Ultimo Giorno

Monday…my last day in Italia.  Being the day before I leave, there are certain things I must do; pack, check in for my flight, secure a taxi for the morning, etc.

The other day I bought a light-weight collapsable bag at Tiger.  I have been stuffing dirty clothes and a few odds and ends in it.  I plan on using it as my carry on, alleviating some of the weight in the Ferrari.  Each time I considered purchasing something, I really gave serious thought to the limits of my luggage, weight and capacity, and truly…for being over here for trenta giorni…I have not acquired much.

Here is a new packing strategy I will consider next trip- If I am flying into Firenze or someplace similar, I will pack ultra light, only bring a few outfits, small hairdryer, curling iron, travel iron, and essential toiletries, then buy things while I am here.  Visiting Zara was almost a daily routine.  I could cool off a bit inside (a bit…and don’t think H&M offers that option…it is hotter in there than the streets and their sewage system must have major issues, because the place reeks) and just walk around considering purchases.

As I may have already mentioned, Zara dresses Europe!  Almost everyone walks around with a  Zara bag, often used as a catch-all, but it shows they have been there recently.  I have shopped Zara a few times before my trip, but now I am a major fan.  If nothing else it is just fun to walk through.  I had read of the lower priced clothing chains, Zara is the most fashion forward, getting their cues from the current season’s runway shows and getting them to “us” with an affordable variation.  Thank you Zara. One of this trip’s MVP (most valuable pieces) was an uber light-weight, olive drab maxi with an elastic waist.  I wore it with a white T, a tied up denim shirt and the crispest look of all -with a tied up white shirt…very chic, even here.  I loved my Boden pieces (this trip and the last) but they are cotton and usually lined, well-made…but heavy when considering the Ferrari.

Anyway, back to the Tiger bag.  Inside, I am also putting the collapsable bag I brought and used as my carry-on last trip…just in case the Tiger bag exceeds the size requirements.  Throw a wrinkle at me…I’m ready!

Once I was pretty much packed, I still had a couple of hours before it was time to check in for my flight.  So I decided to load up the iPad and keyboard and go over to Il Mercato for the last time.   imageI watch, sadly, as my last 2 euro cappuccino is lovingly made for me.  I walk over to another vendor and buy tre almond croissants.  I know these aren’t exactly “italian” but I love them!  I became addicted during my first trip to Las Vegas with Mike and Joann.  And I hate to say this, pastries are not, for the most part, the Italians forte.  So as I said, I buy tre…one for now, one for the morning and one for my plane ride.  (And by the way…since it is obvious I am writing this post “post fact”…the poor day-after croissants did not hold a candle to their former selves.)imageI sit down and power up my iPad and keyboard…but the iPad is dead…I have definitely become lazy with my charging regimen.  So, I put it all away again and enjoy my breakfast.  Do you just love the little zucchero packet?  I discovered that the ones here have popular locations on them.  I grabbed a few…collector…NOT hoarder!

When I return to Bencidormi, I plug in and write for a bit.  It is also fun to hear the comings and goings here.  Yesterday Paola introduced me to two girls, I’d say late twenties, that were staying just for one night.  They were in town to attend a concert.  Their english was limited, but it was fun to hear and see them share their love for this singer with me- Jovanotti, real name Lorenzo Cherubini.  They were surprised I was not familiar with him…I am now.  When I said I was from Austin (that is where I usually start and then if someone is familiar with the area, I move on to Fredericksburg), they said, “Ooohhh!  ACL!”  Several people during this trip spoke of ACL.  Silly of me, I am sure, but I didn’t realize it reaches the audience it does.imageWhen it is time to check in for my flight, I am poised and ready, and for the second time this morning, things do not go my way.  I try several times: on my phone, on the iPad, on Roberto’s computer…nope, it’s not going to happen.  “See agent at ticket counter” is basically the message I repeatedly receive.  So I do what all independent, cinquantatre year old women do…call their mommas.  First I actually tried to text everyone for help, but as it is still very early in the US, that too takes a bit.  Avery responds (good girl) and texts back “Are you sure you want me to call them…it’s really early here.”  But I say, please do.  I thought maybe a US computer could better communicate with United…I was not worried, but I wanted to try all I could before just saying “whatever” and waiting until tomorrow morning to find out good or bad news.

