Un Altro Giorno, Un’altra Spiaggia

As I mentioned yesterday, it is going to be another low key day.
When Danita returns from her run, she says, “OK…I’ve got an adventure for us.”

We throw on our suits and head out the door. Today, we walk all the way through town and through a park. Soon after exiting the park, the terrain changes drastically…hence the “adventure”.

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Luckily Danita let me borrow some rubber bottomed flip flops to help me negotiate these steep slopes. She’s wearing her running shoes knowing the importance, having been about 1/2 way down already this morning on her run.

We make it down, down, down and it was worth the haul. This beach is MUCH less crowded, the water is prettier AND…

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They also have SPRITZ!!

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During the walk up, we affirm ourselves because in Danita’s words, “Many could not have made it to the bottom. Most could not make it to the top.”
Yay Us! Gelato per tutti!

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And wait…I spoke too soon regarding our disappointment in the food here…a few blocks ago, I notice a young girl gnawing on a piece of rosemary focaccia…si, ho buoni occhi…and I start sweeping my eyes from side to side as we walk. Vittoria!!!

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Pizza…mi porta a casa!

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When I was standing in the middle of the via, getting this shot…a man laughed as he walked by and said, “Arista…” As he rolled his occhi.

Right about now, we realize we have left two bottles of Marche Verdicchios in the freezer back at the villa…Pardon the quality of this photo, but I was laughing so hard trying to capture the moment questioning, “Disperato?” as I poured.

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As was already decided, dinner at the villa tonight. We did grab a bit of pizza and also have some burrata left from our first night, a couple of pomodori, a few olives…but there’s an enoteca we’ve seen advertisements for…and being who we are…we wanna go. So we hop in the car, not even cleaning up from la spiaggia and find it. And what a find it was!

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Our intention was to go in and get a regional bottle or two, but when we asked about regional wines…our little friend began to pour…

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And cut, and slice. We sat and chatted with a local man…picture Pablo Picassoesque, only Italian, not Spanish…while his wife was busy shopping. We were having a difficult time communicating with our little wine guy in the ascot and cool occhiali, so this guy stepped in as if to say, “I’ll interpret…proceed.” Well, that just made the situation funnier and the hour here more enjoyable. We even got Danita to try a regional red…

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Which Le piacque!
Every wine they sell here at Enoteca Azzurra is regional. As we were having taste after taste, cheese after cheese and salami after salami, I asked…”Che soon regionali?” “TUTTI soon regionali!” He replied as he showed me his little map.

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And by the way, I asked if I could have the map…Nope.

Waiting in line to buy the bottle of our choice, the first taste we had…

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“Pablo” asked, “Di dove e?”, “Sono da Texas.”….”AAhhhh! TEXAS!” He exclaims as he nods knowingly pointing at my hat…”Cow-boy-a Hat-a”…No, it is NOT a cowboy hat…although I heard a little Italian kid calling it that as we trekked down to the beach…it’s a fedoraish…lots of people are wearing them, but when they learn we’re from Texas…it’s a cowboy hat.

Back at the villa, we create un altro incredibile board, enjoy our verdicchio

 

The night is lovely.  La Luna is overhead (thinking of you Avery and Dalton)… Salute un’altra bella Notte in villa.

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Andiamo a Ravenna

As I mentioned, Danita’s hotel is just a few meters (look at me using my metric) down from mine, so before our first day of treno travel, we grab a quick bite and cappuccino at her place.

Her concierge (rough morning for him…more on that from Danita) calls our cab and we are scooted to Santa Maria Novella Stazione…a bit early….certo. I know we only need to arrive 30 minutes max before our treno departs but I do not want to rob Danita of the Esperienza Della Stazione.

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Dieci minuti before our treno is to partire, it arrives, we board, find our reserved seats…no issues.

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I hope you enjoyed that seamless segment of our treno travel…because that is where it ends!
Arrive Bologna.

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To be honest, days have passed and I do not even remember all the issues we encountered…but I’ll do my best.

We wait a bit in the Bologna Stazione, feeling pretty confident about this excursion (silly, silly me). I see our train number but the platform numbers to not jive. I’m still calm at this point as I approach one of many Trenitalia uomini who attempt to assist. First one says, no…we should be on binario 10…so we scoot to 10. Those of you who travel by treno are aware of the ups and downs, literally and figuratively, involved in changing your binario. Danita is determined to use the lift each time and I agree…for now.

On binario 10, we begin to wonder…because again…the information in my hand and the information on the board and the information on their little poster thingy and the information we are getting from the workers on the platforms…don’t jive.

Starting to get a bit nervous now…I go to the window to ask. With 4 people in front of me, I am aware this could take 4 days…I could go into a 10 paragraph account of the conversations had while I was in line, the faces and gestures made by the uomini behind the windows, sharing their treno expertise with those in need…but I will stick to the facts.

During all this, there were additional tickets bought…

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There were trains we tried to shove ourselves onto but could not. It is one thing when traveling solo…I can and will squeeze on if need be. But when traveling by twos…makes it a bit more difficult. Stay tuned though…it can and WILL be done.

I make it to the front of the line and my exasperated uomo tells me the next direct (and by that I mean we do not have to switch trains…silly you, did you think that meant there were not 10 stops in between?) train to  Ravenna ,on the way to Ancona, is in an hour from binario 7….Andiamo a 7.

We arrive at binario 7, which is between 2 stalled trains. We get “comfy”. Danita starts to read and I…I don’t remember what I did…write, edit, not sure. Anyway, a few minutes later, Danita says, “I don’t know how smart it is for us to be here all alone between two stalled trains where no one can see us.” Great…add that to my worries.

I hear an announcement in Italian for the train we originally wanted, different time…you guessed it, different track. Andiamo binario 3.

This time, I’m taking the stairs. I hustle up as the little blinking light indicating departure is flashing away. I look behind, no Danita. I make it to the top of the stairs, see a full to capacity treno…look behind, no Danita. The door closes in front of me. I push the button, opening it again…welcoming looks, by the way, on all the faces inside, stick my foot in…look behind me, the top of Danita’s head coming up the stairs. We both shove and I mean shove in with our luggage…look at each other and start laughing. Andiamo Ravenna….most likely.

After molto, molto stops and very little relief in capacity, (we ride the whole two hours in the entrance area…notice Danita’s foot at the bottom right of the photo below.   Comfy as can be, on the floor of the train, with her kindle…Doug cringing here!) we arrive in Ravenna.

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We take a taxi (no discussion needed) to our B&B.

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I tell Danita, “Wait…I need to get a pic.” She replies, “With sweat from the front or back?”
We are greeted by Concerto. Kinda of a younger, flirtier version on Franco (mi amico in Capri). He insists we do not touch our bags, but when he goes to lift Danita’s he makes a groaning noise and asks, “Quanti giorni rimani in Italia?!”

