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Written September 11-14 and Oct 5
Dear Family and Friends,
Day 1 -- arrive Monday, September 10
We were settled by 6pm and quickly made it out into the crowded streets. It seemed everyone was chatting with everyone else, telling the stories of the day with proper volume and animation. We scouted out places for dinner, but would need to wait since even the earliest restaurant opens only at 6:30 pm and most wait for an hour after that.
Simply to kill time, we stopped at the tiny Raffaellodegusteria bar for a glass of wine. We joined the half-dozen regulars who could squeeze inside and we ordered local Sangiovese red wine. The small bar top was laden with snacks, from nuts to finger sandwiches and we were encouraged to take our share. When we apparently were not diving in with enough gusto, the waiter brought some to us to make sure we got th idea. We got it. After two glasses of wine, the man next to us struck up a conversation, as best can be done with no language in common. The friendliness came through though, and he insisted on buying a glass of Modella de Avola (sp?), another local red wine. Staying sober is going to be a struggle here.
The hotel had recommended the La Trattoria del Leone for dinner. The food was good, the setting old and cozy, and the service was good, despite the lack of English. There is a pattern here. Afterwards, we needed to stop by the corner gelatto shop for one ice cream to share before we called it a day. We ate it sitting on a stone curb on the main square, listening to the chatter of a summer evening. Very Italian.
Day 2 -- Tuesday
We had our standard slow start: coffee, breakfast, read the news, wrote diaries. Our plan was limited to visits to the Ducal Palace and to Raffaello's house and, of course, good Italian food. We fulfilled our plan.
The Ducal Palace (no photos allowed) was as impressive as we had expected. The palace is huge, but only the royal residential rooms are open to visitors. The series of 15th and 16th Century "apartments" built to impress followers impressed us for sure. I was particularly taken by the wood inlay of several of the doors and of the Duke's "library". The intricacy of the pictures would have been difficult in pencil and paper, but in carved slivers of wood it is unimaginable. Marianne focussed on the art work on display and was both impressed and disappointed. Little background on the paintings and sculpture was provided, but the collection displayed art from several famous Italian artists of the period.
Raffaello's house was an interesting example of an Urbino city house of the 15th century. The famous artist was reportedly born in this house and it is still decorated with enough period furniture to have some lived-in feeling, unlike the Ducal Palace. (Again, no photos seems to be the Italian approach to these tourist attractions. Better for post card sales?)
The rest of the day included a lunch in an inner courtyard; very nice location, good food, marginal service. We passed on dinner in favor of a couple of glasses of wine, and bar snacks, at the Raffaellodegusteria, the same bar we visited yesterday. A nice pattern.
I also spent a fair amount of time taking pictures. Results were not photographically outstanding, but it was a fun way to poke into the nooks and crannies of the old city. And we now have memories of the nooks, crannies, squares, and hazy hills. Here are a few to share:
Same routine. Slow breakfast. Museums*. Walks. Food. Pictures. Sketches. Etc. A pattern that we can get used to.
* Today was full of small museums. Quickly:
-- Oratorio of San Giuseppe (St. Joseph) -- An old building from the Albani family, the family of Pope Clement XI and a dynasty that plays a large role in Urbino. The chapel and the separate nativity scene were a pleasant, personal-sized, relief from massive cathedrals.
Side panel examples above. Altar panel and details below.
-- Botanical Garden -- This may be the smallest, and simplest, botanical garden we've ever visited. However, there was no denying that it was old (early 1800's). The ginkgo tree towered at least fifty feet in the air. Note also some of the potted plants, plants in pots not much bigger than the trunks of the plants themselves.
This site was more elaborate than our earlier oratories, so no pictures were allowed. (I know, you are breathing a sigh of relief.)
Mixed in with all this culture, we managed an excellent lunch at the Antica Osteria da la Stella, a nap back at the Albergo, and wine-with-snack at Raffaello's. Earlier in the day I had taken a picture of Valentino and Alberto, the Raffaello guys, hugging one of the neighborhood babies and they appreciated when I emailed it to them.
It was raining in the morning. This might have allowed us to just goof off and read. Not a bad prospect.
In fact, our tourism discipline kicked in after the breakfast rain. We went out to see the one museum remaining on our "Urbino tourist Card". At 7 euros each for seniors, the Card allows bargain entry into all eight museums in town and completing the circuit seems like what one needs to do. Maybe without the incentive to make the most of our 7 euros, we would not have seen the small places in town, including today's City Museum (Museo della Citta), at that would have been a mistake.
The Urbino City Museum has five rooms with limited, but interesting, themes: local crafts and old town infrastructure. We saw engraving and printing displays, architecture, mechanics, carved art, and, I believe, an explanation of the sewer system from medieval times. Displays all in Italian are not my specialty. Not your everyday themes, but worth the time on a gray Fall morning.
Lunch was an in-room picnic with excellent cheese, ham, and wine from the store-side of Raffaellodegusteria. Our plan had been to then go out for a photo shoot from across the valley back to the city, but the rain has now settled in and we are going nowhere. We really do get to read (and work on this diary).
Tomorrow we move on, farther south, but the weather is not encouraging. We'll see how today proceeds as well as how Friday turns out.
Friday, September 14
It is still raining so we will pack up, eat breakfast, retrieve our car from the parking lot, and leave.
Conclusion on Urbino: I (John) loved it. I am pretty certain Marianne did as well, but she gets to make her own comments. The city itself is fascinating because of all its history of course, but it is also fun because of all the liveliness, even if that did mean party noise outside the hotel until 3:15am! Being able to share a bit of that friendliness with Gigi, Alberto, and Valentino at the Raffaello cafe-bar was also special, but maybe not so different from what we would continue to see as we headed south. Very Italian especially Southern Italian.
John and Marianne
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