Summer came on Monday–at Great Blasket Island

The boatman made the quip as we left, “Tell them this year summer came on Monday!” That’s because the weather is never forecast to be as fine as it was on our trip out to Great Blasket Island last Monday. The sun shone all day long. The boat ride from Dunquin to Great Blasket was smooth and the 35 passengers smiled and chatted all the way.Great Blasket Island has a story to tell. An independent community lived there from early in the 19th century until Nov. 17, 1953. They were completely Irish speaking, cut off from the mainland as they were. The distance is short, but the water can be rough, and boats were the traditional naomhog, or currach, rowboats framed of wood and covered with tarred cloth.

As the Irish language fell into disuse in the 19th century, linguists and writers discovered the community on Great Blasket and visited to study the language or expand their proficiency. Visitors such as the poet Robin Flower encouraged the islanders to write about their lives and several did just that. The strong tradition of storytelling among people who have to entertain themselves on long winter evenings seems to have eased the transition to writing stories in a book. Best known are: An tOileánach (The Islandman) by Tomás Ó Criomhthain, Peig by Peig Sayers and Fiche Blian ag Fás (Twenty Years A-Growing) by Muiris Ó Súilleabháin. The remains of each author’s house is marked on the visitors map.

Most houses lie in ruins today, though one was being renovated during our visit. That’s puzzling because there’s only seasonal ferry service, no central water source, no electricity, no store, all part of the reason the island was evacuated years ago. We looked at the ruined community and hiked up the spine of the island. At the peak of the island, I could see the faint outline of  the Skellig Islands on the horizon to the south.

We waited for our trip home just above the tiny boat landing on Blasket. Arriving at Dunquin we struggled up the steep incline from the beach.                                               (This is an internet photo–see the upturned naomhog boats by the landing).

Jonathan takes the Prize–at Féile an Phráta

Months before we arrived in Dingle, Jonathan read about a local potato festival and decided that he wanted to participate. He emailed the orgainzers, sharpened his potato peeling knife, and marked the date. It wasn’t as easy as jumping in the car, because all the publicity for the festival was in Irish. Diligent work with Google translate and the map led us to a pub in Ballydavid (only shown as Baile na nGall on signs). The roads are pretty small, but we emerged into a seaside community centered on a small beach and a pub, Tigh TP. Quite a crowd turned out for the potato festival, and it seems that everyone other than the three of us understood Irish.

We found the organizers, who were delighted that we actually made it there. Jonathan submitted his dish for the cooking competition. He made causa, a potato and fish terrine that is a popular appetizer in Peru.

Causa–Peruvian potato-fish-vegetable terrine

Jonathan’s causa is on the far right.

It took him a few minutes to explain to everyone that potatoes actually come from Peru–there was some skepticism. There there was some more skepticism that he was from Peru, so he had to tell the story of our retirement travels. After that, we went to find a seat to watch the festivities. There was a tasting of boiled potatoes (no salt, no butter). The judges were heroic in tasting about eight different potatoes submitted by growers from Dingle as far as Tralee. There was a separate panel of judges that tasted the prepared dishes. While we watched the dishes being introduced and tasted, we shared a picnic table with a couple from Dublin who come to Dingle every year. Mary and John were excellent company. The afternoon passed rapidly. The results of the cooking contest were held until the very end. In the mean time was the peeling contest.

Jonathan discovered that he had to use a standard knife given to all contestants, he couldn’t use his nicely sharpened knife. He protested to the judges (L), but they insisted that everyone use the same knife. He was up against one other man in his heat and both of them qualified by completely peeling two potatoes in under one minute. In the end, though the winner was a woman in the first heat. She was able to peel both potatoes with the greatest “post-peel weight”. The best was yet to come, however.

When the results of the cooking contest were announced, Jonathan won second prize! There was mention of the original intention of the Wild Atlantic Way to reveal the connections between the sea and the land. Jonathan’s coming all the way from Peru to Dingle in order to participate in the potato festival and his dish with seafood and potato was widely appreciated, and he will treasure his prize plate.

Sponsors included the local radio station and the national Irish potato board, Bord Bía. Féile an Phráta is held every year and is well worth a visit.

An Epic Day: Star Wars and Puffins in the Skellig Islands

Had my sister Paula not read in her guide book about an offshore rock group with an ancient monastery at the top, we might never have visited the Skellig Islands. We considered hiking to the top of the 600+ steps to see the domed stone cells that may date back to 600 AD. If that weren’t enticing enough, the site appears at the end of Star Wars: The Force Awakens and in the trailer for the next Star Wars movie.

Skellig Michael in the trailer for Star Wars: The Last Jedi

It’s an intimidating place. 12 km off shore, a jagged triangle juts from the water. After reading about landing, where there is no dock and heaving seas may toss you in or out of the boat, we decided against it (Tours are sold out for the entire season, too). We decided to take a ride around both islands to see the steep steps and birdwatch. It was a wonderful tour!

We had total weather karma. The day dawned sunny for the first time since we arrived in Ireland and stayed sunny and warm ALL DAY. It took us just over two hours to drive from our house in Dingle to Port Magee, mostly along the Ring of Kerry drive, so you could say we were multi-tasking in the tourism department. Our boat left at 11:45 am and we were asked to arrive at the dock by 11:30 am. A friendly young man named Brendan, dressed in a dirty tshirt and jeans strolled out and ticked our names off a list on his phone. He led us to the boat where there were 12 outward facing seats hung with life jackets. Dressed, we took off, heading straight out to sea for 45 min. The islands, two triangular chunks of rock, stick up out of the sea and are easily visible from shore. Cliffs and hills line the coast on the way out to sea from Port Magee, then Puffin Island off to the south, then sea birds zoom alongside the boat or bob on the water. (What are they doing, just hanging out in the middle of the ocean?) We saw gannets and then puffins, the world’s cutest birds.

