Posts Tagged ‘montalcino’

Florence To Montalcino

June 27th, 2009

I have backdated another post from italy.  This one is from our travel day from florence to montalcino.  Thanks for reading and your patience with me trying to catch up on this task.

http://andymorales.com/snideremarks/what-a-pitti/

John Denver Is Full Of

May 23rd, 2009

May 23

Went downstairs for a coffee and some internet time.  Hung out there awhile while Lisa wrote a post on her site about Montalcino.  Made it back upstairs and packed our bags and settled our things and wrote down some last minute information.  I am kinda intimidated today about Rome and the pick pocketers.  Ive seen them in action, and I’ve heard many stories, but recently I have heard more stories, and success stories (success of the pickpocketers) especially near the main train station in Rome.

I am worried and stressed, though I am sure it will all turn out ok.  What do I have to get stolen?  My watch?  The loads of cash I am carrying?  Passports?  This mini computer?  The bottle of wine?  The souvenir I bought Chaunce?

I am on the train right now trying to fight off the motion sickness from the hour curvy drive to this station, as well as catch up on some of the journal typing on this keyboard whose mouse in the middle is ultra sensitive and continues to throw my typing for loops.  It is really hot and I’ve already been lectured about having the window down.  The conductor assistant came by and put the window up and locked it.  Oops.  Its almost a two hour train ride to Rome, and we are about halfway done.

The train has been really hot, almost unbearable.  All of the windows say to keep them closed because the air-conditioning is on in that car.  Highly unlikely.  We had ours open for awhile, as did others.  When the aforementioned employee came back and scolded us, and locked all our windows.

Not only is it hot, but we are sitting near these two ladies.  One of them seems to be quite irritated with her travel partner, and also seems deathly ill.  Its getting really gross and rude how she keeps coughing and sneezing without covering her mouth.  Does she have the swine?  She looks really really sick.  And a few times I want to just tell her to cover her mouth and nose when she is gonna project her sneezes into the air.  I am THIS close to speaking up.

But I don’t.  But I do occasionally shoot a disapproving look her way when she does it.

Finally we arrive in Rome, and its really hot too!  We are ready for war with the pickpocketers at the station.  When we exit the train, we quickly come across a side exit of the station, and figure we might as well mad dash out here.    We make our way to a cab line that we see, and we get a quote on a ride from here to our rented apartment.  He either said 29 or 39 euros.  We accept and figure, whew, we are safe.  We arrive at our apartment, pay the man, and we are stoked that we made it past the pickpocketers at the station we were worried about.  However, in reading up on cab fares from the train station, we figure that we think we got taken.  In retrospect, we remember even that he didn’t even turn the meter on.  DOH!  (I would later email this information to my dad, to find out that they paid only approx 15 euros when they arrived in Rome a few days later).  A small price to pay for safety.

We arrived at our apartment that we are renting and there is a carabinieri parked and standing across the street with an automatic weapon.  We find the door for our address, but it is locked and we don’t know who to buzz to let us in.  We are standing outside this door for about 20 minutes, thinking our landlord will be here anytime.  Eventually someone exited the door and we were able to get ourselves into the courtyard area inside.

We are sitting here for about an hour, continually going out the front door to check the street to make sure he isn’t sitting out there.  Afterall, he did request we email him yesterday, our arrival time, and he did know that I would not have an available european working cell phone.

We eventually give up and decide to track down a place to try and call the number he had left of his girlfriend, in case there was a problem connecting.  I sent Lisa on the trail.  Approximately 20 minutes later she returned, frustrated with what she just experienced.

She found her way to a tabaccheria where she was rudely shushed out of the store.  She tried to offer a clerk 10 euros to make a local call for us.  She was ignored and treated very unkindly.  She found a calling card for the pay phones, and when she went to use it, she didn’t realize for some time that you have to rip off the corner of the card in order to activate it.  She reached the lady and the lady rudely says “youre there now?”  No kidding lady, we have been here for 2 hours, at the time we said we would.

10 minutes after Lisa returned, and about 2 hours after we arrived around 1:30 PM,  this young high school age man showed up with a grocery bag.  He was neither the guy I had rented the apartment from, nor the lady that he said would meet us at our arrival time.  He took us into the apartment, showed us around, took out a bottle of shampoo and 4 rolls of toilet from his grocery bag and left them with us, provided the keys, took our money and was on his way.

