Piacere di Conoscerti Venezia!

imageThis morning I am off to Venezia.  Althought as I have mentioned, it has never been on my “to do” list, now that I am out of bed (ALWAYS the hard part for me…no matter what the day holds), dressed and at the stazione, I have embraced the day.  As you see, I am wearing my favorite, favorite outfit.  I paid 60 euro for this dress and think I have already gotten my money out of it.  I have worn it in every citta, so why not Venezia.  Plus, it is so lightweight, carefree and cool it is a perfetto choice for un altro giorna caldo.

I so appreciate Roberto for helping me secure my treno.  (Sidenote- as I am in Bencidomi and writing this, Roberto is telling me a bit more about Italo.  Some of the owners are very-a important-a people-a…TOD’s shoes, one of the owners of Firenze Fiorentina, Florence’s football team and I forget, someone else importante that he mentioned.  We discussed that they know business and he adds that “competition eeesa always-a good-a for-a everything-a”…ya don’t say…Viva America!  I’m looking forward to adding a different line to my experiences.  Right on time, it arrives and right on time, we depart.imageImmediately I notice this treno is different- clean, sleek, clean…  It feels more like a nice airplane than a treno.  And as Roberto had said, there is a movie on board.  Viva competition!imageMuch of our travel is through tunnels, which may sound silly, but that  surprises me.  Approaching Venezia is kinda like driving through Louisiana…kinda.imageOnce we arrive at the stazione, there is no navigating to do to find what makes Venice Venice…imageThere it is, the Canal Grande!  Like seeing the Colosseum, the Pantheon, the Leaning Tower for the first time…it’s pretty cool.  For this alone, I am glad I came.  I have heard that navigating Venezia is difficult.  I’ve shared with you that navigating most Italian cittas I have visited is difficult, ma add in the canals at every turn, it limits your attempt to make a straightish shot.imageNevertheless, I have no real agenda today.  I purchased a roundtrip biglietto and need to be back at the stazione before 20:00…it is 11:00 now.  I’ve got time to roam.

I buy my first caffe freddo and begin soaking it all in.imageimageThe masks and costume shops.imageI ponti….i ponti….i ponti.image

The canals with all sorts of boats sitting, coming and going.imageThe canal side trattorias.imageAnd the quiet, secluded courtyards that most tourist do not walk through.  When I entered this one, I did so in time to watch this flower fall from a 3rd story window garden and helicopter down in the breeze.  It was like something from a movie.imageHere is a Venetian Fixer-Upper I peered in as I passed.

imageAnd the gondolas, certo!

All the while I’ve been roaming to eventually find Piazza San Marco and the Basilica.  I am having no luck…even with all the “helpful” signs.  Don’t you know these people get so tired of tourist asking directions to this specific site!  Sometimes, I would just open my mount, ready to form the question, and the waiter/shop owner/local leaning in the doorway would just point and roll their occhi.imageAnd then, as you would hear people say, “voila!” It is grande…no doubt about it.imageAs usual, I excited to see specific details I discuss in class.  Look!  There’s the golden, winged lion!  Those of you rolling your occhi at me, audibly telling me it’s Saint Mark, the patron Saint of Venice…I know silly.imagePhotography is not allowed within the basilica, but I snapped a few in the entrance.  There were a couple of other churches built on this site, but the currently was begun in 1073.  The architecture is Byzantine (mi piace Byzantine art and architecture) and Gothic.  The church was complete by 1092.  How someone can enter the buildings and spaces I have entered in the last 3 weeks and now be awed by the history that has occured where they stand, is beyond me.imageimageAnd if your are wondering, “Was it crowded?”…see for yourself.  Not pretty.imageHowever, I know a place where few will follow.imageThis past spring, my Art II class studied Henri Rousseau.  We learned about the man, his art and his process.  We created our own Rousseau inspired pieces while visiting the San Antonio Zoo.  I continued to “Chase Rousseau” here in Venezia.

My students should recognize this self-portrait.  I know it is blurry, it’s just that…well…I know it’s blurry, let’s leave it at that.imageThis is one of my favorite Rousseau pieces, “Les Joueurs de Football” or “The Football Players” 1908.  I love the feel of it being a play on a stage and that each guy on the same team looks identical.  imageRousseau’s work at this exhibit, I had never seen before.  I wanted to buy the exhibit book, but buying books on a trip like this is a no-no for me…far too heavy.  I will see if I can get through Amazon when I return.

When I exited the Doge’s Palace, I purchased a 30 euro ticket (more in my budget than the 80 euro gondolas) for a boat ride down the Grand Canal.  The woman at the ticket booth was very patient with me also explaining to me how to get back to the stazione in time for my treno.  I went ahead and purchased that ticket now as well.

With about 45 minutes to kill before my “cruise”, I thought I would seek out the famous Harry’s Bar and enjoy a, no doubt extremely overpriced, Bellini there. Supposedly THIS is the birthplace of the Bellini.  Lucky for my pocketbook, it was closed.imageSo while I waited, I settled for a luke warm Coca-Cola light…”elegantly cool”…ain’t it the truth!imageTime for our cruise…andiamo!

I am glad I did the little cruise boat.  It is not very crowded, only 6 others, and gives a nice overview of Venezia’s history.

Now for a water “taxi” is a different story.  Luckily the ticket lady advised me to take an earlier cruise so I could be back in time to catch the taxi to the stazione.  This one stopped molto times.  It was interesting to see that boats ARE the mode of transportation for their everyday lives.  A guy standing next to me on the water taxi had a mattress with him.  When his stop came, he just grabbed it and walked off.  I tried to get a picture, but I was a little too slow on the draw.  I also saw a DHL boat cruise by…again, learning new things everyday!  The little guy that mans the ropes on this particular vessel was very patient with me as I asked molto times which stop the treno stazione was.  I did NOT want to ride this thing around again.imageFeeling comfortable on land near the stazione, I enjoyed a few more things that makes Venice Venice.imageimageimageimage

Rientro a Firenze

With my treno to Firenze leaving at 12:15, I slowly wake, enjoy a cappuccino, leave a small tip for Verusca and wait again on the stoop for my taxi to the statzione.

As the taxi approaches, I see the driver is using his voice and hand gestures to convey his discontent with…something…when he gets out of the taxi, he is still mumbling as he grabs the Ferrari and tosses it in the back of his car.  I get in the back seat and notice the meter is already at 7.30 euro…I tell him yesterday’s driver arrived with the meter at 5.  “Che five! Che five!” he kinda shouts with fingers brought together under chin.  At this point I try the tactic Franco taught me in 2013 of taking out my book and writing the taxi number down.  Along our short ride, he continues to gripe about me, no doubt, but others as well.

The meter reads 15 euro when we arrive to the stazione.  He tells me, “diciotto”, eighteen.  I am shaking at this point, telling him that is “troppo” as I continue to write any numbers I see posted in the cab.  I get out, as he does thinking he is going to throw the Ferrari or drive off with it.  As he walks around the car, he is shouting to the other cab drivers, “Scrive!, Scrive!, Scrive!”   (She writes, She writes, She writes).  I take hold of the Ferarri, hand him 15 eruo, neither of us are happy with that, and walk away.  I’m a bit angry yes…but there is also an excitement or pride thing going… feeling one with the culture as well.