7.12.17 Skellig Islands-0287.12.17 Skellig Islands-027crMore steps wind up the face of the rock. Made of slabs of the island rock, it’s a long hike. The path on the right is not used today, though rock climbers can access the top this way. The safety video that is recommended for people considering a landing on Skellig Michael shows what the climb looks like in wet weather. (As I write this, the fog is so thick that we can see nothing beyond the front yard of our house. I wonder whether the Skellig boats will go out today.) The safety video shows the stone steps.

Skellig Islands safety video

One reason to make the climb to the top is the archaeological site, a tiny monastery of stone beehive huts enclosed by a wall that was in use at various times from the 8th century until the 13th century. Monks rowed out to the island, climbed to the tiny settlement and lived their hermit existence. The island was finally abandoned when the climate began to shift toward colder weather after 1300. There are beautiful views of the archaeological site on the Heritage Ireland website.

Skellig Michael history and photos

From Skellig Michael we went on to Little Skellig, a bird sanctuary. The entire surface of the island is alive with birds. This is home to one of the largest gannet colonies anywhere.Up close, you see the white area is all birds, calling, flying, wriggling and doing what birds do. The majority of the birds are gannets, but in the lowest most sheltered crevices we could see puffins.So many birds, so little time.

From Little Skellig, we sailed back to Port Magee, delighted by our brilliant day.

Summer in Dingle

A view from Conor Pass.

Ireland is very green and lovely, and when the sun is out the views are spectacular. When I asked my daughter, Lillian, how she dealt with the changeable weather when she was here she said she always wore her rain jacket. That’s a must. We tried scheduling activities according to the weather report this first week in Dingle. (That was a silly idea.) The weather never corresponded to the forecast, and the days that were supposed to have pouring rain had sun, and the day that was supposed to be sunny had fog so thick you couldn’t see the water from the cliffs. (We’ll go see the view another time.) Everyone goes about their touring as though the sun is out, and sometimes it comes out, sometimes the fog rises to the top of the hills, and other times it rains. Bring your boots/rain shoes.

We spent our first week getting to know the Dingle Peninsula, visiting some of the beaches and the many archaeological sites. We also scoped out the local grocery store (Supervalu), weekly market (Saturday mornings), and ice cream store (Murphy’s). We chatted with visitors from the US, the UK and Italy, as well as the delightful host of our house here, Marie.

There are lots and lots of historic and archaeological sites on the Dingle peninsula, and most of them are some kind of circular structure, like these two places.

Jonathan is standing on the wall of the stone fort on the left.

Like many places, preservation is a difficult issue. There are about 1200 documented historic features on the Dingle Peninsula alone, and most of them are not restored–how many stone circles are people interested in visiting? There are a number of small chapels called oratories that date from Irish christian worship as early as 600 AD. The most intriguing is the Gallarus Oratory. It is a tiny log cabin-sized box of a building with only a small door and a tiny window. The entire building is made out of flat pieces of stone that overlap so that water flows off the roof and sides. It claims to never have been restored.


The amazing preservation of Gallarus is counterbalanced by the eventual disappearance of the Dun Beg Promontory Fort. Perched on a cliff overlooking Dingle Bay, erosion is taking its toll and about half of the main wall has fallen in due to erosion of the cliff edge. In the past, entry was through the center doorway. Now that door is too close to the cliff edge and visitors circle around the end that is not falling into the sea.You can see in this photo from the site where the cliff edge gave way (in 2014). How much longer will the remainder of the fort last? There is nothing that can be done to save it in the long run. As if this were not enough archaeology, we happened to see a notice for a talk on the archaeology of the Blasket Islands that are off the end of the Dingle Peninsula. We were part of a full house in a local hotel meeting room and saw maps of the islands that go back to the 1400s. Like many places around here, very little archaeology has been carried out. Despite this, the case of the Blasket Islands is interesting because people lived on Great Blasket until 1953 when they agreed to be moved to the mainland to obtain services like school, church and stores.

This view of the domed stone hut on Great Blasket Island is similar to one I saw years ago on a calendar. I’ve had the Dingle Peninsula in the back of my mind ever since. It is great to finally be here.


We made the move to Ireland from Italy, landing in Dublin and staying overnight in Limerick. On Saturday morning, there is a weekly market called the Milk Market. It is a perfect size and holds a wide variety of goods. Vendors carry delicious salami (fennel, wild boar), and cheeses (Irish cheddar), bread, fruits and vegetables, as well as art and jewelry. We bought local strawberries that were tender and delicious. I checked our Michelin and Lonely Planet guidebooks and neither one had a word for Limerick. It goes to show that you can find interesting things to do by looking around.

We went on to our new home outside Dingle, in the heart of the Dingle peninsula. Our host Marie met us–we managed to find the house on our own–and showed us around. The big change for us is the range of ‘mod cons’. Where our host in Italy was apologetic about no microwave (they tried one and it blew out the power), here we have not only a toaster and microwave, but a dishwasher (oooooh) and not only a washing machine, but a dryer. Our internet is fast, and the heat can be turned on to burn off the chill. Did I mention that it is almost 30° F. cooler here than in Florence? In Florence, it was regularly 90º+ and here it barely creeps over 60º. So far I’m enjoying the change and it hasn’t rained heavily when we were out. A bit of llovizna (Peruvian sea mist) is no trouble. Here’s our Dingle home:

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Hicimos el traslado a Irlanda desde Italia, aterrizando en Dublín y pasando la noche en Limerick. El sábado por la mañana, hay un mercado semanal llamado el mercado de la leche. Es un tamaño perfecto y tiene una amplia variedad de productos. Los vendedores llevan el salami delicioso (hinojo, jabalí), y quesos (cheddar irlandés), pan, frutas y verduras, así como arte y joyería. Compramos fresas locales que eran tiernos y deliciosos. Me registré nuestra guía Michelin y Lonely Planet guías y ni uno tenía una palabra para Limerick. Va a demostrar que usted puede encontrar cosas interesantes para hacer mirando alrededor.

