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July 2007 Archives

July 1, 2007

A Relaxing Sunday

Sunday, July 1

I got up at 7, caffeinated, and we spent an hour at the Internet spot across from our hotel. Then we had another latte and a cornetto at the corner caffe, and I read while Brad went out in search of new reading glasses, after losing his yesterday (now a tradition in Italy). He returned quickly with two new very attractive pair of cheaters. While I sat in the caffe, I had a lovely surprise of a “Welcome to Italy” phone call from Slow Travel friend, Jane in Greve.

We walked to the Furla store looking for a white handbag. Eureka! After our VERY patient sales girls brought out at least a dozen bags, I ended up buying two purses, a necklace, earrings, a fun watch, and a pair of flip-flops with dangling heart charms (hoping these might accommodate my festering blister). We still had an hour before our 1:00 lunch reservation, so we PAINFULLY walked to the Arno in search of a cold drink. My blister on my bunion is now purple, the size of a grape, and ripe to burst. Brad seems to have a theory, that I walk just FINE with a little vino. We sat at Harry’s Bar, and I found comfort in a glass of prosecco, while Brad enjoyed a beer.

Lunch at I Latini was a fun experience. We started with racioli and penne with meat sauce. Our secondi were a delicious roast pork with delicately fried zucchini blossoms. When I began speaking Italian to our waiter, we received a more attentive level of service, and all of our food was great. We had a bottle of wine from Sardenia, and I bought Brad a cigar ashtray with a rendition of the restaurant in the center. We took a short rest after lunch.

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At 4:00. We got our car from the garage, and drove to the Oltrarno to pick up Sheri and Joe for our ride to Fiesole. The GPS got us to Piazza Carmine, and then to the glorious Villa San Michele. As we drove up, the driveway was lined with Bentleys, Porsches, Ferraris and top of the line BMWs. The façade of this 15th centuray monastery was designed by Michaelangelo. We entered the lobby, and to get to the bar, walked up onto an altar, then turned through a portal leading to the monastary’s dining room, and out to a stunning loggia overlooking Florence in the distance. I explored the grounds with terraced gardens bursting with flowers.

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We parked ourselves on this terrace for the next 2.5 hours, where the ladies enjoyed prosecco, and later, coffee, and the guys had a beer, and our driver, Brad, switched to Coke Light. We had the lovliest SLOW conversations in this gorgeous and relaxed setting.

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We returned to Florence at 8:00 and went to see Sheri and Joe’s large apt. at Residenza Il Carmine, and then returned to our hotel. Brad was great at navigating traffic in Florence, and only ran one red light that we know of. We had a quick snack of a proscuitto and fontina foccace and walked to the nearest gelato shop. I had a scoop of dolce latte, and Brad had “Mr. Nico” (peanut and chocolate). We were asleep by 11:00.

July 2, 2007

Firenze Shopping

Ok, I was BAD, but then we knew I would do a little damage in Florence.
Here are my scrapbook, 2 Furla purses, some beads, jewelry, a watch, placecards and a shawl.

NOT pictured are 8 Christmas gifts which must remain nameless, as my friends read this blog! Also not pictured are a beautifully wrapped necklace, and another silk shawl, and my flip-flops!

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The leather I bought from "Stella" (Diva's friends) is hard to describe. I bought a beautiful black suede shawl with a lacy cutwork design and a shirt-jacket (lightweight for the desert) out of the same fabric. This photo doesn't do them justice, but you'll get the idea...

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Finally, after collecting Italy charms for three trips...here is a bracelet for them!

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July 3, 2007

Pisa and Florence

July 2, 2007

We had a lazy morning, beginning at 8 a.m. when we picked up a few gifts at the San Lorenzo Market, stopped at the Internet spot, and lingered over a couple of lattes. We got our car, and picked up my bracelet with the charms I brought from home attatched, and headed to Pisa. As soon as we got on the autostrada, we came to a stop. Italians got out of their cars, pacing the highway and smoking cigarettes. We read our books in the car...for 40 minutes! We let Gloria know it would be a LATE lunch. When we got going, Brad made up for lost time by driving like a bat...well you know. We arrived at Gloria's apartment a little after 2 for an Italian late lunch. What a delight to finally meet Gloria and her charming fiance, Marcel!

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We spent a lovely couple of hours enjoying gnocchi and risotto in the University area where Gloria works. It is SO lovely to meet Slow Travel friends in person. Gloria was enthusiastic about the U.S. Bridal magazines I brought her, as she and Marcel are planning to wed next June. They make a terrific couple!

We drove back to Florence, and the GPS is working well for us! I had my last Florence shopping fix on the way to dinner, buying a shawl and necklace and two gifts in a lovely shop on the way to the Oltrarno.

Our dinner at Osteria Chingale Bianco was fabulous! I will do a separate blog with photos later, as now we are ready to leave Firenze!

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Dinner at Osteria Chingale Bianco

We walked to the Oltrarno from our hotel near San Lorenzo, and found the restaurant busy with wonderful scents coming from within. We began our “Last Night in Firenze Dinner” with strozzapretti for me, and spagettini with a delicious pesto for Brad. We had a great Pinot Grigio, and I asked the chef for the recipe: cooked spinach (pureed), ricotta, eggs, parmigano, then rolled in flour and boiled for 5 minutes. Does that sound correct, Diva? These were served in a butter sauce with a splash of cream if my taste buds are accurate. They MELTED in your mouth!!!

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For our secondi, Brad had chingale with polenta, and I had a grilled veal chop. We shared a panna cotta with ciocolato on Brad’s half. This was a terrific food memory for our last dinner in Firenze!

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July 4, 2007

Firenze to San Gimignano to Montalcino

We packed, loaded the car and left Florence about 11 a.m.. We spent about three hours in San Gimignano. The first order of business, was stashing our luggage, as we had one large piece that didn’t fit in the packed trunk. We drove up to the Hotel Antico Poggio, and luckily, I remembered the clerk, Elisabetta (and she remembered me from last May), who graciously stored our bag for a few hours. It was like “old home week”, as next I popped into a tiny shop where I had purchased a gazillion pashminas last year. Sylvia, greeted me with “ Palma, Palma from California!!!”

We stopped for coffe and gelato, and then I did a laser strike through town. In about an hour, I purchased two purses, two gifts, three pieces of jewelry, Ida’s birthday present (we will see her Thursday in Montalcino), and the big ticket item…

This year, at our favorite ceramic shop in town, we bought two large jars to use as planters on either side of our pool.

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On to Montalcino!

Montalcino: Grappolo Blu

We arrived in Montalcino, checked into Albergo Il Giglio, and got all our luggage up to the second floor without an elevator. Our room has a fabulous view from our window. We parked ourselves at Caffe Fiaschetteria Italiana and relaxed in the piazza with a latte and vino, people-watching for a couple of hours. I visited a couple of shopkeepers I know (Massimo from the linen store, and mi amica at La Bottrguccia). I bought an Etro necklace, and a pair of sandals that fit over my now HUGE blister pad. (No more pain, as it has popped twice and been lanced by Dr. Brad once!)

We freshened up for dinner, and had a wonderful meal at Grappolo Blu. I started with pinci with ragu, and Brad enjoyed an unusual sardine appetizer with pesto bruschetta and garbanzo beans.

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For secondi, I had the delicious formaggio with miele, and Brad had coniglio stewed in Brunello. We finished a bottle of Vernaccia, and were too full for dessert. Brad bought some wonderful surprise gifts, (which must remain a secret)!

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We walked to Kaffina, an internet caffe, but could not hook up our Mac to their wi-fi.

Morning in Montalcino

I woke at 5:30 to a pink sunrise out our window, and the sound of roosters crowing. By 6:00, I decided to go out for a walk. The streets were deserted, and I enjoyed a stroll around town... even before caffiene. This must have been more Italian magic, as usually I can't even dress myself, let alone form words or phrases before coffee. Montalcino was mine until I saw one adorable stooped old gentleman with his dog, and uttered a "Buon Giorno". I walked a few blocks, then headed back to the piazza to watch morning life unfold.

