Sunday, June 18, 2017

Reminiscing!

This morning as I sat outside snuggled up in a blanket drinking my coffee, I reflected on the past week.  Had it only been a week since I flew back from Italy!  All week long, I have been replaying my time and the many adventures that I had on my trip.  It was such a great trip.  New memories were made.

It has taken me the week to adjust to the time change!  I have been up every morning around 5 a.m. The joy of getting up early is seeing the sunrise.  The sunrise has taken my breath away as I look out onto the sky to see the beautiful colors of different blues and the different pinks, as they swirl across the sky.  Within seconds, the colors change.  I am in awe!

While I was gone, the wetlands got greener and the yellow flowers popped up.  It seems like the birds have multiplied, as well. The rabbits definitely have multiplied.  The red wing blackbirds have a slurred whistle as the sun rises from the east.  The swallows are soaring from one house to the next.

Sometimes we forget about the beauty within our on home.  As much as I love to travel, to meet new people and to discover new surroundings, I always remember the words that Dorothy said in "The Wizard of Oz", "There is no place like home."

Enjoy today!


Tuesday, June 13, 2017

Alba, Italy

My last day in Italy was spent in Alba. Alba was once known as the "city with 100 towers". Today, it is famous for it's white truffles, peach and wine production.

In the area of Alba, there are 290 wineries that cultivate an area of 1,700 acres of land.  There are four distinct wine producing regions, but only two(Langhe and Monferrato) of these are dominate.  The vineyards are rich with soil, with history and with family tradition in wine-making that dates back centuries.

The town itself had a medieval flavor with it's cobblestone walks, narrow streets and the decor of the stores.  Just like Turin, there are cafes all along the streets.  Fashion is displayed in the windows and the merchants have their tables outside, selling their truffles, nuts, chocolates and displays of Alba's wines.

As I walked along the streets, there was a merchant demonstrating soap bubbles to the children. These soap bubbles were beautiful colors(almost like a rainbow) that were various shapes.  The children were fascinated with these bubbles.

After enjoying a cappuccino, the group was met by an archaeologist, who took us underground, a few feet beneath the streets and pavements, to discover the Roman Roots.  We saw the remains of the Roman Forum and remains of the Medieval towers and houses.

Some other sights to visit are the impressive Cathedral of San Lorenzo is in the heart of Alba; Gothic Church of San Domenico(which has triple arch within a pointed arch) and the Baroque of St. John the Baptist.

After sightseeing in Alba, we had a 3 course-lunch at a restaurant overlooking the beautiful vineyards.  We enjoyed veal, ravioli and a chocolate pastry, as well as different wines, prosecco and limoncello.

Our last stop was at the Paitin Winery.  This winery has been in the family since 1796.  From their 17 acres, they produce Barbaresco, Nebbiolo, Arneis, Barbera and Dolcetto.

What a great day to end my tour of Northern Italy!  I will always treasure the memories that were made.




Monday, June 12, 2017

Exploring Turin, Italy

As I walked out onto the cobblestone street, I was in awe of the sunrise and the silence surrounding me.  I wanted to explore Turin from sunrise to sunset.  

This was a new city for me.  I was enjoying the quietness before the city awoke.  There is something about walking the streets and thinking back to the Renaissance period and the people that strolled along this same path.

Turin, which is pronounced Turino, is a city that is located in the northern part of Italy and is the capital of the Piedmont region.  It is located on the Po River and surrounded by the western Alpine arch.  The population of the city proper is approximately 900,000.

The city has a rich culture and history.  With all the restaurants, churches, universities, theaters, libraries, museums, parks and other venues, there is always something to do.  Turin is well-known for its Renaissance, Baroque, Rococo, Neo-classical and Art Nouveau architecture.