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Our first order of business is to wash our hands, crank the air down (remember…we are in Italy…not going to get a whole lot of relief) and go find a place to get a bite to eat. Concerto is concerned because this is not a time where much is open. It is about 2:00 or so. He does recommend a place near San Vitale (the reason we/I am here), so we head there to find our paradise in Ravenna.

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Tre Piccoli Porcellini…

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As we enjoy this respite, we try not to slip off our chairs from the sweat. Everyone is talking about the high heat…but it’s in celsius…so all we know it is indeed molto caldo.

If you are in Ravenna, we highly suggest you put Casa Spadoni on your list…maybe due or tre times…as we did.

After our wonderful lunch of caprese and bicchiere di vino bianco…oh and let’s not forget the best pane we have had…we head for the mosaics.

The Basilica of San Vitale is one of the most important examples of early Christian Byzantine art and architecture in all of Europe. In Art II, this is where we pick up our Art History lessons.

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Ravenna, more specifically the mosaics of San Vitale, has been on my “want to see” list for years. I feel I bring so much more to our class discussions when I have had the experience of standing in front of the art.

The groundbreaking of the building was in 527 and the consecration in 547.
The Apse mosaic depicts (all in tiny, squares of glass mind you) a young Christ atop the world. Christ’s right hand is offering the martyr’s crown to Saint Vitale and on the left, Bishop Ecclesius offers a model of the church to Christ.

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An aspect I enjoy speaking about are mosaics of the East Roman Emperor Justinian I and his Empress Theodora. This depiction undoubtedly illustrated that the Emperor is head of both church and state.

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The triumphal arch mosaics of Jesus and the Apostles is equally breathtaking.

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At this juncture, Danita heads back to Casa Spadoni and I roam and roam with the intent of finding the Basilica of Sant’ Apollinare in Classe and its mosaics but only find Sant’Apollinare Nuovo…kinda. Anyway…I’ve let that go.

Disappointed in myself (but remember…I’ve let that go) and hot, I return to Casa Spadoni where Danita has made herself at home. We have an aperitivo, Spritz for me…Vino for her.

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We both decide we need a couple of these maialino bicchiere, and while the waitress, Giada, (yes, we are on a first name basis with the staff) is washing us some, she notices me drawing. From the corner of my eye, I can tell this excites her. She returns with her sketchbook and pen pouch, offering me anything I need.

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We share, as best we can, the enjoyment we find in drawing. She, much more talented than I, loved showing me her work, explaining a bit of many of the pieces as she did.

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I think it was the highlight of her day someone took the time to listen and see this side of her.

With our aperitivo in us, we return to the B&B, shower and nap.

Neither one of us had much interest in getting up for dinner, but we rallied and returned to…Casa Spadoni.

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Our first time, walking back to the B&B, we were not sure which way to head when the road forked. From a window above us, a man called out, “Do you need help-a?”

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This time, walking back, we laughed when we realized we were basically standing under the sign of our B&B when we were confused.

Tutti e ‘bene quel che finisce bene…

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Cena con Gli Amici

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Tip of the Day-

When in Firenze…Never Cry Over Spilled Wine…there’s always more to be found.

I am sure you are familiar with Clet Abraham’s manipulation of street signs.  This was a new one to me.

Again..A slow start to the day after spending the morning documenting the previous day.  I am learning this rhythm is not so bad…I miss much of the morning heat, head out, and am ready for lunch…the meal of the day.

Again, today, no agenda.  I just enjoy roaming about.  It is fun (and more relaxing) to imagine I live here…let’s say I am a writer for a living…or better yet, am independently comfortable…and I just go where the Firenze breeze (thank goodness for it) blows me.

Today, I actually started out looking for a place I like that has this wonderful, sugar coated, donut of sorts…couldn’t find it (even though I passed it last night) and decided it was more like lunch time.

My usual “go-to” panino shop is just down the block a bit, but after hearing a few locals kinda dis it, saying they cannot keep up the quality with all they serve, I decide to go to La Prosciutteria.  Looking back at 2015 posts, we will see this is the first place I met Elisa and Paola.

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I choose schiacciata (and yes…I stumbled over saying it), prosciutto, crema di ricotta and pomodoro freschi.  The only reason the lettuce is on there is because I thought the girl was calling me “lady”…but she was really saying “lettuce?”…See, the language issue goes both ways.

It was buono, but…now don’t think I am all uppity here… the prosciutto was shaved a bit thick.  She adjusted the slicer right before me and I wondered about it…I have now tried La Proscuitteria for panino and will return…to judge…cuz’ it’s been due anni, All’Antico Vinaio.

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Roaming brought me in front of the Salvatore Ferragamo store.  Although I have never purchased anything there except for a few post cards and a mouse pad…I am a patron of his wonderfully curated Museo.  Each year I visit, it is a highlight.  This year’s exhibition marks the 90th anniversary of Salvatore’s return to Italy from America.  The entire Museo gives the feel of boarding a luxury liner as you sail with Salvatore.

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Around 18:00, I return to the appartamento to consider my plan for visiting Elisa and her famiglia.  Elisa was the girl I found through the Florentine in 2015.  I have many very special memories including her, her family and friends.  I know memories like that cannot be duplicated, but we’ve planned to see each other for an evening.

When I look at the address Elisa shared with me, at first I think, no problem.  Then, as the time draws nearer, I look closer and it is about 3 miles away.  I do not mind walking there, but returning late at night…makes me uncomfortable.  I share my concerns with Elisa and she shares the bus schedule with me.

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Seems easy enough, right?  I decide to give it a go, but of course, head out super early.  I am expected at the office of Elisa’s mother at 8:30 pm.  I head to the train/bus station at about 7:00.

Elisa instructions said Santa Maria Novella Station.  When I get there, I look at the bus schedules but do not see 1A.  The next bus that pulls up, I put one foot in and ask, “Dove bus uno – ah?”  Pointing is good and all when you’re talking feet…with no obstructions, but as I mentioned earlier, the stazione is under construction…so I head in the vancinity of the point.

So now I am across the street from SMN stazione…bus pulls up, I put one foot in, “Dove bus uno–ah?”  Again, I follow the point around the corner on Via Nazionale.  Bus pulls up, this time I show him the address I am wanting.  God bless him…he give me sign language for “Una- Ah” (One finger, two fingers making a triangle) as he says, “U-N-A…A-aa-H-hhh.”  like I am…impaired…which I guess I am.

Next Una-Ahh (1A) bus that pulls up…I get in…only to be asked off.  “Nessus biglietto.”  Ok…”Dove biglietto?!”

Why oh Why do I make it so hard?

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With my 1.20 euro biglietto in hand…I wait with all the other bus riders, moving to dodge the fumo di sigaretta as much as I can without appearing rude.

Bus Una-Ah  arrives, I show the address I am wanting to go to on my phone to the driver as she exits the bus to…you guessed it, fumo.  I ask her, “Will I know Che si fermano?” She glares at me through the fumo and says, “Si.”

As I enter the bus, I jockey for a position that allows me quick contact with my driver amica, but also a clear view of what the stops are.

