Mass in Assisi

As most of you know, this trip has been in the planning stages for quite awhile. Last summer is when I got real serious and starting charting out my itinerary. I would read a bit, pick a town, research it a bit more, look into accommodations there, rethink, rearrange, cancel here, add there. The amount of time in Florence fluctuated a lot. I can’t really even tell you why I chose to stay here this long.
I had only been to Florence once before on a day trip from Siena. And to be honest, I did not care for that experience all that much. There are 4 things from that day that ( was it 1999?) stand out in my memory; seeing the David (better than anyone can ever imagine!!), sitting on a stoop outside a pizza shop and eating a really good square piece of gorgonzola pizza, seeing Michelangelo’s Tondo Doni and talking with Jim about it and being surrounded by wall to wall people.

Since then I have learned that you cannot “drop” into a city and get a feel for it. I am so thankful that I have had this extended time in Firenze. It is a wonderful city. I am not sure if it is because I have been on my own for a while and I am getting into a groove, but I feel super comfortable and safe here. And it was where I was most nervous about (OK….Napoli took that #1 spot and sill holds the title). I have enjoyed late evenings here where in other places I was in by sundown.
Now the wall to wall people are still here, no doubt about that, but if you get away from the Duomo and Ponte Vecchio, it thins out dramatically. There is a wonderful mix of locals (young and old),tourists and students. Firenze may now top Rome for me….may….I haven’t finalized that list yet.

Now in the same breath I am going to tell you about “dropping” into another town….Assisi. I am totally contradicting myself, but here goes.

One of the many moments that I was nervous about too long of a stay in Firenze, I decided to take 2 days out of the chunk and visit Assisi. Since my B in Firenze is so darn cheap, I could keep it, pack a light bag and be on my way. So yesterday morning, I did just that.

I made it to the train station way too early….so I decided to walk back across the street and grab a bite to eat.

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And, a bite was all it took. I am sure there are some great places to eat near train stations, this just wasn’t one of them. I would rather waste that euro than waste those calories.
I return back to the station to see that my first train is ritardo….that means delayed…but only by 10 minutes.

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First stop,

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Here, I have to wait for about 30 for my next leg. So I play.

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Daring to cross YELLOW line that the recorded message tells us we are EXPRESSLY forbidden to…
Getting on “a” train in Italy is easy, getting on the “correct” train is a little trickier. Although the platforms are listed, it can change at the drop of a cappello. There is rarely anyone to ask….let me rephrase that….there is rarely anyone in authority to ask. But again, Saint Christopher (cubed) had my back.
As we moved from Tuscany to Umbria the fields of sunflowers made me smile.

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20130715-101809.jpg A little better….remember…I am in a moving train.

20130715-101850.jpg Allora!
Is it so amazing the way their little heads rotate to follow their namesake!

And we arrive.

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I like their style of writing.
Assisi’s historical center is quite aways away from the train station and new town. Luckily with my destination perched on top of a large hill, I could tell this was not one to walk. Even the bus ride up took a bit. I think the driver was glad to see me exit. Each stop I would pop around his seat and say “questo?”. And at the last stop, I didn’t want to bother him (I did not know it was the LAST stop) and he had to pop around to me to say “Questo!”. Va bene.

You think I would have learned not to hit a new town hungry. It really messes with me. I will say I HAVE learned it, I just do not practice it very well.
So I hit Assisi hungry. I have done ZERO research for this stop….zero. I have no guide book in hand or on my ipad, I have no map, the hotel had not contacted me back when I reminded them of my arrival….ZERO. The bus driver is fed up with me, but he points me in “A” direction…
Luckily I am traveling light so I start to roam.
If you have been to Assisi, you know it is HILLY….really HILLY. The streets turn much like the ones in Anacapri…so they are difficult to follow….hungry or not.
People would point me, and I would go. Fortunately I asked a little guy at a gallery and he said, “I will show you.” He steps out of his gallery and gives me verbal and hand directions in english….this helps a little. Him describing one of the hills I needed to go down as “strong”, didn’t. They are are pretty strong.
Long roam short,

20130715-103211.jpg I spot it….Hotel Alexander…over there to the left.

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I get checked in and was told that my “small” room is on the terrace….nice!

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My room….see that beam over to the left…duck!…it is a killer!

20130715-103427.jpg My bathroom….(with window for air!)
See that little wooden “mat” propped on the wall, after you shower, prop it back on the wall….stepping on it in the dark, foot partially on, one foot off….is a KILLER!

Still hungry and having wifi, I try to research a place to eat at 2:30. Foodie Alert….Assisi is not in competition with Firenze for a Foodie Title. But I finally (with the help of my gallery guy “showing” me) find a spot I was looking for. The menu is very limited and I think I may want to eat again later, so I choose a light salad instead of a heavy lasagna.

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Ohhh….I forgot to show you the view from my terrace….I am hungry as I am writing this too….see…it messes with me.
I will show you when we return to the room.

As I navigate my way back to the room to rest, decide whether or not to buy a guide book and orient myself, I see this little spot.

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This is the outdoor seating for the #1 rated wine bar in Assisi…so I decide to return later.

Allora! My view from the terrace.

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20130715-104214.jpg Beautiful no?

So, I plop down on the bed and within seconds, I realize that it is getting late and that tomorrow is Sunday, so if I plan on visiting the Basilica of San Francis, I better find my second wind. And I do.

Along the way, a piece of artwork in a gallery catches my eye. It is so whimsical. The style reminds me of Tomie dePaola the children’s author and illlustrator.

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I look at the different pieces for a bit. I LOVE this. I inquire about the pricing. A lithograph, small is only about 200 euro. Unfortunately, the ones I really like are not offered this way in this gallery. I grab a card, write down the artist’s name and continue on my way. Before I go, the gallery owner tells me there is a sculpture by Norberto in front of the basilica.

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This depicts the moment Saint Francis asked God what it is he wanted from him and he listened giving up physical battle.

I chose again chose to purchase the audio guide. To me, they are always worth every penny. Even with the audio guide, I got lost in the artwork by Cimabue, Giotto and Simone Martini.
The basilica was begun in 1228 and is the mother church to the Franciscan Order. I have seen priest, nuns and friars coming and going in all the cities I have visited but here, that population is concentrated.

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I began my tour in the upper basilica. No photos are allowed in the church but we were allowed to in the Great Cloister.

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At this point of the tour, I notice that the wind is kicking up and there is definitely weather on the horizon.

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As people start to scatter, I decide I had better pick up my license that I used as a deposit for the audio guide. Once I get that safely back to my wallet, I find shelter in the lower basilica where I had planned to attend mass.
I will tell you this was a beautiful experience with the thunder echoing in the darkness of this gothic structure. As this basilica is one of the most important pilgrimage spots in Italy, I was moved to be here.
After mass, I went below the lower basilica to visit the tomb of Saint Francesco. The architecture of this sacred area, although more simply adorned than the other basilicas, is the most beautiful of the three.
After mass, I enjoyed a walk back to the hotel stopping by the cute little enoteca for 1 glass of local red.

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Not wanting to blur the experience, I simply found my way home and went to bed.

With more rain in the forecast, Sunday morning I decided to forgo another night in Assisi and return to my hometown of Firenze. On an early walk to the bus station, I admired the gothic architecture of the historic center.

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These beautiful meringues are a dolce I had not seen in other cities.

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As I walked along the quiet streets, I see another beautiful church, Basilica Santa Chiara.

20130716-002057.jpg Yes that is an angel (of sorts) you see over there.

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Without another soul inside the church I visit the basilica as well as the tomb of Saint Clair. Again, the lower tomb was exquisite. I do think my visit was impacted by the solitude. This is another example of these little pluses that support my decisions along the way.

As I wait (and wait) for the bus to take me to the station, I take in the view one last time.

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See you in Firenze!

Più Cibo

I will be upfront with you, if you had enough of all the food talk during my “Andrea Due” post, you might want to just pass this post up….because it is about piu cibo.

I laid in bed reflecting on my Uffizi visit. I love the art that I am constantly surrounded with here in Italy. Art that you find in the most unexpected place; in the age showing on a building or a face, in the trees and gardens, in the markets, on the streets…literally EVERYWHERE.
To be fair to the homeland, I think I do a pretty good job of seeing art everyday in every little thing, but here it is just a little more….Italian. And although I love the study of “fine art”, this trip for me was about something different.
So, I wondered what I would do tomorrow? I reviewed my notes thinking there might be something I had tagged, but overlooked to this point. “Florence for Foodies” tour…yeah, I remember reading about that and thinking it sounded good. It gets RAVE reviews on several sites. Well, I thought, I doubt they would have anything at this late of a date. So at 11:00 pm or 23:00 as I’ve become used to, I emailed “Nat & Sam”. I told them that I had tomorrow and possibly Monday if they had any openings. This way at least I tried.
And whataya know, Nat emailed right back and said they indeed did have a spot for me for tomorrow’s tour, but that I needed to let them know by no later than 7:00am. I asked myself, will I be bummed if I do not give this a try? Is there something I would rather do? And I decided to go for it. I emailed Nat back and said to count me in.

