Posted on 5 Comments


A friend of mine reminded me I hadn’t written a blog post in a while. It’s not like I haven’t been anywhere, I have, but they’ve been short trips, nothing exotic. I have seen some neat things though.

It started in August with a trip to NYC to help a friend shop for her gallery in Colorado. Even though we were working we did take a little time off.

I’ve probably walked by this tiny garden on 34th St. a dozen times but never noticed it because it’s behind a nondescript metal gate. You can get a key to enter this and other key gardens for $2!

This is the first time I’ve been in NYC since the Vessel opened near the Highline. NO I did not climb it – you have to get a ticket, I didn’t have the time or the energy but it is neat to see.

Jane’s Carousel was nice to see in person. I’ve never taken the time to go to Brooklyn before. It was fun walking around the waterfront under the Brooklyn Bridge.

Jane’s Carousel
Platter I did for Jane

A few years ago I was hired to do a platter for Jane of her carousel. She is a friend of some New Bern folks. Jane and her husband bought the Carousel at auction when the park it was in in Youngstown, OH closed. It took them 22 years to restore it, with Jane doing much of the work on the animals I was told. It is now in a wonderful building in DUMBO.

This is the 2nd Philadelphia Tobaggon Company Carousel (PTC No. 61) I’ve had a close encounter with.

The other was PTC No. 6 in Colorado and I did a series of 6 drawings of that one.

Brooklyn Bridge
Truman Capote

Lots of writers lived in Brooklyn Heights and we walked by many of their homes. Henry Miller, Arthur Miller, Hart Crane, Truman Capote, Thomas Wolfe, Richard Wright, John Dos Passos, Norman Mailer, Paul Bowles and WH Auden all lived near each other.

This is something I’d never seen before, Brooklyn Cat Cafe. You pay to go in $7 and spend time petting and playing with the cats! You can also adopt them. Their website says that on weekends there is often a line and a 30 minute to an hour wait to get in to play with the cate, so make your reservation ahead.

Thousands watching a free movie in Bryant Park – it was fun!

After NY I went on a whirlwind trip to Greenville, SC, Asheville, and West Jefferson. I was in Greenville briefly once before, this time I was able to walk around the park and waterfall.

Asheville was a blur with just a few stops then off to West Jefferson, hadn’t been there in at least 20 years maybe more. On the way stopped for lunch and a drink at the Little Switzerland Inn. Then continued to West Jefferson. We enjoyed the Ashe County Cheese Shop. You can see cheese made and their shop is great! We ran into friend and artist Mike Rooney who was there teaching a workshop at the Florence Thomas Art School.

I was home from there for a week or so then headed off to Michigan for my 50th class reunion. I hadn’t been to any of them so didn’t know what to expect. As it turned out it was fun. But before I got there I decided to take the scenic route on the way.

I took Hwy 33 in Virginia and ended up in a beautiful little town by the name of Gordonsville. There were some great shops and a beautiful art gallery – The Annie Gould Gallery.

I often go through Winchester, Virginia on my way. It’s the self proclaimed Apple Capitol of the world.

My great, great, great grandfather, Samuel Trowbridge lived near there and is buried in the Little Mountain Cemetery on property he was awarded after serving in the Revolutionary War. The minister at the Little Mountain Methodist Church told me that he was the first white man buried in the cemetery. He and his wife Christiann had a farm on Apple Pie Ridge. His son, my great, great grandfather Joseph Trowbridge went west and ended up in Frankfort, In. His son Aaron Moon was in the Civil war and went to Ohio when it was over. His son Wallace Orth Trowbridge, my grandfather ended up in Michigan.

Since it was before Halloween I saw some neat decorations on my way.

Had to turn around to get a shot of these guys. This wasn’t far from my hometown,
my niece said they get new clothes about every season.
Love this pumpkin made out of a round bale of hay and a stump!

After a few days in Michigan I headed south again. This time all the way to Charleston to my nieces wedding.

That was another short visit. But on the way I drove through Wytheville. I’ve driven by 20+ times on 77 but just never stopped. I was surprised what a nice little town it is, from the highway it just looks like one big truck stop. I am always attracted to advertising art so could not resist a photo of this big pencil at the Wytheville Office Supply.

Home again then back to Michigan for a family reunion. Spent the weekend with my sister and didn’t do much else. The 2nd weekend in December I got a chance to go to Hyde County and see some of the natural world. The tundra swans are there for the winter. I wish I would have gotten a photo of them as they flew overhead.

Thousands of birds, sometimes you can’t even see them but you sure can hear them.
Bear footprint along the path.
Some kind of big cat print.

It was interesting that all along this path near the impoundments just west of Lake Mattamuskeet we saw pile after pile of animal droppings, we assume they were marking their territory.

Then for the last trip of the year I headed out to another wedding in South Bend, Indiana. I flew into Chicago because I hadn’t been there in 25+ years. As a young adult it was just 4 hours away so went often. I spent Friday on a walking tour of public art, it was cold but so much fun! I was going to add Chicago to this post but too much to post about so I’ll post that one in a week or so.

Travels coming up in 2020 – 2 weeks in Key West, a month in Ft. Myers, 2 weeks in Colorado and a 2 week tour of Budapest, Vienna, Prague, and Salzburg, and maybe Maine and Nova Scotia this summer, can’t wait!

Posted on 6 Comments

New Bern NC Bench by Janet Francoeur

In ceramics things can be more complicated than they first appear!

