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Report 926: My Dream Trip To Italy and France
By BGE from Fox Creek, Alberta, Canada, Spring 2005
Page 22 of 38: Train To Cortona...At Alessandra's Invitation
Alessandra and I With the Succulent Truffle-topped Tortellini
Today is an amazing day. I am awake early, ready to leave for Santa Maria Novella about an hour earlier than I need to be. M. & D. are taking the train to Nice and then on to Paris, where we’ll meet again and continue this wonderful journey of ours.
I’m taking the train to Cortona! I am actually stepping out of my comfort zone here, and it feels good! I meet my son at the station and he helps me purchase my ticket. It takes a lot of time. There are instant service machines where you can key in your information and a ticket spits out instantly, no waiting.
We go from one to the other, and after we find 3 or 4 that are out of order, we finally find one that is working! We are second in line, only because M. is a big guy and he makes a place for both of us in the line. Finally, with a few minutes to spare, we get tickets, find the right train and we say goodbye, hugging and hugging.
The trip is easy. It takes about an hour, and it is a treat to be able to sit back and watch the country roll by. I spend some time talking with 3 very amazing young women sitting a few seats away... Alex, Ilene and Alayna.
They are going to Cortona also. Alex tells me that her mom was in Cortona 5 years ago and they are going back, for her mom. That’s really thoughtful, taking time to go to a place because her mom wishes she could be there! How nice...
They are students at Lorenzo de Medici in Firenze, and they tell me that they love living there and studying at the school. We exchange e-mail addresses and I promise to pass their names and e-mail info on to my oldest granddaughter. She’d be interested in going to this school, I think.
After we get off the train, we stand outside the station in Cortona together, talking about finding a gorgeous little something as a gift for Alex's mom. I recommend Alessandra’s store, Il Girasole, to them. I tell them this would be the perfect place for that kind of special gift. They catch the shuttle bus and we wave goodbye to each other. I am thinking what delightful people they are as Alessandra zips into the parking area at the train station in her van.
I hop in and we are on our way! What a treat to have someone who lives in Cortona showing me this exquisite town. It is truly a beautiful place. It is located on top of a hill, with the valley spreading out every which way from the crest of the hill. The views are spectacular! I can imagine staying here and painting every day for weeks. It is truly stunning.
A place to park seems like an unlikely thing to find on these winding-uphill-and-down streets, as we drive on streets as narrow as fettuccini. Then, someone pulls out of a parking spot and we pull in! It’s that easy.
Alessandra gives me a guided tour of the shops and antique stores along the street, as we head toward Il Girasole, her baby. Finally, after reading about it on Slowtrav, I’m inside! She has created a beautiful place for people like me to browse and then choose what I cannot live without.
I find it… a wide, shallow bowl, about 16” – 18” across, splashed with deep, dark cobalt blues and clean, crisp yellows, with a design of clusters of brilliant lemons on a dusky blue background. It is lovely. I ask about other pieces in the same pattern... mugs, smaller bowls, for instance. She will ask the creator of this line if there are other sizes of bowls and mugs.
A movement outside the door catches my eye. Standing there, looking a little uncertain, are my 3 new friends from the train! I call to them and invite them inside, introducing Alessandra to them. Alex is looking for a special gift for her mom, and she finds it in a bowl that is exactly the same as the one I love, but this one is covered with the sunflowers of Tuscany. She pronounces it perfect and buys it on the spot. I really like these young women… they are brave and independent, and they are doing something that so many people dream of and never have the opportunity or the courage to do. Bravo!
Alessandra and I leave Il Girasole and we stop next at a restaurant that she has chosen, Osteria del Teatro. It is located on via Maffei. When we enter, the air is saturated with the aroma of a hundred dishes. I am instantly starving. I defer to Alessandra, and she orders for me. This is a very cool thing for me, letting someone who obviously knows what to choose, choose!
We start with an antipasta platter, followed by Tris di Zuppe Toscana. Three small bowls of three different soups... just the right amount. I have a taste of each one, and then the bowls are empty.
Next, I am served an exquisite plate of homemade tortellini, topped with a huge heap of freshly shaved white truffle. No, really... honestly, white truffle!
Now, I must interrupt myself here to tell you that I’ve never tasted truffle in my life, let alone white truffle. I also must tell you, if you haven’t figured it out by now, that I love to talk.
There’s not much that gets in the way of a great conversation for me.
My first taste of truffle is a small sliver that I slip between my lips and find that it tastes like nothing. There’s no taste, just texture. Alessandra tells me to take the next shave of truffle with a bit of tortellini as well. I cut one of the tortellini in half, load it up with a large thin slice of white truffle and put it in my mouth. I start to chew and there is an explosion of flavour like nothing I’ve ever tasted...ever.
“Mmmmmmmmmmhmmmmmmmm,” I tell her.
She starts to tell me something and I interrupt her with a wave of my hand and a muffled “Mmmmmmmhmmmmmmmph….”
I’ve never told anyone that I didn’t want to talk with them, especially over a great meal, but this experience is so amazing that I wave Alessandra quiet and just chew, taste, swallow.
Finally, I stop eating, look at her and I say, “I’ve never tasted anything like that! Why is there no taste to the truffle itself, and yet, when it is with food the taste is incredible?”
She explains that the truffle exaggerates the flavour. Boy, does it ever!
This is the most silent I’ve ever been while dining. The rest of the tortellini slowly disappear, each forkful topped with a sliver of truffle... savoured, swallowed, and all too soon my plate is empty. Alessandra asks me if I think I like truffles now... no kidding! That is the single most memorable meal I’ve had in my life. I’ve never tasted anything like it. I owe Alessandra my neverending gratitude for this delectable treat.
Now, for dessert. She asks me to choose... I choose tiramisu, and it is exquisite. Again, it tastes like nothing else I’ve ever eaten.
Gone in a minute.
After a last glass of wine, we leave this lovely place, walk through the streets, ending up at Il Girasole again. While I browse, Alessandra talks with a few clients. Then it is time for me to go back to Firenze and her to go home to her family. All too soon, I’m on the train going back to Firenze.
This has been a truly magical day for me. Now that I know how easy this is, I’ll be taking the train more often on my next trip to Italy. I’ve spent the last few weeks just getting accustomed to the ebb and flow of life here in Italy, becoming a little more comfortable with my surroundings and a little less apprehensive about where I am going and how I am to get there. I’m more than happy I planned to stay 3 weeks, because I've needed every second of that 3 weeks to get my feet under me and finally begin to feel like I know what to do, how to do it and where to go.
After an hour or so, I’m back home in Firenze, walking from Santa Maria Novella to my apartment, with a detour for a gelato… tiramisu again! Big huge chunks of espresso-soaked cookie throughout. This is a perfect way to end a perfect day.
Arriving at my apartment, I realize that I have some packing to do. For now, I only want to sit on the terrace with a glass of chilled white wine, thinking about today.
Best Things Today:
~ having my son help me with the ever-elusive electronic ticket at SMN
~ sitting by the window on the train, watching the ever-changing scenery
~ meeting Alex, Ilene and Alayna and having such a great conversation with them
~ my first look at Cortona, cresting the hill in the distance as I step from the train
~ Alessandra’s kindness and generosity
~ white truffles and tortellini… ahhhhhhhhhhhhhhhh…
~ perfect tiramisu
~ walking home from the train station, realizing that I feel comfortable here, finally
Worst Things Today:
~ absolutely nothing, even the madness of buying my train ticket raises only a bit of humour when I reflect on it.
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