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Wonderful scents of bread and fresh pastry came from the pasticcieria. Two women set up the newsstand. Others washed floors in the two still-closed caffes on Piazza Popolo. The garbage trucks came by at 6:50, followed by the street cleaner woman, and another girl with a broom. Fresh pastry was delivered to Alle Logge di Piazza at 6:55. Two more locals walked their dogs.

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At 7:00 sharp, two carbinieri pulled up to the caffe for a quick espresso, and my prayer for a latte was answered. The caffe was now aperto! I felt like I had stepped into Isabella Dusi's, "Vanilla Beans and Brodo". By 7:30, I had scarffed down a big latte and a still-warm donut-like pastry. The sky was a brilliant blue, and the earlier breeze had died down. There were others in the caffe, and the flower shop opened. Men and women chatted on the street. Oh yes, I could do this every morning!

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I returned at 8:00 and met Brad in the Giglio's breakfast room for more coffee, while he ate a torta di mele in honor of the 4th of July. Then I began the frustrating search for a gift I had made for Jane, and several other Slow Travel friends. The small package was nowhere in our luggage. Either it is still somewhere at home, or it was taken from our luggage during the TSA airport inspection. I'm hoping it will turn up in Palm Desert!

Lunch with Jane, Ken and Casey in Buonconvento

We left Montalcino for our short drive to meet Jane, Ken and Casey in Buonconvento. They greeted us a few minutes before noon at the designated bar across from the train station. We hugged like old friends, though it was our first meeting. Casey was pleased with his stash of Skittles candy.We parked near a portal of this flat, walled town, and Jane said they hoped to find a watch for Casey's birthday tomorrow. My radar said, "The shopping street should be that way"... and it was. In 50 yards I pointed to a jewelry shop with a SWATCH sign in the window, and Casey made his selection. Jane laughed that I found the right shop in less than three minutes.

We entered the Museo d' Arte Sacra and wandered through three floors of Madonna icons. We enjoyed the brief cultural experience, and were quite impressed with Casey's knowledge of sacred art.

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After our brief tour of tiny Buonconvento, we went to the restaurant, I Poggioli for pranzo. Brad and I enjoyed our meal of pici con cacio e pepe, and shared order of grilled salsiccia, but the company and conversation were even better.

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We stayed so long, talking, that the restaurant was closing, and finally asked us to leave. We will be able to get together again with Jane's family at the Umbria GTG, and again in Greve.

Before heading back to Montalcino, we took a drive to the charming village of Bagno Vignoni and strolled around the central bath. It was a perfect and easy short side-trip on our way home.

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When we returned to the hotel, a nap was just what we needed. I slept like the dead for over two hours with a nice breeze blowing in our window. We sat in the piazza to revive me with a latte, and later wine. We enjoyed that spot for over two hours!

We wandered back to the hotel for antipasti in Il Giglio's restaurant, then some wine, a pot of coffee for me, and grappa for Brad. It has a been a lovely and relaxing day... with no additional shopping bags in our room!

July 5, 2007

Montalcino and Lunch in Pienza

Another picture postcard day in the Val d' orcia!
After coffee, Brad and I took a walk through the various contradas of Montalcino. Some of those streets are pretty steep, but we enjoyed the quiet, pretty residential neighborhoods, some with gardens, and many with flowers by their entries.

Ida and Bill arrived around noon, and after they checked in, we drove to Pienza. We gave them the "nickle tour" of Pienza, and were sitting at Latte di Luna for lunch. After ordering, I got up to walk from our table on the terrace to an area just outside the restaurant to have a smoke, when two women stopped me. One said, "Excuse me, are you on SLOW TRAVEL?" It seems they are "lurkers" from England, and visiting southern Tuscany for 2 weeks. They recognized me! I am a famous Slow Traveler!
Their names are Helen and Kate from London! We chatted about Italy travel, and I encouraged them to become more active ST members. You just never know who reads a blog!!!

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For lunch, Brad and I shared pici in ragu, and I had maile arosto, while he had duck with olives. We bought some pecorino, and drove 5K to visit L'Olmo, where we have stayed in the past. We continued our lovely drive toward Sinalunga, and spent a couple of hours at Locanda dell' Amorosa. We wandered the grounds and had drinks in their "piazza".

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Montisi

Our final stop on the drive was the tiny town of Montisi. This was quite a pleasant surprise. Montisi is a compact town wrapped around a central castello. Only 5 K from Pienza, it has not yet been dicovered by many tourists, and maintains the feel of a "real" hilltown. Brad and I will be joining Gail and John, for a week in May 2008 with http://www.gailsgreatescapes.com/. Also joining us that week will be other Slow Travel friends: Sandi and her sister, and Jerry and Paul. We thought we'd get a "sneak preview" of the town. Gail suggested we contact her friend, Elizabeth Cochrane, an accomplished artist who lives in Montisi http://www.elizabethcochrane.com/. We called Liz, and she invited us to her home and studio. What a treat to see where Liz's gorgeous watercolor and oils are painted. She has an amazing talent for capturing light and shadows, and her scenes of Montisi, olive and cypress trees, the Tuscan counrtyside, and florals are stunning.
Liz also teaches group and individual art classes.

After visiting Liz's studio, we walked through town. She knew the group that was currently renting the villa Gail's groups will be staying in. The front door was open, so she asked if she could show us the house. The families from Seattle were most gracious, and allowed us to wander through the beautiful villa while they were preparing dinner. It is spectacular! The garden, terraces, pool and views are even better! I now will have even more to fantasize about for our May trip!

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Next, we walked through town to the Rondo Bar and had wine and antipasti on the terrace. We had platters of four salamui, formaggio, and bruschetta. Later, we moved indoors for pizza, and coffee before driving back to Montalcino for the evening.

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Tonight I will sleep well, dreaming of just what scene I'd like to comission Liz to paint. Every view of the Val d' Orcia is so gorgeous, how does one choose?

July 6, 2007

Castello Banfi and Saint Antimo

I was downstairs by 6:30 after a great night’s sleep. I had a pot of coffee before Ida came down and we headed ro my caffe for another couple of lattes and a stroll through town. We relaxed, and read and I caught up on my journal.

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We went to Il Grifo for a light lunch, saving ourselves for tonight’s big dinner. I had a plate of pecorino with pears and a glass of Banfi chardonnay. After lunch, we drove to Castello Banfi for wine tasting. Ida and I sampled three whites: Chardonnay, Savignon Blanc, and Pinot Grigio…still my favorite. The boys sampled Brunello, Rosso di Montalcino, and some super Tuscans. We bought 12 assorted bottles, including some Dolcetto and Brachetto di Acqui.

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From there we took a white road shortcut to Saint Antimo. It was Ida’s first experience on a white road. She was freaked out and sure something would happen and we would “never be found”. Though it was my third visit to Saint Antimo, there is SUCH a magical quality to the place…such awesome silence, that it always moves me to tears. Lavender was in bloom, and it was a beautiful warm day.

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Birthdays and Poggio Antico

We returned to Montalcino and took a lovely 2 hour nap before getting ready for dinner. We met Ida and Bill downstairs and exchanged birthday gifts. Ida gave me a gold purse charm for my bracelet and a lovely bronze charm. She loved her ceramic fruit bowl for her house in Vico.

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We drove to dinner at the beautiful Poggio Antico. The entry is an impressive cypress-lined driveway.

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We were seated on the stunning terrace and offered an appertivo and a complementary mini caprese salad. This is the loveliest terrace with cypress trees, candles on the tables with lovely linens, lemon print cushions, and a HUGE fig tree.

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Cena a Poggio Antico

We shared an antipasto plate of proscuitto, soprasotta, and culatello di Zibello. My primi was pici in a white lamb ragu. Brad had a wonderful porcini risotto. We both had grilled lamb chops in a delicious Brunello reduction sauce. We enjoyed 2 bottles of Roero Arneis and Brad had a marscpone-caffe gelato for dolci. We lingered with our wine and coffee until 11:00. It was a lovely, peaceful day with a luscious dinner.