I board the treno and sit in a carriage with an extended family of Americans.  How people can travel like this, young kids, aunts and uncles, is beyond me.  The entire way I listen to them complain about the heat in the train, sure ours is the only carriage without air and how they have spent all day on it…it is only 1:00.  At one point, one of the dads announces to his spread out group that he has had enough of trains and is going to grab an Uber back.  The kids reply, “Really?”

I arrive Santa Maria Novella and walk directly to my last B.  I do not call Bencidormi a B&B because there is no 2nd B…no breakfast offered, although they do have a small kitchen visitors are welcome to use.  It is listed instead as an “Albergo”.  This is the most economical of all the places I have stayed and that is why I choose it. I like the location- in between the stazione and San Lorenzo Mercato Centrale  and situated on a street, Via Faenza, with molto trattorias and enotecas.   I stayed here two years ago and Mom and Dad have as well.   The owners, Roberto and Paola are molto gentile and happy to help.  I think they have six or so rooms, each color coded.  Can you guess what my color is?image

Roberto greets me and gives me the low down. I crank the air down in my room and complete a post to you.  When I hit the streets, my goal is to find the art store again and buy several of the palette knives with the shop name on them.  I think using these for cheese knives is inspired!  My memory tells me the shop is to the left of the Duomo.  I walk and weave, weave and walk.  After a while, my weaves are within the street.  I am having no luck and again am Hot and Hungry.  I go WAY past where I think the shop is, finally concede defeat, then turn around.  I head to Mercato Centrale to grab a bite to eat and consider the remainder of my day.imageBurrata and a spritz in me, I am revived a bit.  Going to Mercato Centrale to cool off, does not work as well, although I am sure the space has some air conditioning, because of its size, it is impossible to keep cool.

After my aperitivo, I decide to go see what the chalk artist are up to today.  Again it is Girl with a Pearl earring….mix it up a bit Firenze!  Vermeer was not Florentine AND the painting is at The Hague in the Netherlands not in Firenze!  I can’t quite figure out the fascination (ok…besides great colors and global recognition) to the chalk artists.

As I approach dinner time, I intend to work my way back to Via Faenza where Trattoria Katti is.  I want to enjoy pappa pomodoro one more time before I head home home.  But instead I look up and see I am in front of The Yellow Bar.  I overheard a couple from the US raving about this place a couple of weeks ago.  They said they liked it so much they ate here two days in a row.  Thinking it is nice to broaden my dining experiences, I enter.

I ask for a tavolo per uno.  The waiter at the door walks me through the larger seating area and into a smaller one off to the side.  This one only has due tavolos.  A small one by the window, which he seats me at, and a larger one.  In this area there is also the pasta station, where a girl is working away and a window that opens to the cucina.  When the waiter brings me in, the chef gives him a look, a short conversation ensues. Not sure what the issue was, but finally the chef slacks his shoulders and welcomes me.  In very broken english, he asks me my name and where I am from.  I say Texas and he asks, “China!?”  I say Texas again, louder and clearer and he responds, “Aaaahhhh Tekkkkkssssaassss!”  Then he says China/Texas a couple of times with funny hand signals.  He then asks me what I will be having tonight.  “Pasta or Pizza?”  I pause only for a moment and he adds, “Aaahhh Pasta…bene!”…OK…pasta it is.  He then declares he will be making me, Pici con vegetables.  Sounds good to me.  When he then asks, “Pajjjj…do-a you-a like-a the vino?”  I nod Si.  “Rosso or Bianco?”  I look at him as if to say, you tell me….so he does, “I-a theeenka-a…. for-a you-a……tonight-a….(head tilt considering) bianco.”

I ask him his name.  He says, “Il mio nome e Luigi.”  Certo it is!

It is SO VERY CALDO in this place.  I am slipping off the booth almost.  I take out my fan and attempt some relief.

Every once in a while, Luigi would call out from his window, “Paajjj….you-a OK-a?” as I waited.

Then the waiter, Sergio, presented me with my piatti.  I look up and Luigi stands proud and says, “Solo per te.”….Certo Luigi….certo!  The pasta girl rolls her occhi at his antics.imageWednesday morning I slept late, wrote a bit, then thought about what I still wanted to experience or accomplish during my last few days.  I half-heartedly checked into a couple of tours, but found they were all booked.  I have been entertaining the idea of a day trip to Venice.  Venice has never been on my list of places I want see, but after spending quite a bit of time with locals, they have put it in my mind that it is a beautiful place that one must see.  So I check into train schedules and costs.  Roberto helped me secure a round trip for tomorrow, leaving around 8:30 returning at 20:00.  He suggested I try Italo instead of Trenitalia, their cost is a bit less and he says the trains are nice.  When he is helping me on their website, he says, “Do-a you-a want-a to watch-a the cinema?”  They have a movie during the trip?  This really would be a step up from some of the trenos I’ve been on…I’m in.  He prints off my tickets, puts them in a little plastic sleeve and I am set.  I feel good now that I have a bit of an agenda.  Floating around is good, but I like an anchor here and there.

I have yet to make it over to the true market of the San Lorenzo Mercato.  So I walk the 2 blocks to take a look at what they have to offer.  First stop, I need a bit of caffeine and sugar.  imageThen I just roam through the market, once again amazed at the beauty of some of the things,imageAnd the oddness of some of the others….yes…that is every part of the cow you can imagine…and yes, yes…that’s his face down there too.imageA couple of days ago, Elisa contacted me again and told me she and some friends had a few more “programs” to offer me.  I wanted to take advantage of ALL of them, but narrowed it down to one last night with Elisa and her mother.  Tonight, I am to meet Elisa and a predetermined spot, gather our ingredients at local shops around her apartment and then cook there with her and her mother Mara.

Although I am paying for these “programs”, I feel like a friend too, so while at the market I want to buy some wine to bring.  Lucky for me, they let you try before you buy.imageI chose a rosso from Bolgheri as a remembrance of Elisa’s family taking me there.  But then I also see these great looking bottles of Prosecco, so I get one of those as well.imageI take the heavy bag of wines back to the room and return to the streets for an afternoon of shopping for the famiglia.

Belts for Blaine and Dalton from Santa Croce, made specifically for their size.image

Gucci perfume for Avery as well as a copy of her favorite book.  She collects copies of the Great Gatsby and I try to find her a used one when I travel.  I have looked at several used book shops during this trip and have not found one, so I made do with a new copy from a regular bookstore.  It was the only one they had.  image

I stash my goodies in the room, take a quick look at a map to see where I am heading, grab the vino and go.  I am to meet Elisa at Piazza della Liberta at 18:00 and it is a little more than a mile in a direction I am unfamiliar with.  I would hate to be late so I get going.

