Category Archives: Travel

Fun visit !

Our friends couldn’t have asked for nicer weather. Autumn in Umbria is spectacular in an entirely different way from the brilliant greens of springtime.

The visit was with two friends. Eunice, one of my besties from my Book Group, and her husband Mark. Eunice was unable to come with the initial group of Book Group friends a few years ago. We had to make that right! So we experienced it again, with some new adventures thrown in so she has some experiences unique to her.

Our first outing was to Todi, one of my favorite towns in Umbria. Very high on a hill, it is fairly large and completely medieval. The heart of town is the Piazza del Popolo and here you find many gorgeous buildings to include the People’s Palace and the Captain’s Palace. The latter houses the Civic Museum and Gallery. We also found, for the first time, the funicular from a nice parking lot up to the top of town. It eliminates any arduous hill climbing.

Interesting door knob on our walk from the funicular to the Piazza.

One of the prettiest buildings and one of the only green areas is San Fortunato. Built originally by the Romans and converted to a church in the 1100s.

Also in the Piazza is the Todi Cathedral which features a rose window.

The  Captain’s Palace. Very Venetian looking I think.

We had a nice lunch in one of our favorite restaurants, Ristorante Umbria.

The view from the walls which was also enjoyed by our restaurant.

~~~~~~~~~~~

Next up, a visit to Tom and Maximus. This will take a little explaining. Mark and Eunice are big Bernese Mountain dog fans. They have had several over the time I’ve known them. Their latest is Quinn who is 3 years old. When they heard Tom and Carol had a puppy named Max they wanted to meet him. So I asked Tom if we could come up. Well he’s a fine fellow and decided on a BBQ lunch for us all. It was a beautiful, clear day and we drove high up into the mountains to his house. Unfortunately Carol was in the UK because her father was ill so our friend , Joanne, who is Tom’s neighbor came up to join us.

We sat outside where it was breezy and much cooler than I had expected. I brought my World Famous Ribs for our contribution. Tom must have spent hours preparing all the food we had. We had an excellent time and the time flew. When I looked at my watch it was 6PM!! That’s what happens with a lunch here in Umbria with friends. Thanks Tom!

Pretty planter at Tom’s house.

Basil makes a nice arrangement on the set-up table.

The table and view.

The dessert was spectacular. And not too heavy.

Maximus (7 months old) was quite shy and took a long time to warm up to us. Everyone took time sitting on the floor with him. When we rose to leave he suddenly became very friendly! Funny pup. He also likes men more than women.

~~~~~~~~~~~

Our last real outing was to a vineyard in Bevagna, a small town in the wine growing area of the famous Sagrantino grape. It was another spectacular day. The winery Luther chose was Villa Mongalli. We had visited it 2 times before. A family operation consisting of the semi-retired father, two brothers, and their wives and small children. The last visits we had were with one of the brothers, Pierrepaolo. This time his wife, Natasha, conducted the tasting. We tasted a spectacular Rosato, a white Grechetto, a Rosso, two Sagrantini reds and one more, super smooth Montefalco Rosso. We, of course, bought several cases, and Eunice bought one for her planned soiree on the terrace of their rented house.

Sagrantino di Montefalco

Array of our bottles in the sun.

The vines are loaded. This is Sagrantino. They said it won’t be ready to harvest until late October.

We tasted a couple of theses. They are unbelievably sweet!

View across the acreage with grapes and olive groves. Pretty patchwork. I think Bavagna and Montefalco hills are the prettiest scenery in Umbria.

Natasha sent us up the road about a kilometer to a church with picnic tables. It was a lovely place. Way up high with excellent views. And the temperature was perfect!

Our picnic tavola. Prosciutto cotto and crudo, a nice pecorino and two flat breads. We drank a bottle of the Villa Mongalli Rosato. Prefect way to have lunch and not over eat too much.

Eunice and Luther.

View from the table of the medieval town of Bevagna. One of my favorites.

We drove on down to Bevagna after our lunch and strolled the town. Pretty streets.

