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August 25, 2008

MEMORIES FROM A YEAR AGO - A TRIP TO ITALY

Last year, at the end of September/first of October, my husband and I had a wonderful trip to Italy. I am missing the beauty and culture of that country (and the food!), and am looking forward to our next visit. We were able to spend 3 weeks visiting Venice, Florence, Rome, and Southern Tuscany. I couldn't begin to say what my favorite area was-they were all unique and special in their own ways. I thought I would share some of my favorite memories.

The canal in front of our Bed & Breakfast in Venice:
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The view from the top of the Campanile in Venice:
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Closeup of the Duomo details in Florence:
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Michelangelo's Pieta in Florence:
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Sant Antimo Abbey:
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Stained Glass in a Church in Montepulciano:
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The Mosaic Floors in the Duomo in Sienna (we were lucky enough to be there when they were uncovered):
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The Swiss Guard at the Vatican:
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The Colosseo in Rome:
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The Fountains at Piazza Navona:
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The Market at Piazza Campo Fiori:
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The Ceiling of Sistine Chapel:
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What a wonderful trip we had, and I'm dreaming of the next...


February 4, 2009

BRUNELLESCHI'S DEATH MASK

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Filippo Brunelleschi 1377-1446

On our trip to Italy in Sept/Oct 2006, we visited the Museo dell-opera del Duomo. There were many fascinating things in this museum. One the the things I was taken by was Brunelleschi's Death Mask. I wasn't sure why I was so moved by this mask. I didn't even know what a death mask was. This is what Wikipedia has to say about it:

In Western cultures a death mask is a wax or plaster cast made of a person's face following death. Death masks may be mementos of the dead, or be used for creation of portraits. It is sometimes possible to identify portraits that have been painted from death masks, because of the characteristic slight distortions of the features caused by the weight of the plaster during the making of the mold. In other cultures a death mask may be a clay or other artifact placed on the face of the deceased before burial rites. The best known of these are the masks used by ancient Egyptians as part of the mummification process, such as Tutankhamon's burial mask.

In the seventeenth century in some European countries, it was common for death masks to be used as part of the effigy of the deceased, displayed at state funerals. During the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries they were also used to permanently record the features of unknown corpses for purposes of identification. This function was later replaced by photography.

Proponents of phrenology and ethnography also used both death masks and life masks (taken from living subjects) for scientific and pseudoscientific purposes.

February 25, 2009

CANAL PHOTOS FROM VENICE

Today, I thought I'd show you a few photos I took when we were in Venice. I'm sure everyone's whose been there would agree that the canals make some of the most beautiful photos.

This first photo is taken just outside the B&B where we stayed-it's the yellow building on the right.
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This next one is another pretty canal.
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And this last photo is of some georgeous teak boats. My husband was drooling over these.
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September 27, 2010

I'm in Italy!!!

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Okay, I didn't think I was going to blog while on vacation, but I have wireless internet connection at our apartment so I changed my mind. I think it will be a great way to put everything in writing.

We left Anchorarage at 6am on the 25th. We flew on Alaska Air to Seattle. We spent the night at a hotel close to the airport on the 24th, so it made that 6am flight a little easier. We had a couple of hours in Seattle before our Air France flight left for Paris. Luckily, we have a pass to the Ak Air board room, so we were able to hang out there. We then boarded the plane to Paris, and was pleasantly suprised with how nice the business class on Air France was. About 45 minutes after departure, they began the lunch/dinner service. We had champagne as we departed, then were given a menu from which to make our choices. Scott had a beef steak of some sort, and I had a chicken stew (chicken, baby carrots, baby turnips, leeks, and a potoato in a nice light sauce). That was after an amuse bouche of crab salad, and a starter of duck breast, herb mayonnaise, and a few other things I can't remember. I skipped dessert, but it was a trio of small chocolate tortes. The flight was about 9 1/2 hours long, and after the lights dimmed, the seats were put into a flat (or almost flat) position, I tried to sleep. It didn't work.

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September 28, 2010

9-28-10 Bevagna - Umbria, Italy

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Today we spent the entire day in Bevagna, the small town we're staying at for 5 nights. On our last visit to Italy, I didn't have any problems with jetlag until going back home. Unfortunately, not this time. Today it hit me hard. I think I only slept about 1 hour last night, so I was dragging today. That made it a good day to take it easy and just walk around the town.