New Bern NC Bench by Janet Francoeur – A couple years ago when we were at UNC Hospital I saw benches in the garden. I knew immediately who did the metal work, one of our artists (we used to carry) at Carolina Creations, and sure enough when I called Cindy, she said yes, they had built the bench and a potter from Chapel Hill had made the tiles.


I asked her to make two of them for me. Cindy said they wanted to make a few changes on the design and after a few months they arrived at our studio. That was a funny story in itself. These benches weigh A LOT! They are made of heavy gauge steel, zinc galvanized to prevent rusting,  painted with high quality marine grade epoxy paints, and like I said are heavy.

The trucker got them off the truck and onto the sidewalk. After some head scratching Michael and I got out two hand trucks and we managed to inch both of the benches closer to the studio door. It was a lot of work and we finally sat down on one of them to rest. Just then two young ladies came along and said “do you need some help?” They picked up each of the benches and carried them into the studio!

Then our lives got really complicated and they have been sitting in our entryway ever since. I’m finally at the point that I can tackle them. On one of the benches I decided to do a new bern scene like I’ve done for some back splashes and platters. The only problem is I use earthenware for the back splashes and platters – and it won’t hold up outside in freezing and thawing conditions.

So you would think I would just go and get other clay. It’s not that easy. There are lots of kinds of clay and they all are not appropriate for tile making. So you have to do a lot of testing, will they fire flat? Will my glazes hold their color at a higher temperature? If there is too much grog in it will I be able to draw a straight line?

Well the first clay I tried had way too much grog in it, I couldn’t get a smooth enough surface to draw on. I’ll use that clay to make some totems with. So I eventually bought 4 different kinds of clay and finally found one I liked.

The clay shrinks as it dries then more again when fired so I had to figure the shrinkage out. The people that blend the clay give you a shrinkage rate but like everything in ceramics you need to do your own testing.


I rolled out a strip of clay and marked it off by 1/2 inch increments. Then I could use that to measure the bench opening to see how big my clay slab needed to be (also considering room for grout lines between the tiles).

So you can see in this photo that from wet to being fired to cone 5 it had shrunk by a whole inch . 

I made a test of my underglazes to see how the color holds up at the hotter cone 5. Usually the reds burn out but these Spectrum underglazes seemed to hold up. I had to find a clear glaze to go over my underglazes, since the one I’m used to using will not fire to the cone 5 that I need. I glazed half of the tiles with the cone 5 clear gloss and half with cone 5 clear matt. The right side is gloss the left mat, I like the gloss better. In some glazes you can’t see any difference in others you can.


I got the tiles made….


dried them, fired them to cone 04 then I drew the image onto the tiles with pencil…then colored with underglazes…

bench tiles

then covered them with clear glaze and fired to cone 5, which is the vitrification temperature of this particular clay.

Vitrification is the hardening, tightening and finally the partial glassification of the clay. Vitrification results from fusions or melting of the various components of the clay. The strength of fired clay is increased by the formation of new crystalline growth within the clay body, particularly the growth of mullite crystals. Mullite is an aluminum silicate characterized by a long needlelike crystal. These lace the structure together, giving it cohesion and strength. (from The Big Ceramic Store Website)

Then there is the issue of attaching the tiles to the bench. I needed to build up the base and was not comfortable attaching them directly to the metal so I used Wedi Board, Wedi Board is lightweight, easy to cut, and a completely waterproof tile backer board.

I attached the Wedi Board to the bench with a urethane adhesive…I had to figure out what was the best for that – it had to be suitable for a wet application and outdoors.

…then I covered the board with adhesive and attached the tiles leaving even (well kind of even) grout lines.

Once the adhesive had dried I applied grout that I treated for outdoor use.

And DONE! It only took me a couple years to do.

Like I said, things sometimes are more complicated than they first appear.

Posted on Leave a comment

New Paintings, Calendar, and Christmas Card

I know some of you have already seen these images on Facebook so sorry for repeating. I want to thank you all for receiving my blog updates!

For the past 10+ years I have done a calendar of New Bern scenes.It’s small, a desktop calendar in a CD case. Here are this years images. Some I am also doing prints of and all originals are available. I’m trying to get enough new work for a show at Carolina Creations of paintings from my travels and New Bern paintings but decided I’d go ahead and show these now, I’ll just have to do new ones for the show!

City Hall and Jarvis
Oil – Gothic Cottage Metcalf Street
Oil – Going Fast
Watercolor – Carolina Creations
Watercolor – City Hall and Baxter Clock
Oil – Gate on Craven St
Oil – Johnson Street
Oil – top of New Bern
Watercolor – Benjamin Ellis Bed and Breakfast
Watercolor – David Congdon House
New Bern on Pottery

The Calendar in its case measures 5″ x 5 1/2″. Here is a link to them on my blog.
Thank you for being interested in my work! This year I am feeling really inspired and am producing a lot ot new work. I can’t wait to show you.

And here is my Christmas card for this year.

Jan’s 2019 New Bern Christmas card.

And a link to them.

I hope you have a wonderful day! – Jan Francoeur

Posted on 10 Comments

Road Trip Long Island and Points North

I know people that go to the same place for vacation over and over, it’s comfortable, you know what you are going to get, you can just sit and rest because there is nothing new to explore. Michael used to say going on vacation with me was like going on a forced march, he would have been happy to go to the same place all the time (mostly the Keys!) but for me – I’m curious to see what is around the bend, how people live differently than I do, what new art is out there I haven’t seen before, what food is different, how people plant their gardens, what lovely architecture there is to see – for me it keeps life interesting.