I loved the sparkling sun on the fountain water.

~~~~~~~~~

After a two day break we joined up on their last night in Umbria at their rented house. We had a nice evening snack table outside on the spectacular terrace. It has perfect sundowners view as my British friends would say.

We really enjoyed Eunice and Mark’s visit in Umbria. It is always fun to show people around and it got us out of the house and into the beauty of our region!

Greek trip – part IV

Links to all parts of the Greek trip

Part I
Part II
Part III
Part IV

~~~~~~~~
Wednesday July 31
Arrived in Patmos at 8AM. Another sunny, hot day. We planned a down day today. Breakfast at nine. I had chocolate banana pancakes. A rare indulgence for me. Then we kicked back for a couple hours and headed into Patmos to explore the small town of Skala. And find lunch. I should mention the island of Patmos is famed because John is reputed to have written the Bible book of Revelations in a cave here. There were tours up to the monastery and cave.

We took the 11am tender in. This was the first time we used the Windstar tender. A bit choppy but we all got on and off OK. The town was tiny.

Pretty pastels

Main square. I think that’s a palm tree encased in a vine!

Loved this pink vespa! Need one!

We had done a bit of homework on restaurants and we wandered the streets dodging the vespas and motor bikes and cars. Oh and trucks and busses! No real sidewalks. All the recommendations appeared to be closed for lunch. No problem. We stopped for cool drinks on a covered hotel terrace.

Cindy had the prettiest cider which came with apple slices and a cinnamon stick.

My rose.

Then we randomly chose Ostria. It had a pretty covered dining area with trees. After we sat we noticed mostly Greeks eating there which was a good omen.

Our small, old man waiter (maybe the owner?) warmed to us through the meal. At first he tried to sell us the house wine but Luther persisted and we got a nice Greek white. Luther had pork gyros, Bill had pork Souvlaki, I had the pasta di mare, and Cindy had the pasta arrabiatta. Everyone liked their choice. Mine was the seafood and it had big prawns and mussels visible. But under the pasta was a lot more seafood in the sauce. Small shrimp, octopus, clams very yum. It was tomato based. I broke all the Italian rules here. Can you guess what I did “wrong”?
 

We had thick Greek coffee which was much like Turkish but not quite as strong. Obviously made the same way as the bottom was covered with sludge. We had small drinks on the house. A nice lunch for €67 for four with two bottles of wine.

