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November 26, 2006

November 2006 Thanksgiving Weekend in the Bay Area

We flew to Oakland on Thanksgiving morning, arriving at noon, when Roxanne picked us up at the Oakland airport, and drove us to Charlotte and Cindy's home. Our ride to the Ontario airport was stressful with a blowout at 85 in the fast lane, and Brad changing a tire on the freeway!

Dinner was wonderful, everyone ate too much, and went to bed full!

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Friday was what I most looked forward to...SHOPPING! Brad and I were on an 8 a.m. BART train to Market Street in San Francisco. We started at Bloomie's, met Joy at 10:00 at Nordstrom, took a coffee break, shopped some more, and met Kim and her family at Kuletto's at 1:30. We had lunch, and wine before resuming our shopping mission.

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Roxanne joined us, and we stopped at Crate and Barrel, Gumps, and finally joined everyone at 6:00 for a cocktail at the St. Francis. I saw the big tree lighting in Union Square, and we took off to North Beach in three taxies for dinner at "Firenze by Night". Brad had fabulous escargot, I shared sausage -stuffed mushrooms with Joy, and had veal in a pesto-cream sauce.

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Saturday, we shopped at the Ferry Building Markets, buying cheese, breads, cold cuts, and hloiday gift items. We relaxed at Charlotte's and had an enjoyable drink with my old boss, Steve. Then we returned to S.F. with Charlotte and Cindy for a fabulous dinner at "Boulevard". After a lemon drop, I started with foie gras, then veal with hen-of the-woods mushrooms, fried mozarella with prosciutto, and zucchini. For dessert, I had an apple torte with apple fritter gelato. YUM!

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Sunday was a lazy, rainy day. We relaxed all day, ate yesterday's food purchases and Cajun Bread Pudding with ice cream. We had an easy flight and drive home to nice, dry, desert weather. We agreed it was a lovely weekend, with our perfect hostesses, and we may need to make it an annual event. Great friends, great food, great shopping!

December 10, 2006

A Shopping Weekend

Jan and I left at 9:00 a.m. for Orange County, and by 11:00 we were parked by Nordstrom at South Coast Plaza. We met for lunch at noon, but Jan became ill, so I got her settled in her room at the Marriott Suites, and went back to the mall. I shopped for five more hours, and returned to the hotel with 5 Nordstrom bags, one from Williams-Sonoma, one from Borders, three from Crate & Barrel, and a Chico's bag! Not bad for Day 1 of the weekend!

Brad arrived around 7:30, and met me for a drink in the hotel bar. Les had come to take poor Jan home, but she was to ill with the flu to travel Friday night. Les had a drink with us before our lovely dinner at Antonello's. We started with a glass of prosecco, and then a nice salad with pears and gorgonzola. For his entree, Brad had veal, and I had my favorite dish on their menu: rolled lasagna pasta stuffed with cheese and prosciutto in a pink sauce and bechamel.

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I enjoyed coffee while Brad indulged in a chocolate lava cake with ice cream and fudge.

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On Saturday, we headed to the Bead Show at the Fair Grounds. We arrived shortly after it started at 10:00, and I frantically bought beads until 2:00, with one 10 minute break! It was overwhelming to see booth after booth with thousands of choices of stones, beads, crystals and gems! I will have lots of great January projects to work on!

We returned to South Coast Plaza and had lunch at Lawery's Carvery. Yummy prime rib sandwiches! Then we shopped...AGAIN.

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We did quite well and added a few new bags to the stash. It is getting crowded in our hotel suite!

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We had some "down time" and relaxed in the hotel. After a nap, we went out for a snack, as neither of us wanted dinner.

Sunday, we slept in, had coffee, and checked out at 10:00. We barely got all the shopping bags in Brad's trunk, and put our luggage in the back seat.
This is the SECOND load!

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We headed to Corona del Mar and had brunch at Bristol Farms. I bought everything I wanted at Sur La Table, and we enjoyed an hour of the beautifully decorated Roger's Gardens decorated for Christmas! I bought a topiary basket I can "accessorize" for every holiday!

We were home by 2:00 to finish the last tree, and be on time for the Slow Talk monthly book club! A perfect shopping weekend (except for Jan getting sick!).

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January 12, 2007

Italian Dreams

January SUCKS! I don't know exactly why I hate January so much every year, but I do. I count days for it to be over. It is one-twelfth of my life, but, evey year it seems to have the same effect on me. It is cold. (Ok, so I live in the desert, and it is currently in the 50s, but tonight it is supposed to hit 32 degrees!) I am not going outside. I am a cold wuss. You will not hear me complain in August when it is 118 degrees. It will be better than JANUARY!

I am also ALWAYS on a diet in January! Could be why I am GRUMPY. Actually, I am several of the dwarfs...Sleepy, Dopey, (Sneezy left, but I am still coughing!) I would like to crawl into bed and have someone wake me when January is over.

Since that is unlikely to happen, I must cope. My two usual coping strategies, cooking/eating, and SHOPPING, are not allowed right now. Oh sure, I can cook lowfat meals, whoopie..., or make another salad...contain my enthusiasm! I spent too much money in December, and at the Chico's opening January 4th (the last fun day in January), so I'm on self-imposed "Shopping Probation" for a while.

I have one coping mechanism left (alcohol has calories, so that's not it).

I will plan TRAVEL!

I am
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I have been looking for flights for our June trip, and found some I like today! Our tentative itinerary looks like this:

Florence 4 nights
Montalcino 4 nights
Umbria 7 nights
Cortona 4 nights
Chianti 4 nights

It seems like lots of moving around, but this trip is about returning to "Oldies but Goodies", and spending more time in Umbria. There will be a wonderful GTG in Assisi during our travel where I hope to meet Slow Travellers Janet, Barb and Art, Jane, Ken and Casey, Giulia, Judith and Letizia. I will also get to visit again with Alessandra, Judy (Diva), and even Pauline and Steve! I hope to visit Jane again in Chianti, see Tania and Keith in Cortona, and hook up with Ida and Bill in Florence!

In-between Slow Travel, hunting for airfares, and naps, I have a few of my Italy books open:

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I will just escape to Italian dreamland for the rest of the month!

January 25, 2007

Countdown to Paso Robles

On Friday, February 2, we will be joining a large group of Slow Travellers for a wine and food GTG in Paso Robles, California! Twelve of us will be sharing a rental house, http://www.cottageatcapitolhill.com/, where large group meals will take place. Brad and I will be staying at the house with Shannon, Colleen, Marcia and David, Beth, Marta and George!

Friday night kicks off the weekend with a pizza dinner, and meeting old and new friends.

Saturday's wine tasting agenda is as follows:

11:30 AM Wild Horse Winery
12:45 PM Castoro Cellars, Templeton. Shannon will be serving up cheese, pate and bread at this stop.
2:15 PM This is where the group will split up! There are four wineries to choose from.
4:00 PM Back to the house for the party.

I am going to hit the shops in Cambria in the morning ( and a BEAD store). I will meet the group (and see how much fun they are having) at Castoro Cellars. Well, I might need a snack! Then I'm back in downtown Paso to check out the Olive Oil shop and cheese store, and maybe a nap. I'm guessing Brad will need one before the party!

I'm bringing crab lasagna for Saturday night's dinner. We made two big pans last weekend, and they are waiting in the freezer!

Crab Filling:

1 lb. fresh crab, cleaned
1 c. ricotta
1 egg
3 chopped green onions
1 T. butter
7 oz. gruyere cheese, grated
zest of one lemon
salt and pepper

Sauté green onions in butter for 2 min.
Combine with crab and other ingredients in a bowl.

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Bechamel sauce:

6 T. Butter
6 T. flour
4 c. milk
salt and pepper to taste

In med. saucepan, over med. heat, melt butter and flour, cooking for 2 min.
Whisk in milk. Cook, stirring until thick and boiling. Set aside.

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Makes one 9x13 pan or 7-8 individual ramekins

Layer:
Béchamel sauce
Sheet of fresh pasta
Crab filling
Parmesan cheese
Repeat

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Depending on pasta. If you use homemade pasta that is very thin, you will have 4-5 layers. If using purchased semolina pasta sheets, it will be 3-4 layers.
On very top, end with pasta, béchamel, parmesan, and pine nuts.

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Bake at 350 for 30 minutes. Can be made the day before and refrigerate until baking.

January 30, 2007

Las Vegas Weekend

Friday morning, I drove the "back way" over the high desert to Las Vegas, with one Starbucks stop and another bathroom break. This is an interesting drive, but VERY isolated, and a little creepy with no other cars for miles, and no cell phone signal in case of an emergency! It took me 3 hours and 45 minutes.

I drove straight to Fashion Show Mall, and parked by Nordstrom. I phoned Vegas Ms. (Beth) from Slow Travel, and she met me for coffee with her mom, Betty. We had a nice visit talking about travel and ST, and upcoming GTGs! By the time we left the table, I think we had each gotten excited about each other's favorite vacation destinations...Italy for me...DUH!, and England for Beth!

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On the shopping front, I purchased a lovely black pant suit, a top, a blouse, and a scarf! I checked into Caesar's and picked Brad up from the airport. We had an uneventful dinner and evening of gambling.

On Saturday, we lingered over coffee, then hit three bead stores, and bought a birthday gift. We had time for an afternoon nap before going to Brad's cousin, Connie's home for dinner. Connie and John have moved to a beautiful new house about 30 minutes from the Strip. We had drinks and a BBQ with cousins Connie and John, Marti, and Linda and Phil, as well as friends!

We made it back to the Mirage for Brad's early Valentine gift: tickets to see Jay Leno! We picked up tickets, had a latte, and took our seats for the 10:30 Jay Leno show.

The opening act was quite a wonderdul surprise! The "Alley Cats" performed for the first half hour. They are an A Capella Doo Wop group made up of 4 guys from Orange County. They were AMAZING! I sang along with all of their songs: "At the Hop", "Book of Love". "Run Around Sue", "La Bamba/Twist and Shout", "Barbara Ann", and the funniest was bringing an older gentleman up from the audience to do the Bass part to "Blue Moon". (Bomp-a-ta-bomp, bomp-a-ta-bomp, bang-a-ta-bang, Blue Moon!) I thought I'd wet my pants laughing as they had him singing and doing their choreography (ski poles step left, ski poles step right...). Here is their website. If you have a chance to see them, don't miss it!

http://www.thealleycats.com/index.html

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Jay performed for a solid hour, barely stopping to take a breath. His routine was very funny, and pretty "clean"...refreshing for a headliner comedian in Vegas. We especially enjoyed his humor around America's poor eating habits, and stories of his Italian parents!

Sunday, we had a nice breakfast, walked through the Forum Shops (where I bought a pair of black/white walking shoes for Italy), and did a little more gambling. As we went to sleep at 3:00 a.m., we needed a nap, so we slept for a couple of hours, and got ready for Connie's 60th birthday dinner at Bally's.

We walked to Bally's and found the group in the appointed meeting place (a bar with music near the restaurant). We ordered drinks, and soon were seated at our table for 12 in the restaurant, "Al Dente". The table shared two orders of bruchetta, and two orders of fried calamari...more wine was ordered. While we waited for our entrees, we were served a complementary bowl of something that looked like one green ravioli sitting in a bowl of orangy-pink sauce. The first taste was a surprise in several ways. It was green ice cream sitting in a canteloupe "soup". The ice cream was basil flavored, and would have been lovely on it's own, or perhaps in a martini glass with a light lemony swirl under it. The canteloupe part was awful, a distracting flavor that overpowered the subtle basil ice cream, which was actually quite good. Our entrees arrived. There were a couple of ribeyes, a couple of lamp chops, a couple of lobsters, a couple osso buco, and a couple of pasta dishes ordered. Overall, the lamb and osso buco seemed to be the best choices. A birthday cake was served with coffee, and gifts were opened. It was a very nice evening, and Connie was happy to be surrounded by family and friends!

We walked back to Caesars for a last gambling fix, and were packed and in bed by midnight. The weekend went by quickly, but was a nice combination of shopping, relaxing, gambling, family time, with highlights of the Alley Cats, Jay Leno, and Connie's birthday dinner!

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Monday was a long, hard day, as we woke at 5:00 a.m., loaded the car, checked out of Caesar's at 6:10, and I dropped Brad off at the Las Vegas airport at 6:30. I then drove straight to work (one Starbucks/bathroom stop), and did supervision for a few hours, before my quick afternoon nap!

February 7, 2007

The SLOW BOWL: Part II

Saturday morning, I woke up at 7 to an almost eerie foggy winter scene. My guess is that it was somewhere in the 30's. BRRRR. Good things we had that lovely fireplace in our room, and I brought my flannel jammies!

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I had coffee with Shannon who was already up organizing breakfast. Soon Marcia and Colleen appeared, and I braved the elements and went out for a smoke (with my jacket on over my pajamas). In a neighboring Oak tree, at least a dozen vultures gathered! We did NOT share our breakfast goodies!

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Soon, everyone in the house was up and moving. Many from the close-by motels joined us for breakfast. I met Cheryl, and Kathi and Rob. Shannon did an amazing job of planning and shopping for breakfast foods! There were seven kinds of cereal, granola, fruits, cakes, breads, bagels, muffins, croissants, jams, yogurt, cheeses, juices, and MANY pots of coffee or tea!

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Shannon signed three copies of the new "Chow Venice" for me.

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At 10:30, I decided to skip the first winery, White Horse, and I drove over the hill to charming Cambria. When I left Paso Robles. it was 40 degrees and the fog was just starting to lift. 15 minutes later, over the hill near the ocean, it was 61 and sunny.
I walked through the little shops in Cambria, and had a lovely latte sitting in the sun.
I bought two birthday gifts for friends, some hand-made glass beads to make a necklace, a Valentine's pin for myself, and several funny cards.

I met the ST group at the second winery, Casoro Vineyards. Most of the crowd was there, and I was happy to see Chris and Frank, Wendy and Rob, and delighted to meet Krista and Steve.

There are tons of winery photos on Slow Photos, so for the sake on blogspace, take a look here: http://www.slowphotos.com/photo/showgallery.php?cat=4052

We continued on the wine tour to Eberle Winery, where a private tasting had been set up for us on the lawn. It was sunny and warm enough to remove my jacket! After the winery, Brad and I stopped in downtown Paso with a successful purchase at their funky bead shop! I will be back there next year!

Next blog will be SLOW BOWL Part III: Saturday Night!

February 8, 2007

SLOW BOWL Part III: Saturday Night's Dinner

After the wineries, and shopping, we had a little downtime, and Brad took a quick nap, while I read and freshened up. Soon friends gathered at the cottage, and appetizers appeared as the chefs worked their magic. There was obviously no shortage of vino!

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We enjoyed Marian's cheeses, and Colleen's yummy pastry-wrapped brie with cranberries and pecans (FOUR batches).

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We salivated while watching Sharon create her creamy mushroom cups.

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Nancy arrived with her upbeat sister, JoAnn, and her delicious apple-gorgonzola salad. They poured over my scrapbooks of Italy.

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Brad and I were able to catch up with Kathy (AnnieK) about the past six years. She was there the night we met, and we hadn't seen her since our wedding.
David was busy filling the most gigantic salad bowl in the world with Caesar salad.

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Wendy had gallons of corn chowder on the stove, next to Kathy's delicious chicken cacciatore and creamy polenta with fontina.

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My crab lasagnas were in the oven, with Dave's eggplant parm right behind. It was a feast Slow Travel style: plenty of food and wine with GREAT company; a true celebration!

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How we managed to eat more after that feast is truely amazing, but the desserts were plentyful! Krista made both an olive oil citrus cake, and a Tiger Bundt cake that were delicious, and Marcia's lemon curd cheesecake is also a keeper. There were cookies and chocolates all over the house!

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Coming soon...later in the evening, Sunday morning, and some final thoughts!


SLOW BOWL Part IV: Finale

COMMONALITY: Travel, appreciation of good food and wine!

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COMMUNITY: Old and new friends sharing.

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FRIENDSHIP:

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LAUGHTER:

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CELEBRATION:

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These photos say it all. What a wonderful group of generous, helpful, kind, and interesting people! Brad and I managed to be the last ones up two nights in a row.

Sunday morning, when I came upstairs for coffee, Shannon and Marta had a full set of "bag lunches" ready for all of us to take for our drives home. Chris arrived with dozens of delicious homemade cinnamon rolls ready to bake.

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FABULOUS WEEKEND! We are all ready to return for SLOWBOWL TWO!


April 19, 2007

Arriving in North Carolina

After less than 3 hours of sleep, the alarm went off at the ungodly hour of 3:45 a.m.. We were on our way to the Ontario airport by 5 a.m., and our 7:20 flight to Denver left on time. We had to rush to the next gate at a different terminal, so no time for a coffee, snack, or even a stop in the beautiful "smoking lounge". Remind me to make future connections in Denver whenever there is no snow. Most airport smoking lounges are disgusting, even for a nicotine addict. This one looked like an upscale bar with nice chairs and tables and clear air. It was empty. Healthy Colorado!

We arrived in Charlotte, NC, and I sat with the luggage while Brad picked up our rental car (complete with GPS!). I nursed a Starbucks while we waited for Jan's flight to arrive from Florida. One of the fun things about meeting other Slow Travelers, is you have already developed a relationship on the message board, or through PM, and in our case, Jan and I have been working together for several months on a committee to plan next year's Savannah Gathering. We already felt like "old friends" before we met.
As we circled the airport, we connected by cell phone, and found her at baggage claim. Excited hugs were followed by non-stop conversation in the car for our almost two-hour drive to Hendersonville.

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Brad and I checked in to the lovely B&B, Pinebrook Manor. (More on this later.) We explored our new "home" for the next three nights, then went into town in search of dinner.

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Dinner at Flight

We cruised the Main Street of Hendersonville (actually called Main Street), and looked at choices for dinner. Melanie had recommended a wood grill/wine bar called "Flight". It looked like just what we were looking for.

There was a very cool mobile of dozens of birds hanging from the ceiling. The restaurant had two dining areas, and we opted for the upstairs, which seemed quieter.

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The menu was varied, but featered several wood-smoked meat dishes, and a few seafood options. We had a glass of wine, and chose our entrees. Brad and I both had a grilled flatiron steak, topped with a gorgonzola-horseradish mixture. I t came with crisp mixed veggies and a lovely prosciutto-pea risotto. Jan had grilled trout with the same side dishes.

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A second glass of wine and some coffee got me relaxed and excited about the weekend Slow Travel GTG.

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April 20, 2007

Pinebrook Manor Bed & Breakfast

Kathy Wood suggested the B&B where we stayed in Hendersonville, NC. There are four comfortable rooms. When we arrived, Melanie, the charming proprietor told us she had upgraded us to the largest suite, as we were the only guests on Thursday night. There would be another couple there over the weekend.

The house's living area was spacious and tastefully decorated. Here is the living room, complete with a massive fireplace, comfortable seating, and a piano.

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The dining room held the coffee area, where I could frequently be found before breakfast.

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More info on Pinebrook Manor can be found on their website:http://www.pinebrookmanor.com/

A Southern Breakfast

Each night at Pinebrook Manor, we were able to choose what time we wanted breakfast (but coffee was available early). We decided we could be showered and caffinated enough for me to make complete sentences by 9 a.m..

Here is the plant-filled breakfast room overlooking the "back yard" and wedding garden.

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Our first breakfast was sweet potato pancakes with ginger butter, bacon and fresh mixed berries with yogurt.

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Our two other breakfasts were stuffed French toast (with cream cheese and marmelade), and a mushroom, green onion, ham and cheese fritatta with cranberry-orange muffins.

Our Room: Lord Byron Suite

We were upgraded to the largest suite at Pinebrook Manor: The Lord Byron Suite.

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The King bed was so high, one of us (not me) had to use the little mahagony steps to get up on it! Behind the screen was a large jacuzzi tub. The bathroom had a very large marble shower, and the fireplace was delightful.

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April 22, 2007

Our Hosts' Beautiful Home

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One of the highlights of our weekend was meeting our gracious hosts, the Candlers.
Linda and John welcomed us to their lovely home on grounds of the Brevard Music Center. Linda feels about France, the way I do about Italy. Every room has art, fabrics and treasures from their visits to Provence. The front doors, living room mantle and two huge French doors in the dining room were all shipped from France. This is an amazing home in a beautiful wooded setting with a babbling creek running through the back yard.

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One of my FAVORITE things to do is decorate, and to visit beautifully appointed, yet comfortable homes of friends. This one certainly fit the bill as a great home to entertain guests!

To see more photos of this beautiful home, check out:
http://www.slowphotos.com/photo/showphoto.php?photo=36370&cat=4121

April 23, 2007

Linda's Santon Dolls

I love collections, and appreciate others who have the desire (and space) to show and share theirs. Since I've never been to Provence, I was interested in learning about Linda's beautiful collection of Santon dolls. The faces are made of clay, and each doll is dressed and carries a gift. The tradition is to include the "village people" bringing gifts to the Christ Child with the nativity scene figures. Linda's collection is beautiful.

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This French artisit with his painting of Provence was my favorite!

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April 28, 2007

ST Southeast GTG in Brevard: April 2007

The Brevard GTG was a whole week ago, and there was so much to blog about, and so many photos, that it is time I finally get to the party itself! On Friday night, we met around 5 p.m. for wine at Linda and John's party-ready home. It was fabulous to see "old friends" Kathy, Pauline and Steve, and Jan (now "old friends" since we met yesterday)!

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We spent the evening meeting, and getting to know so many new friends! Sandi and Bill were lots of fun, and we think our hubbies look like brothers! I can't wait to spend a week in Italy with Sandi in 2008!

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We had a delicious dinner: chicken-spinach lasagna, salad, rolls, and lemon or chocolate desserts. After dinner, the "new" Slowchicks performed, Pauline awarded ST baseball caps, Earline read her poem, Kelly and Riley entertained, and we enjoyed a whole lovely night of connecting with other Slow Travelers!

On Saturday, the whole gang showed up again at Linda and John's for more vino and fun before we went to dinner at the charming Hob Knob restaurant in Brevard.

For everyone's Slow Photos of the weekend, see:
http://www.slowphotos.com/photo/showgallery.php?cat=4120

May 10, 2007

Brad's Birthday

I left for Scottsdale at 7:30 a.m., and arrived at our Marriott Suites by 11:30 (with one Starbucks stop). After checking in, I hit Nordstrom and bought two skirts and a pair of black sandals. From there I visited favorite shops in the Borgota (a shopping center modeled after an Italian village), Seville Center, and the Marketplace. It was 105 degrees, and by 4, I headed back to my room and cranked down the air conditioning. After ordering a snack and a drink from room service, I joined the Slow Travel Thursday chat, then took a nap. I got a phone call from Brad at 6:15 saying he had missed his flight to Phoenix! (This happened two years ago when we also came to Scottsdale for our birthdays.) He would be on the 7:30 flight, which was running late! So much for our 8:30 dinner reservation. I settled in by the pool with a diet coke and my book (after Googling restaurants under "late night dining"). Brad also did some research, and came up with plan B for dinner. He arrived at 9:50, and we were at "Twisted" by 10:15.

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Twisted has been open only three months. We ordered wine, and were brought a complementary pretzel appetizer.

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Our appetizers were both great. I had ravioli gnudi in basil olive oil, and Brad had a spicy gazpacho with "Pueblo pesto".

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Our entrees both could be categorized as "jazzed up comfort food". Brad had "Pepper, Coriander Crusted Pork Tenderloin" stuffed with goat cheese and cranberries, with carmalized sweet garlic green apples and pomegranate red wine reduction.

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I had "Rocky Mountain Range Meatloaf". At the bottom of the stack was a thick gorgonzola stuffed crostini, served open face with a large serving of meatloaf of organic buffalo, lamb, and wild boar; with Serrano bacon and Creole Sauce.

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Brad cleaned his dessert plate of a Triple Layer Ancho chili chocolate cake with chipolte chocolate mousse and dark chocolate ganache. I had one of his berries and coffee! It was after midnight, and I was in a food coma!

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Even with the delay, Brad had a very nice birthday!

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May 11, 2007

Tween Day

"Tween Day" is May 11. It is the day BETWEEN Brad's birthday and my birthday. I have ALWAYS shared my birthday. I was born on my father's 65th birthday, and it falls close to Mother's Day, so as I child, the three of us celebrated all three events. There was usually a party/family dinner on the closest Saturday, then Mom was taken out for Mother's Day. Brad and I enjoy celebrating our birthdays (usually out of town for the weekend) together, and dragging out the festivities for all three days! We have had birthday celebrations in Laguna Beach, Las Vegas, and Scottsdale. Next year will be Brad's BIG __(the one after 59). He has chosen ROME for the destination! Oh darn!

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May 12, 2007

The Boulders

When I wake up on my birthday, I feel like a little kid on Christmas morning. I also feel like the old TV show, "Queen for a Day"! Brad gives me cards throughout the day, starting the moment I open my eyes! 364 days a year, I am the first one up. On my birthday, Brad gets up to have that first sip of coffee with me.

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After a latte, we drove out to the Boulders Resort, about 25 miles outside of Scottsdale.
http://theboulders.com/?src=ppc_google_brand&s_kwcid=the%20boulders|1041093134

Our first stop was El Pedregal, the shopping and dining complex near the resort.
http://www.elpedregal.com/

Brad bought one of my birthday gifts in a nice shop there (details later).
The buildings, and casitas at The Boulders blend in with the rock formations and desert landscape. I would imagine it beautiful at sunset. After walking around the resort, we visited the Four Seasons Resort, just down the road. We had a good lunch in their dining room.

The Arizona desert is beautiful, especially with the cactus in bloom, and the surrounding mountains. It is very different than the Palm Springs/Palm Desert area where we live. Our area is much more of an oasis with palm trees and tropical flowers everywhere, and more agriculture (dates, citrus, and even grapes). I think it is even drier. Since we are just two hours from the ocean, we get a LITTLE humidity. In Arizona, 105 felt much hotter than it does at home!

It was definitely time for gelato and a nap!

May 31, 2007

Packing for Italy

I am convinced NO ONE packs like I do for a trip to Europe! I continually read packing threads on Slow Talk, and am AMAZED at how little people bring for a three week trip. Let me start by saying we always have a big rental car, we don't take trains, as Brad LOVES driving in Italy, and I have no trouble lifing or managing my luggage! Brad is also a wonderful "Schleppopotomus". He is always entertained and challenged by getting everything in the rental car trunk the first time he must pack it.

I always pack ON PAPER first, not in my closet. I type a full page of everything I will bring, then add accessories, purses, shoes, shawls, and misc. items like books, maps, camera, chargers, adapters, Italy cell phone, etc. When I am done with my list, I check off each item as I pack it.

Our Italy days go something like this:
We get up early (6:30-7ish). I wash my face, run a brush through my hair, and jump into capris and a top. Palma goes outside to caffinate and smoke. Breakfast. Brush teeth. Out the door by 9ish. Hang out in a hilltown, or city, exploring our surroundings, shopping, sightseeing, stopping for breaks in caffes. 1p.m.ish: Lunch. Unless we are on a daytrip, we return to our room for a nap from 3-5ish. THEN I shower, wash hair, put on some make-up (low maintence 15-20 min. max for the whole routine!) and dress nicely for dinner (usually a skirt or dressier top, or dress).

If we are on a daytrip, where we won't return until after dinner (three times this trip), then I shower in the morning and wear something like a skirt or sundress for the day.

This year's pack list (Which is the LEAST I have EVER brought) consists of :
7 pair capris/crop pants (3 black, 3 white, one black/white)
1 pair long linen pants
4 skirts
3 dresses
3 purses/one evening bag
3 pair shoes plus what I wear on plane (black, white, dressy black, gold)
3 very lightweight summer cardigans/jackets (black, white, an one matching skirts)
21 daytime tops
5 dressier tops
4 shawls
2 nightgowns/light robe
bathing suit/cover-up
22 pair of underwear (throw one away each day) more room for shopping
3 bras
14 selected pieces of "fun" jewelry (all made by me)
Trader Joe's insulated bag (for wine, cheese, cold cuts)
Slow Travel tote bag
3 books to read/journal (Brad brings 3, and we trade)
Cosmetic case (size of a zip-lock bag)
cigarettes (Cartons fit in side zipper. Can't buy Virginia Slims in Italy.)
Brad packs laptop, ipod, camera, converters, chargers, Italian cell phone

Yes, this ALL FITS in my Briggs and Riley 28 inch roller bag, and is around 48 lbs.
In my small carry-on bag, I bring my jewelry, my pillow, and a book for the plane. My purse with passports/tickets/journal fits in there too.

So, it all fit, but then I take a few things out of the BIG bag, and put them in my 22" roller bag (which attaches with a strap, and they roll together). In here goes a few gifts for people I will see in Italy. The point is, I will have the 22" bag virtually EMPTY to fill with whatever I buy in Italy. DUH!

Why would I dress any differently than I do at home? I also don't do laundry on vacation (may send bras or nightgown to hotel laundry). Brad has laundry/dry cleaning done half-way through a trip, and wears everything twice. He is MUCH fussier than I am about packing.

I did my "fake pack" last weekend. (Must make sure everything fit in my bag, and stayed under weight limits.) All my clothes are ready, and I won't wear them before I go (OK, I might have to borrow one of the pair of white capris...)

Here is what I DON'T bring:
umbrella (don't ever use one at home either...my hair will dry...)
closed-toe shoes (only worn in winter)
Meds/first aid items consist of my once-a- week calcium pill, a few bandaids, a tube of neosporin and some Advil. (That's all I have at home too!)
Guide books. I've already done my homework. I have confirmations, maps, and ST restaurant lists in a folder.

Now I must wait 28 days to go!

June 7, 2007

3 Weeks to Go!

I can't sleep. It is 1:36 a.m., and three weeks from tonight, we will be leaving for the airport (at 4 a.m.) for this summer's trip to Italy!

June 28: ONT-ATL-FCO

June 29: Arrive in Rome at 8:30 a.m., drive to Firenze. Dinner at Cibreo.

June 30: Mercato, San Lorenzo, lunch and "walking tour" with Ida and Bill.
Celebrate Ida's birthday with lunch at Osteria Vini e Vecchi Sapori, and
dinner at Buca Lapi.