As we drive, I am ticking off the stops Elisa shared with me.  All seems to be going as planned…until it isn’t.

If you refer to your scheduled stops, you will notice that after Modanna Della Querce comes Caracciolo…but it didn’t.  The next stop was Maffei.  Let me tell you, I was not the only bus rider concerned.  The entire group started hurling…Italian words…at my amica the bus driver.  I turned around to look at the Filipino/Italian woman behind me, and she just rants and shakes her head…I nod like, “I know…I’m with you!” But infatti, I am confused as all getout and a bit concerned.  At the next unscheduled stop, Boccaccio, EVERYONE exits.  EVERYONE but me.  I just sit there, bus idling while I look around…unsure of how to proceed.

My bus driving amica exits the bus, lights up, picks some tabacco from her tongue and motions for me to see her.

She once again asks to see the address I am attempting to find.  She looks for a bit…looks around the area and then says through the Fumo, “theesa eeessa bus-a uno-b.”   I say, “No, no it isn’t…it’s bus una-ah”.  She doesn’t speak but points up to the digital readout above the bus window…sure enough…it says 1B.  A bit frantic now, I tell her, “But it said Una-Ah when I got on.”  She said with a straight face, “Eettta Changed-a”.

I am fortunate enough that she showed me the way to find the path I wanted…over a small bridge, through some trees…

At this point I know I do look disabled because I cannot quit audibly saying “Eetta Changed-a” as I laugh and walk away.

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Moral of THIS story…I’m paying for a taxi on the way home.

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Over the footbridge and through the trees, I do indeed find the via I am searching for.  I find Mara’a ufficio building, ring, and am let in.

Although this is where Mara works, it was originally the home she grew up in, hence the kitchen and all.

It was wonderful to see Mara.  She looks the same as she did two years ago.  Elisa has matured over the time and Angela is now pregnant.

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We enjoy a light meal all’aperto as we talk about what is going on in our lives.

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Simple meal, simple conversation, simply lovely evening.

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As darkness falls, I’ll admit, I get a bit nervous about my trek home.  I am being very clear that taking the bus home, which Elisa recommends, is not going to happen.  She tells me this is a very safe neighborhood.  I share that safe or not, I have no clue to where I am.  So Elisa calls a taxi for me.  We say our arrivederci’s and share well wishes and in no time, my cab is here.

I am not thrilled about spending how ever many euros this taxi is going to cost, but as we speed through neighborhood after neighborhood, I tell myself it is money well spent.  I had told the driver my destination was Piazza Santa Trinita, this would allow me a short stroll over the Arno to my appartamento.  I began to recognize the area when the cab came to an abrupt stop and the driver fussed about a small crowd blocking the street.  I told him that this would be fine for my stop.  I paid my 17.5 euro (ouch!) and hopped out.

I was greeted with a serendipitous end to my evening.

Dolce musica, dolce sogni…

 

 

Tuscan Dinner Crawl

Do you ever find that some days truly do not begin until the evening?  I am finding that to be more and more of my groove here in Florence.

I knew today’s highlight was going to be the Tuscan Dinner Crawl I had scheduled with Curious Appetite, so the earlier part of the day was the “same ‘ol same ‘ol”…roaming streets, popping into chiesas, observing people (I promise I am saying “same ‘ol” wink a gleam in my eye)  and then it was back to the appartamento to freshen up for the evening.

Our meeting point was just across the river, so although I did not have to be two hours early…I of course was…but I planned it this way.  We were to meet at Piazza Santa Trinita which is just around the corner from my 2015 appartamento, right off Via Tournabuoni.  There are two little trattorias I had wanted to try a Spritz at (research), so one of these was on the agenda.

The first I tried, “Solo Spritz?” “No signora.”   Off to the next.

“Solo Spritz?”…”Certo, prego!”   Perfetto.

Luckily I padded my timetable because it took quite a while for my Spritz to arrive.  I busied myself drawing their oh so cool logo and listening to Italian conversations at  the tables around me.  Speaking of Italian conversations…I am pretty secure in my prediction that I will never be able to “converse”.  As I have mentioned before…there is SO much more than knowing (clearing throat here) the “correct” word of an object.  Per esempio- Remember the first night I arrived and I was at il Santini having a glass of wine?  Well when Filippo called me on the phone, I answered it “Pronto”…and I swear I said it with authority and I even found a bit of roll in my “r”.  Filippo’s response?  “Wwwhhhattt?” Oh gee!  Then when I followed with “hhheeelllooo?”  I sounded equally confused.

Bottom line, I will continue to learn, continue to try, but saying “Schiacciata” when ordering my favorite bread will always, always throw me.

OK (which is Italian too…I got this one), il mio spritz e arrivato, and it is perfection.

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The Spritz was presented with this perfetto little pizza.  I am definitely going to try these when I return.  It tasted like a small version of what my Mamma makes.

When the Spritz and the bite were gone, the drawing was complete, I was ready to meet my dinner companions.

With yesterday’s group, fresh in my mind, I was a bit apprehensive.  However, during the Chianti tour I kept telling myself, with 2 times the money and WAY less people, the crawl experience was going to be bene.

Approaching Santa Trinita, I began my assessment.

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I stood around for a bit, then approached the girl in the burgundy dress.  Yes, this was Bianca, our guide.  We had an opportunity to chat a little before the other four (yep, solo quattro) arrived.  Bianca has been working for Coral (Curious Appetite) for about a year and a half.  Bianca is from Australia and studied Textile Design in college.  Bianca likes being able to dress “practically in a ball gown” to come to work each day.  Picture a young Liza Minnelli…lashes and all.

The other four arrive, brief introductions are made and we are off.  First stop, Aperitivo…due.

Il Borro Tuscan Bistro-

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Wow! (I think that is Italian as well)  What a lovely way to begin the evening.  Il Borro is right off the Arno- Arno, via, Il Borro, and it is owned by the Ferragamo family…enough said.

As explained on their menu, “We do not offer simple dishes but emotions, believing that every moment deserves special feelings, that any moment could become experiences that involves our senses…”  For more reading pleasure, check out their website.

They do not offer suggestions but “proposals”.  Bianca’s proposals for aperitivo are; Spritz, white wine, Negroni…each of these will “open our palate enabling us to enjoy the evening and eat more”.

I choose what Bianca calls “double bubble”, the Spritz.  I am tempted to try my second Negroni ever, but stick with what I know I like…and can handle.  This spritz is a bit sweeter than my previous one at Da Florence.  Bianca tells me that depends on the Prosecco used.

I also had an “Ah-Ha” moment when it comes to Goat Cheese.  I did not know that goats only produce milk after having their young…not all year round like cows.  So, late spring, early summer is the time for “fresh” goat cheese.  Viceregal e Imparare.

