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Family Fun, Gardens, Oregon, Outdoor Activities, Pacific Northwest, Portland

It’s Time to Stop and Smell the Roses in Portland

August 31, 2017

A visit to Portland’s world famous International Rose Test Garden is truly a treat for the senses. The heady fragrance of thousands of roses greets you even before you see them. Here on 4.5 acres in the city’s Washington Park, high above Portland’s hustle and bustle, visitors will delight in the sights and aromas of more than 10,000 individual plants and 650 different varieties of gorgeous roses.

About 700,000 people visit Portland’s International Rose Test Garden each year.

With whimsical names like Angel Face, Candy Cane Cocktail, Carmel Kisses, Champagne Wishes, First Crush, Falling in Love and Jump for Joy, giant blooms and tiny tea varieties give approximately 700,000 visitors a year something to smile about.

How about Gold-medal winning Sunshine Daydream to brighten your day?

These beautiful blooms are a delight to the senses.

Barbra Streisand, Bishop Desmond Tutu, Pope John Paul II, Dale Chihuly, Ingrid Bergman, George Burns, Coretta Scott King, Dick Clark, Marilyn Monroe and England’s Queen Elizabeth are among the luminaries who have a namesake rose here.

Well-known people from around the globe including artists, philanthropists, world and religious leaders have namesake roses here.

While the peak month for rose viewing is June, our visit in August was sensational. According to the Portland Parks & Recreation Department, which owns and manages the Rose Garden, roses are in bloom from May through October.

These floral favorites were glorious even in August.

Plan accordingly–we arrived in April one time and were disappointed to see we’d come too early. We enjoyed a stroll through the lovely Japanese Gardens across the street instead (see earlier blog post).

More than 650 varieties of roses are grown here.

“Hot Cocoa” seems right, even in the summer.

The oldest continuously operating public rose test garden in the U.S., Portland’s International Rose Test Garden just celebrated its 100th birthday. The centennial was marked this August with music and other activities.

Portland recently celebrated 100 Years of Roses– that’s why it’s called the Rose City.

During its 100 years of operation the Rose Test Garden has served as just that—a testing ground for new varieties of this floral favorite. During World War I, the Garden also became home and protector of European-grown rose varieties threatened by bombing.

Admission is free and so are guided tours given at 1 p.m. daily from Memorial Day through Labor Day.

To get the most from your visit, download a self-guided tour from the Rose Garden website or join one of the free guided tours offered daily at 1 p.m. from Memorial Day through Labor Day. Enjoy the roses during your visit but remember, absolutely no plantings or cuttings can be removed from the Garden.

Dick Clark’s namesake rose won “Portland’s Best Rose” last year.


Admission to the Rose Garden is free. There is limited metered parking available but it can be a challenge to find due to construction in Washington Park. Consider taking public transportation or a ride share to reach the Garden. Take Trimet MAX to Washington Park and then use the free shuttle from the station that runs throughout the Park.

The next time Portland, Oregon is on your itinerary, treat yourself to a visit here and find out why it’s called the Rose City. And take time to smell, the well… you know!




Family Fun, Gardens, Oregon, Outdoor Activities, Pacific Northwest, Portland

A Walk in the Woods—Portland’s Hoyt Arboretum

May 22, 2017

If you enjoy a walk on the wilder side, visit Portland’s Hoyt Arboretum. Just up the hill in Washington Park from the refined and well-manicured Japanese Garden, nature lovers will find 12 miles of rustic trails that run through the 187-acre park.

Visitors can explore 12 miles of rustic trails, many fairly rugged. There are two miles of trails suitable for strollers and wheelchairs.

Trails are well marked and lead to “family” groupings of trees.

The Hoyt Arboretum boasts 6,000 plants and trees representing 1,100 species and it’s free to visit. The trees, first planted in the 1930s by John W. Duncan, are grouped with others they are related to, in areas closest to their natural, native habitat.

The Hoyt Arboretum is a nature lover’s paradise in Portland’s Washington Park.

Visitors can meander down the Magnolia Trail to the Magnolia Grove or view a broad array of holly on the Holly Loop. You’ll find Oak Trail, Beech Trail, Maple Trail, Hawthorn Trail, Walnut Trail, Redwood Trail, Bristlecone Pine Trail— you get the picture. If you have a favorite kind of tree, chances are you can find it here, along with its closest relatives.

Volcano Vista is one of many scenic spots in the 187-acre “living museum.” Mt. Ranier, Mt. St. Helens, Mt. Adams and Mt. Hood are off in the distance.

Be aware that many of the trails are fairly rugged and not well suited to people with ambulatory challenges. There are, however, two miles of trails appropriate for strollers, wheelchairs and less sure-footed visitors. Be sure to wear comfortable walking shoes for your Arboretum adventure.

The Magnolia Grove was a personal favorite. There are so many varieties of this beautiful flowering tree to enjoy at the Hoyt Arboretum.

The Hoyt Arboretum hosts 90-minute tours on many Saturdays, but it’s best to call or check the website to confirm the schedule. In the autumn, there are Fall Color Tours and during April, which is Arbor Month, volunteer docents guide visitors on the Magnolia and Spring Blossom Tours. A $3 donation is suggested for the tours.  Check with the Arboretum for other tours and events throughout the year.

Check out the guided Magnolia and Spring Blossoms tours, held on Saturdays in the Spring.

The Hoyt Arboretum is pet and family friendly.  We encountered a number of families with cavorting canines and energetic children frolicking in the meadow areas.

Daffodils, a sure harbinger of Spring, were blooming in the Winter Garden during our recent visit.

The Visitor Center, which includes a small nature center and a research library, was closed when we visited, but the restrooms were open. There were brochures available, which included handy trail maps.

There was something to delight the eye in every area of the Hoyt Arboretum. This is a view of the Winter Garden.

There is a Winter Garden to explore and a picnic area when you’re ready for a break. There are no cafes or restaurants on the Arboretum’s grounds so come prepared. We often stop by Elephant’s Deli on NW 22nd Avenue. It’s a great place to pick up provisions on your way to Washington Park. You can order everything from pizza to black bean burgers, prepared while you wait, or order ahead for sandwiches, sack lunches, full picnics, and platters. They also have “grab and go” items, a full bakery, and plenty of specialty foods and gift items. A complete menu is available at

Specialty foods, full picnics, platters, pre-packaged salads and sandwiches, side dishes, baked goods and more are on offer at Elephant’s Deli.