Our guide gave us some interesting facts about Turin:

1.  It is home of the FIAT auto plants.  FIAT is Italy's largest automobile manufacturer.  The acronyms stands for "Fabric, Italy, Automobile, Turin".
2.  The "Shroud of Turin" is kept in the royal chapel of the Cathedral of Saint John the Baptist in Turin.  The Shroud of Turin is a centuries old linen cloth that bears the image of a crucified man.  A man that millions believe to be Jesus of Nazareth.
3. EATALY - opened in 2007 in Turin.  It was built for the 2006 winter Olympic Games, and is basically a gourmet grocery store offering all foods Italian.  There are about three of them in the United States(NYC, Chicago & Boston).
4.  The movie "The Italian Job" was filmed in Turin in 1969.  Michael Caine was the main actor. This is a movie about a plan to steal a gold shipment from the streets of Turin by creating a traffic jam.
5.  The Egyptian Musuem in Turin is the only museum other than the Cairo Museum that is dedicated solely to Egyptian art and culture.
6.  Cafes - There are at least 2 cafes on every block.  The historic cafes have remained favorite among politicians, intellectuals and artists.  One of the popular drinks that is served is "bicerin".  This drink has hot chocolate at the bottom, espresso coffee and milk, froth on top.
7.  Piazza San Carlo - This is Turin's most beautiful square.  It is the city's outdoor living room, surrounded by arcaded sidewalks that house the terraces of the cafes for which Turin is famous.
8.  Martini & Rossi, which was founded in Turin in 1863, is an Italian multinational alcoholic beverage company primarily associated with the Martini brand of vermouth and is also with sparkling wine(such as Asti).
9. and so many more other venues.

While walking along, be careful, as you could get run over by a bicycle.  Everywhere I looked, people were riding their bikes.

I was very impressed with this city.  Next time you are a planning a trip to Italy, put Turin on your list.

Ciao! 







Tuesday, June 6, 2017

Italian Riveria

This afternoon as I strolled along the turquoise coastline of the Ligurian Sea, I reflected on the past several days.  With the waves crashing on the cliffs, motor boats humming along the shore, I had to pinch myself.  I was experiencing the Italian Riveria.

In the 1960's, the French Riveria(which is the Mediterranean coast of southeastern France) was where the movie stars and rich and famous would travel to.  Nowadays, the well-known celebrities travel to the Italian Riveria.  This lies on the northwestern corner of Italy, in the region of Liguria, which stretches along the Ligurian Sea from the Italian/French border to the Tuscany border.

The villages that I got to travel to were Portovenere, Le Cinque Terre and Santa Margherita & Portofino(the heart of the Italian Riveria.

What one experiences from each of these areas were the multi-colored pastel buildings; the fishing villages; tall rugged cliffs dropping down into the cobalt blue depths of the sea and the resort areas(beaches).

Portovenere is located on the Ligurian coast of Italy.  The very small quaint village has such beautiful panoramic views of the church, St. Peter, as well as the Doria Castle.  St. Peter's Church sits on top of the cliffs that looks out into the sea, and was constructed in 1198 A.D.  The church still holds services, as well as weddings.  The castle was built by the Genoese in 1261 for the very wealthy Doria family who were very instrumental to the political, military and economic life of the Republic of Genoa.

The rugged part of the Italian Riveria is Cinque Terre(five villages).  The five villages are Riomaggiore, Manarola, Corniglia, Vernazza & Monterosso.  Each of these have their own charm.  All five of these villages are connected by a trail.  Hikers love to travel to this area. The water and mountainside have been declared a National Park.

Riomaggiore is known for its historic character and it's wine.

Manarola is built on black rock.  The vineyards and olive trees are planted on the side of the steep cliffs.  The wine and olive oil from this area is expensive due to how these grapes & olives are picked and taken care of.

Corniglia is an ancient Roman village that is perched on a striking high bluff.  This is the only town without access from the sea.  To reach the town you ascend a long flight of brick steps known as "Lardarina" (33 flights with 377 stairs).

Vernazza is the most charming of the five villages.  It has the best access to the sea.

Monterosso is the largest of the Cinque Torres.  It has beautiful beaches, clear turquoise water and lots of hotels and restaurants.

As you travel north from Cinque Terre, you will approach Santa Margherita & Portifino.

Santa Margherita is one of the most important towns of the Levante Riviera.  It's special charm lies in the unusual mix of nautical & Belle Époque styles.  It is a beautiful old resort town favored by well-to/do Italians.  Santa Margherita Ligurie has everything a Riveria playground should have--plenty of palm trees, attractive hotels, cafes and a marina filled with yachts.