July 1: Florence: I Latini (maybe a visit with Jane, Ken and Casey)

July 2: Lunch with Gloria in Pisa, afternoon in Fiesole, drink at Hotel San Michele
Dinner in Florence at Osteria Chingale Bianco

July 3: Shopping stop in San Gimignano on our way to Montalcino
Dinner at Grappolo Blu

July 4: Mt. Oliveto, Bagni Vignoni, evening in Montalcino

July 5: Meet Ida and Bill in Montalcino. Market Day
Lunch at Latte di Luna in Pienza
Afternoon at Amorosa (in the enoteca), explore Montisi
Dinner at Da Roberto in Montisi

July 6: Montalcino in morning, Banfi winery in afternoon.
Dinner at Poggio Antico

July 7-13: Drive to Umbria: Le Case Gialle
Umbria Jazz Festival
visit Assisi, Montefalco, Todi, Bevagna, Spello
lunch with Judith

July 14-16: Cortona
Visit with Alessandra & family, Tania & Keith

July 17: drive to Hotel Villa Le Barone in Panzano

July 18: back to Assisi for Slow Travel GTG!!!

July 19-20: Chianti
dinner with Jane, Ken and Casey

July 21: FCO-ATL-ONT

June 11, 2007

Accessorize!

Accessorize.jpg

I took this photo of a shop sign last fall in Bologna, not because I liked the store (mostly junky teen jewelry), but because I love the WORD, and the concept of accessorizing. I have gone through many "phases" of hobbies in my life, and always seem to need some kind of creative outlet. Besides cooking, a constant interest and way to create something, I have had my share of hobbies and crafts that seem to be related to this theme: At one time I had 14 dollhouses or miniature room boxes. I enjoyed decorating each scene, almost as much as decorating my "real house". I have gone through painting clothing and silk scarves, stained glass, and scrapbooking is still a favorite form of accessorizing pages of photos.

I am currently in my JEWELRY PHASE. I used to buy both costume and semiprecious stone jewelry to complement special outfits. Shoes and purses to go along with the deal were (and are still) fun too! For the past year, I have bought more beads/stones, and made many of my own necklaces, bracelets and earrings. I obviously have too much time on my hands! Making SOMETHING is relaxing, fun, and allows me to experiment with color, texture, and ACCESSORIZING!

So the clothing has been packed for two weeks, and we still have two weeks to go before the Italy trip. (The pants and capris are waiting on hangers in the guest room). As I added accessories (jewelry, shawls, and purses) to the basic wardrobe of white or black pants, capris and skirts, and a couple of dresses, I took a few photos to illustrate how I add accessories to the basics. For the next week or so, I will blog about my "Palmabella Jewelry", and how to incorporate it into my Italy wardrobe.

Brad bought me these luscious seafoam green faceted beads at the Jem Faire in Costa Mesa in December. They were in my Christmas stocking.

Seafoam%20necklace.jpg

In January, after completing the necklace, and having just enough beads left for a matching bracelet, I found this shawl in Las Vegas. They easily dress up my white eyelet skirt with a white top or tank! (They are a little more flattering on my neck than on my white guestroom duvet cover!)

Seafoam%20shawl.jpg

Stay tuned for much more!

From Table to Dining Out

I like to find different ways to use my accessories (I have a Christmas stocking that I use as a holiday purse), when I am not wearing them. This Italian shawl was being used as a runner on my dining room table, until I snatched it up and added it to my suitcase.

Table%20service.jpg

It works with this green stretch top, and EITHER the yellow glass beads, OR the dressier green necklace. Those stones remind me of juicy green grapes! (Keep picturing the white cotton skirt, white linen pants, or white capris on the bottom half.)

Green%20and%20yellow.jpg

I have been kicking myself for months for not buying more clasps in Italy last year. I found a FABULOUS bead shop in Bologna, where the clasps cost me 3-6 Euro. Here they average about $30 each on up! I only bought a dozen. What was I thinking? They do NOT have a website, but I am practicing my Italian, and hope to be able to order some by phone!

This is a "daytime" fun necklace. I call it my "Candy Necklace". (Everything seems to go back to food with me!) I bought these African beads in a shop in Brevard, NC, when we attended the Slow Travel GTG. Here they are with a yellow Chico's tank, but they go with almost any of my solid color tops and black or white capris.

Candy%20necklace.jpg

June 12, 2007

Add Some Color!

Murano glass! On our last trip to Venice in 2003, I did NOT make my own jewelry. We bought art glass and added to our crystal glasses. Why was I not thinking BUY BEADS!? I bought a tiny handful of loose glass beads, just because I knew that someday I would find something to do with them. Oh well, I now have yet ANOTHER reason to go back!

I found these coral and gold Murano beads at a bead show in Ontario, and couldn't resist, as coral is one of my favorite summer colors.

Coral%20beads.jpg

That white skirt or linen pants will get a new punch with coral top, beads, shawl and purse. (I'm leaving the coral sandals at home, as this is Palma's attempt at "packing light"!)

Coral%20clothes.jpg

Coral looks GREAT against a tan too!

For a cool daytime look, I have a coral t-shirt top with white capris (really cropped pants), a white eyelet "jeans jacket", and beads that look like eyelet. This necklace works with ANY color of my stack of solid color tops: coral, yellow, green, red, aqua, magenta, or black!

white%20eyelet.jpg

Jazzing Up Brown

I love my VERY comfy Chico's chocolate brown "Travelers" dress. It has an empire waist, and capped sleeves. By itself...boring. I can change the look with two of my most recent necklaces.

Here are the citrine beads I bought in L.A., before meeting southern California Slow Travel friends at Mozza for pizza in March. I strung them with the pendant Brad bought me at the Boulders resort in Scottsdale on our birthday weekend. Yesterday's post made me think I associate a lot of my jewelry with food, but today I realize I associate some pieces with trips!

Citrine.jpg

Let's add an inexpensive Italian market shawl.

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This is one of my favorites! There are 6 strands of champagne and bronze freshwater keshi pearls. As luck would have it, I bought the perfect clasp for it in Bologna, figuring someday I'd find a use for a brown clasp!

Pearl%20necklace.jpg

How about with a bronze San Gimignano shawl, and a beaded purse? At home I would wear beaded bronze sandals, but in Italy I will make due (on those cobblestones) with my gold leather espadrilles!

Brown%20with%20pearls.jpg


June 13, 2007

Bright Red and White

I love red! I mixed this Murano glass focal bead with red beaded rounds that Brad calls "raspberries", and small white seed beads. Guess I'm not the ONLY one who thinks of jewelry in terms of food.

red%20and%20white.jpg

These what I refer to as "pregnant tops" are in. After a couple weeks of gelato and Italian food, I'll be ready for something loose, comfy and cool!

red%20top.jpg

Sandi, here is a closeup of one of the Bologna clasps:

clasp.jpg

June 14, 2007

Black and White

This trip I have a lot of black and white clothes that mix and match. This is a lampwork bead and black jet bead necklace.

Black%20%26%20white%20lampwork.jpg

Here it is with a black and white skirt, shoes, and purse!

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I made this ceramic bead necklace specifically for these Chico's black & white striped capris, although I have worn it with other outfits.

Black%20%26%20white%20capris.jpg

Tomorrow more black and white!

June 15, 2007

Let's Go Dressy!

In 2005, I bought a piece of designer gold jewelry in Lucca. Orlando Orlandini is an award winner goldsmith with a workshop in Panzano. I had priced his work in a the U.S., and knew I was getting a good price in Italy.

Here is his website:http://www.orlandoorlandini.it/

The piece I bought (signed and numbered and in a BEAUTIFUL BOX) is this gold "lace heart" with a diamond. To me, it symbolizes that my heart is in Italy.

Gold Heart Pendant

The problem I have had, for two years, is that the heart came on a black silk cord. Every time I wear it, in a few minutes, the heart slides, and the clasp ends up in the front! I stopped wearing it! Last week, I decided to "mess with it", and re-use the heart as a centerpiece for some gorgeous black crystals I bought in Scottsdale. Now I will wear my heart again!

gold%20heart.jpg

Let's try it with a sleeveless white "Traveler's" top, cutwork skirt and cardigan jacket:
I think this evening bag makes the gold beads pop (and it packs flat)!

Dressy%20Chicos.jpg

June 17, 2007

Waiting...

Eleven days from today, we will be here:

Florence.jpg

Yesterday, Brad sent me these flowers. When I asked him why, he said, "You should have flowers while you are waiting to go to Italy!"

Flowers.jpg

We got a few last minute (actually, we are incredibly early) trip things done this weekend. We downloaded Season 6 of 24 to watch during our week long vacation renatl in Umbria. We made copies of our passports and credit cards. We bought snacks, and did some housecleaning.

Sandi suggested I look for sunflower beads. Ask and you shall receive:

sunflower.jpg

June 19, 2007

Blog Comments

Anyone with a blog LOVES getting comments from friends and readers! So THANKS to all who read and post a comment!

I thought I'd respond to a few recent comments!

Jerry said:
"Palma - if you started selling your jewelery you would be able to take three more trips to Italy each year! Your work is wonderful."

In reality, if I hadn't bought beads this year, I could have taken another trip to Italy!
I LOVE Jerry's blog for both his recipes and his rants! If we lived closer, I would be one size larger!

Sandi said:
"I love your beads! I am on a bracelet fix~ I have braclets to match everything. "

I love bracelets too, and was on a bracelet kick last year. I have made LOTS of bracelets for gifts, but I often wear my stash of 10Euro ones from San Gimignano, that I couldn't duplicate for twice the price and lots of my time! Sandi's blog is another I read regularily for her yummy recipes. I am waiting for some jewelry photos!

Judith said:
"If I see you wearing this outfit in Italy, be warned. I am stripping it right off you and stealing it."

I will NOT be wearing this when I meet Judith! Me in my underwear is a blog we can all do without. My initial reaction is anything I wore would be SEVERAL sizes too big for Judith, but then I remembered that she sews, and has all those contacts that do tailoring! Judith, here is the cutwork skirt and that goes with that jacket:

Cutwork%20skirt.jpg

I also love Judith's blog! Italian recipes, fashion, and stories that make one THINK!

Judith, here is a blurry photo of the cutwork top with another crystal necklace:

crystal.jpg

For those of you bored with the jewelry, just a couple more days! I'll get back to some food, and next week...ITALY!


June 20, 2007

Checklist: Countdown

One more week to go! Though my clothes have been packed for WEEKS (except the capris/pants hanging by my suitcase), there are still a FEW things to do before Italy!

I began cleaning my house thoroughly for my wonderful housesitter/dogsitter, Andrea.

Yesterday I got my haircut, Brad gets trimmed on Saturday.

I have printed out all my lists, restaurants, confirmations, and Slow Travel stuff and they are in a in a folder in Brad's carry-on. So are the maps. (I found the maps last night at 1 a.m. when I couldn't sleep.)

The jewelry weighed in at 8 pounds. Now, this may seem like a lot of weight, but all that is in my carry-on is the jewelry, a book and snacks for the plane, and my pillow that smushes down to nothing. About 12 lbs. total. I have been carrying lots more than that around on my hips for years!

I put all necessary phone numbers, Italian cell numbers and contacts in Italy into my journal. That stays in my purse.

I made a green necklace out of freshwater pearls I've had for a year.

green%20necklace.jpg

Brad renewed his International Driver's License.

I checked our passports and put them in my travel purse. They don't expire until 2011. I am SURE!

I got a spare pair of sunglasses. At home I only wear them on my raft in the pool, or when I drive with my convertible top down. I always take sunglasses on trips.
They match my sundress, and countless other black and white clothes.

sunglasses.jpg

Brad's new toy, a Garmin Nuvi 670 GPS (with Europe maps) arrived yesterday. Tonight he can unpack it and play with it.

Next week, I have clients, get my nails done, and call the credit card companies.

I think I'll go re-check my flights.

June 23, 2007

Last of the Jewelry (for now)

I have a couple more photos of jewelry I made for the trip. Here are four-strands of brightly colored crystals twisted together:

colored%20crystals.jpg

This outfit (I bought the shirt/jacket in Asheville, N.C.) is what I had in mind:

jacket.jpg

If I eat my way through Italy, I may have to wear a lot of those elastic waist skirts! If that is the case, I can at least dress it up with this bag:

Fun%20bag.jpg

And while we're accessorizing the white, how about this bracelet and ring from my last trip to Capri? YES, I'd like to find some beads like these to make a necklace!!!

Capri%20jewelry.jpg

June 27, 2007

One More Day!

"My bags are packed, I'm ready to go..."
Friday morning we will be Firenze!

Duomo.jpg

Today my tasks are to pick up the rental car, get my nails done, see three clients, and sleep for a few hours before we get up at 3 a.m. Thursday to leave for the airport.

I hope plan to blog from Italia, so stay tuned for the food, the sights, the gelato, the cappucino, the GTGs, the vino, and of course...a little shopping!

Whoo hoo! Soon I'll be blogging from:

Palma%20Firenze.jpg

June 28, 2007

Pre-trip Insomnia

It is Thursday at 2:20 a.m., and we are leaving for the Ontario, CA airport at 4:00 a.m. for our flight to Atlanta. I have been up since Wednesday at 5:30 a.m.. I'm too excited to sleep! I saw clients last night until 9, and Brad got home from work at 9:30, staying to get EVERYTHING done so he can relax on vacation. We shared a sandwich for dinner, closed the luggage, and then I HAD to watch Top Chef! At 11, I played with the dog, who was glaring at the luggage.

Now I am drinking coffee...DUH, and because Brad has to drive the 1.5 hours to the airport, he is in the middle of a 2 hour nap. I was tired four hours ago... but now I am hyped up and ready to roll. I'm also on page 224 of the book I saved to read on the plane. If I can stay awake until Atlanta, I won't be needing that Tylenol PM in my purse for the flight to Rome!

In 10 minutes, I will wake Brad and jump in the shower. I can hear Italian music in my head. I will have gelato in the next 24 hours. I can't wait to hear the voice of our new GPS speaking Italian.

It's now 3:38, and the luggage is in the rental car! The 2 big bags are our clothes. The small suitcase and red duffel are filled with suprises (60 lbs of them) for my Italian Slow Travel friends! The other red bag is my carry-on, weighing in at 15.5 lbs. That's jewelry, my pillow, a book and some snacks. Brad's computer bag didn't make the photo! Travel light? One bag less than last year, and those two will be empty soon, so I might not have to hit Mail Boxes Etc. in Panzano!

luggage.jpg

Ok, time to put the laptop in Brad's bag, and we're OFF and even ahead of schedule!

ARE WE THERE YET???

June 29, 2007

Ciao from Firenze!

We had long , easy flights with lots of sleep on the planes. We arrived in Firenze on Friday afternoon, after driving from Rome. Our Hotel Burchianti is charming and our room has a lovely frescoed ceiling full of fat cherubs eating grapes.

Our first evening, we enjoyed a fabulous dinner at Il Cibreo. We began with a glass of Prosecco and they brought complementary appetizers of a savory ricotta pudding and crostini with pate. Then bread, caponata, roasted peppers, a tomato aspic and zucchini arrived. The waiter pulls a chair up to your table and proceeds to explain choices for the first two courses. For our primi piatti, Brad had a lovely polenta with butter and shaved parmesano, and I had potato-ricotta flan with fresh basil pesto on the side. My challenge will be for Diva to get me that recipe. OMG! It was to die for, so light and delicious! The pesto was so light, it was almost like a basil mousse!

ricotta%20flan.jpg

For our entrees, I had vitello tonato with a glass of Trebbio and Brad had squab with a Chianti Classico. We passed on dolci, but were brought a piece of complementary flourless chocolate cake.

We walked to Vivoli for gelato....yes it was fabulous. Brad tried cafe-ciocolato and stracchiatella, while I had crema and amaretto. YUM! One more cappucino and we were asleep by 1:00. A Perfect first night's dinner!

Cibreo.jpg

June 30, 2007

A Taxi Ride to Remember

I had a fabulous day of shopping in Firenze, which I will blog about later. The point of THIS story, is that , unfortunately, I arrived in Florence with a blister on my bunion. After walking and shopping from 8 a.m. through the Mercato Centrale, San Lorenzo, down Via Proconsolo, around the Palazzo Vecchio, a stop for lunch, Santa Croce neighborhood, and ending up at Santo Spirito, my feet could go no more. This was a fabulous accident, or just fate. We walked to a taxi stand. There were no taxis for several minutes. Finally along came a strange looking vehicle... a white station wagon, decorated with bright stickers, decals, and plush flowers. The inside was even more "decorated" with floor mats that looked like black & white checkered tile, TONS of stuffed animals, and baskets of lollipops. The driver was an attractive woman wearing a large hat, covered in flowers.

Taxi.jpg

She was quite a character, and at first I thought she was a harmless eccentric "nutcase". She talked about how the world needed more love, and didn't have a clue where our hotel was. We directed her along the way, as she talked about how people should worry less about money, and concentrate more on love. Then she explained that her husband had died of cancer six years ago. This had been his taxi. Then her close friend lost a child, Tommasino, to cancer. SHe now uses her cab to transport cancer patients for free, and to take children with cancer for rides. In the back seat we saw photos of her with Paul Newman and other celebs. She has established a foundation in Tommasino's name.

By the time we got her to our hotel, she was my new best friend. Brad tipped her triple our fare, and I was in tears when we got out. She posed for this photo, Her tearful and heartfelt message was to make the most of every day and to share love with others. I was GRATEFUL that my blister prevented us from walking back to the hotel, or we would not have met this amazing woman. (My foot did NOT hurt later at dinner!)

Taxi%20Lady.jpg

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.

San%20Michele.jpg

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.

SM%20Garden.jpg

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.

Dinks%20at%20SM.jpg

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!

shopping.jpg

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...

leather.jpg

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!

Ponte%20Vecchio.jpg

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!!!

strozzopretti.jpg

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!

Chingale%20Bianco.jpg

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:

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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!

August 20, 2007

Happy Anniversary

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No, not for Brad and I. THAT Anniversary is in September. But just two years ago, today, I became a member of the Slow Travel family! I can't believe it has only been two years since I started reading travel information about Italy, trip reports, and posting questions and comments on the Slow Talk message boards. At first, it was just a great source of information. Soon, I developed relationships with members, made friends, and found myself an actively participating member of the community, and THAT was the first six months. We took a pasta class from Diva and attended out first GTG in Sonoma in March, 2007. That was the beginning!

Fast forward to the present. Brad and I have both formed deep and growing friendships. We have attended many Slow Travel GTGs and hosted one last fall. Our social life, like a magnet to a compass, has been pointing more and more toward our ST friends. In 2007, I met Beth in Las Vegas for a quiet cup of coffee, kicked off the year with the fabulous "Slow Bowl" in Paso Robles, dinner at Mozza in Los Angeles, and dinner in Pasadena when Jerry was in town. We had an evening in La Quinta with Carole and friends. We flew across the country in April to attend the Brevard, NC get-together. Sheena and her daughters also visited us in the desert in April. In June, we had dinner with Nancy and Bill in the desert. WOW! I have not made it to a Bay Area event yet this year. That must change!

This summer we met an amazing number of friends in Italy: first Sheri and Joe in Florence; Gloria and Marcel in Pisa; and old friends, Ida and Bill in Montalcino. We spent days with Barb and Art, and Judith in Umbria. We were able to visit Jane, Ken and Casey twice and THEN, we saw everyone again at the big get-together in Umbria! We met Mary T., Corrina, Janet, Valerie, Karen, KimC and Kevin, Mary Jane, Ann, Janet, Rebecca, Letezia and Giulia! We visited with "old buddies", Pauline and Steve, and Marcia and Dave.

This weekend, we are off to San Diego for "Pinot and Ponies" with Shannon and the gang, and a "Missing Italy" dinner with Jane and her family. We'll be home four days before trotting up to Vancouver to meet the Pacific Nortwest group for a foodie market and scavenger hunt to make dinner together. A whole new group of playmates!

It is starting to look as though Slow Travel has had a MAJOR impact on our life. You think? We are looking forward to the "Second Annual Desert GTG" in October, and our next TWO Italy trips in 2008 will be spent with friends we met as a result of the group. In May we will be in Montisi with Gail, John, Jerry, Sandi, and company, and in the fall we will return to Piemonte for a week with Diana, Micha and Max!

I have spent many hours working with my wonderful co-committee members, Sheena, Kathy, Terry, Jan, and Leslie E. planning the "Great Slow Travel Gathering 2008" in Savannah next spring. THAT will be an amazing event!

I look forward to weekly chats, try to attend the Concentric Reading Circle when possibe, and then there is THIS BLOG! My how my life has changed!

Those we have met and bonded with have been so genuine, fun, and share the joy and fulfillment that come with exploring the world. We are of all ages and interests, have different travel styles and budgets. We certainly PACK from one extreme to another! None of that matters. We seem to love food, wine, and our trips, whether they be European adventures or weekend get-aways. You can't keep us home for long!

So to all Slow Travelers, I raise my glass. May we continue to travel, meet, nurture our friendships, and enjoy sharing our stories. I hope to see YOU soon!

August 25, 2007

An Italian Evening

Friday, we arrived in San Diego a bit before Brad's business meeting. I dropped him off at the appointed place, and had two hours to spend before picking him up. Oh darn, there was a Nordstrom down the street! I have not shopped since Italy, so I did a quick buzz through the store. I emerged in 40 minutes with a top, a jacket and two pair of shoes. I stopped for a quick lunch, and by then, Brad was done. We had time to check in to our hotel, pick up some pastries in Little Italy, and relax before our date with Jane and Ken.

We arrived at Jane and Ken's lovely home, and began with appetizers on the patio on their gorgeous new tabletop from Florence! We enjoyed prosecco, gorgonzola-cranberry torta, mushrooms, and proscuitto. Then Jane and Ken politely looked at ALL of our Italy photos!
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We had dinner at Acqua Al 2 in San Diego, and began with pasta, pasta, pasta! Jane and I shared a pasta sampler: 5 small plates of pastas in different sauces: fusili in a spinach-pecorino sauce, penne vodka, bow ties in a zucchini-garlic sauce, rigatoni in eggplant sauce, and finally a hearty ragu.

Dinner was unrushed, and there was a slide slow of Florence scenes on the wall of the restaurant. We enjoyed our young Sicilian waiter, Danieli, who was fluent in Italian. We tried helping him win a trip to Firenze by writing a great review for his boss. He was most attentive and charming.

For our secondi, I had a delicious filetto in balsamico reduction, Brad had a New York steak in green peppercorn-brandy sauce, Jane had a veal chop with mushrooms, and Ken had tagliatta with arugula. Of course, we enjoyed a couple bottles of vino!
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We returned to Jane's for dessert. We brought an assortment of Italian pastries from Zuchero: sfogliatelli, cannoli, tiramisu, and chocolate tortas. We didn't make much of a dent, but tasted several!

It was a long, and delightful evening of conversation, food and wine! Though, we met Jane, Ken and Casey in Italy, I'm sure we will get to visit more often in California!

August 26, 2007

"Pinot and Ponies"

Saturday, we picked up Shannon in Ocean Beach and headed to the Del Mar Racetrack where we met Sue, Marcia and David. Marcia and Dave's friend, Vladimir, a horse trainer, generously gave us seats in his box. Cheryl and friends, Arlene and Cecelia, joined us a little later. We had our own little feast going on! I brought the pizza rustica, Shannon packed fabulous sandwiches of cambazola and fresh figs on fig bread (and some healthy tomato, cucumber, humus, sprout things I didn't even consider). We had fruit, wine, water, and finished off the afternoon with Marcia's Kahlua brownies! YUM!

We enjoyed betting, winning and losing our money, and chatting between races.It was a fun way to spend the afternoon, and Del Mar's racetrack is a beautiful venue.
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We met again for dinner at The Vine. Krista and Steve joined the group, as well as new Slow Travelers, Susan and Robert. The wine flowed all evening, and we shared numerous appetizers including the now famous "Shannon's Super Sexy Pate", bruschetta with carmalized onions, tomatoes and basil, and a queso fondito with melted cheeses, olives, raisins and corn relish.

It was exciting to celebrate Shannon's new ownership in this fun restaurant with a welcoming open space, outdoor dining, and bar with a great wine list. The menu is attractive, varied, and very affordable for quality food.

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Everyone enjoyed their entrees, and my pork chop was delicious! We shared a couple of desserts, I had two cups of GREAT coffee, and true to Slow Travelers's style, we chattered all evening, and closed The Vine.
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September 5, 2007

Morning in Seattle

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The Slow Travel party pair is home! We had another whirlwind weekend with Slow Travel friends, worthy of several blogs. Be patient with me. It is a busy week!

Last Thursday, August 30, we flew from Ontario, CA to Seattle. We didn't get in til after 10 p.m., checked in to our hotel, and grabbed a late night appetizer for dinner. We shared some coconut shrimp and jerk chicken wings at a nearby Bahama Breeze restaurant, and started our "foodie weekend adventure".

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Friday morning, we arrived at the bustling Pike Place Market in downtown Seattle. I had little luggage space to work with for bringing home food items, since I checked an extra bag containing our Italy 2007 scrapbook photos...all 40 pounds of them!

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We wandered among the food and flower stalls, where I drooled over the dahlias and lilies in every possible shade. I bought some lemon-basil orzo, caramel sauce, and two kinds of jam. Across the street, we did a quick run to Sur La Table, for a few holiday gifts, and extra napkin rings for our upcoming Desert GTG, as I think we just hit 39 people!

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We stopped for coffee and HUMUNGOUS cream cheese-chocolate chip cinnamon rolls (breakfast and lunch). It was great to get a "cool fix" from our HOT summer weather in the desert.

A street entertainer kept us amused, just outside the door, with his ability to play TWO guitars (one balanced on his nose), and a harmonica, while keeping two hula hoops going. And they say men can't multi-task!
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Che Bella! Fiori di Pike's Place Market

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I do love the food shops at Pike's Market, but my FAVORITE thing there is the flower stalls! I have been known to take over a hundred flower photos in this two block area, but I tried to contain myself. Here are a few.

I browsed every vendor's booth to choose just the right combination for an enormous bouquet for our hostess, Sheena, for tomorrow's GTG. Here is the arrangement I came up with:
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A Vancouver Welcome

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We left Seattle around noon, and headed to Vancouver, British Columbia. My first and only previous visit was at age 20 when I was "in love" with a cruise ship bartender named Peppi. I took an Alaska cruise with my parents, and there was an overnight stop in Vancouver. We had chamber of commerce weather, and I remember bridges, totem poles and Stanley Park. That night, the Italian crew on SITMAR Cruises (later bought by Princess) had a soccer team that played a Vancouver team. Passengers were invited to attend the game, and Peppi was on the team. The Sitmar team won, and invited the passengers who cheered them on to come for a midnight supper of spaghetti carbonara down in the crew's dining room. My parents and I went, and had a ball with the off-duty Italian crew members. It was my first taste of carbonara, and one of the guys shocked my mom by saying the crew said SITMAR was an acronym for "sex isn't too much after ravioli"! But I digress...

We crossed the border in a light drizzle, but found clear weather in Vancouver. We checked into the Listel Hotel, and walked around busy Robson Street before having an afternoon glass of wine in the hotel bar.

We drove to dinner at Monk McQueen's for a great dinner with Slow Travel friends. We met Ann and Scott, Janie and Geoff, and Sheena's husband, Terry for the first time. What a lively, funny, and delightful group of people! We shared baskets of calamari, and everyone enjoyed the fresh fish entrees. I had a wonderful panko crusted sole with crab leg quiches and veggies.
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Brad enjoyed his mahi-mahi with blueberry sauce, and managed to save room for a chocolate lava cake.

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We chatted for hours, enjoying the company, food, wine, and a beautiful Vancouver view. Janie passed out shopping bags for tomorrow's food shopping/eating fest, and detailed information and directions on all our stops. We were already SO glad we would be spending the weekend with this group!
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September 7, 2007

The Fabulous Foodie GTG: 1st Stop

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By 8:30, I had consumed a mug of hotel coffee, and a venti Starbucks nonfat latte. I was capable of complete sentences, so we met Ann and Scott, our gracious chauffeur for the day. We headed to meet the rest of the group at the Farmer's Market coffee truck. I passed on more coffee, deciding to hold off until our next stop with a restroom.
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The Trout Lake farmer's market was wonderful! There were lots of produce booths, flowers, cheese, herbs, and vinegars, chocolates, bread, and a few crafts. I LOVE to look at food! It was sunny and cool (for us), with just a hint of fall in the landscape. For some reason, I get very excited when I see pumpkins, and fall colors, as it is one of the most beautiful times of the year, and I associate the foods with family, sharing, and a bountiful harvest. Way before Thanksgiving, I begin to feel blessed, grateful and generous! It makes me want to nest even more than usual! It is almost time for butternut squash soup, pumpkin ravioli, and apple crostadas! People ask, "Do you dream in color?" YES! I dream of foods in all their glory!
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Brad gathered our spinach for our pasta course, and I found FABULOUS, huge bunches of sage (I forgot to take a photo) for a dollar each! I can't even tell you what I spend on sage a month at home! I've tried growing it, but the leaves burn in my yard even in shade! I must try again!

Ann found the most wonderful pomegranite vinegar. I must order some! Next year I will bring no scrapbooks and an extra EMPTY piece of luggage!

September 9, 2007

A Fabulous Foodie GTG in Vancouver: Part 2

Our next stop was the amazing Bosa Foods: "Italissima Quality Gourmet Mediterranean Foods"! I thought I had died and gone to Italian food heaven, or been zapped to a beautiful new grocery store in Italy. This place was an Italian food lover's dream. Deli, fresh pastas, cheeses, olives, hanging prosciutti, wheels of parmigiano, a panini bar, a cappucini bar, every kind of flour, breads, dolci, olive oils, vinegars...well, you get the idea!

After buying ingredients for our dishes, and sharing a panini or slice of pizza, we moved along to Thomas Haas Chocolate. I'm not a big chocolate fan, but Thomas was adorable, and had fabulous bakery products, desserts, and treats for everyone. Sheena had ordered an amazing chocolate cake, and I found a chocolate with oozing caramel center that had my name on it. I also had one of the best cappucinos in North America!

Next, we stopped at Sheena and Terry's beautiful store, "At Home". Beautiful bath products, linens, home accessories, dishes, jewelry, gifts and so much more made this a wonderful afternoon stop. Handy dandy, there was a wine shop steps away, where we made our selections for the evening.