Get a pizza, fried chicken, burgers and other entrees to bring to the park or enjoy before you go. There are no dining facilities at the Hoyt Arboretum so be prepared.

There is a small pay parking lot at the entrance to the Hoyt Arboretum or take the free Washington Park shuttle bus up from the transit center (Max Red or Blue lines to Washington Park). The complimentary shuttle runs around the park from April through October. For current information, please visit and enjoy your walk in the woods in this remarkable spot in Portland.


Architecture, Art, Cultural Attractions, Family Fun, Outdoor Activities, Outdoor Art, Pacific Northwest, Portland

Seeking Serenity at Portland’s Spectacular Japanese Garden

May 9, 2017

Gorgeous grounds, stunning views and an authentic Japanese experience have been delighting visitors to Portland’s spectacular Japanese Garden since 1963. Now, the beautiful 12-acre oasis, which includes five separate gardens with plenty of peaceful seating areas for reflection, a Japanese Tea House, tranquil ponds, and meandering paths perfect for contemplation, has even more to offer. Last month the new $33.5 million Cultural Crossing opened to visitors.

Follow the footpaths, steps and bridges that lead to each of the separate and distinctive garden spaces within Portland’s Japanese Garden.

The new $33.5 million Cultural Crossings expansion project includes new exhibition space, library, tea house and additional garden areas, all designed to enhance the authentic Japanese experience for visitors.

Designed by respected architect Kengo Kuma, the Cultural Crossing’s new buildings provide the perfect showcase for traditional Japanese arts and culture and serve as a venue for family-friendly activities and interesting demonstrations. An already popular attraction is even more appealing with the new expansion project. No wonder the lines for tickets are long. Purchase tickets online and check-in at the membership desk, exchange your voucher for a ticket there, and avoid the serpentine lines that are sure to continue for some time.

Minutes away from Portland’s busy streets, the Portland Japanese Garden is an oasis of tranquility.

Many visitors take the complimentary shuttle up to the gardens and walk back down to the parking area along the paved pathways.

Visitors can either take a complimentary shuttle bus or walk up the pathway to the open and airy Japanese Arts Learning Center–the heart of the new project with performance space, library and classroom.

Young visitors take a break on the steps inside the new Jordan Schnitzer Japanese Arts Learning Center.

The ground level Tanabe Gallery currently hosts an exhibition of ceramics, calligraphy, and sculpture by former Japanese Prime Minister Hosokawa Morihiro.

A delightful display of ceramics, calligraphy, and sculpture by former Japanese Prime Minister Hosokawa Morihiro are currently on exhibit in the Tanabe Gallery and Pavilion Gallery.

The expansive display, Hosokawa Morihiro: The Art of Life, a Rebirth in Clay, continues in the Pavilion Gallery, which also includes a portable teahouse.   Two additional “Art in the Garden” showcases, one featuring Kabuki costumes and the other, Noh masks and costumes, are scheduled for later in the year. The Japanese Garden will host related events and activities associated with both.

A portable tea house with the implements needed to perform a classic Japanese tea ceremony are part of the current exhibition. Noh masks and costumes and Kabuki costumes will be featured in the galleries later this year.

Now, to explore these magnificent gardens! The Strolling Pond Garden was our first stop, after a visit to the Learning Center and Gallery. Visitors can walk across the “iconic Moon Bridge” over the Upper Pond and enjoy the views.

Stroll the “Zig-Zag Bridge” over the Lower Pond which is surrounded by iris. It had not quite bloomed at the time of our visit, but was close. The aptly named Heavenly Falls provide the perfect backdrop to the Lower Pond and were a popular “selfie stop.”

The Heavenly Falls provide the perfect backdrop for contemplation or photo opps.

Follow the rough stepping stones along a lantern- lined path through the beautiful Japanese Tea Garden to the authentic Kashintei Tea House. Typically, the tea garden is a place to appreciate nature’s beauty and “the art of living in harmony” while leaving the cares of the world behind. This is certainly the case at the Portland Japanese Garden—it is so serene it’s easy to forget you are mere minutes from busy city streets.

Visitors are invited to leave their worldly cares behind when they explore the authentic tea garden and Kashintei Tea House.

The Kashintei Tea House, which is where tea demonstrations and related events are held, was brought to Portland from Japan and reassembled here.

Contact the Japanese Garden to learn when tea demonstrations and other events are scheduled for the Kashintei Tea House.

The Portland Japanese Garden has a lovely Sand and Stone Garden, created by Professor Takuma Tono, the Garden’s chief designer in the 1960s. These “dry landscape” gardens are sometimes called “Zen Gardens” because they are often found at Zen monasteries and are meant to invite quiet contemplation. The Sand and Stone Garden here illustrates an important Japanese concept—“the beauty of blank space.”

Enjoy your moments of Zen at the Sand and Stone Garden.

Recent additions to Portland’s Japanese Garden include the Natural Garden, which features local plants not typically associated with Japanese gardens and depicts seasonal change.

The cherry blossoms were in full bloom during our recent visit to Portland’s Japanese Garden.

The small courtyard garden (Tsubo-Niwa) and the Ellie M. Hill Bonsai Terrace are both new and located near the Tateuchi Courtyard in the Cultural Village.

Visitors are treated to an exquisite display of bonsai at the new Ellie M.Hill Bonsai Terrace.

The Flat Garden, which highlights each of the four seasons with specific plantings and trees is popular with visitors. The weeping cherry tree on the left represents spring while a 100- year old maple depicts autumn.

The Flat Garden is meant to be viewed from a single angle either from inside a home, where the door or window serves as a frame, or from a verandah, as these visitors are doing.

The gravel stands in for water, signifying summer in the Flat Garden.

After you’ve finished strolling around the gorgeous gardens and interesting exhibitions, stop in and sample the fare at the new Umami Café. During our visit, just a week after the April 2 reopening, the café was not yet serving food but was offering complimentary samples of four delicious teas from Tokyo-based Jugetsudo Tea Company. We were told that light snacks and sweets would be offered in the near future.

Stop in the new Umami Cafe for a restorative cup of tea and authentic Japanese sweets and snacks.