We were told to meet at 10:10 on the steps of Basilica San Lorenzo.
As I was walking out of the B, I asked Roberto where the “Basilica San Lorenzo” was. After he stared at me for a moment, trying to decipher what I had asked he said, “Aaaaah BaseeelicadesanLorenzo” (I am typinng it all run together like that so you read it with your most rapido italian accent). Didn’t I just say that? I say, “Si si” and he pauses a second, like are you serious, and then shrugs his little shoulders and says, “eeet eeesa right-a out-a there-a”….waiting…..then actually gives me directions. I have to ask a few others along the way, all of whom had the same stare…wait time…tilt head….I repeat….wait time…then their ah ha moment….look at me like I am speaking a foreign language or something then give rapido directions with a couple of hand motions.

**Side Note- Two words I suggest you learn when visiting a foreign country…Right and Left… destra/sinistra**Side/Side Note- But even when they say it, it doesn’t sound like that**

And yes is was a simple sinistra, destra, destra…

But hey, I am not the only person that gets turned around…

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I saw this father/daughter duo doing the same thing in the middle of a busier street yesterday. It looks as if they are engaged in an Amazing Race. I tried to snap their photo yesterday but they oriented themselves and were off.

20130713-212619.jpg Basilicadisanlorenzo

20130713-212744.jpg And…there’s Nat and another Foodie on the steps.

Come to find out we met at Basilica di San Lorenzo for a couple of reasons, 1- it is really close to our first 2 stops and 2- more interestingly, San Lorenzo happens to be the patron saint of cooks. He met his death via grill.
Right off Nat is friendly and engaging. She lets us know that we are a super small group today, only 6 of us. 2 from England, 2 from Boston, 1 from New York and me.
Nat gives us a brief rundown of our day and then we are off.

First stop, Caffe Florian for a pastry and cafe.

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A lemon cake made with rice flour and cafe marocchino. This drink was named after “a man from Morocco” that supplied the coffee.
Nat had some really interesting stories about coffee. She claims that coffee was the prozac for women in the 1500s. She said it changed their lives, for the better, forever. She goes on to say what we all already know, that Italians are SERIOUS about their coffee. In Italy, it is Water, Wine or Coffee. Period. Also there are rules about coffee, like no milk or cream after a certain time, they feel milk is for babies or if you have a sore throat. Massimo, the 4th generation owner of the caffe concurs.
Nat said that Starbucks attempted to open in Rome, and Romans took off work to take shifts throwing rocks through their windows….they never opened.

During this stop, Nat gives us all Italian names. Chris from Boston is Cristofo, his wife Heather….ends up with Greta. Thomas and Megan from England, Tomaso and Margarita, Betty from New York, Elisabetta and Paige….Nat just kinda looked at me. She thought and then I got Francesca….Mi piace! Francis…no thanks, but Francesca….I’ll take it! Also, all so much prettier when Nat said our names.

After a while at the caffe, it was time to head over to the San Lorenzo Market. Yes, I had already been introduced to the market with Chef Andrea, but you cannot take this place in with one visit.
They have-

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Vegetables

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And MORE!! It is huge.

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We asked Nat how different vendors competed, for example, how can this market support 10 different butchers. She said they each have their own following (for generations) and basically a slogan.
This butcher says his meat explains why the Mona Lisa is smiling.

20130713-220038.jpg It was una bella fiorentina….Tuscan T-bone. Other slogans, or not for everyone’s ears…or eyes.

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20130713-220305.jpg Incoming…

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I think our first stop in the market was at the famous sandwich shop I mentioned the other day, Nerbone’s.

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Nat had us stay away from the counter because Mateo can be a bit of a “meat nazi”. This sandwich is of boiled beef on a roll that is made especially for this sandwich…the bun has a bit of an air bubble in the top piece to hold the sauces (red and green) and the cannellini beans if added. The red sauce is called Dante’s Inferno. Blaine would LOVE it! With this we drank what Nat considers more of a breakfast wine, because it is so light…..breakfast wine?
Oh, also…another pet peeve of Italians, panino is sandwich…panini is plural….got it?

Next stop, Marco’s cheeses and cured meats.

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See the little, stuffed sheep on the cheese? Nat gave that to Marco for Christmas. People would ask Marco what kind of cheese it was and he would say, “cheap”…and they would walk away….this way, his accent doesn’t negatively effect business.

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With each taste, Nat gave us background. Here we tried Pecorino Tuscano and Prosciutto Tuscano which is very different from what I had in Cinque Terra. A lot of what has defined Tuscan food comes from their lack of using salt years ago. They came up with some…let’s say creative solutions at times, but tradition being a cornerstone, they stand behind their bland bread!

Probably one of the biggest things that was underscored (again) is that Italian food is REGIONAL. There is no such thing to them as “Italian Food”. There is Tuscan food, Florentine food, Umbrian Food, etc. Each region highlights their finest and establishes their dishes as different from another region’s.

Then it was over to Steffano’s stand. Steffano’s presentation blows everyone else’s out of the acqua.

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Steffano Conti sells fruit, vegetables, olive oil, balsamic and a variety of condiments, similar to the lady we visited with Andrea.

20130713-222602.jpg The education coninues.

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20130713-222702.jpg And always, a little wine. Remember, Cafe, Wine or Water…

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Time to move on from the market and get serious about some wine.

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But first, a story…
This plaque explains what happens to you when you make idle threats to the Medici family…ya get drug down into your own cellar, chained and tortured and then decapitated…Talking bad about “The Family” in Italia….never good.

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Enter Mario Zanobini’s Wine Shop. As we are welcomed by Mario and all his bottles, Gretta (already a bit tipsy) says, “oh my…I think I am going to die!” Mario translates to his friend there “wearing out the pattern on the floor” and the friend replies, “Almeno non si muore sete!”

20130713-224238.jpg “At least you will not die thirst!” Chin-Chin!

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Our first “sampling” is of a cold, yummy Prosecco ! Nat has brought, to accompany the sweet bubbly, coccolo….a salty donut as Nat explains it. Coccolo quickly made my “Top Eats in Italy” list….so, so good.

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The reason I used quotes around sampling, is because if you wanted more, or even if your glass was just empty, you were served more.

Next it is on to Red. But first let’s visit the torture chamber.

20130713-224844.jpg yep…the chains are still there.

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The entire visit at Zanobini’s, Mario was a great host. But then we mentioned one of his favorite things and he really cut loose….Grappa.
Mario explains in his broken english, “I love-a my grappa. I really love -a my grappa. But-a I cant-a drink much-a anymore (points to liver….I guess), so-a I thought-a how can I still-a enjoy-a my grappa?” And he unveils his “invention”

20130713-225325.jpg The grappa mister…

Mario and Nat ask for a volunteer to experience his “Full Immersion” with the grappa mister. I volunteer, but Nat thinks it is wise to have Cristofo go first.
Mario askes, “What-a kind-a grappa do you wish? Army, Gentle Lady-a or Meditation-a?”
Cristofo refused “Gentle Lady” and chooses Army…
Cristofo is “explained” to stand, palms out, eyes closed-a, mouth-a open.
And then Mario begins…

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Next, Tomaso. Again, Army.

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Tomaso even gets spun around during his “Full Immersion”.

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I try “Meditation”. Mario explains me how to hold my fingers during the “misting”.

20130713-230109.jpg By the way, my fingers went numb as well…

Mario says the upside, besides the delightful misting, is that the gypsies “do not-a like-a the smell-a of the grappa…..so-a, they-a stay-a away-a.”
Tomaso even bought a bottle to take home. Mario suggest misting your cigars, coffee, cereal, you name it….Mario mists it!

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Ready for a little dessert? Perche no!? Right…

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Perche No is a favorite gelateria in Firenze. Nat told us how to tell the difference between the good, the bad and the ugly.
Notice the word “Laboratoria” on the door, they make the gelato right back there!
Perche No is also a member of the Slow Food Movement in Italy.

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We “sampled” 3 different marriages;

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20130713-231028.jpg Dark Chocolate and Mango with whipped cream and

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Tiramisu, Stracciatella and Coffee Crunch (my fav).

Nat said, “My Francesca…you-a really don’t-a want-a to-a leave any.” As I scraped the wax coating off my little paper cup. I told her it was just that I wanted to save the cup. So she gave me another clean one.