We all congregated in Sheena and Terry's beautiful back yard, and enjoyed the views all around us. From their deck, we saw the lovely woodsy surroundings, pots of plants, and our dining area with pitchers full of hydrangas and candles. Just around the corner was an incredibly well-designed refuge of jaw-dropping beauty, complete with a waterfall...Terry's garden. Another lovely spot is Sheena's patio with vines, a patio table and a serene fountain. We chatted, drank prosecco, and several at a time went into the kitchen to prepare an appetizer, or do some prep work for dinner.

We enjoyed a variety of appetizers: funghi trifolati (mushroom bruschetta), olives, sweet balsamic baby onions, baked brie with red pepper relish, and fresh mozzarella with basil, olive oil, and crushed red pepper. We had marinated salmon with mustard aioli, baby spinach, red onion, pancetta and peach salad, and spinach-ricotta strozzapreti in brown butter sage sauce. We devoured panzanella salad, barbequed prime rib, and mushrooms stuffed with gorgonzola and spinach. Of course we had dessert! Broiled peaches with honey and cinnamon topped with marscapone, and the Chocolate Thomas Haas cake! It was a feast for...foodie Slow Travelers who love to cook and eat! We might have had a few bottles of wine too.

A perfect ending to a perfectly lovely day! Photos of it all are here.

November 22, 2007

Thanksgiving Dinner

We landed in Oakland at 2:05 on Thanksgiving Day. By 3:15, I was sipping a lovely lemon drop with a splash of Chambord (the house cocktail), at Garibaldi's.
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It was wonderful to see our old friends, Roxanne, Charlotte and Cindy, as well as Cindy's extended family! Lots of laughter, wine, and good food...the theme for the weekend!

Brad started with a yummy crab bisque, and I had a simple endive salad with blue cheese and pomegranites. Our entrees were lovely (no turkey at THIS table!).
Here is my ribeye, smothered with mushrooms, cipolini onions, and pancetta.
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Brad really enjoyed his squash ravioli with truffles on a bed of chard!
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Dessert was a simple choice. Brad had "chocolate budino" (espresso gelato drenched with caramel sauce and topped with tons of assorted nuts), and I had panna cotta with cranberries.
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November 23, 2007

San Francisco Weekend

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It was a GREAT SHopping Day!

Brad and I caffinated at 7:00, and I was crossing Market Street shortly after 7:30. No crowds yet at Nordstrom. I had purchased two pair of shoes, a FABULOUS half-price Furla bag, and four gifts by 9:00. Brad met me then, and we hopped down to Bristol Farms until it was time to meet Joy at 10:00. We spent another hour in Nordstrom, and I bought another four gifts, five ornaments for my "shopping tree", and helped Brad choose some clothes for himself.

After a latte break, Joy and I headed to Chicos and Bloomies, while Brad carted shopping bags back to the hotel. Next, we went to Crate and Barrel, while he hit Virgin Records. Another tradition: we met ANOTHER sorority sister, Kim, and daughter, Haley at the bar in Kuleto's for a wine break. We were also joined by my desert neighbor, Jan, and Roxanne.

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Neiman Marcus, more ornaments, and 5:00. It was time for another latte on Maiden Lane, before walking to Gumps. I found two Italy ornaments, AND my favorite scent from Santa Maria Novella. I bought both lotion, and room spray in "Casablanca" . It smells just like Italy to me.

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We had a drink at the hotel, and grabbed a taxi to the Marina, where Charlotte and Cindy joined us for dinner at Izzy's. Oh, what a happy day!

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November 24, 2007

Saturday at the Market and Wine Merchant

Saturday morning after coffee in our room, we walked to the Clift Hotel to meet our friends, Jan and Les. When I was a child, my parents used to stay at this beautiful property. As a young adult, I remember the treat of going to the stunning Redwood Room for a drink.

The Clift had apparently undergone some major re-decoration! What was once quiet, tasteful glamour, is now a combination of ultra-modern, "humorous touches", asian accents, and some art deco stuff that is lost on me. I don't "get it". The rooms are painted grey with lavender accents and orange lucite cubes as end tables. The Redwood room still has a gorgeous lit glass bar, but is otherwise dark and depressing, as is the whole lobby. Check out the photo gallery here: Clift Hotel
Here are Les and Brad standing by the HUGE chair in the lobby.
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I did love the roses on the registration desk...all 96 of them in this perfectly twisted arrangement. (They lock these up at night, so no one pulls out one rose and messes up the whole twist thing.)
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We grabbed a taxi to the Ferry Building and walked through the outdoor market, then hit my favorite indoor shops for cheese, chocolates and Sur La Table. We settled in at the Wine Merchant for the next several hours. For lunch, we had fresh bread with triple creme cheese, and an assortment of soprasotta, salami, brasola and olives. A variety of wines were tasted, but I stuck to a lovely sparkling rose. Roxanne joined us at noon (more wine), and Shannon joined us at 1:00 (more wine). We left about 2:30 and had time for an afternoon nap before leaving for the GTG.

November 25, 2007

S.F. Slow Travel GTG

We walked from our hotel, three blocks to The Grand Cafe, and ordered a glass of wine in the bar. Soon Sharon, Shannon and Colleen arrived and joined us. At 5:30, we found the rest of our group, Judy and Bill, Eden, and the newest Judy, already seated at our table. Wendy and Rob arrived, and our party was complete.

The conversations, as always, revolved around recent travel, future travel, holiday plans, food, family, and just catching up with old friends! We ordered wine and food, and the time flew by.

DInner was very good, and everyone enjoyed their entrees. Eleven of us managed to try ten different choices from the menu! My Beef Bourguignon was truly the BEST shortribs I have ever had!

Here is the happy group:
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We all enjoyed our surprise party favors from Sharon. After dinner, shared dessert, and coffee, each person made a toast to the group. Everyone shared their heartfelt joy of having found this special community, and wonderful group of friends. It was quite a lovefest! Later, some of us sat in the bar for a while. We didn't seem to want the evening to end. Seven cups of coffee later, Brad and I walked back to our hotel, full, happy, and delighted because of the special group who had gathered to complete our holiday weekend. We are thankful for our Slow Travel peeps!

February 2, 2008

Live from the SLowbowl

Last night we kicked off the Paso Robles SLOWBOWL 2008 with vino, friends, and a "Mac and Cheese Smackdown".

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We had three yummy Mac and cheese baked versions (by Marcia, Stephanie, and Palma), and even Dave's fried Mac&Cheese cubes! Appetizers, Kim's chili, Wendy's salad, and Colleen's Matzo Crunch rounded out our feast. 34 of us partied, and Deborah served every flavor of liquore imaginable (and some you wouldn't have imagined)!


Here is Shannon with our hostess gift:
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For some reason, I've had trouble uploading some photos this morning....and I've tried two wireless places. I know where I can find several MODS to find out why. If I drink ONE more Starbucks Venti, I may die!

Jerry and Paul are in the room next door at the Melody Ranch. I met Jerry at 6:30 AM in my jammies and robe in the parking lot, (out to the car for a freezing smoke), on his way to the first coffee run of the day. There was ICE on the cars, but the sun is shining now.

We had breakfast with Jerry and Paul at the Cowgirl Cafe, so we are ready to hit the wineries. I will check in later...

February 3, 2008

Slow Bowl Saturday

After everyone was caffinated, or breakfasted, we met at the cottage, or Melody Ranch for the carpools and trolley to begin the wine tasting.
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Our first stop as a group was Castoro winery. We had a fabulous lunch, provided by Wendy, Rob, Jerry and Paul and Shannon: lots of cheeses, snacks, condiments, and sandwiches to go with our wine.
What a happy group, AND I was able to "herd" them together for a group photo!
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From there, we split into groups to visit either Tablas Creek, Halter Ranch, or Pasolivio (for olive oil tasting and buying). Since I am more of a cook than a drinker, I went for the olive oil, and was delighted to bring home the Olio Nuovo, Lime oil, and Tangerine oil. Yummy recipes to create soon...

We were fading by 3:30, so everyone had a couple of hours of "down time". There was a book enchange, and several shopped or napped. Believe it or not, I was a napper.

We gathered at the cottage by 6 for another amazing array of appetizers, lots of wine, and a wonderful dinner. SLow Travel cooks and bakers really go all out! There was so much good stuff, but MY favorites were Charity's brie with fig preserves, Judy's gorgonzola-fontina polenta with tomato sauce, several yummy chicken-tortilla casseroles, Marci's mushroom ravioli, shrimp and rice bake, Marcia's antipasti salad, and Krista's chocolate decadance. I am leaving so many out, but it was all delicious!

Here are 5 of our MODS together after wine:
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Krista made Gina's lemony semolina cookies, so Gina, this photo I took of all the bakers in your fan club, is just for you!
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We're off to brunch! More later!

February 4, 2008

A Jolly Trolley

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There is something very festive about a group of friends together on a trolley!
This was a great way to travel between wineries. Only Charlie, our driver, had to watch for cars. The rest of us could eat, drink, chatter, sing, take photos, and mostly: LAUGH!
The sun was shining, the sky was blue, and we traveled through the oak tree studded hills passing picturesque vineyards and wineries.

"Clang, clang, clang goes the bell..."
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February 7, 2008

Pasolivo

I hopped off the wine Trolley to join others at Pasolivo for the olive oil tasting and tour, and was so glad I did. Brad happily went on to Tablas Creek winery without me, where we joined up a little later.
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First we had a brief tour of the processing process, which was brief and informative
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Next we entered the tasting room. Though I was full from lunch, that bread dipped in tangerine oil and honey was wonderful! So was the lime oil, and the December '07 green, peppery, "Olio Nuovo".
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I was happy with my purchases!
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Tomorrow ...my first tangerine oil creation!

March 20, 2008

Countdowns

Lots of good stuff coming up! My "pack lists" are done.

We leave for Savannah in 13 days!

We leave for Italy in 56 days!

Then we return to Italy in 163 days!

Kim and Chris are coming to dinner TONIGHT! I'm going to go decorate my dessert.

March 26, 2008

Plans for Rome

Yesterday, I mentioned our trip to Italy in May. With the Savannah Gathering coming up NEXT WEEK, I am so excited, I need a distraction. Italy always works for that!. It is obvious that I am a planner (for travel, parties and menus). What I love about this trip to Italy, is that our first week is almost completely UNPLANNED! We will wing it in Rome. I want to wake up each day without an agenda and say, "Let's wander today, and see where we end up!"

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We leave on May 16, and arrive in Rome the next day. We will meet Massimo and Biancamaria at their Via dei Chiavari apartment, Rome-is-home, near the Campo di Fiori to check in for a week.

As this is a third trip to Rome, we are not going to do any of the typical "tourist" things. We have seen the Vatican, Sistine Chapel, Forum, Colosseum, Borghese Gardens and Museum, etc. We want to "hang out", wander neighborhoods, eat, drink wine, visit kitchen shops, food stores, take a nap, and wander some more. We will eat lots of gelato and drink many lattes!

I want to explore the Trastevere, eat pizza, paint flowers in the campo, and have a picnic for dinner. We will spend a lovely evening with our generous hosts, and have a special birthday dinner for Brad's big 6-0. One day I'd like to have lunch at the Bramante cloister at Santa Maria Della Pace. I want fried artichokes in the Jewish quarter. I'm sure I will find some wonderful pastas, and we may go to a GTG. We are most looking forward to some time together doing next to nothing. I bet the week will go by in a flash, and then we will be on our way to Montisi to cook and play with the gang on Gail's Great Escapes!

April 1, 2008

Our Exciting News

So much excitement going on!

Come check out our brand new website! Yes, we've decided to try finding a way to share our love for Italy with others! Come and see what we've been planning.

www.PalmabellasItaly.com

The next time I blog, we'll be in Savannah for the Great Slow Travel Gathering!

April 2, 2008

Andiamo...a Savannah, Y'all!

3:30 AM. We're off to the airport in an hour! I am caffinating.

My next post will be LIVE from Savannah! SO EXCITED!

April 5, 2008

The Great Savannah Gathering

I'm having SO much fun, I have been a very busy, naughty blogger! We arrived in Savannah Wednesday night, and have been going full speed since! Thursday we had lots of party preparations, and happy greeting of our planning team. We arrived at the rental house we are all sharing, right off Washington Square. Jan and I shopped for Thursday's Pre-gathering Gathering, met with Herb at the Gingerbread House, and waited for everyone else to arrive. Kathy, Charley, Kelly, Terry and Leslie were soon in town, and we all went out to lunch.

Brad and I are sharing the Carriage House part of the rental, a great 2bed/2bath apartment across the courtyard, with Jerry and Paul. It is a calm refuge from the busy main house.

We were all ready! A quiet moment in the garden:
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Food was on the table.
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We soon had 68 people milling about with wine and appetizers. I'm still not sure how so many fit, but it was a lovely way to start the weekend. Slow Travelers LOVE to get together and party. The crowd was ready for the biggest GTG in Slow Trav history, complete with a Web cam set up by Steve and Pauline!

Here are Jane, Shannon, Jan and Kim:
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Pokey (Mindy) got "forked":
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The Montisi in May sisters "practiced" having fun!
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After the cocktail party, we had a great dinner at Cha Bella, came home and then filled the "Welcome Bags" until almost midnight. Another busy day ahead, but it was a great kick-off to the weekend festivities. We are all just SO happy to be together!

Friday Afternoon in Savannah

Friday:

We had some free time today to enjoy the wonderful city of Savannah. We took a nice sunny walk with Gail, John, Sandi and Bill, down to the river. The Spanish moss on all the trees is wonderful.
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We were joined by Colleen K, and Kim and Kevin, for lunch at B. Matthews.
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We did a few Gathering errands, and were able to get in an hour nap before the big night ahead at the Gingerbread House.

April 7, 2008

The Gingerbread House: Friday's Venue

Everyone has arrived in Savannah! (well, Charisse is almost here!)
Friday evening's event is at the beautiful Gingerbread House.

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Here are a few shots before the crowds descended:
The living room:
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The Garden:
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The food table is ready:
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We're READY!

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The Gingerbread House Party

I'm still WAY behind on blogging the Gathering, but here are a few highlights and photos of the Gingerbread House evening:

Guests were greeted at the door with a glass (or two) of prosecco:
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Passed hors d'oeuvres welcomed the crowd:
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The open bar began, and a lovely spread of hearty foods was served. Pauline gave a history of Slow Travel, and introduced the Planning Team.
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Our very own Ginger sang a wonderful Johnny Mercer, "Come Rain or Come Shine"
(as it turns out, quite an appropriate song!)

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A wonderful evening with friends was a great way to begin the weekend celebration!
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More Gingerbread House Fun

Here are a few more photos of friends at the Gingerbread House:
Brad and Gail
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Pauline and Jan
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Randy, June and Marcia
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Shannon and John
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Barb and SandraK
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Sandi and Bill
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Nancy, Gail and Palma
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Wow! What a fun night! We stopped by to continue the festivities with our "neighbors" Shannon, Kim, Marcia, and Dave. We never seem to run out of wine and friends to drink it with! We even welcomed Chris in from the airport sometime around midnight!
Savannah is definitely starting to feel like "home".

April 8, 2008

Lady and Sons

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Saturday at 12:15, we met for lunch at Paula Deen's restaurant, Lady and Sons. 34 of us hung outside, happily waiting for our reservation that Marcia had organized in advance. I love the awning above us that says, "Savannah Style"!

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How could we be hungry AGAIN? Mmmmmmm, here comes the "BUTTA"!
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We were accommodated at three large tables, and were even given separate checks.
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I really enjoyed the fried chicken and carbs from the buffet. I was gearing up for another evening of alcohol consumption, since I am such a "lightweight" in that department! OMG! I don't remember the last time I had crunchy, yummy, chicken skin. The calories consumed in Savannah STAY in Savannah, right?

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Brad really enjoyed his spicy blackened tilapia sandwich.
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OK, I found the "Oooey Gooey Butter Cake" completely orgasmic. I bought the appropriate cookbook next door at Paula's store. What a fun lunch, and I wasn't in charge of a thing!!! Thank you Marcia! I even managed a 5 minute shopping fix with a necklace from Savannah.


April 9, 2008

Saturday Night at the History Museum

Saturday was quite a day! I was caffinating by 7 AM after a late night of wine, and 4 hours sleep the night before. "Behind the scenes" we dealt with preparing all the door prizes to transport to the fort...no, to the History Museum. Leslie, Brad, and I heard of the change around 8:30 AM. Jan and Terry were at Pilates, and Kathy was at a Mod breakfast. We delivered the news as they got home. Charley, Brad and I put together the globe/"little people" centerpieces on an assembly line, and explained the change as the others came back to the house. Everything was ready, and Terry was in constant communication with Old Savannah Tours, the drivers and trolley captains. We enjoyed a break for lunch at Lady and Sons, then came back to shower, change and have an hour of down time before Jerry's "martini hour" began at 4.

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We gathered in Washington square, picked up the others on Trolley #2, and headed to the museum. The bar was open, and boiled peanuts and veggies were served before dinner. It was a festive mood, and all those wonderful prizes were soon to be given homes.

Jill, Brenda, and Karen are lookin' good!
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Joan, Kathy, Ginger and Marcia are ready to win a prize.
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The Mods are a smiling group with Pauline!
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After dinner, Brad MC'd the door prize drawing, and made it through 58 wonderful prizes in 45 minutes, as promised. I know I'm partial, but I think he did a GREAT job. Hope someone took a photo, as I was busy as a runner!

Pauline and Steve finally got to win a prize...a GRAND prize to France!
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Mary and Tome were also thrilled to be GRAND prize winners of a week at an Italian villa!
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New members Kathy G, and her husband, Lou, were happy recipients of two great books! Kathy certainly has a winning smile!
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And speaking of smiles, here I am with my friends, Gail, Jerry and Sandi, excited about playing together for another week soon in Italy!
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Following the party, we enjoyed the Ghost Tour, through Savannah's haunted areas, and had a chance to see all the beautiful squares and Colonial cemetery at night. On our way home from Washington Square, we saw that our neighbors, Shannon, Kim & Chris and Marcia & David were still up. Jerry and Brad scared the **** out of them by tapping on the window. Despite our disturbance, we were invited in for wine, chatting until 1AM. I love being in Savannah with friends!


April 10, 2008

Sunday at Vic's: Behind the Scenes

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Here is the "Behind the Scenes" version of Sunday morning.

Kathy, Brad and I went to Vic's at 9:15 to do a run through with the projector, laptop and THE MOVIE. We had tried it on Friday. Everything worked, but we needed to hook into the restaurant's speakers for amplified sound. No sweat, right? On Friday, Brad and I made a stop at Best Buy, and bought every conceivable cord and cable for a PC, a MAC, input, output, etc. LOTS of back up plans!

We walked into the upstairs dining room, and the whole set-up of tables and buffet was WRONG (not like Kathy and Jan's walk through instructions on Friday). There was no way everyone would be able to see the movie with their configuration. We firmly asked them to MOVE EVERYTHING including the buffet tables, chairs, set tables and flowers. They efficiently did so in about 15 minutes.

Then we started hooking up computers to projector to speakers. We got movie, but no sound with Kathy's laptop. We got the same with my laptop. We brought Steve in to see if he knew something we didn't. We decided it was the speakers that were the problem. The restaurant had another set. NONE of our cords worked. The crowds were gathering outside. We made them wait. I tried not to cry. I went out for a cigarette, praying it would all work when I came back in. It didn't.

We tried 4 laptops, two projectors, two sets of speakers...still no sound. We let in the guests. I smiled and greeted everyone. The breakfast buffet began. I was too heartsick to eat. Believe me, THAT doesn't happen often. I have only been too upset to eat, ONE other time in my whole life. It was inconceivable to me that after over 325 hours of time and love went into that movie, and now we wouldn't be able to show it???

Keith, the AV guy at Vic's, saw my distress. He PROMISED me he would have sound and we would be able to show the movie. At 10 minutes before show time, I went outside for the last prayer and smoke. Brad's food looked good, but I had priorities. I returned, Keith gave me a thumbs up, and we watched the movie. My tears were a mixture of relief, love of Slow Travelers, and the release of weeks of anticipation.
After the movie, I hugged and kissed Keith, Brad tipped him $40 (if there had been a hundred dollar bill left in my wallet he would have gotten that too!), and I realized I was hungry! Oh well, all's well that ends well. I could eat later at the airport! It was SO rewarding to share our movie with everyone in Savannah!

Here are some photos at Vic's: (I kept myself busy with the camera so I wouldn't cry!)

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MY Highlights of Savannah: My TOP 10

Where to start? There were so many!

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I will start with my own personal hero:Brad!
My very dear husband, always a treasure, has been amazing this whole past year with regards to the Gathering. He listened as our plans progressed, he helped whenever possible (printing name tags, door prize tickets, magnets to put in the Welcome Bags). He agreed to MC the drawing (I sort of volunteered him without even asking first, but I think he was honored.), buy all the wine, pour prosecco at the Gingerbread House, and schlep all weekend. He was calm and cool during the "projector-sound crisis", and offered to go to Radio Shack during brunch to BUY speakers!

He inputed ALL the music in the movie, upgraded my computer memory 2G to hold a____ file, purchased every song I needed from I-Tunes, and figured out the fastest way to copy 60 DVDs. He printed and put on labels and inserted jewel case covers ALL day, before we left for Savannah, and had a disagreement with his boss about time off from work (we were originally going to stay a week, then she said he couldn't go AT ALL, but he made it work.)! He is MY Gathering Hero!

Spending time with Pauline and Steve:

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Being around Pauline and Steve is always a treat. I have missed Pauline's presence on the boards, and I LOVE to hear her laugh! It was great to see her 4 days in a row. It was truly delightful to watch Pauline watch the movie and laugh. It also made her cry, but those were tears of love!

Dinner at Cha Bella:
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After Thursday's kickoff "Pre-Gathering Gathering", the Planning team, and Pauline and Steve had a fabulous dinner at Cha Bella. Some of the food was really amazing! Brad's scallops were the BEST I have ever tasted, and when we ran into another table of Slow Travelers, I tasted Kim C.'s pork chop over parmesan "polenta" (but I think they were grits)! OMG there was sugar cane in the meat jus that made me HAVE to hunt down the recipe! I have emailed the chef, and as a back up, I found sugar cane syrup on the internet, and a marinade that might just recreate this flavor! If none of that works, I will be writing to Bon Appetit!

Hanging out with my friends on the Planning Team:
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It was an amazing feeling to see our months of planning come to life as each event was successful. The Thursday Pre-Gathering Gathering at our rental house had everyone excited about being together and about what was coming. The Gingerbread house was a wonderful beginning to the "official" events. It was a treat to see and feel the enthusiasm and the sense of community. New members, seasoned members, all together in a wonderful setting! Saturday, we enjoyed various activities during the day, then were taken by trolley to the museum for a low country boil, an exciting drawing for prizes, and an entertaining ghost tour. Sunday we wrapped up the Gathering with a brunch at Vic's and the movie! The teamwork all paid off!

Playing with my buddies before we go to Italy together!
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We had a ball! It has been almost six months since Jerry, Gail, Sandi and I have played together. We had a blast in Savannah and with Paul, John, Bill and Brad, and are counting the days until we are all together in Montisi for a week!

Meeting "old" and "new" friends!
What fun to finally meet, in person, so many friends from the boards: Colleen, Ginger, Mindy, Brenda, Marion, Roz, and well, EVERYONE! I am also grateful that so many new members took this opportunity to attend their first GTG, and were welcomed into the community in grand style! When you go to a "normal" GTG, you usually have one day or evening to meet a smaller group of people, but in Savannah, we had days to play, relax, and really spend time with so many!

Being in the HOOD!
I really enjoyed walking down the street, and seeing other Slow Travel friends. A group of us were walking down by the river, and ran into Colleen, so she joined us. On our way to lunch, were "picked up" Kim and Kevin for an impromptu lunch. It was GREAT!

I also LOVED, LOVED, LOVED being in our Washington Square neighborhood, and and
hanging out at the house Shannon, Kim & Chris, and Marcia & David were staying. It was our refuge every late night for wine, snacks, and unwinding from each busy day!

Enjoying the beauty, architecture and amazing squares of Savannah!
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Well, we just didn't have enough time to really explore every bit of this wonderful city, but I loved what we did see. We definitely plan to go back! A charming, friendly city, with great food and much to do!

Down time at the Carriage House:

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It was great to share the Carriage House with Jerry and Paul. They are quiet, neat, and fun to hang out with for morning coffee, blogging, or a martini hour. Jerry had all the fixin's for three types of martinis before we met the gang on the trolley!

Showing the MOVIE at Brunch:
I think I covered this in yesterday's post!

What an AMAZING WEEKEND we'll never forget. It has been an honor to have had an active part in ALL of it! (It might take me a year to scrapbook the Gathering!) I also LOVE my new flower under my name on Slow Talk!

April 17, 2008

Rome in a Month!

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One month from today, we will be in Rome! Our last visit to Rome (my second and Brad's first) was in 2001 for our first anniversary. In looking back on some of those photos, two things are obvious: We have AGED, and there was a lot of KISSING going on during that trip!

Of course, we did all the usual tourist things you can cram in to 4 days of our FAST Travel grand tour of Italy! St. Peter's, the Vatican Museums, Forum, Colosseum, Borghese Gardens, Trastevere, all major piazzas and fountains, and even a half day trip to Tivoli and Hadrian's Villa.

Here are the more youthful Palma and Brad enjoying their delayed honeymoon:

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Continue reading "Rome in a Month!" »

April 19, 2008

An Ugly American

Looking back through my photos of Rome reminded me of a story that made us both cringe and laugh during that trip to Italy. It was two weeks after 9/11 when we were in Rome. Soldiers with machine guns were all over town. Our hotel was a modest 3-Star near the top of the Spanish Steps. One night we decided to go to the luxurious Hassler Hotel for a drink. We began speaking with an American couple from Florida in the bar. George Bush Sr. had been there with his entourage of secret service people, earlier in the day.

At the bar sat a VERY annoying American woman on a cell phone. The whole lounge could hear her conversations: mostly her political views, her need to move "HUNDREDS of THOUSANDS of DOLLARS" with her financial consultant, what would happen to her stocks and how her "republican sensibilities" were effected by this terrorist attack! The bartender asked her twice to get off the cell phone, as other customers were complaining, rolling their eyes, etc. She was also hacking and sneezing all over the bar with a nasty cold. Finally, the bartender courteously asked her to leave the bar.

Fast forward a week of our trip. We had been to Positano, Ravello, and we were on our last three nights in Italy, and had splurged on the fabulous Quisisana Hotel in Capri.
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Continue reading "An Ugly American" »

April 29, 2008

Cooking in Montisi

Cooking for Gail's Great Escapes for a week in Montisi will be a new and exciting experience. There will be 16 people sharing a villa for a week, and I am in charge of preparing a few dinners and a party!

Step 1: Plan menus...DONE ( I will be blogging from Italy, but I don't want to give the guests a "sneak peek" of what they will be eating.)

Step 2: Bring my recipes...they are neatly typed, and in plastic sleeves in a binder.
Then it occurred to me...the amounts are in English measurements (cups, ounces and tablespoons), not grams, liters, or ettos, or kilos! Hmmmmmm...

I retyped everything with BOTH measurements, and I will pack my collapsible measuring cups and some measuring spoons. I "practiced" ordering what I will need in Italian.

Step 3: Setting and Equipment
It is one thing to cook for Brad and I or our friends in MY kitchen, with ingredients I know, and all the tools and gadgets I have at my fingertips. I have all the cookware, bakeware, bowls, baking dishes, serving pieces, conveniences, and a stove, cooktop and BBQ I have lots of experience with. Though Brad says I ALWAYS make too much, I am NOT accustomed to 16 or 17 for dinner.

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I was able to peek at the kitchen last summer, and I recently did a little research into the kitchen in the villa. It is GORGEOUS, and since the owner loves to cook, it is well-equipped. There is an island, a 5-burner gas stove with oven, travertine counters, and TWO sinks and dishwashers (not counting Brad)! There is even a wood-burning indoor grill! This is NOT a tiny Italian "one-butt" kitchen!

Continue reading "Cooking in Montisi" »

May 6, 2008

When in Rome...

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I WILL eat gelato at Giolitti and San Crispino, and try new flavors I have never ordered before.

I WILL eat fried artichokes in the Jewish ghetto.

I WILL do coffee taste tests at Tazza D'Oro and St. Eustachio.

I WILL spend some quality time at the Testaccio Market (and hopefully find some treats to share in Montisi).

I WILL enjoy meeting new and old friends at a Slow Travel GTG!

I WILL finish re-reading Angels and Demons before we take 3 Millennia's "Unofficial Angels and Demons Tour" with Tony da Roma.

I WILL order pasta "caccio e pepe" at a trattoria.

I WILL spend hours enjoying Brad's company while sipping vino at Cul de Sac.

I WILL visit Volpetti for more treats.

I WILL hunt through at least four carefully scoped out kitchen stores for gifts for MY kitchen.

I WILL enjoy time wandering and eating in Trastevere.

I WILL visit the Bramante Cloister at Santa Maria Della Pace.

I WILL have a rooftop drink with a view at Hotel Eden. No talking me out of this one. I have wanted to do this on every trip to Rome. I don't care WHAT they charge for a drink!

I WILL treat Brad to a special "birthday dinner" at Agata e Romeo.

I WILL have fresh flowers from the Campo in the apartment every day.

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Photos are courtesy of Rome.info

May 9, 2008

Packing Light...WHY?

There always seems to be a thread on Slow Talk about "packing light". Some are able to pack for weeks in one carry-on bag. Others wash out clothes every night and wear them again. Jerry just blogged about why he also brings plenty of clothes and shoes.

I guess if one is traveling by train, or alone, or going somewhere (I can't imagine where this would be) where they won't see anyone, and if they don't ever take photos with themselves in the picture, then maybe a case could be made for the freedom of one bag. I figure, I can handle my luggage, Brad puts the bags in and out of the car (only once this trip), and a driver will meet us and deliver us to our apartment in Rome. I like to dress for dinner, match accessories, and be what I call "appropriate", SO... I am packing Palmabella style.