So I hung around Bencidormi a bit longer until mom said she was getting the same message.  I did not want to spend my last day in the room, so I believed the great spirit of my travel would continue and all would be fine tomorrow morning.  (Again, hindsight 20/20 note- the message was due to the fact I had to show my passport before checking in.  Lesson learned.)

Before leaving, I downsized a bit more by ditching a couple books I did not care for at the Bencidormi “library” and headed out.imageAt this point it is a little past lunch.  I first think I am going to head to Le Volpi e L’Uva for a last crostini but end up just walking right past.  Another reason I would be hard to travel with…nothing is set in stone.  The only real item on my agenda today is to walk to San Miniato al Monte.  This is a church that stands atop one of the highest points in the city.  I read that there are Gregorian chants at 17.30 in the summer.  I think this would be a beautiful way to say arrivederci.

As I am upwardly roaming, I see this scooter and am reminded a scooter excursion is still on my “to do” list but will have to wait until my next visit.  I wonder if I can reserve a turquoise one?imageAs I mentioned, I passed Le Volpi e L’uva thinking I will grab a bite to eat somewhere else.  Then I approach the Clet studio again.  I had wondered if he manipulated any bicicletta signs.  When I go to the door, there is a sticky note that says, “I’ll be right back”.  I peer in the window and do indeed see a sticker with a bicicletta on it.  So I cross the street and sit myself down.imageFrom my vantage point I can see the door and will be up and in when the sticky note comes down.imageThat wait ends up being at least an hour.  Weaker have waited and moved on…but not me…imageThe climb continues.imageThrough the wall,imageup the MANY stairs,imagepast a guy that will do whatever for money (I threw a euro his way for allowing me to take his photo).  Notice how sweaty he is…and he’s just sitting there strumming(ish).imageAnd I arrive at Piazzale Michelangelo.  If you were with me in 2013, you will remember I visited here two times at sunset.  The first I captured several hundred photos of the sun setting on the Arno, and the second I took 2 shots with my phone…one being my favorite photo of the trip.

Today’s panoramic view is smeared a bit by the hazy heat.  But for many around me, this is their first time here and I listen to, “Can you believe this!?” in many languages.  It is indeed an amazing vista.  But up here there is very little refuge from the sun’s rays. So I reconsider my next step.imageI first go to a small church that I THINK is San Miniato.  It is dark and quiet and for the first minute or so, a relief from the sweltering heat. But after that minute passes, I decide to sit and try to will myself cooler.  I take out my fan, look at the clock and see I still have at least 3 hours before chant time.  A inner debate ensues.  Do I stay, do I go, do I find a cooler place to wait?  Although I do not consider myself a competitive person, when I get something in my mind, I do have issues.  I tell the part of me that wants to bail that I waited for Clet to open, I can wait to attend chants.  But in order to please all sides of me, I exit the church and look for some shade and a possible breeze.  While I roam, I notice yet another set of steep stairs.  I consider it kinda like a kid considers something they don’t want to do.  I look at it and think, eeeh, whatever’s up there can’t be all that great, although I can see the top of a golden gable, and I keep walking.  I am now on the road Elisa and I took on the way to her parent’s house.  There are VERY few people around, but I’m killing time.

The second time I pass the great steps, I cave.  I figure what have I got to lose…a few more pounds of sweat is all.  So I climb. And as always, I am rewarded for it.  This is San Miniato al Monte.imageAnd this is her view.imageI enter the basilica dedicated to the first evangelizer and Christian martyr in Florence.  It is said Minias is thought to have been a Greek merchant or Armenian prince (kinda a range there) who left home to make a pilgrimage to Rome.  Around 250, he arrived in Florence and took up life as a hermit.  The legend goes that Minias was persecuted and beheaded for being a Christian.  After his decapitation, he picked up his head, put it back on his shoulders and went to die in the cave on Monte alle Croci where he had lived.  The cave is now the location of the oratory and chiesa that bear his name.

