Italy-2019-Bagno Vignoni, Motalcino & Abbey of Sant Antimo

Bagno Vignoni was close to where we stayed – so we caught a glimpse of it on our way from Montepulciano, on that evening. It is a resort town. a very small one. built on hot springs. They do not let you into the big pool, only if you use the hotel pools which are around 30-40 e per person, or you can immerse your feet into luke warm water flowing from the big pool: A man is washing his feet in hardly warm water canal: The evenings in Tigliola were really beautiful: The next morning we stopped at Montalcino – it could be seen from Tigliola, but driving on winding roads was further. It has a big castle, small downtown of which this church looked to me the best:Then not so close by. but we still decided to see abbey of St. Antimo – it stands alone in a valley: It was very dark inside, big columns and only one stained glass window. But a meadow around it with white little flowers-  was a really calming and delightful place!Views from the town above the abbey: Then we drove and drove until we reached Siena! And it was super! Siena is a city almost equal to Florence in regards of art treasures it has. Till next time in Siena!

Italy-2019-San Quirico d’Orcia and Tigliolo

After regaining some energy in the hot springs we drove North on winding mountain roads. The sights were beautiful, several hill towns here and there, but no time to stop and check them up… We had to find our next place of stay. It was 7 km from San Quirico d’Orcia – a nice town with nice parks and of course-  churches:   But the main attraction for us was when we noticed their covers of utility panels. Each of them had a different picture of mice-  oh those Italians, they make even such details aesthetic!  There we bought food for the next 2 nights we were staying in the middle of nowhere-  in a Pogio – like an estate surrounded by fields and watched the sunset.To tell the truth – those 7 km to the estate were not my favorite, the road was not good at all. It is just for farmers and smart business people who turn the old estate into an exotic Inn: We had a 2 story apartment with a kitchen an all. The other apartments were even bigger making the Poglio fit for family reunions and parties. The owner lives in Pienza, he comes occasionally, for with this big wave of emigrants from Eastern Europe it is so easy to have a lady who comes to let you in, to instruct and then do your room after you leave.  The is the road we drove…With farming fields and a single tree here and there:Next day – to Pienza and Montepulciano.

 

Italy-2019-Saturnia Hot springs and hill-towns

From Pitigliano it is a beautiful drive to Saturnia hot springs-  no more than 30 km. They are called Cascates de Gorello and they are the best! No nudity and free! the temperature is perfect. some sulfur smell – good! In addition you sit in those natural cascaded pools on very round little stones, like on some peas, you can massage your hands and feet! : The springs from the road in front of them: Then we visited 2 hill-towns -Sovano and Sorano. Similar names. And the towns are similar, but different! I liked Sovano more-  it has nice parks, nice little gardens with blooming irises and trees and a very existential empty main square: Sorano is on a cress of a hill by a very deep canyon. it is picture perfect. but scary to get to its edges. It also has a restored big castle:From the first sight it may also look similar to Pitigliano…Middle ages…Modern cities also look the same… Next morning we wanted some pampering again, so we drove to Cascates de Gorello, relaxed, healed and then off towards our new sightseeing!

 

 

Italy-2019-Pitigliano

We rented a small car at Sixt by Ciampino, it was only 119 e for 8 days – a good price. It is not hard to drive in Italy if it is not in Rome. In Rome traffic is very intensive, the streets are complicated, some with trams, and not surprisingly there a traffic jams. But Ciampino airport is by a highway and in the middle of the day it was a good drive out of the metropolitan area. 40 km north we reached a town Monterosi, and from there turned towards a lake on a small road. The countryside was beautiful, the warm and peaceful day reflected on the lake:The town by the lake is called  Trevignano Romano, is very picturesque and is loved by Romans for getaways: Fancy chimneys: There were several hill towns on our way, but we stopped only in one -Montefiascone. There we climbed the hill in the center, admired the cathedral and enjoyed the swings on top of the hill in the park with the far away views! The cathedral is build on the side of the hill leaving the top for the park. But the interesting part of it was  that it was of octagon shape, very unusual. The other interesting feature-  it was built on an old Roman temple, turned into a church – mausoleum for St. Lucia. Her body is in the center of the octagon, mummified, I guess, in a fancy glass coffin. It is evidently an example of one of those strange Italian fascinations with mummies and reliquaries: We reached Pitigliano at dusk. Made total of 185 km, not so many but we got tired. This was the most exotic stay of our trip. It is called Grotto on Booking.com. In the very center there used to be a place to house horses. the new owner Anna turned it into a very cozy apartment built literally in a steep vertical rock! With modern amenities, kitchen and all a person needs. There were windows towards the valley of a stream very very low down. Luckily – we didn’t need to climb up or down to the Grotto because the center of the town was there. Well, we had to go down one flight of stairs only, so here it is: The red doors are ours: This is the view from our entrance or exit: Pitigliano is a town of inner gardens and stairs. I wonder how old people manage to survive: This church was seen also form our doors towards the other side of the deep valley:Pitigliano at night: A view from the other end of town:          This is the cathedral of Pitigliano: St. Mouse or Rat? The castle-palace of the  nobleman who ruled the town, it was being restored:We walked around two mornings and two evenings and the rest of the days we spent driving to some other hill towns and the hot springs.