I have gotten better. I have my 28" bag (with lots of room at 47 lbs, and a second bag (which COULD be a carry-on, but I'm checking it). Then as usual, my very light carry-on has a book for the plane, my pillow, jewelry, and snacks for the trip. (One year the jewelry was 16 lbs., but I have learned to bring lighter pieces.)

Brad has one big bag for clothes, a second small duffle full of kitchen/cooking items (all my stuff) to check, and he will carry the laptop with his reading material. No sweat!

Brad packs the electronics: cameras, Italy cell, adapters, converters, Italian hair dryer, ipod, GPS, and appropriate chargers.

Continue reading "Packing Light...WHY?" »

May 14, 2008

A Different Way to Travel to Italy

Last night Brad and I sat outside and talked about how our Italy travel has changed in the past few years. Yes, we have SLOWED DOWN, thanks to our membership in the Slow Travel community and the philosophy of staying longer in one area and really exploring that region instead of flitting all over the boot on one trip.

We started our Italian adventures together in 2001 by driving from Milan to Lake Garda to Venice and ending up on the Amalfi coast! On another trip in 2003, we began in Venice, spent a week in Tuscany, a few days in Puglia, then Basilicata, and again ended in Capri. By 2005, we had calmed down slightly, and divided our three weeks between Tuscany, Umbria and STILL ended with a week in Positano and Capri.

That summer I became a Slow Traveler! I no longer feared not returning to Italy. We had gone from "hooked" to "obsessed", and knew we would be returning each year. We traveled to Piemonte, Emilia-Romana and sampled Liguria. We returned to Umbria, making it our own. I spent two weeks with Ida in the Garfangana.

In 2006, we were "regulars" at GTGs (Get-Togethers) closer to home, and began meeting other Slow Travelers when in Italy. I attended a GTG in Cortona, and met Nancy and Bill in Montalcino. Last summer we met Gloria and Marcel in Pisa, Sherri and Joe in Firenze. We visited with Jane, Ken and Casey twice in Tuscany. In Umbria we met Judith, Barb, Art and Mary. We also attended the Slow Travel Umbria GTG and met MANY new friends from both Italy and the U.S., as well as seeing many friends we knew from home.

Slow Travel has largely determined where we've traveled domestically as well. After attending GTGs in Brevard, NC and Vancouver, B.C., we made new wonderful friends across the U.S. and in Canada. We have hosted friends from 9 states and Canada at our GTGs in the desert. It has become an annual event. We wouldn't consider missing the Slow Bowl in Paso Robles! We spent an amazing 5 days with our buddies in Savannah.

I spoke to a close friend in the Bay Area last week on the phone and mentioned I would probably see her in June. Her immediate response was, "Oh is there a Slow Travel party up here?"

Let's look at this next vacation! (TWO more sleeps!) We will be staying in a Slow Travel friend's apartment in Rome, and spending time while there with Massimo, Biancamaria, and hopefully their daughter. We are hosting a small GTG where we will meet at the apartment for a drink, and then dine at a close-by restaurant. We are taking an "Angels and Demons" tour of Rome. Why? Because we read the book? NO, because it is given by Slow Traveler, Tony!

The second week of our trip, not only will we be meeting up with Slow Travel friends, but we will be LIVING with six of them, and we will be cooking for them (and 8 others) for a week. This wonderful opportunity for a week in Tuscany came about because of our friendship with Gail and John when Gail flew out on the spur of the moment for our desert GTG.

So I guess Slow Travel has really changed not only how we travel, but where we travel, and who we travel with!

It has been an absolute blast to spent time together with Gail and John, Jerry and Paul, Sandi and Bill, and to meet Sandi's sister, Holly, who will be with us in Montisi. This is going to be one fun group! Will that lovely, quiet medieval town EVER be the same?

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May 15, 2008

One More Sleep

I'm SO ready!

Today, my "to do " list is short: Nail appointment, bank, call ATM/credit cards to notify them of travel.

I figured since I get to be in Italy in the spring, my house/dogsitter should get to sleep on a set of sheets perfect for Italian dreams.

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I am charging my BRAND NEW Canon HD Camcorder (that my very nice and generous ex-husband gave me for my birthday!).

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It is around 100 degrees here, so I will have my last fix of pool time for 2 weeks.
Yes, there is a pool in Montisi, but I will be in the kitchen (and it would be too cold for me anyway)!

Then I will do what I always do...sit and WAIT until it is time to go.
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I hope to blog daily from Rome. Montisi may be more difficult, but surely either Jerry, Sandi or I will have a scoop!

May 16, 2008

We're Off to Italia

I am very excited to get on our way, but in reality, though we will leave our house at 9:45 this morning...Italy is eighteen hours away!

We leave Palm Springs and fly to SFO. (Farther west than when we started)

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Then we fly to Amsterdam, arriving at 10:30 AM Saturday.

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Finally at 12:30PM, (Saturday), we leave Amsterdam for Rome, arriving at 4:00 PM.

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My big bag of clothes weighed in at 49.5. The "cooking bag" is 30 lb. We're off!

Next blog will be coming from ROMA! Ciao for now!

May 17, 2008

Che Bella Roma

Ciao from Rome! We arrived after long but on-time flights. Three of our four bags arrived, but not my BIG one with almost all my clothes. Thank God the cooking stuff is here. I have a change of clothes, capris, a nightgown and underwear. Hopefully, we'll get it soon. That aside, it is so wonderful to be here. The driver was still there (even though it took a while for us to do the lost luggage thing...), and we arrived at 5:15PM, and were greeted at the apartment by Massimo and Biancamaria.

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After a tour of how to work everything, and checking on wifi, we took a neighborhood walk, and picked up necessities (coffee and milk)!

Then I needed a cappucino to perk!

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It worked, and we took a walk, ending up at dinner at La Sagristia.

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Continue reading "Che Bella Roma" »

May 18, 2008

Trastevere


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Today was a lazy Sunday! After our morning coffee routine, we walked across the Ponte Sisto to Trastevere. There had been a brief morning shower, but the sun was out with big puffy clouds in a beautiful blue sky.

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After wandering around, we got thirsty, and stopped for a drink at the
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The piazza was a busy place!
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How cool is this doorway to a shop?
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Here they are close-up. Rope/leather and mirror squares!
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More soon...

Mangiamo Bene

We have been eating out way through Gina's list of restaurants. Don't ever go to Rome without it! For lunch on Sunday, we had our main meal of the day at Checco e Carettiere in Trastevere.

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We shared an order of "Bombolotti Carettiere" as our primi.
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Gina recommended "anything fried" so we shared calamaretti and carciofi alla Giudea!
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Some coffee and complementary dolci put us straight into a food coma, and home for a nap!
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May 19, 2008

Wine for Dinner?

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Sunday evening we went to Cul de Sac for wine and a snack. We weren't too hungry after our huge lunch, and this is our favorite wine bar in Rome. We discovered this in 2001, and it was actually our waiter who first introduced us to the Val d'Orcia, by telling us all about his home town of Pienza.

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We literally drank our way through several regions of Italy, beginning in the Veneto with my glass of prosecco, Brad's San Giovese from Emiglia - Romana, over to Piemonte with my Gavi and down to Umbria with Brad's Montefalco Rosso. The evening ended with my Brachetto di Acqui.

Of course we worked up an appetite and had a salami plate and some gorgonzola dolce!

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Our real surprise was when we paid our bill, we asked if we could by bottles "to go". We had selected three bottles, and when the waiter added them up, it was much less than we thought it would be. They give a 20% DISCOUNT if you take it unopened! SCORE! Three bottles of wine for 34 Euro!

May 20, 2008

Slow Travel GTG Roma: May 19, 2008

A few Slow Travelers met at our apartment for a drink and appetizers at 6 on Monday evening. Here are Sherry (Mimi), and Shelagh (SJ).
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Tony (da Roma) and Flaminia entertained us with stories of Rome.
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We enjoyed getting acquainted while munching on pecorino with rosemary honey, gorgonzola dolce, and soprasatta with our wine.

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Continue reading "Slow Travel GTG Roma: May 19, 2008" »

Rain Rain Rain

Tuesday, it rained...and rained, "gatti e cani", pretty much all day and night. Let me catch you up on the situation with my luggage, since it has been DAYS since I've mentioned it. We arrived at FCO on Saturday afternoon, one bag short (my BIG one). Sunday morning at 8 AM, Alitalia called MY CELL PHONE and said they had my bag, and it would be delivered by courier that day. They were clearly going to CALL FIRST, as we are in an apartment, not a hotel where they could just drop it off if we weren't home.

Sunday night...no bag. "It will be there Monday morning at the latest." I believed them, and had only bought a toothbrush. (I had SOME pants, a change of clothes and some extra undies.) No big deal. By Sunday evening, I was disappointed, but hey, we were in ROME, and I was SO happy seeing and doing and eating and drinking, that it was still ok! I used Brad's shampoo, etc., and he had packed the hair dryer. I wore jeans again. Monday, I let Alitalia buy me some makeup and two tops. We were "in the hood", and had the cell handy at all times. They said it would be here "late afternoon", so we came back to the apartment, and got ready for the GTG. Massimo called and said they had called HIM, AFTER they attempted to deliver my bag in the morning! Excuse me, we were at the corner having coffee with our cell phone on!
I decided Alitalia would love to pay for the cute shoes I "had to buy" yesterday!

We were given a new window of 9-1 on Tuesday. After coffee, we hung out in the apartment, had lunch from our provisions, read our books, and watched it rain.
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At 12 :15, my bag was delivered! YEAH!

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So what does one do on a VERY rainy afternoon? GO SHOPPING, of course! It is dry in the stores, and we had our 2 Euro umbrellas from the street vendor! We visited Gusto, a lovely kitchen shop, where I bought a huge jar of honey with pepperocino. Then I had a laser strike at Furla, with a wonderful bag AND a new wallet! Next, I found a lovely green linen outfit (pants and jacket), and a sweater set.

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We relaxed in a cafe until time for dinner. It was a perfect Palmabella rainy day in Rome!

May 21, 2008

Dinner at Myosotis

Continuing on our "Stella restuarant tour of Roma" brought us to dinner last night at Myosotis, near the Piazza della Rotunda (Pantheon neighborhood). It is a pretty restaurant with a "nuovo Roman menu".

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We were served bruschetta with the owner's homemade Umbrian olive oil when we sat. Brad started with stracci con tomatoes, olives, and basil, while I had the BEST and lightest gnocchi of my life in a gorgonzola sauce.
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For secondi, Brad had a veal medallion , wrapped in procsiutto with an asparagus puree, and I had grilled lamb.
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We drank a bottle of Alois Lageder Pinot Grigio di Alto Aldige, and enjoyed our dining experience very much. It was POURING when we got out, so we grapped a taxi to our corner bar, and had coffee and grappa half a block from home. Tutto bene!


May 22, 2008

Formaggio

WARNING: This post may cause extreme hunger!

Yesterday we had a rainy trip by taxi to the Testacchio market. The rain was on and off, but we found some great little shops where I bought a few ingredients for my cooking in Montisi this coming week. Volpetti is a foodie's dream. I went a little "pazzo". We were offered many tastes, but when I chose four cheeses and ordered a KILO of each, they REALLY gave us kid glove service. Everything was so delicious, I was like a kid in a candy store!
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Continue reading "Formaggio" »

Vinando

After our rain drenched food shopping trip to Testacchio, we took a nap, then ventured out for dinner at Vinando (another Gina recommendation). OMG! There is a huge menu of "small plates" to taste along with an enormous wine list. We began with my stuffed fiori di zucchini (filled with ricotta and basil), which were light and crisp. Brad had a plate of bufalo mozzarella with olive crositni.

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For our entrees, Brad had vitello con arancia, and I had vitello saltimbocca with a side of grilled zucchini.
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Continue reading "Vinando" »

May 23, 2008

The "Unofficial Angels and Demons Tour"

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On Thursday, we arrived at Piazza del Popolo at 9 AM in time for a cup of coffee before we met Tony da Roma, and our group for our tour, following the story in Dan Brown's Angels and Demons.We began at Santa Maria del Popolo, where the first bishop was killed and branded with the word "EARTH". We saw the private chapel containing the statue of the angel which guided character Robert Langdon across Rome to try to save the second bishop from his death.

Tony did a great job of pointing out a plethora of inaccuracies in Brown's book. Next we traveled (by air conditioned van) to St Peter's square at the Vatican. We learned all about the Swiss Guard, and saw the imbedded plaque designating wind: AIR.
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The next stop was Santa Maria della Vittoria, where a bishop was burned, and Langdon was almost suffocated in a sarcaphagus.
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Here is Saint Teresa "in ecstasy":
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Continue reading "The "Unofficial Angels and Demons Tour"" »

A VERY Special Evening in Rome

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Thursday night, we got dressed up and had a "post birthday dinner" for Brad. I chose another of Gina's recommended restaurants for a special night out, and indeed it was!
We took a taxi across town to Agata and Romeo. This is near Santa Maria Maggiore. As we got close to the church, there were MOBS of people lining the street. Our taxi driver told us the Pope was coming to say mass in just a few minutes. As we got to the front of the church, we could see all the cardinals and priests sitting out in front, and many carabiniere and polizia in place for the Pope's arrival!

We arrived at the restaurant, and rang the doorbell to enter. It is lovely inside, and you are greeted by pink peonies everywhere, and on each table.
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We began with a glass of spumante Brut. Look at the beautiful oval water glasses!
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Continue reading "A VERY Special Evening in Rome" »

Rome Moments

We are leaving Rome this morning, and I won't have wifi in Montisi, but I will take lots of photos and post when I can! In the meantime, here are a few "Rome Moments":

Born to be Wild:
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No, he wasn't after us. These are used only for high speed autostrada chases or organ donors.
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Read the menu before ordering a "grande".
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Palmabella makes a ragu:
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June 3, 2008

Doppio con Latte

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This tiny coffee bar, just steps from the villa was my refuge all week in Montisi. My daily schedule was to be up by 6AM, put away any remaining dishes that had dried overnight, make coffee for the guests (several pots each morning, but no espresso available), start whatever food prep wad necessary for later, or bake a treat for breakfast, then head to the coffee bar when it opened at 7 with Brad for our breakfast. Some mornings it was just coffee for me, other days we had a cornetto with creme or marmalade. My first day there, I asked for a doppio in a HUGE glass, then filled with steamed milk (the equivalent of a venti latte). This treat was 2 Euro, with Brad's cafe Americano costing 80 cents (the locals price). Tourists paid one euro.
After three of these the first day, (morning, mid-day and late night), they automatically reached for the big glass as I entered. They even let me take their glass back to the villa, or bring a villa glass to them for a "to go" cup.

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While others at the villa were fueled by vino, my coffee breaks are what kept me going. I also took an hour's nap 4 days during the week. Evenings, my usual bedtime was somewhere after midnight, and I loved evening with the locals at the coffee bar.
Gianluca and the ladies were delightful, and really kept my mental health in check.

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I packed 300 packets of Sweet and Low in zip locks. I returned with ten. Two packets per cup...do the math! I drank a bit of coffee!

June 4, 2008

Poppy Heaven

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There is so much beauty in Italy, I can cry thinking about it...the art, the architecture, the duomos and tiny chapels, the green valleys, stone houses, cypress lined roads, the seascapes, the arches, the hill towns and vineyards, the olive groves, oh my, but for me, nothing quite does it like a field of sunflowers or POPPIES!
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We had a great poppy field close by, as well as many scattered blooms along the road, and the beautiful Spanish broom was a blaze of yellow.

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Continue reading "Poppy Heaven" »

Sharing a Favorite Spot

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On Sunday morning, our first full day in Montisi, after coffee at the bar, we wandered off with Jerry and Paul to show them one of our favorite nearby spots, the Locanda dell' Amorosa. We spent a lovely week in this fabulous property, and it was around the corner from "our" poppy field.

You enter the property through a beautiful cypress-lined driveway.
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The geraniums are too good to be true, the lemon and rosemary fragrance permeates the air, and it is always picture perfect in the piazza.
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We walked around the property and showed the guys the lobby, restaurant, chapel, and cantina.
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Continue reading "Sharing a Favorite Spot" »

June 5, 2008

Cantine Aperto

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Sunday afternoon, many wineries throughout Italy were open for the once a year Cantine Aperte. You can visit wineries that would ordinarily need an appointment, or not be open at all for visitors. I had a sip of their only white wine, and decided I was much more interested in taking photos of the beauty around me than I was in drinking.
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We were just down the road from San Biago, the beautiful church below the town of Montipulciano.

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We enjoyed relaxing with the group in this beautiful spot. Then it was time for a nap, some coffee to revive, and get ready to go to our group dinner in Montisi.

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Wine in the Garden and Dinner at Roberto's

I must say, the group cleans up well for dinner! We gathered for wine in the garden (more on the garden and the villa later...) before dinner.
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Who are these two handsome guys? Brad and Holly's husband, Rick! (Sandi's wonderful brother-in-law)
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Sandi, and her sister Holly are coordinated and accessorized!
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Here we are enjoying the moment.
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Another shot of me with the handsome men!
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Continue reading "Wine in the Garden and Dinner at Roberto's" »

June 6, 2008

Pino's Tour

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Monday morning at 9 AM, we left for a tour of the area with our tour guide, Pino, and his son, Marco, for a tour of the area. Pino is delightful, as well as knowledgeable, and gave us all kinds of interesting information. Our first stop was an olive grove with a view of the monastery San Anna in Camprena.
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Pino explained the process of growing, and harvesting olives and making oil.
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We arrived in Montepulciano, and wandered through the town.
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Continue reading "Pino's Tour" »

June 7, 2008

Copper Crafting

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For me, the highlight of our tour with Pino was our visit to the famous Montepulciano Mazzetti Copper Shop and near-by workshop, where we watched master Cesare Mazzetti work with the same tools his father and grandfather used to forge beautiful copper pots, molds, and containers.
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Cesare was charming and playful. He chose Holly and Rick (the couple married the longest in our group), and designed a copper disk wall ornament using symbols that represented their family. He put two hearts with their initials, two flowers for their daughters, and two "bursts" for their romance of over 30 years.
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Here are Holly and Rick (behind her) with their copper disk. These are used locally as favors for weddings with the couples' wedding date as a gift for guests.
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After we left the workshop, Cesare promised all of us a copper disk if we left him our initials. Here is ours I will hang in the kitchen! (We also got the "bursts of passion"!)
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June 8, 2008

Pecorino, Pecorino

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Brad and I left Pino's tour and scooted off to nearby Pienza for some Pecorino shopping and lunch. After our shopping errands, of two wheels of different ages of pecorino, and a couple jars of my favorite lemon honey, we chose a pretty, favorite spot called "Chiocciola" for a cheesy meal.

I love the flower-filled garden of this restaurant. The air is filled with floral scents with a definite whiff of cheese!
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My FAVORITE thing on their menu involves a basket of bread, and melted pecorino with honey.
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It was just as yummy as I remembered! Brad ordered veal scallops covered with melted pecorino.
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Sunshine, glorious weather, good cheese, bread and wine...what could be better?
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June 9, 2008

The Ballooners!

We were up at 5:30 to give the ballooners a proper send off! Brad went along to video Jerry, Paul, Sandi and the others going up on their adventure. I began my cooking preparations for our lunch, and that night's dinner until he returned to help.

Here is the inflation process:
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After the "safety talk", they have one last chance to change their mind. Everyone is ready and excited!
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The gang filled the basket!
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Up, up and away!
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Be sure and check out Sandi's Smilebox collage on her blog, Whistlestop Cafe Cooking.

Since I was up at the crack of dawn, I heated up ragu I made in Rome and froze, and turned some into a vodka sauce with pancetta for lunch. I also got started on the warm potato salad for dinner, and marinated some figs in balsamic and honey for our salad dressing.

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Warm Potato Salad

2 lbs red potatoes
2 T olive oil
1 c. sliced mushrooms
1 red onion, thinly sliced
¼ c. chopped chives
1 c. crumbled gorgonzola


Preheat oven to 400. Boil cubed potatoes for 10 minutes, until tender. Saute mushrooms in olive oil over medium heat for about 3 minutes. Toss potatoes with mushrooms, chives, onion and add gorgonzola. Bake 20-25 minutes.

June 10, 2008

Lunch for the Ballooners and Artists

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Tuesday, we decided to prepare a hearty lunch for the returning ballooners, and those who had stayed at the villa for Liz's watercolor painting class (more on that tomorrow).
I made a ton of a meat ragu when in Rome, and brought it to the villa frozen in two large disposable tupperware containers, with a two huge ziplocks full of the meat from the sauce (pork, beef, and sausage).

There were two main challenges around preparing meals: fridge space, and bowls.
There were two small (by US standards) refrigerators in the kitchen. I had "do not touch" and "keep out signs" on mine. Gail's contained yogurt, juice, cream for coffee, and wine (and some of my overflow items). Mine overflowed with whatever ingredients were needed for the next meal we were cooking. Let us not forget the 10 kilos of cheese I brought from Rome, lots of coldcuts, salad ingredients, lots of butter and cream for baking and desserts I had planned, and for two days, 26 wine glasses full of panna cotta and a bowl of strawberry sauce. The small freezer was full! The huge styrofoam ice chest was full. (Think 16-20 people per meal)

I learned that everything I refrigerate at home does NOT have to go in the fridge. I had to keep veggies (zucchini, mushrooms, tomatoes) on the counter. The onions, lemons, stayed in a bag on the floor. Eggs weren't refrigerated in the grocery store, so they also went on the counter, and none of us died. It was a constant balancing act/scavenger hunt in the fridge.

Bowls: The kitchen was well-equipped with good quality cookware, sharp knives, pasta pots, and large skillets. There were three serving bowls, 4 platters, and a stack of white 9x13 baking pans. What was missing for me was BOWLS for prep. There were 2 glass mixing bowls, in a medium and small size. There was one huge metal mixing bowl that would not fit in the fridge. The medium was filled with strawberry sauce for panna cotta for dinner. The small was the size of a cereal or ice cream bowl, perfect for beating two eggs. Hmmmm.

Did I mention, this was Italy so, there was no mixer, no food processor (except Brad), no disposal (I cleaned out the sink drain 100 times a day), and no microwave. SO to melt 2 T of butter, I had the choice of leaving the small mixing bowl in the sun for a couple of hours, or using a 14" skillet! At one point, I considered the hair dryer. It is amazing the things we take for granted. Sometimes, ok often, I thought of reheating what was left in the coffee pot, but that would have entailed washing ANOTHER large pot, so it was easier to run across the street for an 80 cent espresso! I actually kissed
my two garbage disposals when I got home, and need to go hug my trash compactor right now!

I never washed so many dishes in my life. I might wash the one bowl 4-5 times just to complete one recipe. Now think of dinner for 18 with a salad course, a pasta bowl, an entree, a dessert plate, and a couple of glasses per person. One dishwasher was "out of service", and the other one was still completing its 2.5 hour cycle from everyone's lunch dishes. Thank God for my good friends Jerry, Paul, Sandi and Holly, who never hesitated to grab a dishtowel, or who voluntarily cleared dishes as Brad and I were plating the next course! They were truly our guardian angels!

Back to lunch. I heated the ragu, cooked some pancetta, and added cream and vodka.
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We served a simple salad, and the meat in ragu on the side.
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The guests were happy and full, and quite appreciative!
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Lunch was a great learning experience, and we happily cooked the rest of the afternoon in preparation of the evening's "big dinner".

June 11, 2008

Our Tuesday Montisi Dinner

Though a couple of people munched on some pecorino with their afternoon wine, we advised everyone to "come hungry" for dinner.

MENU:
Salad with figs marinated in balsamic and honey, red onion, gorgonzola and balsamic dressing, garnished with a warm goat cheese-herb fritter
Tagliolini with a lemon sauce
Pork roasts with gorgonzola sauce
Guava glazed pork roast with guava sauce

Warm potato salad
Honey-thyme carrots
Panna cotta with strawberry sauce
Ciambella stuffed with gelato

Brad plated the salad while I fried the goat cheese fritters that I made and froze on Saturday. I did sample a warm goat cheese fritter, as this was the first time I tried the recipe. ALl the herbs came from the wonderful garden, and I used smashed rosemary crackers instead of bread crumbs. I thawed them before frying. While he served the salads, I cooked five pounds of fresh tagliolini and tossed three huge bowls of pasta in a light lemon sauce (marscapone, lemon juice and zest, cream and parmigiano). There was a lot going on, so I forgot to take a photo of the pasta!

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Both pork roasts were seared on the grill, then seasoned or sauced, wrapped in foil, and cooked slowly over Brad's hand built fire in the kitchen's wood burning grill. Here are the two kinds of pork:
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Continue reading "Our Tuesday Montisi Dinner" »

June 12, 2008

Dinner at Latte di Luna

In my excitement to blog about our Tuesday dinner, (trying to go somewhat chronologically through the week in Montisi) I completely forgot to write about Monday night. The Slow Trav gang, Jerry and Paul, Sandi, Gail and John, and Brad and I went to Pienza for dinner at Latte di Luna. This is a favorite of mine (my fifth or sixth visit).
It was a lovely evening to sit outside and enjoy the Tuscan specialties.

I started with pici in chingale sauce (and forgot to take a picture). The entrees were all delicious. Here are photos of the crispy pork, the coniglio (rabbit) with olives, and the duck. Jerry and Sandi had some good-looking steaks, and Gail enjoyed her eggplant parm.

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Continue reading "Dinner at Latte di Luna" »

June 13, 2008

Party Prep and San Gimignano

Wednesday was party prep for Thursday's festa. I was very energetic by 6 AM on Wednesday morning, getting as much done as possible, so we could leave at noon for a little day trip/shopping excursion to San Gimignano.

Here was my menu for Thursday's party:
Antipasti:

Figs with honey and sea salt
Apricots with gorgonzola
Melted pecorino with peperocino honey
cold cuts (prosciutto, soprosatta, ham and salami)
Hot crab dip (Italian style)
Baked brie with fig marmalata
Pizza Rustica
Cheese platter/pane e crocante (bread and assorted flatbreads)

La Cena (dinner):

Caprese salad
Salsiccia con fungi (sausage with mushrooms)
Verdura al forno (baked zucchini)
Polenta con formaggio e salvia (cheesy polenta with sage)

Dolci

Tiramisu di Limone

I needed to do a couple of these ahead of time. Fridge space was slim. I made my crust dough for the pizza rustica, and while it chilled made lemon curd from 20 eggs, and limoncello syrup. Brad grated cheese for all of the recipes. Then he chopped all the ingredients for the pizza rustica filling. Brad beat the marcapone filling for the tiramisu, while I finished the lattice crust on the pizza rustica. While it baked for an hour, we assembled the tiramisu. There was a doppio latte across the street at the coffee bar in there somewhere. We were all done by 11:30 with a beautifully browned pizza rustica, and two pans of lemon tiramisu in the fridge. TEAMWORK!
(photos and recipes for everything tomorrow)

We left for San Gimignano, and arrived in an hour and 15 minutes.
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Brad dropped me off and went to park. When I met him 10 minutes later, I had purchased a purse, and found a second, but we were starving, so we had a panini first on Piazza del Duomo.
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We had such a lovely afternoon. I really enjoy all the people around in the villa, but we were missing some "piazza time". Brad and I could spend hours a day, sitting in a piazza with a beverage, watching people, talking, sometimes reading or journaling, and watching life in Italy. Our waitress knew us from countless visits in the past. We have some quiet "down time" with a glass of Vernaccia. I had to briefly visit a couple of shopkeepers I have become friendly with over the years. We hit an internet spot, and did some laser shopping. We bought leather glass cases, a cigarette case, two purses, and I splurged in a bracelet I had to have. All of the shopping took me about 30 minutes, as I knew what I wanted, and where it would be. (I'll do a shopping post later of all my Italian purchases.) We were on our way back to the villa by 4:30, with a stop at the butcher in Trequanda to order tomorrow's meat, and had a nice nap from 6-7 before getting ready for dinner with Jerry and Paul!

June 14, 2008

Montisi Party Day: Part 1 Antipasti

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It was Thursday, and party day, so this cook was up at 5:30. I owed Jerry and Paul a "breakfast in bed" from a lot of past teasing about not cooking Jerry a proper breakfast on the morning of the Desert GTG. I gave him a token for "Breakfast in bed" as a christmas stocking stuffer, and today, I would pay up.(The other cook slept until I was caffinated and my breakfast berry bread was ready at 7.) They got a pecorino, pancetta and sage omelet, fruit, juice, and berry bread with butter and coffee, and my debt was paid.
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After his coffee, and the guys' breakfast omelet, I sent Brad to the grocery store for a few items we hadn't had room for, and started prepping veggies. I cut strips of lots of zucchini for the verdura al forno, and layered a large disposable pan with the zucchini, two cheeses, cream, bread crumbs and parmigiano. Next I used my one bowl for an Italian version (no cheddar in Italy), so I used fontina and the canned crab and Best Foods mayo I brought. Brad returned from the store and butcher where he picked up 40 sausages.

11:00 AM: Time for another coffee break!
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With my second wind, and after being off my feet for 20 minutes, we cranked out a few more recipes for tonight. I sauteed the mushrooms while Brad grilled sausage, and prepped figs and apricots. I made the cheesy polenta with sage, so I would only have to heat it later.
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By 2:30 we were as far as we could go. We had lunch, some down time, and took a nap until 5:00, when I could get the last minute items done.

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A couple no-brainers: Crumble gorgonzola (or any blue cheese) over plump dried apricots, and bake at 350 for 15-20 min. until the cheese melts. Brush dried figs with olive oil and sea salt. Stick those in at the same time. YUM!
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Continue reading "Montisi Party Day: Part 1 Antipasti" »

Montisi Party Part 2: Dinner, Amici, and Dolci

Guests arrived around 7:00. Here are Gail and Dina laughing at the wine station.
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Everyone enjoyed the appetizers, and at 8:30, dinner was served.
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The Salsiccia con fungi (sausage and mushrooms) is an easy do-ahead entree. Grill sausages. Saute mushrooms of choice (I used a combo of regular mushrooms and porcini, but at home I love portabello or baby bellas) with herbs in a little olive oil. Throw in some red pepper flakes if the sausage is not hot. Mix mushrooms with cut up sausages, and top with bread crumbs and parmigano. Bake for 25 minutes.

