Category Archives: Travel

Scarperia e San Piero, in the Florentine hills

Road trip!

We were feeling like we needed to get away for a bit so decided to go on an overnight trip to a town called Scarperia e San Piero. It is in the foothills of the Apennine mountains, north of Florence. We took the Angelo Giallo and with the top down, set out on back roads. We drove north to Città di Castello and then headed west up into the mountains. The roads were fun. The sun was hot. The stupid GPS sent us down an impossibly small, steep road but we managed to meet only one other car, thankfully! We arrived in the region called Mugello. I had not heard of it. But there are many places still new to me! It is a lovely region with many special things. One is a famous racetrack called the Mugello Circuit. It attracts car and motorcycle aficionados.

I had booked us into a B&B called Villa Manini in Ponzalla. It was an old fashioned place. We were on the top floor, naturally. It had a bedroom and a sitting room and two baths. Several closed doors indicated it could include more bedrooms for a family or group. Our proprietress, Angela, greeted us.

Here is the sitting room.

Bedroom

We had one disappointment. We had wanted to go to Antico Osteria Nandone, just near our hotel, but we had been unable to reach them on the phone for reservations. So we drove there just after lunch time. It was closed up. But there was furniture in the garden and I was sure it was not out of business. We tried again to call that evening with only the answering machine to talk to. So, we gave up on that idea and decided to try Fattoria il Palagio. It turned out to be nice. We were seated in the garden.

The doors are interesting with a little, tiny door in the big doors.

I don’t think I’ve mentioned the way we reserve tables here. Luther’s name is really hard for Italians to pronounce or understand. So, to simplify things we reserve under the name Luigi. Works out just fine and amuses people very much!

We returned to Villa Manini and enjoyed some wine in their pretty outside terazzo. It was fun because a nice thunderstorm was brewing with rumbling thunder and flashes of lightening. It got closer and the wind picked up. Wilder and wilder it got! Finally we retreated inside where our innkeeper had opened all the windows in our apartment and it was lovely and cool and I fell asleep listening to the storm.

The following morning we rose and went for the colazione included with our room. It was a typical Italian breakfast with coffee, juice and an assortment of sugary sweets. Get those kids off to school on a sugar high I always say! I’ve been amazed at how the Italians think a cornetto or a breakfast bar is a healthy way to start their day…and the children too!

We drove the couple of miles to Scarperia which is, and has been, famous for the hand forged knives they have made there for centuries. I had read about them at least a few years ago and saved the information. We’ve always needed steak knives so finally we were going to get some.

Scarperia is a small town of about 4,500 people. It’s flat and has a nice Centro Storico. There are nice little, mostly pedestrian, streets with coffee bars and shops. The people are very friendly and welcoming. Not at all touristy and very comfortable feeling. I could live there. It is also on a good train line with service to Florence and north to Ravenna.

Walking down Via Roma…because ALL roads lead to Rome! Pretty wrought iron piece.

Palazzo dei Vicari. It is a turreted residence built in the 1300s, with the piazza facing the front and the castle behind it. It was restored after a 1929 earthquake, redesigned to look more like Palazzo Vecchio in Florence; it’s actually believed that the two palaces were built by the same architect, Arnolfo di Cambio. The façade is decorated with many coats of arms of former vicegerents, or vicari. It seems they only served a six month term so there were a LOT of them.

From inside the courtyard.

Tributes

Tributes. These are outside and worn down by weather.

Outside the Palazzo.

Knives

So, on to our main errand of the trip. Knives! There were a lot of shops selling their own knives. I had my eye on one named Coltelli dell Artigiano, which we found right on Via Roma.

Display case. The knives are beautiful works of art.

Brochure.

I bought a set of six steak knives with horn handles.

I also had been attracted to their knives which were copies of old knives from particular parts of central Italy. This one is from Perugia. Elegant and simple, it is beautiful. It is a pocket knife so it folds.

Close ups of the blade. Decorative.

Back home

Last night there was a gala charity fund raiser in the Piazza. Thunderstorms rolled through about 8PM and I was afraid for them but they covered everything and all was well. They are probably used to that in the summer! It was obviously a black and white as most folks wore only those colors. They had a baby grand and music into the night.

Sicily for Easter week with friends

Another trip report so skip if you’re not interested.
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Palermo April 2019
Off to Palermo with Susan and Gary. Took the early morning flight from Perugia to Catania. Only a bit over an hour flight. Ryan Air was efficient as usual, if not the most comfortable. I had plenty of room in my seat. I had, unfortunately caught a cold which I came down with just the night before we left. Slept little because of the coughing.

We landed at about 11am and took a taxi into Catania. We had until 3:30 to catch our train. Along the way, on the roadsides, were vegetable stands with bright red strawberries among the mix, and every one had a grill, grilling meat. A slice of Catanian life. I had chosen a restaurant using TripAdvisor and we got the taxi to drop us there, even though it was too early to eat. A man was standing in the doorway and we made a reservation for lunch and he kindly kept our suitcases for us.

Catania is exactly what you think of when you think Sicily and teeming cities. Not that it was bad, but it was all, narrow streets with balconies rising 5 stories. Some with laundry, some with large barking dogs. Much ornate iron work and many very run down buildings. Narrow streets full of cars with honking horns. You had to watch your step, not only because of the rough, uneven surfaces but because there are more dogs than I’ve ever seen. You can imagine the mess!

A side street.

The Duomo down at the end.

It was Palm Sunday. Everywhere stands selling woven palm leaves. You are supposed to buy one and keep it in your house for a year for good fortune. We set off on foot and went through a large gate. At the end of the street stood an imposing dome. We decided it was as good a destination as any. Turned out to take us to the main square. Huge Duomo. We went in the church and they were having Mass. We watched a bit and left. Outside, it was noon, and one of the biggest, deepest bells I’ve ever heard began it’s slow tolling. Soon it was joined but many smaller bells. Beautiful. I love bells.

Woven palms. You are supposed to buy them and keep them all year for good fortune.

In the main square. One of the churches.

We wandered the squares around the area with schools, universities, and government buildings. We sat and had a glass of wine where we watched boy scouts and girl scouts try to sell their palms to the Carbinieri with no success.

We walked back to Ai Due Corni. It filled with Catanians having their Palm Sunday lunch. Good we reserved! There was, unfortunately a lot of horse meat there. Even a horse meat butcher just beside it. I don’t eat one of my favorite animals. But we had a good meal. Right away we had five plates of assorted antipasti. A spicy eggplant, a layered dish with roasted peppers, little sausage filled pastries, and others I don’t remember. We had two pitchers of red wine and a bottle of water. Then we ordered secondi. 3 got the calamari, one the grilled fish plate. After lunch Susan and Gary indulged in the famous canolli. I need to do this but I had the fresh strawberries. Luther had a amaro. Lovely lunch surrounded with Catanian families. And the bill? €65 euro. For all of that!

We got a taxi and went to the railway station. All the taxi drivers have been nice. We got our slow boat train. Took 3 long hours across the beautiful Sicilian center. Arriving in Palermo about 6:30 we caught a taxi to our apartment hotel. We had two one bedroom apartments in the oldest part of the city. I felt so bad by this point I was longing for medicine and bed. I barely took stock of my surroundings. Luther went for breakfast stuff and wine and snacks for his dinner.

This dog was a terror! Susan said she’d shoot herself if she lived near them.

Watching.

Some of the Easter sweets along the way.

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Monday
During the night we had terrible storms. Very high winds which woke us because the shutters on the outside were banging. Thunderstorms later. I had taken the Italian equivalent of NyQuil which did help me sleep better. But still not great. There was a 9am walking tour of Palermo booked but I felt I needed to continue to rest and I didn’t need to be walking around in the rain. So I did not go. But while they were gone the sun came out intermittently.

They returned at about 1:30. Much later than the expected 12 o’clock tour ending time. I was dressed and ready to go. We walked down the street to an open restaurant. They had grills set up outside and were roasting fish and steaming shellfish. What’s not to like. It was an excellent feed. No menu(or prices) brought a big bowl of assorted shellfish — mussels, claims, winkles, razor clams. And a plate of overcooked octopus. After that they brought a big platter with mixed grilled seafood. Whole, individually sized orate, swordfish, big prawns, cuttlefish. All quite good. Except the overcooked cuttlefish. At the end they brought lemoncello, grappa, amarro. It was good but not worth the €140 they charged for the 4 of us. Since there’s no menu there’s no price you can point to. I enjoyed myself so I didn’t mind so much. But I’m sure the locals wouldn’t pay that much.

That said, there were no locals in the place. A big table of mostly Americans that were a tour group. Extremely loud. One woman had an ear piercing voice. Her laugh was worse. And put all together we could hardly hear ourselves over them. We stopped them on their way out and found most were from Colorado. Then another couple came over. She was from New Zealand and he was Italian. They live in Abruzzo, our next door province. Nice folks.