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July 7, 2007

Ciao Montalcino...Benvenuto a Umbria

We packed, had coffee with Bill and Ida, and I caught up my blog with yesterday’s photos. We left a little after Ida and Bill, and set off for Umbria, passing beautiful scenery along the way. We drove past Perugia, with Silvanna’s good directions, and the closer we got to Le Case Gialle, the more sunflower fields we saw.

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We arrived at Case Gialle at noon, hoping to just drop off our large bag from the back seat, but our apartment was ready. We received a warm greeting and instructions from Silvanna. We unloaded the car, settled in, and walked around the property. The view of Montefalco from our large terrace is stunning. The apartment is large, with a well-stocked kitchen, bedroom with the same view, and a huge terrace with door to either the kitchen or bedroom.

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Bevagna and Le Case Gialle

By 1:00, we were starving, so we drove to Bevagna in search of lunch. We arrived at Occtavio at 1:45, their last customers for pranzo. Brad ordered gnocchi Sagrantino, and I had a delicious picchiatelli with guanciale and pecorino.

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After lunch we walked through the sweet little town of Bevagna. There were charming little streets with multiple arches overhead that appear to keep the buildings on either side from leaning in toward each other. We walked through the whole town after getting a map from the tourist office. Bevagna has an ancient Roman theater, and several charming piazzas.

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From Bevagna, we drove 10K to Foligno in search of a supermarket. This was Brad’s first experience in an Italian grocery store, so he learned how to get the grocery cart for a Euro, choose his loaf of fresh bread, and bag his groceries. We were next in line at he cashier, when a tiny, ancient lady came up behind us with only a few items. I told her to go ahead of us. She thanked us and proceeded to speak rapidly in Italian for the neck several minutes while I kept smiling and nodding. I understood about 75% of what she said. When Brad asked me what she said, I translated: “I live alone now, so I don’t need much and I don’t cook much, but I like my fresh bread, but I don’t make it any more. My husband of 65 years died, and I am 93 years old.”

She asked me how long we had been in Italy. I told her we had been here one week so far, and we were staying another two weeks in Italy. I said we come every year, but this was only our second visit to Umbria, and our first day in Foligno. I told her we lived in California, and she complimented my Italian. Then she frowned and asked, “How do you like living in THAT place?” I said it was pretty and warm where we lived, but I hadn’t gotten her meaning. She said, “No, I don’t mean what does it look like. I mean do you like to live where your country does so many bad things in the world?” I was at a loss for words, and not fluent enough in Italian, so all I could think of to say was, “Mi dispiace.” By then she had paid for her food, and Brad was bagging her groceries for her. When she had all of her things, she came back to say good-by to us and wish us well. I wish I had taken her picture.

We came back to our apartment (HOME on the GPS), and unloaded our bread, cold cuts, cheese, coffee, milk, water, soda and snacks. We took a nice nap, then enjoyed our usual early evening wine and coffee on our beautiful terrace. We weren’t very hungry, so we had a snack of a slice of bread with gorgonzola dolce and salumi with wine for dinner. We sat quietly looking at he lights of Montefalco in the distance, and read our books until 11:00.

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July 8, 2007

Sunday in Assisi

I was up at 6 and on the terrace with a pot of coffee at 6:10… DEFINITELY an advantage of a vacation rental! I enjoyed the golden morning light and sounds of roosters. At 7:40, Mauro brought a loaf of bread, and I got Brad up at 8:00 for our breakfast of fresh bread, slathered with butter and Silvanna’s honey and jam. After a second pot of coffee, we headed through the countryside, taking backroads to Assisi. We passed dozens of sunflower fields, and soon we could see the majestic cathedral of San Francisco on the hill in the distance.

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Our last visit to Assisi was on a gray, rainy day, where it was difficult to navigate the steep, wet streets; but today the sun was warm, and the flower boxes were blooming. We parked at Piazza Matteotti, and walked through town, up and down the pretty streets with flowered porches, shops, and a stop for coffee. Along the route, I bought black sandals that I thought might work with my blister (MUCH better…now down to a bandaid). I also found the very nice jewelry shop in town, where I bought a gold charm of Assisi, and a beautiful silver and enameled pendant. We took many photos of the view from San Francisco, and went back to Pallotta at the main piazza for lunch.

For pranzo, Brad had Stragozzi a la Pallotta, (spaghetti in an olive and mushroom sauce), and I had ravioli con spinachi e ricotta in burro e salvia. We both had vitello al limone for our secondi. We had no room for dessert, so we had coffee at an caffé with Wi-fi, where I could blog.

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Brad went to pay for our parking. The total was 7 Euro, and Brad gave him a 10E bill. He got a few coins back for change, and told me on the way to the car, he thought he had been stiffed 10 Euro. I said, “Let’s go back!” We walked up to the guy. He looked at us with an almost defiant look until I began speaking angrily in Italian. It only took three words: “ Allora, mio marito…” He sheepishly pulled out a 10 Euro bill. I glared and said, “Non e justo!”

We returned home at 6:30, read on the terrace, snacked on nuts, wine, and coffee, and skipped dinner. We were asleep by 11:00

July 9, 2007

Monday in Montefalco and All That Jazz

Another early morning with coffee by 6:30, and a wonderful breeze to read on our terrace. Mauro brought bread (it is piling up…now there are three loaves) at 7:45, though we are not big breakfast eaters, so we will save it for later. At 9:00, we were at the stalls in Montefalco for market day. On the way, we stopped in someone’s driveway for more sunflower photos.

At the market, I bought 2 tops for 12 Euro. The guy started at 10 Euro each, but after a little bargaining in Italian, I was pleased with my purchase. We’ll see if they disintegrate when washed! We walked toward the main piazza, where I bought a linen table runner, napkins, and a pretty cosmetic case.. Then we hung out at the busy caffe watching market day life in Montefalco. We also bought a car charger for our Italian cell phone that I keep forgetting to charge. The computer, I-pod, and camera seem to get top priority.

I stopped in a ceramic shop, Il Girasole, and knew I was “in trouble”. First I bought a rectangular platter with sunflowers, then a large floral salad or pasta bowl, and a platter with pumpkins and zucchini flowers. Brad went outside to read on the steps. Then I saw matching plates to the pumpkin pattern, so I bought 4 dinner and four salad plates (all to be shipped home). Brad patiently waited outside. At one point her came back to see what was taking so long. He got a little scared when he saw all kinds of bowls, chargers, and other items all over the counter.

We stopped outside the walls to buy an Italian travel hairdryer (our first experience in a vacation rental), and a few necessities we forgot to get yesterday, like toilet paper and dish soap.

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On the way back to our little house, Saint Brad asked why I only bought four placesettings of piatti. He suggested that I should get more to use at another table for our October Slow Travel GTG! I will call her back! We had a great lunch of this morning’s bread, salami, and pecorino from Pienza. It was time for a nap.

At 4:30, we woke up, made a pot of coffee, revived, showered, and we set off for the Perugia Jazz Festival. Two years ago I was was “traumatized” by the eleven flights of escalators from the parking lot to the top of the town. I get terribly dizzy on escalators, and avoid them everywhere. On that trip, I had puffed up 10 flights of stairs, next to the escalators our friends were on, only to find that the eleveth flight HAD NO STAIRS, and I had to take the escalator. I had no choice (unless I walked back down and spent the day in the car while everyone else saw Perugia), so I got on shaking, and had “jello legs” for 15 minutes afterwards. I swore I wouldn’t retun to Perugia unless I took a taxi up and down.

We arrived at the parking structure at 6:20, and Brad’s concert started at 6:30. We finally got a taxi, and made it to the piazza for Brad’s concert by 6:45. The California State University, Hayward jazz band played until 8:00. Brad was like a “Palma in a ceramic shop”. Brad asks very little of me on our trips, and lets me plan almost everything we do. He dutifully schleps all my purchases, gets me on wi-fi, keeps every appliance charged, and drops me off in steep hilltowns before parking, to save my feet. An evening in Perugia with jazz was the least I could do, and I even got a 5 minute stop in the Furla store for a black evening bag, when we stopped at a caffe next door.