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Cheesy-Sage Polenta(I doubled this)

Spray pan with cooking spray.
Heat oven to 350.
Combine:
6 c. water
1 1/2 t salt
1 ½ c. polenta
Bake uncovered for 40 min.

Stir together:
3/4 c. sour cream
1 c. parmesan cheese
1 c. gruyere
lots of chopped sage (20 leaves)
salt, pepper and nutmeg
Stir into cooked polenta.
Bake 25 minutes.

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Verdura al Forno (Baked Zucchini or choice of veggie) I doubled this for the huge pan.

3 lb zucchini (about 10-12)
1 T olive oil
salt and pepper
1 3/4 c. heavy cream
2c. grated mozzarella
2c. grated fontina
1/4c parmigiano or Romano
1 ½ c. bread crumbs

Heat oven to 350. Coat bottom of a 8x13 baking dish with oil. Cover bottom of pan with zucchini slices in a single layer. Salt and pepper. Pour 1/4 of cream over and 1/4 of each of mozzarella and fontina. Top with 1/4 of parm and 1/4 of bread crumbs. Repeat 3 more layers.

Can be assembled 8 hours ahead. Bring to room temp and bake 40 min.

Continue reading "Montisi Party Part 2: Dinner, Amici, and Dolci" »

June 15, 2008

Dinner with Jerry and Paul

Jerry and Paul invited us to go to dinner with them at Conte Matto in Trequanda on Wednesday night. After our nice afternoon in San Gimignano, and a nap, it was a wonderful way to spend the evening.

Here you will find innovative Tuscan food with a beautiful view of the area. We began with a pasta course. My spaghetti with chingale sauce was delicious, but Brad LOVED his cantelope ravioli with pink peppercorn thyme sauce. Cantelope ravioli... who knew? It was quite light and summery, and the mild pink peppercorns were delicious.
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The entrees were all hits. I had a filet with balsamic, served with a fig-almond marmelata and grilled vegetables.
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Brad raved about his duck breast with fresh cherry sauce.
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Paul enjoyed his chingale cooked with chocolate and pine nuts! What a great menu.
The boys enjoyed their red wine, and I had white by the glass. Dessert? Of course! I love eating with Jerry and Paul! No guilt, and all the courses! Three of us had an almond semifreddo, and Jerry's berry napolean was beautiful!
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Jerry disappeared (we thought to the restroom), but when he came back he said the bill had been paid, and it was their thank you treat for all of our cooking at the villa.
What a lovely surprise. Here is a slightly blurry photo taken by our waitress.
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June 16, 2008

Orvieto

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Friday was our day trip to Orvieto for some ceramic shopping. Sandi, Holly, Marcia and JoAnn met us at the Duomo at 10:00, and we all had coffee and a pastry at a cafe. While brad parked the car, I had already chosen two ceramic pieces that I would ship home.
After coffee, I took the ladies to my favorite ceramic shop where I have shopped in the past. Giacomo gave all of my friends a 20% discount (which covers shipping). Brad got me a beautiful oval bowl for a belated birthday gift.
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We split up for a little more shopping, then met back at the Duomo before lunch.
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We walked to La Pergola to eat, stopping to peek at Marlena di Blasi's palazzo, and windowshop along the way.
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Continue reading "Orvieto" »

June 17, 2008

Friday Night's Dinner with Brad

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I had planned another big dinner (our finale) for the folks at the villa. I had 5 pounds of tortellini (ready for a brown butter sage sauce from the sage all over the garden), sauted rampini with pancetta and raisins, a caesar salad and tons of grilled lamb we had ordered at the butchers. Dessert would be ricotta parfaits with strawberries in Amaretto. Everyone was most appreciative of all of our cooking efforts, and there were lots of leftovers from the party. Gail suggested we take the night off, and let the crowd eat leftovers. Since there was enough sausage, and polenta to feed an army (most of the appetizers had been consumed), we agreed to take the night off!

We had been either prepping or cooking all that party food for a while. Brad will eat leftovers at home, but NEVER the day after! He needs at least a day before he will do a "repeat". We decided to go out for a nice dinner on our own.

We chose the close-by Apollonia restaurant in it's lovely setting.
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We began with cacio e pepe for me, and carpaccio for Brad.
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Continue reading "Friday Night's Dinner with Brad" »

June 18, 2008

Painting with Liz...and at Home

One of the things I was most excited about during our week in Montisi, was the watercolor painting class with Liz. Elizabeth Cochrane is an accomplished artist using both watercolor and oils. We visited her studio last summer when we were briefly in Montisi, and had a lovely dinner.

Liz came twice to the villa for an art class, Tuesday and again on Thursday, but unfortunately for me, as you know if you've been following my blog, these were our two LONG days of cooking. I joined the group a little late on Tuesday, painted a wash, and sketched my olive tree (we all painted an olive tree for our first project).
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Then it was back to the kitchen. I needed to get cooking tasks done, for both lunch and dinner. I was able to come out a couple of times during the morning, but was always at least two steps behind the group.
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After lunch, when everything was cleaned up, I tried again, but was sad to find, it had started to drizzle, and the artists moved inside. Liz had to leave, but said she would be back later in the week. She is a great teacher, and gave each person lots of individual help and tips about shading, mixing colors, using wax to block out white area, and showing light.

Liz returned on Thursday morning, shortly after Jerry and Paul's breakfast, but it was party day, and I had lots of food to crank out! I was so frustrated that I couldn't finish my tree. The group's lesson was in the breakfast room, just off the kitchen, so I could listen to some of Liz's instructions, but it is not the same as her telling you what to do with YOUR painting to shadow it, or fix it, or to have her pick up the brush and SHOW you what to do. Everyone's finished paintings were wonderful, and I sadly had half a tree. I was determined to finish it at home, so I carefully packed it. I worked on it for two days since returning home, and realized two things. I LOVE painting, and I really need some lessons! I have tried several more paintings since being back. I will call another friend of mine who teaches art for a private class and lunch, so I can learn some basic technique. So far, my paintings look like a fourth grader painted them, but it is very fun and relaxing, and the hours fly by. I really want to learn to do more with this!

If you promise not to laugh, you may click and continue reading...

Continue reading "Painting with Liz...and at Home" »

June 19, 2008

Firenze

It was tearfully time to say good-by to the villa and our friends at the end of a wonderful week. We were off to Florence for a "last day in Italy" before our early flight home in the morning. We easily drove directly to our hotel, dropped off luggage, and headed to the Auto Europe office to return the car. let the shopping begin! I had a couple of hours before the stores would close for lunch. our first stop was Rampini ceramics (almost directly across the street from the car rental office). It is such a beautiful shop. I added a few pieces to my dishes that I bought from the factory in Radda last summer.

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In the 5 minutes it took Brad to walk back across the street to pick up a walking map of Florence, I purchased a big pad of tear-off paper placemats of maps of Italian cities: Florence, Rome, Venice, and Milan. Very cute!

Next, I hit a paper shop for a few place cards and a table decoration.

We visited my favorite Italian women's clothing store (in almost every large town and city), Luisa Spagnoli, where I purchased a logo top. Every couple years I treat myself to something from here, and I was due (though I tried in Rome). Though few at home would recognize the name, this will be fun to wear on future trips. Their clothing always FEELS so good! I am saving up for another "hit" in Bologna in September, when the fall fashions will be out.

Time for lunch! We stopped to eat and relax. Brad had a lemony pasta, and I had ravioli in a sage-butter sauce.
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I was happy with my purchases, and it was fun to just sit and linger over coffee. We were both a little tired, and decided to walk back to our hotel and take a nap before our dinner with Jerry and Paul.

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Continue reading "Firenze" »

June 20, 2008

Italy Top 10

I'm stealing Jerry's idea of a top 10 list from our recent trip to Italy.

1. Dinner at Agata and Romeo in Rome...exquisite!
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2. THE POPPIES! Oh my goodness, I love Italy in May. The first time we visited Tuscany in May was 2003, and I bet I made Brad pull over 100 times, and took hundreds of photos. I have a whole guest room in my house devoted to poppies!
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3. Wine bars in Rome. We had so much fun eating and drinking at Cul de-Sac and Vinando in Rome. Rome at night is magical anyway. Our first evening in Piazza Navona just brought me to tears, it was so beautiful with a full moon, a glass of wine, and the person you love!
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3. Coffee Bars: I had the best coffee of my life in Rome. LOTS of it!
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4. Hanging out with my friends in Montisi. DUH!
Jerry and Paul travel a lot like Brad and I . They are up and out early, like to keep busy, eat well, and are lots of fun. OK, maybe they go to sleep earlier than we do.
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Sandi and Holly (and a few days of Rick) were wonderful villa mates.: thoughtful, funny, helpful, and fun. It is so lovely to see what close sisters Sandi and Holly are. They share everything, and really enjoy each other.
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Of course, Gail and John were the whole reason we were there. I spent lots of breaks outside with John in a smoking area. You can certainly see Gail loves Montisi and her friends in town. She is happy and relaxed when sipping wine with guests, playing with Liz, or down at Roberto's after dinner. I'm sure her next groups will pale in comparison with our lively crowd!
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5. Volpetti's cheese shop. Everything for me usually comes back to food. This place is a dream come true.
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Continue reading "Italy Top 10" »

June 23, 2008

Shopping in Italy

I was somewhat behaved the first week in Rome. I mostly bought cheese and honey, but we are not counting food purchases here. Ok, I splurged at the Furla store with a gold purse and a new wallet to match. It is hard to tell in the sunlight, but they are a beautiful metallic gold color leather.
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I bought a wonderful wooden puzzle of Italy for the kids. (This will be hard for me to part with.)
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No more shopping until San Gimignano! I was overdue. It was a very short and very successful afternoon! Leather and a bracelet in less than 30 minutes!
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Next shopping opportunity was in Orvieto. 5 minutes in the linen shop for new pot holders:
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Three ceramic pieces took another 20 minutes! I am very quick and decisive when chosing what I like.
Three of my favorite things are all in this one piece: poppies, sunflowers, and lemons!
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An antipasti tray with 3 square plates...or not! (and FIGS!)
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Finally a baking dish to match the recetangular one I bought last year. It is a perfect size.
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In Florence, we shopped for an hour until lunch time. It never takes me long to find treasures. At the Rampini shop, I bought 8 mugs, a creamer and sugar bowl and 2 candlesticks to match the pattern I started last year in Radda. See those cute round mugs in the very front?

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Next, some paper placemats of Venice, Florence, Rome and Milan:
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Two books and a paper store:
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A Luisa Spagnoli shopping bag always makes me happy!
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Here's a closeup:
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I still have a few Euro saved for our September trip where I will shop instead of cook!

July 19, 2008

Italy September '08 Itinerary

The countdown has begun! We will spend three full weeks in Italy in September, and I can't wait! Here is our itinerary:

We fly from LAX to AMS, then a short flight to MXP, where we will meet our friends, Fiona and Steve. We traveled to Italy with them in 2003, and had a delightful time. They are easy going, fun, and up for whatever we suggest. They love good food, good wine, and "leave the driving to us". OK, we all leave it to "Brad'll Do It".

We will begin with four nights in Varenna, on Lake Como. I have been to Bellagio, but Varenna is new to all four of us.

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Next, we will spend 5 nights in Lerici, with day trips to explore the Ligurian coast.
Brad and I have been to Camogli and Portofino, but we look forward to visiting Portovenere, and beautiful vistas of the sea.

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Then a whole week at Diana's! Whoo Hoo! I am most looking forward to visiting with Diana, Micha, and my buddy Max at Baur B&B. We look forward to relaxing in the luxurious comfort of the property, beautiful drives to nearby towns, showing our friends the wonders and beauty of Piemonte. I know there will be figs, Brachetto, and laughter. Diana is stocking up on coffee as we speak!

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If we must leave Acqui Terme, at least I get to end our trip in one of my favorite Italian cities: Bologna. This last 6 days will be all about food and shopping! We will probably take Fiona and Steve to Ravenna and Parma for day trips as well. I am sure there will be many many lattes consumed from this spot on Piazza Maggiore!

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July 26, 2008

Villa Carlotta, Lake Como

I'd like to be here today:

July 29, 2008

Lerici

After a few days in Varenna on Lake Como, we will spend five nights in Lerici on the beautiful Ligurian coast.

This looks like a great spot to have my morning (and afternoon and evening) coffee, don't you think? Join me for a cup.


August 9, 2008

Pinot and Ponies Day 1

It was a Chamber of Commerce sunny day in San Diego. Brad and I spent the morning at the beach in Oceanside, had great fish and chips for lunch in Carlsbad, a quick shopping fix in San Diego, and checked into our hotel in "Little Italy" around 4.

We met Sharon and Shannon and began the festivities at a cool bar called "Starlight".

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We began with martinis:

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and an mixed antipasti platter:

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Then with more wine, we had some fried veggies:

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We had a great evening, and eventually ate dinner at Starlight. Photos ceased as the vino increased!

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Here we are back in Little Italy just before midnight with dessert and bottle 3.

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As you can see, for every glass of wine I had, I am keeping up with coffee!
We are off to a great start of Pinot and Ponies weekend!

August 11, 2008

Pinot and Ponies 2

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We spent the afternoon at Del Mar race track with Shannon, Sharon, Cheryl and Tom.
It was warm and beautiful, and we had great seats on the finish line in a nice shady section that was convenient to everything (wine, bathrooms, betting...).

While those around us ate typical expensive, greasy junk food sold at stadium concessions, the Slow Travelers ate well, munching on "taralli", fig and cambazola sandwiches on fig bread, luscious berries, and ooey gooey cake.

From left to right, here are Cheryl, Tom, Shannon, Palma and Sharon:

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We were at Del Mar all afternoon, and after a quick shower, we headed to The Vine in Ocean Beach for a delicious dinner. After a cheese board, meat and cheese plate, olives, and some salads, the carnivores were quite happy. Lots of great food on the table, but there were several filets in a red wine reduction.

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Krista's flatiron steak with gorgonzola, carmalized onions and walnuts looked good too!

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We brought our own desserts, and the wine was plentiful. See how happy we were?
We just love our GTGs!

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August 15, 2008

Beach Music

Is there anything as calming as the sound of the sea? Watching the waves is mesmerizing for me. I could do it all day.

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We took out time last Friday, driving down the coast to San Diego. After 3 hot months in the desert, we really needed a beach fix. The water was cool and refreshing, the sand was warm and squishy, and it was a chamber of commerce day here in Oceanside, CA.

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It is a perfect weekend getaway when you get to share great food and wine with good friends, have a taste of Italy (more on that tomorrow), AND walk along a beach!

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August 16, 2008

Little Italy Mercado

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A week ago today, was almost like being in Italy! After caffe lattes (lots) with families speaking italian surrounding us, Sharon, Brad and I walked through the street market in the Little Italy neighborhood of San Diego.

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It was a sunny, beautiful morning, and the vendors were friendly.

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With very little effort or imagination, you felt like you were in an Italian town...until you turned around and saw the beach, the palm trees, and San Diego's airport a couple of blocks away.
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I bought the most wonderful figs! There were turkish, mission, calimyrna, and green Sicilian figs that were like honey! I bought sage honey too!

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The "fig guy" kept giving me samples, and choosing the perfect figs for me to take home. After seeing my enthusiasm and orgasmic joy while eating, he even invited me to a "fig party" next weekend!

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We sampled all kinds of sea salt. Aren't they pretty?
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The scent of roasting pollo was heavenly.
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Here are Sharon and I in "Amici Park". Perfect!
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But my favorite photo op was this shot. Nothing "fat free" about me (especially with all those buckets of gelato in my freezer...). But sometimes I am a sweet Italian! LOL

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One of my favorite moments was watching two young men walking toward us. They looked like typical California surfers. Jams shorts, flip flops, shirtless, with a towel thrown over their still wet shoulders, but speaking perfect !talian!

Monday's blog: food porn from the market!

August 20, 2008

A Little More Little Italy

I have a few more photos of San Diego's Little Italy to share.

We leave in 11 days for "Big italy"!!!

Until then...

Gelato:

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How about a beautiful garden gate with morning glories?

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These wonderful canvas banners were gorgeous, but pricey! ($200-$400). Kinkos can blow up a favorite photo onto canvas. Hmmmm..... "Brad, can you please drill into the stucco on the patio, and hang a curtain rod?"

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Finally, don't you just LOVE the name of one of Shannon's favorite wine bars in the neighborhood? Actually, I DO dream of FOOD, not wine, but it is a great name!

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We must go back soon, and do it all again! I never made it to the Italian grocery!!!

September 1, 2008

We're Off!

We left Palm Desert, picked up Fiona and Steve and were off to LAX for our different flights to Milano.

I'm at the curb at KLM with our 2 checked bags and 2 large carry-ons (I never take anything but snacks and a pillow and book on the plane, but on our last trip, KLM lost my luggage both coming and going! This time, I will be dressed well no matter what happens!

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We had a great flight to Amsterdam, and an easy connection to Milan, getting in early. We had time to get our bags and the rental car, and meet Fiona and Steve's late flight from Frankfort.

From there, we drove to lake Como. It was late, so we stopped in Lecco for a dinner of spaghetti carbonara. From there, it was only another 30 minutes until we were checked in to the charming Hotel Du Lac in Varenna. It was almost midnight, so we settled into our lovely balcony room, and slept well.

From the lake, our hotel is the tan building on the water, next to the yellow one.

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On this closer shot, you can see our balcony. It is the far left of three, a floor above what looks like the breakfast room.

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A lovely spot to sit and look at the lake!

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September 2, 2008

Varenna for Breakfast

My first morning in Varenna, I watched the sunrise from my balcony, while I patiently waited for coffee at 7:30.

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I had a quiet cup (or 3) on this quiet terrace while Brad slept in.

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Breakfast was a nice assortment of pastries, rolls, three cheeses, ham, prosciutto, cereals, yogurt, fruit, juices, and jams. We decided to take the 10:25 ferry to Lenno to see the Villa Balbianello. I had time, and was ready to blog. That was when I discovered my laptop wasn't there!

I opened the computer bag and said, "Brad, where is the laptop?"

He said, "In the bag."

"No it isn't", I said calmly.

He said (with a VERY sick look on his face), "It HAS to be!"

I'll spare you the rest of the moment it sunk in that my laptop must still be in security in Amsterdam. I have NEVER seen Brad look so upset. I was actually quite calm. Yes, it would be horrible to loose everything, and I haven't moved photos to our external hard drive since 2007, so lots would be lost! But I thought, I'm in Italy! I will NOT let this ruin my trip. I am on beautiful Lake Como. We will either get it back, or I will get a new one when we get home. We are all safe, healthy and in Italy! We called Schiphol airport's lost and found. I was told to call back tomorrow, as an item had to be "lost" for 48 hours before anyone would speak to you about it. I tried to console Brad. We sat and read on the lovely terrace.

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On to Villa Balbianello!

Villa Balbianello

We met Fiona and Steve at the ferry and took the 10:25 ferry to Lenno. It was market day, but we decided to walk to the villa first and then browse the market stalls on our way back.

The villa can be reached by walking, or by boat. We walked the path from town to the villa (steep in some places, but a nice walk). We saw the gardens only, as a tour of the inside of the villa had just left.

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I wonder if I could get my gardner to do this with my bouganvilla? Maybe not.

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Here are Fiona and Steve on the path ahead of us.

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I'd love to plan a party on THIS terrace!

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We were enchanted by this lovely spot, and i even forgot about the laptop fiasco!
What a romantic spot! That "I'm in Italy " feeling overtook us.

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We decided to take the boat back to town from the lovely boat dock.

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The villa is just as magnificent from the water!

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We returned to town, walked through the market, and had a light lunch of prosciutto and melon. I wondered if I could cram a kilo of these into our room's mini-fridge?

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Sunset in Varenna

Varenna looks like a fairy tale village. The houses are brightly colored, and the views are charming.

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After a nap, Brad and I sat at what was to become our favorite Varenna spot for a glass of wine and watched the sunset. Bar Molino is located on a tiny cove, one of the most photographed spots in Varenna. The bar is filled with flowers, and has a tiny beach with small boats leaning under the walkway from town to the ferry dock.

Here is the tiny cove from the water. Our spot is under those umbrellas.

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I could sit here for hours! Here is the view from Bar Molino:

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We saw swans, and pretty little boats.

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We drank a lovely Vermintino.

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I am in my "happy place".

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The sunset was beautiful.

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Continue reading "Sunset in Varenna" »

September 3, 2008

Good News, Como and Cernobbio

On Wednesday, I actually slept 6 hours (until 7:30), showered, and met Fiona and Steve for breakfast at 8:00. Brad joined us shortly. it was a grey, rainy morning, but still beautiful on the lake. After breakfast, I called Schiphol airport's lost and found, and got to speak to a live person. She asked me what my laptop looked like. It looks like every other silver Mac G4 Powerbook in the world, with an Apple logo on top. Who puts their name on their computer or knows the serial number? We put tags on the BAG! DUH!
Now I know what to do with those extra Slow Travel stickers I got at a GTG!

The woman put me on hold. I began to sweat. Brad was watching my face, and guzzling coffee. When she came back on the line she said, "Do you have a file that says, "Pauline - Savannah", and one that is called, "Jerry and Paul"?

My heart was pounding as I shrieked, "THOSE ARE MY FRIENDS!". I almost cried with relief. Brad was beside himself, jumping and hugging me. We were told to fill out an online form, and it would be shipped (we decided Diana's was the safest, as it could take a week) by DHL for 90 Euro plus 15 for filing the claim. At least we knew it was safe, and soon to be reunited with us! I love a happy ending.

We left Varenna in some light rain, and drove to Como. The rain stopped, and we walked around the central area with numerous shopping streets. We stopped for lunch at Ristorante Rino. A downpour began as we were ordering lunch.
Fiona and I both had the pappardelle with hare sauce, and Brad and Steve had the house special ravioli.

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After lunch, we shopped a little and I bought a shawl in Como. The rain had stopped again.


Continue reading "Good News, Como and Cernobbio" »

Rainy Wednesday Afternoon

Wednesday afternoon when we returned to Varenna, Brad and I revived ourselves at our hotel's bar. I needed a double latte macchiato and the driver needed a glass of wine. With every drink order, you get a cute little tray of snacks: a darling ceramic gondola of olives, a stack of Pringles, a tiny sandwich of marscapone and salami, peanuts, and little stacks of mortadella and cheese. We relaxed and read our books under the covered patio, watched the rain on the lake, until it was time to go to dinner.

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By 8:00pm it was pouring, so we decided to keep dinner simple, and we had eaten a good lunch. We went to our favorite bar, and ate inside. We all wanted comfort food, so everyone had pizza, and I had fusilli con quattro formaggi.

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After dinner, Fiona and Brad had another bottle of wine, and Steve and I enjoyed gelato and coffee. We were served our stracciatella in cute little bee and bear bowls!

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We returned to our hotel, and sat in the bar with our wine, coffee, grappa and cookies, playing blackjack, poker, and our own "question game".

September 4, 2008

Bellagio

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Brad and I were up at 7, we had breakfast, coffee, and some internet time to secure the shipping of the laptop! We took the 10:25 ferry to Bellagio, and we split off from Fiona and Steve to do some shopping until lunch time. I bought some gifts, and my beautiful silk and leather handbag.

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Bellagio's streets are steep and narrow. There are many shops selling silk, jewelry, art, linens, and clothing. Brad and I stopped for coffee and a break.

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Next we walked to the end of town to show Brad the Villa Serbelloni Hotel. I actually stayed here on my very first trip to Italy in 1987 with my ex-husband. It is grand, but very formal and stuffy. We were supposed to be there for 4 nights, but it was the end of season, the weather was bad, the place was deserted, and it seemed like we saw no guests, just staff trying to busy themselves. We stayed one night, and after an early breakfast, we took off and spent three lovely days in Venice instead!

Here is their beach/pool area:

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Continue reading "Bellagio" »

Gardens at Villa Melzi

Fiona and Steve took the ferry back, and Brad and I stayed in Bellagio to walk through the gardens at Villa Melzi. The weather was warm and slightly overcast. We walked down the flower-filled lakeside promenade about a half mile to the entrance of Villa Melzi,
built in 1810 for Count Melzi. This was the first example of an English garden on the lake.

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It was peaceful, quiet, and felt like we had the gardens to ourselves. We had a lovely walk through the park-like grounds.

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Last Evening in Varenna

We returned to Varenna at 4pm, stopped for a coke, and went back to our room for a nap. We met Fiona and Steve for a drink at a Russian bar, but left soon, as there was a tantruming child screaming.

We had a lovely dinner at Nuova Isola Restaurant.

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Our primi piatti were sausage ravioli with butter and sage for me, and Brad had risotto with frogs legs.

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Next I had pork stuffed with cheese and wrapped in pancetta, and Brad had a stuffed trout.

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The four of us had two bottles of wine, and then went back to the hotel for coffee and grappa before bed.

We really enjoyed our last night on Lago di Como.

September 5, 2008

Lerici

After breakfast on a rainy morning, we left Varenna, heading to Liguria. The sun was out by 10AM, and we arrived at the Doria Park Hotel at 1:00, checked in, and headed into the piazza for a pizza lunch.

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Afterwards, I had a delicious gelato combination of watermelon and crema (tasted like a watermelon 50-50 bar).

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We wandered around town, exploring, then walked back up (85 steps I would at times hate...) to our room for a nap before dinner.

Our room was completely unsatisfactory for me. There was a jacuzzi tub, with big metal hard "bubbles" all over the bottom. There was a tub height hand-held shower, but i couldn't get in the tub with those big bumps, so my first shower was taken sitting on the bidet near the tub, with my head hanging over the tub to wash my hair. Not good! They were able to change our room, but not until the next morning after breakfast.

We met Fiona and Steve at 7 for cappuccini and a walk around the harbor. We were finally hungry by 9 and had a long dinner at Ristorante Gulfo dei Poeti. Dinner was great, though they were very busy, so service was slow. Brad and I shared a plate of trofie with wonderful Ligurian pesto sauce.

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Next, I had calamari fritti, and Brad had a perfectly cooked sea bass.

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With two bottles of wine, our bill was 47 Euro per couple. Brad and i stopped for gelato (chocolate and whisky for him, and meile/ricotta and blueberry for me).
We had some internet time in the hotel lobby, and finally went to sleep around 2 AM!

September 6, 2008

Portovenere

After only three and a half hours of sleep, I was downstairs for coffee and breakfast at 6:30. They changed our room to one with a stand-up shower, and we also ended up with a large terrace. I journaled and read watching the early morning clouds disappear, and turn into a beautiful sunny day.

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At 8:30, we wandered down to the market day mob by the harbor. i bought some dressy black sandals for 6 Euro, we had a coke, and then met Fiona and Steve at the ferry to Portovenere.

The ride over was beautiful, both leaving Lerici's big harbor, and arriving close enough for our first view of Portovenere's colorful houses and church of San Pietro on top of the hill.

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We walked up the main shopping street, stopping to taste foccacia and pesto, and walked to the church where wedding bells were pealing through town.

We stopped for lunch at Trattoria Medusa, where we couldn't decide which seafood pasta to try. Finally, Brad and I chose two to share: Ravioli with scampi, and spaghetti with muscles.

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It was very hot and humid, and we were drenched and thirsty all day. We wandered through town and I bought some herbed-sea salt and some lemon amaretti cookies.

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We saw another wedding party, gathered with guests to walk up to the church. The bride was lovely in a last minute moment with her dad.

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We returned to Lerici on the 3:00 ferry, and had a shower and a nap. We met Fiona and Steve for drinks at 7:30, then had dinner at a tiny trattoria on Via Cavour.
Brad ordered a local specialty, farinata, a chick pea dough, resembling pizza. It is served plain, or with toppings like onions or cheese.

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I had a pizza, and our service was very slow. We arrived at 9, and didn't get our check until 11:40. Brad and I stopped for a coffee and grappa at our hotel before bed.

Here are Fiona and I entertaining ourselves with the camera while waiting 40 minutes for "il conto".

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September 7, 2008

Portofino

I did my usual early coffee/journal thing at 6:30, and by 10, all of us were ready to leave for our drive to Portofino. There were some clouds and sprinkles when we first arrived, so we headed up to the beautiful Splendido Hotel for some coffee, and a brief visit.

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As we sipped our coffee, the sun came out.
The views from there are hard to top.

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I actually stayed at the Splendido one night in 1987. I believe the nightly rate THEN was over $700. Now it is almost double that. The hotel was full. How are there that many people who can afford those prices? We observed some of the guests enjoying the terrace. One couple, who appeared in their 30s looked like they walked off a magazine cover. Her face and body were flawless. His jeans probably cost more than I could sell my car for. It is interesting to think about. Are they happier? I am sure they are not. They may have more money to throw at trying to be happy, or more resources to distract themselves from problems, but money does not buy happiness.
I have a healthy sense of entitlement. I could be quite happy with the lovely room,

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the infinity pool, and the room service on my private terrace. I deserve all of that. But what I can afford (barely) is the run down, paint peeling Doria Park room with the tiny shower, exposed wires in the hallway, and no shuttle to take my lard ass down to town. I am quite happy. I am healthy, I am well-loved, and I am in Italy.

We drove into town, parked, and shopped for about 45 minutes, then met for lunch at La Stella. Fiona, Brad and I loved our meal, but Steve was disappointed. He ordered pesto lasagna. He pictured a layered square of pasta, pesto and sauce or cheese.
He GOT lasagna noodles and pesto. (I guess the key was it didn't say "al forno".)

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Fiona loved her seafood spaghetti.

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Brad raved about his "Spaghetti Popo" (sliced garlic fried with tomatoes).

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I really enjoyed my tagliarini with noci sauce.

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We walked around after lunch. Steve and Brad checked out the private yachts, Fiona and I admired the buildings, and the sculpture park.

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We left Portofino in late afternoon, and stopped in Tellaro for beautiful beach views on the way home. After some time for napping, reading, and freshening up for dinner, we met at 8, and had pasta carbonara at Trattoria Luisa. It was not a momentous meal. After a latte, we walked back up the hill for some internet time before bed.


September 8, 2008

Chiavari and my Corzetti Stamp

Another 6:30 morning, and after a shower, lots of coffee, and breakfast, we walked down to the ferry, ready for a day in Cinque Terra. We were told they were not making the trip today due to wind and sea conditions. It was as calm as glass in Lerici, but what did we know?