The present Basilica was built in 1018.  The altar preserves the bones of St. Miniato.  imageTo learn a bit about this structure, I put in 2 euro, grabbed a chair and listened.imageThe mosaic of Christ between the Virgin and Saint Minias was created in 1260.imageThere are also beautiful frescoes attributed to Taddeo Gaddi. As well as a magnificent funerary monument, memorial to Cardinal James of Lusitania who died in Florence. His is the only tomb in the church (detail of chapel bottom left).imageAt this point I am working really hard to hang around until chant time, but my croissant is wearing off.  On my way out, I notice a sign that basically says, “Are ya hungry?  Come by our Farmacia for fresh baked goodies.”  This excites me, but I remember when Costanza and I were at Vallombrosa Abbey we just missed the time and the farmacia was chiuso.  But I head across the gravel path and am thrilled to see movement inside.

imageI open the door and enter the piccolo space.  There are a few souvenir items, a rack of small cellophane bags containing baked goods and a small freezer of Monk made gelato (yes everything is small…)  While I am considering my “lunch” options, the monk (seen crossing in front of the basilica in previous photo) at the register is engaged in a conversation with a local man. I grab a bag of Lingue di Gatto and mandorla biscotti and wait at his elbow.  When they decide to rest a moment, he looks up at me and then notices my necklace.  His first word is, “Nice” motioning to my Benedictine cross on my Virgin Saints and Angels charm.  He then tells me how much I owe him.  I hand him a 20 euro bill.  Then I notice there are cans of soda on the counter and ask if he has cold ones, “certo” he replies.  In my defense, ya never know.  I have been handed a hot can of coke, taking a few sips of the frothy, warm bubbles feeling too bad to refuse.  He retreats to a back room (small no doubt) and hands me the coldest coke zero of the trip.  I don’t know whether to strap it to my neck or drink it.  Now, more focused on me because the local has left, he again tells me how much I owe him.  I pause for a moment.  My mind racing to remember for certain or not whether I had just handed him 20 euro…Do you question a monk?  Do I pay again feeling OK that it all goes to the church?  He’s looking at me and I meekly say, “I gave you a 20.”  He looks around for a moment and then says, “Oh, yes.”  I start laughing and tell him I was a bit nervous to question him.

I retreat outside finding a shady spot along a wall overlooking the cemetery and devour my Lingue di Gattos (cat tounges).imageThese were so yummy.  As you can see by the ingredients they are pure and simple.  I think they just make the batter, smear a bit on a pan, bake and bag.


I return to the famacia to buy (and devour) another bag of Lingue di Gatto.  The monk comments further on my necklace.  The monks of San Miniato are part of a Benedictine order.  He is pleased with my “strong!” symbol of Christ.  I take this opportunity to ask him when the Gregorian Chants will begin.  His answer confused me a bit, but what I got from it was that he would be singing mass at 5:30 and then afterwards, the “young monks” would come to vespers.  He suggests I stay for that.  What does one say to a personal invitation but “Si”.

Second important question, “Dov’è il bagno?”  He points me in the direction, I weave about the grounds a bit and find it.  This is one, as many are, where you have to pay to go.  I even received a receipt!  When I entered and read the receipt I laughed out loud.  “S.I.T.”  Yes, I think I will.imageI reentered the basilica and sat down in the main area.  A bit later, I see a young man, delivering a much, much older monk down to the crypt.  I start to think this is where mass will be.  When I attended mass at San Francesco d’ Assisi, the evening mass was in the lower area as well.  I descend the stairs and see a few locals (including the man from the farmacia) already seated.  I do this all well before the older monk gets to his assigned seat behind the altar.  It was both endearing and comical to watch.  The younger man exited once he had the sambuco situated.

I could go on and on about mass; how my monk shuffled in with the chalice, seemingly late going by the glances from the already present monks, the beauty and control of his voice as he sang mass, watching the sambuco ebb and flow, receiving communion from my monk with him shifting to his broken English just for me…but suffice it to say, I am thankful I stayed.

