Posts Tagged ‘kathie blenkush’

Arreviderchi Italia

May 28th, 2009

May 28

goodbyes_smGot up at 5am and left our place at 6:05.  We walked a few blocks to the taxi stand outside of Piazza Navona.  Goodbyes were said, and tears were cried.  Ciao Rome.

Ending trips is always sad.  Especially if you’re traveling with someone and you don’t get to sit next to them on the airplane.  You feel disjointed, alone.

Trips ending suck.  There is no more excitement, just finality’s.  Going back unhappy that life is moving on, life is getting older, quickly fading away.

I assess that I have about 30 years of able travel left in my life, before bones and knees ache and travel is difficult.  Lately I have gone on big trips every couple of years (London/Paris in 2007, Rome in 2009), so that would leave 15 years left of able worldwide travel.  I better make every trip count.

It is sad leaving Rome, ending this trip.  Where will I be in life next time I come to Rome?  The last time I came to Rome I was about to be a senior in college.  How much different is my life now from what I expected and hoped?  Will this have been my last time to Rome?  Did I just say goodbye to the Trevi Fountain?  Even more, will this be my last trip to Europe?

I just got on the plane and I am sad–as you can tell.  I hope the person that will be sitting next to me is small in size, not grotesque, doesn’t smell badly, and is a nice person.

This flying stuff has been a lot easier than I remember.  I could almost get used to it.  I have been on the plane for 7 hours now, taken  little naps, and watched 1.5 movies.  I have put on Coconut Records 21 tracks on my ipod and I have not made it to song 11 awake, multiple times.  I think i have done this play-list 4 times now and I sleep till it finishes, then the engine noise wakes me up.

I watched the movie Marley and Me and I must admit that I cried numerous times.  Why do they advertise these movies as comedies and then draw the rain?

One part that got me was when Owen Wilson said “He gets to come home” and then of course the other moments towards the end, and the sudden end (which reminds me of a scene in the movie Fletch).

Dr. Joseph Dolan: You know, it’s a shame about Ed.

Fletch: Oh, it was. Yeah, it was really a shame. To go so suddenly like that.

Dr. Joseph Dolan: Ahh, he was dying for years.

Fletch: Sure, but… the end was really… very sudden.

Dr. Joseph Dolan: He was in intensive care for eight weeks!

Fletch: Yeah, but I mean the very end, when he actually died. That was extremely sudden.

I woke up from one of those naps to see that Get Smart was on and about 75% done.  Darn.  I feel that I need to take advantage of the things that make time go fast:  the movies, the sleeping…

They just showed the chart of where the plane is.  I love those things.  They show a picture of where in the world the plane is and the course it has taken.  Right now we are nearing Newfoundland and the edges of Canada.  It says we have 3:03 left till NY.  Oops, maybe I spoke too soon about getting used to this.

When I get into NY, there is customs and then a 2 hour layover before another 6.5 hour flight.

It’s been 10 hours since I caught the cab in Rome and an exact 12 hours till we arrive in San Diego.  Add that up, plus the hour earlier than that that I woke up this morning in Rome…travelling is tough.

And if I haven’t mentioned it, let me make sure I do here:  My last 3 meals in Italy regretfully sucked!

We are currently flying 841 Km/hr.  It’s 4:30 pm in Italy, I wonder what Debbie, Steve, Kathie and Jeane are doing.

I am now writing this the next day, after getting home.

I shouldn’t have mentioned during our layover in NYC that the 3 flights of the this trip had been relatively easy compared to flights in the past.  Well, 3 out of 4 now.

We were delayed at first boarding our plane, and then when I boarded, they were frantically still cleaning the plane.  We taxied out and sat for 30 minutes due to rain and busy-ness and then they announced that they heard a funny noise and we had to go back and get maintenance done.

As we were heading back, they said that they think it was just too much air conditioning and that they were gonna head back out and get in line again.

We waited 2 hours on the runway.

We took off and I was sitting near a cougher, a baby crying, a lady interrupting me asking random questions (Is the ocean cold in San Diego?), and next to a guy that had zero spacial sensitivity as he had his legs spread wide, was shaking and singing out loud to his death metal music and who was often reaching down and up his shorts to itch himself.

The movie sucked.  I watched 15 minutes of it and then read 400 pages of the Angels and Demons book that I bought at the airport in JFK, and then I took a nap.

During my nap, I pulled my hood over my head and put my earphones on.  The Itcher next to me wanted to go to the bathroom, but didn’t realize I was asleep.  When he tapped me, I jumped and let out a startled yelp.  It was funny.

26 or 27 or…hours after leaving Rome, we arrived in San Diego and Robbie picked us up.

Got home and talked to Adam for awhile, gave him his arsenal jersey, did a few random things and went to bed.

It’s odd being “home.”  I am afraid of falling back into habits of becoming lazy again, and not challenging myself.

I also am stressing about all I need to do to be responsible, to catch up on things, to eat, to see…I keep reminding myself that I don’t have to do it all in one day.

It was a fun trip.  Much different mentally than 11 years ago.  I wonder if that was because I was in charge this time and had responsibility to think and worry about other people?  Maybe it’s cause I’m older?  Maybe I had less enstranglement of thoughts and worries of life last time?

Seasons of life are strange.

I write this on the 29th now.  I woke up in the middle of the night with strange dreams, not sure where I was, quickly throwing on my shorts.  I realized shortly that it was 2 am and I had been asleep for 90 minutes only.