Off to the ship on the tender. Later this evening, after dinner we had a crew talent show. Some were pretty good.
~~~~~~~~
Thursday August 1
Kalomeno. A new Greek word I learned. It means have a good month and is always wished on the first of the month.

Today was Santorini, the fabled, arguably most beautiful of the isles. We learned there would be eight cruise ships here today! Lucky for us most were pretty small. Not the mega ships. Santorini is pretty amazing. We woke up in the Caldera of a volcano, ringed with sheer cliffs. What, at first looked like a dusting of snow on top of the cliffs resolved itself into houses…all white…atop many of the cliffs. The caldera is almost 1,000 feet deep so we can’t anchor and must constantly do some thrust to stay in place. We had booked onto a wine tasting tour. We would have seen very little on our own.

We took the port tender in, a much bigger boat. Then we met our guide and enormous bus. We were only 7 plus one crew member, Jesse, who came along on his day off. Our guide was Irena.

Bus trip up Cliffs of Insanity (you gotta be a Princess Bride fan)

We first visited the most beautiful town of Oia – pronounced ee-ya. It is the one most people think of when they think of Santorini. The one with the blue domes. And sparkling white houses. We disembarked our bus along with thousands of others from other busses. It was pretty awful. I would have turned left rather than right to give the people a chance to move on. But we followed the big tours and had to fight to get pictures from the view points. But I must say, it is unbelievably beautiful and I took quite a few pictures (of course!)

Houses tumble down the cliff. Pristine white. So inviting…

The view across the city

One of the famous blue domes. I Just love that brilliant blue sky against the white.

Main upper square church

Bougainvillea

Famous blue dome

Another down-hill view

Happy Oia cat

Stairs down, down…

Afterwards we met and reboarded our bus. We next visited the wine museum. It was on the estate of the oldest winery on Santorini. We had been passing growing things that hugged the ground which turned out to be the grape vines. They don’t trellis them and we were told they put specially shaped baskets under the vines to keep the grape bunches off the ground. I have to say, I never saw any baskets peeking out of these small bushes. The wine museum was obviously made by the family. Rather crude manikins were in dioramas depicting scenes of the evolution of wine making on the island. We were treated to a tasting of four wines; a white, red, a sweet dessert wine, and a vinsanto. We had a bit of a discussion about this as he claimed the sweet vinsanto was a protected name and no one else could use it. We explained that where we live we have Vinsanto too. The white was my favorite made from a local variety called Assyrtiko.

Next we visited a cooperative making wines from the grapes of about 1,200 farmers. We tasted two whites and a vinsanto. And last a small winery where we tasted a white, rose and a vinsanto. We learned the word for a toast in Greek is Yamas!

View of the caldera from a winery. The island nearest us and to the right is the new dome being formed by the volcano under us.

We bussed to the final stop Firá from which the cable car descends the cliff to the shore where the tenders dock to pick up passengers. We stopped for a subpar lunch and enjoyed the cable car ride down. They are made up of five individual pods that travel together like a train. Each pod holds six. We caught the tender back

Firá above us. See the sad donkeys going up the hill. I hope people will stop using them so they will let these donkeys stop this horrible labor. They are underfed and forced to go up and down this steep hill in incredible heat with little water, carrying heavy people – over and over everyday. 😢

You can walk down the stairs. We took the cable car!

The big port of Firá tender.

Cliffs of Insanity as we leave Santorini. The “snow” dusting the cliff-tops?

Kevin my favorite bar man. Always cheerful. Bad photo, too dark and it’s the only time I saw him not smiling.

Sails going up!
Friday August 2
Last day. Monemvasia.  Sad. We had breakfast and rehashed our trip. We’ve all had fun. We didn’t arrive until 11am so the morning was free. They had demonstrations and tours scheduled on board. I took the galley tour to see the kitchens. It was interesting. All the menus are done by corporate. The head chef just runs the show. He does the final check on orders and oversees. They do the AmphorA main dining room as well as room service 24/7, breakfast and lunch, yacht club functions and also feeding the officers and crew. They have a separate cook for the crew. They are all Asian so they want it spicy! I wish I could eat with them 😕

We arrived at the Rock.

An enormous piece of rock that is compared to Gibraltar. There is a narrow causeway across to the “almost” island. And on the island is one small village. There is a castle up on top of the rock and the village is beneath it. But it is all called The Castle. The village has defensive walls ringing it in. It looks very defensible and it quite unique. We took the tender across and then a bus to the gate.

Just a few pictures of the town. Very different from the white and blue ones from before. Chimney.

12th century church

This is the main square with the church and up above, the castle.

Streets below

Streets

It was already lunch time so we wandered and looked in the shops. Lots of artisans and artists. We chose a restaurant and had a nice lunch. We shared Tzatziki and fava beans on bread. Then I had yet another Greek salad! They are so cool and refreshing in the hot weather. It reached 105 this day!

This cat reminded us all of our childhood cat, Smokey. He was acting hungry but wouldn’t eat beans, yogurt, cheese, ONLY meat. Not really THAT hungry!

View

Fava bean puree, nice and lemony. And Tzatziki, very cooling.

Kanoni, our restaurant. They were very nice.

I was saved by Greek Salads. They were the perfect “go to” lunch in the hot weather.

We bussed and tendered back to the ship. And retired to shower and rest up. I did most of the packing. We had to have the suitcases in the hall by 6:45 AM Saturday. We went up for our final sailaway. We had the music and the “time to say goodbye” song. And we had full sails!

The small town of Monemvasia, also called the castle. You’ll see a castle up above the town but note the walls surrounding it. The whole thing is called The Castle.

We went to the lounge for the Captains farewell address and a briefing by Pavlo for disembarking. All the people who had bought anything in Kusadasi had been entered in a drawing to win a Turkish rug. Well, I won it! I never win anything!

Crew farewell. A great group.

Then we went to dinner which was probably my favorite one on board. I had a seafood chowder and the lobster risotto. Quite good. Up on deck after dinner people were saying good bye to each other and prowling around the ship. It was perfect weather. A light breeze and nice temperature.
~~~~~~
Saturday August 3
Time to say goodbye 😕 Transport to airport in a bus for the 4 or us. Alitalia to Rome and then drive home.

🇬🇷 Trip recap.