This place is tiny and not very clean.  Granted, it is in a brilliant location just a short walk from the Piazza Navona.  But it is much more cramped than I expected.  And although we had to pay an extra 40 euro as a “cleaning fee,”  it is obvious that it was not fully cleaned after the last visitor.  Beds are made, but there are museum receipts on the table, and hair on the bathroom floor, a gross shower mat, mildew in the shower, and a puddle of water (I hope) behind the bidet that has rusty fixtures.  There is an open bottle of travel shampoo still in the shower, and a topless can of hairspray on the shelf above the sink.   The bathroom and the room are tiny and “cozy.”  The downstairs beds/couches smelled like urine and I would later find yellow stains on the sheets.

I thought to myself that maybe this was all just stemming from the bad first impression that the landlord left on me by standing us up, so I let it go for now and we left the apartment to explore.

We walked around, trying to figure out our surroundings.  We came across an internet cafe and bought a card and surfed the net, left posts, twitters and checked email to holler back to my parents in Montalcino.  We walked to the Piazza Navona and it was much more crowded than I remembered it.

I know, I glorify my previous trip to Europe, and my new memories are shaded by the light and knowledge and experiences of that trip.  I am not saying that my new experiences are any less, I am saying that seeing certain things and places bring back memories and experiences of places.  What I recall of Piazza Navona was a cool “square” (oval in shape really) that had its cafe’s and its people, but was not overly crowded.  And it had this really cool fountain/statue that has become one of my all time favorites.

Well, most of those things still hold true, but now the square if overflowing with people, street performers (boring human statues), and art sellers.  It still is cool though.

We grabbed lunch on the corner where they had a pizza, bruscheta, soda special for 12 euros.  It was tasty.  It was more soupy than the pizza of the north.  Yet, it still is not the perfect pizza.  I tend to like to explore, or get lost, or some might say “wander aimlessly.”  I like to take in the sights, the smells, the people, the scenery.  I like to get a lay of the land and then figure out what to come back to.  Being that I don’t often have a plan per se, I think can be frustrating to Lisa.  I have been trying to be more vocal with what direction my mind is thinking.  We start to head towards the Pantheon, since its not very far from this piazza.

oculus_smThe Pantheon is crowded outside–its another really cool open square with cafe’s–but we make our way thru the people and enter into the building, which isn’t too crowded inside.  This is a really cool building with an oculus that lets in rays of sun, and in wet days, rain as well.  It holds the tomb of Raphael and is a really cool temperature which is welcoming on this hot and muggy day.  I think its one of my favorite things in Rome.  It has a ton of history too and is built with great geometric precision.  Its a building that has inspired many great buildings and domes around Europe.

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It seems that we are now hitting everything.  We walk towards the Trevi Fountian.  This too has become much different than I remembered it.  It must just be my memory of it, but I was completely dissappointed in it.  I remember it being right on the edge of the road, and less confined, and more at an angle.  I don’t know why I am so struck by this, but I’m really flabergasted.  “I always thought the Rockies would be a lot, rockier.”  Oh well, its still a beautiful statue that harbors many emotions for everyone that visits.

spsteps_smWe stayed their briefly, catching our glimpse, our pictures, and our dissappointments, and then followed the signs that led to the spanish steps.  Now I have never been to the spanish steps, so this will be brand new.  It was a long hot walk and my body is really feeling gross and sweaty.  The spanish steps aren’t very easy to find, even with a map–at least the first time.  After walking these crowded streets, we found these crowded steps and did the italian thing and lounged on them for about 10 minutes.  I could do this everyday.  Sit here and just people watch.  There are really hoards of people here.  It’s about 7:00 PM and its sunny, hot, sweaty and crowded.  It hasn’t been the most pleasant of days, but the things we have seen have been ridiculously amazing and fun.  What a day.

Now it was the best time of day, and also a frustrating time of day.  I have loved and looked forward to our dinners every day.  Meals have been my best and most enjoyable aspect of this day to day travelling.  Some nights we go off of a recommendation in the Rick Steeve’s book, and other times we just walk and check menu’s.  It seems that every few feet there is another restraunt.  The trick has been trying to find ones that do not look like tourist traps, serving microwaved food.  Sometimes we have been succesful at this, and other times we have not.