At this point Nat asks, ” You like-a?” She was referring to the entire morning. It is now 3:00! I do not think there were any complaints! We all gave the Italian Kiss, Kiss and said Ciao!Ciao! to Nat.

Needing a little caffeine to continue this high, a couple of us grabbed an espresso before parting ways.

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My plan for the evening was to end up on the other side of the Arno at Piazzale Michelangelo for sunset…I still had LOTS of time to roam.

20130713-232150.jpg Awww! Perfetto!

20130713-232230.jpg Loved this building.

20130713-232305.jpg I can officially hang this in the kitchen when I return home.

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20130713-232350.jpg Couldn’t resist. I love touching the iron door and knobs of places. I try to channel those before me!

20130713-232518.jpg A leather school in the Santa Croce district.

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20130713-232600.jpg You choose.

20130713-232714.jpg Outside the Galileo Museo

20130713-232842.jpg A copy of David out side the Accademia Gallery

I made it back to the B to freshen up and what did I find…

20130713-233045.jpg Seriously…there was NO mirror in the room before I requested one…now I just need to drop subtle hints for some hooks on the walls…I am my father’s child…

I know you are thinking, “How can this girl even THINK about food or drink!?” Well, Nat suggested a place that makes a wonderful Aperol Spritz…and my days here are numbered.
So I am off to Gilli.

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I go in, stand at the bar for a moment and admire this guy’s handiwork…when I take the photo, he mumbles something about Michelangelo and moves his station…ya think he’d be flattered!

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Anyway, I get a great seat looking right out on Piazza della Repubblica. The artists are just beginning to set up for the evening.

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I am served my drink and my aperitivo (oh my!! baby coccolos!!) and I am HAPPY!!

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This was a just the perch to people watch.

20130713-234026.jpg Locals and right near all the swanky hotels. People are returning with their Prada, Gucci, Versace bags….ahhhh, and here I am wearing my “Vatican Skirt” for the umpteenth time.

I pay my 12 euros for my drink and snacks (worth every penny!) and begin chasing the sunset.

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20130713-234523.jpg Really!!! They were just sitting there!! Probably one of my favorite photos yet!

I make it over Ponte Vecchio, and begin heading to an area I have yet to explore. Mike and Joann mentioned, twice, that I might want to try to watch the sunset from Piazzale Michelangelo. I had noticed tiny people up on a hill, so I figured that was where I was headed.

20130713-234936.jpg What a climb….but what a view!!
And what a perfect night to watch the sunset.

I thank my family for being supportive and encouraging about this trip, but I thank Mike and Joann for tonight’s memory. The photographs that follow are only a few of the many I took. Each second I would observe the changes in the landscape and river and I would say, “Aaaawww, come on!” Like this can’t really be real….I can’t really be seeing this. What you are seeing doesn’t even do it justice.

Might I suggest you pour yourself a cold glass of Prosecco while enjoying these? Chin-Chin!

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Passo Dopo Passo

Buongiorno! Today’s post will be breve e dolce. Due reasons, uno- my morning was spent working out and due- my afternoon was spent in the Uffizi Gallery, where photos are not allowed..

Allora! Meet the Italian Stair Master.

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This morning was the morning I decided to climb to the top of Brunelleschi’s Dome. Filippo Brunelleschi was one of the foremost architects and engineers of the early Italian Renaissance. In Art II, my class studies the Italian Renaissance and we explore the feat of Brunelleschi’s Dome. I thought I’d better step it up, so to speak, to better understand what I teach.

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So I did just that. I arrived earlyish to the square finding crowds already gathering. Fortunately for me, not many were in the line yet to climb the dome. The morning was warm and humid with the moisture still hanging in the air from yesterday’s rain. This should make for fine climbing conditions right…..actually, not so much…the humidity in those tee-niney corridors was quite heavy.
As I mentioned, knowing a bit about the dome, I “knew” what I was in for. It was quite the contrary for most of the others in line. Some actually didn’t even know what they were in line for. And as we entered and began our climb, you could hear comments like, “seriously?”, “Is this some kind of a joke?” “Are we there yet” and I kid you not that was in the first 10 minutes.
If you thought about where you were and the conditions too much, it could over come you. If anyone has ANY tendencies to claustrophobia…I suggest you rethink this.

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I also suggest you not think too much of being trapped forever with the people in front or in back of you…especially if you are with 2 “MindCraft” (Don’t even know what that is but I think it is a video game) crazy guys. Luckily the only thing I understand in Korean is “MindCraft”.
Once you REALLY need a break, you enter the interior of the dome. This is a bit of a relief, but you are in kind of a plexiglass, smudged tunnel….the view is not that great.

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You are also still in very close quarters and so not to incite some sort of hysteria, ya kinda push on.
And so we continue our climb.

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Tiny openings for air were passed slowly.

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Here you can actually see and touch the engineering genius of the 2 domes to create one.

And finally, we reach the top. The view across to Giotto’s campanile.
With the air still heavy, I am not sure whether our view was better than a clear day or not. I am learning that the clear, sunny days can impact your views in a negative way…it can just be too bright.
It continues to boggle my mind how structures like this one were conceived and executed and in the 1400’s no less.

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At the top, it was still quite crowded. People hesitated to start their descent fearing more of what they had encountered on the way up. I even chose to take 2 laps around the (small) top to breathe in as much fresh air as I could. And except for the two fussing teenagers, down was a breeze (figuratively).

So when I exited, I found the first place to buy a bottle of water and thought about what the best thing to do next was….climb more right! So I decided to tackle the Giotto’s campanile as well. I will tell you, this is easier, but with less payoff….così è la vita.

20130712-181600.jpg A view of the Duomo through the campanile.

I am taking a little iphone photo class during the month of July. Basically they just give you a challenge a day, and tell you about some apps. Today’s challenge was “Change Your Perspective”.

20130712-181831.jpg From the Duomo of the Campanile

20130712-181907.jpg From the Campanile to the Duomo…

Although at this point, my clothes were hanging off of me, I decided to wait to clean up and head to Trattoria Mario, a place I had tried before but it had already closed.
This time when I arrived, they had not yet opened their doors, so I (along with others) waited.
About 15 before noon, a guy came out and invited us to wait inside until they began serving…already a good sign.

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20130712-182241.jpg This is taken from the inside, but you can see, they get A LOT of press…good press.

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A couple of things you need to know…the “menu” is handwritten and posted daily(do not expect to get one at your table) and you will be sharing a table (tiny) with others.
So I am sitting there waiting and all of the sudden this tall, young guy (20’s) is sitting next to me, reading. “Buongiorno.” he says. Then there is an old man that sits down. “Ciao Roberto!” says the young guy. “Ciao Lucca.” greets Roberto.
All around me, tourist are sitting with other tourist….but LUCKY me, I get due Florentines!!! Well, Roberto is not actually a Florentine. He is from New York but has liven in Firenze for 18 years. Anyway! Am I lucky or what!!??
Lucca speaks a “little” english so I asked him what I should order. He says, “May I madame?” and he begins to order from Fabio, his football buddy/waiter, for me. Again, AM I LUCKY or WHAT!?!
He ordered me several meta (1/2) dishes AND insisted I try his.

20130712-182932.jpg Zuppa di fagioli…

20130712-183058.jpg Tortelli stuffed with potatoes and cheese
And of course Chianti.
When Lucca was served his roast beef and fried potatoes, he held his plate to me and said, “Madame, please.” Those potatoes were so good…dusted with salt.

20130712-183256.jpg Here’s our first try where Lucca is trying to avoid the camera guy from getting hit by the door.

20130712-183354.jpg And here’s our 2nd try where Roberto decided to nap…
I cannot tell you how much I enjoyed this experience; the food, the conversation. Roberto was a middle school math teacher in New York. He’s been to Texas once but only at the airport.
Lucca is a Political Science major at a University in Rome. His specialization is Football Management. His dream would be to work for CS Firenze. Anything that I would try to say in Italian, they were very kind and encouraging.
After Roberto finished his meta Panzanella, he bid us goodbye. When it was my turn to leave, Lucca was already up and behind the counter someplace. I asked the guy at the register if I could please pay for Lucca’s lunch for him being so kind. All of the sudden, Lucca pops back up and says, “Absolutely NOT Madame. I was just coming to bring you a toast of Prosecco.” Pop goes the cork….(bummer, I just remembered, that one I forgot to grab), “Chin-Chin! See you tomorrow Madame.” Happily I paid my 9 euro bill and was on my merry way.

After I cleaned up, I was off to my 3rd tour with Florencetown Tours. The skies were starting to darken and rumblings could be heard. I thought it was fortunate I was headed indoors.