Portofino in the past, functioned primarily as a fishing village and occasionally, as a small naval port. Today, it is a classy resort village.  The waterfront is lined with multicolored pastel buildings and cafes.  There is a very panoramic view of Portofino from the church, St. George.  As you stroll through the piazza, you see many young lovers, as well as celebrities.

As you can see, the Italian Riveria has a lot to offer!





Lucca - home of Giacomo Puccini

Northwest of Florence is Lucca.  It is one of Italy's most impressive fortress.  It is encircled by a 2.5 mile wall that was used during the Renaissance to protect the people.  But today it is a wall that is enjoyed by bicyclists, runners & walkers.  The path is shaded with beautiful, tall trees.

The city is on the Serchio River in Italy's Tuscany region.  The cobblestone streets sends you back to when the Romans controlled Lucca.  There were approximately 160 towers within the city.  The towers showed the wealth of this town,

The amphitheater which sits inside the town used to be located outside the rectangular city walls.  Now shops & restaurants surround the amphitheater, which is used as a plaza for gathering of family and friends.

Of course, I can't forget two of the many churches, San Michele in Foro & Basilica of San Frediano. In it's heyday, there were 82 churches in this fortress.  Lucca was the first Mediterranean stop on the pilgrim route from Northern Europe and the Pope wanted to remind the pilgrims what awaited them in Rome.

So much to see in Lucca.  But if your time is limited make sure you see the Guinigi Tower, which has 227 steps to the top.  There is a beautiful view of the city among the five oak trees.

Also Lucca is home to the famous composer Giacomo Puccini.  He was born in 1858 into a family with a long history of music.  As you walk through the plaza to see his sculpture, you will here his music in the background.

Ciao!




Sunday, June 4, 2017

Cooking in Tuscany!

From the time that Rosanna, the chef, walked into the Villa, you knew that today's cooking class was going to be filled with learning, fun and laughter.  Her charm pulled you towards her.  Our class of eight was excited to be there..

She greeted us with a smile and saying "buongiorno".

Rosanna Passione has been working with food for 25 years.  She is a chef, a cooking teacher and an author of cookbooks.  She has taught many classes in Italy as well as the US.  She is a mother of three and began her love for cooking with organic foods.

With me taking a cooking class is very ironic.  I don't cook!  But for some reason, I have had a desire to cook in Tuscany.  Maybe it is because of all the romantic/comedy movies of Italy that I have watched for many years.

Rosanna handed out aprons for each of us and then began to let us know what our three course meal would be.  We would begin with the dessert, so that it could sit and savor the flavors.

The dessert was peaches and baked with crushed almond cookies & cocoa mix.   Rosanna showed us how to  cut the peaches in half, take out the seeds and add the mixture.  Rosanna wanted each one of us to take part.  And of course everything, we did was perfect.  She was so encouraging and you wanted to do more.

After we finished the peaches, we then started on the appetizers, which were the zucchini slices baked and we added smoked cheese and diced tomatoes.  Once again, we each sliced & diced the items.

The last course was the spinach ravioli.  Homemade pasta!  I can't believe I did it!  Rosanna showed us how to take two different flours and mix them.  Then you take the flour mixture and add the eggs. Special technique in making the dough.  Then you bring out the pasta machine.  A lot of people still use the rolling pin to flatten out the dough.

After rolling out the dough, we added the spoonful of spinach.  We used the cutter to make the squares of ravioli.  We had the water boiling and we added the spinach pasta squares to cook.

We set the six foot table outside for the meal that we were preparing.  Of course, we had wine!

As we all sat at the table with the food we had prepared, we were all laughing and filled with confidence.  We had each achieved making homemade pasta, an appetizer and a dessert.

All of us were in awe of the meal that we had prepared and we could now scratch off on our bucket list "cooking in Tuscany"!


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Friday, June 2, 2017

San Gimignano & Siena

A full day of touring San Gimignano & Siena!