Italy – 2019 -Rome

It took us almost 3 h by train to reach Rome. Then walked close to half hour to the apartment – it was the closest to the station we could find. Rome is huge. And the apartment was super cute, but as all things in life-  not ideal – it was on the 5th floor-  so much climbing after hiking in Rome every day for the whole day… This is the view from our balcony down to the yard, so it was a super quiet apt:Rome-  we saw the same nice places, walked the same nice walks as the last time and also some new. To tell the truth it didn’t impress that much this time…Maybe you have to stay there longer and not to walk as much :-): This time the Spanish stairs were not in repair, so we could experience their atmosphere and see people enjoying them: A drug store-  we used to have like that in Lithuania-  but  greediness of freshly established capitalism destroyed all of them…: Via  Apia Antica – the old road to Rome where Catholics used to be buried because they were not permitted to be buried in the city in Roman times. It is conveniently located by Ciampino airport  – so after renting a car we hiked a little on this part of Via Apia with its fantastic pine trees: Bishop’s hat – this is how this grave is called: So after that we got onto the highway and drove North, towards Tuscany.

Italy- 2019-itinerary and Napoli

It was last beginning of March. We visited my parents in Lithuania for a couple of weeks and then flew to Napoli directly from Kaunas, my city. It is a good flight, a convenient one.  But we did not plan to travel in Southern Italy, just used the direct flight and then a train to Rome. After a couple of days in Rome we planned to rent a car and drive North to Tuscany. After our travel experiences we decided that it is more fun to stay in one place at least for 2-3 nights, so we arranged our trip based on that principle. Also – we looked for attractive places to stay at, so it defined the towns where we were staying. We flew to Napoli pretty early, in the morning, so we had some time to leave our bags in the train station and walk around town a little:The center was kind of claustrophobic –  for me the streets were too narrow and churches tucked in between buildings so much so that you may not even notice that there was a church. but we found the Domo – cathedral” Lots of different figurines by cafes and shops: It was a Mardi Gra day – so kids were dressed in  costumes, parents taking there pictures. Like following a strange tradition – rarely a kid seemed very happy in his costume…they were just doi8ng what they were supposed to do – to trash their squares and streets throwing confetti and something that looked like liquid chewing gum. Which made me feel very sorry for the street cleaners…A little “lady bug”: There were also processions in pedestrian streets collecting money for their parishes: The most typical Napoli street to me: We even didn’t stay long enough in the city, got tired and went to wait for the train by the station. Trains in Italy are far from the quality trains in Japan…I don’t mind their seating arrangements and softness, I mind the noise that immigrants make by talking on their phones for hours…I guess phone services are very cheap there. But what can you do  – nothing is perfect during a trip. In Rome we rented and apartment through Air B&b close to train station – why to carry the bags. Stayed for 3 nights, then 2 nights in Pitigliano, 2 nights in Tigliola by Quirico d’Orcia, 3 nigths in Sienna and back to Rome, a sleep on the way by some lake. the trip was good, saw a lot, enjoyed even hot springs, but the very last part of our drive to Rome on its circle highway we got stuck in such traffic jam, that had nerves over the top to get in time to the airport…Travels are rarely unstressed…