Got up eventually and went and ate pancakes for my first meal back.  I still can’t believe that my last meal in Italy was a hot dog.

Now I am going to try and have a lazy afternoon, finishing hopefully the last 300 pages of that book.

Sad.

Longing.

Grateful.

Arreviderchi Italia!

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Tourists In Ecstasy

May 27th, 2009

May 27

When we awoke this morning for our last full day here, we headed over to meet up with JeanE and Kathie.  Their place is really cool one bedroom, living room, mini kitchen studio-like place right near the Campo di Fiori.  This square in the morning hours, hosts a great swap meet meets farmers market.  It is filled with fresh vegetables, flowers, pastas, spices and of course the soccer shirts and scarves – which have turned into the most popular souvenir to buy in our group.

While my dad was away, my mother sneakily bought a tool that would turn carrots into curly-q designs.  She swore she would use it (**its been almost a year now and she has used it once?).

At 11 am we all hopped on a double decker bus tour again.  We have stops today that we want to hop on and hop off and see more of the city.  It is fun being all together.  Our first stop that we exit on is at Piazza del Popolo.  The old entrance into Rome held a couple of twin churches in which one of them was home to a Carvaggio painting that I love and wanted to share with everyone.  Spoiler alert:  this square and these churches play a role in Dan Brown’s movie and book, Angels and Demons.

In one corner of the church Cerasi Chapel of Santa Maria del Popolo is the pice called The Crucifixion of St. Peter. Across the chapel is a second Caravaggio work depicting  The Conversion of Saint Paul on the Road to Damascus.  I love the way that Caravaggio paints and utilizes light in his works.

From that church we made our way down the street till we reached the Spanish Steps.  Let the crazy begin.  It is appropriate that all the Barcelona futbol fans would meet up at these steps for tonight’s game.  Everyone is in red and blue singing and dancing.  It is quite a scene, and JeanE is taking it all in stride.  If she could, she would change her citizenship and become a naturalized Catalonian.  She is taking pictures with fans, borrowing clothes from fans, and just enjoying the great spirits.

We continued walking down the streets, till we reached the Trevi Fountain.  If the Spanish Steps was the meeting place, this place was the party.  Fan upon fan chanting and singing and dancing.  What an experience.  I am so happy that I am here during this time.  Although extremely crowded, I can’t get enough of the revelry.  I have a little video, however do note that video and pictures only capture about 1/10th of a story.  And indeed, my video is not as loud or as chant full as the experience was.

httpvh://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JcKXQDVDEP8

We found a bus stop and waited for the next bus.  We were going to take it near Termini and then stop for lunch.  Although the bus stop says that our tour bus comes every 10 minutes, we wait here for about 40 minutes.  We even have Lisa call the number on the board.  The bus arrives and eventually we find our way to a bad and crowded cafe for lunch.

This big game is in town, and the town –without warning– decides that no alcohol will be sold today anywhere.  So there will be no wine with lunch today.  This is probably a good thing.  But imagine the Super Bowl, or a tailgate party, at the last minute decided that no alcohol could be bought.

After our lunch, we walked over to Santa Maria della Vittoria, so that we could see St. Teresa in Ecstasy, a fascinating piece of art by Bernini.  The church was still closed and would be opening soon.  So while a few of us sat on the steps and rested, the others went on a gelato run.  Thirty minutes later we were all swooning.  This marvelous sculpture represents Teresa in ecstasy after she was pierced by an angel with an arrow of God.  It is a work of genius and is considered one of the masterpieces of the High Roman Baroque.  Debbie and JeanE playfully demonstrated their own versions of ecstasy in a really fun moment for me on the trip.  It will always be one of my favorite memories of the trip.  The best part about visiting art, museums, and churches of old, is when you can find a way to interact with it and make it more meaningful.  I am so grateful for the people on this trip, in the way they want to make, what some may consider boring museum outings, into a fun laughing and most importantly meaningful experience.  Whether it is pretending to be in ecstasy, making jokes about fig leaves on statues, or playfully imitating statues (see Lisa boxing in previous snide), I am blessed by the spirits of each person on this trip.

We got on the bus again and headed towards the Colosseum.  We mainly stayed on the bus for this stop, as I have found the inside of this place to not be worth the wait or the money.  However at this place, they were having a festival for tonights game.  So a stop or two later, Dad, me and Lisa got off the bus and started walking back to see what they had going on.  I did get about 10 feet away from the Champions League trophy that they had under case and guard.  The festival was not as cool as I had hoped, but it was really fun to be there.

We started heading home, and on the way, checked the Internet one last time for tickets.  We wrote down some numbers and made some phone calls.

We met up with Debbie, Kathie and JeanE at their place.  It was time to decide.  We had found some tickets, but they were going to be expensive and the game started really soon.

After way too much debate, we decided to go for it.  When else would I have this amazing chance?  Little did we know the headache that would then occur.

We borrowed my parents Italian cell phone, and made some calls.  The tickets were going to come to our place, so we had to start running.  Lisa and I took off running to our place.  All the while waiting for a phone call confirmation from India that the tickets were ours, and they were on their way.

Then the buyer needed a copy of our passports.  It is 7pm at night, the game starts shortly, how would we accomplish this?  We fortunately found a Mail Boxes ETC and got a copy and faxed it off.  But now our cell phone died.  We tried to find a pay phone to make a call.  We found one, and then phones were going in and out.  They had already taken our money and the tickets were ours, but now we had to meet them at the game, find the gate, and get through traffic to get there in time, all without a cell phone that worked.