After a few people left (there were only about 10 of us in mass) and a few others entered, a woman came up to me and quietly asked “Che ora di vespro cominciare?”  Startled, I struggled to quietly communicate with her.  I think I made it clear they were supposed to begin (as far as I could make out) after mass, around 6:30.  “Sei e mezzo” I responded with what I am sure was a stricken look that read, “What makes you think I know italian?!”  She came back with, “Sei e mezzo?” and I “Si, sei e mezzo”.  This seemed to go on for couple of rounds.  She finally walked up to the front, took a vesper hymnal from a box and settled herself.  I went up and took one too.

imageIn a few minutes, a group of young monks (including the sambuco’s assistant now in robes) with my monk trailing, ceremoniously entered the crypt.  Again, a beautiful tradition to witness and be a part of.

This video doesn’t exist

I exited the church around 7:15 with the sun considering setting but in no hurry to do so.

I took one last look at this bella città and headed back down into it.imageThis is my favorite time of the day, at home and here.  During the heat of the day and amongst the crowds, I can be 100% ready to return home but lay the relaxed evening in front of me, drag the furniture to the streets, fill the glasses with apèritif and I start to miss it already.

I so want to pull some of our furniture to Austin Street and enjoy this tradition.  How do you think the good City of Fredericksburg would respond?  Is anyone willing to split the ticket?imageAs I wind through the streets, I mentally say my goodbyes to all I love about Firenze.

Arrivederci Street Artists.image

Arrivederci Blub.imageSadly, my last meal was a disappointment.  I returned to my old street, Borgo Santi Apostoli, and gave a recommendation a try.  Mangiafoco will not be a place to return.  I would have been pleased with this dish if I had doctored up some frozen, grocery pasta.  It wasn’t awful, but it falls to the bottom of my list of meals no doubt.  I’m sure the staff’s attitude clouds my review, as well it should.  I have yet to be made to feel like I am a hindrance as a tavolo per uno… until now.imageArrivederci Spritz!

imageArrivederci Street Musicians.imageAnd a big, sweet, heartfelt arrivederci to the people of Italia…especially those of you who hang out your windows for entertainment.imageYes, I agree!  This has been a thumbs-up adventure!

Grazie Mille Italia!!

Weekend In Firenze

Each morning now starts with my Moka and me.  I am so happy with my 15 euro purchase!  Have I mentioned that July is SALDI/SALE month in Italia.  I’ve been told their sales are regulated and July is the time to stock up on summer clothes and house items.  So…when in Roma…or in this case Firenze!imageI spent the morning in the shared kitchen of Bencidormi.  While there, I struck up a conversation with a mom and her older kids heading to Roma.  She was a bit gloomy due to a transportation issue yesterday.  They had neglected to validate their city bus tickets and were fined 100 euro!  This just gave me a pit in my stomach, I hated it for her and know that it could be me at any point in time. She said that she felt taken.  The “officer” demanded she give him the 100 euro right then and there.  She plead her case saying it was an honest mistake, they had the tickets, they just didn’t know to validate.  She also told him she did not have that much money on her.  He said he must accompany her to a cash machine, which he did and she gave in to his demands.  Later they read the ticket a bit more and it states a person has 30 days (I believe) to pay the fine.  I told her I had just last night read a post explaining the term “Furbo” or crafty and how some Italians take advantage of visitors this way.  She was having a difficult time shaking it off and I do not blame her.  It is a hard, expensive lesson we can all learn from.  I wished them better luck with the rest of their trip and began my day.

Today is the 4th of July, so I dressed to give a nod to my Homeland and hit the streets.imageI do not have much of an agenda these last few days.  I just want to enjoy where I am and take advantage of the inexpensive and or free things Firenze has to offer,

Like…street art,imageand hole in the wall local places where  you can get a panino and a birra for 5 euro.  The first time I came here in 2013, I was so nervous to order.  But this being my 3rd (and final) time this trip, I am very comfortable giving a little more thought to my orders.  imageAs you can tell, I love this place and it is an absolute MUST for anyone during a visit, no matter how short, to Firenze.  Remember, there are 3 places now with the same name- All’Antinco Vinaio.  For some reason, the one on the right side (with the Uffizi behind you) is always really crowded.  The one directly across on the left, is crowded as well, but people tend to veer right.  Today, as I was walking into the one on the left, a guy working on the right said, “OK-a people-a…pay-a attention-a.  We-a have-a two-a shops-a.  The same-a people-a own-a…same ingredients-a.  There-a eeessa not-a as much-a line-a over there-a.  People-a….pay-a attention-a!”