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“Crawling” with us this evening are, Rob and Robin, newlyweds from Ottawa, Canada.  Robin works for the government…yes she’s met Justin Trudeau and Rob is an accountant.  I believe he used to be a tax accountant and now works for a non-profit.  And Odelia (Odee) and Andre from New York, via San Francisco and the mid-west I think.  Odee has been in the Fashion Industry but returning to school to get a Business degree (see kids…we give good advice) and Andre is in Advertising.  Samsung is his current client.

Early on, during introductions, I mention my blog and Odee says excitedly (by the way, Odee says EVERYTHING with an innocent excitement), “OOOhhhhh, YOU’RE Girl in Roam?”  I definitely need to practice my response to this.  Although it has only happened twice, I know I respond with this “no, it couldn’t be my blog you read” confused look on my face.

Throughout the evening, the conversation is friendly, light and I believe genuine.  Topics range from Art to Human Connections to Food (certo).  When politics are mentioned…it is like someone sticking the tip of their toe in a tub of undetermined liquid.  Rob reminded us not to discuss Politics or Religion.  But it is kinda fun to watch the eyes dart from side to side.

From Il Borro, we walk Oltrarno to Tamero Pasta Bar.

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In 2015 I enjoyed a Spritz and Panzanella salad here.  I am affirmed to learn this is where people in the know go.  I asked Bianca how they choose which spots to bring clients to.  She turns to me blankly and says, “We taste.”

And taste we do.  Curious Appetite has Tamero bring us a plate of their best pastas.  Each one delicate and perfetto.  I think I will be returning for the pici cacio e pepe.  Molto Buono.

As at Il Borro, Bianca lets us choose the wine we would like with dinner.  I choose a nice, crisp Vermentino with her guidance of course.

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Throughout the evening, I am educated on the late 20’s to early 30’s life.  For example, Rob and Robin met “Speed Dating”.  They enlighten me that Speed Dating is so much better than meeting on-line.  And what they say seems true.  One can sit, face to face for five minutes and pretty much decide if there is any connection.  Rob says you can talk for months on-line and then meet a person and the realities hit hard.  I ask Rob and Robin what they talked about for their first five minutes…”Trashy Reality TV” replies Robin, “The Bachelor”.  (Shout Out to Avery!)

On the flip side, I often show my age…for example, writing in my little book as we go.  At one point Andrea says, “I wanna read that book you’re writing.”  I told them Bianca looks like Liza Minelli…blank stares.  Andrea made me really laugh at one point connecting me with his mother and grandmother.  “Thanks Andrea…” I say laughing as I grab my pencil, pretending to jot this nugget down.  I tell him there is no shame in being 55.  He tells me I’m “owning it”.  Do I have a choice?

Next stop Club Culinario Toscano da Osvaldo Ristorantino.

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For Bistecca alla Fiorentina, we traverse back across the Arno to the Santa Croce area.  We are greeted at the door and shown to our own room.  Here, Bianca orders for us and the vino is Chianti…certo. (No Rooster though.)

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With our Bistecca, we have spinaci e fagioli bianchi.

During dinner we discuss how art was the first form of Social Media and I throw around a bit of my Medici “knowledge”.

At the end of dinner Bianca asks if we want gelato from a nearby spot or do we want to wander a bit.  “Wander”, we all say.

We end up at Il Procopio.  You can tell this is a local spot.  Families take up the plastic chairs along the sidewalk.  One little girl, takes her chair and places it smack dab in the middle of the via to enjoy her sweet treat.

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Andrea and Odee are pleased with their choices, and the evening as a whole I think.

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I choose una piccolo coppa of pistachio e panna cotta.  This is the creamiest gelato I have ever had.  The pistachio had a little saltiness to it, which is right up my alley.

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After dolce, we begin to stroll back towards Pizza Republica, dropping Rob and Robin off near the Bargello.  Bianca mentions how wonderful it is when groups can connect and enjoy each other’s company.  I agree with her that those moments of sharing and connection are heightened with Buon Cibo!

Exploring Chianti

 

Buongiorno…let me have my caffe primo then we can start our day.

Before I left for this trip, unlike the previous trips, I basically had zero planned ahead.  Other than my stops, the rest of the daily details were left open.

One of my fairly spontaneous decision was to go on a group tour.  Obviously, I have proven myself NOT be to be a group tour kinda gal.  But as I perused the offerings, my eye fell on “Greve in Chianti”.  Greve is a town Mom and Dad have visited several times.  In September, they hold their annual Harvest Festival and my attending someday has been a topic of conversation.  No…it is not September, but for the price offered, this is a way for me to see Greve without a car.

I have several tips I wish to share in regards to today’s outing…many of them I will keep to myself, but the first is; if you are meeting your tour at Piazzale Montelungo, approach it the easy way, through SMN Station, platform 16.  Walk ALL the way down it, exit the station, go down the ramp, and you have arrived.  I on the other hand, had no idea, followed my gps map the wide way around the station, through areas of construction, over barricades and I arrived.  I found out this more efficient way by roaming a bit before the meeting time.  I of course arrived two hours early, allowing time for any directional issues.  When I walked up the ramp, just to explore, I looked way ahead and thought, “Hey…isn’t this the station I just circumvented?”

Anyway, I arrive at what is basically a parking lot and a bus stop and I begin scoping out the caliber of persons I might be traveling with all day.  This activity did not warm my heart.  I will leave out my mental groupings, but will share the thought that I did not fit into any of them.  As it turns out, the biggest group (both in numbers and in egos) were the early 20 somethings that were either in Florence “studying” abroad or had just graduated from college and were taking this trip “before having to DO the Real World”.

I will admit there were a couple of times before boarding the bus, I considered forgoing my investment and bailing.  I was not sure how many times I could hear “Hair of the dog, Bro” or words my generation deem inappropriate for a social (let alone private) events.

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OK…get on the bus, let’s commit.  I promise there are high points.

But first, let me share another not so high point…I will sum up our “guide” by saying I think this excursion was her try out for a sitcom pilot  either in Japan, Italy or possibly Russia.  Enough said.

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The bus pulls in to the steep, rocky drive and all 70 of us (yep, 70) unload.  All 70 of us enter a small room where the proprietor of the winery attempts to share his life’s work with us.  It is difficult to hear him over the continued sharing of what clubs are good in Florence.

Here, we tasted four wines.  I was very surprised when we left that many chose to purchase bottles.  Later, at our second stop, many were disappointed they went all in too soon.

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Load up, it’s off to Greve in Chianti.

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Entering the piazza, I imagined it packed with festival goers and Mom and Dad in the middle having a wonderful time…wishing I were there.  Now, I wish for the same.

During this stop, we do. Not have a scheduled wine tasting, but we are free to roam about for a full 20 minutes…yep, 20 minutes.  I reluctantly follow our guide into a meat shop she has been going on and on about.  I am rewarded for being a sheep.  I am the second in line to order a panino.  Prouscuitto, Pecorino and Tartufo (truffle) spread.  Buono!

I have a few minutes remaining so I head to the church at the top of the piazza.  Somehow I know Mom and Dad went here.