As I am walking it feels hotter in this area.  Even thought it is almost 6:00 in the evening it is still smok’n in the sun.  I arrive at the Piazza and it is bigger than I thought it would be.  It is basically a traffic circle with a cement park in the middle of it.  I try to remember where Elisa said to meet.  I think there was something about a post office, so I ask a girl waiting at the same cross walk as me.  She tells me yes there is a post office across and kinda tucked in the corner.  I cross through the piazza, through the traffic light on the other side, where there is of course no shade.  I look around and even though it is just now 18:00, I text Elisa to let her know I am here.  She texts back saying she is running about 10 minutes late.  I cross back over to the edge of the piazza,  sit on a curb in the shade and wait.imageWhen Elisa arrives (She says she is late because it has taken her longer than she thought it would to get her apartment ready for a guest.  Mara is there now preparing for me…what would we do without our moms.) we catch up while we walk.  She tells me she has been busy with school and has another test scheduled soon.  She also is applying for an internship in France.  I tell her about the cities I have visited since we last saw each other.

During our walk, we pass through a tunnel Elisa had previously told me about.  This is a place that changes all the time she says.  You will come by one week and there is a certain art, then the next, someone else has used the same “canvas” and created their work.  She says there is a homeless man from Sicily that is usually here.  He takes it upon himself to keep the area nice and clean.  She says he plays the harmonica as well.  The size of each work of art is very large, for example the deer head is 8 feet tall.  It is very cool to see so many different styles coming together to create this unique “exhibition”.  I know there are some real questions about the legalities of urban art…but I am drawn to it.imageWe emerge from the tunnel in Elisa’s neighborhood or zone, I think she called it.  Here we begin gathering our ingredients.

We stop at 2 cheese shops, because 1 shop dedicated to only cheese is not enough.  I could have stayed all day and made a meal out of the cheese and crunchy bread in that lower right photo.

imageWhile Elisa was talking with the proprietors of each shop, I admired how they take pride and are so knowledgeable about their products.  They are not just selling you something, its like they are there to help make whatever you are making better.  The second shop we went into had this recipe booklet hanging.  Inside, customers share recipes they make from what they purchase here.  What a great idea!  I took a couple…certo!imageAnd we arrive at Elisa’s apartment.  Her parents own the building, and Angela lives in an apartment below Elisa’s.imageAs it is HOT, HOT, HOT everywhere, I put the Prosecco in the coldest place I can find…Elisa’s frozen shut freezer.  It takes all Mara’s might to pry the door open, but when she does, I linger for a moment.imageMara appears from upstairs and welcomes me.  Throughout the evening, there are words between her and Elisa.  The same kind of words my mother shared with me at Elisa’s age, and words I used to have with Avery… on the kind of “organization” I was choosing to live with and in.  Throughout of cooking lesson, Mara would ask for a specific implement, Elisa would pull out something Mara was clearly not happy with and similar short, discussions would follow.  My italian is not good, but I can recognize “bisogno”…you need.  I would laugh and continued to tell Mara that now she knows what to get Elisa for Natale.

Elisa gives me a brief tour of her piccolo appartamento.  When you walk in, there is the cucina and a small area for eating or sitting.  Out the terrazzo door there, Elisa has a few herbs and pomodoro plant…this should make her mother proud.  A quick turn and up the stairs is her bagno, then her room.  Up tre more stairs is a piccolo terrazzo, just big enough for a piccolo, round table and tre sedie…just big enough.  The view from Elisa’s terrazzo is bella.  To the right, the hills of Fiesole and to the left, I am assuming is back to Florence proper.  Straight in front of me, the sun is beginning to set.

Now, to work.  To night we will be making gnudi.  Gnudi is basically the inside of ravioli with the its clothes or pasta.  I had seen someone eating this dish early in my trip and wondered what it was.  Anna had also mentioned it in Castagneto Carducci.  Here you will see the ingredients you need; spinaci- blanched and cut up, uova, farina, parmigiano, sale, noce mascata, and not pictured here to Mara’s disappointment is of course ricotta.  The noce mascata or nutmeg is optional.imageYou mix all of these ingredients together.  Mara only used tre uova.  The combination needs to hold together but not be too wet or dry.  The parmigiano was grated but we also enjoyed little hunks as we worked at Mara’s encouragement.

When you are ready to create the gnudi, you need to put little piles of farina on a wooden board (Mara travels with her own….get ready Daddy), scoop of dollop of the mixture and gently roll in the farina.  Now this is where I had to ask a question.  The dish I had seen earlier in my trip was perfect little balls, I was wondering wether we were going to cut into pieces, ma no.  Mara says you can do it the way you would like, but this is her famiglia’s version.  As you can see, we have way more than the tre of us need.  Mara says you can freeze for a week or so, then pop into boiling water when you are ready to eat.  Mara adds salt and a piccolo bit of olive oil to the water.  Olive oil in the pasta water is usually NOT done in Italy, but in this case, you do not want the gnudi to stick together.

With our gnudi, we have a piatto di formaggi, a insalata, macedonia and pane.imageAnd let’s not forget the Prosecco in the freezer!  I was thinking we would enjoy this while we prepared, but I had to be patient.  I got confused when I was trying to open the bottle.  I assumed the little string around the cork was going to aid in removing it, ma no.  At home, Prosecco comes in bottles with corks that pop…I learned there are due kinds here.  I am sure when Mara was using the corkscrew to open the bottle, she thought I was crazy.  I kept approaching with caution, worried for her but for me as well.  When she easily slid the cork from the bottle, asked why it did not pop.  “Frizzantini” she said.  Oh big bubbles in frizzante and little bubbles in frizzantini I guess….learning something new everyday!

When the gnudi boiled and floated to the top, Mara poured butter that had melted with bits of salvia in it.  I tell you, I am a huge fan of salvia (sage) now! And then for a final touch, topped with molto parmigniano.

Buon Appetito!imageimageimageThe meal was wonderful, gnudi one of my favorite dishes yet.  The spinach was so subtle and the sage butter….buono!  Finger to cheek here!

Conversation is easy with Mara and Elisa.  Mara’s english is not as fluent as Elisa’s and often, she is content to listen.  We discuss the differences between college in Italy and American universities.  Elisa would love to experience the American version.  She loves the idea of all the social camaraderie usually such a bit part of one’s years there.  I showed her a video of us at an Alabama football game and she was amazed!

Some of the topics are as Elisa says, “difficult”.  When she see’s America through Michael Moore’s eyes, it is hard for me not to try to counter.  She had a professor who was obviously a fan of his and would share his views often.  I am sure after a few of our conversations, Elisa sees me as an American that only looks out for myself and my family, not wanting to assist those less fortunate…as she says, it is “difficult” dinner conversation, but stimulating none the less.

So onto something we can all agree on….gelato.  Mara and Elisa take me to a shop that has recently won a festival in London, Badiani.  I chose the flavor that won them their fame, Dolce Vita and pistacchio…I’m becoming a pistacchio unfficiale.imageIn front of the gelateria, we run into Angela and a friend…piccolo mondo.

Mara and I drop Elisa off near her appartamento and make the short drive back to Via Faenza to mine.  It is difficult, due to the language barrier, to fully express my gratitude to these people.  I do my best and Mara does hers…it feels warm and right.  I lean back in the car, asking Mara to please also give my best to Luigi and Anna.

I go into my room, wash the sticky off and call it a notte.