Life-sized public sculptures by Polish artist Jerzy “Jotka” Kędziora at Old Westbury Gardens

I decided to meet some friends on Long Island for a week, yes I knew the traffic would be bad but it’s the only time to go in my opinion! I started out by visiting The Greenbrier in West Virginia on my way. I was not impressed so don’t need to go back there again, however the little town of Lewisburg was nice.

I was driving my Sprinter and while I’m used to driving through big cities and have driven through NYC in it before I wasn’t really looking forward to driving through Brooklyn so got up at 5 am, there was still a traffic jam although not a long one. Actually I prefer a traffic jam over going 70 mph with thousands of other cars never knowing when someone will slam on their brakes. I made with without incident. My first stop on LI was at Old Westbury Gardens, I had been there once but it had been a long time. The gardens were beautiful and at their peak! The estate is on the National Register and was owned by an heir to the Phipps fortune. The money came from his father being partner in the Carnegie Steel Company.

We stayed at Wildwood State Park which was a beautiful campground and in a great location, where the North and South Forks meet.

Our first day we went to Sagamore Hill where Teddy Roosevelt lived. It is a beautiful home, there is also a nice museum, part of the US National Park System. I think the thing that impressed me the most was that it was fully furnished, with all the knick knacks, books, art, etc, that was there when he lived there. I don’t think I’ve ever been in a historic home that had so much original “stuff”. It was really neat to see it all.

The difference of the North Fork, the South Fork, of LI is always a surprise to me, totally different worlds. On the North Fork – Farm Market after Farm Market, dozens of wineries, cider houses, and wide open fields.

We stopped at Lavender by the Bay, they were doing a bang up business, their gift shop is very well stocked with everything lavender.

Lavender by the Bay
Lavender by the Bay
Couldn’t resist Uncle Sam
Loved the look of the front of this Hotel and the lady with the watering can was a bonus. Could be a painting in my future!

We could see that a lot of shops really struggle out there, their tourist season is so short, the middle of June to Labor day, yet the South Fork seems to thrive.

Can’t pass up something like the Big Duck without stopping. Before the wineries, cider houses, and farm stands, raising ducks on the east end of LI was big business. We are told as you approached River head you could smell them. So the Big Duck pays homage to that period. A duck farmer built it and used it as a shop to sell his eggs and ducks out of. It’s now a gift shop and tourist information center.

The Big Duck in Flanders, NY

And Lighthouses fall under the same category as the big duck. Can’t pass one by without a photo.

In Orient they have replicas of the surrounding lighthouses since most are accessible only by water.


We ate at this restaurant near the cross sound ferry at Orient, which I would not recommend, but my photo of it would make a nice painting!

Sailing to Block Island
Montauk Lighthouse and Museum

Block Island – I have been intrigued with BI for a long time so glad to visit and cross that off my list. We took the ferry out of Montauk, it took a little over an hour to go the 12 miles. I expected cliffs all the way around and was surprised to find one side of the island sandy and the other with high cliffs as I had envisioned. The island is very hilly. There were hundreds of boats in the harbors. We docked in New Town Harbor where most boats are moored (maybe a couple hundred), there isn’t much else in New Harbor so took a taxi to Old Town Harbor. We enjoyed the architecture, and walking around, then took a tour of the island.

Block Island
Rainy day on Block Island

After Block Island I spent a couple days roaming around Shelter Island, East Hampton, Sag Harbor, Watermill and other towns. The Mumford Farm ca. 1680, is a collection of buildings on the main drag entering East Hampton. It belongs to the Historical Society and is on the National Register.

There are a lot of windmills on long island.  The reason there were so many is in most parts of the country the mills were run by water running in a stream but on Long Island there are few streams but there is an abundance of wind. The Eastern end of Long Island has the largest concentration of surviving windmills in the country. There are two right in the village of East Hampton.

Mumford Farm East Hampton
Sag Harbor
Marc Dalessio

On my last visit I had driven through Sag Harbor on my way to the Shelter Island Ferry but did not take time to look around. It’s a cute town, quite down market from East Hampton, but with some nice old homes, shops and galleries. My friend Marc Dalessio had a show at a gallery there. This is how I want to paint in oils! loose and impressionistic. Don’t know if I’ll ever achieve it because of my background of architectural renderings I just can’t get away from my fascination with detail. But we’ll see. I’m working on paintings for a show I will have at Carolina Creations, it will be a combination of watercolors and oils. I’ve done some oil paintings through the years but never had enough time to really feel comfortable with the medium.

Beautiful lunch at The American Hotel – Sag Harbor

I visited the home and artist studio of Jackson Pollock and his artist wife Lee Krasner. It is a beautiful spot.

Jackson Pollocks back yard
When they pulled up linoleum from the floor they found remnants of some of Pollocks most famous paintings.

While in the town of Water Mill I visited a mill run by water that grinds corn into flour, they have a great little museum and had an art show to boot.

Also on the South Fork is the Madoo Conversancy. A beautiful garden owned and developed by artist, writer, and gardener, Robert Dash – only 2 acres – but with a lot packed in, including a studio where they had an exhibit – The Madoo Conservancy is pleased to present Madoo: A History in Photographs, Celebrating 25 Years as a Public Garden—an exhibition of photographs, published book and magazine features, and artwork from the archives of Madoo’s founder Robert Dash, including seven pictures Dash produced directly from his garden. It was well worth the visit.