Luckily I had claimed my spot in line before people looked around trying to decide what to do.  Today I chose, prosciutto, basilico, marinated carciofi and  my new friend stracchino cheese.  The soft, creamy texture of this young, cow’s milk cheese keeps everything in place.  imageAs I was enjoying/wrestling with my panino, the boss man comes by and asks me something.  (I know he is the boss man because it says BOSS MAN on the back on his t-shirt.)  I could not understand what he was asking me, and as I was trying to throw out a couple of guesses, he simply took my panino, went back behind the counter, rewrapped it and presented it to me again saying, “Thheeeesssaa way-a eeessaaa best-a.”  Point taken.

It also cracks me up that you do not pay until after you have eaten, and then you must flag someone down and wait for them to meet you at a little register…basically an honor system.

I love theeesssaaa place-a!

And I am not alone.imageAfter my 4th of July hotdog stand-in, I just roamed.  I have passed by Palazzo Vecchio and through Piazza della Signoria many times during this trip, but this time I took the time to visit with the statues in and around Loggia dei Lanzi.  It is mind boggling to me that these priceless pieces are just out in the open: The Rape of the Sabine Women by Giambologna.  Here the term “rape” comes from the Latin raptio, which means “abduction”.  This depicts when the first generation of Roman men acquired wives for themselves from the neighboring Sabine families.

Theseus and the Minotaur and Perseo holding Medusa’s Head by Cellini (1554).  The story is in the whole, but the beauty to me, is in the details.imageI never tire of seeing what the street artist in front of Zara are up to.imageAnd although I did not get a photo of them (and I regret it), a highlight was seeing a family of 5 all sporting captain’s hats with Venezia in script across the front.  Don’t know why, but this just made me laugh.

I timed my roam to be oltrarno in time to attend mass at Santa Felicita.  This is probably the oldest chiesa in Florence after San Lorenzo.  Churches have stood on this site since the 4th century.  A new one was built in the 11th century with additions and changes coming over the years.  In 2013, I peered into the church through a window along the Vasari Corridor.  The Medici family used to do the same, attending mass without the masses.  In 1565 Grand Duke Cosimo I de’ Medici “requested” that a corridor be built connecting the old palace with their new residence, the Pitti Palace.  Since the corridor passes through Santa Felicita, the church began to play a very important role with the Medici court.

The Deposition from the Cross (1528) by the Italian Renaissance painter Jacopo Pontormo is a piece we discuss in Art II during our study of Mannerism.  The painting is located above the altar in a small chapel in the back of Santa Felicita.  I was not aware this was its home when I chose where to attend mass.  It is very surreal to look up and see a piece in person that you’ve only seen in slides.image

Yesterday (I think it was yesterday) when I purchased my Sunday evening ticket to the Medici Dynasty Show, I also saw a flyer for a movie about Dante.  I “know” roughly 3 things about Dante, but staying in his city for so long and seeing him honored everywhere, I thought, what a better time to learn a bit more.  However, I did not buy a ticket because originally I was to meet Elisa and Costanza tonight.  That “Girl’s Night Out” fell through so I found myself free after mass.  I could not remember exactly what time the movie began or exactly where the theater was.  I did remember that you received a glass of wine with your ticket and that the little guy at the “Tourist Point” had waved his hand behind him and told me some number attached to the word “meters” when I asked about the location of the theater.  So, I decided to go back to the “Tourist Point” which I found closed, but walked in the direction of his hand wave and there it was, the Odeon Teatro.  image           Housed in Palazzo Strozzino, built in 1462, the theater opened in 1922.  To this day the Odeon retains the original sculptures, tapestries and its wonderful stained glass cupola.image

The film The Mystery of Dante, was artsy and strange.  It made me think and want to know a bit more.  Dante was a poet who has inspired some of the most outstanding minds in history and what I took away from the film was that his work is not to be globally understood, but that each individual needs to journey through it, drawing their own conclusions about his words, applying it to our own lives.  Maybe I’m completely wrong, but I came away with: there are individual translations and applications and that is what Dante intended.