The frustrating aspect has been that I am often looking for, in a restraunt, the perfect balance between sights, food, price and atmosphere.  Too many times a restraunt is lacking one of those qualities, so I say we just continue walking and look for the next one.  The downside of this is that it leads to about an hour more of walking, getting lost, and getting tired.  Tonight is another occasion of that.

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Before These Crowded Streets

We settled on a place to eat, and sat down.  Now a couple days of ago when we went on that cool winery tour with Ceylan (Jay), she mentioned how she was coming to Rome, and we offered to meet up for dinner.  Well we didn’t ever connect after that and so we were on our own.  Now, tonight we are eating on this back alley of restraunts, dark, on the patio, and guess who walks by.  Yep, Jay.  In a big city like Rome, with all of the great resteraunts and locations, we happen to run into the one person that we know is going to be in the city.  We shared salutations and then she went on her way and we finished our meal.

With our belly’s refreshed, and some wine in our system, we decide to try and walk towards St. Peter’s so that we can see it all lit up at night.  It is late though.  And we have exhausted our patience, and our legs.  We got lost trying to get there, and decided to stop at one of the bridges to cross the river, but instead take a few long distance pictures and head home.  It has been a long day, full of difficult times, and exciting sites.

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These items that we are seeing are beyond belief.  Are we really here?  Sadly, is this trip almost over?  How remarkable is the check list of things we have seen and done today?

We find our way home, and I have to shower off all the grossness.  I am even more grossed out by the shower and bathroom here.  I must block it out and fall asleep.  It is really hot here.

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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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Making Homemade Pasta

May 21st, 2009

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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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Ciao Firenze

May 19th, 2009

I know that I owe write ups on the Cinque Terre still, and then Florence.  Hopefully I can accomplish that on the train today.  Its our last day in Florence.  We catch the 5pm train to Montalcino tonight.  Last night we had a great dinner that Mom commented would be one of the half dozen meals that she remembers for the rest of her life.

With A Stroke Of Gelato

May 17th, 2009

May 17th

My parents were set to arrive this morning by train, and we were scheduled to meet them at the doors of the baptistry.  We set a meeting place for the right doors, if facing the Duomo at 10:00 am.  This went off mostly without a hitch and we were reunited and all speaking Italian.  Ok, we threw in a couple Italian words, and said our hello’s and hugs.  But who are we kidding, our Italian is very minimal.  Every time my Dad tries to speak or say an Italian word, he starts saying words in Spanish.  My mom says “his Spanish has never been better.”  My mom will say “figlio” over and over, and her other one is “we’re andiamo-ing.”  Myself?  I have had impeccable Italian (tho, I may not be able to spell it).  Due adulti biglietie per favore.

Let me back track for a moment.  This will go down as one of my favorite memories, and something I will always smile and laugh at. Lisa has had some Italian experiences, being from an Italian family, and having lived in Italy for language school once.  So I had requested of her to write a paragraph of italian sentences for me, to greet my parents with to impress them with how much Italian I knew.  She kept asking me what I wanted to say, and I really didn’t care, mainly a salutation.

So last night, after we had been back from dinner for a little bit, and we were half asleep, she starts chattering.  She starts telling me “I know what you should say to your parents when they arrive:  Welcome to Firenze, with a stroke of gelato.”  It made zero sense, but cracked me up.  I think she was thinking “stroke of genius,” but said gelato instead.  I think she was either part asleep, or tipsy from wine,  or exhausted from all the walking we have been doing.  I know it doesn’t make much sense but it made me crack up so much, and will always make me smile.

httpvhd://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7Efcx7Z_CtM

One of my dad’s desires was to get an Italian leather jacket.  For the price and quality, I knew that Florence would be the place for him to do this.  So after they arrived, we decided to go shop at the Florence central market.  I described the market briefly yesterday, and today it was time for more shopping.

Even though this market stretches for many many square blocks, my parents wanted to buy the first stand they came across.  I had to remind them that every 3rd stand was a wallet, or shirt, or knick-knack, or leather stand.  I also reminded them that this was a place that, you didn’t have to, but you could barter and haggle for a better price.  We shopped for scarves, wallets, belts, soccer jerseys, t-shirts, and of course my dad’s leather jacket.

