Best of- The Rest

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As you can tell I have put off and put off this final post.  I felt as long as I left something hanging, I was still living in the present regarding my trip and not the past. Now that I … Continue reading

Best of- Food

Not that this came as a surprise to me, but a major focus of this trip was food.  Many people seem think that just because you are in Italy, amazing food is going to be all around you and all you consume.  Like anywhere, food in Italy varies.  Not every bite you put in your mouth is worth the calories or the euro….so I tried to be selective.  I researched, talked to locals, checked out plates as I passed.  However, some of my best bites were serendipitous..  Grazie mille San Lorenzo!  As I answer my own “Best of Food” questions, I am not looking back at photos for reminders.  These answers are based solely on sweet (and savory) memories!

Best Pizza- Pizzeria Franco, Sorrento

I’ll start with the question I get most, “Where did you have the best pizza?”  Without a doubt it was  in Sorrento.  Even though Sorrento is not on my list of cities to return to, catching a train just to eat at Franco’s is!

Peperoni, salsiccia e formaggi

Peperoni, salsiccia e formaggi

Best Gelato- CCC, Capri Crema Cafe, Anacapri

Capri Crema Cafe

Capri Crema Cafe

I loved the whole vibe here;  a little retro but definitely cutting edge, clean and crisp. Presentation is spot on and taste….molto buono!

Best Pasta- Gnocchetti fatto a mano…..le mie mani!!

Gnocchetti Sardi fatti in casa con Ragu alla Bolognese

Gnocchetti Sardi fatti in casa con Ragu alla Bolognese

I am sure the fact that I/we made this in our cooking class and the love and laughs that went into the preparation flavors my perspective…..but this truly was the best pasta I had during my trip. I could have easily made myself sick on it.  But being in the company of “strangers” and needing to save room for all the other dishes we prepared, tempered my portion.

On my first Sunday back home, I prepared this for my family.  It received rave reviews here as well.

Fatto in my Texas Casa

Fatto in my Texas Casa

Best Street Food-  Frito Misto, Riomaggiore, Cinque Terre

Fritto Misto calamari e gamberi

Fritto Misto
calamari e gamberi

This is one of those places I roamed into.  The calamari was the freshest I have ever had.  It is pretty much a given now that I love my food in a paper cone.

Best Ristorante- Al Pozzo, Monterosso   Trattoria Mario, Firenze   Trattoria Katti, Firenze

This category has a three-way tie.  All three are here due to the quality of food but also because of the personal attention/willingness to interact,  and for me, both are key in creating a memorable experience.

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Al Pozzo has previous memories attached to it.  I have enjoyed beautiful evenings seated in the street here my family.  I have a photo of Chef Gino preparing his famed frutti di mare risotto (which I have yet to try).  Both of my children fell in love with gamberetti gnocchi here.                                         Wonderful memories can be a tough thing for a place to live up to as well.  On my first night in Monterosso, when being presented with my gamberetti gnocchi, my heart fell…. the gnocchi failed to sport its tell-tale ridges.  I guess as a time saver, instead of hand rolling each gnoccho on the ridged board, they stopped at the step before, creating a less appealing looking dumpling.  I so wanted to inquire, but I knew my question could only be taken as a complaint (which to be honest….it would have been) and I chose to make new memories instead of trying to relive past ones….that’s growth huh!?

Not to be Missed!

Not to be Missed!

Trattoria Mario is just one of those special places.  Yes it is packed with tourist that have read about it, but it is run by locals that I think are there for the locals….we just happen to be a byproduct of their love of Firenze and its food.

Now Trattoria Katti is all me.  I did not read about it, I did not hear about it, I just roamed into it and I am so glad I did.  As you know, I enjoyed a dinner there twice.  Both times the food was very good, but the dish that put it over the top for me was the Pappa al Pomodoro.  I have since longed for a spoonful often!!  The fact that when I would walk by (countless times…it was on “my street”) and Katti or her mamma would see me and say “Ciao!” didn’t hurt either.

Comfort in a bowl!

Comfort in a bowl!

Best BItes- Fried Calzone, Anacapri     Coccolo, Firenze     Papa al Pomodoro, Firenze       Panino, Firenze

I had a lot of wonderful food during my trip…if I look back through my photos, I am sure I would add more to my list, but again….I am going with my memory and my gut here.

To me, this is what it is all about…that first bite….the moment you put something into your mouth and you are simply sent….the second bite or the second visit may not compare….but it is that first bite that you remember…

When I first bit into the fried calzone in Anacapri, right then, I knew it was the best thing I had eaten in Italy yet….I will admit, when I finally found the bakery the 2nd time, after days of trying to retrace my steps….the 2nd experience did not measure up to the first.  It was still wonderful….but just not the same…

Fried Calzone...need I say more...

Fried Calzone…need I say more…

Coccolo, dusted with salt...