I took the Port Jefferson ferry to Connecticut and my first stop was at the Pez Visitors Center. I would have never stopped there but my friends were there the week before and just mentioned it in passing. They didn’t tell me how neat it is. I had no clue how many Pez Dispensers have been made through the years. It is an amazing collection.

A quick drive through New Haven followed. New Haven was founded in 1637, and my Trowbridge ancestors arrived there in 1639 from England. Then they moved a little north to help found the settlement of Wallingford. My Mom was a genealogist so I grew up thinking about where we came from. Unfortunately genealogy is one of those things that can take over your life. I already have one of those things so can only work to get her research more organized, not do any of my own.

A day on Nantucket came next. The window boxes were fabulous. I took photos of probably 40 of them, each was a work of art.

Before leaving the Cape I visited Highfield Hall and Gardens to see the stick sculpture by Patrick Dougherty.

Not sure I totally agree with him but like his quote about his work – the line between trash and treasure is thin, and the sculptures, like the sticks they are made from, begin to fade after two years. Often the public imagines that a work of art should be made to last, but I believe that a sculpture, like a good flower bed, has its season. – Patrick Dougherty

I then drove across Massachusetts to Pittsfield to see a show of work by John MacDonald, at the Berkshire Museum.

Then to Williamstown to the Clark – my favorite art museum in the country, to see a show of work by Renior and his contemporaries.

A stop to see my sculptor friend Stephen Fabrico and his gardener wife Sara, then home.

Sculpture by Stephen Fabrico

It was an inspiring trip but I knew my yard was suffering in the 90 degree heat so wanted to get home and take care of it. What’s next? 4 days in NYC, hopefully a cold front will be coming through while I’m there. A couple of things on my list for that trip is to see the progress on the RailYards part of the Highline and a walk around Brooklyn Heights and maybe the Botanical Garden.

Posted on Leave a comment

Ireland – Scotland Part 2

I took this trip in October 2018, just shortly after the hurricane. I have been on several trips since but am just now getting around to finishing this post!

We met up with the rest of the group in Dublin then traveled north to the  Giant’s Causeway, a geological area in Northern Ireland. It’s also where a lot of The Game of Thrones was shot. Then we continued along Causeway Coastal Route to catch our ferry to Scotland, and ultimately the Isle of Iona in the Inner Hebrides, a group of islands off the coast of Scotland.


Our bus took us to Oban to catch the ferry Craignure on the Isle of Mull. There are mostly single lane roads on this island, but there were lots of places to pull out to let others pass. We headed to Fionnphort to catch our next ferry. This island is the second largest island in the Hebrides, so the one lane road was a surprise since we had to drive about 35 miles on it. Even though it is a large island the population is only about 3000.

Arriving in Fionnphort we got our first glimpse of Iona. A tiny island just a mile off of the Isle of Mull.

This island has been a place of Christian pilgrimage since the 6th century. It’s described as a “thin place” – there are lots of interesting articles about thin places here is one from The New York Times – and another – and one more. What is a thin place? “It is a place where the boundary between heaven and earth is especially thin. It’s a place where we can sense the divine more readily.”

Iona was the birthplace of Christianity in Scotland. St Columba (grandson of the Irish King Niall) arrived there in 563 AD, built a monastery and converted the pagans to Christianity.

The island is home to the ruins of an ancient nunnery, a medieval abbey, and the burial ground of 48 Scottish kings. It’s a tiny island just 3 miles long and 1 mile wide.  Over the centuries the monks of Iona produced elaborate carvings, manuscripts and Celtic crosses. Probably their most famous work was the Book of Kells, from 800 AD, which we saw at Trinity College in Dublin.


On the hike we crossed the most unusual golf course I’ve ever seen with grazing sheep on it.

We arrived at the beach where St Columba first landed and we picked up green serpantine marble – it is a traditional charm against drowning and the evil-eye. The stone is also called Iona greenstone or St. Columba’s tears. There are lots of different types of rocks on this island – some being the oldest rocks on earth – 3 billion years old. To read more about the geology of the area click here.

There is a rock labyrinth on the beach too.IMG_1574IMG_1557IMG_1555IMG_1541





Our days on Iona were spent going to a worship service at the Abbey at 9 am and 9 pm each day, visiting the craft shops, reading, hiking and thinking about life. It was a relaxing visit.

While on a hike across the island we saw spray shooting up out of a hole in the top of a cave, our guide said that only happens when there are big swells on the ocean indicating a storm in the North Atlantic, and in this case heading toward Iona, more about that later.

For such a tiny island with a population of only 175 there are about 10 shops, mostly craft shops. They get about 130,000 visitors each year which supports the shops and the few hotels on the Island. You’ll find lots of things made from wool, there is a potter or two on the island, weaving, paintings, and jewelry made from local stone.

The Abbey was beautiful, the few streets on the island were picturesque, and the view of the sound was lovely.
We intended to leave on Sunday but Saturday morning we were told if we didn’t want to stay until Thursday we needed to EVACUATE today!! Evacuating two times, just weeks apart was no fun but it did add to the adventure.

Since our tour guide could not get a bus around on such short notice to pick us up we had to take public transportation to get to Glasgow. That was a trip.