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When I enter la Chiesa, I am greeted by the Holy Spirit.  La Chiesa is cool with a lovely scent.  There is soft music playing, and I am the only one here.  I light candles for Mom and Daddy.

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Andiamo!  Back to the bus.  Time for our 2nd winery.

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Benvenuto a Poggio Amorelli.  When we exit the bus and enter the winery, we are greeted by a wide-eyed passionate uomo.  I took a short video of him speaking to us, but I am having a difficult time adding videos to the page.  But if you are ever in Chianti…look him up.

He tells us as he holds his arms up to the barrels, “Deeesa, eeesa magical placeaaa”.  And you can tell he truly means it.  He goes on to tell us about the tank-a-s and how organic the process is.  When he mentions pesticides and the like he says while crossing his arms over his chest, “Theeesa eeesa forbidden”.

When he tells us about the quality of their oak barrels, he says that French oak is “the-a best-a…” Adding, “theeessa eeesa hard-a for me-a to say-a”.

Although we will be tasting Chianti Classicos and Sooooppper Toooosaaans, “White-a wine-a lovers….do not-a cry-a”.  They also make a Vermentino in another area.

The breeze on the terrazzo is bella and I think most are impressed and have an enjoyable visit.  As I mentioned before, the conversation is now how much better this wine is than our first stop, many are disappointed with their previous purchases.  I found it hard not to order 3 bottles to be delivered.  But I console myself knowing they have an online presence.  I was impressed by all four wines we enjoyed here.

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The Vermentino IGT made at their Poggio Barbone winery would be a perfect vino bianco della casa.

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The Super Tuscan IGT can be delivered to tu casa for 79euro a bottle.  Hurry, only 2000 bottles max.

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The proud mascot of Chianti Classico.  No Rooster…No Classico.

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Wine, view and presentation…this stop was bene!

Before heading back to Firenze, we made one more stop in a town I was not familiar with- Castellina in Chianti.  Like many small villages, you park at the bottom of the town and then walk up to the village.  This discovery was the highlight of my “Chianti Excursion”. When I returned to my appartamento, I emailed Daddy to see if he and Mom had visited.  He thought it sounded familiar, but when he looked through her journals, it was not mentioned.  I told him this was to be his next real estate search.

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The signs say it all.  This villaggio incantevole is close enough to the hustle and bustle but far away enough to escape it.  A twenty minute (yep) visit was not long enough!

As we bump along back to Firenze, the Tuscan sun is setting over it’s infamous landscape.  I am pleased with my day and my decision to stick with it.

I cross over the Arno back to my appartamento and am contento.

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Palle!Palle!Palle!

Trying not to add to the heat of the appartamento this morning, my start was a bit slow.  Si, when Fiippo left me last evening, the portable AC unit was working…but at about 12:30 am…beep, beep, beep and the unfortunate “clunk” of a machine shutting  off.

“Seriously!?”  I thought…and may have muttered audibly.  I tried to lay there as still as possible (both in body, mind and spirit),  dozing for another 10 minutes or so.  I then woke with the thought that maybe the breaker was triggered, and I just needed to flip.  So I stumbled up (please remember that I have not slept in about 30 some odd hours), but no,  not the issue.  I went over to the unit, punched a few buttons and got the thing beeping and running again…for 20 minutes or so.  After the 3rd set of beeps, I decided the sound was more torturous than the heat.  I pointed the portable fan Filippo had been wise enough to bring, kicked the sheets off and did my best, knowing things would eventually get better.

First order of the day, contact the brothers.  Second, grab something to eat.

I joined every other tourist in Firenze at Mercato Centrale, treating myself to not one croissant, but due and a cappucinno…certo.  At that time of the day, most were doing the Spritz, birra, pizza thing.  I found myself a corner of a tavola and settled in for a bit.

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A different goal I set for this trip was to create a bit of “art” along the way.  Notice that is art with a little “a”.  Last summer, I discovered Danny Gregory.  Danny is an illustrator turned Drawing Guru.  I bought a couple of his books, developed a deep crush and had hopes of adopting his “draw daily” lifestyle.  During the school year, I could not make it stick…OK…I did not stick with it.  I thought this trip was a perfect opportunity to develop a fun, creative habit.

I do not think of myself as a “talent” other than I like my mind.  I do not have the talent transferring my thoughts/ideas to paper well.  As a child and a teen, I had no “stage” talent.  Like Marcia Brady, I considered curling my hair on stage in the “Miss Northbrook” beauty pageant.  Anyway…let’s not go there…so I reluctantly packed art supplies for this trip.  These few supplies; sketchbook, pens, prismas, travel water colors, took up valuable space and my “monkey” (that is what Danny calls that little voice we have that puts us down” kept chattering that it was silly.  But as silly as it is, I have been enjoying it.

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Another goal for this trip, especially while in Firenze, was to take a closer look at the impact the Medici family had on this city and on history as a whole.

I have read several historical books based on the Medicis and have watched a couple of documentaries and historical fiction films about them as well.  I feel like know quite a bit, except for the piccolo fact I cannot keep all the Giovannis, Cosimos, Pieros and Leonardos straight…I really need a visual of the Family Tree.

Today, I dedicate to the Godfathers of the Renaissance…The Medicis.

First stop, the Basilica di San Lorenzo.

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La Basilica di San Lorenzo is the oldest church in Firenze, first consecrated in 393.  In 1419, Giovanni di Bicci de’ Medici made this fixer-upper his charge.  Filippo Brunelleschi, of the dome of the duomo fame, was the architect hired.  The church contains other important architectural and artistic works by Donatello and Michelangelo as well.

San Lorenzo was the parish church of the Medici family and is the burial place for molti a Medici.

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Throughout the architecture, interior and the city of Firenze,  you will find the Medici coat of arms.  There are several different stories which “explain” what the balls or palle (in Italian) represent.  Whatever their meaning, these guys had ’em.  Generation after generation illustrated thought, commitment and fortitude.  Medici men were always “All In”, even when they wanted to appear they were not.

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One of several works by Donatello is the bronze pulpit (one of two) depicting the Passion of Christ.  1460-1465.

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The Martelli Annunciation by Filippo Lippi was painted in 1440.  This was not commissioned by the Medici family but by Niccolo Martelli, a rich Florentine  citizen.

The Sagrestia Vecchia or Old Sacristy is one of the most important monuments of early Italian Renaissance architecture.

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Designed by Filippo Brunelleschi (busy guy) for the Medici Family, hence the palle!palle!palle!  In the center of the room is the sarcophagus of Giovanni di Bicci de’ Medici and to the left is the bronze sarcophagus of Giovanni and Piero’s de’ Medici which was created by Verrocchio, teacher to Leonardo da Vinci.  Some of the work on the piece is attributed to Leonardo.  So when we use the term “patron” to describe what the Medicis were during the Renaissance, it is simply not adequate.