Coccolo, dusted with salt…

OK…there is a trend here….more fried dough.  Hey, I am not proud…IS there anything better!?  I have yet to make these, but I do have a happy hour on the books and am planning to serve Aperol Spritz and these!

I have already shared the photo of Papa al Pomodoro, but it makes the list again….

And last, but certainly NOT least was my amazing panino in Firenze….

All'Antico Vinaio

All’Antico Vinaio

Once again rewarded for roaming on!

You will notice that most of my BEST BITES are from my eats in Firenze…another reason the city is a fav of mine!

Best Sips- A Pie’ de Ma’, Riomaggiore    Caffe Gilli, Firenze

During my previous trip to Italy with my mom and kids, I would look at people just sitting, enjoying a glass of wine or an aperitif, perhaps reading a book….I longed for that experience, that pace.  This trip, I enjoyed many such moments.

a Pie' de Ma

a Pie’ de Ma

I am thankful for the tip to look for a Pie’ de Ma….it isn’t a place you would just stumble on.  Definitely a place to return to.

My first Aperol Spritz...and more coccolo!  Heaven or What!?

My first Aperol Spritz…and more coccolo! Heaven or What!?

During my evening at Gilli, I just kept pinching myself….I was so happy.  Seated outdoors overlooking Piazza della Repubblica…people watching…pretty much heaven for me.

Best New Discovery- Fresh Cherries  and Fresh Anchovies

I know you are probably thinking, “How can cherries be a discovery?”  Well, I am not a fruit person.  As I have gotten older, I have tried to broaden my fruit horizons (remember the fig….).  I tend to be attracted to “pretty things”.  When I was younger, I put a tomato slice on my plate simply because I thought it needed the color.  So with cherries being in season, stacked and piled at every stand…I had to.  And once again…rewarded.  Cherries became my staple snack.  I am sad to say that I bought some here at home…and they did not compare.

It is art!

It is art!

The moral of my italian eating is that fresh is key….my anchovy experiences speak to that as well!

Shrimp, Calamari and ANCHOVY!

Shrimp, Calamari and ANCHOVY!

I know I am leaving something (many things) out…I could probably give everything its own category….my picnic on the beach in Monterosso….so perfect….the limoncello Franco unlocked from his “private collection”….so-a strong-a and-a so-a beautiful-a!….the warm, oily bag of pane in Trastevere…..ALL my CAPRESES!!!…..

As you read, if there is a category you would like me to award…please…let me know…

My plan is one more post from this trip….The Best of…THE REST.

Best Of- B and B ‘s

First…some great news!!!!

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The scatola gialla has arrived!!  I was so happy to see the pink slip in the mail box.  And even happier when Mom and Dad brought it in.  It looks as if it had a tough journey; all broken and taped, but what matters is all the goodies (yes, more ephemera!!) are here…no more loose ends; me, the Ferrari and the scatola gialla all arrived at different times, but we all arrived.

I wince a bit when I say I have been home two weeks now.                                                No doubt…there are wonderful things about being home; family, comforts of home, friends, family, comforts of home….wait, I already said that….ok….I am stumped…I know there are more, but I’ll have to get back to you.

Two weeks has allowed me to reflect, tell stories, miss certain things, etc.  During this time, I ask myself questions; “What was your best fill in the blank?  More often than not, a debate ensues.  I have to qualify and qualify, substitute, consider a different opinion, be reminded of something ….and that’s just talking to myself….                                                         But I think I am ready to make a few non-binding (my favorite kind) commitments…

So let’s start with my B & Bs.

Gosh…I actually got a bit nervous just then….I guess this is making it feel like a formal ending…..

Best Bedroom/Bath Layout & Comfy Bed- Chiusi and Vence

L' albero di gameli, Chiusi

L’ albero di gameli, Chiusi

Le2, Vence, France

Le2, Vence, France

These two B & B’s get three Best Of’s each!  I loved the eclectic mix and feel of the decor in Le2, but L’albero di gameli’s understated elegance made me feel pampered for the night.  Did I ever mention the wonderful scent that filled the air there?  I  know scents can be tricky.  Something someone loves gives someone else a headache.  But the scent Milena has here is so subtle…just enough to make you think “aaahhhhhhhh”.

Best Room View- Sorrento and Assisi (See now I thinking Anacapri should make this list as well….)  But I am going to stick with my first two because I tend to like heights….I so loved being on the rooftops of these places.  B&B Belvedere Sorrento gets top honors I think because of all I could see and hear; Piazza Tasso, the sea, the rooftops, people’s windows, the streets below.

Rooftop B&B Belvedere

Rooftop B & B Belvedere

B&B Belvedere Sorrento

B & B Belvedere Sorrento

I guess it gave me more “scenes” to picture myself in while Hotel Alexander’s (Assisi) view of the rolling hills of Toscana were like something out of an Italian fantasy.