During our visit, guests were offered four different and delicious teas as part of a complimentary tea tasting.

When His Excellency Nobuo Matsunaga, the former Ambassador of Japan to the United States, visited the Portland Japanese Garden, he proclaimed it “the most beautiful and authentic Japanese garden in the world outside of Japan,” according to the organization.

Tranquil settings such as this one near the Upper Pond, have been drawing visitors since 1963.

They currently report more than 350,000 visitors annually, a number that will surely grow with the addition of the new Cultural Crossroads expansion. Be sure to add this spectacularly beautiful and serene spot to your Portland itinerary.  Visit for the most up to date information on tickets, events and hours.


California, Carmel, Family Fun, History, Monterey Bay, Motorcycles, Museums

Motorcycle Mania—Moto Talbott Collection

April 6, 2017

I’m not much of a motorcycle aficionado myself, but I have been married to one for enough years to recognize the distinctive sound of a Ducati from a distance. On our recent trip to California’s Monterey Peninsula, we drove up to Carmel Valley to indulge in some wine tasting and discovered the Moto Talbott Collection My husband’s delight quickly faded when he saw the motorcycle museum was closed, but fate smiled once again when founder Robb Talbott appeared in the courtyard.

Moto Talbott is a “must see” for motorcycle aficionados.

We had a nice chat, but Mr. Talbott was off to an appointment so no chance for a sneak peek behind the gates that day. We left with the promise to return later that week; my husband clutching the newly printed brochure Robb had kindly given him.

Rare, vintage, award- winning and beautifully restored motorcycles, all with stories to tell, await visitors to Moto Talbott.

Bright and early that Friday morning, we returned to Moto Talbott. In the courtyard were the museum’s newest acquisitions—two BMW Isetta 300s. Originally produced in Italy in the 1950s, Issetas are known as micro cars or “cabin scooters.” These two had been languishing in a hayloft in a Northern California barn for more than 40 years. Robb had picked them up just the night before.

These Isseta micro cars had just arrived after languishing in a hayloft for 40 years.

The Moto Talbott Collection has only been open since November 2016 but is already attracting motorcycle fans from all over. The collection is mostly motorcycles (more than 160 of them) but also features scooters, vintage transportation- themed toys, motorcycle memorabilia and more. The bikes are artfully displayed in a 6,000 square foot building with walls of snow barrier board trucked in from Wyoming and constructed by hand. Every detail has been carefully thought through.

This BMW is handsomely displayed against a handcrafted wall of Wyoming snow barrier board.

There are some real gems in the collection, including the Ducati Marianna that won the very last Motogira D’Italia in 1956 and is credited with saving the Ducati Company from possible closure. There’s a terrific photo of the wining rider, Guiliano Maoggi, with a cigarette clenched in his teeth on the wall above the bike, along with the fascinating story of his victory.

Visitors can learn about the last Motogiro d’Italia and the winning Ducati’s intriguing victory tale.

Steve McQueen’s 1931 VL Harley is there, as is a demonstration bike from WWII with the gas tank and engine covering cut away so soldiers training on it could learn what went where. This particular bike, which is quite a rare find, came to the collection complete with troop movement maps, gloves and a fully- functioning Thompson sub-machine gun, which has since been rendered inoperable.

Every bike has a fascinating story and a great deal of history behind it, including this rare WWII demo bike.

There’s a Vespa specially designed to promote Coach’s leather goods, a motorcycle that was buried in the backyard to protect it from certain destruction in a fire, race and award winners, beautiful restorations, trial bikes, rare and vintage motorcycles—they’re all here.

Each Coach logo was carefully hand painted on this promotional Vespa.

What really makes a trip to Moto Talbott special is the opportunity to learn the history and stories behind these bikes from the engaging and knowledgeable docents. We were fortunate to spend the morning with Rich Watson, former Economics professor at UC Santa Barbara and a lifelong lover of motorcycles. Rich could not have been more informative and entertaining. We were captivated by the intriguing tales he told, from his description of riders being impaled by enormous splinters during the American board racing days of the early 1900s to stories of unbeatable BSAs.

Engaging docents like Rich Watson enrich the visitor’s experience by sharing the stories and history behind the bikes.

These Indians from the early 1900s were used for American board racing– an extremely dangerous form of motorcycle racing not permitted for decades.

The impressive collection currently features road bikes and dirt bikes from 16 countries, from the Czech Republic to Mexico. MV Agusta, BSA, Bultaco, BMW, Indian, Harley Davidson, Kawaski, Maico, Gilera, Triumph, Honda—nearly every notable motorcycle company is represented here.

Road bikes and dirt bikes from around the globe are part of the collection at Moto Talbott.

The “Riders for Health” motorcycle under the orange vest traveled more than 80,000 kms bringing health care and aid to those in need in Zimbabwe.

The former proprietor of the highly regarded Talbott Vineyards and chairman of the board of the eponymous clothing company his family founded, Robb Talbott’s commitment to excellence and quality is as apparent in the Moto Talbott Collection as it was in his previous endeavors. The museum was at least three years in the making and was created so that he could “…share his passion for bikes and beauty… And mostly to share the stories of these bikes and their history.” The museum’s mission statement rings especially true after talking with Robb—”preservation, restoration and education…all driven by passion.”

Some of founder Robb Talbott’s vintage toys are displayed here.

We also had the chance to meet Bobby Weindorf, the museum’s curator and chief restorer.   Motorcycles have been part of Bobby’s life since he was 12 years old. His career was built on his passion: five years with American Honda’s factory road race and Supercross/Motocross teams; a dealership in Santa Barbara for 10 years, and several years in Italy working with motorcycle race teams. When asked about his three favorite bikes in the collection, he chose the 1977 MV Agusta 850SS because, “It’s big, powerful and makes a bold Italian statement,” a 1977 Hodaka Super Combat Wombat, “…cute dirt bike with an awesome name,” and a 1965 BMW R 69S in Granada Red, for it’s “pure elegance in a rare color…”

Moto Talbott is dedicated to preservation, restoration and education–and doing a spectacular job in all three area.

Bobby noted that Moto Talbott will continue to evolve: expanding and changing the collection, offering events, and continuing to educate visitors, preserving the “survivors,” and restoring the classic motorcycles that he and the others involved in this marvelous museum have worked so tirelessly to make accessible to motorcycle lovers from around the world.