  • Sad to say we did not complete the jigsaw puzzle they put out for us. First cruise I’ve been on where it didn’t get done.
  • The weather was hot and no rain at all. It was expected.
  • I was saved by the Greek salads. Amazing, cool and refreshing.
  • I was happy the sails were out all but the second day.
  • I missed Captain Belinda and found Captain Simon aloof.
  • I recognized many crew members.
  • The food was good enough but still not very exciting.
  • The staff was again excellent. It is the best part of the Windstar cruises. I hope Windstar appreciates that their success depends on these hard working and relentlessly cheerful people.
  • We learned 7 Greek 🇬🇷 words. Kaliméra, good morning; Kalispera, good evening; Kalomeno, have a good month; Efcharistó, thank you; Parakaló, you’re welcome; Yamas! Cheers!; Ne, yes.

My Best and worst list

  • Best Greek salad – Athens in Eat with Milton
  • Worst Athens food – rooftop restaurant in St George Lycabettus for dinner
  • Best Athens food – Scala Vinoteca
  • Best shore lunch – Captain’s in Mykonos and Ostria in Patmos
  • Worst shore lunch – Firá Santorini
  • Worst shore food – Ephesus dinner (catered)
  • Favorite stops – Mykonos and Nafplio
  • Least favorite stop – Patmos
  • Prettiest island – Mykonos and Santorini
  • Worst crowds – Ephesus and Oia on Santorini
  • Best cruise ship – Wind Star!
  • Best tours – Athens full day and Ephesus
  • Good thing – private transfers to from airport and harbor
  • Nicest people – all the staff on the ship. The Greeks we met in general were nice folks.

Links to all parts of the Greek trip

Part I
Part II
Part III
Part IV
~~~~~~~~

When I return from a trip I’m normally happy to be home. I was happy to see my cats, who missed us, but I felt very sad the trip was over. That says a lot!

Greek trip – Part III – Kuşadası

Links to all parts of the Greek trip

Part I
Part II
Part III
Part IV
~~~~~~~~~
Tuesday July 30
Kuşadası Turkey. A new continent for me – Asia. And the farthest east I’ve ever been. It was going to be hot!

We got up early and breakfasted and headed down to catch the tour bus to Ephesus. We had a nice guide. Impressions of Turkey were favorable. The city goes up a small mountain and has the name Kuşadası in big letters reminiscent of the Hollywood sign. There are some pretty pastel houses up on the hill that shade from peach to pink, blue, violet and green. We drove out of town and the land was very arid and mountainous around a large flat plain. The plain had been the sea back when Ephesus was a thriving city but the river eventually silted it up. The land is very fertile. Lots of olives and fruit orchards.

We drove up into the mountains and way up on the very top stood Mary’s house – the mother of Jesus. It is said she lived about 9 years here at the end of her life. It is small and stone.

Then we drank from the holy water fountains. I drank the one for miraculous health recovery. Next to this was the wishing wall where people write their wishes down and put them on the wall hoping the wish will come true. We were told they periodically set the wall on fire to send the smoke from the notes heavenward.

We left there on our nice bus and went to Ephesus. Once it was was a city of 300,000 and was on the ocean as I mentioned. It thrived for 1,100 years (from 400 BC to 700 AD) until malaria killed most of the people or they left because of it. It lay buried for over 1,000 years until it was accidentally discovered by people building a railroad in the 1800s. Now it consists of a lot of bits and pieces waiting to be reassembled like a huge jigsaw. There are many parts that are nearly complete. The library is 80% original and is magnificent. They are also restoring the theater which is huge and held 24,000 people. There were a LOT of people here. Crowds. Way more than I expected.

Our guide. He was good.

One big, 3D jigsaw puzzle. Wow.

Original clay pipes carried water. Remember these are from 400 BC!

Unearthed Mosaic. Well preserved because it was buried.

Beautiful details in the next few.

The huge fountain

A little humor. These people didn’t mind not having privacy when going to the bathroom. Literally cheek to cheek. The gutter in front of the toilets had constantly running water in which people washed their hands after wiping…no toilet paper of course.

Finally the famed library.

Beautiful details. 80% original.

The large theater holding 24,000 people.

After that we returned to Kuşadası to the bazaar. Here’s where the trouble started. Windstar has a deal with two shops here. It guarantees the quality and authenticity of the products.