Hotel Alexander, Assisi

Hotel Alexander, Assisi

Plus, in B & B Belvedere’s column, I so enjoyed my evenings on the rooftop with a glass of wine or a treat I had grabbed from the streets below.

Best Hotel Host/Hostess- OK…no surprises here…say it with me….FRANCO!!     Because I was Franco’s guest for 5 nights he of course gets top honors, but Milena comes in a close 2nd with only 1 night to impress!!

Il mio amico Franco!

Il mio amico Franco!

Franco and Family were just absolutely wonderful.  I cannot say enough about my time there and without Franco’s kindness, Anacapri would have just been another bellissimo posto on my trip.

Milena at work

Milena at work

Milena, with two precious girls in tow, went al di sopra e al di la to make my one night in Chiusi perfect AND help me.  With both of these special people, I feel I now have amici in Italia.  Are there ANY better souvenirs!?

My parents are already planning on adding these two spots to their next trip to Italia.

Best Breakfast- B&B Roma Central

Pasticceria across the via from B&B Roma Central

Pasticceria across the via from B&B Roma Central

A typical italian breakfast is so very different from a typical American breakfast.  Cakes, cheeses, pastries and of course cafe.  In Roma, every morning I looked forward to going to the pasticceria across the street, handing the guy on the other side of the counter my hand stamped post-it note, choosing my pastry from the glass counter and deciding how I wanted my caffeine presented that day; cappuccino, espresso, macchiato…no way an Americano!!  I didn’t sit at a table alone, I stood at the counter quickly eating my pastry and  downing my cafe in no more than 3 gulps like all my other italian neighbors.  Perfetto!

Best Location, Location, Location (Hotel)-

This is a toughie.  There are pluses about almost every single place I stayed.  The total number of B&B is 10 and I have to say I would rebook 8 of them.                                Rome, although the location put me near some cool neighborhoods and close to the train station, I would try another location before returning.  That has NOTHING to do with the quality of my B&B, it was great, but next time, I am thinking Trastevere.                                 Anacapri, part of the charm was that I would walk to town several times a day.  Staying out of the city center allowed me to peek into lives and the same lives at different times of day.  That I loved.  The aromas of what was for lunch or dinner, the conversations floating out of open windows, passing familiar faces on the streets.  And of course the tranquil beauty of Il Giardino dell’arte; my terrace, the Bay of Naples in my arms…bella!                   Sorrento, couldn’t have been better.  Walking distance from the train station, a corner off Piazza Tasso, my rooftop terrace…..ya gotta love the luggage pulley!                                                                                                     Chiusi, with a car and the intention of exploring Toscana and Umbria….definitely a place to return to.                                                                                                                               Monterosso, Hotel Margherita has a perfect location and I love their shared terrace/patio.  It was definitely one of my favorite “offices”.  A common outdoor area is a huge plus, especially if you are staying for several days.  This space allows you to hang and unwind without feeling closed up in your room.                                                                                          Florence, Great location.  Far enough from the touristy centers to allow you a buffer zone, but close enough to everything; train station included.  Via Faenza is lined with small trattorias, groceries, enotecas and more.  On my next visit, I might check out options  in Oltrarno, but that is nothing against B&B Bencidormi.  I would love a place with that common outdoor area I was speaking of…I’ve got a while to do some research…I’ll let you know….                                                                                                                                     Assisi, Again, if you are going to Assisi, the location and terrace of Hotel Alexander seem perfect.                                                                                                                                     Vence, As long as church bells, LOUD church bells add to your experience LE2 is ideal.

8 out of 10....not bad!

8 out of 10….not bad!

Best Overall B & B Experience, Il Giardino Dell’Arte

Top Honors go to Franco e Famiglia

Top Honors go to Franco e Famiglia

This is taking EVERYTHING into consideration.  To put into Franco’s words, the time here will “crazy you”.   Bravo e Grazie Mille Franco!!

Is there anything about the B & Bs that I neglected to mention?  If so, send me a comment and I am sure I will have an opinion to share.

Next up, Best Of- Food!

Reflections and Tips

Now that I am home Safe and Sound….I feel the need to slowly acclimate to my own culture again. I guess I basically just want to sit here and continue to let the reality of my experience seep in.
You know how something in the future can feel like such a dream….like it will never really happen, the time will never actually come. It is a bit frightening to me that something in the very recent past can also feel like a dream….did it actually happen….was that really me?

This dream of mine could have never become a reality without the support and understanding of my family. My parents fed it, my husband accepted it, my children were I think kind of proud of me. My sister-in-law, probably unknowingly gave me a last minute pep-talk that I needed at the time. And my friends humored me by letting me share.