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September 29, 2010

9-29-10 Spello, Umbria, Italy

Today we spent the day in Spello. It's a very beautiful town. The streets are beautifully made, and there are flowers everywhere. Here's a photo of what some of the houses look like.
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September 30, 2010

9-30-10 Driving to Spoletto

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Today, we got a late start. After a cappucino and cornetto, we headed off towards Spoletto. We bought a new GPS with Italy maps before we left, and it's been invaluable. We took the backroads to get to Spello, and it was a beautiful drive. The grapes are being harvested right now, and we passed many vineyards yet to be harvested, and the vines were so pretty with their full bunches of grapes.
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We stopped many times along the way, so didn't get to Spoletto until after noon. We walked around a while, then sat in a beautiful park and enjoyed the picnic we had brought along-a bottle of Prosecco, bread, cheese, salami, tomatoes, cookies and fruit. Maybe it was the bottle of wine, or maybe we were just tired after walking a couple of hours already, but we only visited a few places after that. We went to the Duomo and had a look around. A very beautiful church. There was a lot of construction going on, so a lot of it was covered with scaffolding. Maybe we missed a large part of Spoletto, because I didn't like the town. It just didn't have the quaintness that the other towns we've been in have had.

After leaving Spoletto, we took a very windy and roundabout way back to Bevagna. Here is a photo of the breathtaking scenery.
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I took a nap when we got back home, then we headed out for dinner. Although there were other restaurants in town we wanted to try, we decided to go back to the one where we had eaten a couple of days earlier. We didn't get there until 8:30pm, and there was only one other table of two. I think tourist season is over here in Bevagna. We had another very good dinner. I started with Zuppa di Farro.
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Scott started with Risotto with Porcini Mushrooms.
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These Primi dishes were enough to fill us up, but we had ordered Secondi. I had Tagliata di Manzo con rucola. It was the most tender and flavorful beef I've had in Italy.
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Scott had pork stuffed with sausage. It was also very flavorful.
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Tonight's dinner with 2 Primi, 2 Secondi, 1/2 liter of house wine, a bottle of water and the coperto charge was 49 euros.

It's time to go wake up Scott. We're not used to having a really dark room to sleep in, and the shutters on the windows here do such a good job. I haven't decided where we're going today-it's our last day in Umbria, as we check out in the morning and he1ad towards Tuscany. Maybe Assissi. You'll find out where we went in my post tomorow. Ciao

October 1, 2010

10-1-10 Montefalco

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Today we were going to go to Assisi, but decided to stay in small uncrowded places instead. We drove the backroads to Montefalco, another beautiful drive with acres of vineyards and olive tree fields.

The town of Montefalco was easy to find, and the parking was very easy. The town was not crowded at all, again, having me think that tourist season must be over. The first shop I had to visit was the Pardi shop. I would have liked to purchase a table cloth, but I forgot to measure the length of my table before leaving, so I didn't want to take the chance of purchasing the wrong size. So I bought 2 table runners, 2 placemats, and 6 napkins. All very beautiful. And I couldn't believe what a great price they were.

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10-2-10 Leaving Bevagna

Sorry, but today you don't get to see any photos of our dinner we had last night. I forgot to take them at the beginning, then decided against just taking one or two. We had our last dinner in Bevagna, and decided to eat at Ottavius Ristorante. I had read a good review on SlowTrav, although I had read the service wasn't good. Unfortunately, this was our least favorite meal so far. We didn't have reservations, but that didn't seem to be a problem as it was very slow. We were shown to our seats, and were not even given a moment to remove our rain coats before the hostess/waitress wanted to know what kind of water we want and shoved menus in our hands. There appeared to be only two people working. One, the Italian lady who wasn't very friendly, and one very nice lady who also spoke some English. They didn't have two of the things we had ordered from the menu, so after deciding again what to eat, I started with proscuitto and melon. Both were good, especially teh proscuitto. I think the menu said it was from Norcia. It's not as delicate as Parma proscuitto, but I think I like the flavor better. Scott started with the Stringozzi pasta with Piccanti sauce. The pasta was really good, the sauce was just okay. Next, I had the Gnocchi al Sagrantino, which is their specialty. I have to say this dish was very good. The gnocchi was a little heavier than I prefer, but the sauce was perfect. Scott had the Scottadito di Agnello, and the lamb was just okay. Scott is o
n the search for the best Tiramisu, so he had to have this, and it was very good. With a 10E bottle of wine, and a bottle of water, the total was 57E.