Spending that much money to only get there by halftime, and maybe not at all was not worth it.  So we cancelled the order at the very last minute.  We were so close.  If only I was more decisive earlier in the week, and bought some then.

Our View For The Game, Outside In Campo Di Fiori

We walked dejected back to my parents and Kathie and JeanE.  We decide to watch this great game at the bar–the Drunken Ship–near their place.  When we arrived there,  the place was packed, so we stood outside a little window, and watched the game on the TV on the far wall.

What a thrilling game.  At one point, we turned around and people stretched about 50 yards back.  So exciting, though, so tiring standing there holding our spots.  At halftime, we figured we had enjoyed the spirit, and decided to go back and watch the 2nd half on their little tv.  The best club team in the world this year, won the game deservedly.  Barcelona swept all the trophies and played like magnificent champs.

httpvhd://www.youtube.com/watch?v=SFZfSFtT0YY

We walked home, through Piazza Navona one last time, and packed up.  Tomorrow morning will be sad.  I hate when great trips end.

The Lonely Roman Soldier

The Worst Part Of Being A Tourist

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St. Peter’s And The Vatican Museum

May 26th, 2009

May26

Statue of St. Peter in front of St. Peter's Cathedral

We were scheduled to meet up with JeanE and Kathie at about 9:15 am on the Bridge of Angels, near the Angel holding the crown of thorns.  We succeeded in that, and it was then a picture fest.  The sun was already beating down, and we were taking tons of pictures while walking towards the Vatican for our appointment at the Vatican Museum.

A Vatican Boxing Match

The walk took us 2 hours.  Wow.

I had ordered our tickets for the museum online, and although the lines weren’t gigantic today, we would have been able to avoid them because of this.  I highly recommend ordering your tickets online if you ever go to the Vatican museum here in Rome, or if you go to the Accademia or Uffizi in Florence.
We hit the last couple of rooms of the museum first, so that when we got to the Sistine chapel, we could duck out the back door directly into St. Peter’s Cathedral.  I pretended to be the group’s tour guide, holding my folder aloft so that they could follow me.

After the last couple of rooms (that we saw first), we were already famished and we would not be able to complete the 6 miles worth of museum unless we ate something.  So we stopped at the cafeteria and had a lunch and a rest.  The first 2 rooms alone seemed like a forever amount of museum.

It is always an interesting experience trying to explore a museum with others.  Everyone has their own style.  Some are fast, some are slow, some like to sit and stare, and others just like to sit.

JeanE was really excited to see the Sistine Chapel, and so around every turn, in every room, she would ask “is this it?”

We reached the Raphael room, which is probably one of my favorite rooms in this museum.  I love his School of Athens painting.  Actually, I think I like all artists that paint archways, or have a similar feel. I’m a big fan of Veronese’s paintings that are similar.

We finally, to JeanE’s delight reached the Sistine chapel.  We hung out there with the crowds for awhile.  They no longer even allow non-flash photography and I thought I would be sneaky and take a non flash photo by holding the camera at my waist.  Well, one of the guards caught me, took my camera, and kicked me out.

OK, the last sentence wasn’t fully true.  He did catch me, and he made me put it away, and he gave me an italian look of disappointment.  But I am used to that sort of look.

We snuck out the back door so that we would get directly into St. Peter’s rather than having to wait in the long line at the front of the church.  Inside the church, we walked around, touched Peter’s toe, enjoyed the mosaic art and most of all the cool temperatures.

Debbie and Steve sat down, and Kathie, JeanE, Lisa and I took the winding narrow stairs to the top of the church for the lookout.  This hike up is really cool, as you get high within the church, within the dome.  You can look down over all of the tourists.  We took the moment to do Owl noises so that we could try to get Debbie and Steve’s attention.  While doing so, we hiked right by mosaics on the wall that you could just reach out and touch.

We got up to the top and enjoyed a spectacular view.

We were there till about 4:30 pm, and then we trekked back to Campo di Fiori and picked up some happy hour snacks.  Following that we walked to dinner to an interesting calzone and pumpkin place.  Yes, a pumpkin place.  Most entrees had pumpkin in it.

It was now bed time.

Being A Big Baby

Playing Duck Hunt

Playing Duck Hunt

Even My Sweat Is Sweating

May 25th, 2009

May 25

ronaldhinohat_smWe decided to take the double decker bus tour today since we were denied that yesterday.  Once again it is a really hot day.  We sat on the top deck so that we could enjoy the breeze.  However, each stop was rather long, and everytime we stopped we absolutely were baking.

Part way through, to get out of the sun, we went down to the lower level thinking it would be cooler there from the air conditioning and we wouldn’t continue to bake.  We soon found out that there was no air conditioning downstairs and it was even hotter.

I feel like even my sweat is sweating.

When we reached the Termini Station stop, there was a 15 minute turnaround before the next bus was scheduled to leave, so Lisa quickly went over to the souvenir vendor and bought whatever hat they had to sell.  She ended up with a cowboy hat that said “Ronaldinho” on it.

pineapple_smWe now went back upstairs and rode the bus till we reached our beginning stop, near Piazza Navona.  It was lunch time so we decided to go have lunch near Campo De Fiori so that we could familiarize ourselves with the area that JeanE and Kathie were going to stay when they arrived, as well as scout out their apartment location so that we knew where we were going to meet them later that evening.

