This trip is primarily to
join Jane's friends who are renting a villa called the
Vigna San Giuseppe, which is very near
the town (and railway station) of Subbiano and not far from Arezzo. I've
only briefly ever been to Arezzo so it's a draw for me, and an excuse to read up on Piero della Francesca, whose frescoes in Arezzo are a highlight of the
Piero Trail. But travelling to Tuscany and not spending a few days in
Florence too is an emotional impossibility.
intended train from Balham getting cancelled, we took a different route,
via Clapham Junction instead of East Croydon, and got to Gatwick even
earlier than intended. Automated check-in was a breeze, ditto security.
Our British Airways flight was actually a PrivatAir flight. They seem to
be Swiss and provided in-flight
meals - a sandwich with a small Toblerone. But expecting BA's M&S shop
option we'd prepared ourselves with Pret baguettes. We landed at Pisa a
few minutes early, our bags were on the carousel even before we could
answer the call of nature, and there was no queue for train tickets.
Amazeballs indeed! The Pisamover got us to Pisa Centrale swiftly and we
waited only about twenty minutes for the the Florence train. Time which
passed quickly, swapping reminiscences with a couple on the platform with
Haggerston (where I was born)
and Tooting every bit as strong as ours. Thereby proving what they say
about the world and its smallness.
Check-in at the
was swift and smooth, with our rooms' windows on
the top floor on the corner facing the small piazza and the narrow road.
It had forgotten that as the hotel doesn't have kettles in the rooms I'd
need to bring my semi-legal water heater thingy, bought in Venice many
years ago, and never thought to see on sale again.
But there's one of those hardware shops that stock everything opposite the
hotel, and I got one there.
wander to check that all was well and familiar we made for our fave Grotta
di Leo. I had the same as on the first night of our last trip here, in
October 2016 - for starter the lovely Pappa al Pomodoro - tomato soup
thickened with bread, with onion and garlic - then a cipolla pizza. The
first gelato (from the place on the corner of Piazza Santa Maria Novella)
was cinnamon and lemon. Gelati were consumed on a stone bench in the
piazza, to the regular accompaniment of what sounded like an aviary
descending into madness, which was either art or a bird scaring idea. We
needed an early night after that.
A good quiet night, with gentle wake-up church
bells, and a good breakfast to set us up for some early
church action. Firstly to Sant'Ambrogio, where the Rosselli fresco
has seen restoration lately, and where Jane had not been before. Then a
stout walk east through some real-Florence streets, under an overpass and
a railway line, to San Salvi. The cenacolo in the ex-refectory is
so good, and so free of charge, and the rest of the stuff on display
in other rooms and corridors is
also well worth it. The church was as closed as ever, but an open
door to the side did get us into the cloister - a sweet but overgrown and
unkempt example. On the way back we stopped off
at Ruth's Kosher veggie, near Sant'Ambrogio, for a fine falafel lunch, and
swung back to the hotel via the Gelateria dei Neri, from which I had the
dark chocolate orange and vanilla and Jane
frutti di bosco and fior di latte. The walk back
unfortunately takes one along the road where people join long queues to
eat bits of dead cow, but into every life...
Our evening stroll was over to the Oltrano. In the big piazza in front of
San Frediano an enormous supper was being set up (see
right) and in the one in front
of SM della Carita were preparations for a jazz festival. There seems to
be enough global misery without jazz festivals happening, but into every
life... After a sit in Piazza Santo Spirito we made our way back to the
Grotta di Leo for some pasta this time, with a pistachio and lemon gelato
after, sat listening to the recording of birds in distress again, with a
good busker fighting manfully against it with a version of The Beatles'
To Santa Maria Novella
today, for some website updating, but mainly for enjoyment. The best news
is that the big cloister is now open daily (see below right)
after many years when you had to be a policeman to see it. There's another
cloister open at the end of the museum rooms, but it's just a little one
for sitting in while you wait for someone using the toilets. The museum
still has the Uccello frescoes from the Green Cloister on display,
as a solution to enable them to be put back seems still unfound. In the
church three side altars in the nave are being restored, with their
paintings hung on the scaffolding put over them,
which is a new solution on me. And there is a sudden display of some
panels found behind a side altar in 1853, but only now brought out.
As we were leaving we asked a guide about the nasty
screeching bird recording and he told that it
was to keep huge flocks of starlings away, as they roost in the trees,
cover the paving in crap, and kill the trees. Fair enough. Down to Mama's
Bakery for bagels, pear juice, and a takeaway apple muffin.
evening's stroll was northerly to the San
Lorenzo Market, involving some light book shopping and some looking for,
and finding, a shop selling nice little paper-covered boxes, as the old
favourite one in the Oltrano with the dusty stock in the window,
is no more. Back to the usual for pizzas, sitting in the usual piazza
after with a pineapple and stracciatella gelato. Only the
busker was different, playing the banjo this time, including Duelling
Banjos, of course.