A single line that did resonate with me was, and I am paraphrasing I’m sure, “Hell is a huge cabinet of reflection.”  Personally, I cannot imagine anything worse than having to watch our mistakes and poor decisions on a never-ending film loop for all eternity.

Cheers to living the straight and narrow!imageAfter my evening at the cinema, I walked to Il Mercato Centrale, ordered a Margherita Pizza asporto (to go),imagewalked back to my room,imageand enjoyed it there.imageSunday morning I again enjoyed some time writing in the cucina at Bencidormi.  Today I met 2 gals from Ireland.  They had just hit town and were checking in for one night only.  I overheard them asking Paola what the best way to see the most of Florence in one day was.  Being my Father’s child, I chimed in.  I poked my head around the corner and raised my hand.  My suggestion was for them to go on a guided bike ride like I did in 2013.  This 2 hourish ride gave me a great overview and allowed me to get my bearings.  Brid quickly replied in her oh so cute accent, “Oh yeah, but you’re fit Paige.”  I assured them it was a flat, easy ride.  In the end I think they went for the hop on hop off bus.  I really wanted to ask if I could join them for their tours today and help them get the most out of a day in Florence…but I didn’t go that far.  I helped them make a plan for hitting Venice tomorrow and our paths didn’t cross again.

Afterwards Paola and I talked a bit about the fun (and not so fun, she assured me) aspects of running a small B like this.  Meeting and helping people make the most of their visits would be rewarding I think.

On to my day.  In 2013 I visited the Museo Salvatore Ferragamo.  The exhibit then was all about the rise of Salvatore.  It was beautifully done and a first class experience.  This year I was told the exhibit had changed and highlighted the building, Palazzo Spini Feroni, that housed the famed House of Ferragamo.  imageimageAfter a quick early lunch and dolce (THE BEST cannoli I’ve ever had!  I wished for my brother Jim, who favors this treat.)  I headed over to see my old neighbor Salvatore.  The exhibit was again, top notch and because it is the first Sunday of the month…entry was FREE!

In the end I could not bring myself to spend roughly 100 euro for the least expensive Ferragamo perfume, but I did buy 4 postcards depicting some of his most famous creations and a mouse pad.  Walking around with a red and gold Ferragamo bag, no matter how little was inside, gave me a spring in my step.imageIn the early evening, I headed for a little bar at the far end of my street, Via Faenza.  The name of this hot spot is “Freddy’s” and there are ALWAYS people spilling into the streets enjoying a spritz and conversation.  I cannot tell you the number of times I have passed and eyed this place during my visits.  Today I was lucky enough to find one table free for me!  image

During my spritz, I too got to enjoy a bit of conversation with a woman from Denmark.  She and a group were here taking a health course of some sort in Fiesole.  She said she had been here for almost 2 weeks and was ready to leave and probably not return.  She did not say this with disgust or anger…I asked what city she liked better and she said, “Paris” with no hesitation.  She expressed she felt in Paris the way I feel here.  During this trip I have come to the realization that it is OK…if not great… for people not to like the city you love.  People enjoy and are comfortable with different things and experiences.  I no longer feel I have to either sell someone on my view or worse…reexamine my own thinking there is fault in it.  Now I just need to translate this thinking to all other aspects of my life.

Next on the agenda is to head to the San Lorenzo area.  The play I am attending is performed in the San Giovannino dei Padri Scolopi Library in Piazza di San Lorenzo.  It is part of an architectural complex dating back to 1351 and is in the triangle where the Medici family lived.