I began this blog, truly not knowing what a blog was. I always thought they were self-indulgent and pretentious. And I guess they are, but being able to put my thoughts and experiences down each day was such a needed outlet for me; both then and for the future. Without this daily account, I fear my days would have rushed together into a beautiful, overlapping blur. With this, the tangled knot of words that tumble constantly in my head, became an account. An account that can transport me at will… sort of time travel. Allowing me to revisit places, people, moments. In the future, I will probably be able to see aspects more clearly than I did in the moment. This is pretty special.

I am glad to be home. I am thankful for the 2 nights I just had with my family of four under the same roof. When I would wake up in the night, unsure of where I was, that realization was wonderful.

I started a list (many actually) during the trip of things to do when I return home.
*Low-key entertain more….someone else arrives, go in, grab another table and chairs
*Find a recipe for coccolo, make, eat, repeat
*Keep the ingredients for Aperol Spritz on hand and embrace the Aperitif!
*Write Franco & Grazia
*Seek and enjoy some of the same things I loved in Italy at home
*Contact woman I met that teaches Italian lessons via skype and continue to learn the language
*Make my own pasta…fatta in casa

As promised, here is a shot of all the ephemera I packed out of Italia.

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My dad said it looks like the only paper I left behind were euro. And he’s about right. Remember, I needed a carry on bag for only this.
oh, and these…

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I do think carrying a collapsable, smallish bag is a good travel tip…..

Here are are few more I jotted down.

These are things I always had in my purse….it may seem like a lot, but I can substantiate everything in here.

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Here is my black borsa I referred to often. The brand is Co-Lab by Christopher Kon and it was perfect!! The ONLY thing I would want to change about it is give it a zipper closure instead of a magnet one. But it withstood a lot and still looks brand new.
Inside you will find; Sunglasses, an extra pair of readers, a collapsable water bottle, wipes, tissues, wallet with passport inside, fan (love it), hand sanitizer, lotion stick, Chapstick (albeit Dior), phone, camera, extra charged battery, phone case that is charger in one, small journal, pen, sharpie, gum, advil (not easy to find over there), shout, bandaids, earphones (for audio tours…thanks JP), baggie (don’t laugh…you have some extra yummy bread from somewhere….ya take it with you for later), hair tie, fingernail file and pashmina (visiting churches, cooler evenings, dress you bought that stretches out too low when you sweat…..multi use!)

Here is what I carried in my overnight bag.

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Lovie from Avery, clear folder with files (hotels, tours, trains, etc.), zipper pouch with all chargers and adapters, scissors, extra pair of under garments, go to dress, socks (just incase a room gets cold and you do not have enough covers), deodorant, comb, brush, bath gel, moisturizer (I highly suggest visiting Sephora a couple of times and getting a few samples a sample or two of perfume is a must as well) toothbrush & paste and make-up.

Here is what I slimmed down my makeup regimen to-

20130728-183406.jpg The glasses are there just to show you the size.

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That is all. I researched and bought these in December, never opened them, just tucked them away until the trip.

Other essentials-

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Although all but one of my B&Bs had “hairdryers”, I played it safe and packed my own.

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Here are a few more tips from me regarding packing…
*First and foremost….invest in a good, lightweight suitcase with rubber wheels. The wheels are key, especially on the streets of Italy…investing now will save you grief later.
*Pack early and often. I truly started packing a good 6 months ahead of my trip. I would revisit it every few weeks, add to , take away…I still made mistakes, but they are fewer I am sure due to this.
*If traveling alone, make sure you can handle what you have and still “look” in control.
* As far as clothes go….my main tip is pack and wear what makes you feel good (inside) and fairly comfortable outside. I have always heeded the advice of Billy Crystal’s SNL character Fernando, “It is better to look good than to feel good.” And in Europe, what matters is that YOU think you look good. Because I am here to tell you, ANYTHING GOES!! ANYTHING.
But….here is my 2euros….
*an outfit you wear there, pack away and then wear home is great
* anything too big, will get bigger
* dark and tight show sweat
*dark, sleeveless shows deodorant and if that LBD MVP gets white all under the arms, it loses its appeal.
*light, flowy, prints are best
*Maxis are great day and night
*breezy is good but being caught up by the breeze is not (at least for me)
*although heels are worn, (and Lord knows I love my wedges) I only brought sandals….walking on those uneven, cobblestone streets is a challenge.