I found this interesting…To the side of the lanterned dome Brunelleschi designed, there is a smaller dome which depicts the night sky of Florence, July 4, 1442 (how they know that, boggles my mind).  The odd thing is, there is no documentation of any public events for the night of July 4, 1442.  So this is an insider’s mystery.  Either the artist and/or the patron knows the significance.  So intriguing!

Next stop, Palazzo de’ Medici.

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I was kinda giddy as I walked in the footsteps of the Medici.  I imagined them entering the relative safety of their palazzo as the Florentines shouted, “Palle! Palle! Palle!”  The intent of their shouts determined by its delivery.  The family definitely had their its ups and downs.

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In the courtyard, though the archway there, Donatello’s David once stood.

Next stop, the grocery store…the Medicis did not shop here per se…but…

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And before one puts their groceries away…one must draw them.  (The oddities of solo travel.)

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During the day, I had a chance to speak/meet with Filippo again.  He came by to respond to my news that the original…well not the “original” original…we all know the original, original AC is on the blink…I’m currently talking about the “original” interim AC…anyway, he came to take ANOTHER look at this unit.  He told me he had come earlier, spent 25 minutes here and it was working fine.  As I write this, it makes it sound as if Filippo is put out with me…not at all.  He has been nothing but helpful and kind.   These brothers care about their guests.   As we stood talking about said 2nd unit, it shut off AGAIN.  I clapped and was so thankful for him to see it in…uh, non-action.  He makes another phone call to Giovanni-the younger. As he’s talking, he looks at me and gives me the universal “thumbs-up”.  When he says “ciao, ciao, ciao, ciao” (By the way, the record number of ciao’s while saying goodbye is 7…I heard it on the streets yesterday, and I counted.) he says to me, “Two good-a news-a-s”.  The two good-a news-a-s were 1-Giovanni-the younger found and purchased ANOTHER portable unit (Filippo explains during the Firenze heats, these units sometimes cannot be found in a 200 kilometer area) and the second good-a news-a-s was a technician will be coming domani to fix the Original Original AC unit…the real original.

Filippo once again instructs me to go eat and drink and when I return, my brand new interim (due) unit will be up and running.

I remain Oltrarno (which I am loving) and return to a 2015 favorite, Le Volpi e l’uva.  You may remember I had a wonderful evening here with Curious Appetite’s Coral Sisk experiencing a tiered wine tasting.

For dinner, Crostino con salsiccia and Un bicchiere di vino bianco…freddo.

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And for dolce…watercolor.

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Un Uomo walks into a Gastronomia…

This is my first stay in Firenze Oltrarno…on the south side of the Arno.  The name means “beyond the Arno”.  My flat takes its name from the church Santo Spirito do Firenze.  As I wait for Giovanni, I take in my immediate surroundings.  I see a little grocery, a wine bar, a boutique or two and a trattoria.  What more could a girl need or want?

I am also located just a street or so off the Arno.  This is molto bene as I will always be able to head to the river if I get turned around.

Instead of Giovanni meeting me, Filippo his older brother arrives on his Vespa.  As he lets me in the appartamento, he tells me this is a favorite of what they own because this neighborhood is where the Florentines live…not the tourist.  Perfetto!

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We walk up a couple flights of stairs and enter one of the many heavy, brown doors off the entry.  Welcome to my home for the next dieci giorni.

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The appartamento is just like the photos I saw…however, if I were to live here…the plaid, blue cover on the bed would have to partire! (Infatti….it’s in a closet now).

The room excites, but the temperature is a concern.  Filippo quickly moves to the AC unit to crank it on.  It beeps, runs a second or two…then beeps some more and shuts off.  LONG (still going on) story short, the AC unit does not work.  I have just walked from the station at a decent clip, lugging my worldly possessions and I am dripping as we stand there.  Filippo assures me everything will be fixed to my satisfaction.  I believe him (still).  I am at day 2.5 and as I write this, Giovanni and the AC technician are performing an assessment/surgery on the unit.

As Filippo works to solve the issue, he sends me down to a bar 30 meters away, for me to get a bicchiere di vino.

And thus, my first visit to my neighborhood enoteca.

Il Santino Gastronomia is about the size of my bathroom at home.  It is full of wine, formaggio and pig’s legs…again, what more could a girl need/want.

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I choose a glass of Barolo and it comes with prosciutto…certo!

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For this I am extremely thankful.  The last cibo I had were my oyster crackers in Franfurt.

The highlight of my day was when a man entered the bar with a 8″ wheel of formaggio…no bag, no briefcase…just a man and his wheel.  He presents it on the counter next to me and the three on staff huddle around as he passionately describes the virtues of his gift.  (I am reading between the italian here.). One of the staff, cuts the wheel in half, then takes a few wedges from it.  Each of the staff holds it up to their noses and their eyes roll in the back of their heads.  They chatter away as they devour their wedge, then go in for more.  The youngest girl (seen carving the pig’s leg) turns around to grab honey to put on it.  She’s thrilled with her condiment but the eldest on staff, is so disappointed in her. “Aaahhh…No, No, No!” As he shakes his head.  My assumption is that the cheese stands alone.

During this consumption, the cheese guy stands there like a proud, proud papa.  The eldest staff tosses a small, crumpled pad of paper on the counter, the cheese guy writes something, “Buono, Buono!” Is shared by all, and he leaves.  I just can’t imagine an encounter like this taking place anywhere else, and I LOVE it!

A few moments later, the girl notices my look and says, “You want-a to try-a?”  Naturalmente!!  Dont’s be ridicolo!  And yes, it was, molto buono.

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I am so happy and satisfied at the moment, the AC situation seems secondary.  Proving myself as a patron of formaggio, the guy behind the counter puts another sample in front of me as he declares, “Theesa essay paradise…”  I’m in.

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About now, my phone rings and it is Filippo asking where I am as he enters the bar, (which means his right foot goes from street crossing threshold) orders bicchiere di vino bianco and pays my bill.  Mi piace Italian hospitality!

With this kind gesture, there is bad new.  The AC unit is not working.  He tells me to go out, enjoy my evening and when I return, there will be a portable unit and a fan to cool the appartamento until a technician can visit…could be several days.

I do as instructed.  I roam around for a bit, reacquainting myself with the area.  Filippo is correct, life is SO much busier on the north side of the Arno.  I walk by the duomo to see if my favorite gelato spot is still there and I am rewarded.

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After a quick spin through the hubbub of Fashion Week…

 

I return to the appartamento to be greeted by my new, yet unreliable (more on that later) friend, calling it a notte.

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.

Monsieur Matisse

So why Vence? Why come to France after a month plus in Italy?
Let’s go back to the planning stage(s) again.

By January 2013, the outline of the trip was pretty much nailed down and it was tutta Italia.
And then inspiration came from someone else. Henri Matisse.
Early in the fall semester, we began studying Henri Matisse in Art III.
Matisse had long been a favorite of mine.