Please visit for the most current information on opening hours, events, and ticket prices.








Family Fun, Outdoor Activities, Park City, Skiing, Utah

Back to (Ski) School— Hitting the Slopes at Deer Valley

December 31, 2016

It had been more than 25 years since I last slid my feet into skis but when the chance came to join some friends on their annual ski trip to Park City, Utah last March, I took it. This would be my first time to visit Utah. A short Delta flight from San Diego and then an Uber had us in Park City in no time.

There is lodging ranging from hotel rooms to home rentals at all price points in and around Park City. We stayed at a friend’s home in this beautiful area close to both Park City Mountain and Deer Valley.

We set off to get provisions for the house and made a quick trip to Christy Sports Ski and Snowboard Rentals where my friends had reserved their equipment. Book your gear in advance online and you’ll save about 15 percent. There are numerous rental outlets to choose from in Park City and the ski resorts have their own shops and rental facilities, too. Check around for best prices.

Downtown Park City has plenty of stores, boutiques, galleries and restaurants for every taste and budget. You’ll get the best value in ski gear rentals with an advance booking online at places like Christy’s, which is outside of town.

We had a delicious dinner at the Blind Dog on our first night. It’s a casual restaurant popular with locals and visitors with an expansive menu sure to please most. There are salads, seafood and steak dishes to choose from, as well as both gluten free and vegetarian options. There is also a sushi menu available, which several in our group chose.

The Blind Dog has lots of menu options including gluten free and vegetarian selections.

Everything was fresh and tasty and the service attentive.The Blind Dog’s “Whine List” has a very good selection with plenty of by- the- glass options, beers, cocktails and sakes. The restaurant also has a gift shop with all manner of Blind Dog merchandise.

Indulge in some after dinner shopping at Blind Dog in Park City, UT.

The next morning we were off to Deer Valley Resort. There wasn’t as much snow as in years past, but the mountains were beautiful and I was excited to start my ski adventure.

Deer Valley is a full- service ski resort with lodging, restaurants, shops, gear rentals and a terrific ski school.

The others were planning to ski both Deer Valley and Park City during our time there, but I was advised to start at Deer Valley. Their ski school is highly regarded and after my lengthy hiatus from the mountains, lessons were definitely in order. Note: Deer Valley is for skiers only–snowboarders are welcome at Park City Mountain.

Park City Mountain welcomes snowboarders and skiers. Free buses shuttle visitors between the mountain and downtown Park City.

The Deer Valley ski school staff suggested I purchase a beginner’s day pass, which allows access up to Silver Lake –about mid-mountain and high enough for me. A beginner’s pass was only $35 while a full day pass was $120 for adults. There are discounts available for seniors, children and military. You must have a pass to take lessons.

You must have a ski pass to take lessons at Deer Valley. The beginner’s ticket is perfect if you’re only planning to go mid-mountain.

I also opted to rent my equipment at Deer Valley. You can purchase your lift ticket, equipment rental and pay for lessons at the rental shop—one stop shopping. Since I chose the three-hour afternoon ski lesson, I was also counseled to wait until noon to get my rentals—great advice since the price is reduced at that time. I found out later that my rental also included a complimentary subscription to Ski Magazine.

Deer Valley has a highly regarded ski school and lived up to its reputation with patient, knowledgeable instructors.

By 12:40 p.m. I was fully outfitted and making my way to join the others in my “Max 4” lesson, so-called because there is a maximum of three other students plus an instructor. Students are matched as much as possible based on level of skill, age, etc. I was with three other women and all had been back on the slopes far more recently than I. Mike Wirt, from upstate New York, was our excellent and patient instructor. He critiqued with kindness, gave practical pointers and instilled confidence in all of us.

Being back on skis after a 25- year hiatus was fun and exhilarating. Yes, I fell a few times but that was no surprise!

I was a little nervous when our instructor took my poles away but it actually helped me improve—immediately. Before long, I was skiing with a new found confidence and while I fell a few times (including a pretty spectacular wipeout that involved a fence), I thoroughly enjoyed myself.  I had a wonderful and exhilarating afternoon, and thanks to Mike’s excellent instruction, I’m looking forward to my next adventure on the slopes.

In addition to skiing, you can book snowshoeing and sleigh ride excursions at Deer Valley or rent skates at Park City and take a few turns on their on-site ice rink.

Deer Valley Resort has numerous options for dining and refreshments. I enjoyed a restorative hot cocoa at Deer Valley, Etc., the coffee shop on the plaza level, and a casual lunch at the cafeteria there. My friends dined at Silver Lake Restaurant, which they raved about, but my lesson time precluded meeting up with them mid-mountain.

There are also shops to explore and a handy locker room to stow your stuff while you’re on the slopes at Deer Valley. Lockers are $3 for one- time access. The attended bins are $5 for all day access and can be shared.  This is the way to go if you want to ditch outer layers as the day warms up. You may also store your skis overnight with the attendants. Park City Mountain also offers a variety of dining and shopping opportunities as well, and an on-site outdoor ice rink.

Complimentary buses take visitors from Deer Valley and Park City Mountain to downtown Park City where a free trolley is available.

Local transportation is convenient and complimentary— free shuttle buses take visitors into town, up to Silver Lake, to Park City Mountain and all around the area.  There’s also a free trolley that traverses Park City’s Main Street.

The helpful people at Deer Valley’s information booth are happy to assist with transportation, excursions and dining recommendations. In addition to skiing, shopping and dining, it is also possible to book sleigh rides and snowshoeing outings at Deer Valley. The lack of snow precluded us from those activities last time, but the 2017 season looks promising!


Desserts, Family Fun, Firenze, Florence, Gelato, Italy, Tuscany

Three Scoops: Gelato in Florence

October 6, 2016

After a long day of touring, or in the middle of a long day of touring, or just because you’re in Italy, in the beautiful city of Florence, you’ll want gelato. Even if it’s wintertime. Avoid the places with the big puffy gelato displays and colors not often seen in nature. Look for signs that say gelateria artigianale, naturale, or biologico.  Go for gelaterias that keep the ice cream in stainless containers—covered stainless containers are even better.