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I only wore the fold up flats on the plane to and fro, but it was nice to know I had pair of comfy shoes in reserve. The flip flops are a must for beach and bathrooms. The little white pumas were worn (reluctantly) three times; both bike rides and my aborted hike in Cinque Terre. Thank goodness I did not go with my mental image of the girl on a bike cruising along with flowing skirt and scarf…especially on the 18 mile Tour de Apian Way.
The two pair of sandals were workhorses. Again I suggest investing in good, leather sandals. The Tory Burch pair have rubber soles which was great for hilly towns. The nude pair I probably wore the most. Their thin straps allowed for swelling without discomfort.
*I may have already mentioned this but 1 purse is best. Cross body is essential.
*bring your nail-polish for toenail touchups
*White and flowy is very chic….don’t know if you can have too much white
*I think I have touted the merits of a “Travel Pant” enough
*1-2 mix match swimsuits
*wash cloth….not white
*socks and foot lotion
*packable hat (fedoras look the sharpest)
*packable umbrella
*If you are staying several days someplace and you have room, a couple of plastic hangers…never enough
*a mailing tube for posters, art, etc.
* a couple of sharp, white v-neck t’s
and as for my must have…a polar fleece blanket….forget it….we cut a throw in half for this trip and I will tell you, a 1/2 of a blanket does not a blanket make….and it is a pain to pack.
* if traveling with others (husband, kids) EVERYONE needs to carry their own things…guys should not be timid about man bags….Mom should not be in charge of anyone else’s anything…

Much of this might sound silly but I did a lot of research on line for packing tips and could not find much more than “Be sure to bring athletic or walking shoes”…I don’t think so…..
So some of these tips would have helped me.

Later on this week, I hope to post a Best Of list and photos, but for now I need to go make good on some of those promises I made to myself…

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Buon Appetito Ya’ll!

Roam’n Home

When I would leave each town that I had thoroughly enjoyed; Roma, Capri, Monterosso, Firenze, each departure would be bitter sweet. Each visit gave me more than I had anticipated. Each brought sites and experiences that delighted and surprised me. Yet each time, unless I was ready to take up residence, I was ready for the next step.
With the ending of this trip, I feel the same. I am not sick of travel. I am not lonely. I am not aching for the USA. But I am ready. Ready to hold my family. Ready to share. Ready to hear what was experienced in my absence.
So I walk out of Le2 with no regrets.

I had asked Gilles, my cab driver, to pick me up at 8:00am. With my flight out of Nice scheduled for 10:55, Gilles assured me 8:30 would get me to the airport with plenty of time for shopping there. I think that was his way of telling me to push it back even further. However, early arrival has been my mode during this trip. I would rather sit where I am to be than sit waiting to get there.

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I roll myself right outside the city walls and wait. I have no qualms about spending the extra euro on a cab this morning. The walk, bus, train, bus to the airport with a flight to catch makes my stomach tight even after the fact. Too many opportunities for issues there.

Gilles arrives right on time.
We talk a bit during the drive. He shares his opinion of visiting the US. He says he did once for a stop over heading to Hawaii when he was young. He says that now, when he travels, he wants to experience not necessarily an “adventure” but another culture and he feels like the US does not offer that. I think he has a point.

Check in at the airport goes easy. My United flight is being taken by Lufthansa.
We board on time and the first leg is a quick flight to Frankfurt, Germany.

I will tell you that I am sad at this point that German and French are the last two languages ringing through my head. In retrospect, switching my arrival to Vence and flying out of Roma….might have been better…..but……research…..a lot of this was about research.

Remember, my original intent 5 years ago was to “live” in Italy for the entire summer. But when it came down to making a choice of location, I simply did not have the background to make that choice. So, the trip changed. I roamed the areas I thought I would like thinking that would help me cross cities off and or highlight some.

This trip has definitely done that for me.
Cross off Albenga.

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Cross off in the Tuscan countryside with no wheels.

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Cross off France.

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Did I enjoy Vence? Absolutely. But did it surpass Italy? No. Did I think it might? I wondered…

Put another, darker line through Napoli.

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Do I still want to make a kamikaze run (with someone else) in searching for their best pizza? Yes. Do I think it can top the one I had in Sorrento? I challenge them….but don’t tell them that….they scare me.

Highlight Roma. Put a star by Trastevere.

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Highlight Capri. Know I would ONLY ever want to stay in Anacapri.

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Re highlight with stars and exclamation marks Monterosso!!**!!

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Now that I have visited all cinque of the terras, Monterosso reigns uno to me. I did like Riomaggiore too.

Firenze might move to the top of the list as far as a place I would want to “set-up house”.

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Loved the neighborhood I was in.
Love the size and accessibility of the town.
Love the art.
LOVE the FOOD!!

Question mark by Sorrento/Amalfi Coast.

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I enjoyed my time there very much. Probably would not stay in Sorrento proper again, but might want to investigate some of the smaller hotels along the coast for a place for pure relaxation. A perfect place to hole up and not do much exploring.

Know that Milena’s B&B in Chiusi is a wonderful location to use as a home-base for exploring Toscana and Umbria. There are still towns in these regions I would put on my list for next time.

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See….headway was made!

On the plane, I am happy that I brought my own stash.

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Going from the food I have been eating to airplane food is almost cruel.

I will say the flight attendance on Lufthansa were probably the cheeriest I have ever had. It is almost like they have told them, “Just this once, go out there and be the epitome of an old school flight attendant. Be super helpful and chipper…..just this once.”
They made me laugh they were so nice. So Lufthansa earned their wings with me.