Our story begins here…image

What a wonderful, albeit HOT, experience that was.  The story is shared by the last two heirs of the Medici Dynasty, Grand Duke Gian Gastone and his sister, Anna Maria Luisa.  Viewers travel back in time to Palazzo Pitti in 1737, shortly before the Grand Duke’s death.  The show culminates as Anna Maria Luisa initiates a treaty with the Lorena family, who were to take over Florence after the Grand Duke’s death, stating the artistic patrimony of the Medici family would remain the property of Florence, “as an ornament of the State, to be used by the public and to attract foreign visitors”.

The two actor play is presented in a very intimate setting allowing viewers to understand this point in history as well as the priceless gifts the Medici family gave to the world.  I highly recommend this show…just bring a hand fan with you.

As I was approaching the Arno, I got a glimpse of the pink sky out of the corner of my eye and then quickened my pace to the center of Ponte Vecchio.  Again, I did not plan to be here at sunset, but here I am.  Timeless no?imageAs I was heading to Piazza Santo Spirito for dinner, I decided one bridge in sunset was not enough, so I quickly walked to Ponte Santa Trinita to get another breathtaking view.  imageHeart full but stomach empty, I was hoping to get a table at Osteria Santo Spirito.  This was the spot the Australian couple had recommended to them by friends.  I had peeked in the last day of the first part of my trip and vowed to return.

When I approached, it was already bustling with people.  I thought perhaps arriving a few minutes before the people who watched the sun totally set might be a good idea….I’m not the only one with good ideas.  I walked in the doorway and asked for a tavolo per uno.  I was told there would be a table inside in about 20 minutes.  “Great!”, I said thankful, but then asked, “Nothing available outside?”  I was told it would be at least an hour.  I said inside was good.  But then, moments later, they guy came back by saying he could have one outside in 5.  Even better.  Then for the next 10 minutes or so I did my subtle little dance hovering, looking hopeful to remind, but trying to be cool as well.  I am probably not that good at it, but it has been working.  And it worked again tonight.  As couples and groups were turned away to wait for more than an hour for inside or out, I was seated at a corner table facing across the tables and out to the piazza…Power Table!imageThe gnocchi Gratinati al Formaggi Tartufo had caught my eye on the menu, but when I saw and smelled it pass…I knew it was for me.  This is the piccolo plate.imageWith every bite, I wished for Avery and Dalton and almost felt disloyal enjoying something I knew they would love.imageI ate slowly enjoying the food and the atmosphere.  A few meters (wink, wink) away, yet another outdoor concert was gearing up.  By the time I left, it still hadn’t started (after 22:00) but the sound checks were commanding the night.imageAfter such a wonderful, but filling meal, I was very thankful for my mile and a half walk back to my room.

Tomorrow will be my last day in Firenze and Italia, I needed to plan my day and my exit.


La Scuola di Cucina


Today I am very excited to begin my day at il Mercato Centrale.  One of the two cooking classes I signed up for the other day “made” and it starts at 11:30.  The reply email they sent said I needed to come early so I could get the paperwork completed before class began.  I showed up bright and early, completed my paperwork then got a bite to eat for breakfast and worked on writing you.  Wifi is free at il Mercato Centrale so I thought I would make the most of it.  The wifi at Bencidormi is much like the wifi at my first appartamento in Firenze, although you “have” wifi, it isn’t strong enough to allow  you to get your emails.imageI work for about an hour and then it is time for school to begin!imageThe name of the cucina area of il Mercato Centrale is you see above “La Scuola di Cucina of Lorenzo de’ Medici” and it is worthy of the Medici name…state of the art everything.  I’m excited just to be in here.  There are only nove of us and as luck would have it…I get my own cucina…everyone else had to double up.imageClass begins by an interpreter explaining that our english speaking chef is ill and an italian speaking chef will be filling in and she will be interpreting.  Again…LUCKY us!!  Along with the chef and the interpreter, there is a sous chef to help us.