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For dinner, we ate at Il Baldo. Brad had stragozzi arrabiata, and I had penne vodka. We shared a veal cutlet for secondi. We walked along with hordes of jazz enthusiasts, through the streets of Perugia. There were several venues going on, and you coulkd hear the music all over town. We stopped for gelato and coffee before waiting 30 minutes for a taxi to take us back to the parking lot. We left Perugia a little after midnight, and drove back with some exciting lightening, arriving home around 1:00 a.m..

July 10, 2007

Trevi, Spello and Coccoroni

It was a little cooler this morning during my usual 6 a.m. coffee hour on the terrace. We left at 9:00 for Trevi, and arrived just as it began to sprinkle. We ducked into a bar, and waited out the summer shower with a latte and cornetto. In 30 minutes, the rain was done, and we explored the tiny town, high on a hill. The church, St. Augustino, was really lovely with a beautiful altar, and high domed ceiling. We wandered up and down the steep brick streets with much renovation going on. We decided to move on to Spello.

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Spello was a charming, flower-filled town with beautiful houses, gardens, and a park in the center of town. There were many shops and caffes for tourists. We walked all over until 1:00, then found a restaurant for lunch. Both restaurants we had read good reviews of were closed, so we found Il Cacciciatori, with a gorgeous panoramic view from the flower pot filled terrace.

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For lunch, we shared a plate of proscciutto and figs, I had tagliatelle with porcini, and Brad had agnliotti with basil and pomodoro. After coffee, we walked back to our car, and returned to Le Case Gialle. A nap from 4-6 revived us for an evening in Montefalco.

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We had an apperitivo at the caffe, and a quick internet fix until 8:30. We walked down a sloping side street to the lovely Coccoroni for dinner. We sat outside on the garden terrace, and shared a plate of tagliatelle with ragu. The restaurant’s specialties are grilled meats from their large fireplace oven. Brad had lamb, and I had a perfectly cooked filetto. We had a side dish of grilled baby artichokes drizzled with olive oil, and panna cotta with caramel for dolci. We drank a bottle of Vin Tonda di Antonelli, and completed the feast with coffee. Our beautiful waitress, Isabella, was delightful. We returned home to sleep at 11:30.

July 11, 2007

Girasole, Todi, Dinner with Barb and Art

I was up at 6, had coffee, showered, and we were on our way by 8 for another Umbrian adventure. We dropped of Brad’s laundry shortly after 8 in Montefalco, then headed to Marsciano, and up the hill to San Venzano to visit Barb and Art. They greeted us warmly with coffee and sweet cake, and showed us their lovely Italian home and garden.

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After a nice visit, we followed them on a white road to a beautiful spot absolutely bursting with sunflower fields in all directions. We took LOTS of photos.

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We would be returning to San Venanzo for dinner with Barb and Art, so we said good-by and drove lovely back roads to Todi. We followed Art’s great directions of exactly where to park, and took a finiculare up to town. We walked to the main piazza, then up and down the streets of town. I bought two pair of beaded sandals, and two bracelets.

We stopped at a wonderful two story walled fountain for coffee and a coke, then chose Le Palme for lunch on the terrace. Brad had strogetti with asparagus, guaniciale, and pomodoro; and I had a very delicious risotto with salsiccia and sage.

We left Todi around 3, and decided to spend the afternoon driving through tiny towns on back roads, and looking for more sunflower fields. We saw tiny towns, charming stone houses, and beautiful country estates. We began playing, “Let’s pick out our house in Umbria.” I chose 3 pretend houses, ranging from a tiny stone cottage to a sprawling gated compound with additional buildings for my friends. It was a fun fantasy, between finding the perfect sunflower field.

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At 6, we returned to Barb and Art’s for a lovely dinner. We began with prosecco and bruschetta with pesto, and olive pate. Our next course was prosciutto with melon. Then Barb made a wonderful pasta dish with homemade pesto, sundried tomatoes, chicken, mushrooms, and hot red pepper. It was absolutely delicious, as were the “house wines”. We had coffee and dolci (brownies and whipped cream) in the garden and chatted until 9:00. On our way home, we missed a turn, so our return trip took a little longer than planned, but we made it back to Case Gialle, and were ready for bed shortly. It was a very enjoyable day with Slow Travel friends, good food, and lots of luscious Umbrian scenery.

July 12, 2007

Citta di Castello with Judith

We got another early start for our visit to meet Judith in Citta di Castello. It was about an hour drive where we passed by Foligno, Spello, Assisi, then north through new territory for us. We were parked and in Piazza Matteotti with a latte by 10 a.m.. It was market day, and the square was filled with many vendors. Judith arrived within five minutes, and we spent an hour chatting like old friends at the Bar Latin, with wicker sofas instead of chairs in front, and a wonderful clean bathroom.

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Judith led us through the main shopping street, where I bought an evening bag, and we saw some lovely stores. Citta is a charming, and sophisticated town. We walked to a couple of Judith’s favorite restaurants, but both were unexpectedly closed, so we settled ourselves on the terrace of a small Osteria for lunch. Brad and I shared gnocchi with gorgonzola and rucola, then had a very tasty scallopini in green peppercorn sauce and some vino bianco. We sat and talked all afternoon, until the restaurant closed.

A little before 4:00, we followed Judith’s car to an industrial park area of town to have Brad measured for four custom tailored shirts. This was an interesting experience for Brad. The first step was to choose four fabrics…not his strong suite. Judith and I looked at cottons, silks and linens. She and I offered our suggestions, and favorite choices, but Brad had veto power. We all agreed on a peach stripe, an aqua to match Brad’s eyes, a bluish-purple he liked, and my favorite, a red stripe with contrasting white collar and cuffs. Brad chose two collar styles and was measured using a “sample shirt” as a guide for fitting. The whole process took about 40 minutes, and they will have the shirts ready in time for Judith to bring them to next week’s Slow Travel GTG. Brad was very pleased with the price of 70 Euro per custom shirt. We said good-bye to Judith, and followed her to the highway that would take us home.

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Brad is an aggressive driver, and he enjoys driving in Italy…a little too much. He is skillful, but sometimes, he scares me. This trip has been better than most, and I don’t think I’ve screamed yet. This must be understood to appreciate the humor in the following exchange. On the way back, we passed many more sunflower fields, and were talking about how beautiful they were and how we have really lucked out with perfect weather in July. As we came around a curve, there was a small field that had passed it’s prime, and the sunflowers were dead. I said, “Oh, look at the droopy dead guys.” Brad, in a panic, said, “Where??? Did I hit them?” I laughed for the next 10 K, telling him it was his guilt speaking, and maybe he should slow down.

We returned to Montefalco, picked up Brad’s laundry, and settled in for a coke at our favorite bar. I returned to the ceramic shop and added more pumpkin plates to my order (six of each instead of four), and stocked up on bandaides, as my blister is still oozing through 2 a day. We sat and read our books until 8, when we walked to L’Alchimista for dinner. We had been looking forward to this restaurant all week.

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We began with an antipasto of melted scamorza cheese with prosciutto on bread. For primi, I had strangozzi with saffron cheese, zucchini, and pancetta. Brad had polenta with gorgonzola and sausage. For secondi, I had a wonderful breaded pork chop, and Brad had filetto in Sagrantino. We were both so full that as we walked back to the car, we were laughing ourselves silly. We both really enjoyed today with Judith, the shirts, and great food!

July 13, 2007

Orvieto

Today, on our last full day in Umbria, we decided to revisit Orvieto. We really enjoyed a brief visit there in 2003, but wanted to explore the town with more time to wander.

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On our way, we drove by another glorious sunflower field, and stopped for photos. We arrived in Orvieto a little before 10:00, and walked through town, stopping in shops along the way. We took a break for coffee and panna cotta gelato around 11:00.

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I hit the ceramics shops, actually remembering where I had purchased items four years ago. Brad is always amazed at my shopping memory! I bought a large lasagna sized ceramic baking dish, and two gifts in one shop. The other major purchase was a large wall platter for our patio, with poppies and lemons. Since the house is full of ceramics, the cupboards are full of dishes, we are now decorating the back yard. That should get me through a few more trips to Italy! Brad gave me a clear “NO” when I looked at one of those large antipasti sets with a large central platter surrounded by six curved sections. I moved on as he RARELY says “No”, and he was enthusiastic about the other ceramic purchases. Don’t cross “Il bello marito” who schleps bags, and then makes it all fit in the luggage! My last purchase of the day were darling gifts for our two grand Godchildren.