This morning Jane went to the Novocento gallery
and I went to Santa Croce. Reports of scaffolding in front of the Giotto
chapels turned out to be six
free-standing columns of scaffolding in the south transept supporting a
platform at ceiling level
for 'structural work'. I got this
information after quizzing an attendant who initially said 'is not
possible', presumably thinking I was asking to go up it!
All the chapels in the transept are accessible, although the Bardi has
some scaff around work on
the window, but this means that the altarpiece has been moved out and
closer appreciation is possible. Verily every cloud...
Vasari-related work going on: his Last Supper from the
just been restored, after being damaged in the 1966 flood, and now hangs
in the refectory here - a space which also contains fresco fragments from
the works he destroyed when he rebuild the interior of Santa Croce. And
his altarpiece Christ Meeting Veronica on the Way to Calvary, on the altar
to the left of the Michelangelo
is also being restored, with work due to
finish in October. This is being done in a large fenced off area in front
monument, but the fence is low, so
you can see the work in progress.
small Ancient Cloister is now accessible down a staircase in the sacristy
corridor (passing some unlabeled art) and through a door to the right of
the Pazzi Chapel, and is now a free WiFi area, with USB charging too. I
then reconvened with Jane for a repeat of yesterday's bagel lunch.
Up to SS.
Annunziata in the evening, which seems to have never-ending
services, but which no longer has scaffolding in its fresco-filled atrium.
The piazza out front now
comes equipped with two large sweet stalls and a van selling tripe. No
surprises in our evening meal choices, but I did have peach sorbet with my
cinnamon gelato. Watching small children play football, listening to scary
bird-scaring recordings, watching the Asian guys shoot their illuminated
helicopter thingies into the sky, that no one ever seems to buy... all
part of a routine with only one night left to run.
This morning I discovered that the hotel does wholemeal (integrale)
croissants. So I had to have two, with honey. We loved the new Duomo
museum last time, so we went back to love it
again. There's so much stuff, and it's mostly unmissable. I concentrated
more on the sculpture this time as I know I neglect it. But the big draw
this time was the Giotto Madonna
and Child panel, on loan from the (always
closed) Museo Diocesano, and recently put on
display in the last room on the top floor. It's worth a look, but I'm not
sure I'd bet anything on it actually being by Giotto. We almost missed it
as the third floor, and the roof terrace with the spectacular views of the
cupola, is only accessible up the main stairs that wind around the lift,
not the iron stairs in the ticket-hall light-well.
On our way back to the hostel we found a forno which did a mozzarella and
tomato panino using wholemeal (integrale) bread. It was well
tasty, and made integrale the word of the day. A pain de
ramarino , a Florentine Easter bun flavoured with
rosemary, was also bought and enjoyed.
Our evening began functionally - finding the optician where we'd seen the
attractive Florence-scene specs cases, buying same, and getting our train
tickets for tomorrow. But crossing the Arno for a last walk in the Oltrano
things took an almost miraculous turn, with unexpected access to a former
complex hitherto locked up, where I got to photograph its church and its
handsome ginger cat. Later Santa Monica's door was unusually open too, and
another handy photo-op ensued. We celebrated with absolutely no change to
our evening eating regime, and I had a coconut and mango gelato.
things I liked about the Hotel Berchielli
woody, big enough, quiet, nice view, sunshine in the morning, unobtrusive
AC, good double-glazing, and no nasty or bland art.
The breakfast: good
coffee and orange juice, wholemeal croissants and tasty pastries.
But: Worst WiFi ever - practically unusable.
After some last-minute stress-making plan-scrambling regarding our journey
to the aforementioned
Vigna San Giuseppe,
we ended up back with the original plan. That the connecting train from
Arezzo to Subbiano is a bus on Sunday, and that it leaves hourly at
exactly the same time as the train from Florence gets in,
did not help.
packing and a trouble-free check out was followed by a last
walk past S.M.Novella. The
controversial new security gates at S.M.Novella Station caused us no
difficulty and the 11.13 (to Roma) was waiting to be sat on.
We were thankfully met
at Arezzo station
by (the other) Jane and Rod in
the hire car, we were whisked to the villa, which is all dirt approach
road, brickiness, spectacular views (right is
the view from the window of my room), and rooms with dried flowers, framed
flower prints, mismatched old wooden
and ill-fitting doors. Lovely! And good strong WiFi. Hallelujah! And fresh
bread and herby cheese and Pringles and sweet plums and moist polenta cake
for lunch, and a lie down.
Monday 10th September
A visit to Arezzo this morning, but on the
10.40 train, so a bit of a late start in church-visiting terms, but we
found San Francesco in no time and had no waiting or crowds to contend
with, getting to see Piero's True Cross frescoes, which I liked but didn't
love. But I did love the many good works in fresco by Spinello Aretino. We
paid to also visit the fashion exhibition in the underchurch, not because
of my interest in frocks, of course, but the space itself is disappointing
- not the rough and Romanesque treat you might imagine, but all smooth and
baroque-ceilinged. We got a good local guidebook to Arezzo in the church shop,
and three foldy-outy laminated thingies for Arezzo, Cortona and
Sansepulcro that are called Guidorama and are surprisingly comprehensive
and readable. The tourist office offered nothing better. Mozza-tom panini
time was spent in a local place, which ran a lunch-time buffet, with the
option of bunging your selection in a public microwave. Amongst the
children of the buffet customers was a little girl wearing a t-shirt with
the word PAIN in large multi-coloured letters. Odd.