Nos fuimos a nuestra nueva casa fuera Dingle, en el corazón de la península de Dingle. Nuestro anfitrión Marie nos recibió – nos las arreglamos para encontrar la casa por nuestra cuenta – y nos mostró alrededor. El gran cambio para nosotros es la gama de electrodomesticos. Donde nuestro anfitrión en Italia se disculpó por no microondas (intentaron uno y sopló el poder), aquí tenemos no sólo una tostadora y microondas, pero un lavavajillas (oooooh) y no sólo una lavadora, pero una secadora. Nuestro Internet es rápido, y el calor se puede encender para quemar el frío. ¿Mencioné que es casi 30 ° F. más frío aquí que en Florencia? En Florencia, era regularmente 90º + y aquí apenas se arrastra sobre 60º. Hasta ahora estoy disfrutando del cambio y no ha llovido mucho cuando estábamos fuera. Un poco de llovizna no es ningún problema. Aquí está nuestro hogar de Dingle:

Good to know about Florence, and Arriverderci

Arriverderci means “until we see each other again.” We will return to Italy in September after cooling off for two months in Ireland. I’ve already commented on dealing with crowds (“Top Ten” post),  so here are a few interim comments on Florence and our Italian travels in general.

Arriverderci significa “hasta que nos veamos de nuevo”. Volveremos a Italia en septiembre después de refrescarnos por dos meses en Irlanda. Ya he comentado sobre tratar con multitudes (“Top Ten” post), así que aquí hay unos cuantos comentarios provisionales sobre Florencia y nuestros viajes italianos en general.

Good to Know about Florence.

Parade to the Calcio Storico (Historic Soccer) match between the Red and White teams. (It was over 90º).

If you’ve read my post on the Top Ten problem, some of my comments may sound like repeats, but you can’t avoid the fact the Florence has a very long high season (early March through the first week in November, plus New Year’s and Pitti fashion week) and a very short low season (mid-November to the beginning of March minus the events mentioned). Most of the low season is cold and wet. March and early April are good times to visit but there will be crowds. I imagine the same is true from mid-Septemper through early November. We were in Florence during June and while the start of the month was good weather, at least half the month was very hot, too hot for comfortable visiting. I would not visit Florence again in June.

On the positive side, many people speak some English, yet are willing to let you try your Italian. Store personnel are often very good about letting you practice. Keep in mind though, that the busier the place, the less patience people will have. In busier localities, every business, whether restaurant or shop, is likely to provide less personal service because they are worn out by all of us who are visiting at the same time. Control your expectations. Not everyone is going to burst into happy song as you arrive.

Florence is small enough that if you stay near the center, you may never need to ride a bus or tram unless you are going on an excursion. If you stay outside the center, there is a bus system and the start of an excellent tram system. We happened to stay where there was access to a tram stop and that made it easy to go into the city center. There are plans for a tram line that will reach the airport. At present, the fare is €1.20 for 90 minutes of travel on any line—except—you cannot make a round trip on a single ticket even if you are able to make the circuit in 90 min or less. We found it convenient for going in and out of the city center.

There are lots of things to see in Florence, but most of it is art spanning the period from the Etruscans through the Renaissance, or about 700 BC-1750 AD. After a while, it is difficult to keep paying attention, especially if you begin with a “great” museum like the Uffizi where there are so many wonderful works. After that experience, if you visit a church that has one small work by a known artist, it’s a bit difficult to feel the wow! Consider my friend Joyce’s “Church of the Day” plan and limit your visits so that you don’t forget where you’ve been and why it was interesting.

Información útil sobre Florencia.

Si has leído mi post en el Top Ten, algunos de mis comentarios pueden sonar como repeticiones, pero no se puede evitar el hecho de que la Florencia tiene una temporada alta muy larga (principios de marzo a través de la primera semana de noviembre, además de Nueva Año y semana de la moda Pitti) y una temporada baja muy corta (mediados de noviembre a principios de marzo menos los eventos mencionados). La mayor parte de la temporada baja es fría y húmeda. Marzo y principios de abril son buenos momentos para visitar, pero habrá multitudes. Me imagino que lo mismo es cierto desde mediados de septiembre hasta principios de noviembre. Estuvimos en Florencia durante junio y mientras el comienzo del mes era buen tiempo, por lo menos la mitad del mes era muy caliente, demasiado caliente para visitar cómodo. No volvería a visitar Florencia de nuevo en junio.

En el lado positivo, aunque muchas personas hablan algo de inglés, puede probar su italiano. El personal del almacén es a menudo muy bueno sobre el dejar de practicar. Tenga en cuenta, sin embargo, que el más ocupado el lugar, la gente menos paciencia tendrá. En las localidades más concurridas, cada negocio, ya sea un restaurante o tienda, es probable que proporcione un servicio menos personal porque están gastados por todos nosotros que están visitando al mismo tiempo. Controle sus expectativas. No todo el mundo va a estallar en la canción feliz a medida que llegas. 

Florencia es lo suficientemente pequeño como para que si te quedas cerca del centro, puede que nunca necesite ir en autobús o tranvía a menos que vayas a una excursión. Si te quedas fuera del centro, hay un sistema de autobuses y el comienzo de un sistema de tranvía. Nos pasó a estar donde había acceso a una parada de tranvía y que hizo que sea fácil ir al centro de la ciudad. Hay planes para una línea de tranvía que llegará al aeropuerto. En la actualidad, la tarifa es de € 1.20 por 90 minutos de viaje en cualquier línea-excepto-no se puede hacer un viaje de ida y vuelta en un solo billete, incluso si usted es capaz de hacer el circuito en 90 minutos o menos. Nos pareció conveniente.