During lunch I heard all about the tour I missed at lunch. They walked miles, with lots of steps. I could have done it but not while sick. They enjoyed it. Apparently the tour guide is a very opinionated 55 year old native of Palermo.

After that we walked to find a farmacia but it was closed. As luck would have it they arrived to re-open as we were deciding what to do. We asked for medicine for my cough and cold. Which I now have so we will see if it helps.
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Didn’t help. Ah well. I brought some things from home so will use them. We stayed in tonight. Sad news on TV about Notre Dame burning. Big loss.

Tuesday
Tour today of the 18th Century Villas of the Piana del Colli. We were met by our guide Iolanda. We took a taxi out of the main city. The place we visited is were the king and the very rich would go in summer. First place we saw was the Palazzina Cinese. Where King Ferdinando of Bourbon lived during his exil in Palermo. Strange place. Had fake Chinese gates and even fake Chinese characters painted on its walls. Inside was a huge mish-mash. One room would be Chinese, one Grecian, the next, Arabic. The queens quarters were upstairs just above the guards quarters. Handsome men at the ready to service the queen 🙂 but, from her picture she was no beauty. But duty calls! The kings bath was on the bottom floor with a handy door next to the bath where the current mistress could escape when the queen put in an appearance. But the couple still managed to have 16 children 😳.

Next we visited Villa Niscemi which belonged to the Valguarnerano Princes who inspired Giuseppe Tomasi di Lampedusa for his characters described in the Leopard. It is set in pretty gardens with ponds full of ducks as they were thought to be good luck. The Villa is used even now to greet dignitaries who visit Palermo. Beautiful place.

Palazzina Cinese. Basement door, which I thought pretty.

Palazzina Cinese. Interior decorations.

It wasn’t really 3-D but sure was a trick-the-eye painting.

Loved these dragons. In every corner of the ceiling.

Another ceiling.

Wooden inlay doors.

Marble spiral staircase.

The kings bath. We were told the door was for his mistress to get away if the Queen was coming.

Villa Niscemi

After we returned we went just across the street from our apartment to l’Ottava Nota. Very good Michelin rated place. We had a lovely lunch. Mine was puréed fava beans with tiny crispy squid and for a secondi, scallops in a very complicated construction to include a fried artichoke which was hard to eat, a few blueberries, lingonberries, and many other things I can’t remember. The scallops were good, the rest, not so much.

It was a pretty restaurant.

We returned to rest up and nap. At six I decided I could go out with Susan and Gary to find the bar with a view we were told about by our tour guide. She must’ve gotten it wrong as we found nothing. We did stop at another place for aperol spritzes. Luther was still ailing (as was I) so he stayed in.

Wednesday
This was our street food tour day. It was my choice. It was an excellent tour. We were joined by 7 other people. Two Australians, a single woman meeting up with her mom, and an American family who live in Barcelona. Our guide, Liviana, was young and friendly and enthusiastic. I told one of my fellow tourers it felt like a friend was showing us around. We walked and tasted a variety of things, some of which I couldn’t eat. First thing was veal gristle and leavings from the abattoir floor, all organs and parts. It was fried in oil and served on its own or in a panino. My stomach just couldn’t do that today.

Then we went to a wonderful ice fruit drinks place. They had oranges, lemons and pomegranates which you could get over ice in any combination. They squeezed them to order. Refreshing.

Then we sat at a table and tried three things. A chickpea flour patty breaded and fried, a little log of mashed potato breaded and fried. It had caraway. Last was an arancina (I think that’s right) which is rice formed into a ball around a bit of sausage and…you guessed it, breaded and fried! They were all good. The arancina was seasoned with saffron which is abundant here.

Chickpea fritters

Mashed potato roll, reminded me of my Moms potato cakes.

Arancina

Inside arancina

We walked through the market with all the vegetables. Some I didn’t recognize, like this one. If you know, do tell.

Ugly lemons, but I’m sure they are good.

Tiny wild strawberries.

Foraged, wild asparagus.

We left there and went to buy bread and cheese and Sicilian olives which we carried to Taverna ta Azzurra. A real hole in the wall where we spread out the noshes we’d bought and had some local wine. It was sweet wine. I was unfamiliar with it, it was reminiscent of a sherry.

We headed down the street and stopped at a stand where a man was making another odd dish. Spleen which he served alone or in rolls. I didn’t try it. Most people did, some even liked it.

Finally we stopped at a great gelato place. Super and unusual flavors. I chose cinnamon and jasmine. The jasmine is only this time of year and you won’t find it many places. The weird thing is they served it on a brioche. He sliced the brioche and put the scoops on it and topped it with whipped cream if you wanted, and stuck the end of a cone on top! Well, it just seemed a bit much for me so I opted for mine in a cup.

Some pictures along the way. Street band. They were good!

Starbucks knockoff.

A building that may have been beautiful once.

Street Jesus.

Street art.

We walked back home. It was fun but I am still poorly so I didn’t enjoy it as much as I could have.

Thursday
Today, we visited Monreale the famous cathedral here with the largest mosaics in the world. 6,400 square meters! Much of it gold. It is incredible. The cathedral was begun in 1,174. So that puts it built at the same time as Notre Dame. We arrived on Giovedi Sante (Holy Thursday or Maundy Thursday) and there was a mass going on. We stayed on the sides and listened to the beautiful music and the homily. The bishop spoke about the similar ages of the two cathedrals and the terrible loss to the French people and said his heart ached for them. This church’s ceilings are all wood too. A huge hazard over time I’m sure. But it made being there very poignant looking at the beautiful mosaics glowing all around and appreciating that they are there and safe, for now. Very moving.

I loved when the service was over and people were leaving. The organist could pull out all the stops (pun intended) in the recessional. He blew my socks off with a fugue of magnificent proportions. Wonderfully discordant, swelling to fill the huge space. It is an amazing organ played by a maestro. Built by the Rufatti firm of Padua between 1957 and 1967, it is the sole European organ with six keyboards with 61 keys each; 10 thousand pipes in wood and metal subdivided in three sounding bodies; the console is, among those which are movable, the largest in the world; and there some 400 commands, or stops. In 2015 the chancel was hit by lightening which knocked out the organ. It took two years to repair. Happily it is fine now and I loved hearing it.

OK here come the pictures. So, so beautiful. I couldn’t decide so there are quite a few.

Organ. Just one half. The other half is opposite.

The mosaics in the church are breathtaking. Be sure to click for a better look.

This is the Nave.

The ceiling is wood.

Much of the walls are Bible stories.

The following are some of the carved tops to the columns in the Cloister. They are all different and very intricate.

The cloister columns are also all different.

Fountain in Cloister

The day was the best yet. Beautiful blue sky, slight breezes, perfect temperature. We had a great cab driver. Very garrulous. And opinionated like they all seem to be. Susan gets them started and they are off and running.

View from Monreale of Palermo.

Friday
The death march. It is an arduous journey. We had to kill time until 1:30 before boarding the very uncomfortable, two car train. We knew what we were up against after our journey here. And we wanted regular seats. We had gone to Track 7 as advertised and at the last minute they said track change to 10. We were fartherest away and were outrun by all the teenagers and 20 somethings. We all managed to find a seat, if not the best seat. After 1.5 hours a lot of people got off so we had a bit more room. It is a long, boring ride.

Arrived in Catania at 4:30. Took a taxi to the airport. It was a little weird. There were probably ten taxis out front of the station. The person allocating the taxis talked to some, who apparently rejected us. The most ratty taxi possible was available. It was a real rattletrap. But the driver knew the roads. And when he saw a backup he veered off and we went through some very sketchy neighborhoods, and what smelled like the main fish market. Flying down these tiny twisty streets with people BBQing along the edges. It was wild. Our driver was silent until he hit a final traffic jam and got very animated. I think he had had a choice of two ways and opted for this one…and wished he’d gone the other way. It was amusing. We all shook hands with our toothless driver, who was very competent.

We checked in and did security and found a table at the only food place there. Had wine and we all, over time, had food. Then we boarded and flew the little over an hour to Perugia. Finally down to the last leg. The drive home. We fetched Lucca the wonderdog, Susan and Gary’s pup and headed to Umbertide. It was Good Friday, just after ten. The collegiata was lit up so pretty. There were candles burning in all the shop windows and doorways. We walked towards our apartment. There were lots of folks in front of Bar Mary. As we turned the corner to our street we were confronted by the Good Friday procession. Respectfully we waited for the priests, candle bearers, the dead Jesus statue, the mourning Mary, upright on her platform, all followed by the band and all the towns people. Finally able to get to our door we were home!

It was a tough trip for me. Towards the end it was much better. I won’t do best and worst. We liked our apartments and the location. Butera 28 Apartments. And the restaurant l’Ottava Nota was very good. We did enjoy sitting at a nearby bar in the evenings. A good trip, overall.

