Category Archives: restaurants

This is why I moved here…

So, we went to Tuscany, Montepulciano, with Susan and Gary for a superb lunch. Our favorite place there is La Grotta, situated at the foot of the hill town, next to the Church of San Biagio. We have been numerous times and wanted to take Susan and Gary there. Montepulciano is about 1 hour and 10 minutes from us. As we sat on their beautiful terrace in the impossibly perfect weather I reminded myself that this was why we moved here. Unforgettable.

Not to make you hungry or anything…

The table was overlooked by the magnificent church. I kind of liked the bit of blur in this focus.
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Our primi.

Secondi.

 

Fratta ‘800 2019

Another Ottocento has come and gone. As my loyal readers know, every late August, early September we have our annual festival called Ottocento, or Fratta ‘800. It celebrates the formation of the Italian republic in the 1800s. Garibaldi and his Red Shirts beat back the Briganti who had overtaken Umbria. In the four days of the festival there are reenactments and lots of gunfire and general mayhem, along with bands and dancers, stilt-walkers, duels, and executions. Always fun. Here are some pictures.

Saturday evening. Despite the rain the bands played on.

Curtained entrance to one of the Taverne.

They dedicated this statue to, Our Hero, Garibaldi!

Entry to the Briganti Taverna.

They played into the night. At 2AM I was up and the entire square was hopping up and down. What is it with Italians?! They simply hop up and down…I guess they can’t dance.

After.

The Briganti got up to some shenanigans of course. It took a lot of effort to finally find someone who could explain the meaning of the sign. Thanks Lisa! Literally it means “cows to pasture” I knew it had another meaning, probably more vulgar. Turns out Vacche also means Loose women. And Pasco could mean a male appendage. Then taken all together it means – The woman are out getting laid. Once I got the meaning I realized this was blocking the brothel. Made more sense then.

Belatedly, I found out the Briganti had set up larger than life-sized posters of themselves in drag. The facial hair made for some butt ugly women! Wish I’d gotten pictures.

The Briganti hoisted their banner in their lair this year.

The calm after the storm. Pretty Umbertide doorway.

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.
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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.
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Links to all parts of the Greek trip

Part I
Part II
Part III
Part IV

It was our….ahem…year anniversary celebration

SO. The summer solstice is the day of Luther and my anniversary. This year was a significant one. I won’t say the number but it has to do with Gold.

We decided to invite most of our new friends here to a lunch at Calagrana. I wanted it to be family style and casual. Comfortable. The weather was hot but we were on the side porch in the shade with the occasional breeze. Here are some pictures.

we decided to ride in our Chariot the Angelo Giallo.

Ely’s signature cocktail complements of the house. Thanks Ely! But, even on this special day, she wouldn’t tell me what was in it!

Table all set and waiting.

Luther looking handsome in is Hawaiian shirt.

Me ready for the fun.

Some of the friends who joined us to celebrate.

A tavola

Paul, Susan, Stuart, Jill.

Vera, Jen, Joanne.

Cuzin’ Tom. My maiden name is Gilmer. Tom’s last name is Gilmore. Both from Scotland originally. We have to be cousins!

Table

Joseph

Desiree, Vera’s pretty red-head daughter.

All of us!

Chef Albi hard at work at the grill.

And of course I had to have pictures some of the food. I forgot to get it all.

We had a multi-plate antipasti to start. Chicken wings, Charcouterie, quiche…

Torta alla Nonna for dessert. SO good!

I had Ely and Albi special order lobsters for us. And we had beautiful rib eye steaks too.

I think everyone had fun. It only happens once!

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.

L’Immacolata

Today is L’immacolata, a national holiday. The immaculate conception. Not being very sure about this day because I’m not Catholic I looked it up and discovered I was wrong about what it meant. Turns out it is the day that Mary was conceived to her mother. I had thought it was Jesus’ conception but was confused as it is only two weeks before his birthday.

