so crowded, head to Leonardo and ogle one masterpiece after another including his magica.  Our eyes devoured Caravaggio’s, Correggio’s, works by Botticelli, Titian, Lippi, Raphael,  and Michelangelo.  We catch Giotto on the return.  The ceiling is as beautiful as some of the paintings, we stop and look out the windows across the Arno.20180427_110632.jpg

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The first is Botticelli’s The Birth of Venus and the second is Carravaggio’s Bacchus. As we entered each gallery I found I could actually maneuver the wheelchair pretty well myself – and thank goodness because it was making me nervous every time I felt I was being pushed forward behind people.  By the time we were ready to  leave, I had the beginnings of some sore red  blisters forming.  We had to return the wheelchair, and once again ask someone to call a cab for us. Peter is sure we are missing something; Every tourist in Florence an’t be asking strangers to call taxis for them?

The staff at The Uffizi was great. I bought two postcards in the store and asked the cashier where do I return the wheelchair?  She was going to explain but the decided to take me there herself. So, she left her register and indicated that I should follow her.  She had me sit on a chair near an exit while she retrieved my license and returned with another woman who said our taxi was waiting and escorted us to the end of the driveway.

No time for lunch, we are off to the Accademia Museum to see the one, the only, David. I’ve got a 2:00 date with him and  I don’t want to be late!

20180427_144311.jpgYes, he is magnificent! The sculpting is amazing  and from a single block of marble!

To be continued…

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Getting the luggage off the train seemed a bit easier, probably because the same man who helped us get it on didn’t even bother to ask if we needed help, he just picked it up and took it to the platform.  Another man who had hoisted the carry-on suitcase onto the upper rack, retrieved it and handed it to us. I didn’t think we were old and feeble and I just had my hair dyed so I’m crediting the cane for this attention.

I was sure our hotel was close to the train station but there was no way I was going to be able to walk very far dragging suitcases and the boot.  By now it is about 3pm  and we have been up since 7:30 am the day before (yawn). The hotel is literally around the corner and down the street but of course it is a one way street like every other street in Florence ( we were to soon find out).

The trip to Florence was actually an add on, the main idea was to experience living in Italy in a small village like a native, not a tourist on vacation.  I wanted Peter to see Florence even though I knew we were not staying in the beautiful Florence, we know from postcards and the movies.  To work three nights in Firenze into my travel budget, I picked a low budget hotel ( well really, we’re just going to sleep there).  Guess which one we’re staying at?  20180426_215650.jpgTo say that the room was small would be an understatement, to say that the neighborhood was replete with tourist hotels and every day, all day and night people pulling suitcases walked the streets.  It was an amazing sight.  We did notice that an unusually large number of the tourists were Asian and we found a few Chinese restaurants, even one with an Italian name and a Chinese name.   Our host Alessandro was quite a combination of a scholar and perhaps a not terribly conscientious businessman.  He spoke 5 languages and was quite engaging. He was considerate and solicitous of our wants albeit he didn’t always follow through.  Pros: convenient location to train station (although by taxi you would never know it), many little cafes and restaurants that cater to tourists (read eggs and toast and American coffee), A/C , TV. Cons: tiny shower, tiny bottle of soap/shampoo combo, no shelf in bathroom or toilet roll holder or mirror. No hooks or closet in room. Mosquitoes 😧. However it may sound, this is how it went down… Peter wanted to look around the neighborhood and I wanted to put my foot up on the bed with that blasted boot off.  I started to work on my iPad doing an Italian lesson and after 3 mistakes in a row, I closed it, put my head down and fell asleep.  Peter came back and tried to talk to me, I just waved him away.  Eventually up and refreshed we headed out to the famous (by word of mouth) Trattoria Sostanza.  My friend, Bobbie Gitter encouraged me to go to Florence and to definitely eat at this restaurant.   Famous for its Bistecca Florentine and Pollo di burro, I swear every single person in the restaurant was eating the same thing! Platter after platter came out of the kitchen with everyone  ordering the Tortino Carciofi  as an appetizer followed by the steak and chicken.  20180426_201108.jpg20180426_201104.jpg20180426_194209.jpg20180426_210025.jpg

The food was delicious, the service attentive, they only have two seatings a night and you must have a reservation.  And after that fabulous meal and the thousands of air and train miles and no sleep except for a nap, we headed back to the Hotel Etrusca and promptly fell asleep 💤

To be continued…

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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EXPLORING THE MEDIEVAL CITY

Finally we were going to explore the medieval city and we are so lucky that a relative of Pasquale, Raphael will guide us.  He is a very learned gentleman who is a professor and someone who has an extensive knowledge of history and a keen interest in philosophy.