By the way, those beautiful muffins I bought in Vence…so, so yummy!

Arriving in the US made me laugh too…

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Uuuhhhmmmm…I don’t think so Denver Airport foodcourt……

At the end of my flight from Denver to Austin is when I about had enough of sitting on a plane. I can never figure out how people sleep during flights….I just can’t do it.
This flight was delayed a bit but we finally arrived in Austin around10:00 pm. That makes about 22 hours of travel from Gilles to Austin.

I was SO HAPPY to see Dalton waiting for me at baggage claim (even if the Ferrari wasn’t….it made it to my doorstep the next afternoon though).

Blaine and I took Dalton back to his Austin digs and headed home. Of course I had to show Mom and Daddy that I had made it HOME safe and sound then it was off to bed.

I am sure that most of you have had enough of my stories by now.
But I do want to close this journey with one more post tomorrow.
Just seeing the “trash” I brought back will be worth it!!

See you then!

Dernier Jour

Embracing the idea of returning home tomorrow, I wake up and begin packing.

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The only thing I do differently this time, is take out the bag that has been lying flat and dormant the entire trip and stuff it will all the ephemera I have collected; train tickets, every single receipt, empty sugar packets, an espresso spoon from here and there (ssshhhhh), map after map, corks, labels, pamphlets, flyers, menus….I have an affection for remembrances like these.
The plan is to create a piece of art or two with them….better in my opinion than anything one can buy.

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Removing this amount from the Ferrari makes it much easier to zip and a bit lighter as well. Only needing to make it from the cab to the airport checkin with 3 bags, I think it is doable. I will also pack my black borsa into the Ferrari putting all important items into my “overnight” bag.

As I pack, I consider what to do with my last day.
I could take the bus again into Nice and hangout at the beach…but I have to tell ya, after the waters of Cinque Terre and Capri…these waters/beaches do nothing for me. The only upside would be being able to say “yeah, I spent a day lying in the sun on beaches of Nice”…..I decide I have enough stories….stories that I love. So I cross that off my list.

I decide I will walk through Vence again and then take a short bus ride to Saint Paul. Saint-Paul-de-Vence is one of the oldest medieval towns on the French RIviera. It is well known for its modern and contemporary art museums and galleries. Plus I already know how to get there….

When I walk out of the B&B I notice that Wednesday must be Vence’s “market” day.

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These are basically the same in most towns. A market where you can buy a bra, a pair of harem pants and a skillet from the same vendor…
After I pass through the area of the gypsy vendors, I come across the food market….this, I like.

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I buy some more cherries; a bag for today and a bag for the plane.

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I buy two of those little muffin things….both for the plane….

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As you can tell, by 9:30 they are almost already sold out.

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Are these the cutest little bags ever!? After I step away, I put both muffins in 1 bag to save the other for my growing pile of treasures.

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20130726-132026.jpg Another crepe place I would love to squeeze in…

20130726-132056.jpg Love their mosaic tables.

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I can’t put my finger on it, but there is something different between Italian vegetables and fruits and French ones….I think one seems a bit more rustic and the other a bit more polished.

20130726-135744.jpg Baby olive trees!!!

20130726-135814.jpg Complete with baby olives!!

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20130726-135953.jpg Another item for the “road”.

After walking through the market, I decided I needed to go back to Le2 to rid me of my haul before going on to Saint Paul.
When I arrived Caroline was pulling this out of the oven.

20130726-140208.jpg tarte aux pommes…que c’est beau!

She told me they were having a dinner tonight and did I want to be included? Since this place was advertised as a “Bed and Bistro” and I had yet to see them cook….it was now or never.

Before leaving town, I visited Our Lady of the Nativity. One of the pieces of art there is a mosaic by the artist Marc Chagall.

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In the balcony area of the church, there are also wood carvings depicting Christ’s Crucifixion.

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After this, it was on to Saint Paul. Oh…..but wait….another street vendor selling something that looked good to eat….I had to stop and try.

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He would ladle a liquid onto a large, round pan he had just prepped with olive oil.

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He would place it in the wood fire oven and slowly turn it, allowing it to bubble and brown.

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This is when he asked me how many pictures I was taking. “A lot” I replied. He then told me how much he would charge me for them…..he was joking….I think.

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After about 5 minutes, he takes it out of the oven and

20130726-141612.jpg viola!

At this point I still have no idea what I am waiting in line for (kinda like the people at the Duomo). Is it savory? Is it sweet? I think it is sweet.
I ask him what is in the mixture.
Chickpeas ground, olive oil and water….that’s all. Ok…I think it is savory.

He then takes a little spatula and begins to quickly scrap up pieces adding them to the plates that number however many people are waiting.
He then asked me if I wanted the seasoning on mine. I told him I wanted it however he thought best.