Hay muchas cosas que ver en Florencia, pero la mayoría de ella es el arte que abarca el período de los etruscos a través del Renacimiento, o alrededor de 700 aC-1750 dC. Después de un tiempo, es difícil seguir prestando atención, especialmente si usted comienza con un “gran” museo como el Uffizi donde hay tantas obras maravillosas. Después de esa experiencia, si usted visita una iglesia que tiene un pequeño trabajo de un artista conocido, es un poco difícil sentir el wow! Considera el plan de “Iglesia del Día” de mi amiga Joyce y limita tus visitas para que no te olvides donde has estado y por qué fue interesante.

Some things I love about Italy so far:

Sitting in a cafe, anywhere.

Pistachio spread. It’s frosting for toast–delicious!

Fresh nectarines and peaches that taste divine (not mushy as in US supermarkets).

Escaped parrots. We saw flashes of bright green ones in Rome.

Strolling uncrowded back streets. (Don’t do this if you are interested in shopping). The Castello neighborhood in Venice was particularly pleasant.

Marbled paper in Florence.

The Venice Lido and the island of Torcello.

The Italian game show “L’Heredità”. Great for vocabulary building.

Algunas cosas que me encantan de Italia hasta ahora:

Did I mention that I like gelato?

Sentado en un café, en cualquier lugar.

Pistacho. Es glaseado para tostadas – delicioso!

Nectarinas frescas y melocotones que sabor divino (no blanda como en los supermercados de Estados Unidos).

Los loros escapados. Vimos destellos de verde brillante en Roma.

Paseo por las calles secundarias. (No hagas esto si estás interesado en ir de compras). El barrio de Castello en Venecia era particularmente agradable.

Papel veteado en Florencia.

El Lido de Venecia y la isla de Torcello.

El espectáculo italiano “L’Heredità”. Ideal para la construcción de vocabulario.

Less attractive aspects of Italy:

A lot of Italy is hilly, and tall buildings sometimes act like hills in cutting cell network reception. If you count on your phone for directions, you’ll find times that it won’t get a signal. We bought a dedicated GPS unit to use in the car and found that it, too, sometimes cuts out. Layers of backup help. We have a GPS, two phones (one or the other usually works) and we have paper maps.

Italians always drive too fast for local conditions. Thus 40 kph in parking lots, and 150 kph on the autostrada. No matter how high the speed limit, people want to go faster. Italians do not understand stopping distance. You will be dangerously tailgated if someone comes up behind you on the highway and you will not get a blink of lights or a few seconds to get in the slower lane. Don’t even think of tapping your brakes to give them a scare, because that’s not understood, and you might both die in the ensuing accident.

The bigger the crowds, the poorer the service. See my post on Venice about the fact that Italy needs tourism, but many people employed in service jobs don’t particularly like tourists. Individual Italians are often wonderful people, but your reception in stores and cafes will vary. Be pleased when people are polite and friendly. We tip every person who is pleasant.

Aspectos menos atractivos de Italia:

Una gran cantidad de Italia es montañosa, y edificios altos a veces actúan como colinas en la recepción de la red celular. Si cuenta con su teléfono para direcciones, encontrará tiempos que no obtendrá una señal. Compramos una unidad dedicada del GPS para utilizar en el coche y encontramos que, también, corta a veces. Tenemos un GPS, dos teléfonos (uno u otro normalmente funciona) y tenemos mapas de papel. Con todos estos llegamos.

Los italianos siempre conducen demasiado rápido para las condiciones locales. Así, 40 kph en estacionamientos, y 150 kph en la autostrada. No importa cuán alto el límite de velocidad, la gente quiere ir más rápido.

Los italianos no entienden la distancia de parada. Usted estará peligrosamente tailgated si alguien viene detrás de usted en la carretera y no obtendrá un parpadeo de luces o unos segundos para entrar en el carril más lento. Ni siquiera pienses en tocar los frenos para darles un susto, porque eso no se entiende, y ambos podrían morir en el accidente que se avecinaba.

Cuanto más grandes son las multitudes, peor es el servicio. Ver mi post de Venecia sobre el hecho de que Italia necesita turismo, pero mucha gente empleada en trabajos de servicio no les agradan las turistas. Individualmente, los italianos pueden ser personas maravillosas, pero no cuenta con una sonrisa en cada negocio y café. Aprecia la gente amable. Dejamos propina en cada café con personal agradable.

Hill Towns of all Sizes

We visited three of the smaller hill towns: Monteriggioni, Montepulciano and San Gimignano. All of these have most of their ancient encircling walls intact, and a central area with narrow streets and relatively tall buildings that date from times when people  felt safer living within the walls. Each town has its charms.

Visitamos tres de los pueblos amurallados: Monteriggioni, Montepulciano y San Gimignano. Todos estos tienen la mayoría de sus antiguas murallas intactas y un área central con calles estrechas y edificios relativamente altos que datan de tiempos en que la gente se sentía más segura viviendo dentro de las paredes. Cada ciudad tiene sus encantos.

San Gimignano is known for the 13 towers that remain from more than 70. They are very imposing from up close. While some are stark towers like those on the left, others have windows and other decoration.

San Gimignano es conocido por la 13 torres que quedan de mas de 70. Son muy imponentes de cerca. Mientras que algunas son torres severas como las de la izquierda, otras tienen ventanas y otra decoración.



Main gateway of Montepulciano.

Each town had a main gate. Today these often mark zones that limit automobile traffic. Today Tuscany is known for wines and these towns are involved in wine-growing and the wine business generally, especially Montepulciano. At the same time, tourism is an important part of their economy. We saw lots of Asian tourists, but also Australians, Americans and people from all over Europe and Russia.

Cada ciudad tenía una puerta principal. Hoy en día suelen marcar zonas que limitan el tráfico automovilístico. Hoy en día la Toscania es conocida por los vinos y estas ciudades se dedican a la viticultura y el negocio del vino en general, especialmente Montepulciano. Al mismo tiempo, el turismo es una parte importante de su economía. Vimos muchos turistas asiáticos, pero también australianos, americanos y gente de toda Europa y Rusia.

All these towns were started before 1000 AD, and you see remains of columns and wall decoration that have been reused in later structures.