I was visiting Washington D.C. with Mom and Dad in, I will guess and say, 1986? One day while Daddy attended a no doubt thrilling auditing conference, Mom and I sought refuge from the oppressive heat in the National Gallery.
I have a strong memory of seeing a Matisse for what I remember as the first time. You would think I would remember the exact painting, although I think it was “Still Life with Woman Sleeping”, I cannot be certain.
What I do remember are the colors, the unmistakable use of black line simply, yet fluidly rendered to create the feminine form. I remember being able to see the cloth of the canvas where the paint on the brush had run thin. I remember staring at his signature.
I remember the mood; the mood in the painting and the mood it evoked.
I did not feel sad or melancholy as I do when in the presence of a Van Gogh. When I looked at a Matisse, I felt happy, content. At that moment, Matisse leap-frogged Monet as one of my favorite artists. (Monet is no longer even in the top few, although I love and admire his work.)

I was excited to introduce my students to Monsieur Matisse. In preparation for this introduction, I viewed a documentary, A Model for Matisse. The film highlights a little known and tender relationship between Henri Matisse and a Dominican nun, Sister Jacque-Marie.

“The unlikely pair worked together from conception to completion of Matisse’s tour de force, the Chapelle du Rosaire (Chapel of the Rosary) in the French village of Vence” (Carnegie Mellon News)

After I viewed this, I felt as if I had spent an evening with Grandma Guidry. Sister Jacque-Marie reminded me so much of her. I bought the dvd, shared it with my students and mom and dad.

I was aware of the chapel of course, but the film was the inspiration for my visit to Vence.

So fast forward to Sunday morning. Last night, I was reading a bit about the area, noted the limited hours of the chapelle for tours but also noticed mass on Sundays at 10:00 am.
I did not want to get my hopes up, but I thought how wonderful that would be.
I assumed it would be a short bus ride over to the chapelle, having spied it on the opposite hill last night. But at breakfast, I was told it was a short 15 minute walk (he later added 15, 30 an hour? to his declaration).
I like the idea of walking. I feel more in control that way.

As I followed my hand drawn map, stopped every once in a while for support. There was one woman that actually looked at my information and tried to listen to me. After a moment she said, “Aaaahhhh Matisse.” It was as if she knew him….listening to her say his name was beautiful. She continued on in French, but smiled and nodded making me feel I was heading in the correct direction.

20130722-201320.jpg OK…Looking good.

20130722-201447.jpg bon bon

20130722-201626.jpg And Voila!
While I walked, I still had no idea regarding the protocol of attending mass….I continued to keep my hopes at bay. But RIGHT when I arrived, a woman came from the chapelle, unlocked the gate and welcomed the few waiting in….I just followed.

Photographs in the chapelle are strictly forbidden…that means that the people that just entered a church, made the Sign of the Cross and prayed and prayed….disregarded that commandment…..however, I could not bring myself to do so in the chapelle proper. I took a couple of photos before entering, in the foyer, and one of my feet as I stood. The other photos I have are poor ones from the internet, but I wanted you to be a little familiar if you were not.

Entering, I was prepared for the stark design and lighting. What I was not prepared for was the size of the chapelle. It it tiny! I would say it is a bit larger than our living room and kitchen put together, a bit wider, but that is it.

20130722-202358.jpg Above the entrance.

20130722-202422.jpg In the foyer.

20130722-202455.jpg A photo without the chairs for mass.

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The tile walls with Matisse’s drawings of Mary and Jesus and on the back wall, the Stations of the Cross simply drawn in his unmistakable style.

20130722-202702.jpg The alter and tabernacle with the sun from the stained glass shining in.

20130722-202905.jpg Me in awe.

I was struck by the appropriateness of ending my visit of cathedrals and attendance at several masses in stunning, grand surroundings at this simple, beautiful chapelle. From Papa Francesco to this very personable French priest. It made me smile.

It was still early, about 9:40. I secured a spot and then walked back to the door of the confessional. I think of all the aspects of the chapelle, the door is my favorite. So simple, patterned of course and white.
As the chapelle began to fill, an older man walked through greeting everyone. He would shake hands, ask where they were from (in french) and then speak briefly to them, myself included. When we spoke, he said, “oohhh la la people from United States, Spain, England, France….oooohhhh la la”. As I suspected it was the priest.

This was a wonderful way to end my trip. The surroundings, the intimacy…
And if that was not enough…..He made sure I heard the message. They passed out the readings in each language needed.

Martha, Martha,
you worry and fret about so many things,
and yet few are needed, indeed only one.”
(Luke 10:41-42a)

Did He choose this for me!!??!!

As the mass began, I could tell although I could not understand a word, this man was speaking to his parish….in such a small, intimate setting, he would speak, ask questions (even thought EVERYTHING in French sounds like a question to me) and people in the church would answer…there was interaction going on…it was wonderful. He would laugh, they would laugh. He would ask, they would respond. He would ponder, they would nod their heads….

EVERY aspect of the chapelle was a collaborative effort between Matisse and Sister Jacque-Marie, including this cross, the chalice and candle sticks on the altar and the vestments.

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Even if you are not into Matisse and art, I recommend seeing “A Model for Matisse”. I am happy to lend you my copy or you can rent it on Netflix.

After mass, I returned to the historic center of Vence, walked around a bit (again, A LOT of things are closed on Sundays) and decided to “visit” another artist, Marc Chagall. I do not know much at all about Chagall, but everything I have seen on his personality point to a very happy, playful man.

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And when there is a special exhibit in your own “backyard” why not right?

The rest of the day did not bring much. I did a bit of research regarding my plans for tomorrow, followed another one of Nicolai’s restaurant recommendations

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Walked home

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Got in bed with a new good book and listened to the church bells ring all night (that is not a bad thing).

passare

I know you are starting not to trust me when I say this, but this post is going to be a short one…AND I am going to put 2 days together.
But for this….I really need to think…
OK..let’s see, Thursday morning I woke up at the farm, wondering what to do with my day. I have asked for tours of the farm, I am told they will tell me when they give one. I asked about cooking classes in nearby towns, I am told classes are suspended due to the festivals.
Like Zsa Zsa…maybe farm living is not the life for me….
OK…that being said though….give a a scooter, and the lay of the land, a house with a kitchen, a small town 5 of km away….and I think I would love it.
But, as Blaine would say, “It is what it is” and I is off to lay at the pool.

As I walk down to the pool, I am asked if I will be joining the dinner tonight. I decide one again to use that 35 euro and perhaps go into San Gimignano….so , “No grazie.”
I try to strategically place my time for lunch….I decide 1:00ish is good.
I enjoy another fabulous, “light lunch” which I think just means no PAAsta. Instead I ask for caprese, bruschetta, salami and prosciutto e un bicchiere di vino bianco. It was ALL wonderful.

When I return to my chaise at the pool…I am relieved to see it is still “mine”.
At this point I roll around my options for the remainder of the day. Then the clouds start rolling in. This time a bit heavier than yesterday. I sit at the pool until the wind and rain drives me to cover.