We took the ferry across the sound and waited for the public bus to leave. As we drove across the island we saw 11 individual rainbows!

We took that bus to the next ferry, which took us to the train, except they were working on the tracks so we took another bus to meet the train which took us to Glasgow. By arriving there a day early we got a chance to do a little touring there. I loved the architecture in the city, we went to the cathedral then we got to go to the Kelvingrove Museum.

Then back to New Bern to get back to the cleanup after the flood. To read part 1 of this trip click here.

Posted on 10 Comments

Road Trip Southern Italy Part 3 Alberobello to Matera to Amalfi

The Trulli of Matera

We continued on to Alberobello, the home of a large concentration of Trulli. The trulli is a limestone dwelling of corbelled dry-stone construction, a prehistoric building technique still in use in this region. These structures, date from as early as the mid-14th century.

We stayed in an amazing Conference Center, Hotel, and Spa called la Chiusa di Chietri just outside of Alberobello. On their grounds are some of the Trulli. They have some that are restored that you can stay in. And some that are unrestored, we climbed up a precarious pile of stone to stand on a wall to see into what looked like a courtyard or stable.

There are two areas of Alberobello that are UNESCO World Heritage Sites, here is what that website says about them:

These structures, dating from as early as the mid-14th century, characteristically feature pyramidal, domed, or conical roofs built up of corbelled limestone slabs. Although rural trulli can be found all along the Itria Valley, their highest concentration and best preserved examples of this architectural form are in the town of Alberobello, where there are over 1500 structures in the quarters of Rione Montcomprises six land parcels extending over an area of 28 acres. The land parcels comprise two districts of the city (quarters or Rione Monti with 1,030 trulli; Rione Aia Piccola with 590 trulli) and four specific locations (Casa d’AmorePiazza del MercatoMuseo StoricoTrullo Sovrano).

The extent and homogeneity of those areas, the persistence of traditional building techniques, together with the fact that trulli are still inhabited make this property an exceptional Historic Urban Landscape.

Trulli were constructed from roughly worked limestone excavated on-site in the process of creating sub-floor cisterns and from boulders collected from nearby fields and rock outcrops. Characteristically, the buildings are rectangular forms with conical corbelled roofs. The whitewashed walls of the trulli are built directly onto limestone bedrock and constructed using a dry-stone wall technique (that is, without use of mortar or cement).

A doorway and small windows pierce the walls. An internal fireplace and alcoves are recessed into the thick walls. The roofs are also double-skinned, comprising a domed inner skin of wedge-shaped stone (used in building an arch or vault) capped by a closing stone; and a watertight outer cone built up of corbelled limestone slabs, known as chianche or chiancarelle. The roofs of buildings often bear mythological or religious markings in white ash and terminate in a decorative pinnacle whose purpose is to ward off evil influences or bad luck. Water is collected via projecting eaves at the base of the roof which divert water through a channelled slab into a cistern beneath the house. Flights of narrow stone steps give access to the roofs.

The tradition of building in this style has been in the region for over one thousand years. By the mid-16th century the Monti district was occupied by some forty trulli, but it was in 1620 that the settlement began to expand, when the Count of the period, Gian Girolamo Guercio, ordered the construction of a bakery, mill, and inn. By the end of the 18th century the community numbered over 3500 people. In 1797, feudal rule came to an end, the name of Alberobello was adopted, and Ferdinand IV, Bourbon King of Naples, awarded to Alberobello the status of royal town. After this time the construction of new trulli declined.

Between 1909 and 1936 parts of Alberobello were protected through designation as heritage monuments. One thing I found interesting is why this type of structure was popular originally.

They are quite simple buildings to erect because the building process involves no cement – just placing rocks on top of each other. That means they are also quite easy to dismantle.

Centuries ago, when the tax collector was coming from Naples to gather his dues from the locals, they all just took down their houses and so didn’t need to pay anything. Today when restoring trulli they do add cement for safely.

In addition to wonderful olive oil, ice cream, jewelry, wine and liquor, leather goods, and pasta, being produced in the area, there are a lot of weavers too. We came home with some pieces from Donna Lia.

There are symbols on the roofs of many of the trullo. Many are to guard against evil. The different groups are primitive, pagan, magic, Christian, and ornamental. The primitive signs go back to pre-Roman times.

The provided meals on this tour have been great. Of course I love southern Italian food, it’s simple. Our guide Alfredo said they try to use no more than 4 ingredients. It seems about every other night the evening meal is part of the tour, every breakfast is included. The tour company is GoAhead Tours. This is the third time I’ve traveled with them and all three tours have been great.

The night we arrived in Alberobello we ate a traditional farm meal at Masseria Papaperta.

Masseria (Masseria means farm) Papaperta is a historic Apulian masseria of the 1700s surrounded by the green of the Itria valley near Alberobello. Even today, on the entrance to the main hall, is visible the stone that shows the engraving with the date and the name of its ancient founder: 1724 Nicolò Perta.

Another town with unusual architecture in this region is Matera. Matera is famous for its sassi – stone houses carved of of caves and cliffs.

At first sight, the sassi looks like a jumble of faded stone huts – where narrow alleys and stairways lead every which way and streets are sometimes rooftops – but behind the house-like facades are simple caves, inhabited since Paleolithic times – the Stone Age. They say this could be one of the oldest continuously occupied settlements in the world. Some of the dwellings are 12 stories high, the floor of one is the stone roof of another, cave upon cave.

