Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Mom and Dad's trip to Italy PART IV

 All excerpts and photos credited to G.F. Waters

My parents are in Italy right now! My father retired just a couple of weeks ago and he and my mother planned a trip to Italy. I thought we wouldn't hear from them for a while but thanks to technology it doesn't matter where you are my dad has been writing to us on his ipad. I look forward to his emails SO MUCH. They are beautifully written and every day he sends us a "picture of the day". They only began last Friday but because my dad is a wonderful writer (much to my surprise) and he spoils me with a "picture of the day" I asked him if it would be possible to spoil you too and share some excerpts with you and he said: "YES" so here goes...

May 14

We were sad to leave our little medieval village with a view of Montepulciano but not so sad to leave the dark apartment. In many ways it was charming and romantic but I think some things could be done to lighten it up - a bit more artificial lighting, a bigger window in the courtyard door, more mirrors,  and maybe go away from the traditional dark furnishings to some lighter colours. It could also do with a dehumidifier that could kick in while the residents are out or outside. On the other hand, in it's previous life it had been a wine cellar for the church to which it is attached so every glass drunk there was a Vino Santo and I am a very holy man. We had said our good-byes to the owners and staff the night before and it was a little more emotional than I had expected. Our server, Moynya ( phonetic spelling) hugged Nicole and kissed me on both cheeks and the owner, Simoni, and his sister were clearly unhappy to say goodbye.

We drove north into the Chianti hills and stopped in three small towns - Gaiole in Chianti, Radda in Chianti, and Castellina in Chianti. I am not sure what the average population is in these small towns but certainly no more that 5,000 but there are enough wine shops ...... In Castellina, we were greeted by a parade of vintage cars on a run from Siena to Florence - from the newest Ferraris to original race cars. I have a bunch of pictures more focussed on the antique.

We made our way to Querceto - and our little villa is, in many ways, an upgrade on Montefollonico but it doesn't have the charm of the village. It is on an Agriturismo so some distance from a town but the shower works well, there is no humidity, it is much brighter with somewhat bigger windows and white washed walls, more lighting, and a swimming pool. It is a working farm that makes about 4250 cases of wine each year - one of it's varieties has scored 94 points in Wine Spectator. The owner here is much more mercenary than most of the business owners we have run into - she is a Florentine and must be a relative of the Medici.

May 16

Today we visited the town of towers, San Gimignano. These towers were built by noble families to demonstrate their wealth and power - the higher the tower the more wealthy and powerful the family. San Gimignano is much smaller than either Florence or Siena but very, very interesting. It's size meant that it was neat and tidy.

There were the usual shop but probably more ceramics stores than in the other cities - and knives and swords. It again provided beautiful hilltop views all around the city onto valleys of vineyards and the silver green of olive groves. We will have to go back - I didn't find the restaurant everyone recommended so maybe when Jacques and Marina get here from Montpellier and that way we will be able to try more dishes anyway.

I am getting good at the crazy driving. I am passing the occasional car and twice today people pulled into lay-bys to let me get ahead. I will never be as fast as the white van drivers or the motor cycles,  nor is it my ambition to be so. I am getting good and finding and understanding the parking. It is the one way signs that worry me but I haven't been caught other than in Pienza where there is one split in the road that I just don't understand. I started to go down the wrong way three times in three but I always managed to stop before I got in too far.

We decided today to do a day trip to Venice - this will be the big adventure as we use Italian public transit and figure out the best town to leave the car. We stopped in Radda on the way back to Querceto and think we have it figured out. Step one is complete - we have a hotel reservation at Hotel Luna Baglio, the front entrance is on a canal and is only 50 metres from  the Plaza.

May 17

We have decided to make this an easy day as the 18th and 19th will be jam packed with activity as we travel to and from Venice and visit it's sites. This morning I tried to book train tickets on Trenitalia and it drove me crazy. We took a break and drove to Greve to look around in the sunshine. It is a relatively modern town with a square that is more turn of the 20th century. There appear to be more Brits in this town than anywhere else we have been - The capital of Chiantishire?

Booking the train to Venice has planning on my mind and after an unsuccessful attempt to find a travel agent we head back to Querceto so that I can try online one more time. I decide to try second class after determining that it really is meant to be comfortable. Success!!! The only problem that I was having was that First Class was sold out and the relevant messaging was impossible. It is an entirely paperless booking system - it seems pretty slick. The test will be when we are on the train tomorrow.

