April 21, 2014

Pilgrimage to Panzano

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With the gang all here it was time to take our annual pilgrimage to Panzano to the Antica Maceleria Cecchini ( www.dariocecchini.it). It really is so easy to get there. The bus takes about an hour, driving through the beautiful Chianti countryside and costs $10 round trip. We don’t have to worry about a designated driver or getting lost. We are dropped off a few feet from the butcher shop and the fun begins.

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If you have never read my blog before Dario Cecchini is the butcher, and he puts out a beautiful free spread in the butcher shop that really makes lunch in his upstairs restaurant unnecessary, assuming that one is a sane person and does not over-eat and drink on a regular basis.

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We, of course, have a drink and some treats while we shop and then go upstairs for lunch. We buy much of what he serves at the restaurant to bring home. Our shopping bag always includes lots of his special salt; his mustards; his pork braised in vin santo wine; his roasted pork; his beef stew; his pate; and, last but not least, his lardo (that’s straight up pig fat). We forgot to pre-order his sausage and so we must return another day.

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Arnie usually has the 8 oz. all beef hamburger served with beautiful roasted potatoes. The waiter has a pre-printed check list for ordering, and under the hamburgers 3 options are listed: “the way it should be”, “medium”, “over-done”. Arnie always has it “the way it should be”.

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I have the full meal which is a taste of everything. It includes steak tartare, meatloaf, braised pork, and roasted pork. I share so everyone gets a taste. Need I even mention that there is wine?

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We have never taken advantage of the opportunity, but one can have anything cooked from the butcher shop below. I believe one of those giant roasts was being prepared for just 2 people. Maybe next time.

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Another reason to like the restaurant is the staff. Everyone seems happy and anxious that the customers are happy.

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So, after our fill of everything, we waddled to the bus stop and soaked in the beauty of the countryside while leaving the driving to another.

What a life!


For more pictures you can go to https://www.flickr.com/photos/susanarnietravel/sets/72157643795801974/

March 16, 2014

The Gang Is All Here

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Playing with our Palazzo friends is a large part of the fun that we have in Italy. Our three apartments make up the soul of the Palazzo. We don’t spend every waking hour together but we do connect every day, if only with a phone call. Of course, playing means eating (and drinking). It is so easy to entertain here. The first group meal was at our house.

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First we walk a few blocks to the butcher. Tonight, a pork roast stuffed with a frittata, prosciutto and fontina cheese will be our centerpiece. We struggled with choosing the rolled rabbit stuffed the same as the pork, or stuffed with artichokes; or the stuffed and rolled Guinea hen; or the stuffed and rolled chicken; or the beef fillet covered in lardo and pink peppercorns. What choices!

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Then, around the corner to the Frutta e Verdura (Fruit and Veggie store). That yielded some potatoes, agretti (Tuscan succulent vegetable that looks like seagrass but tastes like spinach) and a few salad greens. We wanted to keep it simple so there was no pasta course, but if there was, the fresh pasta shop is just around the corner as well.

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We had already gone to the deli for some salumi and cheese to set out for appetizers. And a meal is born.

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The roast took about 45 minutes and the potatoes (tossed with rendered pancetta fat before roasting) took a little longer. The agretti was just 10 minutes but the cleaning took about 30 minutes. Beverly brought down the salad.

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Skai was sent off to buy dessert and she did a great job. It was too embarrassing to take a picture of all of the empty wine bottles. Let’s just say there was a bottle of white wine, and a few bottles of red wine, and Prosecco with dessert, then aged Vin Santo. Can you totally understand why I would not document that for all of the world to see? Thank goodness our guests only needed the elevator to get home.

Here are just a few more pictures of our adventure if you are interested. https://www.flickr.com/photos/susanarnietravel/sets/72157643795162055/

March 13, 2014

The Rhythms of Our Life

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February 27, and we are back in Florence for our usual Spring Adventure. How lovely to return to our second home. Our flight here was uneventful: San Diego to Heathrow; Heathrow to Bologna; car transfer to Florence. Uneventful, but not without issues. Each year we have Sergio transport us from the airport to the Palazzo. This was our first year landing in Bologna because the flight from San Diego arrived too late for a transfer to the closer airports, either Florence or Pisa. Let me just say that we would not have survived making that drive on our own, even if we were rested. Through the mountains, with bumper to bumper 18 wheel trucks in 2 lanes of traffic going really fast. Sergio is a marvel and was weaving in and out of the trucks while I was covering my eyes. Thank God there was no fog, which is common.