Covered stainless steel containers keep gelato fresh and flavorful. Daily flavors will be listed on signs along with prices.

All the available flavors will be written on a sign and you already know what fragola (aka strawberry) looks like. We love that you can choose two or more flavors even for small cones or cups, so experiment with any flavor combination you fancy. Go wild! If someone behind the counter asks, “Panna?” Just say “Si” and your cono will be topped with delicious fresh whipped cream, often at no extra charge. Feel free to indulge.


To make your gelato even more satisfying, say yes to panna montata– fresh whipped cream often offered gratis– free!

In Florence, some say Perche No! can’t be beat. This is one of the oldest gelaterias in the city, serving it forth since 1939. It is good, really good, so if you’re in the city center you should definitely stop in for a cone.


Many of the best gelaterias have lines, but they go quickly. It is worth waiting at places like La Carraia.

Often touted as the best in town, La Carraia , with two shops in Florence, is branching out and opening a store in Rome, too. We like their gelateria on the Altro Arno just over the bridge of the same name. This is a line worth standing on– and there is always a line. They also have scrumptious looking cakes and other tempting confections but we single-mindedly stick to the gelato.


You can choose at least two flavors even on small cones.


It’s hard not to be happy with a cone in your hand.

Our little apartment’s location by the Duomo caused us to walk by Edoardo daily. We don’t resist temptation often or easily so had ample opportunity to sample their delicious gelato. Just grab a number by the door and peruse the list of daily flavors while you inhale the intoxicating aroma of their handmade cones. Don’t worry–the line goes quickly.


Grab a number and enjoy the heady aroma of fresh baked cones while you wait at Edoardo.


This is what delicious looks like. Chocolate with chili (cioccolato con peperoncino) and cinnamon (cannella) are two of my favorite flavors.

Grom was the first of the “all natural” gelato we enjoyed many years ago and it’s still delicious. The company began in Torino and now you’ll find them in cities across Italy, including Florence, and around the world from New York to Jakarta. They even have an outpost in Los Angeles now.


Grom is in cities throughout Italy and worldwide.

Gelato preferences are personal, of course, so go explore. Find your favorites and please share your discoveries with us.




Architecture, Art, Churches, Family Fun, Firenze, Florence, History, Italy, Museums, Tuscany

Il Grande Museo del’Opera del Duomo: All About Florence’s Famous Duomo

October 3, 2016

Florence’s Il Grande Museo del’Opera del Duomo has nothing at all to do with opera. Instead, it is all about the work, or opera, involved in building, preserving and maintaining one of the most recognizable Renaissance buildings in the world—Florence’s Duomo, also known as the Cathedral of Santa Maria del Fiore.


A spectacular view of Brunelleschi’s dome from Caffe La Terrazza.

If you’ve ever wanted to see how Brunelleschi’s magnificent dome was constructed, learn what the other options were for the Duomo’s facade, or see the remarkable art treasures once housed in the cathedral, this is the place to come.


Welcome to the recently reopened and reimagined Museo del’Opera del Duomo.


Soaring galleries give visitors a new perspective on the superb sculpture on display at the museum.

Re-opened in October 2015 after years of restoration and reconstruction, the Museo dell’ Opera del Duomo has an exquisite collection of sculpture, paintings and other masterworks displayed on three floors in 6,000 square meters of exhibit space, all designed to showcase the art to its best visual and historical advantage.


A visitor gets an up close look at a statue in the museum.

Most of the works were at one time in, or outside the Duomo.


These sculptures once graced niches in Giotto’s bell tower.

Some of the treasures to be found include the original North Doors created by Lorenzo Ghiberti for the Baptistry of San Giovanni along with the Doors of Paradise by Lorenzo and Vittorio Ghiberti. Replicas now hang on the Baptistry.


Ghiberti’s stunning Doors of Paradise and North Door once graced the Baptistry of San Giovanni but can now be found inside the museum.


Detail of door.

In all, the museum boasts 750 works of art covering 720 years of history.


Arnolfo di Cambio’s stunning Christ with the Soul of Mary


This exquisite silver alter features scenes from the life of John the Baptist and was created by Lorenzo Ghiberti, Betto di Geri, Bernardo Cennini, Antonio di Salvi, Francesco and Leonardo di Giovanni, Antonio del Pollaiolo and Andrea del Verrocchio.

Michelangelo’s poignant pieta, sculpture by Donatello including his magnificent Mary Magdalene as Penitent, and works by Andrea Pisano, Antonio Pollaiolo, Arnolfo di Cambio and other highly regarded Medieval and Renaissance artists are on display.


Michelangelo sculpted this pieta for his own tomb. He later destroyed it. It was reconstructed and acquired by Cosimo de Medici In 1671 and placed in the Duomo in 1722. It was the next to last sculpture Michelangelo ever created.


Donatello’s Mary Magdalene as Penitent draws many visitors.


Sacred items and iconography are part of the museum’s extensive collection.

img_2108In the Cappella Musicale, or music gallery, you will hear enchanting sacred music, and find works by Luca della Robbia and others, as well as rare illuminated music books.


Beautiful music fills this gallery where rare illustrated books, sacred objects and art treasures are displayed.

img_2164Brunelleschi’s dome, still considered a marvel of engineering, remains one of Florence’s most iconic monuments.


Models of Brunelleschi’s dome show how it was built and why it remains an engineering marvel.

In addition to the art treasures, the museum contains original building materials, equipment and tools, dating back to the Duomo’s 15th century construction.


Wooden pulleys, ropes and other original construction equipment used to build the Duomo can be seen at the museum.


Original 15th century tools and equipment used to build the Duomo are displayed near a continuously running film that explores the design and construction.

Also featured are drawings and models of the dome and Giotto’s bell tower, which was begun in 1334, after Giotto’s death. An outdoor terrace offers splendid views of the dome.


Brunelleschi’s wooden model of the dome fascinates visitors.


A detailed model of the bell tower designed by Giotto is on display near beautiful stained glass windows created by notables including Ghiberti, Donatello, Paolo Uccelli and Andrea del Castagno.

Visitors to the museum will learn about the history of this spectacular cathedral, designed by Arnolfo di Cambio and dedicated in 1412. The name Santa Maria del Fiore means St. Mary of the Flowers or Virgin of the Flowers. Once the largest church in all of Europe, today it is third in size, after St. Peter’s Basilica in Rome and London’s St. Paul’s Cathedral.

img_2134A film called Courage to Dare about Florence during the Renaissance and the creation and construction of the Duomo runs continuously in the museum.