It started out with a demonstration of how they use silk from cocoons to make the thread. It is the second strongest natural fiber after spider web. They boil and soak the cocoons for several days. The woman showed how, with a brush she addled the cocoons which caught bits of silk which she made into a thread with several strands. Then she used a foot petal to roll it on big spools. They showed us the raw silk which is quite coarse and rough. Then they showed the beautiful silk after being treated and dyed. So soft. Next we went to the big carpet room. First they served us drinks and snacks. Turkish coffee and Rakeen a liquore. Or Turkish wine, or tea. Young men then rolled carpet after carpet out. The most beautiful carpets I’ve ever seen. They would spin them and they would transform into a different look. The same colors but much more intense. They were wool, or cotton treated like silk, or combinations or pure silk, even bamboo. I would have bought one but the cats would ruin it.

First she addles the cocoons which have been boiled and soaked for a couple of days.

Then she lifts the brush and several strands of silk have come loose from the cocoons.

Unfinished rug

Rug in progress

Unfurling the rugs. Amazing colors and variations.

We went downstairs where they had jewelry. Uh-oh. Cindy and I both ended up buying jewelry. Beautiful pieces. They treated us to lunch on the roof. Good Turkish kebabs, lamb, chicken, beef. Flat breads, roasted tomatoes and peppers. Rice and French fries. Very yummy. We were kind of a captive audience once we’d accepted lunch so we bought more than we ever would have. But these guys are GOOD. It’s really hard to say no.

Tee hee. In the bazaar.

Colorful stairs

Mosque

We returned to the ship. And relaxing before the big dinner being held in Ephesus in the library. Just for Windstar.

The dinner was in a magical place. Too bad about the food. I guess you couldn’t expect much from catered food. We arrived in six buses at the gate to Ephesus. It was much different from earlier in the day. The sun was still up but it wasn’t hot anymore and there was a breeze in the rows of pines lining the path. Stray dog and cat population was much in evidence. There was an amazingly cute kitten who was so tiny, and so friendly. I could have stuck him in my bag.

We walked up the old roads and got to the Library where they had set up tables seating eight each. We shared with a nice family from Toronto. Mom, Dad, a girl just entering her senior high school year and a boy just starting high school. They were all having fun. I was a little surprised about the kids because there is not a lot to do on the ship. We had assorted appetizers, bread, oil, a fried roll stuffed with cheese and spinach, and a veal stew with veggies. We all had fun feeding the feral cats. There were so many. I guess this is the way they make their living in summer. Heaven knows about winter for them 😢.

During the dinner a string trio played for us. Quite nice. Pavlo, our entertainment director gave a toast from the wall in front of the theater and when we all raised our glasses the lights came on in the ruins. THIS was magical. They were beautiful. And it was a lovely opportunity.

Tables set up in front of the Library

Magic, isn’t it?

Just WOW.

I took a ton of pictures on our way out. Only this one came out.

We returned by bus to the ship at about 10:30 to find all the crew out on the concrete pier with lit candles playing pounding music, and cheering and dancing us back on board. Later we figured out they had had a crew meeting and party. Quite a few of them had had a few drinks. One waiter, who shall remain nameless, was totally bombed. He looked at us with drunken eyes, forgot or got our orders wrong and when he did come with drinks he danced holding the glass high and sloshing half the wine out. He disappeared shortly later so someone must have noticed he probably shouldn’t have been working 😅 . I was amused and happy for them. They work hard and deserve a break. We watched sailaway and turned in.

A fun, if expensive day.
~~~~~~~~~

Links to all parts of the Greek trip

Part I
Part II
Part III
Part IV

Greece trip – part II

Links to all parts of the Greek trip.
Part I
Part II
Part III
Part IV

~~~~~~~~~
Saturday July 27
Another perfect day. We packed up and put our suitcases in the hall as we were instructed by Windstar. They would pick them up and transport them to the ship. We met Cindy and Bill for breakfast which was leisurely since the bus didn’t come until one. We went out for a shopping trip and I bought a new Swatch watch. Luther and Bill got some wine.

We met up with our bus and took about a 20 minute drive to Prateus, the port of Athens. We checked onto the ship and we were sorry to see Captain Belinda wasn’t our Captain this time. I did recognize many of the people in the crew, including the social director Pavlo from our Croatia cruise. He’s a hoot. The ship had been refurbished last year and its hull was pristine white. On our past cruises it looked quite rusty.

We headed up to our mandatory muster drill. And then waited for sail away, which had been delayed from five to six PM.