Popping Over to Pisa

At breakfast this morning there was a new treat.  It looked like a lemon square (could I be so lucky?) but when I asked Verusca, she said, “riso”, with  finger to cheek adding “buono”.  Ah, rice…I’ll try.  It was good and subtly sweet.  I asked Verusca to write the name of it in my book.  She thought for a moment and then said, “Ah…Torta di Riso”.  Cake of Rice…ya don’t say.  Finger to the eye here in a sarcastic way.

Today, I am heading over to Pisa.  I was trying to decide whether to take a day from Lucca to do this or use one of my many days in Florence to make the journey?  Lucca is a wonderful town, no doubt, but as far as things to do and see…so I chose to go today.

First let me say that Pisa seems to have a bad reputation.  Florentines really don’t care for Pisa.  When I told Massimo that I would be visiting Lucca,  he was happy, gave it his stamp of approval.  But when I mentioned a day in Pisa, his face contorted and his voice changed.  “Aaooo…Peeezzzaaa.”  Some hand gestures underscored his opinion.

Ma, I’m less that 30 minutes away, I need to see for myself.

I ask Verusca to call me a taxi.  I am going to need one tomorrow to go to the stazione and I want to get a feel for the price, plus I don’t want to start my journey hot and sweaty.  She calls, I wait.imageWell…I learned that taxis are expensive in Lucca.  When he arrived, there was already a 5.30 charge on the meter.  I questioned this a bit and then the 10 euro bill when we made it to the stazione.  The driver pulled out his laminated price sheet and tried to explain all the different charges to me.  I know I will be walking home from the stazione this evening.

While at the stazione, I decide to buy a 2nd ticket to Santa Marie Novella Firenze for tomorrow.  The original one I purchased from home home isn’t to depart until late in the afternoon, not arriving in Firenze until after 22:00.  It is worth the 5.40 euro to be settled in my last place well before then.

I also learned, at least I think this is correct, that the stazione at Lucca does not have validation machines on the individual tracks.  Because the ticket I purchased can be used on this route for 30 days, you must validate before you board.  I was rushing to get to the treno that had just arrived on the track, thought I would validate there and could not find one.  So…turn around, run down two flights, through the tunnel, up two flights, around the corner to the validation machine.  THEN back the same route, trying to get there before that treno leaves.  I will say my legs started to give out a bit, and I kept having to tug at my “undergarments” (washing with no dryer, they are growing a bit…you probably don’t want to hear that, but it’s Life on the Road). All this made me chuckle between heavy breaths.  In situations like this I just play like I am a contestant in The Amazing Race” and I will make my son proud if I make it to the next check point.

During the short ride to Pisa I catch my breath as we pass fields and fields of sunflowers.  Che bella!imageI am seated near 2 english couples.  I know they are also headed to the Leaning Tower because it is ALL one of the women can talk about.  She sounds just like Audrey Hepburn in My Fair Lady…before her transformation.  I wish I could mimic it through text, but I just can’t.  Entertaining though.

I had read the Tower et al was closest to Pisa’s smaller stazione, so the 5 of us exit there.  I have no mappa and no clue where to head, but with comfort in numbers…I silently follow the voice.image

When we turn a corner and the Tower comes into view, I can’t help but announce to the woman, “There it is.  You wanted to see it and there it is.”  Just like with seeing any iconic building for the first time…it is pretty cool.image

As I approach The Field of Miracles, I join the masses and head for a ticket booth.  I knew the tickets to climb the tower were timed and I wanted to get one as early as possible.  I buy a ticket to see all 4 of the main buildings here; the Duomo, the Baptistry, Camposanto and The Leaning Tower…certo.

With an hour before my Tower Time, I head to the baptistry then the duomo. The medieval cathedral is named Santa Maria Assunta.  Its construction began in 1064.  The mosaics inside show a strong Byzantine influence.  These tend to be my favorite depictions of Christ.  I do not think I  have seen any mosaics more beautiful than these.imageimage

My third stop, and the real reason I came, was Camposanto.  I first learned about Camposanto when Mom and Dad shared the movie The Rape of Europa with me.  Since then, I show it every year to my Art II students.  It is a wonderful documentary detailing the fate of Europe’s Treasures in the Third Reich and the Second World War.  If you have not seen it, I highly suggest it.   imageCamposanto, or Holy Field, was constructed in 1278 around sacred dirt brought back from Golgotha during the Crusades.  In 1278, one of the architects of the Leaning Tower designed a marble cloister to enclose the holy ground.  Frescoes by Taddeo Gaddi, Spinello Aretino, Benozzo Gozzoli, Andrea Bonaiuti, Antonio Veneziano and Piero di Pucci decorated its walls.  Tragically, the frescoes were almost completely destroyed by an American bombing raid during WWII.  The wooden roof caught fire, its lead panels melted and the hot metal ran down the frescoes. Camposanto was the burial place of the Pisan upper class for centuries.

Below is a photo of Camposanto showing the destruction of the air raid.imageHere I stand in the same place the above photo was taken.imageimageThe fresco below is shown in the documentary and when I first saw it, I was taken with it. In my opinion, it is so contemporary for the period created.  I love this piece.  It was very moving to me to turn a corner and see the original.  I have researched a bit and cannot locate a name or artist.  I was also disappointed to not find a postcard of the piece.  Oh well, I guess a photo taken by me is better than a postcard anyway.  You can see that I am off center a bit.  There is a pillar obstructing the perfect angle.imageOK…now onto what most would consider the Main Event.  Walking around The Field of Miracles is quite commincal.  Almost EVERYONE is striking a pose attempting to get a shot of them keeping the tower from falling.  The dialogue between taker and poser is also very funny to listen to. “A little right, no… move a bit, wait…no…come forward, no…ok…no…” And when the poser goes to look at the “original” photo of them and the tower, NOT A ONE is happy with their photographer.  NOT A ONE.  “You held the camera crooked.  Now the tower looks straight.”  “You are a horrible photographer.”  “I’m not even touching the tower!”  My favorites were the ones that would strain their faces for the photos.  Funny, Funny, Funny.imageAbout 20 mintues before my scheduled time, I go take my borsa to the locker room.  They will not let you carry any bags up the tower.  I did take my wallet out and brought my cameras, certo.

I will not waste your time on my dissertation on the lack of line respect and etiquette in Italia…and it is usually NOT by Italians by the way.

Once inside the center of the tower, the effect is very strange.  It is like being in one of those Fun Houses at a carnival.  Add to the mix that the stone is slippery and I’m wearing leather bottomed sandals…After a brief history of the Tower, we are allowed to begin our climb. image

You can see we are not the first to ascend.image

Andiamo…only 294 more to go.