Lunch was followed by a walk in the park which had panoramic views, an
exuberant 1920s monument to Petrarch, and a kiosk that sold gelato. Santa
Maria della Pieve we found open, and to be a Romanesque treat. Shame the
Pietro Lorenzetti altarpiece was just a photo, though, the original being
away in restauro. San Michele's Neri di Bicci high altar panel was present
and admirable, though, and the church interior is full of dark-stone
charm. Our train back to Subbiano was all plastic and modern, where the
morning's train in had been all old and wood-panelled. Neither were speedy.
Tonight's meal at the villa was created by Helen to celebrate Jewish New
year, so the symbolic delights included a chick pea risotto, peppers
stuffed with mushrooms and honeyed baked apples with pomegranate seeds.
Tuesday 11th September
Today a stop-at-villa day was decided on, so after a shower and a slow
start I went for a walk up into the hills. A very rocky path through
oak forests to begin
with, with only the buzzing insects and large dark butterflies for
entertainment. Then things opened out a bit bit,
and a large ruined farmhouse appeared, but it had returned to nature
to such an extent that
I'd have needed a machete to get through the brambles leading to the
temptingly open front door. Further on I reached
an actual road, but walking down it I came to the edge of Capolona, and
even heard voices! Fearing
sudden contact with human beings,
I headed back the way I came. On the way back I noticed
the pile of moss-covered stones, pictured right, the loan
remnants of...something. Lunch was bread, cheese, tomatoes, olives,
crisps and a peach, followed by a snooze. Followed by
lying around and reading, and helping Rod with the evening Coop shop.
Wednesday 12th September
After a couple of
pre-packed integrale croissants and bio
pear jam, both bought yesterday
evening, Jane's friend Jane drove us to see more Piero. To Monterchi first
to see the Madonna del Parto, now on display in a museum space
specially designed to suck all the authenticity and mystery out of the
experience, with white walls, empty spaces and the fresco covered in a
glass box on the wall. There where very few people visiting, just one
family, but the beeping and clicking of mobiles were still much in
evidence. Truly an unspiritual experience.
On to Sansepulcro, where after a mozza/tom bruschetti lunch we made for
the Museo Civico, with a brief cool off in the Duomo,
admiring the many alabaster windows, including the fine big rose one (see
right). We were heading for the Museo Civico to see the Piero Misericordia polyptych and the
Resurrection fresco, neither of which are behind glass and both of
which were superior experiences, with useful accompanying video panels.
The other works on display were moderately interesting, and the family
with the father with the bleeping mobile seemed to have followed us from
Monterchi. The ticket for the museum is actually a pass that gets you one
reduced-price visit to each of eleven more local attractions (including
the Madonna del Parto museum in Monterchi and The Aboca, Sansepulcro's
museum of herbalism) for which the time limit for use is...eternity! On the
way back the satnav took us a pretty and mountainous way with hairpin
bends and many very fine views.
Thursday 13th September
The weather today became cloudy and comfortably cool, after the around 30º
temperatures of late. As part of a day staying local, we had an explore of
Subbiano and it's old town, on the Arno, which
had some crumbling interesting bits - including an old
mill (see above right) and a tower(see
right) - lots of rubbish and waste ground
patches, and very many cats, a couple of them exceptionally sociable. Then
the trudge back up the hill for an early lunch of bread, mozzarella, knobbly
tomatoes, black pepper and Sicilian lemon crisps and
some very sweet little wild strawberries. And some
In the evening we were prepared a meal
by the villa's owners
- Giuditta and her mum lead
the small team, and it was
excellent. Mixed little bruschetti
were followed by lasagne, baccala (a cod thing
- I just had the veggies) and deserts. The latter were
slices of birthday cake,
made with chestnut flour and
budino (a creme-caramel type thing),
with a home-made choc-chip cookie.
Vin santo and cantucci finished
us off, as it were.
A casual and
unhurried last morning of breakfast and packing, before Jane and Rod ran
us to Arezzo Station - the rest where going home
tomorrow. The ticket machine kept refusing us
any of the through trains we tried to
book, so we bought tickets to Florence, and then got tickets
on to Pisa Centrale there, despite the machine
refusing all credit cards - it took folding money, luckily. Arriving at
Pisa and shuttling to the airport was all good. No queue at bag drop,
swift security and passport, but then all expectations were confounded -
there's a new terminal (25) off of the usual small
international hall, and it's all cool and white and full of seats.
For veterans of the Pisa Airport experience this is very good news
indeed. A blissfully fuss-free
journey home, but boy did it feel cold!