Raphael actually lived in the walled city when he was growing up.  His memories are vivid as he pointed out where he lived and where his grandmother lived.  He shared an immense amount of historic facts with us as we wended our way through alleys (which at one time were streets) and up and down steps.  The doorways were particularly interesting to me (as you will see from the photos).  

The history of the medieval city and its evolvement begins with the fact that much of South Central Italy was heavily invaded.  Throughout the early centuries, Etruscans, Romans, Greeks, Samnites, as well as a Gallic invasion.  Thus a walled city, often with a castle, became the prevalent manner of establishing and protecting a village.  Raphael told us that EVERYBODY  lived within the walls of the city.  They were a people married to the land, agriculture was the main industry.  He pointed out where interior houses were, those that did not have a lot of light and no view of the mountains.  Their homes were not houses in the sense we know – they were more like apartments contained in the stone structures which make up the medieval city.   He showed us where the farmers would come back from the fields with their donkeys and that the donkeys spent the night within the walls also.  Many of the ground floor doors were actually gates for the stables that housed everyone’s donkey.

As we traverse the stairs and steps, I feel late afternoon jet lag beginning to take hold.  But we’re not done yet.  We visited the beautiful Church of the Ascension and  then….   To be continued…..

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View of Guardia Sanframondi. You can clearly see the old town and parts of the new town built around it.

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Most Of The Medieval City Has Been Abandoned.

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These Doors Do Have Character

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Steps, Stairs and Arches of the Medieval City.

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Beautiful restoration. Doors to one of the newly-renovated and inhabited property in the Medieval city

 

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 BEST LAID PLANS

By the way, that wine deserves an encore praise, so let me say after two glasses there was no headache, no buzz and no red marks (hives or welts?) on my cheeks.  Oh yeah, give me that bicchiere di vino rosso locale any day and so ended our first day in Italy.  Dario contacted us and wanted to meet for coffee the next morning.  However, Pasquale said he wanted us to come for breakfast and the go and see the town.  So I postponed our coffee date till Thursday morning.

Although we had been exhausted, we woke up at 7:15 am – where did those 6 hours time difference go?  We got ourselves dressed and went down the road to the B & B for some coffee and a brioche.  

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When you ask for a large cup of coffee, you get a large cup but a small amount of coffee

I quickly learned that trying to make a plan with Pasquale would be difficult-either he has changed the plan or we didn’t understand.   Last night the plan was for us to have breakfast and then go on a tour of the medieval city and maybe see some property.  NOT happening – Instead we should come back at 4:30 and he will show us some property. ( Now here’s a bit of back story;  Several times already, Pasquale has spoken to me about other people, maybe Americans who will come up to us and ask us if we want to see property. He wants to show us property, he says he has many, many contacts and he goes directly to the “people”.  Last night I assured him I understood and had no intention of doing such a thing.  After all, I am in real estate, I understand. We also told Pasquale about Dario and showed him his card.  Pasquale said he didn’t know him, are we sure he lives in Guardia Sanframondi?  Yes we are sure and are going to have coffee with him tomorrow morning.  Immediately Pasquale tells us to have Dario meet us at his cafe.  I didn’t feel comfortable with that and said no we would meet him at Dolci Delizie as planned.)

With no particular plans we walked up the main road stopping along the way to admire the lush foliage of roses, cherry trees and fig trees.  

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Feeling very artistic this morning – the Fig Tree and the Rusty Sink

As we walked, we saw small stairwells, vacant courtyards, lots of shuttered stores and a treat – Il Gatto!  

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Oh look! Il gatto

You soon know you are in another world from New York City.  I loved taking photos of some of the old buildings, trying for an artsy shot.  Guardia Sanframondi                                                      Sun-Dappled Ancient Art

Where were all the townspeople?  I don’t think we passed anyone as we wended our way up the hill.  I thought this would be a good time to do some shopping but alas, every store was shuttered with those same accordion-type aluminum grates we see in Manhattan.  The only place open was a small stationery store which was perfect because I decided to begin writing my blog in long hand, remember I left my iPad home   I bought a notebook and pen and some postcards -just in time as they were about to close.  The woman behind the counter inquired where we from and I got to say my standard line;    “Sono Americano di New York.”  And then she gave me a booklet about the ancient history of the area, in Italian of course!

We spent the rest of the early afternoon in Orso’s Garden, a lovely terrace set down from the road, filled with tables, chairs, pots of flowers and shaded by cherry and fig trees.   I had found a peaceful, sunny writer’s haven.

Pasquale arranged for a relative of his, Raphael to take us on a tour of the medieval city.  We were in for a treat;  Raphael had lived within the walls of the medieval city as a child in the 50’s and he was a professor and spoke perfect English.  We took off towards the castle and the walled inner city.

Guardia Sanframondi

There Are 4 Gates/Entrances Into The Medieval City

                                                                                                                         to be continued… 

 

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