The view from the top, although obstructed by wire barricades, is lovely.  As many writers note, the green of the grass against the white of the marble is striking.imageOnce down, my day in Pisa is pretty much complete.imageAlthough I arrived in the lesser Pisa stazione, I decided to make the longer walk and depart from Pisa Centrale.  My sole reason is to be able to see and share Tuttomondo (The Whole World) painted by Keith Haring.  Much of what I read states this was Haring’s last mural before his death in 1990.  In Art III this year, my students chose a Haring piece to replicate for a photo op at the studio602 Art Show.  So I walked this extra mile or so for them!image

imageWhen I arrive back in Lucca, I am starving, sticky and hot.  On the way to rectify some of those things, I pass this window again.  I had passed it my first day and then that night, those fish were in my dreams.  I couldn’t stop thinking about them.  So I bought due.  Their purpose is to remove the yolk from an egg…I’m sure I’ll use it for that but bottom line, I thought they were cute.imageIn the evening before dinner, I make good on my promise to Antonio and go for one last spin around the ramparts.  Tonight the wall is full of runners, kids playing, people rehearsing for a play, and friends relaxing after their day.  A heated discussion is going on here, obviously about some aspect of their game.  I feel like the wall is Lucca’s crown.  It is a place that sets them apart and holds them together.image

For dinner tonight, I turn to Rick Steves.  He highly recommends Trattoria da Leo.  I seek it out and as he suggests, I arrive early.  Steve says it is a “mom & pop” kind of a place serving traditional Tuscan/Lucchese dishes.  I am the first seated, then blink and all the tables are full, disappointed people being turned away.  Grazie Steve!imageAt my waiter’s recommendation, I chose the Tortelli al Ragu di Carne.  Blaine and Dalton would have love it.  With that, I had a basket of bread (they lost money on me there), a bicchiere di vino rosso locale and acqua frizzante.  I ate it very slowly so I could enjoy the comings and goings of others.imageHere is another dining tip I would like to share with you…when asked what you would like for dolce, linger a bit over due choices.  Convey with sounds and body language that you cannot decide between two,  in this case Tiramisu and torta al cioccolato.  If you’re lucky, your waiter might begin a sentence with, “Eeeefffa you-a would-a like-a,” …I’m thinking, “come on”…  He continues, “I could-a take-a you-a half-a and half-a so you-a could-a try-a.”  Oh, what a great idea!  That would be molto bene, grazie!  In the end I joined Team Torta al Cioccolato with my waiter.

imageHappy and full, I stroll through the streets comfortable with the way back to my room.  When I approached the Felice pizza shop I went to my first evening, I find the street blocked with wood, men and the lady that is usually behind the counter.  I begin to turn around and then I decide I want a photo of this.  I walk up and say, “per le pizze?”  She nods “si” as she sweeps up behind them.  I love these little glimpses of their real lives.imageAll is quiet at the piazza tonight.imageI open my window and am lulled by the clinking of glasses and plates and the low hum of conversation.  Buonanotte.image

Mi Piace Lucca

imageThe morning began as most, just a new place and a new office.  Breakfast here is offered until 10:00, so I walked out my door and into the cute little eating are at 9:00.  Verusca made me uno of my due cappuccinos and I enjoyed my usuals.  imageCouples sat sharing tables, planning their day.  About midway through my breakfast, a last couple entered but with no where to sit.  Verusca asked if a single lady might join me, freeing the table she just sat down at.  Certo.

After a few minutes of silence, I asked, “How long are you in Lucca?”  She said she did not understand.  I asked, “Quanti giorni a Lucca?”  Still she made it clear she did not understand.  A woman at the next table leaned over and loudly translated my Italian to English for the woman.  I just thought that was so funny.  I can make my self not understood in my mother tongue all by myself, Grazie!  No I am not being mean…it’s just that several started laughing a bit, knowing I had already tried English.  As I said…it was funny.  The remainder of my breakfast was in silence.imageI roamed about until the sweet sound of a choir lead me to this church.  Ilaria and I had visited the outside of it last evening and she had said the frescoes inside were quite beautiful.  I found myself in Chiesa di Sant’ Anastasio.  The old church is used by the Romanian Christian-Orthodox community of Lucca.  The inside was packed with families standing during the homily.  There were no chairs except beautiful, gilded thrones of sorts along the side.  In the back, there was a counter to buy candles.  People were coming up to do this during mass.  They would purchase, go outside, light the candle and add it to  a collection burning out there.  I assume it was a special day.  I think perhaps honoring those who have passed.image

Last night, when I asked Ilaria what some of the symbols of Lucca were, this tree topped tower made the list.  The tower was built in the 1300s by the Guinigi family.  The trees planted at the top represented rebirth and renwal.  imageMaking the easy climb (230 steps) grants you a beautiful, 360 view of Lucca.imageimageSpeaking of 360 views, there is another on my list.  I head to one of the many bicicletta shops around the city.  I choose Poli.  The Poli family has had this shop since 1934.  When you walk in, they simply ask for your driver’s license or a form of ID for them to hold onto, choose a bike for you, and you’re off.  image I am happy with the bici chosen for me….Ecco….the Italian flag!image

I ride up the ramp from the shop to the wall, and am off, enjoying the views, the freedom, the breeze as so many before me have.

Very little remains of Lucca’s first fortification circle of walls built by the Romans.  In the 11th and 12th centuries the construction of the first medieval walls began.  The last expansion was in the 16th and 17 centuries.  The walls are formed of eleven ramparts joined by curtains for a total length of over four kilometers.

When I return my bici and pay my 2 eruo….yes due.  I walk from the shop area (If you are from Fredericksburg and have ever been into Rode’s welding shop, it is what springs to mind here) to the “showroom” (wink, wink).  I am walking dodging half opened boxes, slipping on plastic wrap and admiring the enlarged black and white photos hung haphazardly around.image

Antonio, the owner, sees he has a live one and comes to share narration for the stills.  The previous is a photo of his father and mother.  He looks just like his papa.

Below is one of his papa with members of Team POLI.imageWhile I am in Poli, there is also a young Russian couple.  They are enjoying listening to the stories shared in broken english and spurts of italian as well.  At one point, Antonio grabs my camera from me and thrusts it at the Russian girl, telling her to take a photo of him and la signora.  As you can see, he is happy with himself and I am tickled by his tactics.  It is HIS shop after all.

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After my triathlon (walking, climbing and biking), I have worked up quite an appetite.  I want to eat light so I can eat again later…is that bad?  (If you say si…we can never travel together.)  I choose panzanella and a bicchiere di vino bianco.  Perfetto summer lunch.imageAt this point in the trip I am embracing the vino/caffe cycle.  One relaxes for the moment, the other gets ya going again.imageI head back to the room for a bit to regroup.  If you visit Lucca, be sure not to buzz the wrong buzzer.imageIt is obviousthe Renato family deals with this issue all the time.imageExiting in the late afternoon, I notice there will be some sort of something in the anfiteatro tonight.imageMy main goal on tonight’s short list is to revisit Santa Cristina…the cool enoteca Ilaria walked me through last night.  However, when I first walk by, there is no one there, so I go do a bit of research at the Arts and Crafts festival.  There I find several pieces I would like to take home with me.  My favorite is by an artist who takes reclaimed wood, paints it then crudely carves in simple objects.  I really wanted a silver one of a moka machine, but knew it was much too heavy to lug home.  I made some notes and will try to replicate.

In my pocket, I always try to keep a few spare euro to applaud the very talented street musicians and artists.

wpvideo Nh5aIlDu]imageAfter 19:00, I return to Santa Cristina.  Still the only one there, I decide to start a trend and order a spritz.imageSTILL the only one there, I move on to my meal of the night, prosciutto e melone.  I am molto felice at this point.  Look at this presentation!  They seem to do many thing right here at Santa Cristina.  imageCristina, the owner (she adds, “no Santa”) is from Scotland and has been in Italia tre anni now.  She has has this place for due.  I look forward to creating my own Aperitivo Hour at la CONN terra.  All of you reading this now are invited!  The concept is so rich and the preparation so little.