I awoke again at 5:30am, which I've done most days here. Not really sure why, because I don't get up at that time at home. I've been packaging up my goodies I've bought so far, and am wishing I'd brought more bubble wrap from home. Here's my list of purchases so far:

Amarena Cherry Marmalade
Ground Black Truffle paste
Orange honey
Truffle honey
Truffled sauce
Fig jam
Fig confit (figs, chocolate, liquor)
Umbrian olive oil
1 bottle of Sagrantino wine
2 bags of Barlotti beans
Lenticchia(tiny lentils)
Farro Perlato
Farro Cannellini
Cannellini beans
Chicchi Bronzi Classici(at this store, she said it's a tiny pasta that is added to risotto or cooked like risotto)
4 Pardi dish towels
2 Pardi runners
2 Pardi placemats
6 Pardi napkins

Considering it's only a week into our vacation, I hope I have the room (and money) to bring back the wonderful things I'll now find in Tuscany, then in Paris.

I don't know if I will have internet access at our next apartment in Tuscany, and we're there for 7 nights. Hopefully I will and you'll keep hearing from me, but if you don't, it means no internet access was available.

October 2, 2010

10-2-10 The drive from Bevagna to Civitella Marittima

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Today we checked out of our apartment in Bevagna, and began the drive to Civitella Marittima. We could have gone the easy way, but no, we decided we wanted the slower scenic view. We passed through some majestic places, but as usual when we're driving the backroads in Italy, it was stressful. At least for me. We got turned around multiple times again today, but between the GPS and the map, we made it in time for our check-in at Casina di Rosa.

You can see from the photos above that the fields have turned golden brown. I think these colors are so pretty. I wonder what the hills would look like in the green springtime, but I can't imagine they have the variety of shades that are there this time of year.

We checked into Casina di Rosa, and got to see first-hand the wonderful remodeling they have done. Last time we stayed here, we loved it, and I think it will be even better this time.

We were too tired to think about going to the grocery store or even finding a restaurant for dinner, so I unpacked some of the items I had bought to bring home. We had pasta with trufffle sauce, along with a nice bottle of wine that Gloria and Marcel had provided us with.

I'm not sure I'll be blogsging every day, but will keep in touch at least every few days. I think tomorrow we will visit Sienna. It's supposed to be a warm sunny day, much different than last time we were there when it was cold and rainy.


October 3, 2010

10-3-10 Siena

Today we visited Siena. When we were there in 2007, we spent one day in Siena and didn’t care for it. We had had a terrible time finding parking, and then it rained most of the time we were there, so we knew we needed to go back and see if our first impression was wrong.
It was a nice day, so perfect for Siena. We had a little trouble finding parking again, but eventually found a garage that worked out perfectly. It was close to escalators that go up into town so you don’t have to walk up an incline I can’t imagine.

This time we did really enjoy Siena. We did discover where all of the people that weren’t in Umbria were though. It was very busy and crowded here today. That did make me realize why I like the small villages. We bought a pass that allowed us in to many sights for only 10E.

We first went to the Duomo. I was so happy to see that the beautiful mosaic tile floors were uncovered again. It was hard to get photos that didn’t have a lot of glare on them, but I managed some.
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Among other areas we visited was also Santa Maria della Scala. The ceilings here were amazing.
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We had gelato before lunch. I can't believe this is the only 2nd time we've had it in over a week. This place, which I don't remember the name, was really good. We both had a chocolate truffle and I had pistachio and Scott had tiramisu.
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For lunch, we hunted up Tattoria La Tellina, a tratorria that my friend Bonnie in Alaska sent me to. We had a nice lunch, and visited a little with Concetta, the owner.
We started with an Antipasto Misto.
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Next I had a pici with a simple tomato sauce.
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Scott had a Porcini Mushroom Risotto.

All of the food was good, but not the best I’d eaten. My pici was cooked too soft. With a half litre of house wine and a bottle of water, the total was 36.50E.

After a long walk to the train station to purchase tickets from Grosetto to Rome next Saturday, we took the bus back into the center of town. We went through a few more places (Crypt, etc.), we only purchased a few things today. I bought a couple of Panforte, the Sienese specialty, and a bottle of Brunello wine. I also picked up a jar of Tomato and Garlic sauce, and we had a simple dinner tonight of pasta with the sauce and the nice Brunello.
I’m not sure where we’re going tomorrow, but hopefully you’ll find out tomorrow night.

October 4, 2010

10-4-10 Drive to the Coast and a Wonderful Dinner

Today we knew it was most likely going to rain, so we planned on an activity where we would be inside most of the time. That was driving from Civitella Marittima south along the coast to Porta Santo Stefano and Porto Ercole.

We drove this same drive in 2007, and on that day it was a beautiful sunny day. That type of a day makes the drive a lot prettier. Today the drive was nice, but when it’s pouring rain part of the time, it’s not the same.

