Thursday, September 6, 2012

Last random thoughts on Italy

1- Men in speedos: I was very excited about the prospect of hot Italian men on the beach in speedos- sadly (and oddly) the only man in a speedo I saw was on the hiking trail in Cinque Terre- he was wearing hiking boots, a backpack and a speedo. Those crazy Italians,

2- Melone Gelato (cantaloupe Ice Cream) I tries this on a whim in Cortona- it's light, refreshing, and tastes like biting into a slice of cantaloupe. I was immediately hooked. I think I've had one every day since then.

3- Espresso on the run- on more than one occasion at a roadside restaurant, we've watched cars pull up and someone jump out, run up to the counter, order an espresso, shoot it and then jump back in the car and take off. Where are they going? Why the hurry? and do they need espresso to survive it?

4- Shoes- I bought a rockin' pair of sandals, gladiator style with leather roses down the front. Just warning you ahead of time so my fabulousness doesn't throw you for a loop.

5- Last memory- after we walked back from buying my fabulous sandals, we walked along the dark grand canal. Across the way on the steps of a chapel, a lone violinist was playing Glen Miller's "String of Pearls". The music was sweet and romantic. It was the perfect end to a perfect holiday.

Ciao Bella!

Venice, Last Supper

Tonight is our last night in Venice and the weather is cool but very humid. We`had a wonderful day highlighted by the Gondola ride and another great seafood dinner, two wondering minstrels walked through the bistro playing their violins, Yvonne loved it.

Attached are some parting shots of the sights of our last night in Venice;

Gondola Ride

Yes, we did it. We did the incredibly cheesy tourist gondola ride with the embarrassing guy in the striped shirt and the little straw hat with the ribbons. And you know what? There's a reason this is so popular. Another stupid expensive tourist thing worth every penny! So glad we did it!

San Marcos Square

Walked there this morning= what can I say- breathtaking, impressive, unbelievable- there are not words. Brian will post pictures, but it won't even begin to do it justice. And yes, we sat at a table in the Square where an orchestra was playing and had two of the most expensive coffees on the planet- worth every stinkin' penny.

Garmin has an evil twin

Every vacation has one of those days where anything that can go wrong will go wrong, and you want to stab your beloved spouse with a cheese knife. Yesterday was one of those days.

We left Cinque Terre, sadly, with our trusty Garmin by our side and the shortest route to Venice programmed in. Unfortunately it seems that the shortest route is over what felt like the Italian alps with switchbacks, narrow roads, and sheer drop off It probably added two hours and took two years off our lives, but no worries, we made it and all was good- or so we thought.

We got on the wrong water taxi. Who knew there was more than one? We ended up on the other side of Venice with all of our luggage and about a mile walk. Over cobblestones. Crossing 7 bridges.

FINALLY we arrived, So, the moral of the story is- marry the right man. Otherwise you'll end up in an Italian jail for attemped murder with a cheese knife. :)

Last day in Cinque Terre

Woke up and went in to town where we left off, town 3 of 5 and went down to the boat docks for a cappuccino  It was rich, creamy and delicious, the Batista had painted designs in the foam with chocolate. It was so good we sat back and had another, Meandered through town looking at the buildings  and then got on the train to see the last town,

Decided to have lunch in the last town and had probably one of the best meals I've had here- pasta with tuna, kalamata olives, capers, tomatoes and olive oil, Unbelievable!

Went back to the hotel after and went for a swim in the pool, Yes, Brian swam. In a bathing suit. Miracles still do happen.

Dinner at a local restaurant in town- three courses that we shared, all seafood, all fabulous. Probaly one of the best days here, foodwise. We'll be sorry to go.

Wednesday, September 5, 2012

We are off to Venice

We are off to Venice. Check out the entire blog, I figured out last night how to go back and add pictures to previous blogs, so there are at least 20 new photos below.

Will try and more in Venice, ciao!

Monterosso, Cinque Terre

Monterosso, the northern most town is a seaside vacation spot. You get off of the train on the beach, then head through a brick arched tunnel back under the tracks to the town on the other side. You got to love the trains in Italy, it takes 2 1/2 hours to walk from Vernazza to Monterosso, the train takes 6 minutes, they flat out fly!

We had a beautiful lunch in a little Bistro tucked into a medieval storefront, Yvonne had tuna with olives, capers, tomatoes and drizzled with olive oil, she said was one of the best meals she had here.

Beautiful town, you can see why people come here to stay and enjoy the sea..

Tuesday, September 4, 2012

Vernazza, Cinque Terre

We found Vernazza to be the most charming of the five cities of Cinque Terre, its the fourth northern most City just below Monterosso. This is where our hike ended the day before coming over from Cornigilia. We took the train back there yesterday morning and sat in the Bistro with the yellow umbrella's having cappuhino's and watched the fisherman drag their boats down into the water and head out for the day.

Saying good bye to Torre del Tortuffo

Very sad to leave this place, we had a great time and filled every fantasy we had about Tuscany, thank you Barbara, Chef Franco & Paulo for a great time.

Monday, September 3, 2012

Cinque Terre day two

Yesterday we took the train to the farthest of the 5 towns that make up Cinque Terre with the intentions of hiking back to at least two of the towns before returning the rest of the way on the train. When we got on the train, we met a young (well, younger than us) couple who were from, of all places, Arvada CO. Small world! They were also planning on doing the hiking between towns. At the first town, we walked around, looked in some shops and decided to hit the trail. The walk between the first two towns was short, about a half hour and the trail followed the coastline so you got a beautiful view of the water while you walked. We stopped about midway at a small bar and restaurant and had bruscetta and octopus salad (weird, but refreshing and tasted unlike anything I've ever tasted.)