Christmas trip – Cortina d’Ampezzo and Innsbruck

Another trip report so you can skip if you aren’t interested.
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December 20
We drove from Umbertide to Florence with Susan and Gary with whom we were going to spend the holiday. The plan was to spend the night there and travel to Cortina d’Ampezzo on the 21st. But next was dinner. We had the most fantastic steak prepared in the Florentine style but the meat was from Prussia. Amazing. I also had a lovely starter of potato soup topped with octopus. So warming on a cold night. Whoever made it spent a LOT of time dicing the potatoes into a tiny dice and when it was cooked great care was taken that it not be so cooked they would disintegrate. Very good.

After dinner we went for a walk into the main part of Florence. Wow the lights were breathtaking. We visited the magnificent Duomo with its Christmas tree. And the most magical thing of all…there were almost no people anywhere! We had the streets to ourselves. I love Florence when it’s like this.

December 21
A bit of Sturm und Drang this morning. We had a taxi at 7:45 for an 8:30 train, it it arrived at 7:20. 😳 We were mostly ready so out the door we went. We wove through the Florence morning traffic and people and arrived at 7:55. Suddenly Susan realized she’d forgotten her purse in the rush. The taxi driver went “via!” to Gary who had asked if they could get home and back. It was really dicey if he could make it. But the taxi driver pulled it off and all was well.

We got the train to Mestre, one stop short of Venice. And then we had had hired a driver to take us to Cortina. There is a bus but it was just more comfortable and more convenient to take the car. Besides when the cost was split it wasn’t too bad.

We arrived at about 12:30. It was cold there with just a dusting of snow. Not enough snow for much skiing down low, but up high, yes. We decided we were in the shoulder season. The ski season wouldn’t start until after Christmas. We had lunch and later, when the shops had reopened from pausa we went back out to check out the shops. There is a kind of big cooperative space with a lot of different stores in it, which was fun. Cortina was dressed in its Christmas finery. It was dusk and the lights twinkled everywhere! I took a few pictures. They even projected stars on the church steeple. All the stores and hotels were all sparkly. Very pretty.

Our hotel, La Poste, was hosting a Veuve Clicquot promotion. We sat down and were given the champagne menu. It turned out to be fun with a bunch of small plates of tasty bites from a 2 star Michelin Milanese chef. The bites were good.

We had dinner at Lampone in the Rosapetra Hotel. We had to take a taxi there since it was dark and it would have been hard to walk there. Lovely hotel with spa. The restaurant was very pretty in an upscale alpine way. We had a great meal. I had the Insalata d’Ampezzo. Then we all had a whole sea bass cooked in salt. Very yum. They served bread with the creamiest salted butter. We had the luck(?) to be sitting next to an Italian single man. Giuseppe. He spoke English and owned a home in Miami South Beach. In the best place he assured us. He was from Sicily, a wealthy family, he said. He loves his mamma the best in the world. (Of course! All Italian men love their mommas best) She’s 87. He lives near Bologna today. We now know his whole life story. We suspect he comes from Mafia money and once Mafia, always Mafia. He designs kitchens among other things. His wife, from whom he’s estranged lives in New Zealand. Anyway he insisted on joining us for a bottle of dessert wine from Sicily that he bought. He was so manic by the time we left we all figured he had to be on drugs, maybe cocaine? Or something for sure. The manager of the restaurant apologized to us for the intrusion on our meal. Not much he could have done really, and I think Giuseppe was a regular there.

Dining room. The big white pillar is a ceramic stove, common to the area.

After dinner

December 22
A beautiful day! Bright sunshine and cold. We had a lovely breakfast in La Poste and off we went to get the cable car lift up to the 2,300 meter level. Great ride right up the cliff at the end. I couldn’t figure out how the cables did it. We walked around and took pictures of the skiing. There were several runs. And the surrounding Dolomiti mountains were amazing. It was super clear with not a bit of haze and it was like you could reach out and touch the stupendous rocks thrusting into the sky.

Cable car coming up.

From our ride in the car. Morning sun.

Ski run

View of the Dolomiti

Dolomiti

Dolomiti

Back in the village we walked some more and then returned to get ready for lunch at Ristorante Tivoli. It was definitely unassuming from the outside. Pretty and alpine. Inside it was comfortable and unpretentious. But it was a Michelin one star. The food was top notch. The serving staff were all women which is unusual in these places. I think it made it more intimate and comfortable. I opted for the lobster which was raw in a beautiful bisque reduction with veggies. Really good. And a tagliatelle with rabbit ragu. Very good. I took pictures of several dishs. One of us had the lamb and another the turbo and Luther had the rabbit for mains. We had two beautiful reds and we started out with Francia Corta which is a champagne style bubbly from Italy. Better than Prosecco. They brought a dessert-like palate cleanser in dry ice which smoked fetchingly. It had sorbet and diced fruits in a purée. Then we ordered a strudel to share which was so good, and they brought a whole plateful of free canapés. We also had coffees and digestifs. A marvelous meal. Good find Susan!

Ristorante Tivoli. Cute outside.

Food pictures. Lobster.

Turbot

Rabbit

Tagliatelle with rabbit ragu.

December 23
We again took a cable car up to about 8,000 feet to take in the sights. Beautiful day.

Station at the very top of the mountain was closed.

Cable car

Views

Cortina

Ski runs

We returned for a good pasta lunch and then to meet our driver for the two hour trip to Innsbruck Austria. Once we went through the Brenner pass we hit the forecasted rain.

We checked into Adler Hotel, a modern high rise near the train station. We decided to venture out even though it was pouring rain. The altstadt was crowded despite the rain. We found a store where we bought umbrellas. The town was pretty with lights, a big Christmas tree, stands selling goods and foods. One street had huge chandeliers hanging above. We managed to find a place for beers and then went to find dinner. It was a bit early and we got a table in a hotel dining room. The aim was for people to get their Wiener Schnitzels. It was a nice dining room and we did indeed get our schnitzels. I opted for the Forelle – trout. It was all good.

Innsbruck

December 24
I watched the mall across the railroad tracks from our 9th floor perch. Lots of folks streamed in for last minute shopping. It was still steadily raining. We had a good breakfast and went to visit the Volksmuseum. A wonderful collection of artifacts showing the life in the 1500s and on. The daily tasks must have been overwhelming. Everything from making your own cloth, your shoes, carding wool, spinning, weaving, carving utensils, on and on! And the church terrified everyone with fear of death and purgatory or worse, hell. Life was fraught with danger. Young girls betrothed could only think of the very real danger of childbirth. A killer of women.

Afterwards we walked into the old town and the sun paid a welcome appearance! The town looked so different in the sunshine. We had a light lunch and went over to the Inn river and then through the, sadly, now closed Christmas market.

Later, we had planned to go to a Christmas Eve dinner in the hotel. The 12th floor is a restaurant where they have breakfast and a bar and meals. This one was a set menu. Considering the large number of people being fed they did well. We started with an amuse bouche of mozzarella which was garlicky and whipped with roasted cherry tomatoes. Next we had a salmon dish with smoked salmon and also marinated raw salmon and cucumbers. Then we had a winter squash soup with duck confit. Very good. And for a main we had crown roast of pork. Dessert was white chocolate and dark chocolate with pistachios. We tried two local Austrian red wines both of which were quite good. During all this there was a young lady who played an electric violin. She was quite good and we enjoyed trying to figure out what songs she played. All in all a lovely meal and company.

December 25
Christmas day dawned bright-ish. We had breakfast and went for a walk. We had to bundle up as it was cold. We walked to the train station and then towards the river and the Zentrum. We then walked along the river and back and through the old town.

Along the waterfront of the river Inn

Pretty sign, Moonshine

After a brief rest we taxied to Nattererboden up in the nearby mountains for our Christmas Day Mittsgessen. It was more remote than I had expected but only about 15 minutes away. A very traditional place and menu. Fun for us to relive our old German times. I had goose. It came with a big dumpling which was very heavy but the red cabbage was good.

Warm stove.

They had many animals. Kids would love this place.

Later we had a couple of drinks in the bar and off to bed. Tomorrow we are off by train to home.

December 26
Today is Boxing Day in England and Santo Stefano in Italy. Holidays. We hopped our train from Innsbruck to Bologna. Pretty ride through the mountains and then onto the foggy plain. I’m very surprised that both times through here on this trip the landscape is socked in with fog. I guess it is the norm for winter but another reason not to live in that area, unless you’re into foggy and gray days.

It was a lovely trip with good friends. I was very happy to be home.

Trip to the USA

Well, we are back from our eventful trip to the USA mainly to visit my sister on Thanksgiving. We had an issue on our trip over with our expired Permessi di Soggiorno. I haven’t written about it but we continue to have the same problems renewing year after year. This year we put in for our new Permessi in early February, well before they expired in June. Here it is December 1 and we still do not have our new cards. It is the Italian way. But this time it has impacted us. The word had been until recently, we could travel on our expired Permessi with the Poste receipts showing we had applied for the new one. The issue is with travel from one Schengen country (alliance of countries with open borders) to another. This trip we were flying from Bologna to Vienna and then to the US. Since we were going THROUGH another Schengen country, Austria, the woman at the Austrian air counter said we couldn’t travel on our expired Permessi. The Postal receipt was not acceptable as a police document. In the end we were allowed to go since we were American citizens traveling “home”. This is an unwelcome development which will probably affect us on future travel. We will need to be mindful how we travel. On our return we went through passport control in Munich and we didn’t admit we lived in Italy rather we were tourists, which worked to get us home.

