Best of- Food

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

Best Pizza– Pizzeria Franco, Sorrento

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

Peperoni, salsiccia e formaggi

Peperoni, salsiccia e formaggi

Best Gelato– CCC, Capri Crema Cafe, Anacapri

Capri Crema Cafe

Capri Crema Cafe

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

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

Gnocchetti Sardi fatti in casa con Ragu alla Bolognese

Gnocchetti Sardi fatti in casa con Ragu alla Bolognese

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

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

Fatto in my Texas Casa

Fatto in my Texas Casa

Best Street Food–  Frito Misto, Riomaggiore, Cinque Terre

Fritto Misto calamari e gamberi

Fritto Misto
calamari e gamberi

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

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

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

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

Not to be Missed!

Not to be Missed!

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

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

Comfort in a bowl!

Comfort in a bowl!

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

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

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

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

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

Fried Calzone…need I say more…

Coccolo, dusted with salt...

Coccolo, dusted with salt…

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

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

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

All'Antico Vinaio

All’Antico Vinaio

Once again rewarded for roaming on!

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

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

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

a Pie' de Ma

a Pie’ de Ma

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

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

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

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

Best New Discovery– Fresh Cherries  and Fresh Anchovies

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

It is art!

It is art!

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

Shrimp, Calamari and ANCHOVY!

Shrimp, Calamari and ANCHOVY!

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

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

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

La mia bella città, Firenze

I will try to get through writing about my last day in Firenze without tears soaking the keyboard. I am over exaggerating of course, but it is sad to say arrivederci, even though all signs say it is time to move on.
The first on my list this morning was to enjoy a bistecca a la fiorentina for lunch. It seems that all the restaurants only offer this for two, but I have decided I would take that challenge. Katti at Trattoria Katti said they do a smaller version which is the filet, but I wanna go traditional. One of my books, The Food Lover’s Guide to Florence, said Trattoria Mario was one of the best places in town to experience this. When I was there the other day, the couple at the table next to me went on and on about how good it was. Plus I thought a heavy steak like that would be better at lunch (which Mario’s is only open for) than at dinner (which Katti’s is only open for).

Trattoria Mario’s opens at 12:00, but as I learned from my last visit, the line starts forming at about 11:30. So I head over early. 20130716-231937.jpg

When I arrive, Luca is once again outside talking with a friend. We do the “Ciao Luca” “Ciao Paj” Kiss/Kiss thing….he asks if I am here to get in line for lunch. During the next 15 minutes or so, several people start to congregate. Luca is already inside. At about 11:50, Fabio, Mario’s son, once again lets people come in but tells us they do not serve until 12:00. When I enter, he says, “Ciao Signora. Please-a…sit-a at-a your-a place-a.” as he motions to the table I had last time. Tourist to the sinistra, tourist to the destra…locals sprinkled in. It is funny to watch everyone’s reaction to the seating…some are open to it, some…not so much.
Lucca sits at “my” table again…this is obviously his usual. I am informed that Roberto only comes two times a week.

I share my plan of the bistecca a la fiorentina…Luca asks Stefano, the waiter, to allow me to have a small one, but first he insists I try the pappa al pomodor, a meta order. I tell him that I have had it at Trattoria Katti and that I loved it. “Katti? Katti? I-a do-a not-a know-a theesa Katti.” So I agree to try here.20130716-232414.jpg
Although it was very good….between you and mean, I like Katti’s better.
Stefano comes over and Luca does the ordering. I just look back and forth like I am watching a tennis match. Lucca lets me know that the steaks take a bit longer. I assure him I am in no hurry.

