Travels in Italy—Part 1

Buon Giorno…It’s been a while. I didn’t mean to be away so long. But sometimes travel leads to the unexpected. After a lovely week of teaching in Umbria and several days hiking up and down the steep hillsides overlooking the sea in Porto Venere, my trip to Italy took a wrong turn when I tested positive for Covid in Florence and couldn’t come home. You may be thinking that spending an unexpected week in Florence is a dream…but not so much when you have to find a place to stay during the height of tourist season, spend a small fortune on hotels and rebooking flights, isolate, and wonder when you might test negative so that you can finally return home.

But let’s start with the best parts of the trip. My workshop for Winslow Art Center, Sketching the Nature of Italy in Watercolor, brought a wonderful group of painters to Castello di Petroia, a medieval castle in the hills of central Italy. Spring was blossoming on the steep slopes, with yellow rape covering the fields, wildflowers tucked alongside rugged paths, and the gray-green of olive trees a striking contrast against a backdrop of oaks and chestnut. We painted, ate impressive multi-course meals, drank good wine, took a day trip to the medieval hill town of Gubbio, and were treated to an amazing introduction to falconry. This set of sketches and photos reflects some of the workshop week. More to come on part 2 of my travels in the days ahead.

I don’t typically share photos, but it’s not every day that you get to visit a medieval castle and I thought you might enjoy these views.

59 Comments on “Travels in Italy—Part 1

  1. oh jean! i had been wondering all this while why things had been so silent on your end! i had never guessed that the reason might have been covid, even though the exact same thing happened to my son who went to milan in march. sorry to hear it – i know you were also looking forward to the nyc botanical society event. i hope things are getting back on track and that you weren’t too too sick. henrietta

    • We’ll have to compare notes sometime about your son’s experience. I was very sorry to miss the NYC Botanical Garden event…hopefully next year. I’m so glad to be home and putting things in order here.

  2. Beautiful sketches of what looks like an amazing trip! (part one, anyway) I hope you’re well and safely back home.

    • I’m doing fine Cathy. Fortunately I had a mild case (thanks for vaccines and boosts). The workshop was really special…so I’m glad I had that experience first.

  3. Looked like an amazing trip. Sorry that you got ill. Loved your sketches, and photos.

  4. Great to see this array of engaging and informative sketches, and the photos too.
    I’m so sorry to hear that this highly anticipated trip took such a distressing turn at the end. So unfortunate!

    I love your notes on Italian>English. What an original way to remember key aspects — I imagine the colour would be an added mental engagement.
    Based on the map, I gather there was a session on map-making? Did that include how to do that marvellous, perfectly proportioned border on your map!?
    I enjoyed all the notes about the cattle. Written on the spot? Or you took notes to add later? Silly questions perhaps, but I’m asking for my own travel journal intentions. So often we learn new things when travelling, but they don’t always stick in our brains.
    I look forward to part 2.

    • Hi Alison– The higher the climb the farther the fall. But now that I am home I can choose to focus (mostly) on the good parts. So, to your questions: My Italian>English notes- I made several of these pages in advance while trying to learn some Italian. Then I added some small sketches to them during the trip. Map- Yes, we had a fun session on map making and it was great to see the variety of sketches that resulted. The border is easy if you have a ruler! Cattle- They were such a treat to see and sketch. I loved the nursing calves and they stayed in position for a good while. I did some research and added the notes later. I like to focus on the subject at hand when there is limited time. I can always go back and write notes when I have a table.

  5. Absolutely gorgeous sketches! I’m even more attracted to a sketching trip to Italy now that I’ve seen your work! So sorry about the distressing ending and I’m so glad you were seriously ill and are home and well.

    • Hi Jan- It was a marvelous trip in a stunningly beautiful setting. Great people, food, etc. Hope you are able to join one of the workshops in the future.

      • Oops! I see a typo. I meant weren’t seriously ill…

  6. Wonderful sketchbook pages! So evocative of Italy in the Spring

    • It was fun to see what was blooming, and to find plants I recognized as well as new ones. The Lady orchids were really special….as was all those golden fields.

  7. Oh my gosh you got the full on highs and lows of a trip! Wonderful sketches, and from what I could peek at of your workshop participant’s journals, it looks like they had a fabulous time too!!! What a gorgeous, full dinner table of people! Now to get over jet lag!

    • Fortunately, I didn’t really get jet lag on the way back. I just enjoyed six extra hours in a day. The workshop participants did some exceptional work and a good time was had by all. Can you believe the size of that dining table??

    • Thanks Rita. Sometimes, all you can do is hang in. I was alone, but had a much needed support team of friends and family who checked in with me– thank goodness for the Internet and cell phones.

  8. What a lot of delicious pages !! Love them all and looking forward to part 2 and more 🙂 So sorry you got the covid and the travel headaches associated 😦 glad you are home and recovered. Your art is such an inspiration !

    • Thank you!! I was so careful before going on the trip (double boosted, etc.) because I didn’t want to miss it. I never considered that I might get it there! Alas, the workshop was truly special — great people, food, and setting. And the subject matter for sketching could fill many sketchbooks!