The Uffiz/Vasari Corridor Tour went well. Mario was our guide and he seemed knowledgeable about the art and conveyed a certain passion. Our main emphasis was looking at pieces from Medieval Period to the Renaissance. He also highlighted, of course, Florentine artist. I learned a lot that I can take back to my students. My favorite pieces were; Simone Martini’s Annunciation (the rendering of the Holy Spirit is beautiful), Lippi’s Coronation of the Virgin and Michelangelo’s Tondo Doni. I remember that “the round one” was Jim’s favorite on our visit years ago.

Included with this tour was an “exclusive” visit to the Vasari Corridor, you remember me mentioning it the other day. It was interesting to go from the massive crowd at the Uffizi, through a door and into a long corridor with only 8 other people.

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This photo was taken at the exact spot where Hitler and Mussolini stood during Hitler’s visit to Florence. The once small, windows were removed and large ones were installed so Hitler could have a panorama of the city. Supposedly, that impact is what saved the bridge from being bombed during WWII.

As I left my tour, exiting at the Pitti Palace, I roamed the streets once more, heading in the basic direction of my B. At one point I heard the sound of music being played; guitars, tambourines, hand drums. Then the voices joined in. My path merged with the path of about 20 young adults led by two Franciscan Friars. They were walking, playing and singing the most beautiful song. I was so moved. I just began following them wanting the song and feeling to continue. I videoed a bit of it and would so love to know what the song was they were singing.

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They had no signs, no pamphlets, no flags. Their message was being conveyed through song. Although I could not understand the words, I received His message.
I followed their voices for blocks. At one point I approached the friar with the guitar and asked him if he spoke english. He said no but we did what we could to communicate. He basically said they were from Rome, a catholic youth group. After I shared, he looked at me and said he would pray for me. Of all the churches I have entered, all the candles I have lit, the mass I attended, this was the most moving, spiritual moment of my trip.

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When the rain began yesterday, the though of those beautiful pastel pieces on the street being reduced to colorful puddles made me return. This is obviously a spot artist trade off working at.
Today’s pieces-

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Can you imagine all that effort knowing it will be for a few hours at most?

I returned to Trattoria Katti for dinner. It was fun to be remembered. Katti, the owner’s daughter is a young, gorgeous, hard working girl. She asked me since it was cooler tonight, did I want what I had considered the other night? I said yes, and she filled in the rest for me.

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Andrea lo Chef due

So with yesterday’s bike ride feeling like a success, I was looking forward to my 2nd Florencetown “tour” with the Food & WIne Academy, Firenze cooking class. I had so enjoyed my class in Roma and was hoping for a similar experience.
Since I knew my way to the meeting point, I did not rush. Instead, I stopped at a classy looking Pasticceria I had noticed yesterday. It is very pretty and formal inside. The waiters behind the counter were maybe a bit snooty, but I do not know how to say “Ya work…in a pastry… shop” in Italian, so I let it slide. I am sure they get their share of tourist, but it seemed like a local spot as well.

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They serve a molto buono cappuccino and tasty pastries….good call Paige.
As I approached the Florencetown office, crowds were beginning to gather; biking tour over there, walking tour (with Giulia this morning) over here, horseback riders…?….in the van, and the cooking class, over there. I was a bit worried, they kept sending people over to stand with us. I wondered how many people were in each class. In Roma, we had 12 and that seemed good.
When our chef introduced himself, he counted us off “ventiquattro, va bene”. 24 did not seem very va bene to me, but ….
Our chef’s name was Andrea. If you remember, Andrea was also the name of my chef in Roma…what are the odds? Both tall, dark and handsome….again, what are the odds….OK, here in Italy, those odds are with you.
Andrea first asked if anyone had any food allergies. One vegetarian….”va bene”.
He told us that first we would walk over to the market where people will explain us many things and we will shop for the meal.
On the walk I got to chat with Andrea a bit. He told me that “The girl-a (Giulia) had-a said-a you-a took-a tour yesterday-a too?” I told him yes and that tomorrow I would do one more. “Busy-a holiday…no?”
All the florencetown workers wear these white t-shirts with their logo on them along with the word ALUMNI. I asked Andrea if they sold these? He told me, I might want to ask them tomorrow. I said that since I will have taken 3 tours, I would kinda be an ALUMNI….he started laughing and said, “I-a was just-a thinking the same-a thing-a. You-a think-a like-a Italian…first-a we think-a of an easy-a way to do it and then-a….we do it.”

The market was wonderful! I would be so disappointed if today were my last day in Florence and I did not have the chance to return. The experience was heightened of course by being with someone the vendors knew and joked with.
Our first stop was to a….I guess you would say a condiment vendor. She “explain to us” many interesting things.
Our first education was in formaggio. We tried several different pecorinos. As I am sure you are aware, this is a cheese that is made from sheep’s milk. She added different condiments on top to balance the flavors. “Everything-a in Eeeatly eeesa balanced.”

Side note- this is why Tuscans do not put salt in their breads. Yes, the original reason was because there was a very high tax on salt and the poor could not afford, but the OTHER reason is because the Procuitto and the cheeses are all very salty and they balance out the bread.

There was one honey that we tried with truffle in it. Right now, I am, again, sure you are aware, is the Black truffle season. The white truffle, they call “Diamonds on the Table”. A white truffle, I forget what weight she said, but not that much, would cost about 6000 euros….so, aptly named.

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We then got to sample parmigiano reggiano. They are PROUD of this stuff! She was telling us that the quality we were tasting doesn’t even make it to the states-a. She says “theeesa stays-a in Eeeatly”.
She educated us on how to serve different aged cheeses. For example, a young cheese, “eees-a too much-a fresh-a for my spaghetti.”
I am learning that Italians are all about highlighting ONE special ingredient, not overpowering things…and boy, don’t get them started on the “chef’s” we have on our TVs.
Her thought is summed up by saying , “I think-a theees eeesa so silly”.

Next came Olive Oil….
I finally understand what the term “cold press” or “extra virgin” olive oil means. She is a very good teacher. Now if you ever see “Extra Extra”….again she says, “theees eeesa for the market….I think-a theeesa eeesa so silly”.

She told us about all the different kinds of olive oil she has and what she does with each and when. She also added, “eeeef-a something-a eeesa to appen at-a my house-a…I take-a my keeeds-a and-a theeesa (holding up a bottle of olive oil), no husband. Theeesa eeesa a normal here-a.”

I think a highlight, although I loved all of her specialties, was the Balsamic education. I had no clue before this.

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We had leeetle spoons and we tried different ages and different “flavors”. I learned that it is aged in barrels, much like wine….that is why there is a juniper and a cherry, because of the type of wood the barrel is made out of. The smaller the barrel, the more the surface of the barrel touches the vinegar (I did not even know it was made from grapes!) and the more expensive it is….that coupled with the age.
She said, and Andrea echoed a couple of times throughout our class, that much of what we buy is cheap and full of chemicals…alcohol and powders she kept saying. That is why we get headaches from cheap wine and cheap balsamic….because it is not made from the grape itself, but from all the residue and then mixed with keemiculs….Andrea said he has tried to read the ingredients on “mayonnaise” for example and he said, “I deeed not-a understand-a….I had-a to-a stop-a. To understand, I think-a, you-a must-a be-a a keemicul.”…..I think he meant chemist, but…..

Anyway, enough about the condiment education, but it was worth the price of admission!

On to the market, Andiamo!

20130710-222506.jpg I am hitting this place tomorrow for lunch!

20130710-222600.jpg Funny, our HEB deli workers never seem theeesa appy!

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20130710-222726.jpg Prosciutto anyone?

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20130710-222850.jpg This little boy contemplates this duck!!!

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Andrea told us how his grandfather used to say that the comb was the best part of the rooster. Andrea followed up by saying, “eeta wasn’t though-a.”

Just like with my class in Roma, so much of what we learned was about the history and culture of the people of the area and of their food. I think as with many of our heritages, some of the best dishes come from cooks being frugal; using what they had, not wasting parts.

And speaking of not wasting parts, may I introduce you to the lesser known parts of a cow.

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I won’t go into a lot of detail, but if you look closely, you can see the skin of a cow’s head…a la Dali.

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This vendor prepares, and has always prepared the one specialty sandwich of Florence, Lampredotto. Made from the 4th, and final, stomach of the cow….I tell you what else would be final…
What I do like about this is the way Andrea explains it, “We here-a in-a Eeataly, are-a honest-a about what-a we-a are-a eating-a….When you go-a to buy a bouuugar….at a place-a that-a makes-a millions of-a bouuugars….how-a can you-a trust-a what is eeena that-a bouuuugar?”
Point taken.

20130710-224437.jpg Andrea chats it up with our butcher Emilio.

20130710-224508.jpg I’d like to use this bag at HEB.

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Emilio is proud of the meat he sells for Steak Florentine.