People lived in the sassi up until the 1950s when it came to the attention of the outside world what bad conditions people were living under. Large families lived with their livestock in the caves without running water, electricity or sewage. The government then relocated the inhabitants of the caves into new housing in the new town on top of the cliff.

Our local guide Brunella said her Grandmother – now 95 – lived in the sassi. She asked her granddaughter “What you do for a living I don’t understand, why would anyone want to see that, they should go see our mall.” Living conditions were pretty miserable for her and the others living there. Brunella also said that as a child – when the sassi was just abandoned and no one lived there, they would skip school and play there knowing no one would ever find them. Photos of interior below – doesn’t look too bad now but add animals, no running water or toilets.

They would often share a common oven somewhere in the Sassi to bake their bread. Each person “branded” theirs with an iron so they knew which loaves were theirs.

The area was declared a Unesco World Heritage Site in 1993. People are moving back into the caves, having been restored and transformed into comfortable houses, restaurants and hotels.

The best way to experience Matera is to wander through the labyrinthine alleys and streets of the two sassi districts, Sasso Barisanoand Sasso Caveoso.

There are chiese rupestri (cave churches) which were excavated by Basilian monks fleeing persecution during the Byzantine Empire. Inside the chiese rupestri are faded frescoes painted between the 8th and 13th centuries. Chiesa Madonna delle Virtu and San Nicola dei Greci in Sasso Barisano and Chiesa di Santa Maria d’Idris (which is connected by a narrow corridor to the recessed church of San Giovanni in Monterrone) in Sasso Caveoso are decorated in frescoes. Many are almost inaccessible today.

Matera was built above a deep ravine called Gravina of Matera that divides the territory into two areas. Matera was built such that it is hidden, but made it difficult to provide a water supply to its inhabitants. Early dwellers invested tremendous energy in building cisterns and systems of water channels.

The largest cistern has been found under Piazza Vittorio Veneto. With its solid pillars carved from the rock and a vault height of more than 50 feet and it is like a water cathedral, which is navigable by boat. Like other cisterns in the town, it collected rainwater that was filtered and flowed in a controlled way to the Sassi.

There were also a large number of little superficial canals that fed pools and hanging gardens. Later, when the population increased, many of these cisterns were turned into houses and other kinds of water-harvesting systems were developed.

From the Sassi we traveled over the Apennines to the Almafi Coast. I didn’t realize just how high this mountain range is. The highest point is 6500 feet which doesn’t compare to Colorados 14,000 footers but from here we are starting at sea level, not 5000 feet like Colorado. It was a beautiful drive, the fields of poppies were beautiful. I also loved the way they train their Pittosporum into trees. Might be a different genus than the ones I have in my yard but I might try to trim mine differently after seeing these.

We spent 2 nights in Salerno, not my favorite city but it’s on the water and we had a beautiful meal right across the street from our hotel. The owner brought the fish out on a platter for us to choose from. We even had our own private fireworks!

We drove to Amalfi and toured the town. The crypt of the Cathedral there is stunning. Surprisingly Amalfi was not my favorite, pretty touristy, Ravello was. We didn’t see all the towns along the coast but of the ones we saw Ravello captured my image of that coastline.


The images below are of Ravello

Ravello, like other towns along the Amalfi Coast were settled by Romans who built the amazing road along the cliffs, still in use today.

There are two fabulous gardens in the town. Villa Cimbrone and Villa Rufolo. I’m sorry we never made it to Villa Cimbrone, we were beat by that time. A good reason to go back.


We stayed in Salnero for 2 nights to tour the Almafi coast, if I were to do it again I would stay in Sorrento or our guide suggested Praiano (near Positano but not as expensive). That being said we had a fabulous dinner with an amazing view and even our own (or so it seemed) fireworks. We were presented with the fish we might wish to eat. We had that along with broiled vegetables and yellow potatoes. Bobbi and I had a knack for picking memorable places to eat and the food was always fresh and yummy.

We had two stops on our way back to Salerno. One was in Minori at an amazing place if you like pastries.

They are most famous for their Delizia al Limone. Again not on WW but worth the points.

Eat dessert first – which we did – then our last meal of the trip was eaten at Ristorante San Pietro, Cetera. It was great. We started with a half dozen hors-d’œuvre’s each one tastier than the last. The biggest surprise was the pasta with a simple sauce which included anchovies, I’m generally not a fan but you couldn’t really taste the fish, it just added a slight tang. Delizioso!

The trip was perfect. What were my favorite places and experiences? I’m used to traveling alone so was thrilled to have a totally compatible companion in Bobbi to travel with. Since it was our first trip together we didn’t know how it would be but it couldn’t have been better. And I’ll have to say it WAS more fun than alone. As far as the places we saw I guess I would say Lecce (love the over the top architectural decoration and our restaurant experience), Osterini (because of the beautiful restaurant we ate in and the art gallery with unusual pottery), and the old town Bari and Ravello. But every single place we went was wonderful. Ciao!

Posted on 6 Comments

Road Trip Southern Italy Part 2 Lecce to Ostuni

Lecce is in the heel of Italy’s boot, with olive trees as far as the eye can see. It is called the Florence of the South because of its baroque architecture. As we found in Bari the shops close from 1-3 for siesta! I don’t remember them doing this in other parts of Italy I have visited. And it might just be in the old part of town that this happens.