While I am looking around, I notice a little purple square with some words and a silhouette with devil horns.20130716-232712.jpg
I read aloud, “Io sto con Fabio…I am with Fabio” . Luca starts laughing and Fabio shoots him a look. I ask what does that mean. Lucca chooses his words carefully.
Basically, at last year’s football match between Firenze and Milano, Fabio….got a bit out of hand yelling at Milano’s coach… I asked, “He got in trouble for just yelling?” Lucca kinda laughs and then says, “He-a, he-a was-a using…come si dice….offensive language. And-a now-a,” Luca is trying hard not to laugh, “Now-a Fabio….can-a not-a go-a to the stadium-a for one-a year-a.”
I tell him that my brother also got in trouble one time for “shouting school slogans”. He laughs-a and says, “We-a are-a crazy-a for our-a foot-a ball-a.”
He adds that tonight at their stadium, there is a welcoming for one of their new players, Mario Gomez. He starts singing some kind of chant and a few others join in….
About that time, he sees some guy out the window, says something, jumps up and runs out. I watch through the window, and from the other guy’s reaction, I can tell they are not exactly friends…the guy turns and says something, but that is about it.
He comes back in all excited. He says that is another one of their players Massimo or something like that. I said, “What did you say I LOVE YOU man!!!” He laughed and said, “No, no, when I was-a a kid-a…yes-a….but-a now-a I just told him Viola Firenze!”
(Later that night, I could see viola smoke….Firenze’s colors….coming up from the stadium.)

During our wait, I ask Luca what their thoughts are about all the tourist. I ask if he can tell one nationality from another just by looking. “Oh-a sure-a sure-a…..” he looks out the window to illustrate, “That-a one-a….I think-a they-a are-a Russian….she-a might be-a Swedish, but-a he-a is-a definitely Russian.” I try my hand at identifying later and fail.

I inquire what it is that gives Americans away. He laughs again…trying to choose words. “The-a shoes-as, and the hat-a…definitely the hat-a….” He points to a guy in the trattoria and nods. I say, “Oh, cap?” “Yes-a the capp-a.”
Then he goes off on a McDonanld’s rant…that Italians believe Americans cannot know what good food is, they cannot wait for it and enjoy it. He also eludes to the Americans’ weight. Although I agree, I tell him wait a minute and I point to an older Italian man walking by outside with what appears to be a barrel under his shirt. Luca just shrugs and smiles.

About fifteen minutes into our wait for the bistecca, although I am showing no signs of distress, Luca looks at me and says, “You-a wish-a to-a go to-a McDonald’s?” No grazie!

The bistecca arrives…with le patate fritte….I was hoping those were on the order.20130716-234841.jpg20130716-234852.jpg Molto Buono!
And of course…a glass of rosso (and this time, I got a fancy glass!)
20130716-235050.jpg Fabio before the exile…

I say my ciaos to all, trying to express my gratitude the best I can…I know I fell short.

After lunch, I head for the Pitti Palace…luckily for me, it is on the other side of the Arno, so there is some walking involved.20130716-235217.jpg
Roaming the gardens reminded me of walking the gardens at Versailles.  I am sure this is not the best season to visit, it was still beautiful. 20130716-235550.jpg I can imagine this would be an awesome venue for a concert.20130716-235629.jpg20130716-235643.jpg20130716-235922.jpg
Although there were many people visiting, the grounds are so vast, you could easily walk alone for hours. I enjoyed imagining the Medici women in their dresses, roaming about using this as an opportunity to slip away and think.20130717-000136.jpg20130717-000149.jpg20130717-000203.jpg20130717-000223.jpg20130717-000234.jpg
I loved this little building. It has quite a view20130717-000312.jpg
And the inside is painted to give the illusion you are in a gazebo. 20130717-000356.jpg20130717-114832.jpg I do not know much about this statue, but it is depicted all over Firenze. I do know the tartaruga was Cosimo de Medici’s symbol.
With the impressive gardens, I will say the bagni were a letdown…

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The water fountains did not disappoint.20130717-115330.jpg

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After the heat and humidity of the gardens, I find a cooler (in many ways) museo to visit.

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If you remember, we had passed this museo during the bike ride day one. I decided to push open the shiney, guarded doors and visit. Again, AudioGuide recommended!
This is an extremely well done museo housed in an amazing venue.

