Subject: Italy report
Hi all-

I will try to give some information here that has not been repeated over and over by our Italy-loving group!

We stayed in a house about 30 km southwest of Siena from September 28 to October 12, then went on to Rome. My first advice is stay in a hotel first, then stay in a house. What a difficult transition from having space, closets, kitchen, etc. to a hotel room!

We had a large group for part of our stay - nine adults and a bambina - so the house was big and expensive, but what an interesting location. It was attached to the chapel of San Galgano and looked out over the Abbey of San Galgano. Although it was quite a drive to any large town, it is quite a tourist attraction. We often went out to our car to see tour buses. The chapel was built in the 12th century on the site where San Galgano lived as a hermit and died in the 12th century. He was a nobleman of Chiusdino who renounced knighthood for a life of prayer. When he renounced knighthood, he thrust his sword into a stone which is in the chapel, and it has been authenticated as to age. The chapel also contains the hands of thieves who tried to steal the sword from the stone and had their hands chewed off by wolves. (I just love the body parts in Italian churches!) the Abbey was built during the 13th century. According the the Blue Guide to Tuscany, a 17th century abbott sold the lead from the roof, and it eventually collapsed. It is quite beautiful, open to the sky, but, of course, not in use. The Blue Guide give directions to San Galgano.

Visiting Montalcino, I was amazed at how it has been discovered. Four years ago, at the same time of year, there were no tour buses and there was only one good sized parking lot. This year, we could not even drive into the town to get to the parking lot we remembered, but there was a new, big one below the town. While there, we had lunch at Fattoria dei Barbi and toured the wine cellar. (Reservations made via e-mail from their web site.) Lunch was wonderful, but skip the tour. It was led by an obviously bored and somewhat rude young man who told us nothing about the winemaking process, the grapes or the requirements for Brunello di Montalcino. We walked through areas of huge oak casks obviously in use with no explanation given. You can taste Barbi's wonderful wines and olive oils by simply visiting their shop, so you do not need the tour.

Assisi was also incredibly crowded in spite of a rainy day. It was wonderful to see the upper church since it was closed because of earthquake damage when we visited in 1998, but so sad to see all that could not be repaired. We really enjoyed our stop at Santa Maria degli Angeli to visit the basilica where the Porziuncola and Capella del transito are enclosed in the huge church. The Porziuncola was, among other things, St. Francis' refuge during his lifetime, and he insisted to this followers that it never be destroyed. The Capella del transito is the place where he died. The basilica was built around them beginning in the 16th century and ending in the 17th century. The complex of the basilica is huge, and one could easily spend the better part of a day there. It was also far less crowded that Assisi.

I was amazed at what has been done to the duomo in Siena. It is well lit, and all of the floors could be seen. Although there is now an admission charge, it is well worth it for the opportunity to see the beauty of the duomo.

We visited some towns not often mentioned, and were glad to find them less crowded. Volterra is high on a hill with magnificent views. It has an etruscan museum that is very well done with a collection from local excavations that occupies four floors. It is also known for the alabaster that is mined and worked there, and of course we had to buy some to send home. It arrived in perfect condition about a week after we returned home.

The etruscan museum in Chiusi, by the way, was closed for renovation and is scheduled to reopen in January, 2003.

We, of course, visited Florence, Siena, Rome, San Gimignano, and had four days in Rome. The Forum on Sunday morning was filled with tour groups, and on Monday morning they were all at the Vatican museums. I know it is good for Italy, but I was sad to see the crowds so late in the year. I think next time, I am going to go in January!

Lisa in Chicago