Andrea tells us how to prepare a steak. He says never add salt until the end. “Salt, Pepper, a bit-a of-a extra virgin olive oil….I didn’t invent theeesa, but eeeta is true-a.”

Something interesting that Andrea talks about several times is to only use 1 herb. If you are going to use basil, use basil, not oregano and thyme as well. He says in Italy they choose their ingredients “seemple, 3 or 4 ingredients only”.

As we start to head over to the kitchen, which is just across the street from the market, Andrea reminds us that shopping is part of the cooking.

Now let’s get cooking.
This is where it starts feeling a bit crowded, but it ended up working out well.

We all worked together (2 “teams”) to make the components for the Tiramisu.

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Andrea gives a little background and demo and then we are to prepare our own. He says to make sure we can tell ours apart, because they will be going into the fridge. I think, is he serious. How are we going to make 24 little cups look different?

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20130710-225432.jpg Andrea’s example….

So then I start thinking….I want to make a template, but I do not have any supplies other than this cheap paper towel…so I tear a little heart out of my paper towel, lay it on my top layer of cream, and sprinkle my coco powder….the paper sticks a bit, but I get a “Aaahh, bene Paj” from the chefs. So, points for our team for resourcefulness….

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And, whatayaknow, we do all create something just a bit different.

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Our work was rewarded with a treat.

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Bruschetta and Chianti! First Andrea wanted to make sure we ALL knew how to say bruschetta…he said, “I don’t-a want-a you-a to-a embarrass yourselves-a. “Brusketa” is the correct pronunciation. He also said that it just means “toast”. That they consider bruschetta toasted bread with garlic rubbed on it, olive oil and salt. The toppings are simply toppings.
And it was wonderful. Fabulous olive oil and tomato slices.
Little tip from Andrea-
Slice your tomatoes, do not dice for bruschetta. The dices “make water” which can make your toast soggy,
Then came time to create the main courses; Ravioli with burro e salvia and Tagliatelle with Bolognese. Half of us stayed at the tables and made our pasta, the other half went with Andrea into the kitchen to make the sauces.

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This was a different type of pasta than we made in Roma…so now I know how to make TRE!

First Andrea demonstrates…

20130711-135019.jpg Chef Julio measuring our flour.

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And then it was our turn…

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20130711-135517.jpg The ricotta filling.

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20130711-135600.jpg And Voila!

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Now for the sauces….

20130711-135741.jpg Simple, simple.

Time to enjoy.

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Andrea was a wonderful teacher, chef and host. He seemed to genuinely enjoy what he does and does for other. His comments like, “ooohh-a, what-a have-a you-a made here-a? Eeet-a eeesa so creative.” Those comments were usually for the older men in the group.
Any time someone would request more wine, it would appear. The Food & Wine Academy of Florence is very generous with portions.

And guess what?

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“Paj-a. Brava! You-a passed-a!”

Although I was skeptical as to whether this class could compare with my Andrea Uno class, I had no need to worry! I HIGHLY suggest taking the time for this unique experience if you are visiting Firenze.

When we exited the building, a downpour was in progress. With a full belly, a light head and a happy heart, what did I care.
I quickly got by bearings started on my merry way.
As the rain begin to increase with the accompaniment of Italian thunder, I popped into a small cafe.
As I stood there, dripping and trying to read the spreading ink on my map, a woman came up to me and asked where did I need to get? She reoriented my now disintegrating map and said I was very close.
Come to find out she is American meeting a friend from Austin here for a month long jewelry workshop. She said when I had passed her on the street, my turquoise ring caught her eye and the jingle of my charms her ears…she gave me her phone number and email in case I cared to meet up with her group later.

I removed my shoes and dashed out again, finding my B only blocks away.

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I spent the remainder of the evening in my room with the windows open, enjoying the wind, rain and thunder and writing you.

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Numero due Biciclette

I know it was me who said, “hayyyeeelll no…I am not going for another bike ride”…but much like childbirth, I am back in the saddle again.
To better get my bearings on Firenze, I thought sticking with my plan of a city tour via bicicletta would be worth any pain it might inflict. And once again, my instincts proved to be right.

I got up a bit early and left my B….(no & B included with this one) in order to find the meeting point without feeling frazzled.
Check…
No problems there. Once again, Roberto steered me right.
I chose to do several “tours” with Florencetown.
I check in. Claudio tells me I am a bit early (go figure) and I might want to grab some breakfast. As I walked to the meeting point, I noticed a Sephora like place that I might be able to grab some lip balm.
Since my arrival in Italia, I am fast going through lip balm and deodorant and am in need of both.

20130710-172130.jpg Lip balm, check. This recommendation is per Avery. Only the best for her I guess.
I return to meet the rest of my group and Giulia, our guide (picture a frizzy haired Giada with less chest bared).

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And we are off.
I will share with you the highlights.

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Our first stop is at the City Centro and Piazza della Repubblica. Here, Giulia tells us about the origin of Firenze, it’s original Roman lay out and the rejuvenation when Firenze was the capital of Italy.

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I love the whole time as Giulia tells stories and uses “we” to describe the people of Firenze. For example,
“We-a did-a not-a want to be-a the capital-a….we-a wanted to be-a…..uuummmmm….more laid-a back-a.” The “we” including her with the 1895 population. Also the fact that Florentine people do not like this piazza very much because it is too new…..1895 is “too new”.
From there, we took a brief look at the Duomo.

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As Giulia tells stories, she poses questions, “Who-a do you-a think-a that eeesa on either side-a of Mary? Saints-a? Popes-a? No-a in a Firenze, we-a want to show-a off-a our artist. So on-a a church-a we-a put-a our most beloved artist-as”. Pretty cool (and odd), I did not know this.

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Here, Giulia is telling us about the time when lightening struck the Duomo and the “beeeggg-a bauuulll-a fell-a off-a and heet-a the ground-a.”
Supposedly, according to Giulia, that “bauuuulll-a” can fit 30 people in it…

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Here, Giulia tells us about the two major floods of Firenze. The signs below the street sign mark the years. The highest and last being in 1966.
From there we pedaled over to Santa Maria Novella.

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At each stop, Giulia shares interesting information that is impossible to remember.

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Here are some interesting tidbits about the ironworks on the side of this palace. Some of the iron work was for laundry, while other was used to hang cages of birds and monkeys. Giulia says it was “in fashion” to have monkeys during that period. The Medici family even had lions in some of their cages. Now this building (Feroni Palace) houses the Salvatore Ferragamo Museo….fitting.

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Next stop, Ponte Vecchio…first we admired from a distance on Ponte Santa Trinita. Ponte Vecchio used to house butchers. The butcher shops would used the water of the Arno to dispose of their waste and runoff.
During WWII, Ponte Vecchio was the only bridge in Florence not destroyed by the Germans. It is said that this was due to orders by Hitler himself. The bridge conceals the Vasari Corridor. This corridor was built and used by the Medici family so that in Giulia words, “They-a deed-a not-a have to-a mix-a with the common peoples. They-a could- a walk and mmmmmmm….spy-a on-a the peoples.” Hitler supposedly wanted to walk this corridor as well.
(More on the Vasari Corridor to come as I too-a will-a walk-a theesa secret corridor on Thursday.)

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Then we got up close and personal with the bridge, pushing our bikes across….as we did, I thought…been here, done that.
Side note, Mothers, let’s continue to teach our daughters how to present themselves (and us) well.

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Next stop,
Santo Spirito. Filippo Brunelleschi, the mastermind architect that created the dome of the Duomo, began designs for the building in 1428. We were a few minutes ahead of schedule so Giulia let us go in for a brief visit. No photos were allowed, but of course, it was beautiful.
Time for a gelato break.

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Next stop, Pitti Palace.

20130710-182504.jpg I did not find it especially exciting, so I took a photo of the lamp…

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The bike tour lasted about 2 and a half hours ( so much more that I know I am leaving out) and gave me a much better feel for the city. After leaving Giulia, I was comfortable navigating the streets.
Although I am getting hungry, I decide to visit one of the major churches, Santa Croce. Santa Croce is the principal Franciscan Church in Florence built in 1294. It is also the burial site of the “Great and Good for Florence”; Rossini, Machiavelli, Galileo and Michelangelo to name a few. Dante also has a tomb dedicated to him but does not contain his remains.
The building is too massive and impressive for me to share it adequately. I will simply share a few personal highlights.

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20130710-184312.jpg This is a ceiling in a minor chapel.

20130710-184354.jpg A piece of Saint Francis’s robe.

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And the tomb of Michelangelo Buonarroti.

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Below his tomb are statues representing painting, sculpture and architecture, mourning his loss.

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20130710-185316.jpg Looking toward the back.