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They only allowed photos in a couple of spots. But I loved the entire exhibit. It of course revolves around the life and legendary artistry of Salvatore Ferragamo; from childhood to signature pieces (like the Rainbow Wedge created for Judy Garland) to how he has inspired others.
There are several installations by other artists the theme being “Shoes and Fairytales”…pretty magical!
In the last of the 8 or so rooms, there is a viewing of the short film, WhiteShoe by Ferragamo, based on Salvatore’s life.
I would really put visiting this museo at the top of any list.

20130717-121101.jpg New wallet for Dalton…check…
Let me take another opportunity to say that even though speaking Italian is out of my ability range, attempting to speak it during this trip has been met every time with appreciation and kindness. While buying Dalton’s wallet, Fabio (un altro!) loved it when I would try something. He even wrote down a couple of verbs that would help me know more…
I think Americans coming over, expecting everyone to speak our language has given us a bad rep. (He also harped on McDonald’s…)

As evening begins, I clean up and contemplate my very last evening here….this trip…
At the suggestion of several, I take a little brown bus to Fiesole, FEE-e-sol-E to catch a view of Firenze from the other side. Again, another amazing vista.

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Then before the colors fade entirely, I make it to the other side of town, returning to Piazzale Michelangelo. This time, I find a spot not in the center of the Piazzale, but on one of the bench lined paths. Although there are still admirers…they seem mostly local. I think I am the only one with my camera out.

For this last sunset,while being serenaded by the cicada, I even enjoy a few sips of Champagne…from the bottle no less, sold by vendors in the piazzale.
Before I share this, you know I thought the last sunset from here was amazing….I took a bazillion photos of it. When I returned to the room and to view the photos, I was overwhelmed…I could not decide which was when, which was best, etc. It became more about the photographs than the moment.

This evening I decided to enjoy through my eyes and heart, instead of the lens.
However, overcome by the colors after the sun had set and transported by the layers of pink in the sky, I broke down and took 2 photos…only 2.

Che Bello!! no!?

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Domenica a Firenze

As I was approaching the bus stop to take me into Assisi proper, the bus to the stazione was just pulling off. When I arrived at the stazione yesterday, I glanced at the departures for Firenze and noticed there were several. At the time, I thought the one at 9:30 would be a bit early, but as it was around nine when I arrived at the bus stop, I thought it was possible. I waited for quite a while on my own, a little while later a woman, then a man…of course they knew each other and began solving the world’s problems. I did not want to interrupt, but after one bus passed, I thought I had better verify (hhhmmmm….”verify” makes it sound like there was an initial understanding….the understanding was that there was a ” fermata dell’autobus” sign and I was standing under it) that a bus eventually could get me to the stazione. The taxis that continued to pass (slowly…looking at me) were starting to be a consideration.
So I asked…”autobus per la stazione?”…..stares…..wait……ah ha moment…..”stazione? aaahhhh Si si” and the guy gives me tilt of the head like, latch onto me…. So, when he gets on, I get on.

When we arrived at the stazione, it was 9:26. I look at the posting and it indicates platform 3. Into the tunnel, punch ticket, up to the track….there are only about 5 of us there and when a train pulls up at 9:29 at track 1….everyone runs back into the tunnel…..quick decision time……
So I too run back into the tunnel (so thankful the ferrari is back in Firenze)…before I board, I ask, “Firenze?” Si, si , si…
As we pull away, I think “please give me a town that looks familiar…please give me a town that looks familiar…” then we pass the sunflower field….that I know, so I sit back and relax.