We went walking around Querceto and found the hens, donkeys, and goats. We walked along a dirt road about 2 km past Querceto to another winery - Carpineto that does have stock on the SAQ shelves. On our return we ran into our landlady, Laura, who advised us to take the bus from Panzano where there is better parking so we went off to explore that option and indeed it is  a much better choice.  We bought our bus tickets and are ready for the big adventure. Before heading back, we sat on a beautiful vine covered terrace looking down on another lovely valley and enjoyed yet an other glass of Prosecco.

Montreal is coming to life again.

This was the scene on my Friday night walk to the train at Cafe Buongiorno.

  Lively and fun! People meeting and having drinks outside! Gorgeous flowers!

Summer here we come!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!


Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Mom and Dad's trip to Italy PART III

All email excerpts and photos are credited to G.F. Waters.

May 9

We made our own dinner this evening - just bruschetta with fresh tomatoes and rosemary from the back yard with some local ham, fresh and aged pecorino cheese, and lovely red wine. We also had the pecorino with honey and dates - very Tuscan. We love our I-Pad as it keeps us in touch with everyone and I am storing all of our pictures on it and I use it to plan next day activities.

It is getting to be a habit to get up after 9am. I am catching up on years of sleep deprivation. This morning we had to wait 30 minutes to get our car out as a work crew unloaded roof tiles at the local sports bar, which is in the process of being renovated. The workers were efficient but it was funny to watch this group labour away without hard hats and safety boots in front of huge signs that showed that was what was required.

We then drove to Cortona - we asked the GPS to set a route that didn't have any tolls and at the outset I thought we were off on one of those journeys determined by GPS where the old couple gets lost for weeks - except that never really happens here as there is almost always an agricultura, a village, or a house in sight. It ended up being a beautiful route with many switchbacks and narrow areas but the scenery.

Really we need continuous video to give you a good idea of what our eyes are enjoying and even then the lens would not have enough breadth to capture the vineyards, the olive groves, the fields of wild poppies, and the newly mowed hay fields all punctuated with little towns, winemakers, olive oil purveyors, and ancient hillside towns.

We are getting difficult. Today we went to Cortona and Arezzo - both made famous by Frances Mayes in her "Under the Tuscan Sun". If we had visited Cortona before Pienza we would have thought it was lovely but we preferred Pienza and Montepulciano by far. I think that the art in Cortona is better and Arezzo was the city where the Medici were occasionally exiled but if it weren't for Frances Mayes I don't think they would have the same popularity.

We finally did eat pizza in a small cafe named for the famous Fiat - the Cinque-Cento. I have a nice Renault that is about the size of a Camry but every time I park I wish I had a Cinque-Cento. We bought new sandals for mum and a winding scarf for me. The Italian men wear them all the time - even with plain white t-shirts - I am wearing it now and I swear I think I can speak Italian.

We are sitting outside on the our ninth day of continuous sunshine. We saw a few little raindrops coming through the Alps but that doesn't really count. We are drinking fabulous red wine from Montepulciano purchased for €22  but at the SAQ it would likely be $50. Tonight we are eating at the Botte again. Tomorrow is a bit of a mystery as there is a little market in Montefollonico and we would like to see it. Then maybe we will go to Montalcino.

May 10

Today we just drifted around paradise. First stop was San Quirico d'Orchia - not very many tourists but lots to see. We stopped at a pasticheria and bought two crunchy lemon slides. For lunch, a variety of roasted vegetables in olive oil with a variety of Pecorino cheeses and bread.

We drove to an area that has thermal hot baths - lots of Swiss and Germans, interesting to see but a pretty quick visit. We drove into a couple of hillside towns - one that had been heavily fortified by the Sienese to protect from attack by the Florentines.

I realised that we are now getting used to the driving - I do pull in when I get a chance to let the Grand Prix hopefuls by but otherwise, they can wait.
The little market had just set up in our village when we returned. We had to get a few bits and pieces at the Alimentaria and a we had to get a bottle of wine. I can't sit outside and write this journal without a glass of wine. Tonight  it is bottle of Rosso de Montepulciano. We will be back at the Botte tonight but will try to eat light.

I think we will try for Grossetto tomorrow.

"Taken from Montefollonico - whenever you drink a wine from the Montepulciano region, this is the town of Montepulciano"

May 13

I needed a rest day so we had a light day. We drove to Montepulciano and walked around a town that had largely been closed up to us when we visited last Sunday - those one o'clock to four o'clock closing times in some of the shops can be a little confusing.