We came across a stand, and he pointed out to me the style he wanted.  It was a two tone between dark brown and light brown.  I asked “are you a woman?”

We started browsing, and of course, the salesman calls him into the store directly behind his stand.  Now he is trying on jackets left and right, and getting himself sold.  He is already in too deep with this sales rep.  Once you give them an inch, they will take a yard.

My dad explained the style of jacket (two tone) that he wanted, and the sales person said “no, that is a ladies style.”  We ended up hearing many different sales lines as they started bartering for the jacket that he decided he wanted.

“This is the last one we have.”

“You won’t find a better deal.”

“This is the sort of deal I would only give my brother.”

And as soon as my dad said “no, I’ll think about it and come back,” the salesman started offering the jacket to the next person in the store and started saying “shame on you for not taking this deal, it is the best you will find.  Its the equivalent to two pizza’s and a bottle of wine.”

I felt that my dad had gone too deep into the bartering game, and had gotten too good of a price, to walk away now.  It was the jacket that he wanted, and a darn good price.  Eventually we convinced him that he should do it, instead of searching for 5 euros cheaper.  But this process will be one that I cherish and remember and laugh at about the trip.

httpv://www.youtube.com/watch?v=219nKUBecmY

We made  our way over near the Accademia to find a place that Rick Steeve’s recommended in his book, for lunch.  On our walk there, we ran into a lady and her daughter, that were currently living in Montalcino, that my parents had befriended.  We ate lunch, and then made our way over to the Accademia for our appointed time to see Michelangelo’s David, as well as some of his pieta’s and other pieces.

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My Dad's Illegal Picture Of David

There is one statue of David, and many many replica’s around the world.  Even here in Florence, there is a replica in the Piazza della Signoria–the original location of the statue.  Mark my words:  The replica’s are good an all, but they do not possess the grandeur of the original.  The original is far more powerful, angelic, graceful, and humble than any other of the many replicas.  My parents had previously taken a day trip to Florence and looked at the David replica and said:  “The copy of the statue of “David” by Michelangelo in the public square was good enough, rather than face more lines to see the original.”  I believe she would now say, after seeing the original, that she was very mistaken.

I remember back in 1997 (and I wrote about it recently), being literally blown away at the first site of the David.  I walked into this room, more like a long hallway, and my eyes were drawn to these half finished statues that Michelangelo had done, that lined the sides of the hall.  As soon as I took my eyes off the floor and the side statues, and looked up and down the hallway, I saw it, in its white brilliance, and fell backwards (not fall as in hit the floor, but fall as in had to take a few steps back to keep my balance).

I didn’t feel the same magnitude of awe, respect, and strength this time as I did my first, but I was still amazed and taken by its beauty and its determination.  Last time I was here, they allowed pictures, and you could walk right up to the David.  This time, no pictures were allowed, and they had a perimeter around the statue.  I was also reading on this time, of the statue being attacked by a man with a hammer back in 1991.  The pieces that broke off, eventually were studied, and the marble was found to be porous, which caused them to worry about cleaning with water that it undertook in 2003.

We sat and stared at his ass, his slingshot draping down his back, and the veins in his arms and legs for awhile, in sheer amazement.

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We then headed towards the Santa Croce Church, and the Pazzi Chapel.  Santa Croce is a large church that has a cool temperature inside, many naves lined with fresco art, and many tombs of famous Italians, such as Michelangelo, Galileo, Machiavelli, Foscolo, Gentile, Rossini, and Marconi.  Our tickets were designed with pictures of small snippets of the art inside the church.  We played a game of “try and find your snippet” that was a fun treasure hunt.

Connected to the Santa Croce, is the Pazzi Chapel.  I think this is a really beautiful chapel.  It is simple.  It is elegant.  It is small.  It has elegant simplicity.  It was designed by Brunelleschi and is a pattern of arches, circles and squares.  The walls are mostly bare except for a few areas of art.  I think I could sit in the chapel, alone, and meditate for hours.

We grabbed a gelato from the “famous” gelato shop that my dad had to try and then started our long walk to the Piazza Michelangelo.  Down the river, cross the bridge, up the hill, up the steep many stairs; this was a lot to ask of my mom and the status of her knees.  We finally reached the top and soaked in the view (with a trillion pictures) of the city of Florence and the river arno.  It was beautiful.  Then, my Mom decided she wanted to go further up.