Side Note: Punching your ticket in Italia-
Each time you purchase a card ticket, before you board, you must punch it in one of the little machines mounted in various places in the staziones and platforms. I had read that if you do not you risk being fined. During my first long trip, I only boarded with a computer print out of my itinerary…. no card ticket. Two of the attendants that day told me, nicely, that during the next trip, I needed to use the PNR# and print my tickets out. So I did all my tickets in Monterosso and did as I was told.
In one city, I do not remember where, I actually got off the train leaving my bags…..I KNOW I KNOW….and ran to punch because I had forgotten…I told a young American couple, “I am about to do something stupid. I am going to leave my bags right here while I RUN to that little machine over there and validate my ticket. Will you please watch my bags.”
“Validate ticket?” was there only reply….and the husband followed me… Livin’ on the edge in Italia!
Anyway, yesterday, on the way to Assisi (aahhh…Azizi you-a mean-a) the attendant came around to check tickets, there was an Asian couple behind me and I overheard them say, “but nobody tell us” this was repeated several times while the attendant was writing them a ticket to pay a fine. The guy asked “What happen if I not pay?” and the price went up….to that the guy replied, “Stupid!”……I am slouching in my seat now, afraid to turn around….I hear the attendant say, “Io stupido? sei uno stupido!!”
And the tourist paid…..
Moral of the story….do not get over confident that it is not going to happen….it depends on the attendant and their mood…..

You know how I have fussed about luggage, and how I tried to pack wisely? I glance over at two Poor Clares/nuns/sisters, I am struck by the amount of luggage they have. Each has a suitcase a tad bit smaller than mine (just a tad….and maybe the same size, it’s just that the Ferrari has such a commanding presence) and then 2 stuffed grocery bags each….I figure if I have pared down my worldly goods to a similar amount as a nun…. I am doing pretty good.

I get a bit nervous when at the next stop a guy enters wearing a t-shirt that declares “Jesus died for HIS sins NOT MINE” Why…..why here?

Then, here comes the attendant…..hold your breath….hhhmmmm….he’s telling person after person that they need to move…..looks at my ticket…ahhhh, primo classe…I get to stay put.

During the rest of the trip, I glance back at my books (via ipad) and notes on Firenze. I make a list on what I still need to accomplish in the next day and a half…..I am pretty sure I will not regret leaving Assisi early.

So let’s see-
* Pugi, Piazza San Marco, try schiacciata
* Lunch or dinner at Osteria de Benci, per Tuscany food book
* Pitti-Gola Enoteca, try Chianti wine flight
* Boboli Gardens, Pitti Palace, Jim & Luca suggested this
* Eat a Bistecca ala Fiorentina @ Trattoria Mario
* Look for Dalton a wallet….he loves his Italian leather!
* Sunset, capture one more, small sunset tour in surrounding area?
* See the small gallery that Roberto suggested (limited days and hours)

I had better hit the ground running.

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I quickly go to the B (such a great location to the train station), ditch my overnight bag and hit the via.
Again, I am hungry, so I head to Pugi to try their schiacciata. Supposedly schiacciata is like focaccia only maybe saltier, crunchier and oilier…..again, TRIFECTA!
I make my way over to Piazza San Marco….easy enough… sinistra, destra, sinistra, destra…

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chiuso….LOTS of places are chiuso on domenica….good for them. Not a problem….I have a back up plan. So I walk, stand in the shade, check my map…repeat….repeat…this 2nd place is over by the Accademia .

20130716-163510.jpg Chiuso!!
I’m getting kinda weak and delirious now…remember I did not eat last night either. My last meal was the insalata de osteria…
I toy with the idea of just walking in a place….but I cannot make myself….the places that are open look so touristy….so I keep going…not sure where to head….and then, like a mirage, I see a crowd of people in the street….a line leading into a teeniney panino place….is it just that these people are hungry like me? Hungry and desperate? Doubtful…the places around that are open are empty…it is obvious that these people know something that I do not…so I get in line. As I assume my position at the end, a guy comes out of a door across the street carrying slabs of cibatta/focaccia/schiacciata (for all I know) 4 loaves high….I decide I’m going where he came from. Come to find out, it is all part of the same place, it is just that one side has the ovens (and air conditioning). So I assume my position at the end there.

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This is what I am greeted with. I apologize that my photos in here are not very good…it is elbow to elbow people, a counter strewn with meats, cheeses, spreads, bread stacked up right under our noses and these hard and fast working people behind the counter.