As I walked out of the Villa this morning, I was greeted by Alice(pronounced Alisha).  She has been a a guide for the past fifteen years & loves telling the story of San Gimignano(known as "little Manhattan").  San Gimignano is a small walled medieval town, which has tall walls and narrow streets.  It is the medieval "skyscrapers" that set the town apart from other towns.  Today there are only 14 towers that remain, but at the height of the Guelph-Ghibelune conflict there was a multitude of more than 70 towers.  The people were able to cross the town by rooftop rather than by road.

The towers were built partly for defensive purposes.  Useful for pouring boiling oil on attacking enemies, but also the towers were for bolstering the egos of their owners, who competed with the others to see who could build the highest tower in town.

Today, San Gimignano is known for the shopping.  It was here that I purchased two pairs of leather shoes and had the best gelato(saffron cream).  Gelateria Dondoli was voted as the #1 Gelato World Champions in 2016.

After shopping, we loaded on the bus and headed to Poggio Alloto to have lunch and to view the breathtaking landscape view of the towers(San Gimignano).

Our last stop for the day was Siena, another of Italy's best-preserved medieval city.  Walking through the city, we saw the medieval contrade, which are the 17 districts that have been historically divided.  The contrades are a vibrant part of modern life.  You see symbols of the contrada--Tartuca(turtle), Oca(goose), Istrice(porcupine), Torre(tower), which are on banners and engraved on building walls.  The Sienese still strongly identify with the contrada where they were born and raised.  This is very visible during the centuries-old Palio, a twice yearly(July 2 & August 16) horse race, which is held in the Piazza del Campo.  Almost 35,000 people attend this event.

It was another great of discovering Tuscany!




La Villa del Cigliano

The morning began in Greve, one of the quaintest piazzas of Tuscany.  It is also the capital town of Chianti.  It was still early, so the town was very quiet.  We enjoyed walking into the shops and talking with the owners.  My friend, Linda and I stopped by a small market to buy fresh fruits & vegetables. We then went to a leather shop to find a leather belt for Linda, which the owner sized specifically for her.

The bus driver, Andrea, drove us through the beautiful countryside to Villa del Cigiliano.  The Villa was like a fortress.  The Villa has been in the family since the 1500's, which was purchased by Alessandro di Niccolo Antinori.

We were greeted by Anna, the current winemaker.  Her sweet smile and gentle spirit began to tell us the story of the Villa.  Her mother, Eleonora Antinori, passed away in 2001 and she inherited the winery because her brother and sister did not not want any part of it.  Anna & her husband were living in Rome and decided to come back to the place where she had such fond memories of growing up.

Anna was born in Portugal where her father was a diplomat to the Embassy.  Throughout her life, she had lived in very exotic places and at the age of 59 she decided it was time to go home and keep the memories of her ancestors alive among her children.

The medieval country villa was filled with so much history.  Personal photographs filled the rooms with lots of history and stories. The arched ceilings & colorful furniture and paintings were very intriguing and added to the environment of the medieval times.  Anna had her own collection of owls scattered throughout one of the rooms.

Anna escorted us outside to the beautiful garden which was filled with roses, exotic plants and the pool which acted as a mirror to the main house.  She spoke of the memories of a young child sitting under a tree, which was at least 150 years old.  The tree is no longer there, but she has planted a new tree to shade her family & guest as they sit out in the garden.  The back facade was decorated with shells to represent Neptune.

As we walked through the garden to the barn, Anna picked strawberries for us to eat.  The taste was so sweet & so fresh.  She showed us where she stored her lemon trees in the winter.  There was another room which is used as a hanging place for Malvasia grapes which are left to dry for a few months until they become raisin like.  These rare grapes are used to make Vinsanto, the holy wine used in the church.

We also toured the Chianti Classico winery & cellar.  They produce about 40,000 bottles a year.

Lunch was served on a long oval table in the family's dining room.  The tablecloth and dishes were so elegant.  We were served appetizers, bread(which we drenched in the family's premium olive oil), homemade pasta ravioli, strawberries(for dessert) and of course the traditional Chianti Classico wines.

When our time came for us to load up on the bus, our hearts were saddened in that we had not had enough time to hear more stories told by Anna.

As I left, I told her I would be back!