20130710-185339.jpg Looking toward the altar which is currently have restoration work done.
The size and scale of this place is dreamlike. It serves it’s purpose of making man feel small in the scheme of things.

** A disclaimer here** I only intended to visit one church today….I did not want to get confused on what was what and what was where….but I pushed on, visiting two. So, please forgive me if you notice a work of art that I have posted as in one church and you know it is actually in the other. le mie scuse**

I don’t know about you, but Ho fame…so, time for a bite.

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I pop in here, grab a great little sandwich on puff pastry, a dolce

20130710-190118.jpg yum!! it was still warm…

And I am ready to continue on. Back to Santa Maria Novella.

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I think I have mentioned before how I am touched by images of the Trinity. I have one in my bedroom, a photo taken in San Gimignano during my first visit with Mom and Jim.
This one is by Masaccio, The Trinity.

20130710-191717.jpg A detail.

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And of course, The Crucifix, by Giotto, (1288-1289).

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Restorations continue. Can you imagine being trusted with work of this magnitude?

Ready for a break, I begin to navigate back to the B. My B is conveniently located in the Santa Maria Novella district, so I figure I am pretty close. As I am walking, I think, “Hey…isn’t that Roberto?”

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A reminder…Roberto is the proprietor of my B…picture a mix between Michelle Baryshnikov and Anthony Hopkins…I know….but it works.
So, I follow, knowing he certainly knows the way back to the B…

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That is…if he is GOING to the B…which he was not, but I got close enough.

I clean up, throw on one of my MVPs, a Rachel Pally maxi, and head out.
I think I am just going to dinner, but instead I decide to chase the sunset.

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I have to say, I LOVE this practice of just moving your furniture out into the streets to enjoy the evenings. I say we bring it stateside!

20130710-194246.jpg I am happy and I have chills!!

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A different artist, not quite as good, but still impressive.

And where do I end up? Correct, the place I thought I would not return to…but I am glad I did.
Florentine Sunset from Ponte Vecchio.

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I saw this guy’s man bag and loved the sentiment…kinda works for me… So again, I thought I would regret not asking for his photo. Although he spoke english, it took him awhile to understand that I wanted him, in the photo and not just the bag. I also wanted him to stand a certain way. He was very accommodating. Once I took his portrait, others wanted to…it was so cute. He was saying “You guys!!??!!!” And then decided it must be a sign for the next tattoo he was planning on getting…I’ll always remember him, and I guess he’ll always remember me…

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OK, I am sure you are getting tired of reading this so I will make dinner quick.
A little vino. A little musica.

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A table of young Germans to my left. A family of Russians to my right. Nicotine enjoyed by all.
I chose bruschetta,

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and the most fabulous soup,

20130710-200357.jpg Pappa Al Pomodoro.
As the waitress explained to me, “Eeettaa-a eees-a the specialità della casa. Uhh wheeen-a the tomato sauce-a goes-a “blooop blooop blooop-a, uuuhhhh, wee-a add-a bread-a….not-a today’s-a bread-a but de leri bread.”
It was amazing!!!

Buon Appetito!

Addio Monterosso, Ciao Firenze

I know you are probably tired of the sea, but I had to stop a couple of times during my walk to the stazione.

20130709-225305.jpg These people know how to start their day!

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Well, I have on my “traveling pants” and that can only mean one thing…time to ride the rails.
As I sit at the Monterosso stazione, I love watching people’s reactions as they exit their train and see the sea for the first time. I like knowing others will take my place, appreciating this treasure of Italy’s.
While I am sitting, I also ponder “fashion”…
A hat in Monterosso seems to be a must…but DO NOT worry about what cappello is on your head…it seems not to matter; lace…sure, flags….why not, ribbons and bows….all the better.
Also, if you suddenly change your mind on what you should be wearing….by all means…change….right there on the platform…it is ok if you have a swimsuit on under…but if you don’t….no worries….

I board my train, 1st class this time…a relative term by the way…
As the light in the train creates a rhythm, shifting from tunnel to blue, I look out the window…no longer are these towns points on a map, but now, moments in my memory.

Looking out the window at the Tuscan countryside, I make a mental note to check out what towns are between Empoli and Signa. In Piza, the change of trains was a snap. We arrive in Firenze a bit past 2:00. I check my email from my new B&B to make sure I know where to head once I hit the station. Roberto has given perfect directions and I arrive at my new albergo with ease.

So this place has 7 rooms I think. With budget in mind, I chose the smallest room with a private bath down the hall. The price was just too good to pass up….but it will take some getting use to.
Here is my room, Room 6.

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I am taking these photos squished back in the corner…kinda piccolo. I will say the bed seems more comfortable than the last. At least when I sat on it, the opposite corners did not come up…
Now, I am sure you are asking yourself, “Where are those photos of the bathroom?” “Paige knows we like to check out the bathrooms.” Well, there is not room for both me AND the camera in the bathroom, and since I do not have some sort of remote…..I’ll just have to draw you a mental picture..
OK, first of all, it is piccolo, piccolo. Second of all, it does not have a window or fan or ANY type of ventilation in it….so it is a bit…stuffy. The shower….shower seems to be an afterthought. The doors of the shower open on one of the corners…they open no more than the width of my two hands, thumb to thumb and wide open….I know….I “measured”.
Now, if the alarm sounds…do not come running…it is just that I have gotten that little cord with the red tab on the end of it that all Italian hotels are required to have in the shower, caught….somewhere.
This bathroom has no extras, no shampoo, no soap, no white grout… just the bare necessities.
When I enter the bathroom, it reminds me of some place, but I can’t quite figure out what or where it is, then later, it hits me. You know those bathrooms, strangely placed, in old hospitals…that when you go in…it kinda gives you the creeps? That’s it!!! That’s MY bathroom.
Anyway, enough about that…
Once I get settled, I ask Roberto for an iron, do a bit of housework…

20130709-232947.jpg and I am set for the next 10 or so days.

I decide it is time to go out and check out the neighborhood.

20130709-233122.jpg This is my doorway…I get to buzz myself in again…

20130709-233157.jpg This is my street…

20130709-233219.jpg These are some cool fountains…

20130709-233247.jpg And this is where I start to get a bit overwhelmed.
I have not eaten since this morning, I am tired, I am hungry, I am disoriented…And I do NOT like all these “salesman”.
I walk a bit more, peering around a corner and I see

20130709-233514.jpg The Duomo and the Baptistry…
I kid you not, from a distance, it looks like a painting. Especially the section on the left, the furthest away….It looked like a set painting…it was quite an odd sensation.
At this point, my head is spinning more….I hate being in a city and not using every moment of my time to explore, but I think the best thing for me to do, is return to my street, find something to eat, go back to my room, prepare for tomorrow and go to bed.

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I find some comfort food right outside my door. I know these look like ravioli but she said they are tortellini…although she called them something else, but sounded almost the same. They were stuffed with potatoes and cheese. Like I said, comfort food. I enjoyed a glass of the house rossa and for dessert,

20130709-234505.jpg Panna Cotta…so so good! I think I scratched the plate getting every last drop.

20130709-234607.jpg This is the restaurant.

20130709-234632.jpg This is the distance between my table and my albergo. So, it’s as easy as through my gate,

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Up my steps,

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Punch in my code…

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And then, night night….

Un’altra Domenica la Spiaggia

With my last day at Hotel Margherita, the wifi was very spotty. So I am a bit behind.
The last day in Monterosso was definitely dolce amaro. I love this place. Its beauty leaves me shaking my head, without words to describe or an adequate memory to soak every last detail in. But on my own, I am ready to move on. I will, no doubt, return to this unique spot on the Italian Rivera, but next time, with family.
I am window shopped out and walked out, so today, like the locals, I head to the beach.

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Breakfast(ish) along the way.

20130708-152200.jpg I guess this means she can teach you to swim like a dolphin…

20130708-152235.jpg Gearing up for Sunday Family Dinner…

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I loved listening in as the dad tries to persuade the boys to swim to him. I wish I could share this photo with them.

20130708-152427.jpg Off they go.
If you haven’t noticed, I turned right at the ocean instead of my usual “free beach” left. I decide if I am going to make a day of it, I will need some shade. So I head through the tunnel to the new end of town.

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As I consider my choices from a higher vantage point, this guy….and his shadow…catch my eye. This cracked me up…Again, I bet he would like this portrait. He was quite a ways away on the rocks, so I had to zoom in.

20130708-152821.jpg Popular idea.

