Our last few days in the Chianti region continued with the relaxation in Volpaia, travelling around the hilltop towns of Chianti and plans to celebrate Barb's birthday in style.
Style being the operative word. If it was not enough to be celebrating a birthday in a 13th C building, which was a winery, the special arrangements provided by Olympia at the Castello's restaurant was to provide a private table in the winery's museum cellar. Atmosphere plus!
A visit to Florence rounded out our Tuscan visit, with a visit to the Pitti Palace museums and the Bobboli Gardens - to be seen to be believed. Our day trip included two visits to the Rivoire Cafe - to again savour the best hot chocolate in the world.
Another feature was the home cooked meal at our land-lady Graziella's house. Husband Franco took great pride in bringing out his late father's 1995 vin Santo and Grappa to share with us. Possibly the best meal we had in Italy.
As we got to know the locals across the whole trip it is apparent that the impacts of the GFC still resonate strongly across Italy. Much hospitality and tourism employment is seasonal (6 to 7) months with no alternate employment opportunities and many hospitality employees live away from family for that 6 to 7 months.
Another world - Dolomites
The Dolomites are located near Italy's north eastern border with Austria and have only been part of Italy since 1919. Imagine a part of Italy that is bi-or tri-lingual, where Italian is the last ranked language. German is the dominant language in the Tyrol (Sound of Music anyone?), which is the region where the dolomites are found.
After driving for nearly 6 hours on the autostrade at a cost of 27 euro for the toll, we arrived in an alpine, germanic wonderland. Our photographic friends in particular will understand when we say that the description "chocolate box" fits the dolomites perfectly. At altitudes of between 1300 and 2400 metres, the mountains and villages in narrow valleys were incredibly picturesque. The population density was perhaps the most surprising part of this region - with steely curving roads and lengthy tunnels everywhere. What also amazed was the extent of the ski fields and related infrastructure everywhere we went.
Stories of WW1 when Italy were on the allied side in particular are strong with the locals. WW2 history is less comfortable. Although there was less direct action in these mountains in WW2 - the post war ratlines that helped Nazis escape to South America remain in the memory.
Our purpose for being in the dolomites was a landscape photography workshop for 4-6 days. The extra days were offered to those who arrived in the days before the workshop formally started. Never has a WORKshop been more appropriately named - even on the additional days we left the hotel at around 4am, drove for approximately one hour to the first location in the high alps and waited for dawn at freezing or near freezing temperatures at over 2000m above sea level. A couple of the locations involved considerable walking and exertion uphill - which certainly in the thin air had us sucking the air in hard to regain some oxygen. We returned to the hotel at around 10am for breakfast and a couple of hours sleep, before an afternoon computer session, departing again at 4pm to the afternoon shoot and returning for dinner at around 10pm. This went on every day for six days.
Our group of nine was diverse - coming from Denmark, Germany, France, Sweden and Serbia - the presenter Hans Kruse is Danish. The locations were spectacular - we went to four main areas as we were a little restricted because two key locations were inaccessible due to the unseasonal heavy snow remaining at the end of spring. Summer only broke on our last day in the dolomites. The last two years in particular had seen very cold springs and many locals were describing (a) the shifting of the seasons - a couple of later and (b) that they now appear to have two seasons - with spring and autumn barely noticable.
An extra day after the workshop concluded was spent in the company of six of the group for extra shoots and an extra processing session at the hotel. Apart from our workshop times and travel to locations we were unable to see more of the villages of the area.
Padua - resting up before we fly home.
Our last stop is Padua, a city where the old town is a mix of the best of Florence and Bologna. There are significant roman and pre-roman Veneto archaeological exhibits and remains in the museum and gardens, and our accommodation in the near suburbs is very comfortable.
One of the main highlights is the Giotto frescos in the Scrovegni Chapel, which are treated similarly to The Last Supper in Milan - humidity and temperature controlled and visitors numbers limited. These frescoes were cleaned and preserved in preference to being restored and bear some damage from time in places, but were nonetheless as beautiful as Da Vinci's masterpiece.
This trip was our second time together in Italy and again we have been touched by the generosity and welcome of the locals wherever we have been. We have enjoyed beautiful coffee, wine, food, gelati and scenery - as well as having seen more art, archaeology and churches than we ever could at home.
Thank you for reading our travelogues and now we resume normal transmissions from home.