We ate at this little resteraunt where the owner/waiter kept teasing Lisa because she would have one bite of each item she ordered.  Our meal was finished with a pineapple cut in half-one half for each of us.  It was very juicy.

We started to walk back to our place, but stopped by the internet cafe so that we could look for soccer tickets.  Its a pipe dream, but one worth exploring.  Not often in life will I find myself in the european city where a “super bowl” is going on between 2 of the best teams in the world, with 2 of the best players in the world.  Both Barcelona and Manchester United had won their respective leagues this season, and with Messi and Ronaldo playing, it was sure to be an entertaining game.

We emailed a few different sellers and would check back later.  It was a few hours now till we were to meet up with my parents.  So we decided it was time to hit the Thai Massage again.

After yesterday’s massage, we had the clever idea that we could utilize the massage for a clean refreshing shower.  Our shower and bathroom at our place is rather disgusting and a massage followed by a private shower seemed like the perfect recipe for comfort in this hot and mucky town.  So we first went back to our apartment and grabbed a change of clothing and toiletries, and then walked back to the massage place.

They were much more crowded today, but were able to fit us in.  Lisa opted for the foot massage today, and I went with the oil massage, since I knew that one automatically came with a shower.  Lisa was given the sweet cotton outfit that I described yesterday, and I was given, um, this strange cotton/plastic underwear thing.

thaiunderwear2_smIt was tiny and there was a bigger side and a smaller side.  I wasn’t sure which side to put in the front.  The smaller side didn’t really cover much, so I went big in the front, which left it tiny and crammed in the back.  It was a nice massage, but I think if I do it again, I will go back to the traditional thai massage.  The traditional felt much more beneficial to my body with muscles being stretched and kinks worked out.  The oil massage felt too meager.  However, the nice comfortable hot shower afterwards felt fantastic.

Our massage ran a little long, and we were 30 minutes late in meeting my parents.  We had setup a meeting time at 6 at their apartment, and that if they were not there by 7 we’d meet them at Piazza Navona at 8.  We were thirty minutes late now so I wondered if they would still be there waiting, or would have moved on to the backup meeting point.

We got there, and my dad was waiting, for 30 minutes, outside their place for us.  Their place was really nice, especially considering that we booked this only a few days earlier.

fountainfishes_smWe grabbed their bags, and took the 4 of them back to our apartment to show them, and drop off the bags.  We then went into Piazza Navona and found a resteraunt there and enjoyed a nice meal and some wine together.  It was a great and fun reunion.

We meandered around the square for what seemed like hours, looking at Bernini’s great fountain, and all of the artists selling their stuff and doing chariactures of people.  We walked Kathie and JeanE back home, and then made our own way to bed, not without one more shower to wash all the sweat off.

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Jack Talk Thai Real Good

May 24th, 2009

May 24

bridge of angelsWe have been moving so fast, seeing so much, tiring ourselves out for almost 2 weeks now that I think the lack of sleep is catching up to us.  We rested late, but kept worrying if we were gonna over sleep the pope.  It is Sunday and I want to see the Pope give his blessing at noon from the Vatican.  I figure, I am in Rome, its a Sunday, there aren’t too many of these opportunities in life.

It was super hot again today.  We had a 20 minute walk to St. Peter’s Cathederal.  It was actually really pretty weather and we took many pictures along the way, along the Tiber River.  I love the Bridge of Angels and the way Bernini depicted them.  Its a beautiful walk.

We arrived at the cathederal around 11:30 and there was a LONG line of people wrapping around the square to get in for the Sunday Mass.  We huddled under the symmetric collonade so that we could be in the shade.  Noon arrived, and we went out into the square so that we could peer up to the window where he makes his blessing.

httpvhd://www.youtube.com/watch?v=46az6tXTcg0

However, today he was out of town, and was giving his blessing via CTV, the pope television video boards that now are in strategic locations around the square.  We watch for about 20 minutes and then decide its time to get out of the scorching heat and go eat some lunch.

We walked thru Vatican city and found our way to an italian restraunt-go figure.  A pizza, ravioli and frizzante lunch hit the spot.  The air-conditioning felt good.  At one moment during lunch, a family came in with about 10 people, including what must have been their priest.  It was cute to see them taking their priest to lunch.  I felt badly that he had to wear all black in this heat.

We walked back towards our neck of town, and stopped at the internet cafe.  I was feeling really grossed out about our apartment, and really worried about it serving the needs of my parents when they arrived.  So we spent about 90 minutes searching the internet for an alternative place to stay.  JeanE and Kathie are coming to town and they reserved a place so they could be nearby us.  We couldn’t book a place now the other side of town.  But did I feel comfortable staying in our place one more night?  Did I feel comfortable hosting my parents with that disgusting bathroom?  We researched many different possibilities.  We looked into renting a room(s) at a hotel that was nearby, and renting rooms for all, somewhere else.  But there was barely any vacancy anywhere.

champheini_smWe are in Rome the week of a large, Super Bowl type event.  It is the UEFA Champions League Finale on the 27th and rooms are all booked as people have come to Rome to cheer on either Barcelona or Manchester United.

When it came down to it, I decided that we were “stuck” in our situation and we just needed to grit our teeth and get thru it.