There are just an incredible number of wine shops but I am already five bottles ahead, we are in the Chianti region starting tomorrow, I don't want to have to cart anything to Paris in a couple of weeks, and the cost of shipping to Canada is prohibitive. And of course there are the leather shops but I have yet to find the perfect pair of blue suede shoes. I should have bought the ones I saw in Parma.

We then visited visitor accommodations that the owner of the Botte Piena has built just behind his home. Two apartments, two bedrooms - in all ten people could stay there. It is all new and all of the rooms have views on a vineyard that is literally 10 meters away and that used to belong to his family and with Montefollonico clear in the distance.  There is a pool in the backyard. You can look it up here   The owner of these two businesses works seven days a week and his wife told us that he sleeps only five hours at night.

We decided just to take it easy this afternoon. We sat outside on the deck and literally smelt the roses and the peonies, all are in full bloom. We ate lightly and we have a reservation at the Botte Pienna for 8 this evening.

I don't find the driving so bad - it is all about the parking

May 15

It is raining this morning. This is the first rain since we left Montreal over two weeks ago. We waited until about 11am to go out hoping that the rain would let up but it just intensified. We shouldn't complain. Tuscany hasn't had real rain for two months now and the Tuscans and their grapes needed today. It will also help keep the dust down - it was starting to cake on our car.

We first visited Panzano where there was a tiny market. We bought some fresh fruits and vegetables and some other basic groceries that we needed to make life a little simpler. We ate a light lunch at a ristorante in that little town. We then continued on to Greve - we had parked and were almost ready to beat a retreat back to our car when some instinct made us go on. There was a "regional" producers market with small stalls from a number of regions - some from as far away as Milan and Bologna.

There were cheeses, pastas, salumari, breads, wines, olive oils, biscuits, and other food specialties. I think that I was most intrigued by the selection of old-fashioned, re-built deli slicers that were on sale all shining stainless steel and gleaming red being watched over by the old men that had re-built them.

The restaurant we went to in Parma had two of them and the man who operated them was busy all evening. I had wondered at that time where he had been able to find these marvels.
As we drive to Querceto from Greve the sky clears and we decide to call it a day. It is time for a nice glass of wine, some time in the sun, and maybe I will actually really cook for the first time on this trip

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

My Mom and Dad's trip to Italy PART II

Photo credit G.F. Waters: "From Pienza - the home of Pecorino cheese. There are a million varieties. Look at the mother and son, it is just another day for them. "

May 6

There is some kind of general strike here today but it doesn't appear too serious. It hasn't affected us. We were at the Uffizi at 9:30 this morning. It is overwhelming. There is much too much to see - to get the most out of it we would have needed to prepare a list of what we wanted to see well in advance. We did see Botecellis and Rembrandts and Fra Angelicos and many, many other paintings - and sculptures by the dozens.......

We then walked to the Boboli Gardens behind the Pitti Palace. The Medici certainly enjoyed their place in Florentine society with huge palace, beautiful gardens on the hillside with views into Florence, their private passage from Palazzo Vecchio to Palazzo Pitti - a distance of two kilometres. This was built so that they would not need to mix with the hoy-polloy and also so as to avoid any attempts at assassination. A very simple lunch today - just salad but  one with gorgonzola and one with mozzarella di buffalo. As always, we had gelato in the afternoon.
Tonight we go to Quattro Leone.

May 6th continued after Quattro Leone...

The food was excellent and the service was good. We had a very nice Albanian waiter who spoke several languages. We had a very typical Tuscan appetizer - fava beans, fresh pecorino cheese, some ham, all sprinkled with olive oil. We had beautiful pasta and salads and I had a meat dish. We crawled back to the hotel - one last lazy walk along the Arno river in the evening and for maybe the twelfth time in the last three days climbed the four floors to our hotel room - the elevator was creaky, slow, and scary. Your mother counted 142 steps.

May 7

We slept in until about 10:00am - I can't remember the last time we would have spent 11 hours in bed. We then went to breakfast at our usual little place - Caffe 900 where they had excellent cappuccino and croissant. The drive out of Florence was uneventful but by mistake I had programmed the GPS to avoid toll roads. This was a very fortunate mistake. 

It made the ride about 40 minutes longer but still only two hours to Pienza. We started out on a two-lane highway (two in each direction) but much more provincial. We could count the number of trucks we saw on one hand. We ended up on a two lane (one in each direction) and thus we were eased into paradise. 