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I feel my decision is made for me and I sit and enjoy the view and watch the rain (again, much like being at Meeker…and when I embrace this, I am good).

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**side note** I do not know if you can see it in these last images or not, but the spot on my camera lens seems to be getting worse. I am not sure how this happened since the lens only opens when you are taking a shot…but it is getting on my nerves….so I am packing up the canon and going from here on out with the iphone camera**

As evening comes, I begin to get a bit hungry….problem…I declined dinner and morning is when they take the headcount…Lucky for me, I wrapped up a small piece of pecorino and a slice of bread in a napkin….that will have to do.

Time to start planning tomorrow’s exit. Sonia is to pick me up at 9:15, but I think if I could get her to come earlier I might be able to catch an earlier train. I am a bit concerned about a 7 minute gap in one of my transfers tomorrow.

However, the next morning, Sonia is unable to come early. So I worry and continue on.

Friday-

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These poor traveling pants…I hope I have not worn a hole in the seat that I am unaware of. By the way, above is the validation machine….with my ticket punched I head to the listed platform.

Once here, I am reminded that you can do anything at a train station in Italy; change clothes, make out,

20130720-090947.jpg Workout. I will say, this guy did get a few stares….even here!

I board the crowded train to my first scheduled destination; Empoli. I decide to sit with the luggage to help me with my exit.

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The next connection is the tight one, but I am up for the practice.

As I am sitting on a jump seat amidst the luggage, the mint green one rolls from one door to the opposite on a turn. Now, I did not tell you this earlier, but in Cinque Terre I got yelled at for touching someone else’s luggage. It bothered me for a good part of that morning….and I worked hard to let it go, so trust me without any further explanation…
So, I am sitting there as we bump along, not sure what to do. Then we come to a stop….the doors open, out falls the mint bag, onto the platform….I still sit….I DO NOT want to get yelled at again, in any language. One guy that saw it happen, simply stepped over as he exited…still it sat. Finally, and this is all in 1 minute or so. A girl, looks at it….looks at me….asks something…..I shrug….she shrugs….looks around, then tosses it back on as the doors shut.
CAN YOU IMAGINE….your luggage just falling out a train door and you never realizing it!!?? I can now.
A couple of stops down, as things thinned a bit…for just a bit….the owner of the bag came to retrieve and store with her. I SO wanted to ask, “Do you speak english?” and tell her the story…but as has been one of my goals here….I just deal with me.

I make the next connection without issue. Then in La Spezia, I board with the rest of Italia.

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This is a 4 hour 2nd class journey to Albenga, so I do my best to jockey for a seat and eventually I get one….in an actual chair.

During the next 4 hours, I finish the book I have been reading, look through an instyle, get hungry, enjoy a few sips of water (impossible to go to the wc on a 2nd class train with all my stuff) and watch the countryside go by.
During a portion of this leg, some 19-20ish American students are seated within earshot….gee how I have enjoyed NOT understanding the language…..

After La Spezia, we travel through Cinque Terre. Oh how I would love to hop off the train and go grab a frittto misto cone in Riomaggiore!!

Also, by the way, Genova has molto, molto, molto stops. That is one of the reasons this 2nd class train takes 4 hours….it stops everywhere!!!

And I arrive Albenga.
A little background as to why I am stopping here…..basically all I have there is I thought I would break up this longer travel day, and we had heard it was pretty….research.

So I arrive Albenga again with no clue where to head. Last night I tried to contact the hotel but could not find an email for them. So at the station, I had to turn on the cellular data for my phone. I have only done this a couple of times….but no way around this one.

I find the hotel on maps, follow the blinking, blue dot and viola….

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Let me choose one word to describe my hotel…..how about “basic”.

20130720-093126.jpg Yes the lighting this THAT giallo.

20130720-093234.jpg “Air Conditioner”
The lady at the desk understood my english perfectly until I asked if there was air conditioning in the room. “I-a no understand-a english-a well-a. speak-a slowly-a.”

20130720-093407.jpg Won’t be needing extra blankets…that’s for sure.

20130720-093444.jpg The all in one Garden, Terrace, Laundry Room.

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20130720-093546.jpg And the bathroom….lest you think I am getting spoiled…

It is almost 7:00 pm by this time, so I decide to not unpack….anything….leave my bags in the room and go for a walk.
Albenga is right on the coast…much like Cinque Terra…only…not much like Cinque Terre. But all in all still very pretty.
It looks as if another FESTIVAL is starting tonight….the vendors are setting up along the beach walk…let’s see, there were vegetable peelers, and hair adornments and lamps made out of coconut shells, cell phone covers…this is not Certaldo either I guess.

My hotel is a block away from the beach in the New part of town, so before the sun goes down, I decide to head to the old part of town.

20130720-094103.jpg Really old….Yep…another festival.

Truly though…these are so well done. It seemed the entire town (Vecchio) was involved and in costume. I did enjoy walking through and watching the preparations. I just did not want to get stuck here after the crowds hit, plus my walk back to the hotel was through a not so scenic part of Albenga.
So I will share some quick highlights.

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20130720-094353.jpg Loved this Medieval stroller!

20130720-094429.jpg Not too sure about me.

20130720-094447.jpg Not a care at all.

20130720-094507.jpg Really admire the details in preparation.

20130720-094551.jpg The town Baptistry.

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20130720-094633.jpg Now this was really cool, to walk up on a piazza and see these beautiful, fierce looking birds on their perches. It was just so fitting. I am sure the exhibition later would be interesting.

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Not sure if this guy is in costume….I think not and I also think he will be the one telling the festival goers to repent shortly….

As the crowd begins to swell, I decide I better head back and find a spot for dinner.
I chose a little place that I am sure is a chain of sorts, La Dolce Vita….fitting no?

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Although the food was good, another face to face encounter was what made the evening.
My waitress, Grazia, first was very patient as I decided which side of the restaurant I wanted to eat in;the pizza side or the fancier side. She let me sit down and look at both menus, coming by every now and then to give me her 2cents.
I chose the pizza side. Each time she would come by, she would want to chat a bit, advising about things to do, told me about the festival, etc.
Finally she asked where I was from. When I responded Texas…you would have thought I said Hollywood or something. She leaned back with her hands together saying “Takkk-sas! TTakkk-sasss! Oh my gosh-a…theeese-a eeesss-a fantastic-a I thheeenk-a.”
I just kinda sat there laughing and said, “Really?” She said, “What-a are-a you-a doing-a a HERE!??” Like this was the backwoods of Italy.
Anyway, we talked a bit more and before I left, I told her about Austin. She could not understand me well, so I wrote it down and told her to check it out.
When I got up to leave, she gifted me with one of their wine glasses, and a bunch of paper placemats….she also asked me to “Pleeez-a send-a me-a just-a one-a post-a card-a from Takkk-sass!” And she gave me her address.
With her hands together in a praying position, she told me she will hope and wait for my card.
Of course, the kiss/kiss followed and laughing, I went on my way.

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