Sail away was disappointing. They didn’t play the proper music. And they began to set up for the Candles on deck dinner. So we moved to the front of the ship to finish our wine.

Athens tug helps us out

Later we met up for dinner in the main dining room Amphora. They serve a mostly American menu with grilled items and American steaks. They also seem to think showcasing James Beard winners recipes is a good thing. I say, not so much. I had the seared tuna appetizer which was very good. Then I had the grilled salmon which was badly overcooked. We moved to the front tables so Luther could smoke his cigar. A nice evening.
~~~~~~~~~
Sunday July 28
We went to breakfast and took the little shuttle boat to Nafplio, which is still on the mainland.

Approaching Nafplio

Stopped for juice and water in a Cafe – took a selfie! Sisters!

Sweet little town, once we found the nice part. Very pretty little small primarily pedestrian streets. Many shops and things to see. We had lunch in Vasilis kitchen. We mostly had the salads. They were good. And we had the house wine. Bill had a beer.

Our lunch spot – aka Vasilis

Pretty streets

We waited in the Windstar tent for the boat back to the ship. Short trip.

This evening was the Captains reception. First we watched the Mykonos orientation film presentation by Pavlo. Then he introduced Captain Simon. He’s the youngest Captain at 32 in the company. The Wind Star is older than him, 33 years. And he introduced all his staff from assistant Captain, to Chief of Housekeeping. Later we went up for sail away. They unfurled 3 of the 4 sails, but only about halfway. There was a stiff wind so putting them up fully was probably not a good idea. In fact, they only left them unfurled for a short time. Then 2 of the 3 closed back up.

This night we had reserved Candles for the on deck dinner. It was our 50th and 35th anniversary celebrations.

We were treated to a beautiful sunset.

My watermelon and tomato appetizer.

Photo courtesy of Cindy

There were only a few tables on deck unlike our other cruises which had full decks. The wind was fierce. The waiters took pity on us and moved our table toward the center of the ship. This helped quite a bit. We had, among us, watermelon and tomato salad, carpaccio, salmon and shrimp. Then two had the grilled lamb chops, and two had the fillet steak. For dessert I had chocolate creme brûlée. And Bill had lemon tart. It was a good-ish meal.

We sat outside and Luther had his cigar. Afterwards we dropped in on the Karaoke in the lounge. Everyone was having fun. After we danced to “Girls just want to have fun” we turned in to bed.
~~~~~~~~
Monday July 29
Our daily program said it was going to be cooler today. But then the Captains morning announcement said it was going to be 95 again today. We had breakfast on the deck and stopped in the lobby for maps and literature about Mykonos, our island for today. It is THE party island in Greece. Pounding disco until after dawn. I saw a LOT of people limping around with skinned knees. But we went in the morning when everyone was still passed out. So it was nice.

We grabbed the shuttle boat into the port. Pretty ride with sparkling and crystal clear water. You could easily see the bottom.

The town shown white against the hills. All the houses are white adobe type material. They have brightly colored doors and trim. Stairways are colorful. The domes of the churches tended to blue or red. The streets were tiny pathways. But some small trucks managed to navigate them.

We walked north from the port along the shore and on a shopping street just in from the sea. At the other end we came out for the photo op of what is called Little Venice. Kind of a stretch but pretty nonetheless. Then we walked up the hill to see the four old windmills. They were used to grind grain. Heading back we got lost in the warren of little streets. We read the inhabitants built it with narrow and curving streets to better thwart any pirate invaders. It also thwarts us tourists! We stopped for drinks in the shade of a cafe. I apologize for the sheer number of photos below. But the town of Mykonos is ridiculously photogenic! And I just couldn’t leave any out!

A few of the churches are first

Next are doors and porches

A few streets…

Four restored windmills

View from the windmill hill

This is called Little Venice. A stretch. But it’s pretty. Moored Wind Star in the background. 

One of the many cats…  

After exploring until we ran out of town to see, we returned to the row of cafes and restaurants along the water. We chose Capitain’s for lunch. It was a broiling day. We were all very hot and sweaty. Capitain’s was billed as a place for sharing. We are not really sharers so we ordered for ourselves but we ordered a fava and pea purée dip with pita to share. The bread was hot and soft and the bean purée was lemony with lots of olive oil. Very yummy. One of us had the pork with mustard sauce, two had fried cod with garlic sauce, and one the raw fish marinated in lime and jalapeño with cilantro and sweet potatoes. I ordered the last one and I’ll say it was wonderful. Cool and spicy and zingy on my tongue. Great on a hot day. I asked the manager if they used cilantro in Greek food, and she said no. The chef is from Ecuador so the dish was from her country. Anyway you slice it, it was a fun lunch. We had Greek wines.