Plan B: We would go to Genoa, with a stop in Chiavari to try to find Franco, the guy who makes the handcrafted corzetti stamps Diva has talked about!

It was less than an hour drive, and we sang along with my "Mama Mia" CD all the way to Chiavari. What a delightful surprise of a town. We drove through streets of gorgeous homes in park-like yards, with flowers blooming everywhere. We parked near the main street of a lovely central district, and all thought, "Why aren't we staying HERE? Why have we never heard of this place?" The locals were friendly, and helped us find Judy's friend's restaurant, Osteria Luchin. I was armed with a photo of Franco that Judy had sent me. We took it into the restaurant, and a waiter immediately smiled and gave us directions to a small square nearby. He said Franco's shop was off the square, but that Franco was often walking around the area.

We walked over to the square, when both Fiona and Brad said, "Hey, isn't that the guy in the picture?"

I shouted, "Franco?" as we approached. The man turned and smiled. I walked up to him and said, "Siamo amici di Diva, Judy!" I almost believe this would work in any piazza in Italy. It was SO cool. He took us to his workshop, and immediately began to talk about what I wanted carved on my stamp. He directed us to a cafe/pastry shop around the corner, and told us to go have coffee, and come back in half an hour.
We enjoyed a delicious cappucino and the beautiful porticos in the shopping area.

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Franco Casoni is one of the last remaining craftsmen to make corzetti, used to make a classic Ligurian pasta. Corzetti means "Little crosses", suggesting that original designs might have included a cross used by Genoese crusaders. The use is to make fresh pasta dough, then to press a thin round of dough between the stamps, leaving an imprint on both sides. Ligurian families used to have their coat of arms carved on their stamp, and symbols on the other side. They are sometimes called "croxetti". Packaged ones remind me of communion wafers.

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Traditionally, this pasta is served with basil, tomato, noci or mushroom sauces. Here is Babbo's recipe for corzetti with pesto.

Thirty minutes later, we returned to see my beautiful corzetti stamp with "Palmabella" on one side, and a palm tree on the other! We met Franco's wife, took photos, and were all quite charmed.

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This was one of the highlights of our trip. It was such an "Italian morning". Here we were in this lovely UNtouristy town, with a delightful Italian craftsman, who carves enormous bowsprits for ships, and does amazing museum work. He was carving ME a one-of-a-kind pasta stamp because of a connection I have from Slow Travel. No English is spoken. This all happens in the time it takes to have a cup of coffee. We meet his wife, we laugh together, we see an incredibly beautiful beach town, we leave feeling like we had an authentic Italian experience we couldn't have had anywhere else.

WOW! This stuff isn't in the guidebooks. Thanks, Judy!

Genoa

After our wonderful morning in Chiavari, we headed on to Genoa for lunch. Genoa is a large city, so I entered the address of a Harmont and Blaine (Brad's favorite shirts) store into the GPS, and before we knew it, we were parked steps from the center of the shopping street, Via Roma! Fiona and I saw the Louie Vuitton store from the parking lot, and knew we were close. First we stopped for lunch. Tagliolini with ragu for Brad and a veal cutlet with crispy potatoes for me.

Shops were still closed for lunch, so we explored a little of central Genoa. We walked around the opera house, museum, and large piazza. I was in "shopping mode", and took no photos, but Brad had the video camera going. I stopped a well-dressed Italian woman, and asked her where Luisa Spagnoli was, and she was delighted to give us directions a few blocks away. I bought a mustard-colored cardigan, and a 30% off deal on an evening bag at Furla. At 4:30, we met Fiona and Steve at an English pub.

A customer walked in with his dog, a friendly boxer named Roger. Steve asked if he could pet him. Within seconds, Roger was on his hind legs with his paws wrapped around Steve's neck. Roger then licked Steve for a good 10 minutes!

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This shot was out the car window, of a park with Columbus's three ships depicted in flowers.

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We left Genoa at 5:00, and arrived home about 6:30. I had a double latte and read my book. We decided to stay at the hotel for dinner in the restaurant, and an early night.

I had a salad, and Brad had a tomato-cheese tart to begin.

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Brad ordered a seafood sauce linguini, and I had penne with lobster sauce. I LOVE the bowls!

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Our "Plan B" turned into a wonderful day!

September 9, 2008

Cinque Terra

I was, for once, the pessimist in the group. My instinct was to NOT go with the group to Cinque Terra, but to take a bus to lovely Tellaro (town next door to Lerici). or have a nice beach day somewhere near by, or even to hang out reading my book. Brad would have been disappointed, and as I have been the "tour guide" and dragged everyone else to where I wanted to go each day, I slapped a smile on my face and went quietly along.

If you are hoping for gorgeous photography on this blog entry, you will be disappointed. Brad took video at each stop, and I took three photos all day. I even forgot to take lunch!

We boarded the 9:30 ferry in Lerici, changed boats in Portovenere, and were on our way.

Let's talk briefly about my feet. They have at times been know to swell in Italy. I have tired various theories, because they don't ALWAYS swell, and this only happens in Italy, on SOME trips, or only in SOME places. Too much salt? (Cheese and prosciutto?), too much coffee? I will have to die happy. I think it has to do with how much walking/climbing I do. They were fine in Varenna, except swollen the day we went to
Villa Balbianello. They were fine until our second day in Lerici. Remember those steps up to the hotel? They were FAT today!

The first stop was Riomaggiore. After a few sets of steps from the boat to the bottom level below the tiny piazza, I found a cafe. I happily sat with a latte and my book, while the others explored the tiny town for the 40 minute stop. All said, "You didn't miss anything".

Next we stopped at Manarola. We decided, to stay on the boat. The boat sails by Corniglia, you can see at the top of the hill. Hmmmmm. Okay, WHY did I come?
I actually enjoyed the ferry ride. The water was a beautiful blue, and the sun felt good on the breezy deck. I thought, "I'll never have to do this again! Tomorrow we'll be in Piemonte!" BAD tourist!

Vernazza was next. It is a crowded hillside town, sloping down to a piazza on the sea with a church tower, unbrellas, many touristy (junky) souvineer/t-shirt shops, and a main street of small stores and restaurants. We stopped for a cold drink, and wandered for almost an hour. This wasn't doing anything for me either. Am I so spoiled by the beauty of the Amalfi coast? This doesn't hold a candle. Maybe the hikers like it because you can walk the path between villages. Go figure? Here are my photos of the day in Vernazzia. Are YOU charmed?

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The last, and largest (and flattest) village is Monterosso. We would be here 3 hours, so there was no need to rush around. We wandered around town, looking for a restaurant for lunch, and it was busy everywhere. We found a cute place with one table left, and grabbed it. I had an absolutely fabulous plate of gorgonzola cheese with fig jam. The others all had pasta, and for some reason, we decided to share a really good plate of french fries! The cheese and fig preserves were SO good! (My happy moment in the Cinque Terra...how pathetic is that?)

We walked around town afterwards, and Brad enjoyed a local wine/grappa shop.

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We spent our last half hour before the ferry laughing hysterically at a cafe with gelato and coffee.

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It was a cloudless, blue sky on the warm, sunny and breezy ferry ride back to Lerici. We decided we weren't going to hike up the hill to the hotel TWICE tonight, so we stayed in town, and had "happy hour" wine and appetizers at a restaurant on the harbor. We hung out there until 7:30, discussing our days in Liguria and excitement over getting to Piemonte tomorrow. Then we had a delicious marscapone-prosciutto pizza and some muscles for dinner.

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We sampled creme brulee/panna cotta gelato. After some internet time, we were in bed at a record 10:30 PM!

Final thoughts on Liguria:

Lerici: won't be back
Portovenere: We enjoyed our day there!
Food: good seafood, pesto, farinata, focaccia,
5 days is enough
Chiavari: Highlight of our days in Liguria. I would stay here again in a heartbeat!
Genoa: Big city with lovely buildings, good shopping, I'd like to see the aquarium, worth more time if staying in Chiavari or Camiogli (where I would also return).
Cinque Terra: Been there, done that, cross it off the list.

September 11, 2008

Lerici to Acqui Terme

Yesterday, we happily left Liguria, excited to arrive in Piemonte. We arrived in Acqui at 11:30, and after a coffee and nickel tour of acqui's central district, we dropped our bags off at Diana's and chatted for a while, then hightailed it back to town before the restaurants closed for lunch. We had a quick plate of pasta, a glass of wine, and some downtime in the piazza with coffee and our books. Soon the shops reopened and we shopped until 6. I bought a necklace, funny Italy bag and a shawl.

We returned to the B&B and relaxed. Aperol and prosecco cocktails were served on the terrace with a beautiful antipasti board!

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Our First Evening at Baur's B&B

How do I start to describe the feeling of "coming home" to our room here? Of course, we were excited to see Diana and Max (and Micha when he returns tomorrow evening), but everything about being here at the Baur's especially, and in Piemonte in general, is comfortable and feels lovely. Warm, sweet, gracious people, a soothing, calm and beautiful setting, a perfect size town, wonderful food, fabulous wine...life here is good.

We had a wonderful evening with Diana. We laughed, talked about wine, World affairs, Italy trips, and several bottles of vino were consumed! We had a delicious dinner of chicken tonnato, baked fennel with gorgonzola, roasted peppers with ricotta, rosemary and pepperocino, and garbanzo bean salad. Dessert was "happy fruit" in a bowl of brachetto.

It was a perfect first evening in Piemonte, and Max loves his new pink hippo toy!
We slept well, enjoying the luscious linens, comfortable surroundings and wonderful bathrooms. Diana's new kitchen is to die for, and my favorite addition is the 24 hour coffee machine!!!

Max is the sweetest dog in Italy!

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September 12, 2008

Piemonte Wine Towns

Thursday we visited three sweet towns in the beautiful wine region of Piemonte.
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Shannon, I took this photo for you (and Brad took video of the Gaja winery which is NEVER open, but was...)

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Our first stop was Barbaresco.

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Next we stopped for lunch in La Morra.

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Ravioli con burro e salvia:

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Our late afternoon visit to Barolo was just a "walk through" and a cafe latte.

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Another lovely day in Piemonte. Time for some relaxing before dinner!

Dinner at Il Giardino

We enjoyed a wonderful dinner at Il Giardino!

Antipasti (I am only blogging about food Brad or I ate with an occasional exception):

Brad had the fiori di zucchini fritti

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and I had the most wonderful fagottini di gorgonzola (paper think fried crisp dough stuffed with gorgonzola).

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Primi piatti:

I had veal canneloni,

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Brad had ravioli with a very light veal ragu

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and Fiona tried a local specialty of ravioli in warm red wine.

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Continue reading "Dinner at Il Giardino" »

September 13, 2008

Breakfast 2

Breakfast: a favorite meal When at the Baur's!

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A gorgeous fresh plum tart:

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Salami and Piemontese formaggio:

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Pretty enough to eat! For the slow scoopers who have lavender left over...try some with lime zest on fresh fruit!

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I who never eat bread at home, must have Diana's bread, just to eat her wonderful preserves, of course!

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The endless lattes at any time are fabulous too! I'm sure Diana won't mind if we ship
Ego over so Max can have a playmate, and I can stay here!

Alba and Dogliani

We arrived in Alba just before noon, and had 30 minutes of power shopping before the shops closed.

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I manged to hightail it straight to Luisa Spagnoli for a top, hit a couple food/wine shops for some crema di tartufo, and still buy us a second Italian cell phone, so Brad and I will each have one for our PalmabellasItaly trip next summer. We walked to the two main piazze and the duomo, stopped for coffee, but were not ready for lunch.

We left Alba, and went to see a town Brad was interested in because of it's great dolcetto. Diana confirmed that Dogliani was a charming town, so we found our way there, and we were indeed charmed. It has become our favorite second only to Acqui!

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Continue reading "Alba and Dogliani" »

Dinner at Fausto's

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We enjoyed a dinner at Fausto's on our last trip, so we wanted Fiona and Steve to experience the same restaurant.

Fausto is a charming guy. The dining room is brick with modern touches on the paint splattered walls. Brad began with Fausto ravioli, and i had an antipasto of roasted peppers with gorgonzola.

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Fausto remembered me from our last visit, and spent my "smoke breaks" outside between courses chatting with me.

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Our secondi piatti consisted of lots of meat! I had a tagliata that was like butter. It looks too rare to eat, but was fabulous, and didn't even need a knife to cut! Brad had the "salted roast beef".

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It is raining now on my laptop. I'll put dessert on the SSS thread!

Ciao til the wifi station is dry again!

September 14, 2008

Breakfast 3

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This lovely meal kept us full all day. No need for lunch, and an antipasti plate for dinner with wine was just right!


Pro Loco in Acqui

We had a lovely relaxing day on Friday. After breakfast we hung out at the B&B for some much needed down time. The skies were beautiful after the morning shower.

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Everything here is sensual. Ripe luscious peaches, cheeses, clouds, linens, towels, tomatoes. LUSCIOUS... quiet, relaxing...perfect!

Brad has clocked in many hours of driving through the countryside. Yesterday he drove over 200 K, and the day before was about 175K. Time for a day off. I love this shot of his "Brad'll Do It" shirt through my wine glass.

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We hung out, read,journaled, blogged, and had a lovely nap. We were lazy, and it felt good.

After showers and some repacking, we headed to town for Acqui's local festival, the annual Pro Loco.

We lucked out with a great parking space. There were over 40 food and wine booths (50 cents for wine) all over the streets of town. The shops were all open late, and the local families with children and dogs in tow came out for an evening of food and music. There was a marching band, and local organizations were all present.
Steve was happy to find the local animal rescue, and got a t-shirt. I had a latte to revive me for some wine drinking. Brad and Steve sampled chingale in sauce.

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We split from Fiona and Steve for some shopping.I bought a cookbook, and a couple small gifts. Brad and I headed to our favorite wine bar, Balalah for a glass of Arneis.
Here was our complementary appetizer plate, which served as my lunch and dinner:

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We reconnected with Fiona and Steve, and after walking around town, we returned to Balahla. This time I had a glass of Brachetto, (and bought 3 bottles). After Steve had left us, and we showed him where the grilled sausage booth was, he was salivating for some good Italian sausage. We taught him the word, "salsiccia". He returned to the booth on his own, and ended up with a sardine sandwich! We teased him all night.

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We were rewarded with another antipasti platter.

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By 8 PM, EVERYONE was in town!

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Look at this gorgeous fruit tart!

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It was a wonderful S-L-O-W day in Acqui!

Sunday: Breakfast 4

Pictures are better than words. Let's just say, breakfast couldn't be better!

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Warm, fresh homemade grain bread:
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Semi staggiato robiola with carmelized apples and hazelnuts...YUM!

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And finally, a blueberry and raspberry jam tart.
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Our Day in Asti

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It is the week before the palio in Asti, and the weekend of their sagra, and festivities leading up to the race.

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There were 47 food booths from local small towns, serving their Piemontese special dishes. We sampled rustico, polenta with chingale, and salsiccia.

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Wine was 50 cents a full pour, complete with glass and neck carrier. Steve got into the spirit of the day!

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Continue reading "Our Day in Asti" »

September 15, 2008

Sunday's Sunset Picnic

Is it possible to have TOO MUCH good food in Italy? Yes! No one really wanted a big dinner, or even pizza, so we decided to put on our sweats, or jammies and Diana's big luscious robes, and have a picnic in her new kitchen. We stopped in town for some cheese and cold cuts, we had wine and cookies...we were set!

The sun was setting, and the full moon was rising. our hilltop was the perfect place to be.

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Breakfast 5: Monday

Please don't look at this one if you are hungry!

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A brie-like cheese, melty and wrapped in prosciutto and sage:

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Fritatta for the boys with gorgonzola, marcapone, and chives.

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Phyllo dough, fried, with ricotta and lemon zest:
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Grinzano Cavour


After a relaxing Monday morning, we took a drive to Brad's favorite hill town in the area, Grinzano Cavour. The Enoteca Regionale is in a beautiful castle, with stunning views and lots of local wines and products for sale.

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It was a lovely afternoon!

We returned home, and got ready for our very special dinner at I Caffi. It was a spectacular 6 courses in a lovely setting. I took so many food photos, you will have to wait for me to get home to blog about it. Let's just say it was am amazing feast!

Anniversary Dinner at I Caffi

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We celebrated our 8th anniversary a day early at a very special dinner at I Caffi in Acqui Terme. We were a day early for our actual anniversary, but excited to try this very special restaurant.

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I Caffi is located on a quiet street, just off Piazza Italia”s cascading fountain.. You must ring a doorbell to be let in. The dining room is simple and elegant. Each place is set with stained glass placemats and coordinating glasswear.

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Brad and I chose the “Grande Tasting Menu” with two starters, a primi, secondi, and dolci. The gorgeous plates of food just kept coming.

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First they brought an assortment of breads and rolls, then a complementary muse buche of a slice of roasted yellow pepper stuffed with gorgonzola and a glass of prosecco.

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My first dish was a delicious carne crudo with shaved parmigiano, lemon juice and three kinds of sea salt.

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Brad began with a beautiful salad with greens, quail breast, grapes, figs, and a quail egg. Next I had a zucchini sformato served in a porcini mushroom sauce, and Brad had the carne crudo.

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My primi piatto was originally gnocchi with duck sauce. It was delicious, but I traded it with Steve for his orzo con salsiccia. We were both quite happy. Brad had a gorgeous individual eggplant lasagna.

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My secondi was pork tenderloin in a beautiful sauce with roasted potatoes. Brad had venison in a mustard sauce.

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I am not usually big on dessert, but mine was really out-of-this-world. It is in my top three EVER!. I had fig tarts is pastry shells with a zabligone cream, served with crema gelato. I wish I had been able to eat it all, but just couldn’t finish.

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Brad had the “Torte Secco” (a cake filled with dried fruits and nuts with a cream sauce and chocolate gelato).

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Our whole table was also served a platter filled with assorted dolci. The wine was good, and I enjoyed every second of this amazing meal.

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Even the coffee and sugars were perfect!

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What an amazing place tucked away in Acqui!

September 16, 2008

Buon Anniversario

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Oggi e nostro ottavo anniversario. (otto anni)

La finalmente giorno en Piemonte.

Un giorno di no blogging!

Fontanile

Brad’s foot was a little better today, and after a fabulous "Anniversary Breakfast", complete with prosecco, we had another lazy morning at home, and a nap. At around 3:00, we took a ride to the adorable town of Fontanile.

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A photo of the beautiful domed church is the header for my blog. On our last visit, we stumbled across Fontanile on our way to buy Amaretti in the neighboring town.
I was in awe of the view from the road of this gorgeous cathedral in the distance. I wanted to see it close up.

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We had coffee in the local bar/café/tabacchi with a group of local men. 106 live in Fontanile. I’d love to make it 108! We visited the beautiful church, and saw several trucks full of just-picked grapes on their way to local wineries.

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Then we made a quick stop in Mombaruzzo, the “Cookie Town” to buy Amaretti for the Slow Travel GTG!

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Last Night in Piemonte

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After our afternoon adventures, we stopped briefly at the B&B to change for dinner. We were back in town by six, and split up from Fiona and Steve to take a walk. We spent the next two hours enjoying our last evening in Acqui Terme. We walked around the whole town again, feeling a little sad about our stay coming to an end. It is truly one of our favorite towns in Italy. We have found it to be free of tourists, charming, sophisticated, with everything one needs. There are great shops, cafes and restaurants, and of course the food and wine are wonderful.

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After our walk, we sat in a café with our usual wine and a latte, and a plate of snacks, just soaking up the scene, and feeling like we didn’t want to leave. We know we will be back.

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We met Fiona and Steve and walked to Ristorante San Guido for dinner. The friendly owner brought wine, and water.

I had large ravioli with butter and sage, and a pork cutlet Milanese. Brad had seafood ravioli and boccocino di vitello in Barbera. We looked back on our week and the magic of Piemonte, and looked ahead to our last five days in Bologna.

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September 17, 2008

To Bologna

We had a wonderful last breakfast!

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Then we loaded the car, and said our sad good-byes to Diana, Mimi and Max. It has been such a wonderful week in Piemonte.

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We left around 9:30 for our 3-hour drive to Bologna. A great place to stop for a break on the way is the Fidenze Outlet Mall, which is about two hours away, on the A-1 a few kilometers before Parma.

We spent about 30 minutes shopping, where I picked up a dozen gelato spoons at the kitchen shop. They we had coffee and a nice restroom before getting back in the car.

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In an hour, we left the autostrada, and entered the Bologna ring road, taking the shortest route to the central area. Then we did our “Palma jumps in a taxi” trick, and Brad followed him to the Hotel Roma, just steps from Piazza Maggiore.

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It was great to be back in Bologna! We felt right at home as soon as we checked in and walked to the piazza. Fiona and Steve took a bus tour of the city, and Brad and I had a quick piadini in the piazza, then walked around the familiar area in the shopping district.

We met at 7 in the hotel bar for a glass of wine, then walked to dinner at our old favorite, Al Sangiovese.

The owner, Gianni, greeted us warmly like old friends. Brad had a salad to start, and I had garganelli pasta with salsiccia and we both had a wonderful vitello with formaggio and asparagus.

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Fiona and Steve loved the place as well. We felt SO at home, and happy to be in this wonderful city! This was the first of many great meals in Bologna!

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After dinner, we walked to Gianni’s for a pistachio and crema gelato, then found a bar near our hotel for a coffee and grappa.

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September 18, 2008

The Market in Bologna

We were up early for our first full day in Bologna. After our disappointing hotel breakfast (BAD cold coffee), we headed to one of our favorite spots in Bologna…the market area! There are streets of produce stands, meat, fish and poultry shops, a great kitchen store, (where I bought another ravioli cutter), delis and pasta shops, cheese selections to die for, specialty stores for breads, wine, candy, and any kind of gourmet treat you might need. It is foodie paradise! All this is just steps across from Piazza Maggiore. We browsed, we tasted, we took photos, we laughed, we bought candy and two kinds of sea salt. Finally, we stopped for coffee.

Enjoy our visit to the market through these photos!

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Gelato for Lunch

Our lunch was Giani’s gelato. How do you choose?

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A decision was reached!

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Then we walked and we walked, stopping at a grocery store, where I bought some food items to take home. I also found some black flats, and some socks for the cool evenings here. Bologna is a beautiful city with wonderful architecture.

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We dropped off our bags at the hotel, and took a coffee break at Café Déjà Vu.

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I also stopped at the Farmacia with products from Farcacia di Santa Maria Novella for some room scent and lemon hand crème.

After a nap, I went out for a little more shopping. I bought a fabulous winter-white cardigan at Luisa Spagnoli.

We had a glass of wine and chunks of parmigiano at Bar Macambo, then walked to meet Fiona and Steve at Scalinatella for dinner. We had tortelloni, then a filetto con balsimico for me and vitello with formaggio and vino for Brad.


Nowhere are the tortelloni or tortellini as perfect as in Bologna!

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After dinner, we stopped for a coffee and grappa, then watched a street performer in the piazza before heading home to bed.

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It was quite a lovely day!

September 19, 2008

Ravenna and a Rat!

We early risers started our day at Duca di Amalfi, my favorite café around the corner. Since we had established early that the hotel's coffee sucked, this became our new early morning hangout. By the second day they knew I was good for two or three double lattes. I wouldn't be moving from our table for a couple of hours, but I would continue to buy coffee and my husband would eventually join me, and he was also good for a pastry and a coffee or two. It was a great place to journal, or read, or watch the locals. It was drizzly and chilly, so we sat inside with our wonderful choices. Brad enjoyed a gooey chocolate fix.

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At 9:30, we met Fiona and Steve with driving directions out of the centro, and our umbrellas, and we were on our way to Ravenna. We saw the fabulous mosaics on our 2006 visit, but were happy to return with our friends.

We arrived in Ravenna at 11:00 and shopped along the main street. The rain held off. I bought an amber necklace and a Furla necklace.

One of my favorite shops in Ravenna is a glass and mosiac store in the same block as the chursch of San Vitale. I used to do stained glass as a hobby, and their selection of colors is amazing. The jars of mosiac pieces are beautiful. I always have a fantasy of bringing back a whole piece of luggage filled with them!

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Then we all visited the amazing Basilica San Vitale, one of the most beautiful Byzantine churches in Europe. It is octagonal, and completely filled with mosaics.

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Mosaics depict stories from the Old Testament, and every surface is covered with mosaics of flowers, stars, birds and animals. It is said, that the dome of San Vitale, begun in 527, and completed in 548, was the inspiration for Brunelleschi in the design of the Duomo of Florence.

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After our visit to the the church, and a walk around town, we drove to Ristorante Il Gallo, a lovely setting where we had a great meal. I ordered gorgonzola stuffed zucchini flowers in a light tomato sauce, and a plate of Calabrian hot sausage and vino bianco.

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Brad had a salad and a wonderful papardelle with peas, prosciutto and finerli mushrooms.

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Fiona had a lovely zucchini risotto with shrimp.

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When we returned from Ravenna, Brad had a nap, and I did some shopping, as the rain had stopped. I found a pair of black and bronze flats. I visited Basilica San Paolo, and found a restaurant to try for dinner. Later, we had a glass of vine at Macambo Bar, then ate a wonderful meal at Caesari.

Cesari was a lovely surprise right around the corner, across the street from Luisa Spagnoli. Paneled with wood, with the walls lined with wine bottle, it had a San Francisco feel inside.

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I had a simple tortelloni with ricotta and parmigiano, and vitello with cheese and prosciutto.

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Brad had tortelli di zucca and agnello griglia.

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It was a great meal, with good service, and a wonderful menu. We met a couple from Hungary who came to Bologna to buy furniture. They had eaten there four out of their five nights!

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We returned to the bar in the Galleria for a late night coffee and grappa.

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or was that grappa and coffee?

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As we were walking back admiring the carvings, I happened to look up at the statues, and saw a huge rat! It is the first time I’ve seen in Italy, and it freaked me out, but I was relatively calm (as I ran screaming into the quiet piazza at midnight). Yes, I will still return to Bologna, and actually walked by the same place the next day. OK, I went around the Neptune fountain instead of through the arches, and I did NOT look up!

September 20, 2008

Judith in Bologna and "Mezza Notte"

We enjoyed our coffee and pastry at our café, with darling children playing while their parents had coffee.

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We went back to the market, and I bought two huge hunks of parmigiano, then had more coffee while we waited for Judith to arrive on the train. She called and we met her taxi in the piazza. We walked to lunch and met Fiona and Steve for another great meal at Al Sangiovese. We shared a goat cheese sformato with porcini sauce, and I had another plate of their delicious gramigone with salsiccia.

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We walked Judith through the area with upscale shops to take fashion photos, then had coffee and chatted at a café near the market. The whole area was being set up for tonight’s music festival. We walked on to the University, then stopped at Gianni’s for a gelato, before saying good-by to Judith so she could catch her 6:15 train home. I caught up on my journal at Café Déjà vu.

There were music venues all over the central area of town for a festa called “Mezza Notte”. We met Fiona and Steve for a glass of wine, and the piazza was getting busy for the musical evening ahead.

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We followed a marching band through the market where shops were open late and serving wine and cold cuts. We had porchetta and mortadella. There were dancers in the piazza, and a stage with big band jazz. There was a group playing the Beatles, Dixieland music and opera. We wandered around the area, catching as much as possible. Finally at 10 PM, we shared a pizza at La Mela, then walked back to hear the finale. It was a very fun evening.

September 21, 2008

A Sunday Morning Walk and San Stefano

We had lots of slow Sunday morning time in the café this morning. I had my usual THREE café lattes (doubles) and a wonderful pastry.

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We decided to go for a long walk on this clear, but chilly morning. Bologna is a wonderful city to walk. Almost every street has beautiful covered arcades, and marble “sidewalks”. The porticos and buildings are lovely, and there are churches every couple of blocks.

We began right by our cafe with a visit to the church of San Giovanni Battista Dei Celestini.

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We headed up Via Farini, then cut over to walk to one of my favorite neighborhoods and the gorgeous Chiesa di San Stefano. We spent a good amount of time visiting the church and grounds.

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After our exploration, we were hungry!

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When we were tired and hungry after our morning walk, so we headed to an area we had never seen before: Porta San Vitale. This seems to be a predominately Indian/Pakistani neighborhood, with Indian restaurants and residents. We discovered a whole new ethnic area of Bologna. We stopped for a coke until our 1:30 lunch reservation at Scaccomatto (via Broccaindosso 63b).

Diana emailed me a recommendation for Scaccomatto from a friend of hers in Bologna. Our meal there ended up being one of our favorites.

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We began by sharing “Acqua e sale”, a bowl of salted water with herbs, thick bread, a poached egg topped with pecorino. It was real comfort food on a chilly day.

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I had a delicious pork loin stuffed with pancetta, mushrooms and black truffles.

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Brad really enjoyed his baby goat rolotini with potatoes.

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Desert was amazing! Chocolate budino with caramel liquore and a scoop of coffee granita.

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We lingered over our coffee, and began talking about our next trip to Bologna! Then we took a taxi back to the hotel, and had a nice nap.

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Last night in Bologna: La Capriata

We met Fiona and Steve at 7:30 at the Scotch Bar for a drink before we walked to dinner at La Capriata. First we were served a small, unusual "caprese" salad with orange, fig and mozzarella.

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I ordered “Fantasia del Chef” antipasto: two fried zucchini flowers, a slab of scarmorza cheese fried with prosciutto and a sformato di parmigiano with tomato sauce… to die for!

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Next, I had a green lasagna Bolognese with tons of meat, and could only eat half of it. Steve finished mine AND two more orders of it!

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Brad had mezza luna pasta with “berries, ricotta, and fruit of the woods”.

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His secondi was guinea hen in a honey sauce with potato.

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With water, wine and coffee, and the bill was 69Euro per couple. We all enjoyed our meal.

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Since I had an appetizer and pasta course, but no entree, I was finished eating when everyone's entree arrived. I took my wine and went outside to the courtyard near the front door.

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I met a young woman and her mother as they were leaving. We began talking, in italian, and they lived in the neighborhood. At some point I told them we were looking for an apartment to rent next summer. Soon, Iliana, a young attorney, came back into the restaurant with me, to meet everyone. She joined our table as everyone finished their wine or coffee.