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We visited the beautiful Duomo, saw Marlena Di Blasi’s palazzo, and walked across town to Il Volpe e L’Uva for lunch. I had some very simple ravioli with olive oil and lemon, and Brad had orchiette with pepper and pecorino. We both shared grilled pork with balsamico for our secondi. We walked off most of our food coma getting back to the car, and were home for a nap by 5:00. We enjoyed a relaxing evening at our casa gialla with the last of our cold cuts and bread for an evening snack. Brad did some repacking to condense many of my purchases. Domani…Cortona!

July 14, 2007

Cortona

We really enjoyed our week in the Umbrian countryside. Our little yellow house was quiet and private. The scenery was spectacular, and we loved the hilltowns, especially Montefalco. I think we are both ready to be back in a town with piazzas, people, caffes and walking to dinner. Brad loaded everything into the car, and I straightened up the kitchen and emptied the refrigerator. We certainly have accumulated a lot in the last two weeks. Our trunk AND backseat are now full! We said good-bye to Silvana and Mauro, and by 9:30, we were on our way to Cortona.

We easily found our hotel, Villa Marsili, as we drove into town, and it was a wonderful surprise. Though we arrived before 11:00, our gorgeous room was ready, and we were able to check in. All our bags were brought up, there was an elevator, and parking. We were back in the lap of luxury! Outside, there is an impressive gate, a garden and a pergola with tables for morning coffee or evening prosecco. The lobby and breakfast room are lovely, and our room is a very large corner one with a huge bathroom, large shower with great water pressure, and three windows of stunning views. We can see sunflower fields and Lake Trasimeno in one direction, and the edge of town in another. It is about two steep blocks to town, and soon we were wandering through Saturday’s market.

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We popped in to Il Girasole to see Alessandra, then found the porchetta truck and bought sandwiches. We settled in at a caffe for cold drinks and and our panini, then found room for gelato. By 2:00, we were ready for a nap. I snoozed for an hour, then had an hour on Wi-fi to catch up my blogs from the week.

We showered, dressed for dinner, and came down to the garden, where we were served cocktails or juice, and a variety of antipasti were spread out for the hotel guests. Since we had a late dinner reservation at Bucaccia, we walked back to twon at 8:30 for a drink before dinner.

Bucaccia was a charming Tuscan style restaurant with lots of brick arches, wine bottles, and different levels for dining. It is owned and staffed by Romero, quite a jolly character, and his whole family. Much to our surprise, the “wine steward” was his eight year old daughter, Francesca. She arrived with our bottle and a corkscrew, asking Brad to hold the bottle for her while she expertly opened it and poured a taste.

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We shared tortelloni with prosciutto and “sheep cheese” as our primi. Brad had a wonderful roast pork, “cinta di Senese”. I had a filetto Muffata with more “sheep cheese”, a house specialty. We finished a bottle of Terre di Tufi, and returned to Piazza Republica at midnight.
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We were amazed at the number of people in the streets at that hour. It was difficult to get a seat at a caffe, and TONS of people were gathered or walking through the piazza from all directions. We had coffee, and Brad sipped a grappa as we watched families, teenagers, couples and groups of all ages, meeting and greeting each other. We began our walk home at 1:00 a.m., and it was still crowded. Quite a hoppin’ Saturday night in Cortona!

July 15, 2007

A Lazy Sunday in Cortona

We had just what we needed…a lazy Sunday in Cortona. I slept until 7, threw on clothes, and went down for coffee in the garden with a book. It may sound like we've been going nonstop, but I have read five books since we’ve been here. Brad emerged a little before 9, and we enjoyed the hotel’s wonderful breakfast buffet. We haven’t seen a hotel breakfast like this since we were in Bologna last year, and Jerry, you can’t count Diana’s, because that qualifies as pranzo!!!

There were five kinds of cheese, ham, salami and prosciutto, pate, cereals yogurt, eggs, all kinds of breads, rolls, cornetti, pasteries, and cakes, an assortment of fruits (even watermelon), nutella, jams, and five kinds of juice! We are NOT big breakfast eaters, but it WAS a lovely spread. I had a roll with salami, a piece of cheese, and a bite of almond pastry with two POTS of coffee and steamed milk!

We sat in the garden after breakfast, and read our books, then told Giulia, a lovely young woman at the hotel (who may visit us this fall when she goes to see her friend in Las Vegas), and the hotel manager ALL about Slow Travel. He immediately took out a classified ad and began browsing the site.

We wandered into town and enjoyed Sunday around the piazza, stopping at a caffe for a coke. I bought a red linen shirt at one of my favorite shops. We decided to have our main meal for pranzo, and were seated in the vaulted brick dining room of La Grotta, a pretty trattoria. I had a delicious “mezzaluna”, half-moon shaped pasta atuffed with gorgonzola and pears in a butter sauce. Brad had tagliatelle with duck sauce. Our entrees were grilled lamb and veal in limone. After stuffing ourselves, we returned to Villa Marsili for an afternoon nap and some blogging.

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We had prosecco during the hotel’s “Happy Hour”, then returned to town. As we were approaching the Piazza Republica, we heard three woman yell, “Palm Springs!” One of the women recognized me from buying a piece of her jewelry at home (before I started making my own). We chatted with the three women, who with their husbands, are staying in a villa near Lake Trasimeno. We ended up passing out more Slow Travel cards.

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We planted ourselves in our caffe, and watched the world go by for the next three hours until 11:00. During that time, I consumed two lattes, and two scoops of gelato. Brad had Bitter Campari, a bottle of water, two scoops of gelato, a caffe Americano, and a grappa.

I think we needed the easy, lazy day!

July 16, 2007

I Girasoli

We went to breakfast after waking, well-rested, a little after 7:00. I then had my large pot of coffee and milk in the garden. Brad and I set out for the white roads, just outside town, where we have been looking at bright yellow fields of sunflowers from our hotel room window. First, I admit, we did a very touristy thing…we went to see Bramasole, from “Under the Tuscan Sun”. It is easy to see why Frances fell in love with the property, and had a vision to restore it. Though she no longer lives there, it is quite a lovely spot.

“Girasole”, the Italian word for sunflower is such a lovely word, and they truly turn their pretty faces to the sun. Standing in a field surrounded by big yellow jewels in a sea of green, can’t help but make you happy! (I don’t recommend this to anyone who is afraid of bees, as each flower has a couple feasting on their pollen.) We took more photos, and when we returned to the car, Brad had a perfectly round yellow imprint on the back of his green shirt.

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Monday in Cortona

After our drive through the sunflowers, we returned to Cortona for some shopping. I’ve been pretty well-behaved over the weekend. I bought green sandals and an unusual pendant from Alessandra at Il Girasole. The design is made of petals, leaves and twigs, topped with resin, set in silver.

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We stopped for pizza in the piazza, and talked about how enjoyable our visit to Cortona has been. I have been here twice before, always on daytrips from southern Tuscany, but Cortona’s piazzas a most wonderful at night. We expected more tourists, but found the caffes filled with more Italians and a few other Europeans. It is definitely worth staying for a few days, with enough good restaurants and shops and a wonderful Etruscan museum.

We returned to our hotel for a rest and shower. It was in the mid 90’s today. At 6:00, we returned to the main street to the Busatti linen shop. This wonderful line of woven fabrics has been around since 1842. I found a fabric I liked to have a bedspread made for our master bedroom, and wanted to show it to Brad. He was as enthusiastic as a man can be about a coverlet, so I ordered it with three pillow shams. We then went to our caffe for a glass of vine.