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We hiked further up the road to San Miniato al Monte church.  There was a vespers going on and so we wandered the cold sanctuary while monks were chanting.  There is a great view up here as well, and afterwards we took a funny picture of Steve, Debbie, and Lisa all pretending to be statues.  Each of them had no idea what pose the other was going to do, yet they all ended up with a very similar pose.

It had been a long day of walking, and now my favorite part of the day:  dinner!  We went to one of the restaurants that Rick Steeve’s recommended and I must say, this one was a dud.  Although I enjoyed the family style atmosphere, the service and the food were very lacking.

Nothing a gelato couldn’t solve on the way home.  We stopped for a bit to enjoy the statues in Piazza Signoria.  What a day!  It was great to be here with family, and to experience so many awe inspiring things.

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Earth To Italy

April 27th, 2009

So I have been planning a trip to Italy to travel around as well as to visit my parents.  Finding hotels has not been an easy process.  For instance, during my time in Rome, there will be a sporting event that could equate to our Super Bowl. Google Earth has this great feature where you can turn on icons to represent lodging.  But even with that great tool, almost every place I searched for in Rome ended up being unavailable.  Eventually I found a place through http://www.vrbo.com.  

I figured out general locations where I wanted to be situated in each city.  Then, when looking for a room, often the hotel would claim that they are near that location.  But Google Earth has been a great tool in this.  I would merely punch in the address of the hotel, and it would show me exactly where it was in relation to where I wanted to be.  You would be surprised at how many hotels claimed to be near the Duomo in Florence, only to be not so close.

At this point I have everywhere booked, except for 3 nights – 2 of those nights are in the Cinque Terre.  Here are the screenshots from Google Earth and websites where appropriate.

 
Here is my itinerary:

  • May 7th leave San Diego
  • 8th land in Milan
  • 8-9 Lake Como
  • 10th Milan (I am hoping to  get tickets to the soccer game or the opera as a fallback)
  • 11-12 Venice
  • 13-14 Cinque Terre
  • 15, 16, 17, 18 Florence
  • 19, 20, 21, 22 Montalcino
  • 23, 24, 25, 26, 27 Rome
  • May 28th Fly home

 

Lake Como
La Pergola

La Pergola, Hotel and Restaurant, drawn from a sixteenth century-building, lies by the lake, in a most typical fishermen’s hamlet called Pescallo, right on a shore of the promontory of Bellagio, turning south-east and facing the Lecco branch of Lake Como. The House was drawn from a building dating back to 1500, and assigned to a convent in the past centuries. The centre of Bellagio is but 10 minutes’ walk, among the luxuriant olive trees and mediterranean vegetation spread out on the Spartivento Point.

La Pergola

 

Milan
Best Western Cristoforo Colombo
About a 15 minute walk from the train station and about a 15 minute walk from the Duomo.  Im desperately hoping to get tickets to the Juve v. Milan soccer game, but am considering the opera as a backup plan.

milanhotel

Venice
Hotel Ai Do Mori
They have a crappy website.  They need Gorirra.  But it is only about 10 meters from St. Mark’s Square.  

Venice Hotel

 

Cinque Terre
Vernazza
Ivo Camere
The apartment which is also in the center of the town is accessible via a characteristic “carugio” (small side street) and is steps away from the piazza and the sea. 

vernazzahotel

 

Florence
Brunelleschi Hotel 
Hotel Brunelleschi is located in the middle, pedestrian area of the historical center of Florence, just steps away from the Cathedral and the Signoria Square, from a part overlooking the Via Calzaiuoli.

Florence Hotel

 

Montalcino
With My Parents
Next time I get the address from my parents, I’ll take a Google Earth pic.

montalcino

 

Rome
Private Apartment
its perfect location. From there the most important sights of the City can be reached with a short walk. You are just in the heart of the centre. 200 metres from Piazza Navona and Pantheon, 300 metres from Spanish Steps or Trevi Fountain and, in the opposite direction, just crossing the Tiber, you can reach Sant’Angelo Castel and St.Peter Cathedral (400 metres).

Rome Apartment

This Week I'm Thinking About: Kelly Le