As is normal for me, while they are introducing some things, I take peeks inside the cabinets and drawers, in awe of my piccolo cucina.imageimageOne of my favorite features (which some of you may have but I do not) are the pop up outlets.  When the sous chef showed it to me and I giggled and ooohed…I am sure she thought…”here we go”.imageNow for today’s lesson.  We will be making-imageOur ingredients are-imageAs any good teacher does, Chef Alessandro first demonstrates how to create the dough and the individual fusilli. He says that originally fusilli was made using knitting needles but  we can use anything to twirl the dough around…even  the stick of an umbrella he laughs…no-a excuses-a.  We will be using little, wooden skewers.    He takes the time to demonstrate how to make several other types or shapes of pasta using the same dough; orecchiette or “little ears”, pappardelle, and scialatelli to name a few. You can tell this man enjoys his job.  Here he is telling us to “Make-a a leeettle rope-a”.image Each cucina begins making their own dough.  Chef Alessandro walks around giving feedback and assisting as needed.  This place will not allow you to make an inferrior product.image

As we finish kneading our dough to a smooth, elasticy, consistency the interpreter tells us that Chef Alessandro has said, “Since the dough has done so much sport, it must rest.”  We wrap it in cellophane and begin our pesto.  I have made pasta dough before and I have made pesto before, but I have never made a pesto with fresh tomatoes.

We begin by taking the juice and seeds out of our tomatoes.  If I were at home, I would save this to add to bread crumbs as I learned in Costanza’s cucina.  But here we just use the meat of the tomato, blending it a bit with our hand blenders.imageNext we add the remaining ingredients; ricotta (which I have also never used in a pesto), basil, pine nuts, parmesan, garlic and salt.  With the garlic, Chef said that it is a matter of taste.  He only like to add a little to his.  He also advised us to always take out the small heart or root in the garlic.  He says it is better for the digestive system if you do.imageimageAnd then at the end, add olive oil.  Tuscan Olive Oil has a very forte or strong flavor so it is suggested it not be used for delicate flavors.imageAnd of course, it is always important to taste to see if you need to add anything else.  I found it interesting that although each cucina had the very same ingredients, each pesto was a different color and texture.imageTime to set aside the pesto and return to our rested pasta dough.

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You can see how tedious this work is.  The Chef adds that it is fun to get a group together, open a bottle of wine sitting around talking and rolling and sipping.  This, he says, makes the dinner, the evening and the friendships that much better.

At one point, Chef Alessandro came by my cucina tossing my fusilli about a bit saying, “Aaahhh…you-a are-a very aaanggryyy.” “Cosa?”, I replied.  He said, “You-a are-a very aaaannnngggryyyy.”  And then I got it.  “Hungry?” I said patting my belly.  “Si, si, aaannngggrrryy.”  I said, “Hungry” patting my belly and stressing the H and “Angry” making an angry face and growling.  He started laughing.  As he walked off I heard him repeat, “Aannngrrryyy…gggrrrrrr!!!!”.

Once the fusilli was created, we turned our water to boil, salting it before adding the pasta.  We were to boil our pasta for 3 minutes.  imageRemove pasta from the water with a strainer, transferring to a mixing bowl.  Chef A said this pesto can be served room temperature or heated.  He warned though that heating does change the flavors.  He said what he likes to do is to add the pesto to the pasta, then while mixing for 2 minutes (the interpreter laughed at his precision) add a bit of the hot pasta water to create a creamy texture.  This is what I chose to do.imagePlate, garnish and then top with a drizzle of olive oil.imageAnd there you have it, Fusilli con Pesto alla Siciliana.imageimageBuon Appetito!imageThere I am up there on the Big Screen.imageAfterwards, Chef Alessandro graciously autographed our aprons and posed for photos.imageimageI have participated in several different cooking classes during my last two visits to Italy.  This is one I highly recommend.  I think the 50 euro fee is a bargain.  You get to work in a fabulous cucina, top notch instruction from chefs that are qualified and love what they do, enjoy a wonderful meal that you prepare, wine and you get to keep the apron plus a little folder and pen they provide.

Bravo Cucina de Medici!!


Piacere di Conoscerti Venezia!

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

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

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

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

imageAnd the gondolas, certo!

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

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

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

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

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

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

Rientro a Firenze

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Popping Over to Pisa

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Andiamo…only 294 more to go.

This video doesn’t exist

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

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

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

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

Mi Piace Lucca

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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


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