So I go to the private beach. I look around for someone to talk to or pay…I see no one. I walk in, slowly, hugging the back edge, I try to figure out what to do. I know the rocks are public and that this beach butts right up to them…so I head that way. I figure I can use the rocks for my excuse for trespassing. As I walk, I try to watch others as to what to do (I do a lot of that here in Italy). I still see no attendant, no markings on chairs that show payment…so I find an empty chair near the rocks….
I kinda just stand, snapping a few photos before I get ousted. But no one comes. I perch on the side edge of a chair….no sirens sound….
After a few minutes, I sit fully on the chair, and after a few minutes more..I take my towel out…
I consider that maybe it is a “Free Sunday”, nevertheless, I start to enjoy my spot and relax.

Next to me there is a youngish dad and his daughter, although I cannot understand much of what they say, the routine is familiar…..so, so cute.

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As he read the paper, her would interject, “bello, che è così bello” every few moments. She was allowed to wash his hands and feet but would get scolded when she braved more.

20130708-153559.jpg This made me ache for my babies!

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What a perfect choice for my last day…
AND THEN….
“Ticket?!” brought me back to reality….
I jump up, grab my purse and try to pay for my spot.
“non siamo completamente pieno!”….Well, yea, you’re full because I am in this great chair…but alas….

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No more “Eden” for me.

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I look at the bright side, I got a good hour there before being discovered….and speaking of that, I have no idea how they keep track…they are good.
So, I walk back to my side of town and “my” free beach.

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It is quite crowded today, but I find a spot near the water to plop down.

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I make quite a haul and yes Ann, I can share!
After a while, I start to get hungry. People around me are bringing back picnics. Some just leave their towels and return… others send a scout.
I am just a bit too nervous to leave my cool orange Hotel Margherita towel (which by the way, I would LOVE to swipe…but the Ferrari says NO), so I gather up and head to a market.
When I return, I enjoy my feast!

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20130708-154504.jpg This really thin stuff is not focaccia, but whatever it is (yes Daddy I asked, but they speak kinda rapido around here) it is fantistico!! Oily, salty, crunchy…a wonderful trinity for me!
After lunch, I read a bit, and then can just not handle anymore. My 2nd seating is a bit further from the water and I am not comfortable leaving my bag to take a dip in the water.

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On my way back to the hotel, I find another job I believe I would be qualified for

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Later that evening, I buy a bottle of wine from Lorenzo

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I went in to buy a piccolo bottle, but he enjoys telling me about, and giving me samples of, everything else he has. Lorenzo is from the Amalfi. He has restaurants in Milano. He is here to open this shop this past year.

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He is VERY proud of all his products and is so disappointed when he learns I am leaving tomorrow. “Why you did-a not come-a in earlier? So you-a could-a tried-a everything.” He says, “Oh well, America is close-a, no? Right around the corner-a.” I give him a strange look. Many have said America is close, I guess compared to Australia. When he sees my look he says, “Eeeta is a L O N G corner though-a , no?”
Anyway, if you’re in Monterosso, check in with Lorenzo early…lesson learned.

I roam a bit more.

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This little church is in the new part of town. I fell in love with these wonderful ceramic Saints adorning the doors. It said they were created by a famous artist and for his payment he wanted Sunday mass to be celebrated there weekly.

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My last evening looks much like my first. I go down to the pier and sit.

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To my right…

20130708-160028.jpg I’m fittn’ right in.
As I enjoy my last stroll through town, I stop where a concert is being held.
Opera in the streets of Monterosso…Not a bad ending.

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Carniglia

With two days left in Cinque Terre, I still need to visit Corniglia. I first stop at a favorite pizza place of ours, Pizzeria la Smorfia.

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I am finding that I return to eateries we have loved in the past, choosing not to venture to something new…but hey, with food, I wanna be HAPPY! And with this sausage, gorgonzola and soft cheese pizza, sono molto felice!
On my walk to the station, I cannot resist another little church.

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Look at the little ship up there. From what I read, it is to remember the lost souls of shipwrecks.

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I love the images of these crosses and banners being carried in processions throughout the city from decades past.
As I continue my walk, I am reminded how extraordinary the ordinary looks here.

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20130708-144758.jpg For this, I have no words…
On to Corniglia, andiamo!

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Carniglia is a quiet town. The only one of the five not on the water. When you arrive at the station, you are greeted with local art that tells the lifeblood of the town.

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You are also greeted with a zigzagging footpath of about 380 steps that leads you to the top of the town. A shuttle bus is offered, but…I just had that pizza. (Anyway, I beat the bus up!)

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20130708-145209.jpg Looking back down at the station about 3/4 of the way up.

20130708-145250.jpg In the distance you can see Vernazza.
This t-shirt gives you an orientation of the towns.

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I grab a bottle of water once I have made it up and just roam.

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Chiesa Santa Maria Belvedere in the middle.

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20130708-145737.jpg I light a candle in memory of lost friends.

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Look Blaine, even yard work in paradise.
I cannot get enough of the crystal clear, blues and greens of this water!

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I love walking down these narrow streets, under the archways, never sure where they will lead.

20130708-150230.jpg How do you like this sink!?

20130708-150333.jpg che bello!

20130708-150420.jpg This photo is not that great because I was trying to be sneaky…Look at the personalities…Do you think the others ever get a turn?

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As the sun considers setting, I begin to find my way back.

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A cute little poster depicting Carniglia.

20130708-150803.jpg Yep, this is the way.

I return to Monterosso, clean up and head out for dinner. I am thinking Al Pozzo and some more Frito Misto. Can you believe, I did not take a photo of the meal…before I began?! I know!!
I was sidetracked by yet another Australian couple that had been traveling for about the same period. They, like all the Aussies I have met, are so very nice and chatty….
No wine tonight, no dessert.
I return home to contemplate my last day….

Sole e Monumenti

20130706-105418.jpg Tutto fatto.

I had no agenda today, but ended up using some of my morning time to get some of my ducks in a row for movement on Monday. I went to the station to try to figure out the “self-serve” ticket machine. Although all my reservations were made on line, there are several that say they need to be printed off. If you remember, one of the train attendants shared that with me as well.
I was a bit nervous punching in all that information of those big screens. Especially when the first screen warns you to keep a lookout for pickpockets. Monterosso has GOT to be better for this than Firenze. So I gave it a whirl. Everything seemed to be going well until it said “printing” and zero emerged. I waited and waited…it is Italy ya know and things can take a bit longer….I figured perhaps machines were on Italian time as well…. niente.
So I head up the steps to the window.
There the woman behind the glass, although seemingly exasperated….with I guess me…printed off 3 of the 10 or so I needed. At one point, I apologized and she said, “Oh, no problema.”
Really, cuz it seems like it is kinda a problema….I thought.
Once someone appeared behind me, she waved me off saying something I did not understand….go figure, right?
But at least I am now…familiar…with this process (at THIS station, on THIS day, with THIS attendant…) I would like to get the remainder printed before a big city…maybe another attendant will be working domani.

I also check to see if there is a self-serve laundry so I can wash a couple of my MVPs. Washing in the shower, only works for a few items and Franco is not here to have it done “imejiately” for me.
However, the hotel says there is only a service that will pick up and drop off.
Actually one of my memories of my first visit was a woman delivering laundry wrapped in brown paper and tied with a string. I thought at the time…”I could do that job here.”
So hopefully, I will receive my own brown paper package before I depart.

After a morning of “work”, I decide to hit Vernazza. It is so fun and easy to hop on a local train that takes less than 10 minutes to get somewhere.

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I am hungry right away so I look for some take away.

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Dessert first? Well, I came across it first…

20130706-111524.jpg Decisions, Decisions

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With no business cards, I took a photo of the t-shirts so I could remember this place. SO GOOD!

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20130706-111733.jpg I find a ledge to sit and happiness.

20130706-111820.jpg This I think is my favorite!

20130706-111858.jpg My view while I sit.

20130706-111933.jpg Still hard at work. Around town, there are photos posted realizing the flood’s devastation. Photos of pews floating in churches, people and their lives covered in mud.
But now, one would hardly know.

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20130706-112300.jpg I love this for our front porch wall. IKEA?

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As this chef rested, I asked if I could take a photo. “Prego, prego!” he said as he scooted out of the way, revealing the whole of the kitchen. “No, with you.” I replied. “Io?!” he wondered, and then leaned in. He reminds me a bit of Steve the Postman, no?

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Church of Santa Margherita di Antiochia, patron Saint of the town, the building began in 1318!! It’s dark, medieval exterior gives it a mysterious feel. Cold and damp, yet an undeniable warmth.
Don’t ya just love the girl in the swimsuit top AND the lace veil?

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Living this close together makes it easy to borrow una tazza di zucchero.

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Is this little guy the cutest thing!!? He reminded me of Dalton when we went to Destin. During that summer was his first and only speedo! So cute!

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The tourist crowds cramming on the barca…No grazie, I will take the treno.

And so I did. Returning to Monterosso for an afternoon at the beach.