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20130726-141930.jpg Salty and Crunchy on the outside, a bit gooey on the inside….my kind of cheap eats!!

OK…NOW off to Saint Paul…

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In Saint Paul, I am greeted with these wonderful mosaics in the streets. Saint Paul is another precious little medieval town, definitely worth a visit.

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I head back to Vence, clean up and I still have a couple of hours before dinner at Le2. So I roam a bit more then light at a cafe for a glass of the rose and some time to reflect. I am starting to fill in my “Best Of” list.

20130726-151906.jpg Oh yeah, and some french sweets for the plane.

When it is time to find my spot at a dinner table, I say au revoir to the streets of Vence and head back to Le2.
Again I think the gathering is that of friends. I am totally confused by the “bistro” title in their name. When I arrive, another table has to be set for me, which feels a bit awkward at first but what the heck. They throw out another red and white gingham checked table cloth and we are set.
One of Caroline’s friends (they send whomever speaks the best english my way) comes over and asks what I would like for dinner. I am thrown because there is no menu, nothing posted…
she asks, “plat d jour?” “Sure” I respond.

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20130726-154323.jpg My last glass of wine….

After a while the area is pretty crowded. People hover not knowing whether it is a restaurant or a party. I still don’t know because at times, they would go in, return holding a table and a few more chairs and more people would join in.
I forgot to mention that there is music as well. Really nice guitar and saxophone. They said it was “bassa nova”.

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Later in the evening, they ask if it is ok to sit somebody else with me. I get a Sammy Hagar looking frenchman. He speaks a little english so we talk a bit. At one point he tells me in a hushed tone that he is an “actor”. When he says this, he holds his hand to his face as if to say, “Please don’t tell anyone else….I am trying for incognito”. Secret is safe with me buddy.

Before I turn in, I ask for a piece of Caroline’s dessert and cannot be understood. I whip out my phone and show the photo of it I took earlier…Like Napoleon said, “Un bon croquis vaut mieux qu’un long discours.”

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I return to my room enjoying the sounds from the party below before saying bonne nuit one last time.

Matisse in Nice

OK…Have ya missed me? I have not been able to post. The internet in my room at Le2 is super spotty. If I go out in the hall, stand on 1 leg by the window, it seems to connect, but when I turn to go back in the room….I lose it again.

So let’s catch up….

Another item on my list while in Vence was to visit the Matisse Museum in Nice. The tourist office had given me a flyer highlighting the museum.

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In reading it last evening, accompanied by a glass of the area’s Provence Rose, I learned it was closed on Tuesdays. So Monday was my only choice…that makes it easy.

While I enjoyed my typical French breakfast,

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I created a couple of “flash cards” to aid me in my travels.

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That ought to about do it right?

I knew there were 2 buses that would take me into Nice. One, the 400, I rode to Vence when I arrived. The other, the 94, I believe, was supposedly a more direct bus into Nice. I chose that one.

When I made it to the bus circle in the new area of Vence, the 94 was there and waiting. Perfect.
I boarded and told the driver I wanted to go to the Musee Matisse…..I get a stare I am all too familiar with….but this time it is in French….
I repeat….nothing….so I whip out my iphone flashcard….still nullite…
I show him the map illustration in the Matisse flyer and say, “Nice”….
“Ah…oui, oui…Nice”
But this is not said in a friendly way, this is said like, “sure lady, whatever, move on and sit.”
Loud and Clear….so I did….but as customary, I sit CLOSE to the driver….
My first choice in seats, a bit behind the entry door but the first to the driver’s right was taken….by a young girl who seemed to be “involved” with the driver. So I had to take my 2nd choice, directly behind the driver….and the barrier behind his seat.

We are on our way as I follow the scheduled stops on my bus route/schedule handout.
These are VERY helpful….I suggest grabbing any and all while visiting a city. HOWEVER, the stop the Matisse flyer said to get off at was not on the list.
We pass through Cagne Sur Mer….my old stomp’n grounds, so I know Nice is coming up….
Long bus ride short, I could not get any help from the driver, his girlfriend (they were in some sort of tiff… The ENTIRE drive, he would look back at here….while driving….whisper….look apologetically, and she in return would whisper…..and look down.
Give me Italians that yell everything and ya know where you stand!!
At one point, feeling a bit desperate, I got her attention and asked, “Do you speak ANY english?”
I received a curt “No” with nullite eye contact….she wouldn’t even entertain the international pointing and gesturing….
ANYWAY, an hour later, we are at a stop with lots of other buses. I notice everyone is getting off here. I reluctantly try the driver one more time, showing him, once again, the map in the flyer. I get a parting point and “tourist office”. I exit sharing my best French glare….. (later I spotted the two under a tree making out).