After a long travel day we arrived at my sisters house where she had prepared a nice green chili for us all. We hit the sack shortly afterwards.

It was a nice visit with me achieving my goal to renew my drivers license. We also cooked the Thanksgiving dinner together which was fun, and we had the Macy’s parade on TV and after that the dog show. Both of these have been fixtures in our Thanksgiving day since before our Mom passed away. Nostalgia. I’ve missed them. Luther got his football hit afterwards.

We also did some shopping and eating lunches out. I cooked one dinner. Cindy cooked all our favorite chilies, which are a taste we miss. We had oysters one day. We visited Montecello, Jefferson’s home, one day. It had been years since I’d been there. All in all a really nice time with my family.

We had planned a short trip to Williamsburg afterward. This has been “our” spot since we were young and broke. We have been back countless times. We stayed in one of the Colonial Homes which we had always enjoyed. The house we were in this time, the Peter Hay Kitchen was looking a bit worn. It needed a bit of TLC and a facelift. But it had a nice fireplace which we used both evenings while there. A lovely gentleman came to lay and light it for us and the first evening I didn’t have money for a tip. When we called the second evening I was happy to see the same man so I could make it up to him. To his credit he was as nice and helpful the second evening even though he probably could expect no tip based on the first night.

Williamsburg heirloom plant garden. They do a very good job trying to save heirloom breeds of animals and plants.

One day while there we drove north to the Middle Peninsula to visit a long-time favorite restaurant, Merroir, home to the Rappahannock Oyster Farm. It is on a beautiful point of land next to the marina in Topping VA. Wonderful fresh oysters and crabcakes. We were very happy campers.

View from Merroir

Crabcake

Unshucked oysters right from the dock outside.

The marina at Topping VA.

The return home from Dulles started well. We drove the 2.5 hours from Williamsburg to Dulles airport and dropped off our car. Then checked into United for our return. We got all comfortable on board. We were told there was a maintenance issue. OK, I watched a movie. The maintenance crew came onboard. The pilot told us the issue was fixed, they just did the paperwork. Then we taxied out. Where we sat for about an hour. Then we taxied back to the gate. Where they started letting people go off the plane. I had finished my movie. Finally after about 2.5 hours they told us that plane was going nowhere that night 🙄. So we all got off.

They eventually found a new plane, but not as nice, and we finally got in the air 5 hours late. Needless to say we missed our connection to Bologna. We heard a flight attendant say there were 181 separate connections from that one flight that were missed! Everyone at the Munich airport knew about the United flight that arrived 5 hours late. We went to a Lufthansa service center and they snagged the last two seats on the 3:40pm flight arriving at about 5Pm in Bologna. We finally got our car and headed home on the 2.5 hour drive home arriving at 9 pm, tired but glad to finally be home. Traveling is often not a lot of fun to put it mildly.

Now we look forward to our Christmas season in Umbertide. Always nice.

Lake Como

For the last week we’ve had a visit from my cousin, Meg and her husband, Rodney from Virginia. They were finishing up a trip to Switzerland with another couple and ended up in Lugano so we arranged to take the train to Lake Como to meet them. It had been YEARS since I’d been to Como and I was looking forward to it.  We had to take three trains to get there. A local from our station, a Freccarossa (fast) from Florence to Milan, and another local to Como. We arrived about 3PM and Meg and Rodney were already there.

I had made reservations a few months ago at Villa Flori which is between the city of Como and Cernobbio, right on the lake. It was a priority that we be on the lake. The hotel was one of the best we’ve stayed in. Very accommodating and pretty convenient. We could walk to the Cernobbio dock to catch the boats etc.

We had a lovely dinner the first night in the hotel restaurant Raimondi. I could look down from our balcony and see the restaurant tables all set for dinner.

We were accompanied by Pan.

My pasta was perfect and summery.

The following morning, after a sumptuous breakfast we walked to the dock to catch the boat to Bellagio. There are lots of boats and this one was the slow boat which stopped at just about every town along the way. But that was OK since we got to see alot of the scenery. We also enjoyed a spritz. Since we were one of the first to board we got a nice table for 4 at a window. I took a few pictures.

Pretty gazebo

Mountainside flowers and palms 

A friendly seagull.

An amazing palazzo with its gardens

Hotel along the way

Approaching Bellagio. Spectacular mountains

We arrived in Bellagio with the crowds. It was packed with people. Nothing like I remembered from our last trip. We did some shopping and then we found a little place for lunch. It was nice, basic Italian food. Rodney finally got his spaghetti with meat sauce (ragu).

Pretty street. The town is on a steep hill and has the dock area and promenade and then the streets go up steeply to another parallel street above.

We opted to upgrade to the hydrofoil on the way back. It was amazing! the entire boat rises up on legs and flies above the water! We got back in half the time. I borrowed the below photo.

The following day we decided to visit Como after an aborted attempt to visit some gardens. Como was blessedly calm and uncrowded after Bellagio.

This was one of the oldest streets.

The cathedral was beautiful.

We had a nice lunch at a place recommended to Meg. It was great. No menu and the lady just recited the food.

View from our hotel balcony.

The next morning we were off on the trains south to Umbria to complete a nice visit with family. Come back soon Meg and Rodney!

Abruzzo – Trip report

Another short trip report. Birthday celebrations.
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A three night road trip down the Adriatic coast and then across the Gran Sasso d’Italia mountains of Abruzzo. Abruzzo is one of those provinces that doesn’t get enough good press. But it is increasingly on the radar for tourists and for people looking to move to Italy. Abruzzo is known as “the greenest region in Europe” as almost half of its territory, the largest in Europe, is set aside as national parks and protected nature reserves: there are three national parks, one regional park, and 38 protected nature reserves. And it has a coastal area to the east with beaches on the Adriatic sea. When one travels the coast one will notice the lack of very old buildings. WWII took a heavy toll with many cities along the coast reduced to rubble. Towns were rebuilt in haste and thus have less appeal than, say, the towns on the west coast.

Anyway, our trip was more culinary than anything else…which I’m sure is no surprise to any of my blog readers. Our first stop was in a town called Guardiagrele. To a restaurant called Villa Maiella, named after the large mountain behind the town. We had reserved for lunch but need not have as we were the only people there. We opted for the Menu of the Abbruzzo territory. It was very, very good.

A benvenuto from the chef.

Medley of pork from the famous black pigs of Abruzzo.

Soup. Farro with truffles.

Pallotta cac’e ove. Has cheese and eggs inside. Wonderful rich tomato reduction.

Chittara, a type of pasta that means guitar with ragu.

Main course of pork. Very tender.

First dessert. Peach ice cream with chocolate morsels.

Dessert. Semifreddo.

After that wonderful lunch we waddled to our hotel which was not far away. It was Castello di Semivicoli in Casacanditella. Beautiful old palace. Rooms all different. Ours was enormous. They have no restaurant but we were not hungry anyway and had some wine from their vineyard before turning in.

The next morning we headed to the coast, about 45 minutes away to visit Ortona. A medium sized city which was on a bluff above the ocean. We visited the fortress and walked it’s streets.



The Canadians fought in Ortona in WWII finally seizing the city in December 1943. There is a Canadian war cemetery there. This statue of a solder with his fallen comrade was poignant.

Next we drove down the coast. Just south of Ortona begins what is called the Costa Dei Trabocchi. A trabocco is a massive construction built from wood, which consists of a platform anchored to the rock by large logs of pine, jutting out into the sea, from where two (or more) long arms called antennae stretch out suspended some feet above the water and supporting a huge, narrow-meshed, net (called trabocchetto). Eventually their usefulness waned as more modern methods were adopted. These platforms were all but abandoned until the Slow Food movement encouraged owners to transform them into restaurants.

We chose Pesce Palombo as our Trabocco for lunch. It was an experience. First big issue was finding the place. Nearly impossible. But we did and walked across the narrow bridge to the platform. We were fed til we popped. Of course it was all seafood and super fresh. We saw fishermen traversing the bridge with buckets. I am guessing they bring their catch for the Trabocco owners to buy. The below are just a couple of pictures of the place, menu and  food.





The next morning we rose and got on the road to our next destination. Reale and Casadonna in a town called Castel di Sangro. One of nine Michelin 3 star restaurants in Italy. It is very remote but beautiful. Decorated in wood, steel and cement. Austere. White. And the dinner was…how to describe it? The dishes are simple but at the same time they are celebrations of taste. The dishes often were multiple dishes of food or multiple foods on one plate and you are instructed on what order to eat them or whether they should be eaten together. Obviously the chef spends much time experimenting and cares how his creations are eaten. I can’t really describe the experience. We had the small menu and were glad we did as it was quite a lot. I don’t know if I’d go back but it was worth it for once. (I took no pictures…)

We headed back to Umbertide the next morning after an amazing breakfast.