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As soon as we paid the bill, she walked us a couple of blocks to her 7th floor rooftop apartment in a lovely security building. The apartment is small, with a kitchen/living area, a master bedroom, laundry facilitues, and it has a huge terrace with 360 degree views of Bologna. It was gorgeous at night with all the towers and domes lit up.
We exchanged information, and she walked us to her favorite gelato shop . I had a scoop of “Contessa” (Amaretti in crema di mandorle). We walked home still not believing our luck. We are definitely meant to come back to Bologna next year. even if we do not ever stay in Iliana's apartment, it was lovely to meet her.

September 22, 2008

Leaving Bologna

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We spent a couple of hours at the cafe, thanking the staff who had come to recognize us, and grabbed the largest latte glass whenever I walked in the door. We had the car loaded with luggage, and were checked out by 9:30. We left Bologna, and headed to our last fabulous meal site, the tiny town of Zibello. Clearly, it is all about food for us! Zibello is worth a drive from anywhere in Emilia Romana to eat at the very famous La Buca, but I am ahead of myself.

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The drive was easy, and we arrived in Zibello, famous for its wonderful cured meat, culatello, well ahead of schedule.

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The cafe was open, and filled with local gentlemen. We all wanted coffee, so we joined the group out in front. Not one of the men spoke any English, but they were very friendly. I spent the next hour chatting and translating in my broken Italian. I LOVE opportunities like that! This gentleman seemed to be the "leader of the pack".

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Then we proceeded the few blocks to La Buca. This was our second visit, as we had eaten here in 2006, and were anxious to share its charm with Fiona and Steve.

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We had a great lunch! I ordered "pasta di casa" followed by duck.

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Brad enjoyed his tagliatelle with culatello and cream.

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Fiona was quite happy with her escargot, and Steve had pasta and salsciccia bolito.

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Miriam, (who taught Mario Batali to make her nonna's pasta) is the gracious "Senora di la casa" and the chef. Las Buca has been in the same house for four generations and over 100 years. She actually remembered me from two years ago, and asked us to to wait for her at the end of our meal. She proudly showed us her cellar after lunch, pointing out the aging culatello, prosciutto, sausages and parmigianos. I was honored and I then returned to the table with a glass of noci liquore, since Brad was our driver.

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Wouldn't you just love to take her home with you?

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We arrived at our Malpensa hotel (Villa Malpensa), and the boys returned the rental car.

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I sat on the bar’s patio and read my book, until Fiona joined me. Then I switched from coffee to wine for the evening. We had a quick panini later that night, a bottle of Brachetto I needed to "get rid of", and a good night’s sleep before our 5:30 AM wake up.

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No one was excited to leave Italy. Reality always seems to require us to go home. After a quick breakfast, we took the shuttle, checked in, and sat with Fiona and Steve until our flights left. It was a long day, but we were home in Palm Desert at 8:30 PM.

September 26, 2008

Italian Treasure

I am slowly blogging our trip in chronological order. For those of you following the story, just click on September in the Archives on the sidebar, and the most recent posts are on top.

Today, let's start with shopping!
The second thing I bought on our Italy trip (after a shawl in Como), is really one of my favorite treasures. I bought a beautiful purse from the silk artist, Pierangelo Masciadri.

Here he is with my bag and a matching scarf behind him.

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His shop is breathtaking, displaying evening bags, purses, scarves and ties in his silk designs which are all based on Italian art, ancient to modern. You can find Michaelangelo to modern mosiac designs. He has designed ties for several presidents and even Bill Gates.

I bought a lovely two-sided black bag, that can be opened on either side.

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Pierangelo speaks no English, but we had at least a 30 minute conversation. He lives in the hills above Bellagio, and uncovered priceless frescos when renovating his home. She is very proud of his two daughters, and has shops in Bellagio and Venezia. Check out his beautiful designs on his website. What is your favorite?

October 1, 2008

Finestre

Don't you love italian windows?

Here I am in our room at Diana's:

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I love the shutters!

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Here is an original window, that is in Diana's new kitchen:

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I started this on Diana's terrace, and finished it when we got home.

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We also had green shutters in Varenna, so here is what our lake view was like:

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Maybe I'll paint this Cernobbio window next.

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Don't forget to catch up on our Italy trip blog by clicking on September in the archives!

October 2, 2008

Extra Pasta?

I loved this window in Portovenere: How many boxes of penne or ziti does it take to create this custom window treatment?

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I'm aftaid it would make me hungry. Of course, I have no curtains in my kitchen, and I'm still hungry! Hmmmmm... how does one dust penne? A hair dryer?

Only in italy...


October 7, 2008

Mediterranean Summer

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This is one of the books I thoroughly enjoyed reading while we were in Italy. Brad also loved it. Chef-author, David Shalleck writes about leaving his paid job at Campton Place in San Francisco, as a saute cook, his training in Europe (London, Paris and Provence), and "learning the ropes" of cooking Italian through difficult internships in Piemonte, Florence, Lucca, Friuli, Lombardy, Emilia-Romagna, and Milano. He has a disasterous evening with Alice Waters which would make any cook cry in humiliation.
The wonderful forward is written by Mario Batali.

David, our "want to be chef", finally lands a job on an exclusive sailing yacht with very demanding owners, "Il Dottore" and "La Senora", hire him to bunk with a sailing crew and run the kitchen for a summer on the Mediterranean. The story is a delightful weaving of David's adventures learning to sail, speak Italian, shop for fresh supplies at each port, and enjoy working 20 hours a day to please the whims of the super-rich, and get along with fellow crew members.

The itinerary is a dream for travelers: They begin in French ports of Saint Tropez, and Monte Carlo, then arrive in Italy's Rivera. I get to re-visit Portofino, Santa Margherita Ligure, Rapallo, Chiavari, Sestri Levante, Cinque Terra, Portovenere, and Lerici.

We sail south to Viareggio and Elba, then Porto San Stefano and Monte Argentario on the Tuscan coast.

Of course, I enjoyed the chapters visiting Positano, Capri and Ischia, Sardinia and Corsica.

The story doesn't quite end when the summer is over, as there is still the big sailing regatta in Saint Tropez to end the season.

As the owner's request is the freshest local ingredients from each port (with no repeat menus), there is quite a bit of cooking technique, and actual recipes in the back of the book. If you love to cook, eat or travel, I highly recommend this book. If you enjoy all three, it is a treasure you will want to keep and read again.

See David and the ship, and find out more here.

October 16, 2008

Italian Dogs

When I was single, I used to notice that while single men were not flocking to my door, most children and dogs liked me. They more than liked me, they loved me! I was like a kid-dog magnet. I have always loved children and dogs, and not much has changed.

We met lots of dogs in Italy, but this time I was traveling with Steve. Dogs (and cats) ADORE Steve. We call him St. Francis of "La Quinta". Steve is also crazy about animals. He volunteers a couple times a week at dog rescue organizations, and pets know he is their buddy.

Steve and I befriended doggy pals in three regions of Italy!
Here is Steve with Roger, a friendly boxer, who licked him for 10 minutes in a bar, and cried when we left!

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Here is my buddy Bulldog in Lerici:

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I made a pony-sized friend in Acqui.

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There were lots of sweet dogs in Bologna.

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These two Argentinian dogs figured out Steve and I were their new best friends. We would keep petting them, as long as their owner was willing to stay!

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Of course the favorite Italian dog is still...

MAX!

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November 15, 2008

Friday in Palo Alto

Yesterday we were on a 7 AM flight to San Francisco. We arrived, got our rental car and were on our way to Palo Alto by 9. Our first stop was Cafe del Doge in Palo Alto. The coffee comes from Venice, the baristas are expert at coffee art, and we had the added pleasure of company of Joan and Fred, and their delightful house guests, Bob and Betty.

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I had my usual double latte, and Brad had a "marocchino", a martini glass, dusted with cocoa powder, espresso, and more cocoa. Here is Joan's lovely fern-topped cappuccino:

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Then we shopped, shopped, and shopped from 11 to 4, with a lunch and a coffee break. I had fun at stores we don't have in the desert, like Crate and Barrel, Nordstrom, and, Kepler's Bookstore.

We had a drink, and met on friend, Roxanne for a great dinner. It was GORGEOUS weather!

November 18, 2008

Sunday: Half Moon Bay

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Our Bay are weekend continued the glorious weather. We had a lazy morning with good coffee, and then took a drive to Pescadero for lunch at Duartes Tavern. They are famous for their seafood, artichoke or cream of green chili soup, and home-baked pies.

No visit to Duartes would be complete without a taste of the Olallieberry pie. It is the perfect berry, actually a cross between a youngberry and a loganberry, it tastes something like a cross between raspberries and blackberries. Are you completely confused now? If you are ever in Oregon, Washington, or northern California, and you find some, GET THEM, or order some jam on-line!

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14 miles north along the coast on Highway 1, we stopped at the beautiful Ritz Carlton in Half Moon Bay. This is pumpkin country for sure, and the front entrance was decked out in quite an assortment.

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This one is my favorite!

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We had an assortment of beverages, and I had a lovely pot of French press coffee.

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The view from the bar window was pretty spectacular too.

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We left to attend a sapecial birthday celebration for my good friend and mentor, Louise. It was a wonderful party with great food, entertainment, and old friends.

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All good things must end, and way too soon, it was time to get back to the airport. But as a perfect ending to our fun weekend, we were able to see this stunning sunset.

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November 26, 2008

Fall Colors

I was fascinated and awed by the fall leaves I saw on our visit to Palo Alto. They were glorious! Here are some favorites.

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December 2, 2008

Hash House A-Go-Go

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Which came first? The chicken or the egg? Actually, they came at the same time on my breakfast plate. On our final morning in Vegas, we checked out, and headed to Hash House A Go Go.

I first saw the place on a Rachel Ray Goes to Vegas show on the food channel. There is another location in San Diego. If you are ever in either location and VERY hungry for breakfast, GO!

I ordered the "Indiana Favorite": Andy's Sage Fried Chicken with maple reduction, 2 eggs, bacon mashed potatoes and a biscuit! I couldn't get through half of it! The maple reduction was wonderful, and those potatoes were amazing. The chicken was, well, you just have to taste it!

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Brad ordered a "Farm Scramble" with bacon, avocado, onion and swiss cheese. The plates you see are really platters!

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We had a great doggie bag, but a 4 hour drive with traffic was tough after that meal. We were in a food coma, and needed the windows down and the music loud!

Check out the menu and photos. How can you go wrong with "twisted farm food"?

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January 16, 2009

Back-blogging Italy Part 2

Here is the rest of our week in Bologna!

To read the whole trip from the beginning, click on "Archives" on the right header, then chose September 2008.

Ravenna and a Rat

Judith in Bologna and "Mezza Notte"

A Sunday Morning Walk and San Stefano

Lunch at Scaccomatto

Last Night in Bologna: La Capriata

Leaving Bologna: Zibello to Malpensa

February 2, 2009

Slow Bowl: Friday

We left early Friday for the 5 hour drive to Paso Robles. It only took Brad a little over four hours, but we had some "uncomfortable" moments in the car when the cheesecake, lemon cookies and taralli went flying around from their secure places in the back seat to other parts of the car. Then Brad drove in a safer manner that prevented any more screaming from the passenger seat.

We stopped for a great breakfast at the Green Street Cafe in Pasadena.

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Our first stop in Paso Robles was the Martin-Weyrich tasting room. Last year I drank a wonderful Arneis from this winery, but they are no longer making this variety. They do have other Italian varietals including: Moscato Allegro, Sangiovese, and Nebbiolo.

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We were quite pleased when we checked into our room at the Adelaide Inn. Our large room had a refrigerator for all of our food, and a very comfortable sofa and reclining chair for reading or relaxing.

After a brief nap, we visited with Jerry and Paul, and Wendy and Rob across the parking lot, then walked next door to re-perk with a Starbucks. We were ready to see the whole gang at the cottage!

It was a fabulous evening of friends and laughter. I definitely "felt the love" from all my buddies hugs and kind words, and it was just what I needed after my "January hibernation"!

The food was fabulous! We started with wine and appetizers. I shared some of Gina's taralli.

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Friday night was the "Lasagna Smackdown", with four great entries.

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They were all great, but the landslide winner was Pete's, mushroom-bechamel version. I will definitely be waiting for his recipe!

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The laughter at a Slow Bowl is constant and contagious!

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We celebrated David's birthday with an enormous chocolate cake.

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There was LOTS of wine drinking. Shannon had an aeration test going on the patio.
There were no significant trends, but participants enjoyed the experiment!

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It is common knowledge that I don't drink any red wine, but I came prepared to indulge in the "activities", and polished off my bottle of Pinot Grigio. It was WAY over my limit, but quite fun at the time. A couple of advil and lots of coffee did the trick later.

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What can I say about Shannon, our Slow Bowl Skipper? She does an amazing job of setting up this fantastic weekend, choosing wineries, coordinating food, events, and herding all of us through a fabulous weekend. We LOVE Shannon!

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Slow Bowl Saturday

Saturday morning began with a Starbucks delivery of a Venti Nonfat Latte and a Cafe Americano at 7:10 AM to our room. My version of "breakfast in bed" from Jerry and Paul. Brad loved having other men wait on me! We devoured a big breakfast with them an hour later at the Cowgirl Cafe. The "Snowboys" were still bundled in the winter clothes at this hour.

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Brad and I had a little time for some shopping and olive oil tasting at the We Olive in town. They have a wonderful selection of olive oils, vinegars, olive treats and Italian products. Brad drank as much olive oil as I did wine at the wineries!

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Our first winery of the day was Midnight Cellars.

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Wendy, Jerry and Paul outdid themselves with winery "snacks". It looked like a whole party to me! What a beautiful and tasty variety of cheese and muchies!

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Since I was avoiding wine after last night's consumption, I really enjoyed the company, scenery, and relaxing setting.

In the parking lot, we realized we have a predominance of silver/grey cars!

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Next, we visited the beautiful Jada tasting room.

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"Jersey Girl" seemed to be the favorite. I enjoyed the cheeses from Vivant.

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We really enjoyed seeing our friends Ann and Scott who were Slow Bowl "virgins". Now that they have experienced this get-together, I'm sure they will return!

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We left Jada a few minutes early to hop over to my favorite "Wine Trail" location: Pasolivo, for some olive oil shopping. I walked out 15 minutes later with 4 bottles of oil and two jars of honey. YUM!

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We returned to the hotel for an afternoon nap before the evening's activities. The blue skies and afternoon sun was a perfect backdrop for the country road scenery.

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Saturday night at the house was a flurry of fun and activities. Judy and Sharon organized games of "Slow Travel People Bingo", and "Know Your Mod's" . Brad and I each won a prize.

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A wonderful moment was our video conference call to Kim in New Jersey. We were able to chat with her via SKYPE, and see Kim and Chris at home, while we were certainly missing them in Paso! Ah the wonders of high tech. We know they will be back for the Slow Bowl next year, as well as at the next October GTG in the Desert.

Dinner was another treat with a Mexican theme.

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Deborah's hootch was enjoyed by all. My favorites were the pistachio and lime!

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Dessert offered a variety of treats.

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My dessert offerings included these lemon-filled cookies,

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and a toffee-caramel cheesecake.

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Brad had a laughter-filled evening playing "ping off each other" with his friend, Scott!

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Shannon continued to be a fabulous Slow Bowl Skipper!

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Is it any wonder that we LOVE the Slow Bowl?

February 5, 2009

Weekend of the Car

I mentioned that Brad's '98 Lexus took its last breath last month. He spent 2 weeks driving a rental car, and fell in love with the Chevrolet Impala he was driving from Hertz. We looked at a few other possible cars, as we were NOT planning on a car in this year's budget!

I have owned 5 cars in my life. Except for my first car, bought by my parents, I have always paid cash, never had a car payment, and always bought my cars new. (That first Camero was purchased shortly after my 16th birthday, but my dad turned 81 that year and stopped driving!) I have owned a second Camero, a Honda Prelude, an Infinity, and my current Chrysler Sebring.

Our decision was to buy a year old car with low mileage, as this was not an exciting purchase, but a necessity. Brad checked out all the Impalas within 250 miles of us. They come in black, white, red and silver. Ok, this is going to live in our driveway in the hot desert sun with sand blowing and settling on it weekly. That leaves out black and white. We need "dirt-colored" cars. Red, while cute, is out for Brad. If you have ever ridden in the car with "Mr. Drives like an Italian" you would know that this would be like wearing a "cop magnet" sign across his head. That left silver. The only silver Impala was at a dealership in Buellton (near Santa Barbara). The silver one had a larger engine, and all the extras the others didn't have (leather seats, Sirius radio, etc.) All we had to do was drive 4.5 hours and go pick it up.

Serendipitously, 30 seconds before Brad called the dealer, they had purchased a car from an on-line auction, and needed to get it from the PALM SPRINGS Mercedes dealership. Brad agreed to drive it there, and they knocked off a couple more hundred from his price! So we drove to Buellton in this little Kompressor. I was eventually able to crawl out of the little sardine can!

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Here is Brad's new car. He is very happy with it. So far, my favorite features are the butt-warmers, the satellite radio, and a nice handle for the passenger to grab onto when terrified.

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We checked into our room in Solvang and on this rainy cold night, set off in seach of dinner. After two false starts, by 8:30, we were happily seated at Cafe Angelica with the scent of garlic in the air.

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We had delicious cheesy bread, a glass of great wine, and soon our entrees arrived. Both Brad's fish, and my gorgonzola stuffed filet were perfect.

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Tomorrow...Solvang

February 9, 2009

Solvang

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Solvang (Danish for "sunny field") is a little Danish village in the Santa Ynez Valley of California. Founded in 1911 by a group of Danish teachers, its quaint architecture, windmills, shops, Danish bakeries and restaurants, make it a tourist attraction a brief drive from Santa Barbara, and close to Santa Ynez wineries. Mission Santa Inez is just outside of the center of town.

We went for an early morning walk in search of coffee. Streets were wet from the overnight rain, but the clouds held back while we wandered the still empty streets.

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We found coffee, and did our best to avoid the Danish pastry shops that seemed to be in every block of town.

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Continue reading "Solvang" »

June 8, 2009

Palmabella's Italy Itinerary '09: Part 1

Our first Palmabella's Italy Group in Umbria is July 1-10! Everything is planned and ready!

June 25: drive to San Diego after work for 6:30 AM flight tomorrow.
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June 26: SAN-ORD, ORD-FCO I plan to sleep on the plane from Chicago to Rome, arriving in Italy at 7:30 AM, where a driver will pick us up and bring us to Piazza Farnese.

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June 27-28: Arrive in Rome 7:30 AM
We have two nights to relax in Rome by ourselves. We don't have big plans, just hanging out in central Rome, drinking coffee at Cafe San Eustachio, visiting a couple of our favorite wine bars, and a nice dinner out. We will be staying at Hotel Residenza Farnese, near Campo dei Fiori.

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June 29-30: We will arrive at Genius Loci in Umbria, ahead of our guests to make sure everything is ready for their arrival and welcome to Palmabella's Italy. Jan and Les will join us on June 30.

July 1: Brad will do a Rome airport pick up for 4 more of our guests. They will have a chance to settle in, take a nap, have a glass of wine, and get ready for our "Welcome Dinner" at Redibis.

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July 2: We will visit Brad's favorite town in Umbria: Montefalco. This is a lovely hilltop town in the Spoleto Valley. Its ancient walls surround picturesque cobbled streets, historic stone buildings, medieval towers, a museum and renaissance churches. Montefalco has a wonderful ceramic shop, many beautiful linen stores and great restaurants. It is known for its Sagrantino wines. After lunch, we will return to the inn to relax by the pool or nap. That evening, after our happy hour, we will head to the Michelin star restaurant, La Bastiglia, in Spello, for a fabulous dinner.

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July 3: A morning guided tour in Assisi with our beautiful Italian tour guide, Maura. After seeing the amazing cultural sights and wandering the streets of Assisi for some shopping, we will meet for lunch at Trattoria Pallotta.

That evening, we will enjoy dinner on the terrace at my favorite Montefalco restaurant, Il Coccorone.

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Meats are roasted over a huge open fire, and the lovely garden patio on a quiet side street takes you back in time.

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July 4: We will celebrate the 4th of July Italian style! We will leave the inn at 9 AM, setting off for our full day in Cortona. Saturday is market day, so it is the perfect time for us to visit.

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The porchetta truck will "cater" sandwiches for our 4th of July picnic in the park.

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Of course, we will pay a visit to our friend, Alessandra, and her beautiful gift shop, Il Girasole, and visit the Etruscan Museum.

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At 4PM, the cold prosecco and some antipasti will be waiting for our private reception at the lovely Villa Marsilli where we stayed in 2007.

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Later, our "local celebrity", Alessandra will dine with us at the wonderful Osteria del Teatro, and finally we will return to Umbria.

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July 5: After our long day in Cortona, we will have a restful Sunday at the inn. There will be a lovely wine and olive oil tasting of Genius Loci wines and oil with snacks, provided by our hosts, Michael, Mary and Maurizo. I'm sure there will be some who will want a dip in the inviting pool, or maybe we'll do a sunflower photo "field trip."
Judith is spending the day with us, and preparing a fabulous four course meal that evening. It will be great for our guests to have a chance to visit with "Judith of Umbria".

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Part 2 tomorrow...

June 9, 2009

Palmabella's Italy Itinerary '09: Part 2

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Monday, July 6: It is market day in Montefalco, so we will stop by the market to browse and see if there is anything we can't live without. Then we will visit the picturesque hilltop town of Spello. The charming residential streets of this lovely village are ablaze with flowers on the front porches of well-maintained homes.

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There are three Roman gates into the city, a beautiful central piazza, and of course we will visit Santa Maria Maggiore with its famous chapel (Capella Bella) with frescos by Pinturicchio.

We will have lunch at Il Molino, the restaurant of the Hotel Palazzo Bocci.

Later in the afternoon, after a rest at the inn, we will visit the central area of nearby Foligno for some upscale shopping. That night we will enjoy Umbrian food at the trattoria, Osteria del Teatro in Foligno.

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Tuesday, July 7: We will meet Maura at 10AM at the one of the portas of Bevagna for a tour of the city and a visit to the "4 Gaite." Here we will see workshops where they still follow the traditional medieval production of paper, lace, candles and a painter's workshop. After lunch at Osteria del Podesta, we'll return to the inn for some down time or a watercolor class. Dinner will be Umbrian specialties at Sparafucile in Foligno.

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Wednesday, July 8: Deruta is known worldwide for ceramics. We will begin our morning at 10AM with a tour of a ceramic workshop. Then there will of course, be time for SHOPPING! We will meet friends, Barbara and Art for lunch at the beautiful
L'Antico Forziere, outside of town. Their menu looks wonderful, and we can learn about these expats' experiences living in Umbria.

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That evening, we will return to the delightful piazza in Montefalco for dinner at Alchemista.

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Thursday, July 9: Spoleto! I am really looking forward to this day, as we have never been to Spoleto. We will meet our tour guide to see the sights in town, have a chance to explore on our own, then meet at the van for our spectacular lunch at Il Capanno.

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Friday, July 10: Our last day, and where better to end our adventure, but one f my favorite Umbrian towns, Orvieto. We will see the stunning duomo, and get a 20% discount from my buddies at two of the nicest ceramic shops.

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Saturday, July 11: We're all off to Rome. We are staying another 4 nights to relax, unwind, eat well, and explore one of our favorite cities. No tourist sights, no agenda, we'll play it by ear!

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June 17, 2009

Comfortable Walking Shoes for Italy

There is a thread on Slow Talk about "Ugly but Comfortable Walking Shoes". It cracks me up every time I read it. People have a wide variety of needs, and work very hard to find the "perfect" comfortable shoes to trot around Europe.

I do understand the concept of needing to have "happy feet". If your feet hurt, you will be miserable. I have also put many kilometers on my tootsies in Italy, and we walk at least 10 times more than we do at home (where we often drive around the corner to get the mail). I also get that Italy has cobblestones.

I have had "bad feet" for almost 20 years. Oh you should have seen the stunning shoes I used to buy! Those days are long over. Because of hereditary deep calluses, and a bunion, I must wear cushy, rubber bottomed shoes at all times. I do not do heels over 1 inch, and even that elevated position kills me, HOWEVER, I do have my limits on what I think LOOKS GOOD!

I would rather stick needles in my eyes than wear ugly, clunky shoes with a skirt or dress. I just can't do it. I also prefer shoes without backs. I prefer shoes that I can step right into. I wear sandals all year long in the desert, except for our occasional
3-4 days of rain a year. I don't wear anything that looks like an athletic shoe, or laces up. I believe these should stay at a gym, or on a runner's feet. Socks? What would I do with socks? I think I have a couple pair for when I go to Paso Robles in February or San Francisco for Thanksgiving! But it is summer now!

I am NOT trying to look like an Italian. Those fashionable women trot along on stilettos that I couldn't even stand up in on carpet! (Although I have received a couple of very nice comments when in Italy, that I looked Italian because I was well-dressed, and once someone said, "Oh, you're American? But you are so nicely accessorized!") I plan on lots of walking in Rome and Umbria, so here is what I came up with.

I did break down and buy these very comfortable Privos (the least ugly shoe with back straps I have seen). I would NOT wear them with a skirt or dress, but they will be my white walking shoes on those steep cobblestone streets when I am wearing white capris or crop pants. I would NEVER wear shorts in Italy.

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For black capris, I found these comfortable Cole Haans with Nike Air soles. They stretched them to perfectly fit my bunion.

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You know the expression, "If the shoes fits, buy it in every color!" No problem. I love these cushy Born sandals. All that book space I saved with the Kindle app can be used for these, and they weigh almost nothing!

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The next question is what WILL I wear with a skirt or sundress? I am packing two skirts (black and white cotton eyelet), and 10 sundresses. Yes, I said TEN, so get over it. We know I am not a 21" roller girl. I will be in Italy 20 nights, and I dress for dinner. Do the math and stop laughing.

I am between these two pair of black sandals for evenings. Both are broken in and very comfortable, but a little dressier than the daytime walking shoes. The gold buckle ones have a little heel, but I'm leaning toward the flat glitzy Vegas sandals. They double as working with my bathing suit and cover-up for the pool.

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Most of my evening outfits go with black, but a few evenings will require white. I can stick with the flower flats, or maybe throw in these Sofft sandals with a tiny wedge.

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In case you're wondering about handbags, I will confess to white, black, yellow, orange, and white and black evening bags. This is an all time LOWEST number ever!

So my final word on packing shoes is this: "If the shoes work, pack them in every color, and bring bags to match! Then buy more there!" I'll see you at the Furla stores in Rome or Foligno!

June 25, 2009

Wake up and Smell the Coffee...in ROME

One of my favorite moments is tasting that FIRST CUP of Italian coffee, usually a caffe latte, when we land in Italy!

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So many caffes, so little time! But I do have some favorites. I'm sure we'll be spending some time here, as our hotel is a block away.

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I drink lattes all day long, not just in the morning!

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I usually walk in, and ask them to find the largest glass they have (in Italian). I ask them for "un doppio caffe con latte macchiato."

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When you become a "regular", the price goes down, sometimes from 2-3 Euro to 80 cents.

There are lots of great cafes in Rome! I did a taste test during our last visit between two famous places for coffee: Tazza D'Oro and Cafe Sant' Eustachio.

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Sant' Eustachio was the winner for me! I will be stocking up on some of this:

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Sometimes when walking around all day, you just need a break and a sweet bite.

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After an afternoon nap, Brad is ready for wine, but I need to revive first with another jolt of caffine!

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I have literally HUNDREDS of photos of cups of coffee in many regions of Italy, and I won't bore you with more, but it is truly one of my NON-guilty pleasures!

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June 29, 2009

Rome's Longest Walk

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I awoke at 6 after a wonderful night's sleep. It was a gorgeous, quiet Sunday morning. I was in search of coffee and didn't want to wait until the hotel breakfast at 7:30, so I left Brad to sleep a while longer, and strolled through the quiet Piazza Farnese. No one was around yet. I journaled at a table at Cafe Farnese, until they opened at 7. Then I met Brad for breakfast at our hotel's breakfast room. We set out for a walk a little before 9:00.

Our hotel, Hotel Residenza Farnese is steps from the fountain on Via Mascherone and Via Giulia.

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We crossed the Tiber at Ponte Sisto, and wandered around the streets of Travestere for a while.

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We were thrown out of a military base, and proceeded up hill.

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We then walked (uphill) on Via Garibaldi for a bit until we reached Porta San Pancrazio.

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Next, we saw the Fonte Aqua Paola, and panoramic views of the city.

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We kept walking, and reached the top of the hill: Piazza Garibaldi.

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It was quite warm in the son, so we were grateful for the tree-lined sections of the walk.

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By now, we had been walking for about three hours. My feet were beginning to swell and get tired, but we proceeded on toward Villa Doria Pamphili, and it's surrounding acres of park. The entrance to the public park was full of runners, walkers, and families with picnics.

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We walked and walked and walked and walked, thinking, the villa must be right around the next turn. I had flashbacks of the walk to Villa Balbianello. This was 4 or 5 times as far. The villa grounds were beautiful, and I was happy we had continued.

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Nice yard, huh? Ok, we were ready to leave the park. My idea of a comfortable mile or two walk had been exceeded three miles ago! Add hot and hungry to tired. We kept walking, looking for an exit to the park. We followed all the main paths, but it just kept going. It was like being in Golden Gate park with no exits...FOREVER! We finally got out, and were three miles south of Travestere. We called a taxi, and headed back to lunch. Exhausted, we enjoyed our meal at Trattoria da Gino alla Villette in Travestere.

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I had risotto con langostino, and Brad had tagliatelle con piselli e porcini. We also shared some grilled salsiccia.

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It was a short walk home, but we were ready for a nap and a shower! My feet want to know where the couch potato Palma went?


Sunday Night in Rome

Sunday Evening, with rested feet, and new found energy, we set out for dinner at La Taverna dei Fori Imperiali. Grazie, Colleen K, for the recommendation. We had a fabulous meal! We began by sharing a special pasta of the evening: Large tube pasta with caramelized onions, broccoli and fresh sausage. It was amazing! Then I had a delicious saltimbocca, and Brad had roasted lamb with wine sauce and potatoes. The chef and waiter were charming. Dinner with a bottle of wine: 57 Euro.