I enjoy sitting, sipping and eating, watching the world go by.imageLeaving Santa Cristina, I head in for the night.  It is early, but I am tired and need to write to you.  At about 22:00, my room starts thumping.  I can hear, let’s call it “music” muffled with a steady beat.  For the first hour and a half, I try to ignore.  It is not bothering me, just making me curious.  Finally at about 23:30 I head down (in my pjs and scrubbed face) and around the corner and witness for most, the night is still young.

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Passing by the gelateria on the corner, I succumb, grab a dolce and call it a notte.image

Arrivederci Monterosso, Buongiorno Lucca

During my stay in Monterosso, I never unpacked, so repacking was pretty easy.  Last evening, I decided to purchase an earlier treno to La Spezia.  My connection there was only 10 minutes and that makes me a bit nervous.  So instead of spending the morning on the terrazzo, I will make a quick exit and spend my time at the La Spezia stazione.  Not apples and apples I assure  you.

Checking out at Hotel Margherita, the desk girl was her rude self.  I usually try to consider that a person might be having a bad day, but the due desk girls this year are the same due desk girls as two years ago…so, I think it’s them.  She would rather twirl her hair and look at her computer monitor than clarify the treno schedule.

Although I like the location of Hotel Margherita and I LOVE the terrazzo, between the maddening internet connections (and reconnections and reconnections and reconnections and….you get the idea.  If I had a euro for every time I had to reconnect, I could buy this place and have all hire my congenial friends…who’s in?) and having to put out the desk girls,  I might research a different place for a return trip.  In the hotel’s defense, the manager/owner is very attentive and kind.  My assumption is that the majority of the staff here are family.

But another point in the + column is it is down the ramp and due steps to the sinistra to the focacceria.  I grab a couple plain pieces for the treno.imageimageJoining the roller bag group heading out, I dodge the roller bag group heading in.  When stopping to take this parting shot of la spiaggia, I hear a girl declare, “THIS is what heaven looks like.”imageFor those of you who followed in 2013, I know this very similar to my “National Geographic” shot then.  Sorry…it’s hard to take a bad photo here.  The water is especially clear today…certo.imageI board the treno to La Spezia, standing in the baggage area for the 15 minute journey.  I intend to say Arrivederci to the sea at the last Cinque Terre stop, Riomaggiore, but my carriage was stops in the tunnel, so this shot through the grimy glass will have to do.image

My “reserved” spot.image

Two couples board the train in Vernazza.  They stand in the baggage section as well.  They are German.  When the ticket guy comes around to check our validations, theirs are not validated.  Remember a tip I gave you from the last trip…ALWAYS validate your ticket.  Even if no one has checked your tickets in your last tre treno rides…ALWAYS validate.

This shot shows his weariness from listening to every excuse under the sun, in every language under the sun.  He is SO not interested.  Each of the quattro try their hand at an explanation.  He keeps the same look and the same posture.  He points to the sign that says there is a 50 euro fine, but tells them he is charging them 5 euro each.  They finally pay.  When he leaves, although I don’t understand German, I am sure they are talking about him.  And I’m thinking “ya,ya, ya” and chicken sounds can’t be a compliment.image I arrive in La Spezia and wait.imageOh, have I shown you my new charm from Storie in Italy?  I got mom one too.    It is the window at Chiese di San Giovanni Battista.  Bella no?  It adds a bit more jingle to my jangle.image

I arrive in my connecting stazione of Viareggio.  Boarding here to Lucca seems the most hectic yet.  People hesitate to board.  People hop off once they have hopped on.  Everyone is asking someone.  I realize all it takes is for one person to say, “Si Lucca” and we all end up somewhere else.

A woman in a Trenitalia jacket walks by.  She is on the phone and gives me the universal signal of “NOT NOW” when I lean out the carriage.  I blurt out “Lucca?” anyway and she give me an almost imperceptible nod.  That’s going to have to be good enough for me.imageArriving in Lucca, I walk out of the treno stazione and make a decision not to grab a taxi.  WIth no mappa, and no prior knowledge of the town…how hard can it be?  Oh silly Paj!

I cross a couple of streets and head towards the wall surrounding the old city.  I seem to remember my hotel is inside the wall.  imageAs I approach the wall, it curves and from a distance, looks like it deadends.  Then I see a girl stoop and go through a small opening.  I feel like Alice in Wonderland.  I follow.  That leads me to a tunnel…you might remember, I’m not a fan of tunnels…through a small courtyard, up a couple short staircases that zig-zag.image

And I arrive atop the wall.  Now, destra or sinistra?  A girl passes me dragging her roller bag along and asks if I need her to look up my hotel on her phone.  How kind.  She does, and it says to head straight.  After she heads left, I decide I’ll head that way too.  I’d rather have an overall view from the wall, than get in the mix of the buildings just yet….Anyway, straight over the edge of the wall is not an option I’m entertaining… at this point.image Around the wall I go, note a little trattoria I might want to come back to, and then approach a gelato vendor for guidance. imageThrough his very italian directions, I do get “canale” and his arm pointing forward and forward then “grande statua”.  So I head straight looking for the large statue.  image

Straight along the canale, by the family of anatra, past where the lady lives that likes pink, and sure enough, there is a grande statua.  Sinistra there. imageI wind around a bit, ask a few more locals, consult my italian phone (by the way, every time I try to use google maps, it closes down) and there…it’s that easy.  B&B Anfiteatro.imageI told you I had not researched Lucca at all.  Well I had found out there were Puccini music festivals here and have a ticket reserved for tonight…but that is ALL.

The owner of the B&B marked the ticket office for the concert for me on a mappa.  While I am waiting to be checked in, I also grab a leaflet for a night tour of Lucca.  They are offered Thursday and Saturday nights…today is Saturday right?  I think if it works into my plans, I will pay the 10 euro to get acclimated a bit.  The concert is scheduled for 7:15 and suppose to last about an hour.  The tour meets at 9:00 in front of one of the major chiesas.  That might just work out.

On my way to the Puccini ticket office, there is plenty to look at…although I don’t know what any of it is… image

I pay 18 euro for the Puccini biglietto and find a spot to wait.  I order a spritz and watch and listen for the next 45 minutes.image

I arrive at the concert one of the first 10 or so.  I choose a spot in the front.  Within minutes the church it is held in is full.  We are given a program which includes bits of operas from other composers along with Puccini.  Lucca is Puccini’s birthplace.  But from the information, it sounds like his success was not welcome here for years.image

First the pianist enters from behind the panels, then the first of the due tenors we will be hearing.  The acoustics in this small chiesa are amazing.  The strength of the performers’ voices doesn’t hurt.  The following video is poor visual quality.  I think photo were allowed, but most people were trying to be discreet.  This was the encore of the evening.

This was a special experience.  I suggest working a concert in if you are visiting Lucca.  They perform every evening of the year.