Here are some photos of Porto Santo Stephano and the drive up high around the area. Last visit the port here was full of yahcts, but not so this time. I guess the season is over.
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October 6, 2010

10-5-10 Montalcino

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Yesterday we went to Montalcino. I was too tired to blog last night, so let’s see if I can remember how the day went. We started out with a cloudy day, and before we got to Montalcino, it was absolutely pouring. We had to find a place to pull off the road, because you couldn’t see anything. Luckily, that downpour didn’t last too long, and it just turned into a lighter rain.
When we visited Montalcino in 2007, we had lunch at Il Moro, a ristorante which I’d read serves mainly locals. We decided to eat here again, since we had such a good meal last time. Part of the thing that made our meal so nice last time was the atmoshphere. We were seated on a very small deck off the back of the restaurant, and enjoyed a great meal with a great view. This time, we had to sit inside, as it was raining.
I started with pici with ragu sauce, and Scott started with Paparadella with Chingiale(wild boar) sauce.
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For my secondi, I had Guinea Fowl in Vin Santo, and Scott had Rabbit in Brunello wine sauce. 10-5-10%20Lunch%20in%20Montalcino-Il%20Moro%20Guniea%20Fowl%20in%20Vin%20Santa.jpg
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The food was very good, but not as good as we remembered last time. The biggest disappointment was in dessert. Scott ordered Tiramisu, and it wasn’t home made. It was previously frozen, still mainly frozen, and not very good. Oh, well. Again, I think the idealistic setting had a lot last time with how perfect a meal it was.

With 2 primis, 2 secondi, and a ½ liter of house wine,and 1 dolci, the total was 43euros.
After lunch, we enjoyed the town of Montalcino. My only disappointment was not finding the shop where I bought some pottery last time. I made the mistake of not trying to find an old receipt and getting an address, and as we wondered through town we never found the store. I don’t know if he was off the beaten path and we just didn’t see him, or if he’s no longer in business, I just know that I’m not able to match what I have with a few additional pieces I would have really liked.

I can’t hardly keep my eyes open tonight, so I’ll try to blog in the morning about our day today, which was in Pienza.

October 7, 2010

10-6-10 Monte Oliveto Maggiore and Pienza

Yesterday we went to Monte Oliveto Maggiore abby and to Pienza. I’m behind on my blogging, and it’s hard to remember all of the wonderful things we’re seeing from day to day, but I’ll try.
On our drive there, we had an amazing experience. We saw a hillside of sheep, and decided to pull over to take some photos. As soon as we stopped we heard the hundreds of bells. All of those sheep had bells on, and with every movement they rang. Even across the large hillside and quite a distance from us, you could hear the choir of bells. I could have set there all day listening to them. It was a very special experience.
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We arrived at Monte Oliveto Maggiore only ½ hour before closing time. That meant that we had very little time to look at the famous fresco cycle. After a too quick glance, we headed for the cantina to taste the wine they make there. We tasted the red, and didn’t care much for it. We then went to the shop where they sell other goodies they produce there at the abbey. I purchased more farro and ceci beans (why am I buying all of these beans and grains???). I also bought some flavored honey, and 2 liquors-Grappa e Frutti di Bosco and Flora di MonteOliveto. Luckily, they had these in small sized bottles.

Next, we continued on to Pienza. We arrived about lunchtime, and decided to eat at Ristorante Dal Falco. I had read several good reviews. We were able to get a table outside, so that was very nice on a sunny day.
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We started off with an appetizer of Pecorino and assorted meats from the Crete Sienese pig. And an order of Bruschetta with Pomodori.
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Next, Scott had the gnocchi with truffle sauce. It was not good. The gnocchi were good, but the sauce was not. We never could put our finger on what was wrong with it.
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I had a pici pasta with what was supposed to be chingiale sauce, but was just a meat ragu. It was good though.
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With 2 antipasti, 2 primi, ½ liter of house wine and water, the total was 40.50 Euro.

Next, we waddled (oops, I mean walked) our way around the town. We were on a mission to buy Pecorino cheese to bring home. The first shop we went in was extremely busy, and there was no way we were going to get any help from the one man working there. We went to a different shop, and ended up with 3 cheeses. The first was a 2 kg Pecorino Vecchio. The second was a 1.5 kg round of Pecorino Semi-Stragionato. And the third was a small Ricotta Salata. I’ve never tasted Ricotta Salata. I’ve tried to buy it before, but never had any luck in finding it. So another addition to my cheeses.
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My only other purchases were 3 bars of fragrant soap.