While the history of Lecce goes way back the period Lecce is most famous for is the 17th century when the Palaces and churches were built in the Baroque style out of soft local limestone. The Basilica di Santa Croce is the focal point of the old city with its amazing facade. But there are many other fabulously decorated churches in this small space.

You can still see ruins of a Roman amphitheatre which is at the dividing line of the old and new city. The amphitheatre is surrounded by buildings put up by Batista – Fascist architecture – which we saw a lot of in Napoli. It is partly buried because other ancient building were built on top of it. In its day it would hold 20,000. It is still used today for concerts and celebrations. Only the lower tier of seats remain. Near the square theatre there is a pre-Roman necropolis where Messapian inscriptions have been found.

There are a lot of beautiful shops with local art. I don’t recall seeing the pumi before. Pumi are decorative elements in a form recalling a bud that is going to bloom. Symbolizing prosperity and fertility, in the folk culture of the Southern Italy they defend from evil. Deeply rooted in the traditional culture of the ‘heel of the boot’, Pumi are very popular in Puglia, decorating magnificent palaces as well as simple balconies. I could do without the fertility but had to have one to take home.

We had a great time shopping in Lecce, both Bobbi and I met artists and purchased there work. We saw a lot of earthenware sculpture with a white glaze – love it.

This region is also famous for its papier mâché.

Scenes from Lecce.

We went to Otranto for a quick visit, and had a wonderful farm to table meal and wine tasting close by.

We left Lecce the next day and drove to Ostuni – the White City on the top of a hill. Ostuni is located in a region that has been inhabited since the stone age. It is believed to have to been founded by the Messapii, destroyed by the armies of Hannibal during the Punic Wars and then re-built by the Greeks – hence the Ostuni name meaning “new town.”

Its whitewashed defensive walls and houses in the old town with many winding streets, steps and beautifully decorated, colorful window frames can make you think you’re somewhere in Greece. Ostuni’s history is shown predominately within it’s architecture; with many buildings still standing dating back as far as 990 AD when the city was sacked by the Normans and added to it’s own county. The majority of buildings date from 1300 to 1463.

Our guides recipe for limoncello
Translation 1 litre grain alcohol 96 proof
8 organic lemons
1 1/2 pounds sugar
1 litre water
Peel the lemons (use none of the white)
soak the peels in the alcohol for 2 weeks in a dry dark place
strain through a fine linen cloth
make a syrup with the sugar and 1 litre water
for Christmas he adds a cinnamon stick and 16 cloves
strains again
and salute!
It must be drunk very cold – put it in the freezer and drink it from there.
Our lunch spot in Ostuni

As I discovered the last time I was in Italy the further south I got the more I liked the food and the fewer people there were – well once you get away from Napoli.

Next post Road Trip Italy Part 3

Posted on 4 Comments

Road Trip Southern Italy part 1

My trip started by arriving in Naples, one of the most densely populated cities in Europe. Before I left home I saw a couple of videos and heard people talk about Naples, or Napoli as we were instructed to say (because Naples is in Florida) they said it’s chaotic, dirty, and crowded. It’s all of that but I’m glad I got to walk the streets. The architecture, the street food, the graffiti, the people, all were wonderful (well maybe not the graffiti). Driving from the airport to our hotel, just off Toledo, made me glad I was not driving, it reminded me of driving around the Arc De Triomph in Paris, or pretty much anywhere in Mexico City. You just go and hope others will not hit you, no street lights, hardly any lane markings through some of the city. You walk that way as well, we were told, cross at the crosswalk and be assertive, just step out and they will stop.

There are 60 museums in the city, we visited the Muse o Archeologico Nazionale di Napoli which has many artifacts found at Herculaneum and Pompeii. Some of our group went to Herculaneum, I had been to Pompeii on a previous trip so chose to stroll the streets.

We only got to see one of the Subway stations but Line 1 and Line 6 of the Napoli subway system have become an open-air museum with masterpieces between the staircases and docks. The stations are filled with colors, mosaics, installations, sculptures and photographs. Architects were chosen from across the globe to design each of the stations and international and Italian artists to provide the art. It has made a significant impact on the surrounding areas of the stations they say. Read more about it.

Not on WW but had to have a sfogliatella – The sfogliatella Santa Rosa was created in the monastery of Santa Rosa in Conca dei Marini in the province of SalernoItaly, in the 17th century. Pasquale Pintauro, a pastry chef from Naples, acquired the original recipe and began selling the pastries in his shop in 1818. Yum!

We left Napoli and drove to the city of Benevento –A UNESCO World Heritage Site . They know the Romans were here in 298 BC, there is a large Roman theatre here and the Arch of Trajann. The Arch of Trajan is one of the best-preserved Roman structures in the Campania (as this region of Italy is called).
The church we visited was built in 760 – The Church of Santa Sofia, it’s circular of Lombard design. It was severely damaged in an earthquake a while back but has been restored. It’s interesting that in the construction they used artifacts as building materials, some from the Roman times. They also have a lot of artifacts from that period on their grounds. The church has a  cloister from the 12th century. The church interior was once totally frescoed by Byzantine artists: fragments of these paintings, portraying the Histories of Christ, can be still seen in the two side aps.

The Appian Way is one of the earliest and strategically most important Roman roads of the ancient republic. And it ran right through this arch.