Now for some cibo.  I have not eaten since my torta this morning.  Earlier I passed this pizzeria and there was quite a crowd.  I have learned that crowds indicate good food…most of the time.  So with 30 or so minutes before the night tour begins, I pop in.  I tell the older woman behind the counter, “Due pr favore.”  Luckily she did not ask “due what?”, because I do not know the italian equivalent to “Whatever”.image

She hands over two piping hot pieces of margherita on a little silver tray, I add a piccolo Moretti to my bill and it comes to under 5 euro…my kind of place!  I sit on a stool in front and enjoy.image

I look at the time and it is 5 til 9:00.  I walk around to the front of the church to see if I see anyone congragating.  My plan is to ask if it is not too late for me to pay and join those who have reserved.  I’m still not 100% dedicated to the idea.  I do not know the area well enough to find my way back to the B&B in the dark, so that is a question I will need to ask as well.

When I arrive there are about 7 or so women standing near a woman with a little guide sign.  I walk up and ask if I might join.  The very friendly guide tells me, “certo”. I then ask the 2nd question of where the tour ends.  She tells me they end at the Anfiteatro…perfetto!

Then, the really lucky news comes.  I am the only english speaking member so the others will go with another guide and I get this one all to myself.  Another great decision Paige!image

My guide’s name is Ilaria (Hilary in English).  She is a middle school English teacher and part time guide.  Our first stop is to find a restroom.  She takes me into this way cool enoteca.  They are kind enough to allow me to use the facilities and take a couple of photos.  I will definitely return here during my stay.image

Love their shelving system!image

During our “tour” Ilaria and I basically just walk and talk.  To tell you the truth, I don’t remember much about Lucca.  I do know one of their symbols is the tower with the trees growing atop it.  Also, there is this symbol by one of the churches.  It was a reminder to the merchants and bankers that use to deal here to keep a straight, honest path. image

This, Ilaria says is a version of the Volto Santo or Holy Face of Lucca.  There were several of these decorating a medieval wooden door.image

 

Ilaria also pointed out a few places I might want to eat and recommended some of Lucca’s traditional foods.  Our entire walk, I kept telling her how lucky I was to have this private tour.  She said it was nice for her as well.  I did consider she might be missing out on tips from a larger group, so I made sure to share my appreciation in euros.  At the end of the tour, Ilaria deposited me at the door of by B&B and bid me a buonanotte.image

Venerdi in Monterosso

This morning was a tre cappuccino morning.  I started with my normal due, but the owner of the hotel, comes to the terrazzo asking if I want another, and I say, “Certo!”imageAs I sit and write, I enjoy the comings and goings of the locals.  Each morning I see the same mothers pushing the same strollers with the same older child hanging onto it in tow.  I hear Giovanni, the owner of Locanda Il Maestrale, where I stayed with Mom and the kids, whistle.  I think he is calling a dog, but I watch to see a worker of his bringing something he has requested.  She is much too slow for him.  He runs to her, grabs the burro, runs back to his door, muttering the whole way.  I am sure good help is hard to find and keep here.

You can judge the timing of the trains with the sounds of roller bag wheels on the tiny street just below me.  A group is sad to leave, a group is bubbling with anticipation.

A white haired man has walked by several times, leaning forward with purpose.  I imagine that will be Giovanni in 20 years.

My quiet morning ritual is shattered as an Australian couple skypes (loudly) with their mates back home. Seriously, is this OK?

So I prepare for la spiaggia.  But first a stop down the ramp and 2 steps to the sinistra.  I was beckoned to my favorite focacceria earlier when the baker opened the back windows.  The wonderful smell of fresh bread with onions wafted up to the terrazzo and called my name.  I may have already mentioned, but this little place is such a find.  I just go in and say, “Vorrei che questo e questo”.  The baker’s wife puts her knife down on the one you want and then you can say, “di piu” or “di meno”.  She cuts it, puts it on the scale and then tells you how much.  For what I get, it is usually about 3 euro.  Such a deal!

I looked up the word “farinata” and it means “gruel”…some words just get lost in translation.image

Now for my last morning at la spiaggia.  I have decided not to spend the molto euro on the chairs and umbrella.  I just free beach it again.

It always takes me a while to decide where to land.  I’m a grass is always greener gal for sure.  This time I decide to forgo the cool kid section and go far right instead of far left.  Now, do I claim my spot in the “front row”, not knowing the tide or do I call “back row” with the barrier of the large, large rocks behind me.  Knowing I can’t have it all, but trying anyway, I split the difference.  I figure there is enough room in front for someone to claim, but I think the back is too small for anyone to want.  I am hoping for some shade later.image

For a few, sweet moments, it’s all mine…and then…Down in Front!imageThe fabulous aroma from my lunch could not be ignored, so I dig in.  My choice of focaccia with cipolla and focaccia with salsiccia e funghi was perfetto!  No doubt I could eat this every single day.  imageTwo young boys pass by me searching for the perfect dagger shaped rocks.  When they find a contender, they put it in their pockets then grab swiftly to judge if it is a keeper.  I’m reminded of Dalton playing on this very beach not much older than these two.  One of my most cherished possessions is a heart shaped rock he presented to me here.

And then, as I am minding my own business and focaccia, rocks start to fly.  A family of cinque…CINQUE!!!  is moving into the piccolo spot behind me.imageI know you can only count quattro, but that is because the dad is laying in front of the mom!  His feet are literally in her face…and hers in mine.  Shortly after this I start my scoot to the front row….making sure NOT to crowd anyone else.  The perils of Spiaggia Libera!

Leaving mid morning tomorrow, I pack away my beach attire when I return to the room and dress to enjoy my last evening in Monterosso.imageThe weather is glorious in the shade, but still quite warm in the evening sun.  Not wanting to spoil my appetite with gelato, I try some fresh limone granita.  Blaine would love this.

imageDuring my passeggiata, I stop by Bottega d’Arte to grab a couple more Storie in Italy charms.  image

Each charm features a photo taken by the owner.  I ask her to point out the ones that highlight Monterosso.  When she hears the jingle of my bracelet, she’s tickled to see I have been here before.  This is one of those “one of a kind” (although they do have another location in Vernazza) shops you just want to be a part of.

Talking to a young woman who has moved her life to Italy also gives you an insiders look at Cinque Terre.  We had a conversation regarding how the area has changed since my first visit and her move here.  It saddens her to see the masses passing through, being brought by boats from La Spezia.  I am sure it is a difficult balancing act.  You want business, you want followers, but you want the place you fell in love with as well.

I ask her, just between us, where is the “New Monterosso”?  Meaning, where is the new, beautiful location that has not been “Touristized” yet.  She looks around and then says, “I think it’s Puglia”.  Perfect, Puglia has been on my radar for my next Storie in Italy.image

I also say Ciao to Federica owner of lanapo where I got my fab sandals and cute Cinque Terre t-shirt.  If the Ferrari could handle it, I would get a little heeled pair as well.  More on my new and improved packing plan later.image

At 7:00, it is early to eat dinner by Italian standards, so I am the first seated at Il Casello.  This is another favorite restaurant of ours.  We have seen it change over the years.  When Mom and Jim and I were here (was that ’99?) it was a walk up panino and birra spot.  Loved it then!  Now it has grown.  The owner is Italian and married a girl from Austin.  He lives here in the summers and there during the school year.image

As I sit with a bird’s eye view of my spiaggia, I notice many are still there from earlier…talk about making a day of it.