Japan-2019-Osaka

Our last day in Japan was supposed to be rainy and we were tired already of walking long distances and seeing too much beauty. So we decided to go to Osaka. There were some other reasons – Osaka is close by, only half hour with a fast train (not bullet), it is in an area where the weather is warmer, not so windy and very humid. Also – it has a circle train route in the very center of the city, so we could  see a lot while sitting in the train and also hopping on and off of it. And finally  -Osaka was the city of World Trade fair when I was a child. Growing up in Lithuania I heard news on TV about it and my imagination went into colors, beauty of all kinds and forms, tents with super interesting things and lots of happy people.  But growing up there I could not dream of seeing Japan with my own eyes-  capitalist world was forbidden for us, unless you or your parents decided to work for KGB, which my family did not. I never planned that on my 61-st year of my life I will be seeing Osaka with my own eyes. Life makes its twists and turns, sometimes -towards better, sometimes – towards worse.  So here is Osaka’s train station: Lots of concrete, lots of modern architecture, several empty weedy lots (!!!), but in general the city looked fully built. Only later we figured out that it was severely bombed during the 2nd world war, hence still empty lots. The train station was fancy, we could see some skyscrapers, also fancy:A little park by this super high skyscraper for people to rest:Persimon trees have a very fancy foliage in the fall: But in totality the city left a sad impression…The cloudy weather did its contribution, the sweat running our bodies and faces, but mainly the number of multistory apartment buildings with little balconies witnessing little flats – they looked definitely unhappy. To rebuild such a city – people are toiling like slaves here. And that could be felt on the streets, which were empty, everybody at work. On our way to the central park we saw a big temple with a big cemetery and lots of interesting sculptures: Very strange artwork by the modern entrance does not fit well with my understanding of any religion and people entering to pray or meditate: Very close to this one temple we saw something peculiar through open doors.  The building was just a plain cube, but inside we saw like some “sugar cone”, all covered with golden Buddhas or so: And through the inner doors there was an opening to the inside of the cone – a big hall that definitely looked like a church. It felt inspiring and sacred. It was worth going to Osaka because of this temple!On the way we saw some very traditional stones and pines by an ugly hotel:And a restaurant decorated with scrap  metal (almost a Japanese version of Gaudi):There is a big park in the middle of the city with a hill and a castle, as is their tradition:

Lots of Chinese excursions in the park. What caught my attention were those little bird figures on a vehicle barrier. Oh those Japanese, they try to make every little detail nice for an eye:

This wall reminded a wall in Bellagio, Las Vegas. The one in a Bellagio restaurant was built by Japanese with the rocks brought from Japan and has the same design: The castle is rebuilt in an old style, but we had no willingness or enthusiasm to climb more steps and see what is inside… A view from Osaka castle hill: Even on such a gloomy day there were colorful families!: This street reminded me a street in my city Kaunas – Vyduno alley.  Only in Kaunas it looks like this at the end of September – beginning of October. Here – it is the second day of December:Once we came back to Kyoto train station – we walked around it or up it because the station is like a museum of modern architecture. There are elevators to go very high up above the station or watch the Christmas light show on the stairs from the bottom: The same stairs – one view is from the bottom, the other two pics – from the top: Andrei in our little room in Kyoto guest house, we liked it! Though the room was small, but high and that made a difference – we felt no lack of space there and loved the wood everywhere! One more pic of any train station in bigger cities to show how clear it is for anyone where to wait for a train, where the line starts and how to be orderly and stand in it, how the fences are made to protect you from fast trains coming to a stop:On our way back in Shinkansen – the bullet train to Tokyo and then to the airport I saw Mt. Fuji from far away. I so wanted to see more of it once we came closer, but strange as it is on such a sunny and clear day – Mt. Fuji was all in clouds…Here is my last glimpse at it :Farewell Japan, the most beautiful country, till next time. I hope it happens!