Todos estos pueblos amurallados se iniciaron antes de 1000 dC, y se ven restos de columnas y decoración de paredes que se han reutilizado en las estructuras posteriores.

Siena is too large to call a hill town, but it was at one time and has a central tower like Florence does. The city encompasses several hills and getting to the Duomo involves a steep uphill walk.

Siena es demasiado grande para llamar a una ciudad de la colina, pero fue en un momento y tiene una torre central como la de Florencia. La ciudad abarca varias colinas y llegar al Duomo implica una empinada cuesta arriba.




The Siena Duomo has its own tower, even if it’s called a campanile (bell tower).  Inside the Duomo is a riot of decoration that the Florence Duomo lacks.

El Duomo de Siena tiene su propia torre, incluso si se llama campanile (campanario). Dentro del Duomo es un alboroto de la decoración que el Duomo de Florencia carece.

The Duomo in San Gimignano has a similar explosion of religious painting. Some of the artists came from Siena.

El Duomo en San Gimignano tiene una explosión similar de pintura religiosa. Algunas artistas llegaron de Siena.

Here’s a fresco of the Last Judgement from San Gimignano showing sinners going to Hell.

Aquí está un fresco del Ultimo Juicio, en el Duomo de San Gimignano que muestra a los pecadores que van al infierno.

Good to Know: Tuscan hill towns in a nutshell.

The terrain is steep and will involve walking uphill. If you have a car, try to park as far up the hill as you can get.


The towns were walled and gated in the ancient past. Admire the battlements and walk around the tops of the walls if you can. There are great views of the Tuscan countryside.

Stop for a coffee or lunch. Sitting in a cafe in a hill town watching the world go by is one of life’s great pleasures.

Don’t worry about shopping. They may be lots of interesting things, but most of them can be found elsewhere. That being said, if you see something you like, don’t hesitate.

Quit while you’re ahead. Remember you have to walk back to the car or bus. If your legs are killing you, that may be all you remember of the day. (Another reason to take a break in a cafe.) You don’t have to visit every hill town. There is no “best” or “must see” town.

Visiting local museums and churches is a very individual pastime. Some people don’t want to miss a single church (Nora, this is for you). I like Joyce’s “church of the day” plan. Unless you take notes you may not remember more than one church unless you are a big fan or specialist in some related topic (a specific saint, church organs, or opus sectile). This is neither Gandalf nor Dumbledore, but it is an example of opus sectile (pictures made of inlaid stone).

The same is true of museums. Most towns have a museum of some kind, or several. Many of these were private collections that made their way into the public domain or were opened to visitors. There is a certain sameness to these collections: a selection of paintings by local artists, home furnishings, collections by the former owner (medals, stuffed birds, porcelain). If you are captivated by one of these themes, by all means explore the local trove, but if you are not on a quest they could start looking much the same after the third one.

Tuscan hill towns are highly varied in size and liveliness, and people vary in which is their favorite. I recommend them all.

Bueno saber: las ciudades toscanas amuralladas en breve.

El terreno es empinado y implicará caminar cuesta arriba. Si tienes un coche, intenta aparcar lo más lejos posible de la colina.

Las ciudades fueron amuralladas y cerradas en el pasado antiguo. Admire las almenas y camine alrededor de las tapas de las paredes si usted puede. Hay excelentes vistas de la campiña toscana.

 Parada para un café o almuerzo. Sentado en un café en una ciudad pequeño viendo el mundo pasar es uno de los grandes placeres de la vida.

 No te preocupes por ir de compras. Pueden ser un montón de cosas interesantes, pero la mayoría de ellos se pueden encontrar en otros lugares. Dicho esto, si ves algo que te gusta, no dudes.

 Retírese mientras usted está adelante. Recuerde que tiene que caminar de regreso al coche o autobús. Si tus piernas te están matando, eso puede ser todo lo que recuerdas del día. (Otra razón para tomar un descanso en un café.) No tienes que visitar cada ciudad. No hay “mejor” o “debe ver.” Todos tienen algo especial.

 Visitar museos e iglesias locales es un pasatiempo muy individual. Algunas personas no quieren perderse una sola iglesia (Nora, esto es para ti). Me gusta el plan de “iglesia del día” de Joyce. A menos que tome notas, puede que no recuerde más de una iglesia a menos que sea un gran fan o especialista en algún tema relacionado (un santo específico, órganos de la iglesia o “opus sectile”).

Esto no es ni Gandalf ni Dumbledore, pero es un ejemplo de opus sectile (cuadros hechos de piedra incrustada).

Lo mismo ocurre con los museos. La mayoría de las ciudades tienen un museo de algún tipo, o varios. Muchas de ellas eran colecciones privadas que llegaban al dominio público o se abrían a los visitantes. Hay una cierta similitud con estas colecciones: una selección de pinturas de artistas locales, muebles para el hogar, colecciones del antiguo propietario (medallas, aves rellenas, porcelana). Si usted está cautivado por uno de estos temas, por todos los medios explorar el tesoro local, pero si no está en una búsqueda que podría empezar a buscar mucho lo mismo después de la tercera.  

Ciudades toscanas son muy variados en tamaño y vivacidad, y la gente varía en la que es su favorito. Los recomiendo a todos.

Try Parma

Arches of the Pilotta Castle, a vast building in Parma that houses museums.

I wasn’t thinking about visiting Parma, but Jonathan asked how we could pass up the place that is home to PARMAsan cheese, Eggplant PARMAgiano, and PARMA ham. We had to go. What we found is a city with impressive historic sights, a Duomo painted and frescoed from floor to (a very high) ceiling, great shopping and an interesting antiques market. Traffic is limited in the central area, making our visit less congested and polluted than in other cities. Lots of people ride bicycles. There are bike rental stations here and there if you have an urge to join in. We found all these things without doing much advance research.