After arriving back home, we knew we were going to eat dinner at Locanda Nel Cassero again. I had been dreaming of the pumpkin potato gnocchi with truffle sauce that Scott had a few nights earlier. I started with a terrine of pheasant and chicken. It was served on a bed of greens and had various mushrooms on top. All served cold. It was very good, and different than things I had been eating, which was a positive thing.
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Scott started with the Lasagnette with mushrooms. It also was heavenly. Rich bechamel sauce, cheesey, mushrooms, all between layers of homemade pasta. Then placed in the oven to make the top brown and the edges crispy.
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My next course was the gnocchi, and Scott had the Rabbit that I had a few nights ago. Scott had dessert, an interesting cheesecake. Not dense at all, graham-cracker type crust, and not too sweet. Served with some type of sauce-maybe fig, that was very sweet and paired perfectly with it. Another bottle of wine. It was another night of going to bed being absolutely stuffed.

10-7-10 Montepulciano

Yesterday I woke up with one thought-I’m actually tired of food. And wine. My stomach is now pulsating-in, out, in, out. It gets bigger with each meal, then shrinks a little as I sleep. The problem is that it isn’t shrinking back to it’s original size, but slowing finding a new “normal” to start from. But unfortunately, I knew this feeling of being tired of food and wine would only last until I saw the next menu. And I was right.

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Yesterday was another beautiful day. Sunny skies, with enough of a breeze to keep it from getting too warm. Our plan was to visit Montipulciano. We got a rather late start, and arrived in Montepulciano in time for lunch. When we were there in 2007, we visited there, but neither of us remembered it except for climbing the tower.

I really liked this town this visit. It’s large enough to see a variety of things-areas busy with tourists, but also winding narrow alleys with no one around.

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October 12, 2010

10/8/10 Sorano, Sovana, and Pitigliano

I've gotten really behind on blogging. I just got where it felt like a chore and I just couldn't do it. Tonight, I'm sitting in our apartment in Paris, and I'm going to try to get caught up. It's hard to blog about a Italy when we're now in France.

On the 8th, we drove to the area of Sorano, Sovana, and Pitigliano. The first town we visited was Sorono.

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My guidebook mentioned that this is an area where there are a lot of caves and tombs cut into the tufa hillside. We only visited part of the village. We walked around an old castle area. It was quite interesting.

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Casina di Rosa 10-2-10 to 10-9-10

For our week in Tuscany, we stayed at Casina di Rosa. This is owned by Gloria and Marcel, and it's a wonderful house to rent.

This was our second stay here. We like how centrally it's located. It's in the small village of Civitella Marittima, but it is just off the highway. This makes it very easy to get to Sienna, Montalcino, Montepulciano, and the southern areas of Pitiliano, etc. Also other areas, including the coastal areas of the Maremma. Here's a view of the surrounding area from the village.

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The house is a small house that recently has had some renovations done to it. We loved the house before, and it's even better now. The kitchen is completely new.

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One of the great things about this rental is that Gloria and Marcel have provided everything you could want for your stay there. There's also a fireplace in the kitchen. We've never used it, but it works well. The bedroom now has a sitting area at one end.

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I like that you have two separate areas, because if one person stays up later or gets up earlier, the other can stay in the kitchen area without disturbing the other person.

The village has a couple of bars, bakeries, groceries, a butcher, and a fresh pasta store. And Paganico is only a 10 minute drive away if you want a large grocery store.

10-10-10 Rome

The day in Rome was our last one in Italy. We knew 1 day in Rome wouldn't be much, but other than Paris, we were trying to visit smaller places this visit. We spent the day just walking around Rome and looking at the sites. We didn't go inside anything. We were suprised at how many tourists seemed to be there. In the other places in Italy we had visited, tourist season was about over. Here,it was mobs of people everywhere. We tried to go into the Pantheon, and it was so crowed we decided not even to completely go inside.

We stayed at a B&B that was a very short distance to the Colleseum. It was a perfect location. We spent quite a bit of time enjoying the sunshine in Piazza Novona.

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We enjoyed a half bottle of wine, then decided to stay and have lunch. Again, can't remember the name of the restaurant, and my notes are not accessible right now. We started with an order of proscuitto and melon.

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Then I had spaghetti with clams.

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Scott had a combination plate of lasagne and torellini.

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It was a great location for people-watching. One of the funniest things to us is how bundled up Italians dress, even when it's not very cold out. I ended up in tank top by the end of the day, but I saw people in down coats!

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Scott also found a car that he'd really like to have. Do you think it's the right size for him?

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It was interesting to see the Colosseum both at day, and at night. I figured it would be lit up at night, but didn't expect the lights to be red.

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We really enjoyed our time in Italy, and we're now in Paris, so I'll begin blogging about that tomorrow.

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