We left the internet cafe and started walking up the street, when across the street we saw a storefront window that read “Traditional Thai Massage.”  We decided to give it a shot.  I have a hard time turning down any massage as I find them very beneficial and relaxing.

So we walked in, and there is a crew of Thai women sitting around.  We try to talk to them in English, but their language is Italian and Thai.  We finally get them to realize that we want a massage, we don’t have an appointment and we are wondering if there is availability.

There were four types of massage on the menu:  Traditional, Oil, Foot, and Cellulite.  I decided to go for the Traditional–which I was told was stronger, and Lisa ordered the Oil massage–which we were told is more relaxing.

We were led back to our rooms, and the rooms had showers in them.  The lady left these weird clothing items on the bed and then left.  I sat there wondering, “Am I supposed to take a shower first?,”

I decided to just put on the clothing they left out.  It was these thin, light,  white cotton shirt and short combo.  It was kind of like a mini scrubs, but a much thinner, more see-thru (without being see-thru) version.  It was very comfortable.  I lied down on the bed, unsure if I had done the right thing by not showering, if I was supposed to lie down yet and all other questions that occur when its your first time visiting a new masseuse.

The traditional Thai Massage was an interesting massage.  It was less of a massage, and more of a stretching, contortion sort of exercise.  The lady would bend me and pull me in random directions.  At one time, she was up on the table with me, locking my legs in a weird position with her hands arms and her own leg, and then using one of her feet to push against my butt to pull and stretch my legs.  As odd as it all was, I found it very beneficial.  I felt my muscles stretched, my circulation improved and much more limber.  Since they had not used any oil on me, and was merely yoga type exercises, the shower must have just been for show, or for the other types.  Lisa wrote about it as well.

We then went and tried the hop-on hop-off bus tour.  We were told that the best way was to just buy a ticket on the bus.  There was a stop for the Green bus company right across from where we were, so we stood in line.  They are supposed to come every 10 minutes.  About 45 minutes later, we decide to skip it, since it hadn’t arrived.  We had seen many of the Red bus company drive by, so we tried to go find a Red stop.  We found one not too far away.  We waited there for about 15 minutes, and it finally came.

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I hate Rome ATM's!

We got on board, and the bus started moving.  Went to pay, but they were cash only, and we didn’t have the proper amount.  Darn.  Since the bus already started, we had to wait till the next stop, St. Peters, to get off.  We exited the bus, and got some cash out of the third ATM we saw (stupid Rome ATM’s that don’t work), and then went to the bus stop to get on and take the tour, and enjoy the breeze in the strong heat and humidity.

However, it was too late in the day.  The bus was halfway through its final leg, and would not be making it back to the stop near our place.  And now we are a long 25 minute walk away from our place, its scorching hot, and we are tuckered out and frustrated.

Rome has been very frustrating.  We are towards the end of our trip, and we are tired, emotional, and just need something easy.  But Rome has been extremely crowded, extremely hot and kind of a drag.  Don’t get me wrong, I love this city.  I love the art, the architecture, the food, and the people.  It is just this particular time, this part of the trip, just nothing seems to be going perfect.

We got back to the general area of our hotel and decide to try and eat dinner at this rooftop restraunt that we had passed by the day before.  Finding it again, would be tricky.  Like most nights out, as previously mentioned, finding our dinner restraunt can be fun, yet sometimes gets frustrating and lost.  This was no exception.  We wandered trying to retrace steps and find it.  Finally after some direction asking (Dove Il…)we found it.  However it was reserved and booked full for the night.  So we kept walking.

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We found this charming restraunt, that was really quaint and pretty.  Each table faced the alley way, and was covered with yellow table cloths and had vases of fresh cut flowers and lit candles.  It was really romantic.

We had a cheese appetizer that had a cheese that had pistachios in it.  It was tasty.

After heading back to our apartment for a short break, we decide to go look for a cookie, so we headed out to Piazza Navona.  I love this square.  It’s so pretty.  We enjoyed the nightlife there, but alas, could not find a cookie.

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Went back to the apartment, I took a shower to wash off the heat, and then fell asleep.

Hill Towns

May 22nd, 2009

May 22

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Looking Over Tuscan Countryside Of Orvieto

Had breakfast at the Internet cafe/modern wine bar while trying to finish a post finally from the Cinque Terre.  Afterwards, we went to the mall/market that comes to town once a week on Fridays, and the fish store that is only open with the fresh fish on Fridays.

We hired a cool driver today, Alesandro, and he drove us first an hour away to Orvieto.  Its a small town on the top of a cliff, that was once covered by water, then later volcanic substance.  Eventually, all the water went away, and they needed a way to get to water, especially during the 2 year siege by Rome.  So they built these underground caves, wells, pigeon coops (for food), and they basically created an underground city. We traversed through 2 long tunnels of caves and rooms that once held olive oil mills and fully situated cities.  There are currently over 1000 caves discovered like these here, basically a hollowed out cliff that the town sits on.

On this town is even a giant, beautiful, cathedral.  My guess is that in some time in the future, this entire town will collapse.  The last giant erosion was in 1992.

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Our second town that we drove to was Todi (no, not the soccer player Totti).  We spent an hour in its town center that for the day was the flower market and gift market.  My mom bought some home made acacia honey, and I lounged on the church stairs.  This was a pleasant town, with what seemed to be pleasant people.  We ate lunch there.  I had ravioli with spinach and ricotta in a creamy sauce and of course, it was quite delicious.  