View from our room.

The bar, breakfast area and salon.

Breakfast brioche.

Trip Report – Scotland

Another Trip Report – long with lots of pictures – so skip if you are not interested!
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Four people. Me, Luther, my sister Cindy and her husband Bill met in the middle. C&B flew from Virginia to Edinburgh and we from Bologna for a rousing road trip around Scotland and it’s isles.

We arrived in Edinburgh airport at 12:15 and met up with C&B with no problem. We headed out to rent our car and off we went to the north, crossing the Firth of Forth. Great suspension bridge. We got off the highway in Dunfermline just because it was near and on the way. We were famished. We had a nice lunch in the guildhall and linen exchange. A historic hotel with a restaurant.

We headed north and arrived in Carrbridge which is in Speyside with no events. We passed some beautiful scenery along the way. Very stark.

We checked into our rooms in the Dalrachney Lodge. Nice little place with a gentle speaking innkeeper. Our rooms were nice with plenty of room and ours had an amazing bathtub with shower stall. Reminded me of a Victorian torture device!

We had reserved for dinner so we met up for wine in the parlor and to choose our food. The food was ok. Not great but passable.

Saturday June 16
Still gray out the next morning but we took a picture of the stone bridge for which Carrbridge is named.

Then we headed north and to do a scotch tasting at Benromach Distillery. Along the way we drove through vast moors, barren and wild.


They were funny asking who the driver was and we had to limit our tasting somewhat. Legal limit is .03. We also bought a drivers pack which allowed you to save what you couldn’t or shouldn’t drink. Handy! The scenery on the way was stunning. We went to Aviemore and had lunch at the Bridge Inn. On the Spey river. It was great with excellent pub food. A gastro pub.

The bridge the pub is named for.

After lunch we went to another distillery, Tomatin and tasted more scotch.

We again ate in the hotel. Luther was able to smoke a cigar outside and we finished all the bits of scotch from the tastings.

Sunday June 17
We decided to go to the coast this day and on the way visit a distillery. We went to Dufftown and on to Glenlivet Distillery. Good tasting. Bought some to bring home. And for Vera.

Glenlivit

Afterwards we headed to a coastal road which went through some beautiful scenery. The towns were full of pretty, what looked like, holiday homes. No tacky shops. In fact no shops at all! We stopped in a town called Findochty. We walked into the harbor and by chance found the only place at all doing any sort of business, the Admiral Inn. We decided to try it for lunch. It was goodish. We had Ale, or beer and some tried the neeps and we had chicken with hagis which we liked, surprisingly.

Laundry day – taking advantage of a seldom seen dry and sunny day!

Hagis.


We headed back looking for another distillery and finally stopped at Glen Grant. It was weird. They would only serve you whisky as part of an activity. You could take the tour of the distillery or tour the gardens. We opted for the gardens. The day was quite nice and the gardens were pretty.

We were mildly disappointed that we got a blend that was of indeterminate age but probably only 5 years and the other was 10 years. They were pretty good even that young. We headed home and had a picnic in our room for dinner and sat outside. It had been a nice visit in Speyside Scotland.

Monday June 18
We woke and had an 8 am breakfast. We said goodbye to our innkeeper, his wife and Archibald the spaniel. We all loved Archie. And he loved us. He stationed himself at the bottom of the steps for a tummy rub from anyone descending.

We drove north through Inverness and on up beside the North Sea.

We arrived in Thurso and did a little shopping for lunch on the ferry. We loaded our car on the ship and had our picnic sans vino as alcohol was prohibited.

We headed for Westrow Lodge after we debarked. It is a modern house with stunning views of the sea. And a wicked wind had come up gusting to over 50 mph. The house has just the two rooms upstairs and is a B&B. Our innkeeper is Kathy from Michigan(!). She’s lived there 25 years.

Our neighbors the cattle…

Cindy scaring away our neighbors…

We went to find a beer, badly wanted, in Stromness. We found the Ferry Inn just across from the ferry pier. Afterward we went to the small supermarket Coop. We bought ham, smoked salmon, roast sliced chicken breast, Camembert cheese wine and bread for our dinner tomorrow. Then we headed back for showers. Dinner that night was a place I’d found on the web called Foveran Restaurant with Rooms. Excellent place! Very pretty with walls painted shades of ivory and ecru. Minimally decorated letting the stunning views of the Scapa Flow outside the windows be the artwork. View 9:30PM from window.

We are just two days from the Solstice, the longest day of the year. And, since we are so far north the sun sets at about 11:30pm and rises at 3am. Between it is not really dark, more like dusk.

Tuesday June 19.
The winds roared all night, shaking the house. We arose and had breakfast, included in the rate, of your choice of bacon, egg, sausage tomato and mushrooms. Good enough. Then we were off to Scapa Brae, a prehistoric village that had been buried in the sand for thousands of years and was washed free in 1850. It dates to 4,500 years ago. The village was all made of stone with grass covered roofs. The inside of each house had a square hearth in a square depression bordered by flat, straight, thin stones. On the sides of the room were beds constructed much the same way which would have been filled with straw and animal furs. They even had a “dresser” on which to display their treasures proudly. And nooks for clothing and storage. The village was inhabited for 600 years and abandoned – reason unknown. But this is situated in a pristine location on a turquoise bay. The strong winds we endured whipped up amazing white plumes of surf.

Hearth is the square in the foreground.

Next we went to Stromness, the second largest town. It is a fishing town and ferries come in and out regularly. They have one shopping street which we explored. I bought some yarn from the famous Ronaldsay sheep of Orkney. I chose natural colors, undyed. We went back to the Ferry Inn. Nice lunch. I chose the lobster salad, consisting of half a lobster, served cold, nice composed salad and new potatoes. Perfect.

Next we went to the Ring of Brodgar. Standing stones. It’s age is uncertain but probably dates from 4,500 years ago. Older than Stonehenge! 35 of the original 60 stones are still there. We couldn’t walk among them like we had done on our last visit. They do have free guided tours where you can go inside. It is hard to convey the scale in photos.

We drove a short way down the road to the Stones of Stenness. We were pleased to see we could walk amongst them. They are awesome in their size. The Stones of Stenness today consist of four upright stones up to 6m in height in a circle that originally held 12 stones. The focus of the interior was a large hearth. The stones were encircled by a large ditch and bank, no longer there. The stone circle may be the oldest in Britain dating to over 5,000 years ago. They are thought to have been a major center or worship. There are also six burial mounds in the vicinity and the two rings (Brodgar and Stenness) are thought to have been once connected.

I left that one person below in this one so you can see the scale of these stones.

Me buffeted by the winds.

All of these places we visited are on vast plains or seashore so there is nothing to break the wind. The gusts made it hard to walk or even stand still to take pictures.

That evening we had a picnic in our room. Which was fun.

Wednesday June 20
We woke to sun, clouds, less wind and patchy rain. After another breakfast we headed toward Kirkwall, the largest town. But we saved it for later and passed through on the way to the Italian Chapel. This Chapel was built by Italian POWs during WWII. 200 were based at Camp 60 on Lamb Holm, brought to build the Churchill barriers between the islands. In 1943 Camp 60’s new commandant, and Father Gioacchino Giacobazzi, the camp’s Catholic priest, agreed that a place of worship was required.

The chapel was constructed from limited materials by the prisoners. Two Quonset huts were joined end-to-end. The corrugated interior was then covered with plasterboard and the altar and altar rail were constructed from left over concrete . Most of the interior decoration was done by Domenico Chiocchetti, a prisoner from Moena. He painted the sanctuary end of the chapel and fellow-prisoners decorated the entire interior. They created a facade out of concrete, concealing the shape of the hut and making the building look like a church. The light holders were made out of corned beef tins. The baptismal font was made from the inside of a car exhaust covered in a layer of concrete.

These next two look like stone but are just painted to look like 3-D carved stone.

Many prisoners had special skills, like iron working.

When his fellow prisoners were released shortly before the end of the war, Chiocchetti remained on the island to finish decorating the newly consecrated chapel.

It is a touching memento from a difficult era.

We returned to visit the famous Highland Park Distillery. Famous the world over. They only let you taste if you tour but the next one was over an hour later. The nice guy let us taste a wee bit of the two we were interested in. Luther bought a bottle.

In Scotland almost all the distilleries are built with these distinctive copper chimneys.. They use a stylized version on the signs of the Whisky trail.

Next we headed to Kirkwall, biggest town on the Orkneys. We walked it’s streets and did some shopping.

St Magnus Cathedral is it’s big sight but it was closed for a funeral. So we missed seeing it.

I was taken with the frieze

We found a nice pub with a friendly bartender where we had lunch.

My favorite beer.

My first fish and chips of the trip.