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At 8:00, we met Alessandra for a very special dinner at Osteria del Teatro. We began with two orders of the fabulous cheese fondue with truffles, cleaning both plates. Then we had three different pastas, and shared each of them: pici with a tomato-garlic sauce, tortelloni with noci pesto, and ravioli with cheese and pears. All were delicious! We had just enough room left for dessert. Alex and I had marscapone charlotte with chocolate sauce, and Brad had a warm pear drenched in chocolate. Over the fours hours we lingered talking nonstop, we finished two bottles of an Avignonese Sauvignon Blanc. The food and setting were great, but we especially enjoyed Alessandra’s warmth, humor, lively wit and openness. We laughed, and talked until midnight, when after a short walk, we said good-bye until our next visit to Cortona. What a lovely last evening we had in this beautiful town on the hill!

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July 17, 2007

Villa Le Barone

After only five hours of sleep, as we went to bed very late last night, we had coffee, breakfast, and our bags were brought down to the car. Villa Marsili really has been a gem of a hotel. The spacious room and bathroom, fabulous breakfast, easy walk to town, great water pressure in the “high enough for me” shower, and a staff of wonderful people. Stefano, Mirko, and Giulia help us with every possible question, and were delightful just to chat with. We were a little sad to leave them, but were invited to stop by for a coffee of appertivo, whenever we are next in Cortona (and they are now following my blog)!

By 11:30 we arrived at the beautiful Villa Le Barone, just outside of Panzano. It is like an old country manor house, with beautiful grounds and a restaurant. The Villa was a former watch tower in the Middle Ages, then was converted to a farm (fattoria) during the Renaissance when it became the property of the Della Robbia family. It has been a guest house for 30 years.

When I made our reservation, I decided I’d splurge on a superior room for our last few days. We were told that we were in Room 10, so we followed the young woman in a yellow maid’s uniform up two flights of stone steps. There was a sitting room with a HUGE vase of sunflowers, and three guest rooms leading off of it. Then she unlocked an arched wooden door that led to a hallway with a tiny wood circular staircase. Now I’m picturing the two 50+ lb. 28” bags getting up here, that are waiting in the car. I could barely clear the steps with just my purse. Brad was right behind me with the Slow Travel tote bag carrying the GPS and our books and camera. The maid is chatting to me in Italian about how beautiful this room is, and I’m telling her we have a lot of luggage. We are smiling at her as we puff up the stops behind her while mumbling “Oh my God!”, and “Oh sh__!” In addition to our two large bags, there are now four smaller bags and two boxes of wine (That’s if we leave one packed suitcase and a HUGE Furla shopping bag in the trunk). Just shoot me now. Did I mention it was 98 degrees?

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OK, the room was stunning, with a “crown of blue and yellow fabric” over the bed, a writing desk that I could easily seat 8 people at for dinner , two big blue and yellow easy chairs, a huge armoire, dresser, ancient tapestries hanging from the walls, and a high vaulted brick and beam ceiling. It really is charming…once you get up here. There is a lovely view from three huge arched windows, air conditioning, and a vase of fresh roses from the rose garden. How could we trade all this in? A healthy tip later, and all the bags were in the room, while Brad and I gulped down a bottle of cold water. We were spoiled at Villa Marsili with space luxury AND a refrigerator for the cheese and sodas, but this would work. I only feared a nighttime bathroom run, as you have to go a couple of those weird steps back down the hallway to the sloped ceiling curved bathroom tucked into the stairwell. We had a coke in the garden, and explored the grounds and pool area. There was a funky little well-equipped bar downstairs where you help yourself, and sign a room tab.

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Ristoro di Lamole

By 1:00 we were ready for lunch, so we set out for the nearby hamlet of Lamole, climbing the lush Chianti hills to Ristorante Lamole. It was a wonderful choice, thanks to Diva, and other Slow Travel reviews. I ordered spinach and ricotta gnudi in a butter and sage sauce, and Brad had ricotta and pear ravioli with pecorino. Both pastas were delicious. We shared an entrée “special of the day” which was “Fritti Toscano”, a huge assortment of tempura-like fried rabbit, chicken, and an assortment of veggies: zucchini flowers, eggplant, onions, and peppers. A glass of white wine and coffee completed a terrific meal with wonderful service from our adorable waiter, Matteo.

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Greve

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After our delicious and relaxing two hour lunch, we drove to Greve, where Brad spent from 3:30 to 5:00 sampling six wines and a grappa at Le Cantine. I spent part of this time in the caffe next door with my book and a latte.

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Then we walked around the piazza, and I got a gold rooster charm for my bracelet (Gallo Nero), and I bought a beautiful tablecloth to go with my Montefalco dishes. We arrived back at Villa Le Barone at 8:00, and sat outside with no desire for dinner, so we had gelato and coffee before heading up the stairs to our “royal tower” for the night.

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July 18, 2007

Radda

We slept in, and had breakfast at 9:30. Then we were off to Radda for a lovely morning of walking around town, coffee at a caffe, and an internet stop. I bought a pretty white and gold shawl and some red Italian Crocs for 12 Euro. They seem to work well on my still sore blister. We had a lovely lunch at Le Vigne. Brad ordered assorted crostini, and fagottini (like tortellini stuffed with spinach and pecorino) with basil and tomatos. I had a delicious pork loin slices with cooked apples and onions. There were some "ugly American" ladies there, and I apologized to the owner for their embarrassing behavior.

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After lunch, we drove toward Giaole, to Rampini Ceramiche. BIG TROUBLE!!! I fell in love...with a new pattern. Oh, I HAD to have these dishes! I bought a set of 8 dinner, salad, and pasta bowls, a platter and pasta bowl. Hey, they match my yellow chargers, so I didn't need any of those! I am SO BAD! Brad was very quiet, but admitted the pattern was beautiful when we left. We returned to our room for an afternoon nap.

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DInner on the terrace at Vescovino in Panzano was a beautiful setting, and one of our top three meals. We were given a glass of prosecco to start. We had a sformato di pecorino with a pear salad to start. Our pastas were penne with fresh sausage for me and pappardelle with chingale sauce for Brad. He then had a duck breast in wine sauce, and I had rack of lamb with minted zucchini. We shared a panna cotta drank a bottle of vine, and ended with coffee. We shared Slow Travel cards with two couples from Laguna beach who were in a villa here for 5 weeks. It turns out they had taken Diva's cooking class.

July 19, 2007

The Comforts of Home?

I need all the exercise I can get. Forget about my swollen, fat feet. Forget about my blister. It's the stairs that I am not used to. I am also used to coffee within 5 minutes of waking, and also all day, and right before bed. In Italy, there is wonderful coffee, but it is not always available at the hours I keep. Hotels are NOT on my schedule.
Here I am at midnight, with the last cup before bed.

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Here is Brad, bright-eyed and bushy-tailed.

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Here is the staircase to our tower room at Villa Le Barone. It is tough when fully awake. It is a challenge before a couple of cappucini! It is a NIGHTMARE with luggage!

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Chianti Mornings

Roosters crowing. Stone houses on hilltops. Cyprus-lined driveways. Vineyards and olive groves. Hundreds of white roads to explore. Tiny hamlets. It is SO beautiful!

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It is quiet. It is peaceful. It is already warm at 7:00 a.m..

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Here is our tower at Villa Le Barone. The windows at the top are ours.

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Today is the Slow Travel Umbria GTG near Assisi. We decided that after driving two hours back to Umbria, and visiting with old and new friends at the GTG with some wine, we really needed to stay somewhere close to the party. At midnight last night, I read a post by Mary Jane, suggesting a new guest house, just outside Bevagna. We now know this area well, and decided to give up one of our nights at Villa Le Barone, so we wouldn't have a long drive back to Chianti late at night. Thanks you, Mary Jane, as this was to become an unplanned and wonderful surprise we would hate to have missed!

The Essence of Umbria: Genius Loci

We stopped in Radda for gelato and a quick wifi fix, then drove back toward Umbria, excited about today's Slow Travel GTG.

We passed now familiar Bevagna, and in three Kilometers, turned into the driveway of Genius Loci, our country house for the night. Mary greeted us in the beautiful reception area, and Michael, the Inn's manager (and Mary's son) showed us to our lovely room.