 

Japan-2019-Kioto 2

Sunday was sunny and we decided there is so much to see in Kyoto- to start from a temple within walking distance form our guest house – the Toji temple. The walk was through a not so fancy park. but still it was not bad: The Toji temple itself was not our point of interest. The antique market on its premises was:So many Japanese precious beautiful things in one place, wow! Of course, I could not sustain from buying… We ended up with two kimonos and some sake cups. Lower is a decorated car  -people were admiring it from all ends, to me it looked crazy. Tastes differ.That was a rare moment to catch some of their clergy in their garb: From Toji it was already not so far to the train station where we caught a bus that belongs to JR and we could use our pass to take a ride to the Ryoan-ji temple. That name sounded in my ears for many years. It is where the famous stone garden is for dzen meditation. And this is the only temple were we felt some sacredness, even with crowds visiting it: The fantastic moss and maple leaves on it-  it is the epiphany of beauty to me! Stairs to the temple: The path were only monks walk: This burial place reminded us of stupas in Thailand, the first one we saw in Japan: Evidently, when some trees mature and their park design requires some straight lines-  they cut the tops in a whole area: This is a vegan restaurant on the temple grounds:   Some old trees get special attention and care!: It is the second time we saw this flower -like dahlia but the stem is like bamboo: Here we accidentally entered a closed temple for the day – the gate was opened and we went in. While wandering in its gardens we found cemetery and part of it was definitely devoted to sumo wrestlers. My guess – the whole temple was, too: Then we walked through an area full of temples, they all are in behind the walls-  so there were a lot of walls. I am wondering- why so many walls, were enemies attacking those temples? Or is it  for us tourists not to see their immaculate gardens without paying a ticket? (tickets are from $5 to $9):We reached Hanazono train station on foot and took a train to  Arashiyama:A nice path leads  from train station to the Bamboo forest. It is a rest area for urban people and boy they use it! We never saw so many people, such crowds as we saw there, but also a lot of beauty: Prices go sharply up where tourists walk: It was getting towards the evening and especially the bamboo forest was already too dark for taking good pictures. But still, to get the  idea: A very rare find  – cats! it is the second time we saw them, so I have to share! When I think back – it was a rare view to see their beautiful flag of The Rising Sun! Once you get from the bamboo forest you find yourself on a slope down or on a slop up. There are temples and views if you go up, but as it was getting late we went towards the river down: There is a monkey park on the other side, but the sun was setting… In the middle of the town we saw some jewels. First – a long hill full of sculptures-  mostly smiling  saints or Buddhas, some of them resembling Catholic saints. One can have hours and hours of fun in that town… Behind a corner-  here it was, another stone garden, just on the street side of  a temple garden for everybody to enjoy!Kissing rocks: You want to enter a temple –  first  enter a ticket office: And that is that. We have to visit Kyoto again, so not enough what we saw here, so much to be seen. But one has to have a lot of energy in one’s legs to see it all! We spent the last day in Osaka. Rain was predicted in Kyoto,. not so much in Osaka and also – we figured out that Osaka has a ring of train tracks almost in the center of the city – so we could hop on and off giving some rest to our legs. So next blog – Osaka!

Japan-2019-Nara

Nara is one of the old capitals of Japan. It is an hour train ride from the main Kyoto station. Well, an hour is a relative assumption – some trains are faster than the others, some stop in all stops, some don’t. You have to immerse into the whole science of their train schedules if you want to figure out the best one for you. Or you just come to the station and take the one that comes first. You come out of the station in Nara – and here it is, the nice almost pedestrian street leading to the famous park:Side streets from the main street  are for shopping, prepared for rains:Closer to the park – temples start to appear: The park is famous of its tamed deer:There are many kiosks selling 10 waffles(I am not sure if it is a health food  for deer…)  for $2 – so the deer could not wait to get the waffles from tourists and went to ask for them by himself: Some deer get aggressive, catch people by their clothes insisting for a waffle. Some are very polite, they bend they heads 2 times and get a waffle, that is the rule:A scary sculpture at the entrance of one of the temples: We figured out that  there are so many temples and shrines and the park is so big – it would be worth to spend in Nara not a day, but at least 3 days… We headed towards this so called waterfall and were not disappointed, not inteh waterfall, in the temples on our way: There was a rest room, like a real rest room, not a toilet, with ikebanas, statues, TV showing their celebrations and hot tea for everyone! A really welcoming place is Nara’s park! I liked that rich woman with her dog. I say rich – because we happened to enter a pet store in Tokyo  and were shocked at dog and cat prices. Therefore-  almost no dogs on the streets and definitely no cats. Cats are in cat cafes – where they charge you per hour to have a chance to pet a cat.Only now looking at this picture I noticed the form that those colorful several trees are made into- into a circle in the sky! Every little detail in their parks. temples and maybe homes is so polished and thought of.  I wonder about their lives, is it the same?What an elegant lady: We saw lots of kids dressed in kimonos that sunny Saturday, I guess families were celebrating their  3-5-7 year old kids, their custom: This mother was so glad I took a picture of her and her kids-  and I was shy to show that I was taking pictures of them… :A cutie: Seems like a train will come – but it is a shrine: For me personally their shrines are too colorful…And here is one of the happy families: Not all paths in the park are full of people: A little ninja and his mom: Big respect for old trees are felt in all their parks: Every train station has candy shops – evidently it is a habit to bring a box of very decorative candy to their family and friends from a trip: Next day – we spent in Kyoto, it was only the 2nd full day there, not enough…