We made the trip in a little over an hour and I was ready for wine, lots of wine. Francescovini ( http://francescovini.com ) is a reliable restaurant within a block, with good food and very friendly people. That is often our first stop and this year was no exception. I am usually too tired to take pictures and this year was no exception.
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There is a period of adjustment to the new rhythms of our life in Florence. First, we have to unpack the clothes and the house. We leave 5 suitcases full of kitchen ware, books, exercise equipment, even a printer. And I bring clothes. We are here for 3 seasons and one never knows which will be the longest. So, I am prepared for the harshest winter, longest spring and hottest summer. We arrived after one of their wettest winters. Our first non-food purchases were 2 big umbrellas and that apparently bought us insurance against any further rain. They have been sitting unused at the front door and we are happy to keep them there.

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Arriving as we do in winter allows us to watch the changes of the garden from our apartment windows. Soon the winter coverings will be removed and eventually, the bulbs will bloom, then, when we are ready to leave, the roses will be in full blossom. It is a most tranquil way to watch the seasons change.

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The empty streets are a big benefit of a late winter arrival, and we like it that way. It will change soon enough. The pace of life is slower in winter, but really, it won’t change that much for us in warmer weather. Our day starts with the church bells ringing at, what seems to us, random times. One church chimes the hour but it is at a fair distance and the other closer churches announce their mass schedule, at the quarter hour or any time in-between. We open the bedroom shutters to determine the kind of day we will have. At 10am the Day Care center next door brings their three yr. olds out for an hour of screaming. I particularly enjoy watching one feisty little girl who always seems to get the best of one pesky little boy.
Mornings start very slowly. We must remember to get our shopping done before the stores close at 1PM or we have to interrupt our nap to go after they re-open at 4PM. It is a rare day when we have shopped before 1PM. (We have squeezed in a museum or two in the late morning.) Then it is time for lunch.

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Another benefit of arriving in late winter is the ability to get into very popular restaurants without a reservation. Osteria Vini e Vecchi Sapori ( Via dei Magazzini 3, 055 293045) is one of our favorites and it is virtually impossible to get into as the season progresses. The above was some of the best linguini we tasted but by looking at it you would never know the intensity of the flavors.

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Del Fagioli (Corso dei Tintori 47-r, 055 244285) is another restaurant where we will soon be turned away without reservations. They make the best burnt protein around. We are getting our fill of spontaneously obtained burnt protein while we can.

But, lunch isn’t just lunch. It is the center of our day. It is live theater. It is our chance to socialize in Italian. Lunch is the experience that I most miss when we are back in California.

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After lunch (that always includes a bit of vino) there is the slow meander home where we always encounter something interesting, even if it is just a cat in a window. We collapse into our bed for a post lunch nap but, since we were too lazy to go shopping before lunch, we must get up to go back out to buy food for our dinner. God forbid we have only one substantial meal in a day.

Even though this is our second home, this is still my vacation and I am too lazy to do much more than make pasta with vegies for dinner. So, around 6pm we walk a few blocks to Christian for fresh pasta then, around the corner for vegetables. In the fullness of time, dinner preparations begin.

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I’ve mentioned before that I spy on all of our neighbors from our living room and kitchen windows. ( I suspect some of them may be saying, “That crazy American woman is back staring at us from her window.”) I was relieved to see the “mature” couple who lives next door, and 2 floors down, starting their dinner preparations together. Last year he was missing for the first few days after our arrival. We were worried, but this year all is well. We even saw the grand daughter (about 8), whom we have watched grow-up, having dinner there and playing cards with her grandparents.

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If the mood strikes, we go back out for an after dinner stroll. There is always something to delight. We have no idea of the significance of this art piece, stuck on a building behind the Uffizi museum, but it brought a smile.

Some evenings we fire up the computer to watch the PBS News Hour followed by The Daily Show and the Colbert Report and sometimes we don’t. Sometimes we just sit and read, with a bit of wine. Then, at bedtime we close the bedroom shutters and dream about what we will eat the next day.

It takes a while for me to get into the rhythm of writing this blog.

Wallowing in laziness feels so delicious.


April 21, 2013

NAPLES--BEAUTIFUL CHAOS

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If everything has already been said about Venice, not enough has been said about Naples. At least, not enough good. We prepared for Naples as if we were going to a semi-war zone. We read about the tricks used by thieves in the train station. We had our strategy of sticking together to ward off the Mongol Hordes. We had inner pockets, inner purses, hidden money belts, etc. It was all for naught.