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We drove to a third town called Deruta–the porcelain capital of Italy.  Yawn.  I ate a gelato, had a coke, and milled about.

This entire day we have been chauffeured (whats the Italian word for that?) around in a Mercedes Benz mini van, toting 6 adults and the driver.  We have been on extremely winding roads and I have battling car sickness.  Kathy Blenkush has brought along these cool wristband type thing that has a bead in the middle of it that is supposed to apply pressure to a pressure point in your wrist that eases motion sickness.  I am not sure if it helped me or not, but I am glad I didn’t go without it.

Made it back to Montalcino and had a glass of wine while working on the Internet.  I needed to email our Rome apartment to let them know our approximate arrival time, as well as try to book a room for Kathy and Jeane inpinchi_sm Rome, as well as trying to secure ticket reservations for them to the Vatican museum with us.  Talked to grandad via skype while there and he told me m a racist Italian joke (ok, I told him, but I’ll give him credit since older people can say whatever they want and get away with it).

Made it back upstairs and ate some yummy pinchi and sausage pasta my mom made, and then settled down with some wine and a game of chance (card game similar to golf card game).

Pinch This

May 21st, 2009

May 21, 2009

Alle LoggeStarted the morning the same way most mornings here in Montalcino would start for me, and that was downstairs at the winebar/internet cafe.  It is such a great convenience having it just outside the front door.  Almost as convenient as having it inside the apartment, but with better coffe.

We were meeting up today with Ceylan Tumgoren, who runs the winery at Casanuova delle Cerbaie Winery in Montalcino.  When we ran into her this morning, she wanted to sit with her mom for some coffee first, so we took the opportunity to walk over with my parents to a church that was currently being restored.  My mom has taken great pride in this little town and all of its events and undertakings.  You pinchcould see the pride in both of my parents faces as they discussed this church, its sinking, the art that was hanging, and the statue of peter that was here.

Rather than squeeze 6 in the car again, Lisa and I rode with Ceylan while the Volvo was behind.  We learned a lot about Ceylan on this car ride.  Her mother lives in New York and is divorced.  Her father is from Turkey.  To go along with her American citizenship she also held citizenship of Ireland.  She worked for a wine distributor out of NY called Zachy’s.  She then spent time working for a vineyard in Bordeaux France before moving to Montalcino where she has been for almost 2 years.  She speaks fluent French, Italian and some Turkish.   She told us how it was first a tough transition having an American work ethic while working with Italians because a coffee break would sometimes last 3 hours.

Lisa Likes Wine We arrived and we walked amongst the grape vines as she told us some of the history of the winery and some of the patterns of growth.  She told us about Brunello-gate(tangent:  I’m really tired of something controversial being called blank-gate.  Watergate was the name of the office complex in the Nixon controversy.  It had an actual reason of being called “gate.”  However, now everything gets labeled “gate” and its flat out annoying.  One recent example was when the Patriots were caught cheating, it was labeled “spygate.”  For an inconclusive list of many others read here).

One for you, two for meShe also told us about pinching the grapes  and how they do not want too many grapes growing on any particular vine because then all the energy of the vine is spread out through larger numbers, rather than focusing all its strength and flavors on a smaller number of grapes.  We walked up and down some vines, pinching the vines. 

two for meWe then went into the barrel rooms where we were gonna taste some of the wines that were in the middle of the aging process as well as some fresh wines.

In order for a wine to be classified as Brunello, it must be 100% sangiovese grape, grown in the region of Montalcino.  It must age in the barrel or vat for a minimum of 5 years.  If it is bottled after 2 years it is called a Rosa di Montalcino.  If it is less than 2 years it is called “Tabalo” or table wine.  I can’t imagine the patience that goes into a bottle of Brunello.  Not only do you have to grow the vine for a certain number of years in order to yield fruit, but then once you do you have to wait 5 years for it to properly age.

We tasted some of the wines that had been in the barrel for 2 years, and others that had been longer.  On one taste she immediately said “this one is ready to be moved out of the barrel” and she took note to make sure that got done immediately.  To me it just tasted like wine, as I am not sure I would have noticed it was ready to move.

Straight From The BarrelsIt was a great experience and I really enjoyed the first hand tour and imparted knowledge.

We made our way back to Montalcino and I spent some time posting to this site while at the internet wine bar.  We then all went to St. Antimowhere we spent time at a 30 minute service of Gregorian chants.  It was a really pretty church whose history dates back to the late 8th century.  After the beautiful service, we walked around the grounds and made our way back to Montalcino.   

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Back in town, we walked around, ate some gelato, and then had dinner of wine and bruschetta, and then risotto with chicken.  All very delicious as we watched the moon come up over this beautiful valley.

Our conversation started toward Bridge and how my parents play often with Kathie.  We then spent 20 minutes trying to give me a bridge lesson and playing a hand.

Time for bed.