You cannot believe the beauty of this place. We are inside a walled Tuscan hill town where every building is over a thousand years old. The apartment that we have rented was the wine cellar of a grouping of homes and it has a courtyard. Your Mum and I are sitting outside in a beautiful garden with flowers, bushes of rosemary, and views into a Tuscan valley.

We arrived a little early for our appointment to pick up the keys and found a little restaurant / enoteca (wine store) called La Botte Piena. For the record, the food was as good or better than Paul Bocuse at 20% of the price. I am currently drinking a Chianti Classico, San Jacopo da Vicchiomaggio, 2009 which is the best Chianti that I have ever tasted. We go back tonight. We walk there in maybe 60 seconds from where we are staying.

We got our basic groceries done and we are settled into our little apartment. Kitchen, huge bedroom, and a little living room. We get to sign on to our host's Internet but the only place the wifi works is in the garden as the walls are so thick.

All photos and all text credited to G.F. Waters

My Mom and Dad's trip to Italy. PART I

My parents are in Italy right now! My father retired just a couple of weeks ago and he and my mother planned a trip to Italy. I thought we wouldn't hear from them for a while but thanks to technology it doesn't matter where you are my dad has been writing to us on his ipad. I look forward to his emails SO MUCH. They are beautifully written and every day he sends us a "picture of the day". They only began last Friday but because my dad is a wonderful writer (much to my surprise) and he spoils me with a "picture of the day" I asked him if it would be possible to spoil you too and share some excerpts with you and he said: "YES" so here goes...

Property of G.F. Waters: "one of the pictures I took from the balcony in our hotel room"

G.F. Waters email excerpts:

April 30 - May 1

Vacations are always tough at the beginning. Air Transat left on time, landed on time but we sat right at the main galley and had to crew coming and going the whole flight. They were, however, a lovely crew and we enjoyed the service. Car pick up went well but the directions to the service station were terrible. 

Now the bonehead part - when we finally got to the service station I screwed up - gasoline in a diesel engine - 200 kilometers and the car  wouldn't restart. Arranging for towing service on French "autoroutes" is controlled by the Prefecture , there are set rates, and it's a  paper heavy process. 

We were fortunate in our misfortune - really nice people at the aire-de-service, the tow truck operator assisted by his son  were very kind - he arranged hotels and next day service. He came into the dealership and you could see in the body language exchanged between him and the person in charge that he wanted us treated well. 

The hotel was not what was waiting for us in Lyon but it was clean, comfortable, and had a marvelous Chablis by the glass. After all the breakdown happened 10 minutes from Chablis. It was, however, May 1st and their restaurant was closed and we ended up in a roadside travesty of a restaurant. Their vegetarian trio for Mum consisted of a baked potato, a bad pasta, and French fries - I probably should say New Brunswick fries as they were  McCain Frozen. I tossed and turned all night thinking about possible delays, ridiculous car repair costs, and anything else bad that I could imagine.

May 2

The quality of breakfast waiting for us was an omen of better things to come - our little hotel / motel is full organic and there was a wide selection of things to choose from. The Renault dealer in Auxerre was fabulous - from the supervising mechanic to the mechanic who did the work -  I did mention previously that the tow truck operator helped smooth the way. We were lucky - they drained the tank and the fuel lines, changed the fuel filter, made a few computer adjustments and we were on the road by 11 am.

We had an un-eventful drive to Lyon and walked around the city for about 2 hours. I am now sitting in my beautiful hotel room waiting to go to dinner at Paul Bocuse. The vacation seems back on track.

Just back from Bocuse. The great man himself was in the restaurant talking to every guest - us included. The food was, well, simply spectacular. We were lucky in that we were one of a group of four tables of two - all obviously there for the experience. We examined what each of us ate,  wowed at the cheese selection, ooohed at the deserts, and we were astounded by the extras. The wine suggestion was inspired - so many aromatics. Your Mum had the lobster salad, I had Norwegian marinated salmon, and we shared a spit roasted Bresse chicken. We had a pot de chocolat and mignardises before I had a Baba-au-Rhum with St-James  rum poured on top. On to Parma tomorrow. Now I feel I am on vacation.