When I look over the menu wanting to order the Fritto Misto, I notice it says Shrimp and Calamari.  I ask my waiter what happened to the fresh anchovies?  He says, “Americans-a don’t-a like-a anchovies”.  Here is another example of the way things are changing around here…this and the signs that advertise “American Breakfast Served”.

I tell him that Americans don’t know these anchovies.  He takes a step back, gives me a sideways look and begins to clap saying “Brava!  Brava!”  He says he understands that but, “Some-a times-a eeeta eeesa just-a more-a easy-a to say yes-a than to explain-a”.  I tell him I think that is sad-a and I want the Italian Fritto Misto…he ways “Certo!”

This may have been my favorite meal yet.imageAfter dinner I walk around taking in the setting sun and the local color.  Change, I guess, is inevitable.  All in all, Monterosso is still one of my favorite spots in Italy.  One I know I will return to.  And with views like this and seafood like that, I think I can even convince Blaine to give it a try. imageimageimage

What must it be like to have lived your entire life here, watching the world walk by?  These women’s heads would move in unison as someone worth evaluating would pass.  I love seeing these groups of locals chatting evening after evening.  Although full of change, there is a stability here.  I’m reminded of this as I decide to end the night with some dolce and there is the same person behind the gelato counter who was here in 2007…and she’s still smiling.image

Mangiare, Bere e Divertirsi

My morning began with laughter, which is good.  At breakfast (yes of torta e caffe), I asked if I might borrow a knife.  They agreed.  I used said knife to attack the melone I bought last night.  Mom would have croaked!  There was melone everywhere.  Later I found a lone seed and chuckled.  Daddy would have not been happy about the choice of my “cucina”…but the bathroom sink was all I had and I was craving some melone.  A dull knife and a bathroom sink was all I needed…luckily.image

Heading down to la spiaggia, my backpack runneth over with goodies, but my plan was to enjoy most of the day there.  Yesterday I had spied a nice rock at the far end of the spiaggia libera, today it was to be mine.image

Not wanting my treats to get warm, I did not wait long to enjoy my spread.  Napkins were not part of my planning and that melone was juicy.imageThrough observation, it was clear that the far end of the beach was where all cool kids hung out.  Which was entertaining…for a bit.

Groups had met up here, thrown down their black backpacks, and swum out to the distant rocks.  There they taunted and leapt, shouted and splashed, each trying to outdo the other.imageimage

As you have probably noticed, the beaches here are not sandy beaches, they are rocky.  Walking is a painful experience (funny to watch others but painful for you).  At first I thought it was just us foreign tenderfoots, but as one of the cool kids walked by complaining, his friend bent over and with a flourish, starting clearing a path, which of course, revealed MORE rocks, then told his friend, “vi, vi, vi”.

The cherries are as good as I remember!imageTo my left, the cool kids, to my right, far right, the boats full of daytrippers continue to come in one after another.  Monterosso is definitely busier during the day than I remember.  This year was the first I witness antena with scarf tied atop, as a guides scurried through with their chicks.  More on “Changing Monterrosso” later. imageAfter la spiaggia, I return to the room, throw on my now favorite Firenze dress and notice that it is “Spritz O’Clock”…well whatya know!

Hotel Margherita, as many places do, offers an aperitivo deal.  Here I can pay 5 euro for a spritz and a cute little tray of snacks accompanies it.  So I sit, read, snack and enjoy.imageWhen it was time to make a dinner decision, I turn to tripadvisor.  I do not do that much here, but had already heard where the hotel staff recommended, visited my usual haunts and wanted to see if I was missing anything.

The two top recommendations were here in the “old” section Monterosso.  So I went to scope them out.

The top choice is Da eraldo, but as the 20 seats (max) are currently taken and people are being turned away, I figure I am in for a bit of a wait.  I approach the waiter, greeter, chef’s helper and say, “Tavolo per uno?”.  He says in a very soft-a voice-a, “There-a eeesa only one-a of-a you-a”. Solo uno.

He tells-a me-a….sorry, I mean, he tells me that if I will go-a and sit-a in-a front-a of-a heeema, at Eliseo’s, he will come get me when there is a tavolo.  As luck would have it, Enoteca da Eliseo was number 2 on tripadvisor’s list.

I order a bicchiere di vino rosso and watch Da eraldo turn disapointed people away.  The couple seated at the same tavolo as myself, has a conversation using about three languages.  It is fun to be able to understand a bit more of italian.  I still do not know exactly what they are talking about, but I can get a gist at times.  And for added enjoyment and ambiance, Pavarotti sings from inside the enoteca.imageimageimageAs always, I hope to secure an outside tavolo, but am instead shown into the piccolo, piccolo area inside. It is kinda fun watching the world go by framed in the doorway.

Inside, my back is basically IN the kitchen…so the seats you see here and the ones outside are all!  If you plan to visit, lose all but 2 or 3 in your party and prepare for a wait.

In this small area, you cannot help but hear (and understand as they are all speaking english) other’s conversations.  The young students are all discussing their adventures on this trip so far.  Most are in Italy for a short time with other countries on either side of their trips.  I so wish my kids could take advantage of an experience like this.  Travel is the best educator I know.

imageThe chef and my guy (very tall for such a soft voice and demeanor) were more than happy to pose when I brought out my camera.  Here, the musica is more upbeat.  An italian version of “Gloria” blares from the rigged speakers.   They-a do-a love-a our-a 80’s musica.imageFor my dinner, I chose a sample piatti tre pastas.  Pappardelle ai frutti di mare, Testatoli in salsa noci and lasagne al pesto.  I had read not to miss the pane here, so I made sure to request it.

When my guy presents my dishes, he says, “May-a I-a suggest-a beginning-a  weeth-a the seafood-a paaasta primo.  Eeetsa flavors are-a the most-a delicate-a.  And-a then-a end-a weeeth-a the pesto, as eeetsa flavors are-a the most-a strong-a”.

I am so very thankful I chose the sampler portions.  It is all molto buono but I cannot finish any of it.  When He comes to clear my piatti, each dish has some left.image

I am sitting watching the world go by when I feel a tap on my shoulder with a “Signora” attached to it.  I turn to see the chef.  She is leaning down, still with her hand on my shoulder.  “Eeessaaa there-a errors in-a my-a dish-as?”  I feel awful.  I assure all was molto buono but I wanted to make sure I got a chance to try and enjoy them all.  At this she grabs her chest and makes this, “Oh I am so grateful to hear that” pantomime.  The girls in front of me turn, smile, and begin to take bigger bites.

I would recommend coming to Da eraldo and ordering the appetizer sampler plate.  Unfortunately it is suggested 2 or more share this fabulous looking spread.  My friend will tell you he’s a glad-a you-a chose-a theeesa plate-a.  Eeeata eees the plate-a which-a theeeesa trattoria began-a as well as how to go about enjoying it.

After dinner I walk enjoying the pink sunset over the sea.  I know you have seen similar photos last year, but…can ya ever get tired of this view?imageimage

The sea-a….sheee-a eeessa very calm-a tonight-a.image