Next we headed to Scapa Distillery. We decided to take the tour which was quite good. At the end we tasted some of the Cask whisky straight from the barrel which was surprisingly smooth. And we headed back to the main building for three more tastes. The first was really just alcohol…what we’d call white lightening. Ugh. Next we tried one that was smooth and not made with peat. The last had been aged in barrels that had previously been used for whisky made with peat so it had a residual smokey taste.

Luther on the beach at Scappa.

A fun day. Headed to the B&B to rest and shower. Later we dined again at the Foveran restaurant. It is a very good place.

Thursday, June 21
Arose and breakfasted with Kathy, our innkeeper. Then we packed and got on the road to catch the 11am ferry. This was the hitch in a day of long driving. If we hadn’t had to catch a ferry we could have gotten an earlier start. As it was, we didn’t get on the road until one. The ferry trip was rough as the winds had, again, picked up.

We drove south the way we had come. We stopped at the Bay Owl Inn for lunch. Didn’t look like much from outside but it had gorgeous views from inside of the sea and a small bay. Lunch was good and we got going again.

The scenery was gorgeous the whole way. Scotland is beautiful. Indulge me here. I simply could not chose from these!

Look at this amazingly dramatic and stark scene!

Hiking path across the wetland

The GPS sent us down a road that turned into one lane with passing places. Lots of potholes. We finally arrived at the Edinbane Inn, a lively pub with rooms at about the worst possible time for them 7:15pm, slammed at the dinner hour. We finally got to our nice, but VERY small room, and then headed down to dine. It was starting to slow a little by then. The food was quite good. I was not very hungry. We retired to the outside picnic tables to finish our drinks and Luther to smoke his cigar. We were inundated with the notorious Scottish midges, or wee bastards as the Scots call them. Then to bed.

Friday June 22
Today we explored the north part of the island. But first we had an excellent breakfast at our Inn/pub. Scrambled eggs over toast topped with smoked salmon. Very yum. We headed out and up the west coast. The road was one-lane-with-passing-places and many, many very large and deep potholes. Also sheep. In the road.

We stopped frequently for pictures. We wished over and over for the sun to break through. But no go. We paid a visit to Kilt rock with its waterfall and farther along mount Skorr an ancient volcano which has eroded into interesting formations. Cindy, Bill and Luther hiked up toward the famous rock formations while I remained in the car.

Ever-present sheep.

Vista with wild flowers.

Home sweet home…to someone.

Nesting bird.

Kilt rock and falls

Old Man of Skorr

Foxglove.

The road came around to the east and down the other side ending at Portree, the largest city on the island. It was pretty mobbed with people. We found a very subpar place for lunch and headed back to our pub.

After a nap and a shower we went to the Ullinish country lodge or dinner. Got great write ups but I have to say it was not worth it. We had a hard time finding it as it was way down a long one-lane-with-passing-places road. The scenery was stunning. The place was quite formal and pretentious. It was a price fixed 4 course meal with only two choices of appetizer, two entree, cheese, and two desserts. We got French wines which were good. Too expensive and not my style anymore.

We returned to our Inn and enjoyed the wonderful Scottish music that was on this night. All local people who just show up to play together. The musicians were seated around a table and rotated in and out. Fiddle, bagpipes, guitar, mandolin, bass, several voices. Really quite wonderful.

Saturday June 23
Another gray day. After breakfast we headed out to visit the Talisker Distillery. It’s been around a long time and is way down a narrow, one-lane-with-passing-places road. It was mobbed. We found you’d again need to take a tour and then you could taste one whisky. Not worth it. We bought a small bottle. Cindy and Bill bought 3 miniatures.

Misty boats in the harbor

Back on the road in search of Scotland’s oldest Inn, the Stein Inn in the little town of Waternish. It was a perfect pub! Low ceilings and stone walls. Fireplace and pretty bar. We got our beers and decided on lunch. Mine turned out to be sub par. It was pretty basic. But we had fun.

We next went to Dunvegan to see Dunvegan Castle. Ancestral home of the McLeods. The oldest part was the castle keep built in 1320. Then thee or four other parts were added, including the Fairy Tower, which I loved. We toured the gardens which were large and diverse but we were attacked by the wee bastards! Horrible things. Got lots of pictures though.

Then back to Edinbane Inn for our afternoon pint and then for a nap.

We had dinner in the pub that night. The food was pretty good, not great.

Sunday June 24
We had breakfast and checked out of the inn. We had all come to like it, even if the rooms were very tiny. We had a long drive ahead of us to Edinburgh. As we left Skye the clouds cleared and we stopped a few times for photo ops. We had been sad to have no sun to get good pictures the whole time on Skye.

Our Pub

On the way off of Skye – finally sun!

These next ones are of the Five Sisters. Five peaks over 3,500 feet high just off of Skye on the way to the Ft. Williams area.

We stopped for lunch in Pitlochry, a bustling little town. Lots of tourists. We ate at the Old Smiddy Pub. We had a decent lunch and headed out again. We found our hotel, the Norton Country Lodge, with no problem and checked in. Nice place. Big comfortable room. Very close to the airport but quite bucolic all the same. We had decided to get a picnic for dinner that evening. We went out to shop and get gas.

After freshening up and napping we all got together for our last super. It had been a great trip overall. I think everyone had fun.

Monday June 25
Up at the crack of screech as my old friend used to stay for our 6:50am flight. By 5:15 we had checked out. Cindy and Bill slumbered on as they had a flight at a decent time. Things went downhill from there. The rental drop place had no drop box. Luther decided to wait the 10 minutes until they opened. I went ahead to check in. I went to the baggage tag place and our boarding passes would not scan. I had to go to the end of the terminal to get new boarding passes and a Visa check. Then back to the luggage place. Thank god Luther found me on my way back. We jumped the line as instructed. And then went to security. By now it was only 20 to departure and our plane had been boarding. Even the family line, which we used because I had my crutch, was packed. It took a while to get through. I sent Luther on ahead to tell them I was coming. I walked as fast as I could and got there where Luther had persuaded them to wait for me. The gate was closed and we were last to board! Just too much strurm and drang for me.

Let’s see, best and worst…
Best breakfast, Edinbain Inn scrambled eggs with salmon.
Best lunch, Aviemore in the Bridge Inn
Worst lunch food (for me) Stein Inn.
Best dinner, Foveran restaurant Skye
Worst dinner Ullinish country lodge. Too pretentious. Too pricy.
Best place to stay, we liked them all for different reasons. The most comfy was Dalrachney Hall. Westrow Lodge in Orkneys was comfortable if you don’t mind being in earshot of the owner and family. Edinbane Inn was one of a kind. How many times can you sleep in a pub? The last nights hotel was lovely but we had such little time there.
Best sights, the Orkney Islands.
Best scenery, the islands of Orkney and Skye
Best whisky tasting Benromach Distillery

Norcia and Piano Grande

This week we decided to go with friends on a long drive to south eastern Umbria to a place I’ve wanted to visit since we’ve been here, Piano Grande (big plain) and Castelluccio, the small town on the high plain. This is a unique landscape. The plain is at an altitude of 4,000 feet and is surrounded by the higher Sibilline mountains which rise to 8,000 feet creating a bowl. The plain is a karstic basin which is made up of porous limestone which holds underground reserves of water. It is crisscrossed by “ditches” which drain the rain water into holes in the limestone. In summer it is carpeted with purple, red and yellow flowers. The regions famous lentils are grown here. Castelluccio is the only town up in these mountains and sits on a hilltop overlooking the plain. Unfortunately the town was 60% destroyed by the 2016 earthquakes and has been abandoned. The sweet thing is that all the farmers from down below drive their tractors up in the spring and they help all the villagers plant the lentils each year. It is the lentils that bloom purple.

We drove up a winding mountain road that was being repaired. It had been closed for 8 months after the quake but it is far from finished at this time. Along the way we passed destroyed buildings. As we rose higher we entered the low clouds and it began to rain. Due to the rain we couldn’t see the plain well so my pictures are very misty. I will go back during June or July when the flowers are blooming and it’s sunny. Somehow this somber, misty landscape evokes sadness in keeping with the destruction you see everywhere.

The hotel that collapsed.

Piano Grande in the mist

Castelluccio

We headed back down the same road. The road used to go through but it is closed at this time. We were going to visit Norcia for lunch. Luther and I had not been in a few years. It had been a vibrant little city famous for its cured proscuitti and sausages. But, being only 6 kilometers from the epicenter of the last quake (6.6) it is in very bad shape now, with most of the businesses being relocated outside of town. I was so sad to see the beautiful buildings covered with elaborate scaffolding awaiting repair. The saddest, to me, is the monastery. The front facade is all that is standing and that is being held up with the structures built around it.

This picture was taken in 2014 on our first trip to Norcia. This is the front and side of the building with the old tower to the right..

This is the same piazza. You can see the old tower has collapsed, as has the entire back of the church.

Facade facing out with supports.

This the front facade from the back. This side would have been inside the church and this rose window would have faced out. Nothing left.