May 3

We ate 25% of a massive room service breakfast in Lyon and then hit the road for Parma. It was a bit of a strange drive - over 500 km with a lot of beautiful scenery interrupted with kilometers of tunnels and then when we hit Italy there were miles and miles of trucks. The amazing choice on an Italian "autoroute" - sit behind a truck doing 80 kph or pull into the passing lane and get hunted down by an Alfa Romeo doing 180 kph. This is a nerve racking exercise when it is done for three hours non stop. 

Parma - this stop is 100 pc motivated by the John Grisham book - " Playing for Pizza". I will not give you a Notes version - you will have to read the book. Suffice to say it is about an American who finds himself in Parma to play American football and who fell in love with Italy. We walked Boulevard Garibaldi, Strada della Republica, and many little side streets. As aggressive as the Italians are on the highway, they respect crosswalks in the city. Parma is also a city of bicycles - thousands of them everywhere.

Tonight we ate at the Gallo d'Oro - the food was delicious - Parma ham, bruschetta, pasta, and a meat dish with salad all with a good bottle of red wine. We tried to give extra for service, were refused, and effectively we were tipped with a grappa and a lemoncello - it bore little resemblance to what we buy by the bottle in Canada. It was fresh and delicious. We had a gelato on the walk back to our hotel. We head to Florence tomorrow.

May 4

Back to the Italian "autoroutes" - experienced more of the same, still miles and miles of trucks, never ending tunnels and today more curves in the road than in an alphabet of S's. Thankfully we were only on the road for two hours.

We are in a beautiful hotel with a room on the Arno river (when I get back to Montreal I will insert some pictures). Florence is overwhelming. The streets are strewn with artistic masterpieces by some of the greatest artists in the history of man - Michelangelo and others. It is a paradise for shoppers of all kinds - there is fashion, leather, food (oh, the food), shoes.... And. Gelato!!!

We walked for several hours, rested up, and then went out for supper at Giorgion - 26€ for 50 cl of wine, two pastas, two main courses, and two salads - we could have had dessert included but chose to skip. Everything was delicious. We walked for another couple of hours, had a dessert, a lemon cello, and now time to rest.

May 5

We met our tour guide for the day in the hotel lobby at 9:30. She was a graduate in art history from University in Florence. She took painstaking care of us for the next 7 hours. She  talked about the Sforzi, the Medici, and the other Florentine banker families but she was most in here element talking about art. 

We visited many things with her including the Duomo, the Palazzo Vecchio, the Medici palace, but the highlight was the David at the Accademia. She talked almost nonstop and if I can remember just 10% of what she told us I will be happy.

We meandered back to the hotel window shopping with stops for wine with crostini (chicken livers, cheese and ham, and bruschetta) and gelato. It is now 7 in the evening and we plan to go out at about 8 for a pizza and a salad. Tomorrow we have a reservation for Uffizi at 10am.

Friday, May 6, 2011

Happy Mother's Day!

 Dear Mom, I love you.

 Here's a song for you that says it better than I can.

Do you know it's your laugh we laugh that
pulls us through
And the strength and the love that we carry
We got it from you
...Lyrics and song  from Be Good Tanyas

Thursday, May 5, 2011

The Once!

I just can't get tired of this recently.

Leonard Cohen covers always good!

This is their own original song and I love it too.

I discovered them on Canada Live which I am subscribed to in iTunes. It's free anyone can do it and the podcast just automatically lands in your iTunes. I added the link for Canada Live podcasts but sadly "The Once" podcast aired on March 26th 2010 and is not available anymore but there is much more to discover. Also some of my other favorite podcasts: The Current, Vinyl Cafe, and Tapestry.


I have been collecting broken plates, tea cups, shells, broken mirrors, old cans, rocks, and beautiful earrings I love but lost one so decided to keep to make chandeliers..

Madeleine from Blogesteix inspired me again to get cracking and continue collecting.


I am so inspired!

Wednesday, May 4, 2011

I made a friend

wish you were here

You know when you write a blog all kinds of new people come into your life.

I'm still new at this so whenever someone I don't know "visits" my blog and has a nice comment on a post I did it is so exciting.

Kate Lewis Art

It's like making a new friend.

Kate Lewis Art
Kate made a comment on my blog and I have had the pleasure of discovering her art and being inspired by her posts and I like that!

Zoe Pawlak Canadian artist

The abstract art paintings that inspired you reminded me of another artist you may like to discover if you haven't already. I added a link to her blog under her painting above and thanks for making me discover "wish you were here". I love that Goethe saying she posted. It's always good to be reminded to go for it especially on you f*****th birthday.