Thursday, August 29, 2019

Grand Tour of Italy: Turin

Guess what, folks! This is the end of my Italy posts...except for Rome, which I will tackle hopefully before the end of the year.  HA!  Because I had been to Rome two times previously, I guess it feels like an after-thought, even though it's not.  So, I WILL tackle it...later.

But for now, I finish the tour here with Turin, which happened to be our first day in Italy (after two days of riding the OAD coach/bus from the Netherlands to get there!).

We entered Italy on the Switzerland side, just north of Turin,
and left Italy 15 days later on the Austrian side, north of Verona and Venice.

We arrived in Turin at 9:30 a.m. on Wednesday, 3 April, to meet our Italian guide at 10.
Because we were early, our bus driver drove us around to see some of the sights...

and ended up at the Palazzo Madama to connect with our guide.

We had plenty of time at the beginning and the end of our 5.5 hours to see its many faces,
even though we weren't there to visit it.
Its origin dates all the way back to the first century BC!

Our guide was taking us, instead, to Parco del Valentino (Valentino Park), 
Turin's second largest public park at 500,000 square meters (123.5 acres).
We were on our way to...

the Medieval Village, a 19th century reproduction of a 15th century village on the river Po.

It had us at HELLO (the entrance)!

This is the other side of the entrance (always look back!),
with Astrid and me in the left and right images, thanks to a friend.

Of all the places to see in Turin, I can't imagine any place better
(coming from someone who loves this kind of architecture).

I wanted to STAY and really see everything...

especially the church, if it had been open.

It was hard to leave it and move on to the next attraction...

the Fountain of Twelve Months, also in the Valentino Park.
It was designed by Carlo Ceppi and built in 1898.

Here, too, I wished we could have lingered to find out more about each month.
But no, we were still on the move, getting back on the bus to where we started at Palazzo Madama,

from which we then walked to the Royal Church of  San Lorenzo (Saint Lawrence), 
adjacent to the Royal Palace.

It was designed and built by Guarino Guarini between 1668-1687.

Can you see me snapping pics while on the go with the group,
hurrying before it closed at noon...

just so we could see what Turin is famous for:  a replica of the Shroud of Turin (top right)!
It's still revered to be the burial fabric that covered Jesus after his crucifixion, in spite of how
scientific data supports the confession of an unnamed artist who made a forgery of it in 1390.
The two modern negatives near the shroud show the image on the shroud much better.

From the San Lorenzo Church we then walked to the Turin Duomo/Cathedral.

It's dedicated to St. John the Baptist and was built between 1491-98.
The Chapel of the Holy Shroud, added to the cathedral in 1668, holds the "original" shroud
(put on display only 5 times since 1933).

Because it was before lunch, and we were already late, we had time to only peek in.
I was lucky to to grab these images, seriously.  Others didn't even go in.

But I did have time to grab other sights as we went to lunch...

and after lunch, heading back to the bus, the Mole Antonelliana, built in 1863.

Sometimes it's only the landmarks that are important, I guess, just to say we saw them.
But I go back to what I said at the beginning...that what we saw in Valentino Park
was worth the entire time in Turin for both of us.

♥ ♥ ♥ ♥ ♥

Now, totally changing the subject, Astrid and I leave on Saturday for a week in Austria,
celebrating her 65th birthday (which was last week, 24 August).
Our base will be in Ehrwald, Austria, for the week, 
from which we'll visit Germany castles, Lichtenstein, and the Austrian Alps.

So, we'll take a break here and see you later!

Thursday, August 22, 2019

Grand Tour of Italy: Montecatini Alto

Believe it or not, I'm heading into the "strome hetch" of this 19-day tour from back in April, with only one other city to visit after this one (unless I decide to eventually also do something on Rome).

Today it's a tag-on after our trip to Florence on Day 5 of our tour, while heading back to our hotel in Montecatini Terme.

