September 11, 2013

Summer Plans


True sign of a travel junkie--Get back from one trip and immediately begin planning another.

Next June, Puglia. I've been intrigued by the region for a while, from mouthwatering descriptions of its vegetable-focused food, photos of the unique trullo houses perched among centuries-old olive trees, coastal towns, whitewashed villages, vibrant Baroque cities.

It was a challenge finding frequent flyer flights that would work for us. Everything from Boston seemed to have a stopover in England, which tacked on a several-hundred dollars taxes and fees charge per ticket. Or, we'd have to do torturous routes of 3 plane changes, often taking two days. What I ended up with was flights out of New York, with a stopover in Dusseldorf on the way over, and an overnight in Berlin on the way back. We'll fly into Rome; and out of Bari.

First week--Rome. We haven;t been since 2005, so we're long overdue. This will be our third visit there, so we won't feel compelled to do the most obvious tourist things (though an early morning wander through the Forum with the Blue Guide in hand will probably happen again). Museums, slow walks, long lunches under a shady umbrella. We've booked Sari's wonderful Trastevere apartment, where we also stayed in 2005.

We'll either take the train down to Puglia, or pick up the car in Rome and do the 5-6 hour drive. Our first base will be Ostuni, a small city I've already fallen in love with. We've rented this adorable apartment, with two great balconies with amazing views.

Next week we'll be further south, outside Lecce. After a city and a town stay it'll be nice to be in the countryside in this small place, a family farm with three apartments for guests. We'll be in one of the stone cottages.

August 5, 2013

Style Cure--The Junk Room



Last Summer I started a month-long "assignment" sponsored by the site Apartment Therapy. Although I did not religiously do every assignment, it did spur me to take on some household organization and decluttering; and initiated our bathroom re-dos."Hey, let's see if we can strip the ugly wallpaper...whoops, we seem to be renovating three bathrooms ourselves."

Yeah, things can get out of hand.

In any case, this summer's cure is to focus on one room. In our case, the Office/Guest Room/Junk Room. Everyone has a Junk Room, right? Right? Please don't tell me if you don't. Or at least a closet or two. You know, the place that you put the stuff in that you don't have any other place for, or the room where you stick something ugly because it's the least seen room?


Our junk room is also the guest room and my office. When Evan was home his computer was also in there. It took me months to convince Larry to try to sell the ugly desk. It's now listed, and I swear, I could have had a baby in that amount of time. Hopefully it'll be gone soon.Our first Style Cure assignments were to try to identify our own styles,and find visual cues to what appeals. Do I have a style, besides "see what sorta kinda looks OK there?"

Over the weekend I also weeded out three boxes of unwanted books. That might seem like a lot, but we probably have thousands of books distributed on shelves around the house. Out went the dated first aid manuals, middle-school series of dubious literary worth, travel guides from the 80's and 90's, pulp paperbacks. Still need to get Larry to go through those bits on the almost-empty bookcase.


It's a nice large room, with a lot of natural light. Three of the wonderful windows are set in a little rectangular bay. Warm old fir floor that works with the battered desk and bookcases. I'd like to keep to a pale palette with some wood accents, which works with the rest of the house.

Any ideas out there in internet-land?

My goals:
1. Declutter
2. Better organize in a more attractive way the necessary evils of printers, computers, office supplies.
4. Paint walls, or at least patch and blend the dings in the 125 year old horsehair plaster.
5. Replace 25-year old blinds. Perhaps do away with the 80's valences.
6. Visual appeal-
Perhaps replace the baby changing table/dresser that is functioning as our linen closet. Go down to one bookcase? Maybe paint it/them white? They're "cherry" particle-board. Spraypaint? Larry will have a fit.
Hide ugly filing cabinet somehow, or at least clean it up and get the crap off it.
Replace bedspread/pillow shams
Wall decorations--pictures, maybe a wall of good photos

August 2, 2013

Friday in Monferrato--Morning in Vercelli


For a change of pace, today we headed north to the small city of Vercelli, as I'd heard it had an interesting old centro. Vercelli is in the rice producing region, and as we got closer the landscape turned flat, with rice fields stretching off from the road. We maneuvered through the outskirts, and found parking off viale Garibaldi, a street with a tree-shaded pedestrian strip down the middle. We walked over to the Basilica di St. Andrea, a lovely church with elements of Romanesque and Gothic.