Japan-2019-Kioto 1

When I am preparing the pictures for this blog I feel amazed how much we managed to do in one day, how much walking, how much looking and admiring! But that is how we travel. because there are so many things to see in Kyoto – we didn’t make precise plans what to see every day. So we started the luckily sunny first day from taking two trains and going to Inara – the shrine of Fox the Goddess, or that is how we understood, for fox sculptures were everywhere, even by graves: It is a popular shrine, lots of people, but many of them are dressed in kimonos, a pleasure to my eyes :-). Also-  shinto shrines are more colorful than temples: The main buildings of the shrine are at the bottom of a hill. But then you inevitably start climbing and paths (not one, a couple!) lead to peculiar structures or corridors made of Tories, shrine and temple gates: Tombs with Tores and little foxes: You can easily spend a day on that temple mountain…A lot of vermilion corridors and a lot of paths, good views towards Kyoto from the top: Andrei is pretending that he is symbolically washing his hands, but he is not: What a strange structure and strange colors amidst those browns and vermilion: There is such an abundance of different shrines and temples, one can choose the best for praying or meditating, or leaving your wishes,  or just admiring: An altar for wishes – they are written on the little boards you can buy once you enter temple grounds: This is the view form the train station positioned very conveniently for the Shrine. The hill or mountain in the distance – is the one you climb in those vermilion corridors. Seems not a high one form here:Only two train stops and you reach the main Kyoto station with the view to the TV tower: The futuristic Kyoto station: We walked from the station straight ahead – for a long time, maybe even an hour. There was a Budhist temple on our way Nishi and Higashi Hogan-ji: We could walk on their perfect polished floors in the temples (of course-  without our shoes), see the art on their walls but I had no feeling-  just super neat, no clutter, like even sterile, and I felt bad about not feeling any sacredness…And here is a traditional house already in the park where Imperial gardens are. We reached after a really long walk, now I would suggest to figure out a bus and take it to there from the station. Once you enter the big park – the house is on the left for people to see how emperor’s guests or some prominent family lived. What impressed me most of all were the floors! The palace gardens are all surrounded with a big wall. But even the park outside the walls was outstanding! The pine trees reminded me of our Lithuanian park in Palanga: There are not one but two compounds of palaces with their walls in that park – one can investigate them for the whole day… Luckily the main Imperial palace was still open and we could have a glimpse of what kind of buildings were there and what kind of paths their holy feet touched: And no, nobody would let you in, only yards and gardens…They didn’t let us into the part of the gardens that were for the Empress and the kids. Then again we walked through the park towards Philosopher’s walk… There was another Sento Palace compound on our way but to get into it-  you have to make reservations on the internet in advance. So we enjoyed the sun and the colors of teh park:So Japanese…The white thing is a lantern, it is lit at night and it has a chrysanthemum shape on the side, seen only at night:We reaches the Philosopher’s walk only in dusk and it got dark very soon. It is by a deep running stream, in a fancy district with rich big houses. I think it is so advertised because of the sakuras that grow by the stream, so it is really impressive in spring. Now even the Philosopher’s cafe was absolutely empty…nobody to philosophize with…On the way we saw several temples further, had no strength to go to them, just the decors by the street:This is the theater with some information on those little boards: This is one of the few streets (Shijo-dori) very lit, very commercial and very crowded:  And so managed to reach our guest house, very tired. That was a full day. Luckily there was a supermarket close by where we could find very interesting and very tasty foods!Next day we took a train (1h) to Nara.