Monthly Archives: May 2018

Norcia and Piano Grande

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

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

The hotel that collapsed.

Piano Grande in the mist

Castelluccio

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

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

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

Facade facing out with supports.

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

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

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

The antipasto plate which we all shared.

My Strengozzi with vedure di montagne.

Jens risotto looked AWESOME!

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

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

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

Trip Report – Mediterranean Islands and Barcelona

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Along our walk. Pretty lamp.

Bridge of sighs look-alike!

OK everyone, what is this vegetable?

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

Our wine.

And dessert…molten chocolate…YUM!

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

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



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

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

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

Toe cymbal.

Wailin’ on the sax.

Then back to the hotel to snooze.

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

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

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

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

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




Cathedral.


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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


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

I got filet steak and Luther got lamb chops.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Loved what they did to the peas!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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