No estaba pensando en visitar Parma, pero Jonathan me preguntó cómo podíamos dejar el lugar que es el hogar de PARMAsan queso, Berenjena PARMAgiano, y PARMA jamón. Tuvimos que irnos. Lo que encontramos es una ciudad con impresionantes vistas históricas, un Duomo con fresco y pintura de abajo hasta arriba (muy arriba) y un interesante mercado de antigüedades. El tráfico es limitado en el área central, haciendo nuestra visita menos congestionada y contaminada que en otras ciudades. Mucha gente monta en bicicleta. Hay estaciones de alquiler de bicicletas aquí y allí si usted tiene un impulso para unirse. Encontramos todas estas cosas sin hacer mucha investigación en las posibilidades.

The three ages of Parmesan, 24, 30 and 36 months

What we had looked into was where to buy salami and cheese, so we aimed for the closest parking area we could find and headed for Via Garibaldi. The two best known shops are on opposite sides of the same block and we stopped at La Verdi. We took home prosciutto di Parma (Parma ham), parmesan aged 30 and 36 months, and the local specialty culatello di Zibello. We stopped for lunch and had a parmesan sampler and some handmade tortelli (ravioli) filled with ricotta and spinach.

Lo que habíamos buscado era donde comprar salami y queso, así que apuntamos para la zona de aparcamiento más cercano que pudimos encontrar y nos dirigimos a Via Garibaldi. Las dos tiendas más conocidas están en lados opuestos de la misma manzana y nos detuvimos en La Verdi. Nos llevamos a casa prosciutto di Parma (jamón de Parma), parmesano de 30 y 36 meses, y la especialidad local culatello di Zibello (un jamon).Paramos para el almuerzo y tenía un sampler de parmesano y algunos tortelli (ravioli) hechos a mano lleno de ricotta y espinacas.

The Baptistry is striking. A small but very tall circular building made of pink marble, it glows faintly. The doors are carved everywhere. The day we were there, a group of young women in gray habits and white veils were visiting. I think it was a group of postulants from a convent. They were rapt in their interest and utterly silent inside the cathedral.

El Baptisterio es sorprendente. Un pequeño pero alto edificio circular de mármol rosa, que brilla débilmente. Las puertas están talladas en todas partes. El día que estuvimos allí, un grupo de mujeres jóvenes en hábitos grises y velos blancos estaban visitando. Creo que fue un grupo de postulantes de un convento. Estaban encantados en su interés y completamente silenciosos dentro de la catedral.

We went to look at the stands in Piazza Ghiaia and found that there is no longer a market of fruit and vegetables, but there are stands that sell used and vintage items. It was interesting to see the range of goods, and would be worth a visit earlier in the day when I wasn’t quite so tired out from the heat. I recommend a visit to Parma if you are withing striking distance. There is at least a day full of things to do.

Pisa, Festa di San Ranieri

We arrived in Pisa midday to see the sights. The Cathedral, Baptistry, Leaning Tower, and Camposanto were all established around the same time on what was then the edge of the city. Unlike churches in other cities they are set apart in their own grassy park, the Campo dei Miracoli, the Field of Miracles. The tower itself is indeed a miracle. Since 1990 there have been three projects to slow or reverse the tilt in the tower and it presently tilts without any visible posts or guy wires. A tilt of 3.99º doesn’t sound like much, but that is 12 ft. 10 in difference in the center point from the ground to the top.

Llegamos a Pisa mediodía para ver los lugares de interés. La Catedral, el Baptisterio, la Torre Inclinada y Camposanto se establecieron alrededor del mismo tiempo en lo que entonces era el borde de la ciudad. A diferencia de las iglesias de otras ciudades, se diferencian en su propio parque herboso, el Campo de los Milagros. La torre en sí es de hecho un milagro. Desde 1990 ha habido tres proyectos para retardar o invertir la inclinación en la torre y que actualmente se inclina sin ningún tipo de postes visibles o cables de chico. Una inclinación de 3,99º no suena como mucho, pero eso es cuatro metros en diferencia en el punto central desde el suelo hasta la parte superior.

The Duomo and the Baptistry across the Field of Miracles.

The Camposanto is full of frescos. Two are in particularly good condition, representing the Last Judgement. On the left are those in Heaven, while on the right are those being dragged into Hell with a monster at its center.

El Camposanto está lleno de frescos. Dos están en muy buenas condiciones, representando el Juicio Final. A la izquierda están los del Cielo, mientras que a la derecha son aquellos que son arrastrados al infierno con un monstruo en su centro.

The Hotel Di Stefano, our base in Pisa, was close enough that I could see the Leaning Tower from the roof terrace.

El Hotel Di Stefano, nuestra base en Pisa, era lo suficientemente cerca que pude ver la Torre Inclinada de la terraza de la azotea.

Our visit was topped by the Festa di San Ranieri, sometimes called the Luminara.The festival involves illuminating the fronts of buildings along the Arno River as it runs through the city. Geometric shapes reminiscent of antique windows and iron work are hung on the buildings and in turn these are filled with candles. We watched crews putting up the lights all afternoon, first securing the decorative panels and then filling them with small lamps holding burning candles (slow-burning, since they hung the lamps around 5 pm and it went until after midnight).

Nuestra visita fue coronada por la Festa di San Ranieri, a veces llamado el festival di Luminara. Consiste en iluminar los frentes de los edificios a lo largo del río Arno, ya que atraviesa la ciudad. Formas geométricas que recuerdan a las ventanas antiguas y el trabajo de hierro se cuelgan en los edificios ya su vez estos están llenos de velas. Vimos a las tripulaciones poniendo las luces durante toda la tarde, asegurando primero los paneles decorativos y luego llenándolos con pequeñas lámparas sosteniendo velas encendidas (de combustión lenta, ya que colgaron las lámparas alrededor de las 5 pm y pasó hasta después de la medianoche).