OK…time to access….I do not want to turn on my phone. ( that thing has made me nervous the entire trip…next trip I will definitely get an Italian SIM card put in upon arrival…that way you pay up front and when you use it up….you can pay more…. )
I have zero idea where I am. I have zero idea where the musee is located in reference to where I am….so I walk a bit, looking for the allege “tourist office” always keeping the location of the “bus circle” in the front of my mind….
I see no tourist office…so my last resort is a taxi…..
As you know by now, I hate paying for this, but it is the only means I can find to my end.
I get in the air conditioned Mercedes and say, “Musee Matisse s’il vous plaît” and we are quickly on our way.

The good news is I COULD NOT have walked to it, it was a bit of a drive up from the main part of the city.

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I am excited about this visit for a couple of reasons. Number one, I love Matisse. Number two, I love visiting WHERE an artist worked and Number three, from the flyer, I learned that there is a special exhibit now through September celebrating the 50th year of the museum….again, perfect timing. There will be pieces on loan from other museums that are not part of the housed collection.

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I need to tell you this before “we” enter…once again there are no photographs allowed inside the musee, so you will just have to take my word about some things…

To celebrate its 50th anniversary, the Matisse Museum presents the exhibition “Matisse. The Music at Work”. The exhibition is divided into two parts; The Silence of Music and The Sound of Colour.

As I have mentioned, I have always admired Matisse’s use of line. Much like Picasso, his friendly rival, Matisse’s use of line looks fluid, effortless. During this exhibit and reading his words, I am encouraged to learn that this “ease” came with study and practice.
In one narrative, Matisse likens drawing with a “crayon” to that of playing the violin with a bow. He explains that the smallest distraction during the execution of a line can involuntarily bring with it slight pressing and can influence a line adversely much like that of the wrong pressure on the bow brings an off note to the music.

“Accuracy, clarity, harmony- the movement in which the hand sings”. Henri Matisse

Also being able to see his work close up, noticing the draftsman like marks on a piece that you once felt were pure inspiration.

At one point in his life, Matisse took up playing the violin seriously. When his wife inquired as to why, Matisse shared that he had a fear of going blind. He explained that a blind man must give up painting but not music. I found this touching.

One of my favorite displays was a collection of scraps in the middle of a room. Each individual piece of cut out, painted paper was mounted in the center of a large piece of white paper and set in a gold frame. These frames were then hung on kind of a “poster” display mounting…where you could flip through each one. I loved seeing these discarded pieces. The pin holes, and in some the pins, were still evident where Matisse would pin to a wall to consider their placement in his overall design. Can you imagine just owning this small treasure? Something he had held, used his large scissors to create those beautiful organic shapes and then thought…”No, not this one”.

I love that his family kept them and that they want the viewer to understand his process….and my students wonder why I never want their “scraps” thrown away….

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Blue Nude was a popular piece my students chose to replicate in their painted paper collages. Seeing it in person, with its imperfect cuts, overlapping shapes and pencil marks made me understand the process better.

Matisse’s use of line, color and pattern earn him a special place in my heart. I am thrilled to have visited the town that meant so much to him.

“I decided never to leave Nice, and remained there nearly my entire existence.” Henri Matisse

After I left the museum, I wanted to visit Matisse’s tomb. I was finding entry to the cemetery difficult, there was construction going on around it with tarps and scaffolding concealing the entrance.
I did however see an open gate, so I went to it. It was being blocked by a van, its doors open by the gardeners that were working inside. I entered tentatively. The woman working inside was no help when I asked, “Matisse’s Tomb?”

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I walked through the pictured area, not seeing what I thought I was looking for. Each time I would follow a short walkway, it would dead-end. Quickly I decided to leave before the gardener closed the gate. Spending the night locked in here did not give me a warm feeling.

Finding a bus back to the center of town proved difficult as well. The one I did find, parked close to the museum, was in the driver’s words “caput”. As I walked considering my options, one of those double decker buses stopped near. You know the type….the ones “tourist” ride while listening to commentary….
This is usually NOT an option to me, but remembering how difficult getting to the museum proved, I stuck my head in and asked the driver, “Do you speak english.” “Yeah, sometimes,”he said with a drawl…. At this point, I welcomed an english speaking smart A….

He told me that for 20euro I could ride the bus and get off at the bus center when I wanted. He did advise me that he thought it was not a very good deal thought. However, the taxi to the museum cost the same and this guy I could communicate with, so I hopped on.

At the center of Nice, I got off and walked around a bit..

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At night, the “people” on top of those poles illuminate in different colors.

To me Nice is a busy, tourist packed town. I walked a little along the promenade that defines the “French Rivera”…… I’ll take Monterosso….

Back at the bus circle, I hopped on the 400 and headed back to Vence.
When I arrived, hungry, I found a sidewalk bistro that offered crepes.

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With only one day left, I enjoyed an evening stroll then went back to the room to research and read.