Because it was so close to the hotel, our bus driver and guide decided to stop at Montecatini Alto,
the mount 300 meters (984 feet) above sea level, visible for miles around.
It was 65.5 km from Florence to our hotel in Montecatini Terme (#6 above).
Montecatini Alto is 4.4 km NE of Montecatini Terme, a no-brainer.
[Craig Travel image]

There she is, the mount:  Montecatini Alto.

It's a small Medieval village that used to be a castle.
And, yes, this is in Tuscany!

It was a gentle walk uphill from our bus stop to the village...

ending up at the central square, Piazza Giuseppe Giusti,
where most of the group stopped for a very pleasant Happy Hour.
Remember, this was late afternoon (5:30-6:30) after our day in Florence.

But you know Astrid and me!  We wanted to see as much as we could, 
starting first with the nearby Church of San Pietro, the church of the castle in the 11th century,
becoming a parish church in the 12th century.

Though clearly opulent, it's not overwhelming.

It even had an alcove with its treasures, including the skull of Santa Barbara (circa 273-306), 
the patron saint of Montecatini Terme, killed by her father for refusing to give up her faith.
"She's the patron saint of miners, tunnelers, armorers, military engineers, gunsmiths,
and anyone else who worked with cannon and explosives." (Wiki)

Back at the town square, I was taken by the structure towering over the village.

 It's the Teatro dei Risorti (Theater of the Risen),
now used as a restaurant.

Off in the distance, I discovered a view of another church, from 1296,
the Church of Jacob and Philip (or the Carmine) with it's clock tower.
Once at home, I discovered Montecatini Alto has two hills, with a church on each.

As you'd guess, these villages depend on tourists!
It probably didn't help that we were there in off-season and had so little time to shop.

Walking back to the bus I was reminded of the Dutch pollarded trees...

and then was taken by the grand view of Montecatini Terme below, 
where we returned for dinner at our hotel.

All of that in the space of one hour, on our return from Florence!

Thursday, August 15, 2019

Grand Tour of Italy: Montecassino

Whichever way you spell it, Monte Cassino or Montecassino (the spelling used on our tour), it's one in the same place:

It's "a rocky hill about 130 kilometres southeast of Rome, in the Latin Valley, Italy, 
3 kilometres to the west of the town of Cassino and 520 m altitude." [Wiki]
[map from Connoisseur Travel]

Montecassino is best known for its abbey, the first house of the Benedictine Order, circa 529.
This is what it looked like from the bus as we started the climb up the hill/mount from Cassino.

Upon disembarking from the bus, we were greeted by St. Benedict himself,
the very Benedict of Nursia who established the order.

Once inside the walls of the abbey, we entered the first of several courtyards...

where another statue, memorializing St. Benedict's death, welcomed us.

Nearby, doves were enjoying the peace.

From that courtyard, we entered the main courtyard that takes you to the actual abbey church.
(I'm standing on the steps that take you to the church, looking back over the courtyard.)

I won't begin to tell the history of this place, sacked, rebuilt, bombed and restored over the years.
But you get the picture when I say it was a German stronghold during WWII.

Next to that courtyard was another one I stepped into, just to see...

and later at home, discovered this abbey is full of courtyards!
By now you've seen the 3 across the bottom of this 3D Virtual Museum image.

Now we climb the steep stairs to the courtyard in front of the abbey church.

It was exactly what you'd expect for an abbey church!

Expansive.  Ornate.  Opulent.

Can you imagine being a monk in residence there?

And then there was the crypt below...

As I often say, everything means something, of course.
Everything has its own story.

There was yet another courtyard adjacent to the church...

which you can see better from this angle...the narrow courtyard to the right of the church, I believe.
That makes 5 courtyards we went through of the...10 or 11?
[Wiki image]

From there we went to the abbey museum, full of artifacts.

Again, everything tells a story.

As we left , we saw the valley below...

and Cassino itself, the city below the mount.

"The Abbey of Montecassino is one of the most famous abbeys on earth,
due in part to its rich history of destruction and recovery."  
[Viator, a TripAdvisor Company]

I'm so glad we got to see it with our own eyes!
All of that in 1.5 hours!