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The street scenes were haunting but in no way menacing. There are more thieves and beggars in the Florence train station than in Naples. In fact, the Naples train station (at least the upstairs section) was more beautiful than the stations in both Florence and Venice. Every taxi driver was honest and accommodating. We did not have one negative experience. I won’t count the hour long taxi ride to our lunch restaurant on our last day because that was the fault of the America’s Cup race and the closing of one entire artery of traffic. Even that experience was entertaining since we saw 6 lanes of traffic merge into 1. Our taxi driver got on my phone when I called our lunch restaurant and explained our situation in great detail, then he wrote down the fish that we should order. We also saw a traffic accident where a poor girl’s bumper was nearly torn off by a motor bike who just zipped away.

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Our hotel, La Ciliegina (http://www.cilieginahotel.it/en/), was centrally located, close to the harbor and close to the old city center. We had a nice modern room and a roof top terrace with great views of Vesuvius and the harbor. It was lovely to sit there at the end of the day, have a refreshment, and plan the evening. We went to Naples with our Palazzo friends and we are all looking forward to returning. Two nights were not enough.

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There is so much to see in Naples. This is the Farnese Bull, so named because it was owned by the Farnese Family and currently housed in the National Archaeological Museum of Naples. It is the largest single sculpture ever recovered from antiquity. There is some controversy over whether it is a first century BC original or a second century AD copy. It is carved from just one whole block of marble and was imported from Rhodes to Rome. The statue was unearthed in 1546 during excavations by the Farnese Pope Paul III in the hope of finding ancient sculptures for his family's palatial residence in Rome. He lucked out.

It was breath taking to see all of the detail of the ancient myth of Dirce who was tied to a wild bull by the sons of Antiope to punish her for the ill-treatment inflicted on their mother. Pretty nasty stuff.

The bull is the most dramatic of the ancient sculptures in the collection but there is so much more to see.

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There is an entire floor of frescoes taken from Pompei. There are no words to describe the beauty.

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The ancient mosaics are amazing. We particularly liked this one because it depicts an alligator and our great-niece Rosalie has a thing for alligators.

It could take several days to seriously examine all of the ancient sculpture and frescoes and mosaics in the museum so after just 2 hours we felt like we did run-by art viewing.

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After a brief lunch we went to the Capodimonte Museum to take in a few more modern (15th-17th century) pieces from the Farnese collection. I guess it was really good to be Pope in those days. This is a Caravaggio that was the highlight of our visit. The museum is situated in an old Palace, on top of a hill overlooking Naples, surrounded by acres of gardens and green space. The park was filled with families and children of all ages and lovely to see.

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Another day, another museum. The Certosa di San Martino is a former monastery complex, now a museum, located next to Castel Sant’Elmo and is the most visible landmark of the city, perched atop the Vomero hill. We wanted to go mainly for the views.

Unfortunately, it was a hazy day and it wasn’t possible to see clearly either Mt. Vesuvius or Capri. We decided to be adventurous and take the Funicular to the top of the hill and then walk to the monastery. I thought the Funicular would be more like a ski lift with great views but it was more like a subway car going up through rock. The walk from the Funicular station is about 10 minutes and we followed the signs to the monastery but noted that there were no accompanying signs pointing back to the station. Instead of leaving bread crumbs I took pictures of every corner where we made a turn to have a digital picture record for our return. That was a good idea in theory but after taking over 50 pictures at the top I never did go back to our photo map. We made it back all the same.

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The monastery was beautiful and the views, even with the haze were spectacular. We didn’t have time to go to the castle next door, that will be for our next trip. Also, there was a lovely restaurant near by with a large outdoor terrace that would be a great place for lunch, if only we had the time.

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There is an abundance of famous art scattered throughout the churches in Naples but we only had time for the Duomo. The French-Gothic altar is a bit over the top, but hidden inside the Duomo are Greek, Roman and early christian ruins including the oldest surviving baptistery of its kind in the western world.

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While we were wandering the streets and museums of Naples, the America’s Cup was conducting its World Series races. We didn’t get to see any of the races in person, but the restaurants had the race on TV so we saw it on the big screen. There was a big party atmosphere at the harbor, but interestingly, no commerce that we could see, so we don’t have any hats or T-shirts.

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What is Naples without food? We had some great seafood meals and tried to order those things that we couldn’t get elsewhere, like really good langoustines, and octopus and calamari.

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And, what is Naples without pizza? The pizza in Naples is very different, I am told, because of the water and the near by San Marzano tomatoes. I don’t know what in the water changes the dough, but it really tasted great. The pizza was softer than we are used to and we saw the Neapolitans folding it instead of cutting it, as the Florentines do.

All in all it was a wonderful adventure. I just could not edit my pictures beyond what you see below. I hope that you will eventually have time to see them all. I strongly encourage you to make an effort to see these sights live and in person.
Give Naples a chance!