The walk from the second to third town was closed because the heavy rains from the night before had caused a landslide that closed the trail. So we took the train to the third town (45 min waiting for the train and then a 4 minute train ride). In order to get to the town, you had to climb a stairway with 365 steps! Thank God this was at sea level and not altitude or we'd still be on it. The sun had come out and the day was hot, hot, hot. I didn't have my hat (thank God I had my sunglasses). We refilled our water bottles and hit the trail to the 4th town. The guide at the trailhead said the walk would take about 1 1/2 hours. It took us two- we're old, and the trail wound up and down over the coastline with many steep ascents and descents. We were never so happy to see a town when we came around the last corner. After a stop at the pharmacy for Motrin (knees, backs and feet all a little sore) we went down to the marina and had a beer at the marina cafe, then dinner at a local trattoria where we had lots of different seafood.

Sardines- these are not your grandfather's sardines which you could smell from two rooms away and rolling in that stinky oil. These were fresh from the sea, lightly fried in flour, delicate and delicious. I'm definitely a convert.

Home on the train and then to bed- long, beautiful day!

Cinque Terre- Levanto

We arrived yesterday afternoon after a three hour drive from Arezzo- the road down to the seaside town was winding, narrow and full of switchbacks. We got passed many times by people whom I assume are the locals and know the road way better than we do. Once in town, it reminded me of Stone Harbor NJ- not the buildings, but the feel of it- this is a tourist town for seaside recreation. It took us a while to find the hotel- Garmin let us down and took us to the wrong address, but when we went back into town to ask at the tourist information booth, we saw a sign for our hotel. Up another steep narrow road (this is a two way street????) and had almost given up hope when we came upon the hotel at the top of the hill. Sweeping view of the mediterranian (or at least I think thats what I'm looking at). At night, to our right looking out over the water, you can see the lights of Portofino. Huge yachts go cruising by.

It rained all night and was pouring this morning. I would feel disappointed if I didn't know how desperately they need the water- they are in drought, like us. By 10:00 the rain has stopped and the sky is starting to clear- at lunch time we are going to take the train to the farthest Cinque Terre town and start hiking back- the last two towns are closest together and it is only a half hour hike between them. We will play it by ear as to how many towns we will hike between and take the train back when we are tired.

Tomorrow we will see the towns we miss today. Then on to Venice.

Sunday, September 2, 2012

Random observations of Italy

Here's some of the things I've noticed:

1- Bread with dinner- bread is served plain. No butter, olive oil and vinegar or any other condiment. It's meant to accompany the meal, not be the meal,

2- language- Most Europeans speak 2, often three, sometimes 4 languages. While they are unfailingly polite, I believe they regard Americans as small children with learning disabilities.

3- Wine- it is a myth that all wine here is good. We've had some great wine, but I've been subjected to plonk, too.

4- driving- Italians are crazy, fast drivers. This is not a myth.

5-Toilets- they have two flush buttons. A large button for large flushes and a small button for small flushes. While utilitarian, I find this fascinating.

6- water- they never serve water from the tap (even though the local water is very good). It's either still or sparkling, always from a bottle.

7- Bedrooms-small, often cramped but impeccably clean..

8- Street signs- they suck

9- Cars- when a smart car starts to look like an SUV, you get the picture. Plus, the more expensive the car, the faster they drive.

10- flowers- they are everywhere. Since there is so little available land, especially in towns, pot gardens flourish. It is obvious that the locals take a lot of pride in the maintenance and upkeep of their little patio spreads,

11- tomatoes- OMG, they are delicious. I have seen mainly the heirloom type of tomato,this is the everyday variety.

12- eating schedule- breakfast around 10, lunch around 2, dinner starting at 8. This is normal here. Shops close around 3 for siesta until about 7. They stay open until about 11.

13- If I win the lottery, I'm moving here.

Cinque Terre

Yvonne and I had to sadly leave cooking school behind today and drive over to the Italian Riviera, the area we are in is called Cinque Terre, it means five towns of the land, they are five city's along the cliffs over looking the sea. Right now we are sitting on our balcony high above Lavarno over looking the Mediterranean, having a martini and listening to the bells in the church tower ringing in the town below.

Life over here just sucks, NOT! :)

Volpaia, dinner, La Bortegga

Dinner, Ala fresco at La Bortegga in Volpaia, Duck in a white ragu ( an Arezzo classic ), ravioli with pesto, Tuscan white stewed beans and sausage, how do you start, with Chianti and a plate of charcuterie of course, you are in the region of Chianti after all!

Then there was, Volpaia

How do you know when you have gone in country far enough? Is it the dog sleeping in the middle of the road? Cat sleeping on the stone fence, or the grand mother slapping her grandson in the back of the head? Volpaia! We have found the back country! Exactly what we were looking for!

Radda, in Chianti, lunch.

We grabbed some wood fired pizza for lunch in this little Bistro, this was rush hour, you gotta love Italy. It made us wonder, how could two people make a living out of working in a 500 sqft. grocery store? That's all this town had for food! Simple, they keep it down to basics, no excess.

Radda, in Chianti, avoid the beaten path

Part of our plan was to avoid the beaten path, find the real Italy, this is Radda, in Chianti, no tourist here!

San Gimignano, the square

For over nine hundred years people had gathered in this square, we had to sit down, have a glass of wine, share a brochette, a cafe creme and a gelato, what else could one do?