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The restored farmhouse has been lovingly recreated into an 8-room country inn with all the comforts of home! Everything is spotlessly clean with beautiful stone, tile, fabrics, and much attention to detail. Each room has a different theme. We were in the "Rose Room", which was tastefully appointed.

From our window (or the terrace) is this gorgeous view of vineyards and the typical Umbrian patchwork of farms in the valley:

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Check out their website to see more of Genius Loci!

http://www.geniuslociumbria.com/

Umbria Slow Travel GTG

Where to start? This was the MOST fantastic opportunity to meet so many wonderful Slow Travel friends from Italy and the U.S.!

We arrived at the lovely Villa Rosy, outside Assisi to meet our hosts and hostesses, Janet, Alan, and friend, Valerie; Corinna and her beautiful family, and were greeted warmly by good friends, Pauline and Steve. Already sitting in the hot sun of the afternoon were "old friends", Jane, Ken and Casey, and Marcia and David. Judith delivered Brad's beautiful custom shirts, and brought us a most beautiful gift of a handcrafted ceramic bowl from a craftsman in Citta di Castello.

Soon, Barb and Art arrived, and we met Valerie and Bryan, Mary Jane and Fulvio, Ann R., and Janet's sister, Ann, and her husband, Carl. We sat with Shelly and Gail for dinner, and had a fabulous visit with Karen and Vincenzo, who we hope to visit during our September 2008 trip to Italy.

Could it get any better? Yes! We enjoyed meeting and chatting with Kim and Kevin, who drove all the way from Bacoli with KILOS of fresh buffala mozarella! I pigged out on Brad's and my share! Soon, we were delighted to meet Letizia, her husband, Giulia, and Rebecca, all "famous" long-time Slow Travelers! What a delightful group! I must return to stay with both Letezia and Giulia on future trips to Italy. Mary, our lovely hostess from Genius Loci, also attended the GTG, and was able to meet all of the wonderful Slow Travelers who attended! She is originally from Long Beach, CA, and has lived in Umbria for over 40 years!

Pauline and Steve had just returned from Diana and Micha's in Piemonte, and they delivered my beautiful ceramic jar that I made last fall on Diana's pottery wheel. Diana took my little lump of thrown clay and glazed and fired it with a lid, so I now have my precious jar for serving Italian honey with pecorino!

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Diana also sent some delicious Brachetto di Acqui. Boy did that cold refreshing nectar of the gods hit the spot on a sweltering hot afternoon! I can't wait to enjoy a few more bottle of it with the Baurs in person next year!

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Being in Italy in July had already surpassed my expectations with the glories of the sunflower fields, but being here for this amazing GTG, was the best part of the timing of this year's travel! Grazie a tutti!

July 20, 2007

Umbria Morning

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How's THIS for the first thing you see when you open your eyes?
We had a relkaxing morning on the terrace of Genius Loci, visiting with Mary Jane and Fulvio before they returned to Vetralla, and enjoying Michael's warm hospitality, coffee and breakfast.

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The beautiful pool looked inviting, but we wanted to get started on our drive back to Panzano to begin the unpleasant task of repacking for our return home tomorrow. I'd love to stay here for another week in Umbria!

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We made a stop in Castellina for a gelato lunch at Antica Delezia. YUM! Crema caramel, stracchiatella, and Antica Delezia for me! Oh how sad!!! The last gelato in Italy!

Our Last Night in Italy

We crammed everything in our luggage and prayed we will not be over 70 lbs for each big bag! They were full and heavy! We asked the front desk for help with our luggage, and a big brawney Italian man in sweaty workclothes came up the tiny spiral staircase to our room. He threw that 70 pound bag onto his shoulder, and quickly ran down the three flights, coming back for another. Brad brilliantly waited at the car. I stayed in the room, watching in awe. He carried those bags like he had no more than a 5 lb. bag of sugar on his shoulder. Packing the car tonight would facilitate us getting out by 6:30 tomorrow morning!

We arrived at Jane and Ken's Italian home at Frattoria Viticcio, and shared a bottle of prosecco. We had a house tour and walk around the beautiful grounds of their home for the past year. It is their last week in Greve, and it is easy to see why this will be hard to leave. We chatted, and Casey wore Brad out with a game of.

Next, we followed Ken in our car to the restaurant. Jane had warned us that it might seem they were leading us "out to the middle of nowhere". We climbed a hill with fabulous views looking back at Greve, and then arrived at the beginning of a white road. After several minutes of driving, we saw an abandoned SUV that apparently didn't make it to the restaurant. We kept driving, trusting Jane and Ken, that there would eventually be dinner at the end of this adventure.

At the END of the white road was a lovely stone building, and a parking lot FULL of cars. We had arrived at La Cantinetta di Rignana. http://www.lacantinettadirignana.it/lacantinetta/english/index.htmlHow did all these people FIND this place? The restaurant was hoppin'! Casey was clearly a favorite customer, and everyone flocked to him with hugs and kisses when we arrived. He ran into the kitchen for more hugs and greetings. We were directed to the lovliest spot on the terrace to a special table marked, "Reserved for Casi".

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We began with an antipasti platter that included three salamis, olives, pickled onions, peppers and crostini with pate. Then we shared two pasta dishes; papardelle con chingahle and tagliatelle in noci sauce. Ken and Brad served the pasta.

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We then shared three orders of tagliata from the grill: one with arugula and parmesan, one with balsamico and sale, and one with rosemary and green peppercorns. All were delicious, but the balsamico was my favorite. We had side dishes of grilled vegetables.

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We had a delicious wine, and managed to eat dessert too. I had panna cotta, Brad had chocolate mousse, Jane had strawberries with balsamico, and Ken had most of Casey's gelato. Casey had a good time playing on the hill below our table.

This is the way to leave Italy...IF you have to go home.
1. DON'T think about leaving until the afternoon of your last day.
2. Pack early, and hope for the best.
3. Spend a long, leisurely evening with Slow Travel friends, good food, and lots of laughter. Drink wine. Have dessert!
This is ESPECIALLY great if you know you will see them again soon at home!

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July 22, 2007

The LONG Way Home

We were up at 5:30, and in the car (with no coffee) by 6:25. The first problem was that the electronic gate in the parking area of Villa Barone would NOT open. No staff came to work until 7:00. We needed to leave by 6:30 to allow enough time to get to the Rome airport. Brad angrily managed to manually open another gate which then required him to do some difficult backing out of the parking area, turn around in an impossibly tight spot, and literally drive across the breakfast room terrace area to get out. THAT wasted 15 minutes and raised both our blood pressure, as we had asked the day before about our early departure!

Brad made up the time, and there was little traffic on a Saturday at that early hour, so he drove VERY fast through the Chianti hills, while I silently tried not to get carsick, and prayed for an Autogrill on the Autostrada where I could down a cappucino or two! When we were an hour from Rome, we had a 10 minute stop with a bathroom break, and a most delicious coffee and a Coke Light.

Brad dropped me off with all the luggage, and returned the rental car. That took 20 minutes, and gave me a chance for my last smoke. When he returned, we got into THIS line at Delta:

Rome.jpg

That line didn't move for over an hour. We boarded 30 minutes late, then sat on the runway for an hour and a half. I slept through most of that and missed takeoff. We landed two hours late in Atlanta, but still had 2 hours and 15 minutes before our flight to Ontario. We were hopeful. We lost the 15 minutes when there was another plane at our assigned gate. Luggage took over an hour to come out. Our Ontario flight left before we even went through customs. Everyone's connection left, so we joined the line of 200 grumpy people who needed to be re-ticketed. Delta was NOT on top of things.

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We had landed at 6:30 p.m.. At 11:45, we had new ticket's on tomorrow's first flight to Ontario, two $7 vouchers for "dinner" (although most of the airport restaurants had closed), and a hotel voucher for "Country Inn". We had a choice of Wendy's or a sandwich place. Two sandwiches, a coke and a coffee put us over our limit. We arrived at our hotel at 1:15 a.m. for 4 hour nap before returning to the airport at 6:30 a.m.. At least we had a shower.