A number of possibilities considered for the Duomo’s facade are on display, including this one.

Combination tickets can be purchased for the Duomo Museum, the Baptistery, the bell tower and the Crypt of Santa Reparta, named for the 7th century church that once stood on the site of the Duomo. There is no charge to enter the Duomo, but paid tickets are required for visitors who wish to climb the more than 400 steps to the top of the bell tower.


The Baptistry of San Giovanni always draws crowds. Tickets are required to enter.

Appropriate clothing is essential for entry. In other words, no shorts, short skirts or skimpy, shoulder baring tops on women or men. Bulky bags and backpacks must be checked. Visit for information on ticket prices, hours and tours.


Admission to the Duomo is free but take care to dress appropriately or you will be denied entry.

On our visit, we also had free access to a photographic exhibition called Opera di Viva by Michele Pecchioli, which paid tribute to the hundreds of men and women who have worked to preserve the artistic integrity and cultural heritage of the building and the art works within for more than 700 years.


Michele Pecchioli’s photographs pay tribute to the men and women who restore and preserve the art and cultural heritage of Florence’s iconic Duomo.

img_2560The photos feature the restorers, artists, employees and security guards who play a role in safeguarding these treasurers and ensuring public access to the works for years to come. Note: This was a temporary exhibition and may now longer be available for viewing.


A close up of a security guard charged with safeguarding the priceless treasures at the Duomo and its museum.

When the sun begins to set in Florence, head over to Piazzale Michelangelo for another perspective on the Duomo —and enjoy the gorgeous vista across the Arno over the city.


Some of the most spectacular views of Florence can be had from the Piazzale Michelangelo. Don’t miss a visit to the beautiful San Miniato al Monte across the street. It’s the oldest church in Florence, after the Baptistry.


Florence’s Duomo viewed from Piazzale Michelangelo.


The department store La Rinescente has a terrace restaurant with fine views of the Duomo, as well as drinks and light fare.

If you crave an aperitivo with your sunset and Duomo views, go to La Rinascente, the department store on Piazza Repubblica. Go directly up to La Terrazza on the top floor and you’ll find a little rooftop café/bar with great views of the city and the iconic dome. It gets crowded so get there early or be prepared to wait.



Sensational sunset view over the Piazza della Repubblica from Caffe La Terrazza.

Cin Cin!



Chocolate, Desserts, Dining, Family Fun, Firenze, Florence, Italy, Markets, Pizzarias, Restaurants, Shopping, Tuscany, Wine bars

Florence’s Fantastic Mercato Centrale

September 22, 2016

Craving a cappucino and a cornetto? Need a bouquet of fresh flowers or picnic provisions? How about fresh pasta to enjoy at home? Or maybe you’re just in the mood for pizza and a beer? Florence’s Central Market or Mercato Centrale Firenze  is Florence’s answer to foodie heaven.  Housed in a historic building originally erected in 1847, and open from 10 a.m. to midnight, this is the place to go.

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Pick up picnic provisions like salami, cheeses, prosciutto and more at Florence’s Mercato Centrale.

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Fresh pastas and delicious sauces to go with them make a tasty and quick meal that’s easy to prepare in your vacation rental.

The market on the ground floor is fun to explore with every kind of seasonal produce, pastas, sauces, meats, cheeses, and flowers. Anything you could want that’s fresh and in season is right here.

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The Mercato Centrale has a bounty of seasonal produce, herbs and fresh flowers.

Upstairs at the Mercato Centrale is one of our favorite stops for for lunch, though you can also have breakfast, snacks, sweets, drinks and dinner here.

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Neapolitan-style pizza is done right at La Pizzeria Sud.

Go get some terrific Neapolitan style pizza at Pizzeria Sud. You can take your slices to one of the communal tables or go upstairs for table service. We opted for the former and enjoyed the hustle and bustle of the place.

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Lunch is ready!

There are lots of tasty options– pasta, panini, cheese and meat platters, fish, pizza, even burgers and fried chicken to choose from. There is also a coffee bar, wine, beer, pastries, gelato and delicious desserts–something to please most any palate.

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Choose your favorite foods from the array of vendors upstairs at the market and grab a seat at the communal tables. Mangia!

Everything on offer here from the hamburgers made from Chianina beef at La Toraia di Enrico Lagorio, the pasta from Raimondo Mendolia, Maurizio e Poala Rosellini’s fresh fish, the bufala mozzarella, beautiful baked goods, chocolates and gelato are all of the highest quality.

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A great selection of fresh or aged cheeses to eat now or enjoy later are readily available.

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If you’re looking to really splash out, try these fragrant truffles.

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If your tastes run more to fried foods, you’re in luck.

We even sampled the trippa fritta—fried tripe, a Florentine favorite, though not to my taste.

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Trippa fritta is a Florentine favorite.

After lunch (or dinner), you’ll probably want coffee and something sweet. Please remember that no self-respecting Italian would even consider ordering a cappuccino, latte or similar milky coffee drink after breakfast hours. Stick to the espresso. Ask for a caffe lungo if you miss your American coffee. Desserts are in abundance here and include gelato, pastries, cookies, and cannoli, which are stuffed while you wait—as they should be. Crushed pistachios on the ends are optional.

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These confections look almost too good to eat. Almost…

Upstairs is also where you’ll find Eataly which features Italian grocery items, household goods, personal care items and my favorite Florentine soaps from Nesti Dante. You’ll also find a wine shop specializing in Chianti Classico selections, a cooking school, a bancomat (ATM)  and public restrooms which are in short supply in many cities like Florence.

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If you’re looking for Italian wines, particularly those from the Chianti Classico region, you’ve come to the right place.

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Students pay rapt attention at the Lorenzo de Medici Cooking School upstairs at the Mercato Centrale.

If you feel the need for yet more shopping, there are also stalls outside the building on the surrounding streets with scarfs, leather items, and souvenirs—all the typical Florentine goods you’d expect to find.

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Shoppers can find everything from dry pasta to Pinocchio at the market and stalls outside.

Buon appetito and happy shopping!