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We went for a stroll when the lights were first going up and the streets were empty. By 10 pm people were flooding onto the walks on both sides of the river. Interesting to us, most of the people there seemed to be Italians. We didn’t see any tour buses, and just a trickle of tourists like ourselves. There were tens of thousands of people along the river. *The newspapers reported there were 100,000 people watching the fireworks.* We saw no overt drunkenness and lots of families out. It seemed to be very much a community event, though huge. We went back to the hotel before the fireworks started at 11:15 pm. I watched from the roof of the hotel. I could see eight of the 16 firework launch platforms. Seven put up the same fireworks at the same time, like synchronized swimmers, while the end station put up bigger and different fireworks. It was a spectaculathon.

Fuimos a dar un paseo cuando las luces fueron primero y las calles estaban vacías. A las 10 pm la gente estaba inundando los paseos a ambos lados del río. Interesante para nosotros, la mayoría de la gente allí parecía ser italianos. No vimos ningún autobuses de excursión, y sólo un goteo de turistas como nosotros. Había decenas de miles de personas a lo largo del río. *Los periodicos reportaron 100,000 espectadores.* No vimos embriaguez abierta y un montón de familias. Parecía ser un evento comunitario, aunque enorme. Volvimos al hotel antes de los fuegos artificiales comenzó a las 11:15 pm. Vi desde el techo del hotel. Pude ver ocho de las 16 plataformas de lanzamiento de fuegos artificiales. Siete pusieron los mismos fuegos artificiales al mismo tiempo, como nadadores sincronizados, mientras que la estación final puso más grandes y diferentes fuegos artificiales. Era un espectáculo.


The “Top Ten” Problem

Call it the “Top Ten” problem. Visit any city in Italy (and other countries) and you will have to pre-book visits to major sights. If you don’t because you want to keep your plans flexible, you may not get in or it will be a scramble to get tickets to the major sights (the Vatican in Rome, the Uffizi Gallery in Florence, the Last Supper in Milan). Maybe you don’t really care that much about some of these places, but what are you going to say when you get home and everyone asks how you liked the Coliseum and you tell them you didn’t see it?

Llámelo como el “Top Ten” problema. Visite cualquier ciudad en Italia y tendrá que pre-reservar visitas a los principales lugares de interés turístico. Si no lo hace, y desea mantener sus planes flexibles, no puede entrar o será una lucha por conseguir entradas para los principales lugares de interés turístico (el Vaticano en Roma, la Galería de los Uffizi en Florencia, la Última Cena en Milán). Tal vez usted no se preocupa tanto por algunos de estos lugares, pero ¿qué vas a decir cuando llegues a casa y todo el mundo pregunta cómo te gustó el Coliseo y les dices que no lo vio. 

Ponte Vecchio, Florence

There are some hard choices that need to be made. The top ten places in every guidebook are going to be packed with visitors. At the Vatican, for example, there is only one tour and it covers all of the Vatican Museums and the Sistine Chapel. No one has the stamina to appreciate all the objects the Vatican encompasses in a single visit, yet most people have only that once chance. Many people have museum fatigue after 2-3 hours. (Most tours are that length.) Here are things to think about.

Hay algunas decisiones difíciles que necesitan ser hechas. Los diez primeros lugares en cada guía van a estar llenos de visitantes. En el Vaticano, por ejemplo, sólo hay un recorrido y cubre todos los Museos Vaticanos y la Capilla Sixtina. Nadie tiene la resistencia para apreciar todos los objetos que el Vaticano abarca en una sola visita, sin embargo la mayoría de la gente sólo tiene esa oportunidad una vez. Mucha gente tiene fatiga total del museo después de 2-3 horas. (La mayoría de los tours son de esa longitud.) Aquí hay cosas en que pensar.

–Do you really want to see places in the “Top Ten” or “Best of”? Most of us have some sights that we really want to see and we don’t care about the lines or the cost. If you feel that way about a place, whether the Tower of Pisa or the Coliseum, then buy your ticket and go see it.

– ¿Realmente quieres ver lugares en el “Top Ten” o “Lo mejor de”? La mayoría de nosotros tenemos algunas vistas que realmente queremos ver y no nos importa las líneas o el costo. Si te sientes así sobre un lugar, ya sea la Torre de Pisa o el Coliseo, luego comprar su billete y ve a verlo.

–If you are not really set on climbing the Tower of Pisa (I didn’t), or visiting a set of catacombs (I did), then don’t go. This is particularly true if you are bothered by long waits, large crowds, and in some cases stairs up (heights) or down (claustrophobia). Do some checking and be sure that you understand what a place will be like, particularly if it is also an expensive ticket. When you get home you can be enthusiastic about the places you did get to see. If you skipped the Forum and went to Ostia Antica, describe the spacious mosaic plazas and lack of crowds.


– Si no estás realmente enfocada en escalar la Torre de Pisa (no lo hice), o visitar un conjunto de catacumbas (lo hice), entonces no vayas. Esto es particularmente cierto si te molesta por largas esperas, grandes multitudes, y en algunos casos escaleras arriba (alturas) o hacia abajo (claustrofobia). Hacer algunas comprobaciones y asegúrese de que usted entiende cómo será un lugar, sobre todo si también es un billete caro. Cuando llegues a casa puedes estar entusiasmado con los lugares que pudiste ver. Si se saltó el Foro y se fue a Ostia Antica, describir las amplias plazas de mosaico y la falta de multitudes.

The symbol of Rome, Capitoline Museums

–Consider alternatives to the top ten. While the Uffizi Gallery is booked a month ahead in the summer, the Bargello collection has sculpture that used to be in the Uffizi. It doesn’t have the Birth of Venus by Botticelli, but you can get in on any day. Archaeology and natural history museums are very accessible, too. In Rome, the story of Romulus and Remus being suckled by a she-wolf, then growing up to found the city is symbolized by an Etruscan she-wolf statue (with Romulus and Remus added later). The original is in a gallery that had almost no visitors when we were there. An article in today’s New York Times discusses beautiful libraries in Italy that are open to visitors.