Chow Napoli http://www.flickr.com/photos/susanarnietravel/sets/72157633300718425/

Wandering Naples http://www.flickr.com/photos/susanarnietravel/sets/72157633473336940/

National Archaeological Museum http://www.flickr.com/photos/susanarnietravel/sets/72157633475904746/

Capodimonte Museum http://www.flickr.com/photos/susanarnietravel/sets/72157633460866447/

Duomo http://www.flickr.com/photos/susanarnietravel/sets/72157633461000011/

Certosa San Martino http://www.flickr.com/photos/susanarnietravel/sets/72157633461137345/

America’s Cup http://www.flickr.com/photos/susanarnietravel/sets/72157633314993689/

April 14, 2013

VENICE PHOTOGRAPHY WALK WITH MARCO SECCHI

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Getty Images photographer Marco Secchi (www.marcosecchi.com) took this picture of us at the end of our Venice Photography Walk, in the same courtyard where we had lunch the previous day. The walk was the highlight of our Venice trip.

I learned about Marco while trolling the Slow Travel Italy forum, http://slowtalk.com/groupee/forums/a/frm/f/862600685 (the hosts of this blog). In doing additional research I learned that his walk had made it to #1 in the top 10 things to do in Venice on TripAdvisor. I certainly learned why. Also, Marco has a Venice Tour app for that was very helpful in planning our trip. I highly recommend this walk even if you use a disposable camera. I just have a Canon point and shoot and I was happy with my results. Marco also has an iPhone Photo Walk. What is this world coming to??

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Marco took us to places we are unlikely to have found on our own, like this exterior staircase. The wealthy owner was apparently tired of having to run into his staff on the interior stairs, so he built the exterior staircase to isolate himself from the “great unwashed.”

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Here is another example of a hidden gem in plain view. This shot of San Marco is taken from the same angle as a famous Venitian painting of several hundred years ago. Again, notes would have been good. I don’t remember the artist (a famous Venitian) but Marco said that the scene has not changed. However, in order to get the picture I had to sit on the ground in a certain spot, something that I NEVER would have tried on my own or even thought of. Getting up was not a pretty site.

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I can’t remember the significance of the bronze statue on the left (notes?) but Marco thought that the juxtaposition of the Medieval statue with the iconic portrayal of Dodge Foscari kneeling before the Lion of St. Mark was interesting. I agree.

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This photo was shot on my knees. There were lots of tourists jostling to get a picture of the 16th century Bridge of Sighs so it was a bit rushed. Luckily, the gondola came at the right time.

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This was the last picture taken from the ground. I think Arnie and Marco got tired of pulling me up. However, it did give me a different perspective of the gondolas and is one of my favorites.

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From St. Mark’s Square we took the water bus to the Castello district then walked back to the Rialto Bridge. The first stop was the Arsenale that was the dockyard in the 12th century when Venice was building the ships for the crusades. The significance of this shot is that it is the only angle from which to get a distant picture of the structure without having a telecommunications tower blighting the view. Who would have known?

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We learned from Marco that the lion statues are Greek originals, liberated from Greece by the Venetians, and recently found to have Viking carvings on them. Marco attended the press conference the day before and the researcher was still hard at work photographing the almost invisible carvings during our visit. (You can see more lion statue photos on the unabridged Photo Walk link below)

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One of our favorite photos. You’ve got to love the juxtaposition of Jesus and the Communist Party office. Marco had this shot published in the NYT. Instead of an elderly communist in the frame, I believe he caught a nun.

You can see the abridged or the unabridged photos below. It was truly a great experience and we were lucky that Marco’s schedule coincided with ours to make it available. The 3 hours rushed by and it was time for lunch before we knew it.

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We ended the photo walk near the original restaurant choice of the day before so we gave up the opportunity to take interesting shots of the Rialto Bridge and went to eat instead. Vini di Gigi, Cannaregio 3628/A, is considered one of the best seafood restaurants in Venice. It is part of the Buona Accoglienza Restaurant Association and now affiliated with our first dinner restaurant. We started with the seafood platter of Venetian specialities (notes, I’ve got to start taking notes!). Then I had the tuna and Arnie had the squid, cooked in squid ink. It was a wonderful meal and a wonderful end to our brief stay in Venice. We look forward to our return next year.


Best of Venice Photo Walk  http://www.flickr.com/photos/susanarnietravel/sets/72157633251930503/  

Unabridged Photo Walk http://flickr.com/gp/susanarnietravel/h5Hm9j/http://flickr.com/gp/susanarnietravel/h5Hm9j/

You can check out Marco’s blog at http://goo.gl/EIdu4

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