  9. Hi, Jean! I’m so sorry you had to experience COVID—and alone in a foreign country! I’m glad you’re home and on the mend now. Your sketches are lovely and provide such a variety of ideas for documenting a trip. It seems like it would have been hard to narrow down what to sketch. Amazing choices everywhere. The Chianina are beautiful. I also like seeing your non-nature additions; the vase is stunning. And the falcon—what an experience that must have been! Looking forward to part 2.

    • Hi Susan- There were many subjects to sketch/paint. Some of what’s here is directly related to lessons I taught at the workshop and some were from my own explorations. As part of the workshop, we talked about choosing subjects when there is so much, not worrying whether something seems “too small or unworthy” to include, and ways to “capture place” in a travel journal. I loved sketching the Chianina; wish I had had more time for the falconry; and had fun with the food.

  10. So glad you are home and safe and recovered from that nasty Covid. Love your drawings of Italy and the photos too! I think you need to sketch yourself and that falcon from your photo so it becomes a permanent part of your Italy sketchbook. It is a wonderful picture!

  11. Your trip photos and art are inspiring. I would love to do a trip like that some day. I hope you continue to feel better and better, and are back to your other pursuits. Thanks for sharing your wonderful sketchbooks!

  12. Every traveler’s nightmare these days!. Glad you’ve kept a positive attitude and have these beautiful pictures to share. Looking forward to seeing more pages from Italy.

    • Truth be told my attitude was not always positive, but I’m glad I was finally able to fly home. The worst part was not knowing when I would test negative again. That uncertainty was worse than the symptoms. Glad you enjoyed the sketches!

  13. How lucky you are to have been able to stay here and paint and teach. The landscape is stunning, the castle beautiful. And then a falcon! Your paintings and photos are just wonderful. Sorry to hear about the Covid – such a bizarre time we live in – I am glad you tested negative at last because nice as it is to travel, it is always nice to come home!

  14. What a wonderful time you must’ve had, despite being bitten by the Covid bug (bummer, but glad you’re well now). Your watercolor art and photos tell such a perfect story …… complete with language lessons, food, pottery finds, a map (to always find your way), bird list and actually working with falcons! Wow! Welcome home, safely! And thanks for sharing everything!

    • It was an extraordinary trip– especially the workshop part, but good to get out and see parts of the world I’ve never been. I wish it hadn’t ended the way it did, but such is life. More sketches to come…

  15. Oh dear! So sorry you had an unexpected extension of your trip! I hope you are doing well, and have no lingering effects from covid. (Although I’m sure you racked up some unexpected bills. The falconry- wow!!! How exciting!! I look forward to more posts about your travels!

    • Thanks Roxanne. I know you will be traveling yourself this year so take any sign of sore throat/sniffles/tireness in your group seriously. It seems this variant may test negative for a couple of days before registering (and spreading). The falconry was a highlight for sure. Amazing birds and long cultural tradition in Italy. I really need to document that more. (Maybe I need a Part 3)

  16. Such a joy to see these sketches and photos Jean! Thank you! ~sad you got the bug but glad you’ve come through ok by the sounds of it 🙂 Phew!

  17. Oh no! I hope you did not get too sick. It’s no fun to feel unwell away from home. Roger and I honeymooned in Umbria. One of my favorite places. Look forward to hearing more!

  18. The trip sounds magical – journaling from a medieval castle in Italy! Love your pages, and the food one is interesting, too! I look forward to hearing more about the journey. So sorry for the unexpected delay in getting back home — hopefully you were able to fill the time with finishing touches on your sketchbook pages and make the best of it!

  19. I’ve missed your posts. Glad to see you’re home and safe. Hopefully back to yourself too. Beautiful pictures and artwork of course. Thanks for sharing all of it with us and welcome home.

  20. Of course I love seeing your wonderful sketches & pictures, but I kept thinking “Oh wow! What a “pissah” (as we say in New England) of an ending – but I’m SO glad you didn’t test positive at the BEGINNING! I hope this won’t deter you from heading out on future trips.

    • I am certainly a little reluctant to take on any international trips with the covid requirement in place. We’ll see how things are and how I feel a few months from now. Don’t want to repeat that part of the experience!

  21. Nice paintings and photos. Sorry you got sick but glad you made it back home.

  22. Thanks so much for sharing with us all. GREAT inspiration.

  23. I’m so sorry about that wrong turn, wow. I scrambled last minute for housing and cancel flights when Joe had a stroke and I had to spend 3 wks in Phoenix. It wasn’t a foreign country though! It’s great that you have such good memories of the land, the people, the workshop, etc. And you’re the stronger for having navigated your way through that COVID craziness.
    Thank you for including photos and adding a food sketch! 🙂

    • Hi Linda- Travel is great until something goes wrong. But all in all, it was a good experience, and I learned a lot even from the Covid week. Glad you liked the photos– I’d love to see Italy through your lens some day.

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