Anyway, it is the day that ALLLL of Italy lights its Christmas trees. And St. Nicholas comes to the Piazza for the little kids. I actually managed to get pictures of the crowds outside before and after the tree was lit. And I heard the countdown and saw the tree lit for the first time. It is not my favorite tree so far, however. But as we all know from Charlie Browns tree that all trees are beautiful in their way.

We also visited Montone for lunch today. Tipico, our chosen restaurant was really crowded. Everyone was out for lunch on the holiday. A few pictures.

View from the walls. A beautiful, clear, and not too cold day.

Montone street dressed for Christmas. They are quite traditional there.

The Christmas tree. The Piazza was bright and the tree was not so the picture isn’t so good.

Tipico showcases two oils. One light and one stronger. The bread is always good there too.

Outside now, as I write this, the children are singing and the band is playing. There are little stands with things to sell. Happy Immaculata!

Great visit with recent guests!

We had been anticipating our upcoming guests, Chuck and Terry. Chuck is Luther’s cousin and Terry is his wife. They live in Knoxville. I had only met Chuck once or twice and very long ago. We had a superb time with them. It is always a pleasure to have guests who so obviously enjoy everything we show them and are always up for anything.

We went to Montone the evening they arrived for a dinner at Antica Osteria. It was good as always. The next day we had planned to go to Assisi which is always the top site to see in Umbria. Terry bought a pretty purse at Michaelangelo Leather shop right in the main piazza. I also was interested to look at the briefcases they had which were quite plentiful. I have a friend coming soon who will be looking for this item.

The day was amazing. The mornings in Umbertide are always very foggy starting in about September. It is like clockwork every year! It burns off in an hour or so. The sky was brilliant blue. Here are some Assisi pictures.

The Rose Window on the Basilica of San Francesco.

The lower church in the Basilica. It is made up of the upper church, built on top of the older, lower church, which is above the crypt where St. Francis’ remains are interred.

Street. I like the blur in the background on this one.

I was captivated by the dog who looked to be chained beside this window on the first floor.

Fortress above Assisi. See that sky!?

In the main Piazza is this fountain. The water droplets were shining in the sun. I had never noticed the top tier on this is a mushroom.

One of my favorite stories is about St. Francis and the Wolf. The legend took place in Gubbio. St. Francis also is known for preaching to the birds. 

After all that sightseeing we took a break for lunch. We ate at Piazetta dell’Erbe as we almost always do. My favorite restaurant there. I had the octopus and the black gnocci with truffles and parmesan cream.

After lunch we visited Deruta where Chuck and Terry bought a beautiful bowl for her table. I hope they got it home safe and sound.

On Wednesday we were expecting the Stufa serviceman so we had to stick close. But then, it is market day with plenty to do right in town. I introduced Chuck and Terry to the Porchetta Panini. Makes a decent breakfast. We wandered the stalls and afterward we went to Patrick’s Enoteca for lunch.

That evening we had my World Famous Bolognese sauce on Strangozzi. 🙂 Everyone seemed to like it.

Thursday we thought we’d go wine tasting. It was overcast and showered on and off but not too bad. First we visited DeFilippo Winery. They are Bio-dynamic and use natural pest control…geese! and horses to plow.

We had time for one more winery and ended up at Pardi in Montefalco. This winery, where we’ve been once before, is owned by a pair of brothers. They are trying interesting things with wine.

Next was…what else? Lunch! We had a reservation at L’Alchimista in Montefalco. We did sit outside despite the sprinkles which we had to shift a couple of times to avoid under the Umbrella.

The visit passed too fast but we did get in three full days with them and we hope they come back to visit us soon. They are always welcome.

While they were packing up to go I was making a gazpacho with a bunch of itty bitty vegetables that my friend Angela had given me. All kinds of things and only a little of each so I though they would work well for a Gazpacho. It did smell wonderful while cooking and nearly got Chuck and Terry to stay a while longer…

Raw ingredients…

Finished product!