As we were slowly walking around, we were greeted by a priest who had been quietly sitting in a pew. He began pointing out parts of the interior, and before we knew it he was unlocking doors, telling us the history of the building, of Vercelli, and the amazing wood carvings, inlaid marble, paintings,and rooms in the Basilica. He had no English, but Larry was pretty much able to keep up with most of the Italian and French. This was such a treat, to be shown around by someone with so much passion and warmth.





From the Basilica, we walked over to the 16th century Cathedral. There was a funeral taking place inside, so we didn't go in. We continued our walk further into the centro, where we found a lively market taking place. This part of Vercelli is quite old, with some interesting and quite elgant architecture. There are a few small museums in the city, but we were happy to just sit with a coffee. We spent some time relaxing, watching Vercelli go about its business.



For lunch, we took a chance on Ristorante Vecchia Brenta, on via Morsone. An old-fashioned looking place decorated in pink and green.The other diners ranged from large family groups to business people to little old ladies. Amusingly, donkey was on the menu several times. We began with a plate of mixed salumi, which included a few very dark, rich slices of salami that may have been from one of those little guys. We then had an excellent vegetable risotto for two, with artichoke and asparagus. This, plus two glasses of good wine, and coffee, was 42 euros.



Back "home" we spent some time beginning to pack up and then just lazed around with some wine and books. Threw together sauteed zucchini, tomatoes and pasta for dinner from the little market under the porticos in Cocconato.

July 29, 2013

Thursday in Monferrato--Two Churches


We had made plans to have lunch with friends in Albugnano, so decided to stay close to home today. We'd been using the very informative guide to Piemonte Romanesque churches from the Asti tourist office to find these little gems. We headed over to Montiglio Monferrato, a short drive from Cocconato. We easily found San Lonrenzo, just outside the town cemetery on via Romano Gianotti.The door was open, and a handwritten sign on the door tells you to go to the local pizzeria for the key if it is locked. The church was dedicated in 1180, and has lovely carvings with pagan and Christian themes--forked sirens, Celtic knots, lambs and lions, a serpent eating its tail.




The oldest part of the village has a castle at the top, which is opened for special events. Sadly, no one was answering the phone at the local tourist office so we weren't able to get inside to see what are supposed to be remarkable frescoes in the chapel. Because the street leading up to the Caastello looked so narrow, I made Larry leave the car at the bottom, and we slowly climbed the hill to the top. Of course several cars passed us, the occupants probably shaking their heads over the crazy tourists walking up. Quite of a few of the old village houses looked abandoned,and there were many For Sale signs. Gorgeous views down.


We met Jenny and Kim at a restaurant they suggested, Il Gelsomino in Albugnano. There's a beautiful terrace with the marvelous view, but unfortunately today it wasn't open because of the harsh wind and a few sprinkles. Several days a week they offer a four-course lunch (with wine!) for 12 euros. We enjoyed several antipasti--robbiola cheese with a tasty jam, "Russian salad", peppers stuffed with tuna. Then pasta, tasty though obviously not homemade agnolotti, followed by roast veal with vegetables, and finally homemade tiramisu. Decent, simple meal, surprisingly bad wine, but fabulous company and conversation.

We drove around the hillsides after lunch, and eventually would up in Cortazzone, to find San Secondo. Both doors of the church were locked. On a bulletin board was a sign to go to the yellow farhouse down the hill, and Sr. Fiori would give you the key. Larry walked down, and when he returned said Sr. Fiori told him the side door was unlocked. He tried, I tried, we both tried,and the door would not budge. Back down, a conversation with Mrs. Fiori, and the long key was found.



The interior has capitals with carvings similar to San Lorenzo's-lions, -birds, peacocks, seashells, forked-tailed sirens, flowers. There's a 14th century fresco above the altar.