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After dinner, we had coffee and grappa at the charming rooftop terrace of the Hotel Forum. It was a gorgeous evening with a lovely view.

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We ended up back at Campo Dei Fiori around midnight, and decided to stop at the Mozzarella Bar for a nightcap. I began my day at this deserted campo at 6:30 AM:

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Peaceful, serene, quiet, sleepy...

At midnight, it is a boisterous, pulsating, vibrant, FABULOUS scene!

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Buona Notte di Roma!

June 30, 2009

Dinner in Bevagna

Our first night's "official" dinner is on Wednesday, but Tuesday night, we decided to try out one of the restaurants where our group will be dining with Jan and Les. We arrived at Enoteca Piazza Onofri a little after 8:30, and were delighted with the charming restaurant. We were brought cheesy bread and then we began with two shared orders of gnocchette with coniglio, zucchini blossoms and sprinkled cheese and CHOCOLATE! Who knew? It was light as air, and delicious!

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Jan had a big bowl of pumpkin soup for her entree, but the rest of us were quite hungry. I had probably the best pork I have ever tasted, "mailolino" (saddle of pork stuffed with fennel and grilled veggies).

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Brad and Les both enjoyed "tagliata di cervo" (sliced venison) with raspberry sauce. It was served with caramelized cabbage and onions. Oh yum!

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Let the group games begin...

July 1, 2009

Redibis

Brad made another RT to the Rome airport, and picked up our other two couples, who had been visiting Prague for 5 days. Michael got them settled in their rooms, and soon we were gathered for a welcome wine gathering on the terrace. The Genius Loci wines are delicious. Their "Palmabella Italy" tote bags were filled with binders of info we prepared on our itinerary, maps and brochures on each town, Italian travel journals, pens, small gifts and chocolate from Perugia.

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We arrived in Bevagna for our special "Welcome Dinner" at Redibis Restaurant.
The restaurant is built in part of what was once a Roman amphitheater. It's stone walls and elegant furnishings are quite charming.

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The eight of us were seated in a very special private dining room, where a window was built into one wall where we could see into the kitchen. I was fascinated by watching the four chefs prep, cook, and plate the wonderful food.

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Here are our starters and primi piatti: Spelt tagliatelle with ricotta and sausage, Chianina beef carpaccio, Stuffed tomato in a herbed yogurt sauce, zucchini and chick pea puree salad, eggplant ravioli, prosciutto and mostarda with warm bread, and ravioli in a lamb ragu.

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Our entrees were also wonderful. Here were our grilled Chianina filets with thinly sliced zucchini in olive oil and mint; veal cheeks in a Sagrantino wine reduction with barley risotto, and a round "zucchini" basket filled with meatballs:

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Only two desserts were sampled, as we were pretty full by then, but here is a beautiful fruit plate and some cinnamon gelato:

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You can see our happy group with our window toward the chefs! It was a delightful evening.

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July 2, 2009

La Bastiglia

Thursday morning, after breakfast, we visited close-by Montefalco. We hung out in the cafe, then wandered the tiny town for a little shopping a sightseeing.

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We had a fun lunch at Il Falisco, with a variety of pasta and risotto. Maureen tried the risotto di Sagrantino.

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Thursday evening, we drove to Spello, to have dinner at the lovely La Bastiglia Restaurant.

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We were brought a lovely bread basket with herbed ricotta and pate, then a complementary spinach soup with salmon.

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More later...weak internet signal won't load photos!

July 3, 2009

Assisi

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We had a very nice morning in Assisi. We met our lovely tour guide, Maura, in the parking lot, and entered the city through the Porta Nuova, outermost of three different walls surrounding the city.

Les was quite taken with Maura's information about Assisi, Santa Clara, and Saint Francis. Ok, maybe he wasn't even listening to anything she said...

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After seeing the church of Saint Claire, we walked to the Piazza di Commune and stopped for a cold drink.

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Then down the hill through town to the Basilica of San Francesco.

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We stopped for lunch at Trattoria Pallotta.

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Home for a rest before happy hour on the terrace...

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What a perfect spot to sip some wine!

July 4, 2009

Cortona on the 4th of July

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After breakfast, we set off for Cortona. It was market day, so Brad dropped us off at Piazzele Garibaldi, and we shopped our way to the Piazza and through the market. We saw our friends at the porchetta truck. We had planned a 4th of July Italian picnic of porchetta sandwiches, and assorted treats, and packed flag plates and napkins, mustard and mayo, and plastic utensils, but our guests wanted pizza, so we gave up and went with the flow.

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After buying 4 pair of shoes, two handbags, 5 wallets, and 16 bottles of balsamico, we stopped for lunch at Piazzaria Fufluns.

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After lunch, we took a drive to show our guests Bramasole, from Under the Tuscan Sun.

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Then we had a nice break in the luscious lobby of Villa Marsilli. We were welcomed with open arms by the lovely Giulia and manager, Stefano. We spent several days at the Villa Marsilli, in 2007, and were treated royally by their gracious staff. We were welcomed back like family members, and greeted with prosecco and a beautiful spread of antipasti. Stefano showed our guests a number of rooms and even the suite where Diane Lane stayed during the filming of the movie. Giulia and I had a delightful chat, and those who needed a nap had a great place to rest. It was a perfect way to spend a couple of hours in Cortona before the shops reopened.

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After some more shopping, and wine in the piazza, we arrived for dinner at Osteria del Teatro.

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We began with two pots of fonduta di tartufo. I could sit and eat bowls of this stuff!

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Primi choices included salads, pici pasta, and gorgonzola-noci ravioli:

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Entrees included lamb shank, filetto con salsa di pepe rossa e pecorino.

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It was a wonderful day in Cortona, but we really missed seeing Alessandra!

July 5, 2009

Sunday with Judith

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I slept in until 7:30, and after breakfast, Brad and I went to visit Mauro and Silvanna at Le Case Gialle. We got the last few bottles of this year's olive oil and had a nice visit. On the way home, we learned that it is not a good idea to walk in a sunflower field the morning after a brief thunder shower, as you can sink ankle deep in mud.

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More sunflowers to come...

We returned to Genius Loci for a wine tasting. I will do a whole blog on that when we get home.

Judith arrived, and Brad and I were her kitchen helpers for the day. She brought a carload of equipment from her home, as well as all the supplies to cook us a fabulous dinner. Brad and I became duck pluckers! Judith butchered three ducks, I washed and plucked, but Brad really did the majority of plucking, while Judith started the sauce. It takes quite a while to pluck three ducks. Brad was hoping he was almost done, but we kept bringing him more!

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I prepped red peppers to roast and cut luscious tomatoes and garlic for Judith's tomato salad. Judith prepared a cous cous filling for zucchini flowers, prepped a gorgeous dessert, and made pasta dough.

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Brad kneaded most of the dough, and Les learned how to knead "until it feels like your earlobe".

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Judith showed me how to roll and cut pappardelle while she seasoned the simmering duck sauce and stuffed the zucchini blossoms. I made a mountain of pasta strips by hand (think I'll stick with my kitchen aid quick version at home). I "massaged" the duck breasts with honey (rubbing it in to the scored skin), then coated it with Judith's special mixture of seasonings.

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The table was set beautifully by Michael, Mary joined us and we were all drooling with the scents coming from the kitchen. The chef and helpers were extremely warm in the hot kitchen, but we managed to survive with wine and some of Judith's gorgonzola scones to much on.

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At 7:30, Judith presented us with her fabulous dinner!

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Dinner was amazing. We began with zucchini blossoms stuffed with a cous cous mixture.

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Next we enjoyed the delicious pappardelle with anatra sauce.

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After lots of pasta, we savored the crispy honey duck breasts with roasted red peppers, tomato salad and Pugliese bread.

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Dessert was a fudgie chocolate torta with coffee gelato, whipped cream and chocolate sauce.

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While our expectations were high, we couldn't have been more pleased and delighted with our wonderful chef's dinner. Grazie Judith! Check out Judith's website.

July 6, 2009

Bello Spello

Judith and I had coffee at a Bevagna cafe a little after 7am, before she left to go back home. After our guest's breakfast, we headed to the beautiful town of Spello, my favorite spot!

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I can just see myself living in this charming town with it's flower-filled park like piazza.

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We left our group who were content to stay close to the central square or wander the small food shops.

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Brad and I wandered through the tiny side streets with flowers and gardens.

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This house would work for me.

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Brad and I visited the gorgeous church of Santa Maria Maggiore with it's Pinturicchio frescos.

We ate lunch at the charming Il Molino. Everything was very good, but the highlights were my pistachio pasta, and Brad's lemon, orange and apple pasta!

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Sparafucile

Monday night we went into Foligno early for a little shopping before dinner.

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We ate dinner at Trattoria Sparafucile.

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We were brought plates of antipasti with prosecco and focaccia.

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Next came some bean soup I skipped, and two kinds of pasta.

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The secondi were tagliata or filetto con patate e fagiolini. Diane sampled a chocolate souffle, and the rest of us opted for gelato next door: stracciatella, fragoli con balsamico, e marscapone.

July 7, 2009

Beautiful Bevagna

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On Tuesday, we returned to Bevagna for a morning tour with Maura. We began at the beautiful church of San Silvestro on the main piazza. This simple church has a number of steps up to the alter with three arched windows.

There are four "neighborhoods in Bevagna, each with their own ancient medieval craft workshop. These are called the 4 Gaites of the city: Paper craft, religious art, candlemaking and silk thread production. These tours were all fascinating (more later).

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We had lunch at Osteria del Podesta. All the salads and spicy pastas were good, but Gary and I especially enjoyed the coniglio with porchetta!

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Bacco Felice

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Tuesday night we had such a fun dinner at Bacco Felice in Foligno. We walked into a graffiti covered restaurant and were seated by the Sicilian owner and chef, Salvatore. Then we met Bacco, the black lab, who was sprawled out asleep next to our table for 8. A cartoon of Salvatore is featured on the placemats.

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We were served bread, prosecco and platters of twisted mozzarella from Naples.

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Next came platters of panzanella salad and lentils with red onion and celery.

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We had a choice of pastas with coniglio sauce, or tomato and eggplant. In case we got hungry before our entrees, we were served platters of prosciutto and focaccia. Here is Salvatore plating pasta in the kitchen:

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The most delicious chickens you ever tasted were roasting in the forno.

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For dessert, we were served huge bowls of ripe cherries and plates of cookies with Moscato di Asti. We were one happy group!

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Salvatore was pretty happy with lots of kissing photos too. What a fun evening!

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July 8, 2009

Deruta

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We had a grand day in Deruta! We began with a tour behind the scenes of a wonderful ceramiche maker, Giulio Gialetti. The brothers, Antonio and Carlo showed us every step of the process. They actually supply my very own ceramic shop, Old World Pottery, in Palm Desert. They were currently reproducing gorgeous tiles for the Vatican. If they are good enough for the pope, they are good enough for us!

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We spent the whole morning there, and Diane and Gary were the grand prize shoppers, with 12 place setting of beautiful dishes in three coordinating patterns, and a giant rooster. Jan bought a few pieces, and I was quite well behaved with just 6 ceramic handled serving utensils and two latte cups in a sunflower pattern.

We droved just down the road to our beautiful lunch spot, L'Antico Forziere. Mary recommended this as her favorite restaurant in the area, and it was a big hit with everyone, and our friends, Barbara and Art joined us for lunch.

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Our lunch began with prosecco, rolls, and a delicious cream of carrot soup.

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Our primi piatti were all fabulous. In order pictured, they are: pasta with arugula pesto, cannelloni, pasta with red turnips and leeks, asparagus fritatta ravioli, tagliatelle with tartufo, and red beet ravioli.

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The entrees were equally wonderful. They were caponata, lamb, pork and veal.

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We sampled two desserts, both of which were works of art. First is a meringue with strawberries and spun sugar. Next is an "upside down apple cake". Gorgeous!

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After that grand lunch, we decided to hang out at home with some good wine and a picnic dinner. I got to use the picnic supplies I packed.

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July 9, 2009

Spoleto

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Maureen and I have been the first ones up every morning. She is another early riser, AND a coffee drinker, so Brad, Maureen and I went in to Bevagna at 7:30 for a couple of coffee drinks of choice. Coffee and breakfast begin at 9 at the inn, so I am drinking Pepsi to avoid a horrible headache before then.

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Then we headed to Spoleto. The Spoleto Festival of the Worlds is going on in July, so several venues in town were set up for concerts of all types.

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We saw an ancient Roman ampitheater.

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We walked across an ancient bridge that is a miracle of engineering.

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We saw Spoleto's beautiful duomo.

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Spoleto has wonderful arches, and the Piazza Mercato.

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We have enjoyed three mornings spent with our delightful tour guide, Maura. We hope to see her in California.

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July 10, 2009

The Drive to Orvieto

Our drive to Orvieto was about an hour, with a coffee/breakfast stop included. There were sunflowers at every turn of the road, and the scenery was stunning. I absolutely fell in love with a couple of tiny towns along the way. Even at high speeds, you can get some interesting shots through a dirty van windshield!

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My favorite shot through the van window is this view of Todi. Not bad at 125 kilometers an hour! I think I'll paint this one!

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One funny story about Brad's driving in Italy. I must say, and all of our group members would agree, he did an amazing job! He got that huge vehicle through tiny ancient arches with less than half an inch room on either side. He drove across piazzas to get our "walking-challenged" guests as close as possible to restaurants. He dropped us off at convenient spots, then hiked up and down stairs to parking outside town walls. He made 4 round trips from Rome to Umbria to get everyone and their luggage there and back. He put over 1300 kilometers on the van in 12 days. What he didn't know, was that the van made a "beep" when you hit 130 kph. It was like a built-in alarm system, so I never had to give him that "slow down, you are scaring the sh** out of me look." : )

Day in Orvieto

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We arrived in Orvieto a little after 10, and "set up camp" at the cafe in the piazza. This would be our gather place. After coffee or diet cokes (it was HOT), we visited the gorgeous duomo. As many times as I have been here, this is still a favorite of mine.
The mosaics depicting scenes from the Virgin Mary's life, glimmer in the sunlight, and the carvings and intricately woven mosaics in the stone work stun me each time I visit.

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By 11:00, it was time for some serious ceramic shopping, so I brought all who were interested into my favorite ceramic shop, "Oggetti d' Arte Fravolini", right on the piazza del Duomo. He honored his promise of a 20% discount for my guests and for me. I purchased two lovely pieces that match my purchase from last year. The soup tureen and platter have my favorite sunflowers, poppies, and lemons.

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After sending everyone off for some shopping, Brad and I had a whole hour free. We split the time. I shopped for thirty minutes and bought a wonderful photo book about Umbria. I enjoyed a quiet latte while viewing lovely Orvieto architecture and flowers.

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Brad used his time to find a florist and buy me one perfect sunflower! What a sweetie!

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I cancelled our lunch reservation as the restaurant was a little too far from the piazza for everyone to walk to. We had a relaxing lunch at L' Antica Piazzetta, then headed back to enjoy the last afternoon at the pool.

July 11, 2009

Umbria to Rome...TWICE!

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We said reluctant goodbyes to Michael, and Lena (our delightful coffee/breakfast friend), and loaded the van with the first group to go to Rome. Dianne and Gary had a flight from FCO to London for a few days, so they AND their luggage were in the "early shift". Maureen and I also opted to be dropped off at our Rome hotel, with her luggage. Les came along for the ride, and to keep Brad company on the return trip. After dropping Dianne and Gary at the airport, and Maureen and I at Piazza Farnese, Brad and Les were back in Umbria by 1:30 to pick up Jan, Itz, and the rest of the luggage.

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Meanwhile, Maureen and I did a short tour of the neighborhood around the Campo dei Fiori, as they have never stayed in this part of Rome. It was fun showing her "the hood". We had a prosciutto and melon lunch, then did some shopping. We bought 50% off purses, and a couple of gifts. After an afternoon cappucino, we returned to the hotel. Brad was back with Jan, Les, Itz, and the rest of our bags by 4. He and I returned the rental car, and headed off to a wine bar. No more designated driving, Brad could relax! We were "off duty" as the tour guides! We really enjoyed being in Rome with friends, so we all met for an easy dinner, right down the street at Da Sergio. We introduced Itz to caccio and pepe pasta, and he washed down the saltiness with some fresh watermelon. Everyone returned to the hotel, and Brad and headed back to the campo for grappa and coffee at the Mozzarella Bar. We marveled over our successful first group tour and enjoyed the boisterous campo energy.

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July 12, 2009

Taking a Break

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I have blogged every day since we arrived in Italy. I have spent 140 euros ($196) in internet fees. I am taking a break. We left Umbria yesterday morning to take two guests to FCO, drop two at the Hotel Farnese, return to Genius Loci to pick up two more and the rest of the luggage. Brad is happy to be rid of the van. I am going to enjoy our four days and nights in Rome with no computer. I'll catch up when we get home.

Ciao for now...

A Quiet Sunday in Rome

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After breakfast, Brad and I wandered off for a walk. First we headed to the big nearby bookstore, where we each bought a new pair of reading glasses, and I got a cookbook and book of "Agritourismo in Italia".

We visited my favorite coffee spot, Sant Eustachio, and bought a couple bags of coffee to bring home. (I am hoarding it now.)

At 11:30, we met Jan, Les, Maureen and Itz to walk to Travestere. We walked over the Ponte Sisto, and all met in Piazza Santa Maria Travestere for a cold drink.

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Everyone then wandered on their own, exploring the Travestere neighborhood, or having lunch.

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Brad and I wandered, then stopped for lunch at a busy trattoria when the food looked good. I had a great carbonara, and Brad had some fettucini with a meat ragu.

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Food, wine, and a walk...recipe for an afternoon nap!

July 13, 2009

Monday in Rome

Monday morning, after breakfast, we strolled through the Campo dei Fiori. I am always a sucker for those flowers, and the beautiful produce!

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Next, we made a stop at my favorite Rome church, Santa Maria della Pace. This is the sweetest, most peaceful little church. I lit a candle for my mom, and enjoyed a few quiet moments.

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We wandered along the streets near the Pantheon for a little shopping. I bought two pair of shoes.
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We decided to skip lunch and have gelato instead, so we stopped at Della Palma...of course!

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At a little before 3:00, Tony came to our hotel for the private tour we had arranged. We all piled in to a beautiful Mercedes van and took off.

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Our first stop was the Basilica of San Clemente, which is really three historical churches on top of each other. The church in the photo was built in the 12th century on top of a 4th century church. Below that, during excavations, a 3rd century Mithraic temple can be explored. Mithras was a sun god of Persian origin whose cult was for men only and involved secret initiation rituals in small, cave-like structures. The upper church has beautiful mosiacs, and in the lower church, many faded frescos survive.

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Next, we stopped at a park with stunning views of the rooftops of Rome.

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My favorite stop on the tour was the "Keyhole". I had heard of the term, but didn't really know what it was or where it was. Did you know the headquarters of the Knights of Malta is in Rome? Italy recognizes them as a sovereign country. We arrived at a cul-de-sac on Aventine Hill (Piazza Cavalieri di Malta on Via di S. Sabina), and Tony directed us to a large arched gate/door. We lined up like school children to look through the keyhole.

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Each person stepped away after gasping, "Oh!" or "Oh my God!". You bend down and look through, seeing not a house or building, but a beautiful garden path with green bushes framing an archway.

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At the end of the archway, is a clear shot of the dome of Saint Peter's! Of course, you then stick your camera up to the keyhole and zoom, to try to get THIS shot!

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You are actually looking across three countries: The Knights of Malta, Rome, Italy, and Vatican City. How cool is THAT?

During the last hour of our tour, we drove down the Via Veneto, the Vatican, and by many famous Rome landmarks. Can you name them all?

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Tony's tour was a great way to spend the afternoon! Afterwards, Brad and I spent some more time, tasting wine with Tony at his favorite wine bar.

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We met Maureen, Itz, Jan and Les for MORE wine (I had a glass of prosecco). A bowl of chips helped get us "sobered up" for dinner with Maureen and Itz at La Taverna dei Fori Imperiali. Afterwards, we took them to the Hotel Forum for a nightcap to share the stunning night views.

July 14, 2009

Tuesday: Last Full Day in Rome

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Maureen joined Brad and I after coffee for some shopping, and walking through another section of central Rome. We began at Piazza del Popolo, and walked down the pretty Via Margutta as shops were opening. We continued down Via del Babuino, where Brad found gifts for his friends at work. We stopped at a beautiful cafe for a "real Italian breakfast" of good coffee and cornetti.

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We ended up back at Piazza Navonna, and took Maureen to see the Chiostro del
Bramante at Santa Maria della Pace. We had a cold drink, then stopped at a cafe for a longer break, and I found some small gifts for my friends at work.

It was definitely time for lunch. We were all hungry and hot after walking all morning. We decided to take Maureen to one of our favorite spots, the wine bar, Cul-de-Sac.

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We shared a plate of assorted salumi and some gorzonzola dolce with a bottle of wine. I bought a Brachetto d' Acqui for later tonight. It is always fun to watch the waiters take down bottles from the high wine shelves lining the walls, and I am always fascinated by the bread cutting/storage drawer!

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We returned to the hotel for an afternoon nap and a refreshing shower before "happy hour". We noticed lots of welldressed couples walking through the neighborhood. When we got to the corner, Piazza Farnese had swarms of people attending an event at the French embassy.

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A light bulb went off in my head, and I realized it was Bastille Day on July 14. (Being a Francophobe, the ONLY reason I know this is because it is a friend's birthday.)

Every evening (except Sunday), we had been meeting before dinner at the closest wine bar to our hotel, Camponeschi, on the corner of Piazza Farnese.

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We enjoyed our last evening's wine, and walked across the piazza for dinner at Osteria ar Galleto. After the last zucchini blossoms of the trip, I had a delicious veal tonnato, and Brad had veal rolotini.

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Brad and I tried REALLY HARD not to think about the fact that we were leaving in the morning. Our bags were packed and ready, and we know we will return to Rome. I had our waiter chill and open the brachetto to toast to our next Italy trip. Everyone thanked us for showing them "Palmabella's Italy".

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After a "last gelato" in the Campo with Jan, Brad and I sat and discussed our successful tour, great friends, and plans for next year.

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July 17, 2009

Home Again, but Hearts and Minds are in Italy

We're back.

Yesterday, I unpacked 3 of 4 bags, and did 10 loads of laundry (6 from sheets, towels and beach towels of our three sets of house/dog sitters). Ego was very happy to see us, and especially liked it when he saw luggage go out of sight.

All of our foodie treasures made it home intact (olive oil, wine, honey, 00 flour, cherry balsamic glaze, and vino cotto).

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Other than being happy to see the dog, our hearts are completely still in Italy. Brad worked all day Thursday, and I saw just one client. He hated driving on a California freeway. The temperature is hovering between 109-113 degrees F. My whole house needs to be mopped. We had pasta last night for dinner. My ankles are swollen. We are not good at re-entry.

My goal this weekend is to go back and finish blogging our last day in Umbria, and our four wonderful days in Rome. Be patient with me. Jet lag on the return is NOT my strong suit. And the coffee here sucks!

While we are home, our brains, hearts and souls are still in a piazza in Rome. I am counting the months until I return (10). I am thinking and dreaming in Italian. I miss the sunflowers in Umbria. I miss good coffee. I miss the food. I miss...EVERYTHING.

Brad just said, with tears in his eyes, "Maybe Italy is home, and this place where we try to "live Italian", is just the place where we are until we can go back HOME." That pretty much covers it for me too.

Our "happy place":

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July 24, 2009

All Roads Lead to Rome

All roads may lead to Rome, but the one we took to and from Umbria (4 round trips for Brad, 3 for me), led us first to the tiny town of Bastardo. Here is Les, who LOVED the name and the sign.

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The cafe makes a great BIG latte.

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The WIND store was able to fix Jan and Les' Italian cell phone. It is an all around GREAT 15 minute stop. Next time you're in the neighborhood, stop in and say "Hi".

July 27, 2009

Residenza Farnese Breakfast

Brad and I have enjoyed breakfast at lots of wonderful places in Italy. HANDS DOWN, the best breakfasts in Italy are Diana's creations at the Baur B&B in Acqui Terme! My next vote would go to Capri's Hotel Quisisana. The Doria Park in Lerici, Porta San Mamolo in Bologna and now, the Hotel Residenza Farnese would all get honorable mention.

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How about a sunny expresso, or a lucky latte?

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Where is YOUR favorite Italian breakfast?

July 28, 2009

Back-Blogging

I finally finished back-blogging our last four days in Rome. Use the calendar to check out July 11-15 in Rome.

September 4, 2009

Labor Day Weekend

3:30 am wake up. Off to the airport at 4:30 for a 6:00 flight to Portland. We are off for 10 days of fun with friends in the Pacific Northwest. We will visit Jan and Les until Tuesday when we drive to Bellevue, WA. Brad will be in a training, and I will just have to play by myself. Then we will see our Slow Travel friends that weekend. Whoo Hoo! 74 degree temps, here I come!

I hope wherever you are, you have a fun, safe, happy long weekend with family, friends, good food and some wine!

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September 7, 2009

For the Birds

We are visiting friends, Jan and Les, in beautiful Vancouver, WA. Their gorgeous home is charming, warm and perfect for a relaxing get-away. Jan has decorated every nook and cranny with amazing details. Every the feathered friends are welcomed here!

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September 9, 2009

The Columbia River Gorge

On Monday, after some shopping and lunch, the sun came out, and we drove down the Oregon side of the Columbia River Gorge. With bright blue skies, big puffy white clouds, the river views were spectacular.

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We stopped at the scenic Viewpoint Inn for a great place to take photos.

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After a stop at Multnomah Falls, we crossed the river, and after a stop for ice cream, we drove back on the Washington side.

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It was a great day with Jan and Les!

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September 10, 2009

Jan's Garden

I always enjoy a fun and relaxing visit to the Wolf's in Vancouver, but one of the things I love there is Jan's beautiful yard. She is quite a gardner. Enjoy the color!

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September 16, 2009

Seattle's Best Coffee

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On Thursday, Brad's second day of training, I hopped on a bus from downtown Bellevue to downtown Seattle. I have not ridden public transportation in a city in I can't even remember how many years! Of course I arrived before stores were open, so I began my Seattle's best coffee tour early in the day. I already had a Starbuck's latte for breakfast, so I decided to hang out at a Seattle's Best Coffee until Nordstrom and City Kitchen opened their doors.

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I shopped downtown for a while, then walked to Pike's Place Market and browsed the flower stands and many produce and food venders.

At noon, I met Ann for lunch at Cafe Campagne. It was a warm, sunny day so we enjoyed our lunch outside on the patio. We chatted non-stop until Ann had to return to work. My Croque-Madame sandwich and salad were delicious.

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After lunch, I needed to walk and it was a glorious day. I walked around the waterfront area and back streets near Pike's Place until I was ready for another break. This time I stopped for coffee at a coffee shop called Local Color. I had a big comfy easy chair to sit in and read for a while. I spent my last hour in the park. Tourists and locals were enjoying the beautiful warm day and the sea breeze.

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Brad was done with his training by 3:30, and on his way to Seattle. While I waited for him, I had my last latte at Tully's coffee. I don't know if it was the outdoor seating, or the fact that I would get to explore more of Seattle soon with Brad, but it was a GREAT cup of coffee! BYOSL (Bring your own Sweet & Low).

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September 18, 2009

More Seattle...

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Brad and I began our afternoon with a stroll through Pike's Place Market. It was almost 4:30, and many vendors were closing up shop for the day, but I was able to get 2 lbs. of my favorite lemon-garlic orzo., and we visited the Italian grocery store-deli, DeLaurenti, and drooled over the Italian products. I had no more weight available in my luggage.

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Then we headed to a neighborhood called "Belltown", for happy hour.

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We met an entertaining magician at the bar who entertained us with card tricks. We asked the Italian owner of the bar/restaurant for his favorite Italian restaurant in Seattle. He had gone to hotel management school in Rimini, and we chatted about Emilia-Romagna. He recommended La Spiga for dinner, and after a quick look at Zagat in my iPhone, and the Urban Spoon app, we had a reservation. I LOVE my iPhone!

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We began with pasta: gnocchi with asparagus and prosciutto for Brad, and spinach ravioli in butter and sage for me.

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The gnocchi was just ok, but the ravioli were wonderful! Our entrees were very good: lamb for Brad, and "Porchetta", slow cooked is a beautifully herbed and garlicky au jus.

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It was a lovely dinner in a great city!

September 21, 2009

Edmonds, Washington

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During our Seattle vacation, we took off on a Friday morning with no plans. We drove around lovely homes on Mercer Island, then went on to explore some charming neighborhoods in Seattle.

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We decided to visit the town of Edmonds, and got to to the port area around lunch time. We enjoyed fish and chips at Anthony's restaurant with a view of boats, flowers, blue skies and sunshine.

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After lunch, we wandered through some nice shops in downtown Edmonds. The main streets are quite charming with a rotunda and fountain in the main intersection, and a few cute restaurants with flowers along the sidewalks. I felt like i was on a movie set in "downtown small town U.S.A". When you are in the Seattle area, visit Edmonds!

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September 22, 2009

0/8

On our last evening in Bellevue, we ate at a restaurant in the Hyatt called simply "0/8".

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We began with a flight of rose wines for Brad and sparkling wines for me. Brad's rose's were Lucien Albrecht Cremant d’Alsace Brut Rosé, from Alsace, France; a Roederer Estate Brut Rosé, from Anderson Valley, California; and a 2005 Schramsberg Brut Rosé, from Napa, California.

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My flight was called "West Coast Sparklers" and the tastes included a Gloria Ferrer Cuvee Prestige, from Sonoma, California; a 2005 Iron Horse ‘Wedding Cuvee,’ from Green Valley, Sonoma, California; and Domaine Chandon Brut Reserve Pinot Noir, from Napa, California.

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We enjoyed a pastry-wrapped baked brie with figs. It was garnished with "cashew
dust".

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Our entrees were wonderful. I had the evening's special: honey-glazed lamb served over Potatoes Anna with wilted kale.

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Brad was quite happy with his seared duck breast with a ginger-orange glaze, farro and pecans, and tempura broccolini.

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No room for dessert, just coffee, and a lovely evening!