Our flight to Ontario was uneventful, and I napped some more. I got all our luggage, while Brad picked up the rental car, and we arrived at home early in the afternoon. Ego was very glad to see us, and the housesitter left everything clean. We tried to stay awake, but took a nap that lasted three hours, then went to bed for the night at 11:00. THIS is the hard part of travel. But every hour spent in Bella Italia is worth it. We forget this part. We remember every lovely hour in Italy!

July 24, 2007

Re-entry

We're home, and I survived a long day at work. I am very jet-lagged, and having major Italy withdrawal and Brad withdrawal, as he is back at work in Pasadena. We had such a wonderful trip, and I wish we had another week or 10!

As efficient as I am about packing for a trip, I totally flunk unpacking. I've done two loads of laundry, and the rest of the stuff can sit there for a week for all I care.

It is great to be back with Ego. He missed us a lot, and apparently was a good boy for our dogsitter. The house was nice and clean when we returned.

My feet are still fat! I'm drinking lots of water, and walking as much as I can. I am elevating them in bed, but I can only get on the Italy flip-flops.

Warning: don't look if you have a weak stomach!

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Where did my ankles go?

Ankles.jpg

I'll spare you the blister photo! It's better, but not healed yet.

I want gelato, or pasta, or risotto. I want cheese. I am eating fruit and yogurt. I want salami, and pecorino with honey. I have melon, but no prosciutto. Did I mention gelato?

I've been up since 4:30. I need a nap. Reality/re-entry is hard.

July 26, 2007

Back to "Normal"

The Italian music is on the Ipod, I've been printing my favorite sunflower photos (obviously going to have to stock up on yellow ink cartridges for my printer), and I'm getting back to "almost normal". Tonight I may begin scrapbooking our trip since I have now unpacked the beautiful photo album I bought in Florence.

The first box of ceramics arrived today from Orvieto.

I love my Cinghale Bianco pitcher with some tiny blooms from the yard.

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These crappy sunflowers from the grocery store don't look ANYTHING like the girasoli. Why is that?

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I am so at peace in Italy. I am not stressed out at home, but I am certainly more restless. I must figure that one out. Is it just being on vacation? Or is it really more to do with Italy itself?

I've been googling recipes. This weekend, we will have an Italian dinner. I need a "fix".

July 27, 2007

A Beautiful Gift

There were so many wonderful people we met in person on our Italy trip! I like to think of them as "new old friends". It is an interesting phenomenon to correspond with people on Slow Travel, read about their life, maybe follow their blog, and have an on-line relationship. Finally, you get to meet in person, but feel like you've known them for a long time.

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We met Judith in her charming town of CItta di Castello in northern Umbria. Judith picked up and moved to Italy without looking back. She is a gutsy, talented woman with style, pizazz, and an appreciation of art, fashion, and food. An accomplished chef, she is also a designer, a mom, and a lovely friend.

If you haven't already, check out her blog and her website:
http://judithgreenwood.com/thinkonit/
http://www.judithgreenwood.com/

I've already written about our day with Judith, our LONG lunch, chosing custom shirts for Brad (the cute model on her website), and we were able to visit with her again at the Umbria GTG at Villa Rosy. Judith has a warm heart, and a generous spirt. Forgive me, Judith, but she also has an impish sense of humor that is quick and to the point.

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Judith gave us this lovely bowl from a local crafsman. It looks like an eutrscan artifact, and is safe for food. I encased it in my pillow in my carry-on bag to protect it on our way home. I like how it looks in my kitchen with ripe fruit, and I think of Judith every day when I see it!

July 28, 2007

An Italian Evening

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We've been home a week. My body is on California time, my ankles are "normal", and I have survived a week of work and usual errands. My heart, soul, and most of the time, my brain, remain in Italy. Brad is as bad as I am in his Italy withdrawal. Normal things annoy us that didn't used to...like drivers, like competitiveness, like neighbors who don't say hello.

Friday night, Brad got home late, so we went out for a quick bite at 9 p.m.. As we were leaving the restaurant at 10:00, we looked at the traffic on a busy street. There was a tattoo parlour open, on the block where we parked our car. There were fast food restaurants on two corners. We both got the same sad look in our eyes. I said, "Let's go to the piazza. Oh, there ISN'T one!" No passiagiata for us. We went home and talked about some of the things we missed: the attitude, the beauty, the simplicity, the people, the warmth, the fresh local food, the sharing, the wine, the families out at night... I could go on for pages.

OK, so we live HERE! I decided to have an Italian evening at home on Saturday...and Sunday. I need to stop whining!

We had a truely lovely meal. We sat on our "terrazza" by the pool, with soft Italian music, wine, and twinkling lights in our olive trees. We made strozzapreti together (recipe to follow). We had a wonderful watermelon salad with watermelon, mozzarella, fresh basil, red onion, drizzled with Mauro's wonderful Umbrian olive oil. We drank wine. We laughed. We smelled the rosemary bushes next to us. We planned future trips. We sat outside until we had enough room to eat panna cotta with fresh peaches soaked in Ameretto. We WERE Italian.

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strozzapreti.jpg

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July 29, 2007

Strozzapreti: "Priest Chokers"

According to one legend, these ricotta and spinach dumplings were named when a gluttonous priest ate too many too quickly. Another story says that wives would customarily make the pasta for churchmen as partial payment for land rents (In Romagna, the Catholic Church had extensive land properties given in rent to farmers), and their husbands would be angered enough by the venal priests eating their wives' food to wish the priests would choke as they stuffed their mouth with it. There are different recipes for the dish and it's ingredients vary from Emilia-Romagna to Tuscany. I used a recipe from Lidia Bastianich, which sounded closest to the dish I enjoyed at Osteria di Cinghale Bianco in Firenze.

I began with a large 12 oz. bag of baby spinach leaves from Trader Joe's.

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Though the spinach leaves are pre-washed, I washed the leaves thoroughly again, drained them in a colander, put them in a large pot, with just the water that clung to the leaves from rinsing. Place the pot over high heat, and cook until the little water at the bottom begins to steam (about a minute). Add a little salt, cover the pot, and cook for another two minutes. The spinach should be tender, but still bright green. Immediately drain the spinach in a colander and rinse under cold water until it is cool enough to handle. Squeeze as much water out as possible, so it is a very dry ball of spinach, about 1 cup. (I did this ahead, and refrigerated it.)

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Chop the spinach in a food processor. Lidia's recipe called for 1/2 cup, but I used all of it to get the green color I had experienced in Firenze.

In the food processor, beat two eggs. Add the chopped spinach and blend. Add 10 oz. of ricotta, 1 cup grated Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese, 5 T. of breadcrumbs, salt, pepper, and a pinch of nutmeg. Blend. (I chilled this mixture for an hour before we were ready to make dinner, and it may have made it even easier to roll into balls).

filling.jpg

Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil. Fill a plate with a handful of flour. Take about a tablespoon of filling, roll into about a one inch ball, and roll in flour, tapping off excess. Place these on a teatowel covered pan. The recipe made about 30 balls. I flash froze half for another meal, and we ate 7 or 8 for our entree. One recipe would feed four.

balls.jpg

When you have made all the balls, melt 1/2 cube of butter with about 12-15 fresh sage leaves over medium heat. Throw the strozzapreti into the boiling water. Cook for 1 minute after they rise to the top. (about 3 minutes total). Use a slotted spoon to remove and drain strozzapreti. Place in serving dishes, and top with browned butter and crisp sage leaves. Add additional parmignano if desired. YUM!

More Tastes of Italia

Sunday gave us time to make and enjoy another great dinner. Brad is really enjoying cooking together. He chops, grates, stirs, sautees, kneads, and basically does whatever task I ask of him to help me get several things done at the same time. We started with prosciutto and melon (Brad had some, and I decided to save mine for my lunch at work on Monday).

We had a yummy spinach salad with peaches and pine nuts with a peachy dressing.

Our entree was risotto with sausage, carrots and sage.

sage%20risotto.jpg

Dessert was a Florentine Cheese Tart.

tart.jpg

We ended the meal with a hoarded bottle of Brachetto di Acqui. We have two bottles left! It is SO refreshing in this heat!

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This page contains all entries posted to Palmabella's Passions in July 2007. They are listed from oldest to newest.

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