My fish

We caught the tender back to the ship with the returning tourers from Delos. A UNESCO heritage sight. We had opted out of that because of the heat. Showers and relaxing followed 🙂.

We were invited to the Yacht Club because we were returning cruisers. So we popped in for about 15 minutes. Then we headed up for sail away. They put all the sails out tonight. The ship is beautiful.

Then we went down for the briefing for the destinations in Kusadasi, Turkey, our next port of call. We decided to sign up for the Ephesus and the house of Mary, Jesus’ mother. She was said to have lived her last years there.

So, dinner was boring. I had the divers scallops and the shrimp. Afterwards we went up to the bridge to see how it all works. And relaxed with the last of our wine.
~~~~~~~~~

Links to all parts of the Greek trip

Part I
Part II
Part III
Part IV

Kaliméra From Greece

Another trip report so skip if you aren’t interested!

~~~~~~~~~~
We are back from our exciting trip. It was three nights in Athens and a seven day cruise on the Windstar line of the Greek islands and one stop in Turkey. My sister Cindy, and her husband Bill joined us. It was a joint wedding anniversary trip. We spent 3 nights in Athens and toured. Then seven nights on the Wind Star. Stops we made were: Nafplio, Mykonos, Kuşadası Turkey, Patmos, Santorini, and Monemvasia. Here’s a map.

I will break this up into pieces, since it is pretty long with lots of pictures. First Athens.

Links to all parts of the Greek trip.
Part I
Part II
Part III
Part IV

~~~~~~~
Wednesday July 24
We drove to Fiumicino where we had reservations at a parking lot to park our car. They took us to the terminal. Good thing as all public transport was on strike. Taxis etc. And lucky for us as the airlines were going on strike Friday.

It was a long day. Drive was a bit slow due to road work. We found our parking lot with no problem and took the shuttle to the terminal. We used the machine check in for luggage tags with help from a sweet Alitalia employee. Security took no longer than 10 minutes. You didn’t have to take anything out of your bag. No one had looked at ID or passports. This was somewhat of a test for us as our Permessi di Soggiorno are expired and technically we weren’t supposed to travel within the Schengen Zone. So far, since no one was looking at passports, we had no problem.

We had a nice lunch in an airport restaurant. Then we boarded our AlItalia flight. We lucked out with an empty seat in the middle. Arrival in Athens was on time. There was no passport control here either. I realize it’s all in the Schengen zone but still…no one ever even asked for ID!? We got our luggage and went out to find the Windstar driver to take us to our hotel. From landing to checking in at the hotel was 1 hour and ten minutes. The flight itself was 1.5 hours air time.

The room was small but nice. The rooftop restaurant was nice with great views of the Parthenon. Unfortunately the food was awful. And expensive. Cindy and Bill had a very long 36 hour trip. Late flight necessitated rescheduling with a long layover in Paris. Consequently a late arrival in Athens. We finally met in the restaurant for drinks and our dinner, their snacks. Dinner was pretty awful. I sent most of mine back. The interesting sounding appetizer was very bland. No discernible crabmeat in it.

Restaurant

View from restaurant

~~~~~~~
Thursday July 25
We met for breakfast just about nine in the roof restaurant. Brilliant, sunny day and not too hot. We formulated a plan for our day while dining. We walked down the Lycabettus hill on which our hotel is situated and passed the parliament building. Along our way we visited a Russian Orthodox Church. We only learned this from a cab driver who took us back later. We went to Plotka. It’s a warren of small streets with lots of shops that mostly surround the Sacred Rock of the Acropolis. It is the oldest part of Athens. There were varying degrees of merchandise in the shops. Cindy and I each bought a small leather purse.

We decided to dine in Eat with Milton. It was on a busy corner but had nice tables and service with wine etc. Luther and I had the Greek salad which was beautiful to see and very good if a little different. Cindy tried the tomato salad. Bill got pappardelle in veal ragu.

My pretty (and delicious) salad

Lunch – us!