Dining, Family Fun, Italy, Restaurants, Tuscany, Wineries

Picture Perfect Panzano in Chianti

July 22, 2016

Panzano in Chianti is right in the heart of Chianti’s wine growing region and has been one of our favorite Tuscan getaways for many years. The small town is located midway between Florence and Siena, on the Chiantigiana/Highway 222, making it the perfect location from which to embark on day trips to these beautiful Tuscan cities.  Other popular destinations like San Gimignano, Volterra and Pisa are also within easy driving distance, as are lovely nearby towns like Radda, Greve and Castellina in Chianti.


Steps lead down to reception at Villa Pecille in Panzano.

We always rent from Sammie Daniels, founder of Stay Italia   In Panzano, we’ve stayed at Casa La Rota and Villa Pecille numerous times. Both are located on vineyard property owned by the family behind Fontodi Winery and are situated on the Conca del Ora, some of the most gorgeous countryside in Tuscany. Casa La Rota is surrounded by vineyards and is a five-minute drive into town. Villa Pecille overlooks the Conca del Ora and is a short walk into the village of Panzano.


La Rota is surrounded by Fontodi’s beautiful vineyards.


Casa La Rota.

All the apartments at La Rota and Villa Pecille are fully furnished and equipped with just about everything anyone could need to feel at home. Some have fireplaces. The two properties offer a range of accommodations suitable for two to eight people and both have swimming pools, ample outdoor areas for relaxing, and laundry facilities.


One of the terraces at Villa Pecille.


The pool at Villa Pecille.


Both La Rota and Villa Pecille have lots of lovely outdoor spaces to enjoy.

Sammie, who is American, is an expert on the area having been here since 1985 when she opened a B & B in nearby Greve. She went on to remodel and manage the Vignamaggio Hotel, which was the setting for Much Ado About Nothing starring Kenneth Branaugh and Emma Thompson in 1993. In 1995, Sammie moved to Fontodi and opened Casa La Rota and has been there ever since. Sammie can assist guests with restaurant recommendations (I’ll share my favorites in another post), wine tastings, even organizing dinners prepared in your villa.


Our spacious, fully equipped kitchen at Villa Pecille’s La Loggia.


La Loggia’s beautiful dining room is perfect for entertaining.

Sammie also has other properties in the area and several apartments in Florence. Detailed information on all of the villas and apartments is available at


The Piazza Bucciarelli is at the center of village life in Panzano in Chianti.

While not a large town, Panzano has its own market every Sunday morning in the main square— Piazza Bucciarelli—until about 1 p.m. The market is a great place to pick up fresh produce, fabulous cheeses, hot roast chicken, pasta and sauces, clothing, and household goods.


You can purchase Mr. Moreno’s superb selection of cheeses at Greve’s Saturday Market or in Panzano on Sunday mornings.


Clothing, accessories, shoes and more are available at Panzano’s Sunday Market.

The stores in town including the Coop (supermarket), pharmacy, and smaller shops near the main square and on Via Giovanni de Verrazzano, the road that leads up the hill to Santa Maria Assunta, are also open on Sundays but only until 1 p.m. There is also a much bigger weekly market in nearby Greve on Saturday mornings.


Fresh seasonal produce is at the heart of the market.

The town of Panzano is home to perhaps the most famous butcher in the world—the colorful, Dante- reciting Dario Cecchini  His Antica Macelleria Cecchini is technically a butcher shop but really so much more. Walk into his macelleria on a Sunday morning and it’s like there’s a party going on. He has a great spread of complimentary appetizers including his famous “Tuscan butter” (lardo), salamis, cheeses, olive oil, bread and wine.


Dario Cecchini may be the best known butcher in the world.

In addition to superb meats ready for your grill or oven, it is possible to purchase prepared dishes like porchetta—a delicious roast pork dish, polpetti—giant meatballs, and other local specialties for a picnic or easy meal at home. Service is friendly and English is spoken—Dario’s wife is a Californian. The ever-accommodating Dario is often willing to pose for photographs for international visitors who make the pilgrimage to Panzano to see him.


The very personable Dario Cecchini with our son this summer (top), and many years ago during one of our first holidays in Panzano.

Dario also has several restaurants: Solociccia, which is Tuscan slang for “only meat” and features cuts of beef from top to tail; Solociccino is a mini version of Solociccia and open for lunch only; Officina della Bistecca showcases sensational steaks including the famous Bistecca Fiorentina; and Dario DOC—which serves lunch from Monday through Saturday and is the only Dario restaurant where reservations are not required. All of the restaurants serve family style, multi course, prix fix meals, and while famous for top quality meat, vegetarian options are offered.


Complimentary meats, cheeses, bread, wine and Dario’s famous “Tuscan butter” are a tasty treat for visitors to the macelleria.

The butcher shop and restaurants draw people from around the globe-a lot of people. Dario’s Sunday lunches are especially popular so book in advance if you’d like to partake in these multi course extravaganzas. In the warm weather diners are served outside on long communal tables. We’ve met interesting people from all over the world at these delicious, leisurely meals. Dario also offers classes/workshops in butchery, which must be reserved in advance. All the details for the shop, restaurants and classes are at


This sculpture welcomes visitors to Il Molino di Grace’s tasting room outside Panzano.

Wine tasting is a popular Tuscan past time and Panzano is a marvelous place to indulge in this pleasure. There are three wine bars or enoteca on or across from the main piazza—Enoteca Baldi at 25 Piazza Bucciarelli, Misticoteca at 13 Piazza Bucciarelli, and the newest, Il Cardo at 50 Piazza Bucciarelli. These are all about a three-minute walk (or less) from one another.


Enoteca Baldi is popular with locals and visitors alike. Bring your beverage outside and enjoy it on the Piazza if you like.

Enoteca Baldi and Il Cardo offer a selection of light foods to accompany your wine.  Misticoteca, whose delightful owner Misty always has a warm welcome for visitors, has olive oils, specialty foods and gift items available for purchase. There almost always seems to be a crowd there.


Misticoteca was a popular place to watch the Giro d’Italia but this enoteca always draws a crowd.

We were fortunate to have our recent visit coincide with the Giro d’Italia—a major bicycle race—and its attendant 15 Giorni di Rosa or 15 Days of Pink—an exhaustive calendar of public events ranging from bicycle themed films, musical concerts, theatrical performances, free lectures, and of course, wine tastings.