From Benevento we headed east and stopped at an interesting Castle Castel del Monte  or Castle of the Mountain – built in the 13th-century it sits alone on a hill, no need for a moat because being the highest point in the area you could see the enemy coming, even from the sea. It was built by the Emperor Frederick II, who had inherited the lands from his mother Constance of Sicily. It is a UNESCO World Heritage Site (one of 54 in Italy – of the 1092 sites worldwide, Italy has the most of any country.

The Between Benevento and Bari were miles and miles and miles of olive trees and vineyards. Bari is on the Adriatic Sea. Again – reading about Bari on the internet people kind of pan it. But we were entralled. The ancient part of Bari – Bari Vecchia – is a maze of narrow alleys. It is fascinating. The homes are tiny and much of their living is on the street.

St Nicholas is the patron Saint of Bari. They were preparing for the twice yearly celebrated festival when we were there. If you go on a tour in Europe you invariably go to dozens of churches, the Basilica of San Nicola, is a treasure built in 1087 to house the relics of the patron saint of the city. Today it is a popular destination for pilgrims from all over the world, devoted to St. Nicholas, but especially Russian Orthodox citizens, with whom the city of Bari has important relationships. Putin had even visited there recently.

There is a pasta that they make here – the women sit in their doorways and cut and twist the pasta into shapes called orecchiette – little ears.  Click here to see a video of them cutting and twisting the pasta.

From Bari we headed to Monopoli – a town with heavy Greek influences. The Agean sea is less that 70 miles wide at this point with Albania and Greece being the closest countries to the east.

Our last stop of the day was to visit an olive farm – Masseria Brancati – This is the oldest masseria (fortified farmhouse) in the region. They gave us a tour of their ancient underground oil mill used throughout the Middle Ages and up until 1800. We saw olive trees that were 2000 years old. There are some in the region that are 4000 years old. The oldest trees are given a number and are protected – read about the Millenari Di Puglia. We tasted their oil and learned about the different qualities of them. The first press is the extra virgin and has the most antioxidants and is the strongest. Whether extra virgin or virgin has to do with the time the olive is harvested. Here in this region (maybe everywhere I don’t know) they are harvested first in October, then 2nd in November and 3rd in December. The December harvest is the mildest and the one you cook with. The October is the strongest flavor and most healthy. The November oil falls somewhere in-between.

The trunks of these ancient trees are amazing

We had some rain in the area of Italy “that it never rains” but it didn’t dampen our spirits or slow us down.

Next stop Lecce – called the Florence of the South – in Road Trip Southern Italy Part 2

Posted on 2 Comments

Isabelle de Borchgrave in Naples, Fl

I’ve been to Naples, FL quite a few times but never made it to Artis – a museum and performing arts center. They have a fabulous exhibit there right now, in fact two of them. Costumes (even the jewelry) made from paper by Isabelle de Borchgrave , and sculptures by Philip Haas.


Every bit of these costumes, jewelry included, is made out of paper. They are fabulous! I was impressed with the size of the show too, it filled 4 of their galleries.

This was my favorite

About her, her work and “this exhibit, which was Co-organized by the Frick in collaboration with four other American museums, this major exhibition presents the full breadth of de Borchgrave’s exploration of historical costume through contemporary paper sculpture. If you’ve never seen the artist’s work, you will be delighted by these breathtaking, life-size renditions of historic clothing created completely from artfully painted, pleated, crumpled, and manipulated paper.








From replicas of Renaissance Italian gowns to recreations of the fantastical modernist costumes of the Ballet Russes, Isabelle de Borchgrave’s work is meticulously crafted and astonishingly beautiful. The artist’s interest in creating paper costumes was sparked by a visit to the Metropolitan Museum of Art in 1994, where she found herself inspired by the historic costumes on display. Back in her studio, she began to experiment with creating renditions of the pieces in paper. Since then, de Borchgrave’s paper costumes have been featured in major exhibitions around the world.

This immersive exhibition celebrates the breadth of de Borchgrave’s work with costume and fashion history and is designed to introduce her work to a wider audience. De Borchgrave’s paper sculptures are masterpieces of trompe l’oeil—even upon close inspection it is often difficult to discern that the costumes are made of paper.” 

The exhibition includes examples from all the artist’s major series, beginning with her exploration of 300 years of fashion history in the works created for Papiers à la Mode. The works from her Splendors of the Medici series are inspired by Italian Renaissance costumes portrayed in Old Master paintings. Her next series, The World of Mariano Fortuny explored the work of the iconoclastic Spanish fashion designer, famously based in Venice, and her most recent series, Les Ballet Russes features fantastical modernist costumes designed by artists like Picasso, Bakst, and Matisse.”

They have a table with samples of the paper “fabrics” you can touch

There are costumes fashioned in paper from paintings I was fortunate to see in the Uffizi Gallery in Florence, Italy last year. I was “taken” by the entire exhibit, everyone knows I’m not a fashionista, but I was enthralled by the artistry of the crumpled, painted paper!



The piece above was commissioned by the Frick to depict the costume in a painting from their collection Peter Paul Rubens’ Portrait of Charlotte- Marguerite de Montmorency, Princess of Condé.

In addition to making clothing made of paper she is also a painter. The artist was born in Brussels, Belgium in 1946, is a countess, and her work has been shown worldwide, if you get a chance to see it don’t miss it.

They also have about a dozen sculptures by American artist Philip Haas.
These outdoor pieces are about 15 feet tall and made from fiberglass.
The four seasons.

His sculptures are inspired by the works of Giuseppe Arcimboldo, and Philip is also a film maker.

Both exhibits are worth seeing!