This is the bell tower that stands to the left of the facade in the top picture. If  you look closely you can see the entire top portion has been knocked askew and it is held together with bands of cabling.

Wanting to support the town we ate at a restaurant near the Teatro. It was a fine lunch.

The antipasto plate which we all shared.

My Strengozzi with vedure di montagne.

Jens risotto looked AWESOME!

We shared our ham and sausage with this little, skinny stray. Another table was doing the same. I don’t know how she held it all down. I can imagine she’s never been this satiated in her life!

A couple comfortably enjoying a caffe on a bench in the piazza

Bye, bye Norcia. We will be rooting for you!

Trip Report – Mediterranean Islands and Barcelona

This is another trip report so skip if you are not interested! And I’m warning you, there are a LOT of food pictures. 🙂

The trip was three days in Barcelona prior to a cruise across the Mediterranean to Rome. 10 days all together.
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Barcelona Thursday May 3
Long day. Got up at 6:15 and drove to Foligno. Caught the train to Rome. Then took a train to the airport. Waited for it to be time to check in. Funny though, I got to do FastTrack checkin because of my crutch 🙂and people give up seats for me! Geez. Then had a bad sandwich for lunch. Plane was delayed 45 minutes. We arrived in Barcelona, got our luggage, and took a taxi.

The driver didn’t know the hotel or street. 🙄 but she eventually found the street and she walked with us to find the hotel. Which was nice. I wouldn’t want to be abandoned to find it on our own! Little bitty streets. Tons of people out. It was wet from rain. And pretty chilly. Hotel is nice but very quirky.

The bedroom and bath are on one side and a sitting area is across the hall. I’m thinking we’ll do a picnic there tomorrow. TVs are in both sides. They have planted an amazing vertical garden in the air shaft outside our bathroom.

After such a full day my knee was very sore and tired from walking. It felt unstable and I was walking very slowly. I had used the crutch all day but am beginning to feel like an old woman so I decided to ditch the crutch the next day.

At around 8:30 we were really hungry so it was time to figure out dinner. Our hotel recommended a place around the corner. Called En Ville Restaurant. It was OK. They were nice and the food pretty food.
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Friday May 4
Friday dawned gray and cool. The hotel had a great breakfast. Pancakes to order and fried eggs and bacon if you want. Plus a bar with fruit, cheese, meats, pastries, toast, bread. A frig with yogurt. Fresh squeezed orange juice. Very yummy. Not only a great breakfast but free sandwiches, snacks and drinks other than alcohol available all day and night.

We planned a walking tour of the gothic quarter. It is not very gothic! We saw the cathedral but it was inundated with hundreds of school kids who were skipping, running, dancing through a course and there was a band etc. so we just walked on by. We visited the indoor market with amazing food.


Along our walk. Pretty lamp.

Bridge of sighs look-alike!

OK everyone, what is this vegetable?

And a beautiful faucet. Brass. In a public fountain.

Then we went to the plaza with Gaudis first project…lampposts. Instantly recognizable.

We stopped for a glass of wine and to rest my knee. It was a pretty square ringed with cafes and beautiful with palm trees. It began to rain while we were there. Then we went to see one of the Gaudi buildings with a beautiful entry and facade and on top were a whole forest of little Gaudi trees. Cool.


We returned to our hotel and rested a bit before walking to our lunch restaurant – Cera 23. Catalan and Galacian cuisine. Excellent. Very comfortable space, not stuffy or fancy. Nice people. I chose the tuna tartare with “red fruit”. They had 4 tartares on the menu, tomato, tuna, steak, degustation of the three tartares.

Luther had Carpaccio de presa ibérica. Smoky Iberian ham. It was wonderful but I could not have eaten the entire thing.

Then I had the Volcán de Arroz negro con marisco. It was black rice with a cheese saffron sauce and seafood. I would call it a risotto.

Luther had Atún en dados. It was perfect cubes of seared tuna with kimchi mayonnaise. Both of these were great. I don’t quite know how kimchi mayo fits in with galacian cuisine? 🤔

Our wine.

And dessert…molten chocolate…YUM!

We planned that lunch was to be our main meal since they do eat dinner late here. We went to a little store and bought cheese, meat and wine. Then to a forn (means bakery) for a baguette. We had our picnic in our sitting room and then adjourned for the roof. Great views and no one up there. Luther had his cigar and I finished my wine.

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Saturday May 5
Another gray day. We had our excellent breakfast and headed out to try the city bus tour. It was sub-par. It was hop on – hop off at the different stops. If you didn’t do that you saw little despite the audio tour. We got off at Gaudis Church. Amazing! But we couldn’t get inside as they were sold out on tickets. A big disappointment for us both. I guess we will have to come back. I also want to visit the Art Nouveau museum next time when I can walk better.



Along the bus tour I snapped a couple photos of the wonderful architecture. Art Nouveau to the max. Gorgeous.

After the bus tour we walked down a great pedestrian street. Luther obviously had already chosen our lunch spot. It was called 4 Cats. It was on a tiny street and Picasso had hung out there. A very ornate, jewel box of a restaurant with mostly tourist traffic but we got a pretty good lunch of tapas.

Luther ordered a brandy to finish and I swear they poured half a snifter!! It was a real South Carolina Pour! We enjoyed our lunch. Then we walked back with a stop to view an amazing 7 piece group of buskers. Very talented and I got a ton of pictures. They were fun.

Toe cymbal.

Wailin’ on the sax.

Then back to the hotel to snooze.

For dinner we had a picnic with the left overs and went to the roof deck where it was raining. Oh well.
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Sunday May 6
Another rainy morning. We had breakfast and packed up waiting until the check out time of noon. Then we went to the roof deck where we relaxed until time to take the taxi to the port. While we waited the sun came out! 😀

We asked them to call a taxi and we were picked up by a lady with big blue glasses and cute short hair, off the shoulder blouse and a great selection of music on her cab stereo. She got us straight to the terminus, where we checked our bags and were processed through immigration. We boarded the Windstar and signed in. All was quite familiar from our last trip. We even chose the same cabin!

We did the muster for our lifeboat drill and using our life jackets and then we went to the deck to watch sail-away.

Dinner was a disappointment. We both got the strip steak. Sub-par. I did like my poblano corn soup. Luther hated his shrimp appetizer. Hoping things will improve. After dinner on deck was quite cold so I left Luther to finish his cigar.

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Monday, May 7
We sailed overnight to Palma de Mallorca. Still in Spain. It was gray and cool when we breakfasted. I equate the word “port” with being small…but then I think about the Viking cruises megaships and the like who are all here in the harbor. You need a lotta room! We were ready to take a taxi into the old town but there was a Windstar shuttle bus. Yay! 10 am departure and it runs every 30 minutes. It broke down on the way! But they fixed it. We walked into the town skipping all the steps up to the amazing cathedral. There is an old town with lots of pedestrian streets. Many shops, and of course, many tourists. We walked for about 2 1/2 hours. It is a nice place. A lot of tourists but we enjoyed the walk. Here are pictures.




Cathedral.


We stopped about noon for me to rest my knee and had a glass of wine and a beer in a pretty little plaza. We could have eaten there but it was pretty touristy so we decided to move on. And a good thing we did! We ended up in a tiny square next to a huge church where we had a lovely lunch at l’ambigú.

The day had turned sunny once the morning fog burned off. And it was kind of cool. But I was OK in a T-shirt. We couldn’t sit outside as it was booked out there but inside had big windows. We ended up sharing an anchovy appetizer. The anchovies were on seaweed bread with mache and a mild sauce.

Then Luther had a lamb dish with fresh mache, radicchio, cabbage and you made a nice pita sandwich. It came with two sauces, one yogurt the other super hot. Quite interesting dish.

I had grilled octopus on a mountain of mashed potatoes with fried arugula and a mild garlic sauce. Both dishes were great.
We had a local Mallorcan Cabernet – super fruity! A nice lucky find for us, having done no research.

Knee held up except the many stairs were hard…and painful.

We went up for sail-away. Cold on deck. Very chilly wind. We got underway and still see no sails. 2nd cruise. No sails.

Dinner average. I am disappointed in the restaurant this time. My salmon was overcooked the portions are minuscule. Shrimp appetizer 2 shrimp. Scallop appetizer 2 small scallops, steak entree, 1/2 inch thick, overcooked.

On deck for Luther’s cigar. Breezy but with blankets manageable.
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Tuesday, May 8
Maó-Mahón, sometimes written in English as Mahon is the capital city of the island of Menorca.The city is located on the eastern coast of the island, which is part of Spain. Maó-Mahón has one of the largest natural harbours in the world: 5 km (3.1 mi) long and up to 900 metres (2,953 feet) wide. The water is deep but it remains mostly clear due to it being slightly enclosed. It is also said to be the birthplace of mayonnaise(!) 🙂.

The town was high above the port. We took a taxi up to save my knee. We walked around the big square and down the little streets of shops. Cute.