Libraries that speak Volumes (NYT 18 june 2017)

This is an ancient cameo said to have been restored by Benvenuto Cellini in the 1500s. It can be seen at the archaeology museum in Florence.

– Considerar alternativas a los diez primeros. Mientras que la Galería de los Uffizi se reserva un mes de antelación en el verano, la colección Bargello tiene escultura que solía ser en los Uffizi. No tiene el nacimiento de Venus de Botticelli, pero usted puede conseguir adentro en cualquier día. Arqueología y museos de historia natural son muy accesibles, también. En Roma, la historia de Romulus y Remus siendo amamantado por una loba que crece para fundar la ciudad es bien conocida. La estatua original de la loba está en una galería que casi no había visitantes cuando estábamos allí. El New York Times ha un articolo sobre bibliotecas lindas en Itali que estan abiertos a visitante.


-Make towns other than Florence, Venice or Rome your base of operations. We met a couple who stay in Chiusi regularly. They described its proximity to both the highway and the train line from Rome. It is a charming small town and they seemed to know many of the people passing by while we chatted over coffee. We were surprised by how many fewer people were in Chiusi, Monteriggioni, Lucca, even Pisa, compared to Florence. Remember that places with smaller numbers of tourists are often friendlier because the people who live there haven’t been exhausted by answering the same question 500 times. They are more likely to be patient with my terrible Italian, and more understanding if I forget myself and touch a piece of fruit in the market.

The Etruscan Museum, Chiusi

Haz ciudades que no sean Florencia, Venecia o Roma, tu base de operaciones. Conocimos a una pareja que alojarse en Chiusi regularmente. Ellos describieron su proximidad tanto a la autopista y la línea de tren de Roma. Es una pequeña ciudad encantadora y parecían saber muchos de la gente pasando por mientras conversamos sobre el café. Nos sorprendió por cuántas menos personas estaban en Chiusi, Monteriggioni, Lucca, incluso Pisa, en comparación con Florencia. Recuerde que los lugares con un menor número de turistas son a menudo más amigables porque las personas que viven allí no se han agotado al responder a la misma pregunta 500 veces. Ellos son más propensos a ser paciente con mi terrible italiano, y más comprensión si me olvido de mí mismo y toco una pieza de fruta en el Mercado.

If you are going to dive in to visiting “Top Ten” sights, and want to be less bothered by the crowds, here are a few things to try.

  • Buy your tickets in advance, brace yourself for the crowds, remember your manners and above all your sense of humor. Avoid taking offense. Be the bigger person, etc. etc. You’ll enjoy your visit more.
  • Go early or go late. Most tourist attractions receive the largest number of visitors 10 am-noon and 1:30-3:30pm.
  • Go with a guide. We did this for our first visit to the Vatican and at the Uffizi. They usher you to the head of the line, more or less, help you get tickets and tell you why it’s interesting. We were so absorbed by listening to our guide in the Uffizi that I didn’t really notice how full it was. (If you need a guide for Florence, or anything art history related in Italy, I have a great person for you. Just let me know and I’ll pass along her contact info.)
  • Focus on the place, not the crowds. Take a lesson from our visit with guides and even if you are on your own, look closely at things that interest you, skip what doesn’t, and ignore the crowd.
  • Below: (L) Our memory of the Vatican.  (R) This is what it looked like during our visit.

    In a previous post, I mentioned how strange it is that we cut the people out from our surroundings when we take photos. Maybe that’s for the best. When you get home, you will see the places you visited with little record of being jammed in with a thousand others. You might not remember the crowd was there.

  • Stop for coffee. If you are in a place where you can stop mid-visit and sit down for a cold drink or a cup of coffee, you will feel refreshed and ready for the second half of the visit. Some places in Rome have nothing more than a vending machine by the toilets, but the Uffizi has a gorgeous rooftop terrace. Other places do, too. Si esta decidida en visitar “Top Ten” lugares de interés, y quiere ser menos molestado por las multitudes, aquí hay algunas cosas para probar.    –Compre sus entradas con anticipación, prepárese para las multitudes, recuerde sus modales y sobre todo su sentido del humor. Evite ofenderse. Ser la persona más grande, etc, etc.  Usted disfrutará de su visita más.    –Ir temprano o ir tarde. La mayoría de las atracciones turísticas reciben el mayor número de visitantes de 10 am-mediodía y 1: 30-3: 30pm.    –Ir con un guía. Hicimos esto para nuestra primera visita al Vaticano y en el Uffizi. Te llevan a la cabeza de la línea, más o menos, te ayudan a conseguir entradas y decirte por qué es interesante. Estábamos tan absorbido por escuchar a nuestro guía en el Uffizi que no me di cuenta de lo lleno que era. (Si necesitas una guía para Florencia, o cualquier otra historia de arte relacionada en Italia, tengo una gran persona para ti, solo hazme saber y pasaré su información de contacto).    –Concéntrese en el lugar, no en las multitudes. Tome una lección de nuestra visita con guías e incluso si usted está en su propio, mirar de cerca las cosas que le interesan, omitir lo que no, e ignorar a la multitud.

         –En un post anterior, mencioné lo extraño que es que cortar a la gente fuera de nuestro entorno cuando tomamos fotos. Tal vez eso es un buen idea. Cuando llegue a casa, verá los lugares que visitó con poco registro de estar atascado con mil otros. Es posible que no recuerde la multitud estaba allí.

         –Toma un café. Si usted está en un lugar donde usted puede parar la mitad de la visita y siéntese para una bebida fría o una taza de café, usted se sentirá refrescado y listo para la segunda mitad de la visita. Algunos lugares en Roma no tienen nada más que una máquina expendedora cerca de los baños, pero el Uffizi tiene una magnífica terraza en la azotea. Otros lugares hacen, también.


    If all else fails, you can stay home and eat sweets.

  • Easy Crostata with jam and fruit

En todo caso, puedes quedar en casa y comer dulces.