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Fattoria Resta

May 20th, 2009

May 20

Fattoria RestaWe piled all 6 of us into the tiny volvo convertable.  It was tight.  We closed the roof so that we’d be less visible to the local police, and we drove over to Fattoria Resta where we were scheduled to meet and have a cooking class with Anna Lisaat 10:00 am.    Anna Lisa lives in a former monastery that even houses its very own chapel.  We received a tour of the grounds that has a great view out towards Montalcino.  She showed us her gardens, and of course her vineyards where she grows mostly sangiovese grapes that produces a wine that yields approximately 4, 000 bottles per year.  She took us down to the wine cellar and on the way we passed a stone inscription that basically said that Napoleon stayed there back in the 1805.  Once down in the cellar she told us a wonderful story of how they named their napoleanwine.  In the cellar etched on the stone wall, was an inscription that was chiseled by the builder, Martin del Nero in 1573.  The carving was a humble prayer asking for blessings on the cellar, and hopes that he did a good job tending the land, and that he was sorry if he did not.  Anna Lisa was touched by the humility and tenderness of this prayer that she named her wine after him.  The wine recently scored 87 pts from the Wine Spector.  She described for us the white feather artwork her friend made for the label and how she didn’t want a very pretentious crest label.  It was a great tour, a great property and what was the beginning of a great day.

PinciIt was now time to cook.  On top of caring for the grounds, running a winery, having a family, Anna Lisa has a passion for cooking.  Today we were going to cook a fine Italian meal together.  You may have jumped ahead of yourself and already seen the pictures of our noodles, or read my mom’s site, but we also made focaccia bread, eggplant with tomato and mozzarella, and tiramisu for desert.

We donned our aprons and began with the focaccia bread.  We kneaded it out and seasoned half of it with her special seasoning, and half with some fresh herbs.  We then started on the noodles.  We were making pinci and tagliatelle noodles.  Pinci is made from just water and flour and the ladies took turns mixing the flour and the noodlewater right in a pile on the table.  Once there was a dough, they cut strips and then came the hard part of rolling the noodle.  We all tried.  Most of us failed.  It’s an act of rolling the noodle between your palm and the table so that it becomes perfectly round, shaped like a pencil.  Most of us had the problem of squishing it flat instead of keeping it round.  It was very frustrating, and a lot of work for a pasta noodle.  But I thoroughly enjoyed the attempt, and later the eating.

The next noodle we made was tagliatelle, a long flat noodle that is tagliatelesimilar to a fettuccine noodle.  This dough we took and spread through a pasta machine/roller over and over till it stretched and thinned itself out.  There was more pasta than space on the table so our long strands would sometimes be touching.  We learned the hard way that this was not good, as the noodle dough would stick to each other and we’d have to back track a little.  Steve and Lisa ran the noodles through the machine over and over till we had a really large flat pasta, which we later sliced into noodles.  This was a really fun experience.  I once attempted to make a fettuccini noodle on my own back in high school.  Without the machine to stretch and thin the noodle, I tried it by hand and rolling pin.  I was always proud of myself, but my noodle definetly was thick and not so great back then.

Our next dish was eggplant.  I have had eggplant once or twice in my life and did not enjoy it at all.  Anna Lisa taught us a trick.  We thinly sliced the eggplant and placed it on a rectangle pan.  We drizzled it with sauce and then found something heavy to place on it.  We let it sit for about 30 minutes and the salt and the pressure would leak out the bitter flavors leaving a fine tasting eggplant.  After letting it sit and soak all its horrible juices out, we patted them dry and then topped them with tomatoes and mozzarella and put them in the oven.kitchen

The final dish we prepared was Tiramisu.  Much like eggplant, I have never been a fan of tiramisu.  However, I would later find out that this was the best one I have ever tasted.  It was a simple recipe where we took these Italian cookies, that were these thin wafers.  We dunked them in espresso, but we had to dunk them really fast so that it would merely coat it, but not soak in it.  Then in a dish it was a layer of coated cookie, followed by a layer of mascarpone cheese, then another layer of cookie.  We Tiramasudid this till we reached the top, and then we grated fresh chocolate on top.  We let it set in the refrigerator till desert time.

I loved our cooking kitchen.  It was quaint and we had herbs, olive oil, and flour spread across this table that the 7 of us worked around.  We were all dressed up in our aprons as well.  It was very picturesque.

We made some tomato based sauce and then we sat down on the patio to enjoy the cooking, the wine, and each other’s company.  We drank some white wine with the appetizer of the focaccia (the side with her spices was the best!) and some artichokes and homemade pate.  Then it was the main dish time where we ate both of the pastas, drank some of her Martin del Nero red wine.  I could not get enough.  It was delicious!

And now for desert.  Wow.  I have never tasted tiramisu so tasty.  It was very light in flavor and was a perfect finish to a grand time.  Although, I could have easily gone for more pasta if only I had room.

We took a group picture and said our farewells.  I knew that I would never forget this experience.  It was splendid and perfect.  Anna Lisa was such a gracious, kind, and fun host today. Thank you from the bottom of our hearts for blessing my family with your time, your spirit, and your great teachings. We had a delightful day that we will not forget.Resta

We left her place around 3:00 PM and made our way back to Montalcino.  We parked the car and started our 10-40 minute walk back to the apartment (depending on whom I was walking with).  On our walk we stopped at one of the cathederal’s where my mom played the organ.  As we further progressed through the town, my parents told me stories of Montalcino and how they have 4 quadrants that take communal competitive pride with each other.

The rest of our evening went like this:  grocery store, walk through town, ceramic shop, wine, shop, wine, finished with meats, cheeses, and more wine on the patio.

Tuscany has a charm of its own.