The Bar Dante Alighieri in Radda is perfect for a coffee, light meal or a drink.


Shopkeepers in Radda were thinking pink for the Giro d’Italia.

The events were held in Radda, where the race would begin; Castellina in Chianti, San Donato, Panzano, through which the race passed; and Greve, where the race would end.


Greve welcomed racers and bicycling enthusiasts for the Giro d’Italia.

The day before the race, Unione Viticoltori de Panzano in Chianti presented Vino al Vino Miniatura, a smaller version of the wine tasting event the group hosts every September. All members of the organization had their wines available for tasting.


Panzano’s vintners presented Vino al Vino in Minaturo the day before the big race.

Wineries represented at that festive Saturday afternoon event included Fontodi, Il Molino di Grace, Casaloste, La Massa, Cennatoio, Fattoria la Quercia, Tenuta degli Dei and Castello dei Rampolla, among other local producers, 20 in total by my count. A souvenir glass and the opportunity to taste all of the delicious wines on offer cost just 10 Euro. There was live music in the Piazza Bucciarelli as well as local art on display to keep participants entertained while they sipped.


Great wines, music and a beautiful day brought people to Panzano’s Piazza Bucciarelli.

We visited Fontodi and Il Molino di Grace for wine tastings on this visit, and have toured and tasted at many others over the years. Visit for a list of local wineries, touring/tasting/direct sales availability, and other information.


A visit to Fontodi– one of the region’s premier wine producers.


The delightful and knowledgable Rina Lapini prepares to pour Fontodi’s flagship Flaccianello for visitors.

Contact wineries directly to make arrangements for private tours and wine tastings prior to arriving in Tuscany. Some are open to the public and some are not. Some offer complimentary tastings and some charge a fee.


Doors on Via Giovanni de Verrazzano, the main street off Piazza Bucciarelli leading up the hill to Santa Maria Assunta.

Panzano is also a fine place to have custom shoes, belts and hand bags made by local leather artisan Carlo Fagiani; visit a gallery that specializes in local artists’ work (we enjoyed a photography exhibition by Jeferson Silva Castellari and purchased one of his photographs on canvas); pick up antique or modern hardware; stop into a beautiful church– Santa Maria Assunta, which has a painting of the Annunciation attributed to Ghirlandaio and a 14th century Madonna from Botticini; or just relax with a coffee at our favorite bar, Caffe la Curva (it’s called Bar of the Curve because that’s where it is), or stop by for gelato and apperitivi later in the day.


Order custom made shoes, belts and handbags at Carlo Fagiani in Panzano.


Caffe la Curva is a great place to start the day with a cappuccino and cornetto or end it with an apperitivo.


Panzano’s bucolic beauty beckons us back again and again.

However you chose to spend your time in this beautiful place, enjoy la dolce vita in Italia and perhaps you’ll understand why we’ve returned to Panzano in Chianti again and again.




Art, Family Fun, Florence, History, Italy, Museums

Scarpe Diem: Florence’s Salvatore Ferragamo Museum

June 24, 2016

IMG_2791Descend the staircase in the stunning Palazzo Spini Feroni, which houses the flagship Ferragamo store and serves as company headquarters, and you’ll be greeted by walls of Salvatore Ferragamo’s strikingly beautiful shoes, artfully displayed, of course. Though they play a major role in the Museo Salvatore Ferragamo, a marvelous small museum on Florence’s posh Via Tornabuono, there’s much more to see than fabulous footwear.


Ferragamo’s shoes may themselves be considered works of art.

The Museum tells the story of the man, who grew up outside of Naples, the eleventh of 14 children and became “shoemaker to the stars”; the company, which became synonymous with beautiful and comfortable shoes that were widely imitated; and the city of Florence itself.


Visitors can learn about Florence’s fascinating history at the museum.

Stunning masterworks of 17th and 18th century Florentine art, a look at the palazzo’s chapel with frescoes by Bernardino Poccetti, artful fashion, and company’s history are all part of the museum experience


There is much more to see than shoes at the Museo Salvatore Ferragamo.

IMG_2800In addition to the innovatively designed shoes for which the company is known, the signed lasts created for Marilyn Monroe, Rita Hayworth, Sophia Loren and so many other movie stars and well-known names, past and present, are on view along with Ferragamo’s leather working tools.


Wooden lasts created for movie stars, royalty and other recognizable names hang on the museum’s walls.

The company’s history is cleverly presented in photographs displayed on racks like tourist post cards.


These “picture postcards” give visitors a glimpse of the company’s past.


Video and still photos tell the story of Salvatore Ferragamo and the company he created.

Beautiful sculpture, noteworthy paintings, historic books, documents, and more from the family’s extensive collection compete for visitors’ attention. Classical music such as Corelli’s Le Sonata per Violino, Violone e Cimbalo plays in various gallery spaces, adding to the ambiance.IMG_2824


IMG_2807Along with the permanent collection, the museum hosts rotating exhibitions. The current show, Across Art and Fashion poses the question, “Is fashion art?” and examines the relationship between the two.

IMG_7570The famous building, constructed in 1289, is itself part of the museum. Among other things, the Palazzo Spini Feroni was once home to the City Council when Florence was the capital of Italy. Salvatore Ferragamo purchased the Palazzo in 1938, after returning from America, and it has served as Ferragamo’s headquarters since that time.


During it’s long and colorful history, the Palazzo Spini Feroni was home to Florence’s City Council, a hotel and art galleries before becoming Ferragamo’s headquarters.


Salvatore Ferragamo’s widow, Wanda, was instrumental in creating the museum.

Through the efforts of Ferragamo’s widow and family members, Museo Salvatore Ferragamo was founded in 1995 after an exhibition at Florence’s Palazzo Strozzi went on tour, hosted by New York’s Guggenheim Museum, the County Museum of Los Angeles, London’s Victoria & Albert Museum, and Sogetsu Kai Foundation in Tokyo among others. The traveling exhibition became the basis of the permanent collection at the museum.


Phone or email for private guided tours.

Private guided tours can be arranged on the first Saturday of each moth at 10 a.m. and 11 a.m. by emailing or by calling +39 055 3562466. The museum also hosts special events. Check the website for details.