20130706-114059.jpg A bit more crowded today.

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“Hello, fredda di cocco fresco!!” the vendor called out. I had to watch others to see how to tackle. It is the first time I really tasted the nut in the coconut.

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I LOVE sea glass! I know it is just trash that has been tumbled and tumbled, but to me they are gemstones, treasures.
And Kelli, if you are reading, I found the ones closest to my ring for you. I added them to the beach pebbles I am bringing back for you.

As the boulders cast shadows on the spiaggia, families begin to call out, “tempo di mangiare gelatto!” The promise of gelatto seems to be the only way to pull the children from the rocks and water. I watch as the family in front of me ready themselves for departure.
They have NEVER stopped talking! What do they always talk about? American families just seem to sit and kind of parallel play. Similar to kids when they are young, doing their own thing, but finding comfort the other is there? Italian families on the other hand seem to ALWAYS have something to say, and to be said with excitement!
While they talk, they each help gather, the dad changes the little girls wet swimsuits into…dry swimsuits, brushing off the rocks from every nook and cranny. The mom folding, passing, packing. I love the way they all pitch in, it just seems to be what they do.

And speaking of gelatto, I do not know which is consumed more here in Italy; gelatto or nicotine. Everyone smokes….and I mean almost everyone. Do they ever tell their children, “no this will not be good for your health” or is it just a given?

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Walking back to the hotel, I see there is finally a bocce match today….but no “Bocce Boy” Jim. I’ll keep looking.

20130706-114623.jpg I tell you…EVERYONE here has tattoos. I am all for art but, what is the deal. Do these people not picture themselves at another stage of their lives someday? Anyway…sorry…

Oh…I found the most wonderful keepsake.

20130706-120534.jpg At this tiny shop, several young women create jewelry inspired by Italy. They take photos, shrink them, add them to their handmade charms and viola! The perfect keepsake.

20130706-120653.jpg This is a spot in Monterosso with the church and the bell tower in view.
And on the other side…

20130706-120757.jpg Perfetto or cosa? Of course I am bringing one back for mom as well.

20130706-120902.jpg Dinner at Al Pozzo again.

A young couple was seated next to me, they were trying to decide between the gnocchi and the risotto, both only made for 2 or more. They chose the seafood risotto and an amazing looking platter of raw seafood. When they ordered, the waiter said, “Now-a theesa eees-a RAW, no cook-a, not just-s fresh-a, but RAW. I just-a have- toa-a make-a sure-a.”
When he presented it to them, he said, “I command” and then he went on to tell them what order to enjoy it in.
I would have taken a photo but they kept to themselves until the wine warmed them a bit. Their mmmm’s and aaaahhhs over the risotto made me jealous!!
I asked the waiter if I return can I order for 2 but eat for 1, he said, “Only-a if-a you-a find-a a friend-a.”

The piccolo bottle of wine he chose for me was fantastico!

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When he opened it for me, I ask to keep the foil top….and then the cork. He then said, “Yes-a…but the plate-a eees-a ours-a.”

My entertainment consists of watching the reaction of others. One lady ordered fish and then was presented with the raw, fresh fish to see if it was to her liking….funny. It reminded me the way my Granny would react to things….all leaned back and confused.

When I asked my waiter his recommendation on which dessert I should choose, he said he was a bit nervous to recommend. He had just recommended the anchovies to a table and they had told him they were horrible-a. He tells me this rolling his eyes and casting them a gaze. I assure him I will be ok with either. He tells me, “I must tell you…I am a lover-a of the-a affogato”. But he says the crem caramel eees-a house made-a. I go for the crem caramel.

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At this point, it is almost 22:00 my latest night out ever. Monterosso feels so very safe, it is easy to go for a late night stroll, enjoying the lights and the ding, ding, ding of the bicycle bells passing you by.

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20130706-122456.jpg The view on my charm.

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20130706-122625.jpg Al Pozzo still rockn’.

20130706-122652.jpg And then, back home.
Buonanotte.

metà

This marks the halfway point in my adventure. As I look back through the MANY photos. I cannot believe all that I have seen and done. I am so thankful for this venue for without it (and you) I can’t imagine being able to keep track of my days.
Besides stalking the Red White and Blue, today I decided to spend the morning at the beach. My rhythm in Monterosso is quite different from my other stops. First of all, to this point, 6 days is the most I have spent in one place. I am thankful for that, but at times, a bit sad for the reason. My original block of time here was meta of this. Then we toyed with the idea of Avery coming to visit me during my time in Italy. When asked where she would want to join me, Monterosso had no other rivals. So, I doubled the time here.
The amount of days coupled with the fact that the pace is just slower here, allows for more relaxation and less decisions of how to spend your time. So today, I decided to tagliare a metà. Meta at the spiaggia and meta visiting another of the terras.
A morning at the beach on the 4th of July seemed fitting anyway.
As I walked toward the beach, I remember that today is Thursday and Monterosso has a traveling market that visits on Thursday.

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20130705-112344.jpg Roast Chicken anyone?

20130705-112413.jpg formaggio?

20130705-112459.jpg It was HARD to pass these dishes up!

I was excited to find a handmade, olive wood gnocchi roller thingy. We had used them in Chef Andrea’s class and now I will use at home…doubling the memory.
And I bought more cherries to enjoy at the beach. Cherries get destroyed in all the processing…I cannot figure out how their natural flavor is manipulated so. But I have enjoyed them fresh from the tree here in Italia!

And finally, la spiaggia.

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I have chosen the free beach as I plan to come several mornings.

20130705-113057.jpg This game is endless! AND everywhere.

20130705-113139.jpg Mmmmm…cherries warmed by the sun.

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After a couple of hours in the sun, it is time for lunch. I head right off the pebbly beach to Il Casello and the best Caprese I have had thus far.

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As I walk back to the room, I stop into a little ceramics shop. On our last visit, I bought a tiny salt bowl from them. This year, and since I am no longer a Anchovy Virgin (as Rick Steves says), I think these will be a must.

I clean up, put on my “Vatican Skirt”, and for the FIRST time, I change my purse from my big black borsa to a little red and white clutch. This change makes me a bit nervous, I am use to the feel of my other. But as long as I have my wallet, passport, phone and camera I am good right?
Down the steps I think, “I DO have my wallet, passport, phone and camera….right?….yes, yes I do.” This question haunts me for the rest of the day!!

I catch the commuter train to town #3 (skipping Corniglia for now) Manarola.

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I enter the tunnel that leads to town. It is said that this is where, during World War II, the villagers would sleep and find some comfort from the air raids.

20130705-114233.jpg Can you imagine the memories here?

I have looked over my Rick Steves’ orientation to Manarola, but my short term memory is pathetic, and I refuse to walk around with a gadget (ok…besides a camera) in my hand, so I just wander…up hill.

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At the top of the town, I find a beautiful church, the parish church of San Lorenzo. This beautiful structure dates back to 1338.

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There is also a bell tower that served as a watchtower when pirates would raid the town.
At the top, I sneak a peak at my phone and find that I am close to the beginning of the “Vineyard Walk”. This I had wanted to do. Andiamo!

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20130705-114926.jpg This beautiful piece is in the midst of the vines.
As you make your way along the winding path, the sea begins to come into view again.
Manarola has no beach, but is known for its deep, rocky swimming hole.

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20130705-115131.jpg The trail that connects the towns.

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Daddy would have loved me hanging out over the edge to get this one…especially in my “hiking sandals”!

20130705-115319.jpg I just love these!!

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When I return to Monterosso, I walk the streets deciding where to eat. I run into the couple from New York that I boarded with in Firenze. They are staying in Manarola. We have a nice chat. They said they were so impressed that I knew to get off at that first station and that it must have all worked out….well no, I told them. They were planning to have dinner at Al Pozzo, per my recommendation but it is closed on Thursdays. They give me a recommendation to check out in Firenze. Foster’s (the guy) brother is a professor teaching there for the summer and had taken them to it. I make a note of it in my phone.

I decide to return to Il Casselo for Frito Misto and a glass of the local bianco.

20130705-115944.jpg A fabulous choice!
calamari gamberi e acciughe…Luckily I had watched a couple in Sorrento and “knew” how to attack the anchovy.

During dinner I had a brief conversation with a man and a woman. The woman was from Austrailia the man I am guessing from Germany…maybe. They were playing a dice game while they waited for their meal. The dice were old, some black, some white, mismatched. They were stored in a beat up little tin. The game was “Cosmopolitan” I think. She asked me if I wanted to “Give it a go” as they were playing for who would pay… She said they had traveled together for 30 years and he was apt to change the rules as they played. He said since it was his grandfather that passed down the tin and dice to him….it was his right.

Tomorrow, perhaps Vernazza.
Ciao!