We stopped at a large church. And found the square where our restaurant was supposed to be. It was a bit hard to find but we managed. It opened at one so we went to a nice outside cafe for wine. Then returned at one when they opened.

Casa Mares is the name of the restaurant and it has a stunning view over the harbor. Cute basket light covers.

All the menus choices were to share. Tapas here are not like tapas in the US. The portions are more than generous and we always over-ordered. We got Patatas Brava – so good! With the normal bread that comes with tomatoes and garlic.

Then a crispy chicken nuggets 😏 with melted local cheese type thing each one in its own lettuce leaf with sauce.

Then an egg over sautéed calamari and cabbage and tomatoes. All of it great and very hearty.

The bread here and all of this trip so far has been fab. Crusty with lots of holes and when they split it and toast it it is great!

We were stuffed and found our way back to ship. Probably will skip dinner or just get snacks. 🤭

Sail away at ten o’clock and then an all night, all day sail to Corsica.

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Wednesday May 9
Woke to rough seas. The ship was rolling and pitching. VERY hard to walk around. Bad enough with my knee and then staggering about. Taking a shower was a challenge. And being cooped up in the little bath made me queasy. We went to breakfast and the wind was very strong outside. And quite cold. A lot of people must be seasick as I noticed a lot less of them around.

We had the BBQ lunch. Choice of hamburgers, hotdogs or chicken with potato salad and coleslaw. It was ok. We sat on deck in the sun and it wasn’t too bad. It’s nice to see the horizon, that way you don’t feel sick.

For dinner we went to the regular restaurant. I had the crab cake and the shrimp entree. Neither was all that good. I am not impressed with the chef. Last summer was much better. We dined with another couple tonight. We asked to have a table to share. They were nice folks from Salt Lake City. I’d guess they are Mormon as they didn’t drink. We enjoyed talking to them. Afterwards we went up in deck so Luther could have his cigar. There were a few other folks up there smoking and drinking who we chatted with.
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Thursday, May 10
During the night the ship docked in Calvi, France (population 6,500). Finally stopped her rolling. Woke to pretty sun and not so much wind. We breakfasted early because we had signed up for a wine tasting tour. We had to use the tender as we were at anchor. The tour was by bus and took us into the interior mountain villages. Rugged country. The whole island is covered in wild flowers.


We enjoyed the wine tasting at Clos Columbu. We tasted a white, a rose, and a red. The bus tour was definitely not worth the money.

After we walked around Calvi, which is cute but touristy, and had lunch in Le Nautical. They specialize in mussels but we had salads. Probably stupid choice.


This night we ate on deck at the specialty restaurant, Candles. Food was good-ish. The appetizer I got was beet and goat cheese but there was barely a smear of cheese. Luther got the shrimp.

I got filet steak and Luther got lamb chops.

All food is cooked on the grill. Good. We enjoyed more wine outside. Good conversation.

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Friday, May 11
Another nice day. Warmer. The town of Bastia is about 50,000 people and the capital of its arrondissment. We breakfasted and waited a bit to go ashore. Then we walked around the Vieux Port area. Old streets and lots of churches.

We had a glass of wine in a restaurant along the shore and then went in search of lunch.

We chose O Resto where we had salads. Mine was Vietnamese with nice flavors. Luther had the goat cheese on toasts salad. The food was good enough but not exceptional. Trying to speak French was comical! Italian and French all mixed up together!

That evening was the big BBQ. I will say this was as good as last year. My favorite was the suckling pig but I also liked the flank steak and the grilled lobster tails! Yum! The food service manager who is Indonesian makes his own hot sauce which he shared with us when we mentioned we like the spice. One was SUPER hot the other only very hot. Then the crew all started the line dances. And I watched since there was no dancing in my life at that time!
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Saturday, May 12
Arrived in Elba, town of Portoferraio, Italy. Another sunny day. Finally I was able to wear sleeveless. We chose Bistro Teatro e Wine Bar.

Lovely little restaurant up high with two outside spaces. One has a lovely view of the harbor.

It was on a very long, very steep set of steps.

We had the mixed seafood antipasti. Octopus, fresh anchovies (my fav) tuna, tuna toasts, tuna ceviche.

Loved what they did to the peas!

Then the spaghetti with crab. It was wonderful but really hard to eat! They gave us things to crack them with and pickers. The house made spaghetti was in a wonderful red sauce.

While there we met some Americans who have a unique retirement. They own a condo on a ship. 1,100 sq ft. Two bedroom. Big balcony and it sails the world. The condo owners own the ship. They choose where the ship goes. Pretty amazing. They’ve been full time residents for 10 years. I wish I’d gotten their contact info.

So we went up for the last sail-away. It was nice.

Pilot comes out in each port to guide the Windstar out of the harbor.

Bye bye Elba. This is not far from us. Just off the coast of Tuscany and we can return if we want.
Then we decided to eat in our room. Prime rib was ok. The party’s over. The next morning we were debarking at 8am.
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Sunday, May 13
Up and at em. We got our passports back and debarked. The captain and some officers saw us off. We got a taxi to the train station and we were off homeward bound.

Final experience to recount. We arrived in Foligno and went to retrieve our car. The good news is it was only 5€ a day so we owed 55€. Suddenly we knew we were in deep kimchi. It would not accept bills. Only coins. Aaaahhhhh!! It’s Sunday. No banks open. No stores open. Only a few ice cream places and bars. Poor Luther went off to try to get 55€ in coins!! A little known fact. Italians do NOT give change. They want YOU to give them exact change. So if you ask for change for a five it’s like asking them to cut off their arm! Luther ended up buying a small bottle of water, getting 4€ in change then throwing away the water and doing it again. And again. Until he finally got 55€ in change 🙄 I had stayed at the station figuring I’d just slow him down. Then we slowly fed in all those euro. Got our ticket and drove up to the gate. Plugged it into the slot and waited for the arm to go up. And waited. I’m like, WHAT?! This can’t be happening. You also have to understand the lot is totally unmanned so no help available. I was ready to call the cops. Or break off that arm. But Luther went over to it and gave it a shove and it raised up! We quick, like a bunny, exited that infernal lot. Geez what an end to our trip!!

Final thoughts. Windstar was not up to snuff. Not nearly as nice as last year. They will hear from us. The itinerary itself was great. I got to see lots of places I probably would not have seen…and in three countries! It was a good trip, considering my limitations.

Around Umbertide

Spring is fully in progress. Today is April 25, Liberation day for Italy and the end of WWII so a national holiday. In Umbertide it is a more somber day. On this day in 1944 the allies bombed the town killing 78 people and destroying about a quarter of the Centro Storico of the town. They were trying to hit the bridge over the Tiber and the railroad to block the retreat of the Germans. They had to try four times before they hit the bridge, meanwhile doing a lot of damage. The sad part is that Perugia knew they were coming an didn’t warn the citizens, who were mostly still asleep in their homes. Had they been warned they may have evacuated. A sad tale. Anyway, they have a Catholic ceremony in Piazza 25 Aprile and the band plays and everyone comes out early in the morning to remember when it happened.

As I was watching from my window the Carabiniere showed up in their shiny black and red car. They are the State Military police whose spiffy uniforms were originally designed by Armani. Anyway, they climbed out of the car and started toward Bar Mary for a caffe but as they walked a woman called out to them and one broke off and went over to her, giving her the double kiss of greeting. I couldn’t help comparing them to our police in the US. Hmmm.
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Yesterday my friend Jen and I went for a little drive around the neighborhood. I took her to one of my favorite places nearby, the Abbey of San Salvatore in Montecorona. The Romanesque church was built with three naves and an octagonal bell tower and was consecrated in 1105. My favorite part of the church is the crypt. It feels very ancient and special. The crypt has five-naves and three apses dominated by roman and old medieval columns, each one different from the other. Check out my pictures.

Row of columns. Note the differences.

I loved this face. Is it a beast? A bull?

In the very front are a row of frescoes. The rest of the crypt is just stone.

The Octagonal tower.

Montecorona is also known for its famous peaches. These trees are just down the road from the church. The church is situated at the foot of Montecorona, a small mountain. On its top is part of the abbey associated with the church. The road itself is the old Roman road that followed the Tiber river valley south. It is very narrow. Barely room for two cars to pass in places.

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On Saturday Luther and I made a nice excursion to Deruta, the famous ceramics town. I have slowly been gathering a six place setting of ceramics. I ordered another set and some salt and pepper shakers. And I bought this pretty little serving plate. It is the pattern that I chose but each place setting is a different color. This time it’s teal. Last time it was navy, and the time before it was a wine red color. See the detail on the serving plate I bought. Every intricate pattern and dot is hand painted. Hence the cost!


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And a mundane issue. My Lavatrice — washer — died last week. So we walked over to our local Formica store. Formica means ant in Italian. No idea why a chain of stores would be called that! Anyway, they had a good selection and we chose a new washer and drier which were delivered and installed the next day. We went back and paid for them after I tried them out. They are so much better than the old ones!