Paper & Felt Research Trip - Italy and onward - Part 4

Dear All,
I added some views of Anghiari to our last blog, Part 3. Anghiari is a lovely little Italian hill town which you don't hear much about.
The next day, after a final meeting with Cristina, who gave us the felt she made the night before, we said our good-byes to dear Elizabeth and drove northwest on a route Elizabeth recommended.

Overlooking Lake Trasimeno; a lovely drive.

We found our most agreeable B&B in Prato, the rather posh Podere la Rondine. And Don wanted immediately to go into Florence. We had made the mistake of driving into Florence before; a nightmare. Many pedestrian only areas and only vehicles with certain license plates able to drive on certain days. Many one-way streets. So we took the train, a very short ride.

Almost immediately as you wander out of the train station in Florence there is Santa Maria Novella.

And there are all the tourists, hovering around the Duomo.

We found all the tourists, and they are in Florence, and of course, Rome and Venice. Well, we can't expect to have everything go so amazingly well as it did in Umbria. We could not get in to the Uffizi Study Room. You have to book well in advance. It's very difficult to do so from California. All I could find were web sites that would book tours of the Uffizi or regular admission tickets. Anyway, the crowds were getting to us.

An artist has wrapped columns with fabric.

Jacquard fabric

We found a pretty decent restaurant which served organic food, looked at a couple antiquarian print dealers and went back to Prato and our very stylish and comfy B&B, with our hostess who looked as if she had stepped out of Italian Town & Country.

The next day we went to the Textile Museum in Prato. According to the museum, there was an important Etruscan center in this region (Prato is near Florence) until the 5th century when the Romans took over. Textile manufacturing has been documented in the Prato area since the early 12th century. In 1296 there is documentation of 67 water mills in the area. These were not only used in the making of textiles and fulling wool, but grinding grain, making paper, sawing lumber and even cutting marble. Water and watermills were a major power source.

And they also used fibers from all sorts of plants. It sounds as if hemp was a large crop in Central Italy up until recently, used in the making of cloth, rope, etc., but then was phased out because of political pressure. Just say no.

Also, more recently, Prato became a center for the re-use of mainly woolen fabrics, woven and knitted. The wool fibers were taken apart and rewoven or re-knit.

There were a lot of beautiful and strange old machinery

The principles of converting the rotary power of a waterwheel into an up and down action had been known in Alexandrian times, but the earliest evidence of water powered fulling mills comes from Persia in the 9th century. Fulling is the process of cleaning the dirt and oil from wool, and also works to meld the fabric together and shrink it somewhat. It was done by people, as well as fulling mills - most pictures I've seen have been women - stamping or walking on the wool or fabric, sometimes in urine, which was used as a cleaning agent.

Back on the road and on to another center of ancient papermaking near Lake Garda, Toscolano  Maderno and the Valle del Cartiere, or Valley of the Paper Mills.

Lake Garda over Toscolano Maderno; we did not take this photo. From

We stayed at a B&B at the top of one of the mountains. Quite a hairpin drive getting up there.

A lovely view. (Reminder: if you click on the photo, you should get a larger version, which I think is particularly helpful with these  horizontal panos.)

The next day a hike in the Valle del Cartiere, a beautifully green and lush area, which once housed dozens of paper mills.

The cypresses were planted to help prevent soil erosion. Their roots are non-spreading and dig straight down into the soil, according to a placard we read.

Old paper mill ruins

And inside their papermaking history museum

An old stamper mill, used for crushing and breaking down fibers, seeds, etc.

A fellow who may have not been a professional papermaker, but what a great shirt!

Burnishing some finished paper.

A lot of old equipment there and quite a few old paper mills, mostly in ruins, on a lovely walk we took up the Valley of the Papermakers.

Decided to drive down a little closer to the airport in Bologna; we opted for staying in a city we had visited and really enjoyed before, Mantova or Mantua.

Approaching the old city on an overcast day.

A great band was playing at Bar Venezia. Especially liked their Tu  vuo fa l'Americano. 

We sat down and had some gigantic Campari spritz in honor of Venice, and the complementary appetizers they served which we shouldn't have eaten as we had made reservations at a lovely restaurant.

Ristorante il Cigno; Trattoria dei Martini

For some reason, we took almost no photos of the restaurant, only the food, so the above and the next two photos are from the TripAdvisor web site, after I fixed them up a bit.

A room adjacent to the dining room with a beautiful ceiling and painted cornice

And this is our terrible photo, which shows that you can bring your dogs into the restaurant if you're a regular and the dogs are freshly groomed.

Don was very excited to try what the waiter described as a recipe from the chef of the Gonzaga. I am sure they had many chefs with many recipes as the Gonzaga family ruled Mantova and other parts for 400 years. This turned out to be breast of a capon (a castrated rooster, sorry to say). It was absolutely delicious and unrecognizable as chicken; it tasted like an altogether different bird with an altogether different texture to its meat. One compensation for the poor capon is that it gets to live far longer than the more run of the mill chicken.

My baked branzino (European sea bass) with artichokes and potatoes. Yummy.

And Don had - surprise! - shaved truffles over tagliatelle. 

The blue necklace you see me wearing is of felt beads, made by Cristina Biccheri, dyed with European indigo or woad as they used to term it in the Middle Ages, and was a present from Elizabeth Wholey. You will see me wearing it in almost every photograph from now on. Its so lightweight and even helps keep me warm.

No dessert, please, but they brought us some delicious nut cookies anyway which we couldn't resist. We waddled away, agreeing that it was one of the best meals we had ever had.

Next morning, drove from Mantova to Bologna, returned the car in plenty of time and with the minimum of hassle. BTW, I highly recommend AutoEurope (a car rental site for Europe) and Europcar (a car rental agency), that combination. We have used them at least a half dozen times with no problems and in fact excellent service. We have had horrific problems with other agencies, like Avis in France. Crooks.

Ciao, Italia. We are off to the next chapter of our trip, Great Britain.

Ci vediamo presto!  (we hope)


Era and Don