Outside, more interesting carvings, particularly on the south side. Above the arches is a very unusual carving. From the little booklet you can get inside for a 3-euro offering:

"..In its primitiveness is meant to refer to a coupling scene, not common in church decoration, and can be explained in prehistoric local traditions. Some interpret the engraving and other signs of fertility, such as the breasts, as favorable to the birth of children and milk in abundance, or as an ex-voto referring to a difficult birth. "


Headed home. Larry enjoyed a pre-dinner nap. We had a light meal at Cantina del Ponte, a simple place in Cocconato. We shared an antipasti of eggplant mousse with red pepper sauce, a plate of salumi, and tajarin with butter, tomato and herbs. And a wonderful bottle of our new favorite wine, Ruche. Dinner was 35 euros, and very pleasant.


Wednesday in Piemonte--Alba and Around


We decided this morning to take a little trip south to revisit two elegant towns we enjoyed on our last Piemonte trip, Alba and Cerasco. Amusingly, we found parking in the same lot we used last time, on the edge of the Centro. We first stopped in the Tourist office for a good map, and then wandered the pretty streets. The last time we were here it was market day, so it was nice to experience Alba on a quieter morning. There were very few others clutching maps or guidebooks, and we enjoyed just walking around, eyeing the rather expensive truffle items displayed in shop windows, stopping for coffee, poking into a church or two. I was amused to see a class of preschoolers being led in fingerplays by their teacher as the other passed out little gelato treats. And seeing that some things are universal, as some children immediately burst into tears when they did not get their first choice of flavors.


I wanted to go to Cherasco, as the last time we were there was on a Monday morning, and the town was firmly shuttered. We spent far too long on the awful truck route south of Alba (where there were several of the roadside prostitutes, I sincerely hope not the same unfortunate women we saw in 2007). We finally arrived in Cherasco, and easily found street parking. Cherasco isn't mentioned much in guidebooks, but it's an interesting Renaissance town to walk around for an hour. Lovely old buildings, a main street bracketed by huge arches, and in cooler weather, several chocolate shops.We didn't think to call ahead to see if we could get into the old Synagogue, which we'll do the next time we're in Piemonte.



By now it was approaching lunchtime. We sat in a shady corner to pull out our phones and look at restaurant reviews. I'm always tugged by places with positive reviews all in Italian, so we called a place just outside Cherasco named Locanda del Prof. It's on an unassuming local road , via Bra 33, in the back of a pink house perched between a seedy-looking motel and an auto parts store. We pulled in, and an elegantly-dressed woman popped out the door to welcome us. They have a tiny patio in the back, where we decided to sit. The owners are a charming older couple, and the food was spectacular.

We began by talking wine. We told the owner that we just wanted a glass apiece instead of a full bottle, what did he have that would be interesting? He brought out an unlabeled bottle from "a friend" for us to taste--a delicious barolo. Yes, please. We ordered carne crudo to share, and a minute later there began a furious pounding sound from inside. We were then served amazing plates of freshly pounded meat, to dress as we pleased. Melt-in-your-mouth. Remembering my marvelous pasta from yesterday, Larry ordered gnocchi with gorgonzola, which was so heavenly he had to guard it from my fork. I had tajarin with an aromatic rago. We split a hazlenut dessert, and ended with espresso. A group of young men accompanied by a large dog shared the patio, and the dog was treated to a dish of meat. If it was the same carne crudo I was eating, that dog had quite the treat. Lunch was 54 euros, a bargain for the quality.



We rolled out and on to Barolo. We parked and walked over to the regional enoteca. Closed on Wednesday! We got a lot of shrugs at the neighboring wine museum when we asked why, as the sign said it should have been open. Ah well, Barolo had plenty of open shops happy to let us taste and purchase. Because of the complexities of packing for Switzerland and Italy, we did not have nearly the baggage room to buy as many bottles as we would have liked, and Larry was not about to pay a premium to have wine shipped. Ah well, another reason to return.


We stopped in La Morra to admire the views, and then attempted to find the Capella della Brunate, the deconsecrated tiny church painted by Sol LeWitt. A sign pointed ambiguously between two roads. We tried both, eventually headed down a steep unpaved road through a vineyard, but didn't see it. We're probably the only tourists in La Morra who blinked and missed it. Ah well, yet one more reason to return.


Drove home, salad and wine for dinner.

About Me

I'm a preschool teacher, cranky before the first cup of coffee, and spend too much money on books. I love throwing parties, and hate doing the laundry. I live outside Boston, MA with my husband Larry, and our two sons in a rambling old house. Read more

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