Back in a taxi to the hotel. Now resting. Dinner this night was at Strofi, recommended by a friend of Cindys.

Strofi has a lovely terrace. Nice Jazz was playing and the Acropolis in the sun was amazing. We snapped pictures throughout the sunset. The food was only ok. Appetizers were best. I had grilled octopus in olive oil and lemon which was very good. Two had the marinated fresh anchovies which they liked. Then for the main courses, one person had the grilled veal and said it was good. One had the pork in a pot, and two had the kid goat in parchment. The goat was pretty good – parts were tender and parts were dry. All the food was quite bland. It could have used some more herbs or spices.

Pictures of the Parthenon and the theater in sunset from the rooftop restaurant. Photos credit Bill Aldrich

~~~~~~~~~
Friday June 26
This was the day of our big, full day tour of Athens. We had booked a driver and guide for just us four. It was great.

At 8am we met George, our driver in his shiny black Mercedes van. He was the man with endless bottles of water for us. He took us to meet our guide Catherine in the parking lot of the Acropolis. Hard to describe her. She is classically university educated in history. She was a fount of knowledge. We walked up to near the entrance where she gave us a small history of what we’d see. We walked up to the top and entered through the gates next to the temple of Athena Nike.

As we walked from the gate we could look down on the two theaters. The first one is still in use for concerts.

Note the modern building to the right. It is the New Acropolis Museum. You can see the top floor skewed to align with the actual Parthenon. It is also the same dimensions.

The Parthenon was the next. Always under restoration.

And the temple of Erechtheion which had the Porch of Caryatids. Six statues of women held up the small roof. These were replicas. The real ones were in the New Acropolis Museum.

There was a lot of history I won’t go into here. We stayed up on top for maybe two hours? It was hot but breezy and not bad in the shade. It was crowded at times but not terrible. Restoration is always underway. Hard work in the hot sun.

We descended the stairs to the parking lot where we were met by George. We traveled to the temple of Zeus. It was at the base of the Sacred Rock. Only eleven columns survive. But also there is Hadrians gate.

Temple of Zeus

Next we visited the old stadium where the Olympic flame begins its journey for each Olympics. It is huge and holds 70,000 people on its stone bleachers. It is built to the exact size of the previous ancient Stadium of the same dimensions buried under it. This old one is open only to archeologists.

Then we visited the New Acropolis museum. Amazing space. Built to seem as being outside. The top floor is skewed to align with the Parthenon up above and is the same dimensions. It is full of the statuary from the Parthenon. The friezes, the sculptures, all of the things from the building preserved inside. We got to see five of the six women statues from the Porch of Caryatids. The sixth is in the British Museum. The British carried off so many things in their “colonizing” or exploring phases. Our guide was incensed because they used bleach to clean the statue which ruined it. They did this recently without asking for advice from the Athenian experts. Shame.

Our dogs were barking and so we headed to a nice lunch in a taverna recommended by Catherine. I had an orzo shrimp dish. Good.

After lunch we toured the Agora. We learned that the Agora was primarily where government happened. There were elected officials who were required to be there to help the citizenry with any problems. It was also the main market place for the city. It was mighty hot by now and not much shade. We saw the Temple of Hephaestus, which is the best preserved ancient Greek temple from the Classical era.

Agora

Temple of Hephaestus

And then we tried to go see the changing of the guard. It was so funny, George tried so hard to get us there. But the traffic foiled him. We saw the last of it from the car.

We returned to our hotel and paid for our tour. And we gave our people nice tips which I could see were well received. The people here in Athens are all very nice.

We all had fun in Scala Vinoteca, our choice for dinner. We are wine people but not at all familiar with Greek wines. The wine steward recommended some very excellent wines. The food was innovative and delicious. I loved the mozzarella and burrata tomato salad. It was bursting with flavor. I had the smoked eggplant with squid. Beautiful fish. Two had the lamb tenderloin. One had the lobster croquettes. We opted not to have dessert but they wouldn’t take no for an answer and brought a chocolate and ice cream sweet to share.

A drink on our roof top bar and to bed. An excellent day.
~~~~~~~~~~~~

Links to all parts of the Greek trip

Part I
Part II
Part III
Part IV

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.
~~~~~~~~~~

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.

~~~~~~~
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.
~~~~~~
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.
~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~
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!