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I start to get nervous….I don’t know what to order, there is no menu, I cannot get a bird’seye view to know my options, I don’t want to make anyone mad…..what to do? Then it is my turn, “vi! Vi!”. I have heard this enough to know it means some sort of “go”. So….I just point at everything and say. “You choose.” Without missing a beat, the young guy grabs a new loaf, warm and dripping with oil, cuts a 5×5 piece, slathers a couple of spreads on it (one was artichoke, one not sure) pompodoro, Prosciutto Toscana, mozzarella, and honestly I neither know nor care what else….he wraps it in a paper and says, “for you momma”. I add a glass of wine and it is 7 euro!! Not the wine, the whole meal. I elbow my way to part of a seat along the wall, directly behind the line and just sit and admire for a moment.

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I am once again, so darn happy. So happy that I did not succumb to my hunger…I once again stuck with my vision. I use to think some of the sandwiches we have gotten, freshly made at Central Market were good. And ya know, they were good, but this…this was amazing.

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I actually think I napped somewhere during the middle, but I awoke to finish….

20130716-165520.jpg Last bit!

No wait….I lost some in the process….

20130716-165556.jpg I think a little prayer of thanks goes to Santo Lorenzo.

On the way out, I snapped a few more “action ” photos.

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I walk outside to see a line still forming both here and across the street.

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Lesson Learned!! When you see crowds like this…

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And next door…at the “Food Station”….you see this…

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Before I start to roam, I take a quasi bath…

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Feeling full and refreshed…I am off.
For a while, I roam from street sign to street sign…more on that in a dedicated post.

I later find myself again near the Accademia and Uffizi. In the courtyard between the galleries you will find artist after artist. This guy caught my eye. His caricatures remind me of ones done by Monet when he was younger.

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I watch him for a bit.

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I decide for 5 euros and 5 minutes…perché no?

I wait in line along with 3 young girls, I think he assumes they are with me and when I sit, he has them sit in front of me to keep my attention in one place. Here is what entertained me while he worked.

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It was so cute watching their reactions as he worked. Sometimes they were pleased and would nod approvingly. Sometimes they were confused and would look like, “huh?”…and other times they would say “aaawww” or clap their hands.
And then I was revealed.

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Drawing something coming from the mouth must be a signature of sorts. The family in front of me all had flowers coming out of theirs. I am assuming the chick means I am not spring chicken….not sure about that symbol, but he says he draws the body as he wants….at least he added my necklaces. But 5 euro to have your “portrait” drawn at the Uffizi….perché no!
And then it was their turn…

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On my way past other artists, one creating some assemblage/collage work caught my eye. Although he did not allow photos of the front, I asked if I could take a photo of his name.

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Francesca Piagentini….Perfecto!

I can’t pass up seeing what the street artists are creating each day.

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Those are the two artists back there on the curb chatting it up. It is so funny, they do not “work” the crowd…they just create…

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I took a close-up of this wing to illustrate to my students (and myself) that “white” is not white.

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Dalton is currently into vinyl…but again chiuso…

I decide to check one more thing off my list before heading back to the B.

20130716-172419.jpg Wine Tasting
This place has been mention by several people as where to come to get a fabulous range of vino by the glass.

20130716-172526.jpg It is something I forget to write about, but I love the choice of old music played in many of the establishments. Old, classic American and Italian music..20s, 30s, 40s, it just sets the right mood. There was a restaurant in Anacapri that every time I would turn the corner coming into the piazza, it would make me smile.

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I chose to taste a trio flight of local Chianti. And boy, was I a disappointment to my sommelier.
He chose for me a 2009, a 2007 and a 1968 (although the bottle says 1975).
I swear I thought this was some kind of a test….that because he had touted the 68….it was a trap. I did not like it at all…I kept trying it…not liking it….trying it….making a face….so I just left it and finished the others. When he came by and notice the 68 still there….he picked it up, stuck his nose in it, breathed deeply, made a sound reserved for intimate moments…shook his head at me, and said something in Italian followed by “I will get you something else.”
It was no doubt the oldest and most expensive wine I have ever had, ma non era per me.