Luigi Steve

Yummy

What A Pitti

May 19th, 2009

May19th

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Today we are leaving to go to Montalcino.  However, we do not meet up with JeanE and Kathie till 5pm at the train station, so we have the whole day here in Florence.  However, due to my mom’s fall, she can barely move as her whole side is in pain.  So we decide to do very minimal today.  Nope, we will not be hitting the Pitti Palace or the gardens as intended.  I actually didn’t mind as I wasn’t really looking forward to that long hike again up the hill.  If I could have done something tourist this day though, I think I would have hit the Duomo museum (Mary Magdalene statue) or the Borgello museum (Donatello’s David and other sculptures).

After a great night of food and fun, and lots of wine, it was a slow moving morning.  We took our time eating breakfast, and then packed up our rooms and left our baggage with the front desk.  And then we just sat in the bar area.  We discussed things like bidet usage, we did work on the Internet and computer, and we looked at pictures.  My dad ran all over town looking for my moms cross necklace, chain, and angel pin.  He was successful on 2 of the 3, but quite sweaty after literally running around.

We ate lunch down the street at a pizza place, and we were approached by a lady about a charitable organization.

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We head thru the market one last time for shopping.  My mom bought more scarfs, probably, I don’t really remember.  But it was time for last minute shopping in Florence before we headed out.  We got towards the end of the market, and we sat my mom down, left her a couple bags, and my dad’s camera.  Then the 3 of us walked back to the hotel to grab all the luggage.

We got the luggage and then trekked it through the town.  Luggage is heavy when you are carrying multiple pieces for multiple blocks.  We have had to do these long walks usually when we first get to a city, and when we leave the city.  I didn’t want to get any hotels right near the train station, as that tends to be more of the seedy parts of town, as well as a little bit of distance from the city centers.

We made it back to my mom, and then trekked through the city some more until we arrived at the train station.  We were scheduled to meet our new travelers here, as they were coming in from Venice.

We waited about 20 minutes, protecting our bags from pick-pockets and crowds, and eventually JeanE and Kathie met up with us at the McDonald’s there.  We then walked to binari 2 and waited about 45 minutes for our train.

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We took the train, and the first stop was about 5 minutes away, it was a secondary Florence stop.  Then it seemed that everyone got on the train.  Meanwhile, my dad is asking my mom for the camera and she has no idea where she put it, or if she even had it.  I have visions right now of when my dad emptied the entire suitcase of clothing once, in the paris airport, looking for something that K.C had misplaced.  We have stacks of luggage now, all over the seats on top of each other, and there is no way he could possibly do that now.  Though, I am sure he wants to.  He is frustrated and agitated, as travelling with many people is not easy.  We try to calm him down by letting him know that at this point, its either in the bags, or its not, and there is nothing he can do.  But more than likely, it is somewhere in the bags and we will find it when we reach our destination.

It’s really crowded on the train right now, and we have our luggage taking up seats and people are irritated with us. This Italian guy sat down across from Lisa and  is breathing his bad breath in sighs of frustration on us.  I’m having a hard time concentrating on typing and its really hot and uncomfortable.  I think it must be train rush hour time.  Meanwhile, my dad is irritated because he thinks that he may have lost the camera or misplaced it somewhere in Florence.  Meanwhile, we have met up with 2 new travelers and so there is always transition time of getting used to people and group dynamics.  I am curious to see how this will all work out.

We sit on the train for about 20 minutes without it moving, when over the speaker in Italian, they announce that the train is having problems and we would need to exit and find a new train.  Brilliant.

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Downtown Buonconvento

We hop off the train, high-tail it to a different track, only to see the train that we really wanted, was just leaving a different track.  We hop on a new train.  Lisa runs down the track to ask the conductor if it is the train we want, and he says no.  We all quickly jump off the train with our luggage before it takes us to an unknown destination.  We eventually find the right track, after lugging the luggage up and down stairs.  At one point, I thought there was a nice citizen.  I was carrying multiple bags (mine, Lisa’s, Jeane’s…I don’t remember anymore), and taking my time up the stairs.  Someone came by and grabbed the side of one of the bags, and helped me carry it to the top.  How nice!  How kind and caring these Italians are.

Five minutes later, he came by begging for change.  I was set up.  The “norm of reciprocity” strikes again.  Eventually our train arrived, and it was the nicest train we had been on yet.  We enjoyed a 2 hour train ride through the country side.  We were covered with green hills.  It was beautiful.

We arrived at the Buonconvento train station and saw for the first time my parents new car.  While my dad was walking the couple blocks to pick it up, we rummaged through our bags and found his missing camera.  He will be so happy.  Because they have a convertible, we couldn’t fit everyone (this time) and our luggage so Lisa and I stayed behind to wait for trip #2.

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We walked thru the streets of Buonconvento, used the restroom, checked out the 7-11 type convenient store, and eventually sat outside the tiny train station at a little restaurant and ate a snack of pasta with bolognese sauce.

Dad came back and picked us up, and we drove the 10 minutes to Montalcino, with the stars above us, the top down, and my dad blasting Michael W. Smithmusic because its the song on his ipod that gets the most bass and he wanted me to experience the woofer in the back.  Very funny when a 1980’s Christian pop/worship music singer is your idea of heavy bass.  It was a beautiful drive.  One that I wish we could do again, over and over.  It was a very pleasant evening and it was nice with the wind in our hair.

We arrived in town, walked our bags up and down hills and made it to the cute little apartment with a fabulous view of the green country side.  There was pizza waiting, and jugs, yes, jugs of wine waiting.  We ate, we drank, we looked out through the peaceful valley, and we enjoyed catching up with everyone.

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This Week I'm Thinking About: Kelly Le