Category Archives: Travel

Sestri Levante and the Ligurian coast

For our anniversary we decided we needed a short trip to celebrate. First trip since last September. Long, long days of lockdowns and restrictions. We decided to go to the Mediterranean coast. North of the Cinque Terre and south of Genoa. We haven’t explored this area before.

We left Umbertide at eleven. It’s only around a three and a half hour drive. We stopped for a picnic. They don’t make that easy in Italy. They have rest stops but they seldom have a picnic area. I think we did see three places with a parcheggio and tables but two of them were too early and the one we thought was perfect was closed! So we kept going. Finally by 2PM we found a rest stop with a few picnic tables in front of a shop. We decided to just go for it. I’d brought some pasta pesto salad and some fried chicken. Can you say picnic? We also had some wine. So it all worked out.

We continued and arrived in Sestri around three. We were staying in the Hotel Vis a Vis. Way up high above the town. As always, the parking and access are ridiculous. The hotel assured us there was parking. And I guess technically there is. The drive up to the hotel was several very sharp hairpins and super steep. We negotiated it OK but, not having ever been here before we didn’t know what we were headed for. We were nearly at the top and a woman waved us back. So we backed up and got out of the way…two cars cannot possibly pass each other. The woman helped her husband to get out of his parking place…no easy feat. We figured we would continue on up and we took his parking place. Luther said he didn’t fancy taking the car back out so we will probably just hang around the ‘hood and see what’s to be seen. At least for tomorrow.

Reception checked us in and took us to our room which wasn’t quite finished so we went to the rooftop bar for a drink. Beautiful space. Views to die for. I forgot my big camera but this one is from my phone. It’s the view. And the bay is called the Bay of Silence. Isn’t that a pretty name?


After relaxing and getting cleaned up we enjoyed the bottle of champagne and strawberries we had in our room while watching the football match — Italy/Wales…Italy won 🙂. Then we headed for dinner. The restaurant in the hotel is Olimpio. On the fourth floor with glass walls all around. Good table spacing. It was my first time eating inside a restaurant since last fall. The sunset was gorgeous.

The meal was good. I had oysters again. And we split the Dorado catch of the day. It was baked in a salt crust and beautiful and tender.

Monday
Morning and it is our actual anniversary. First to breakfast. They have it in the dining room and there is a nice outside garden space. Typical Italian breakfast with many breads and pastries, yogurts, ham and cheese. Also available were hard boiled eggs and toast and cereal. For extra money, you could get eggs anyway or a whole list of omelets.

Today we planned to explore the town and do a walking tour. So by around 10am we were off. The hotel has this cool elevator that goes right down through the mountain to the street level below. Makes for easy access to the beach and the town. The first thing I noticed was the brightly painted houses. And many, many trompe l’oeil facades. This yellow house below has a flat wall. The 3-D affects are painted on. Very well done I say. There were many, many more in town painted like this.

We walked down to scope out our restaurant choice for tonight. It is on the Bay of Silence, named Portobello and owned by our hotel. The bay of silence has a breakwater and is quite small.

We did a lot of walking. It is pretty touristy with small streets. We stopped for refreshments. Here are some pictures.

We returned and rested and cleaned up and headed for dinner. Portabella was a nice place right on the beach with much to watch. Little kids were still out playing on the beach. Adults were swimming. Boats were returning.

Liguria has very different food from our part of Italy. It is almost completely seafood based, but what is the biggest surprise is the prominent place potatoes play in so many dishes. When we were here a couple years ago I had octopus which was served atop a pile of mashed potatoes. I was surprised. But now I see it was not unusual. My pasta dish was a thin twisted pasta served with a sauce of cooked diced potatoes, green beans and pesto. Of course, everyone knows pesto was invented in Genoa so I had to try it. It was a strange dish. But very good! Luther got stuffed anchovies. They also use a lot of olives and tomatoes in their dishes so it had that. For his main meal he had a seafood dish with a prawn, mussels, a scallop, and a little tower of fish, potatoes and other things. I had a filet of Ombrina. They called it Croaker in English but it sure wasn’t anything like the Croaker I’ve had in Virginia. Very dense and thick white fish. I finished with a scoop of sorbet. A nice anniversary dinner.

Tuesday
We have two nice balconies. One faces the town. One faces the water. Every morning and evening I spend a lot of time out there.

We decided to explore the coast north of Sestri this day. This meant we needed to move our car 😳. Just kidding, it wasn’t too bad. Our parking spot was better than most, believe me! It’s like sardines here. Once we got out , we held our breath that no one would be coming up the driveway. It is not big enough to pass.

We headed for Portofino so we could say we had been. It was a bit of an ordeal. Driving there is not recommended. Judging from the number of people we saw walking along the road I’d guess most people get there on foot. We did make it and as anticipated there was no parking. So we returned to Santa Margherita Levante, the town just next to Portofino. I did manage to snap a nice picture of Portofino on our way out.

Turns out there was quite a lot of street parking in Santa Margherita. The Angelo Giallo.

Once parked we wandered the town. It’s very cute and has a lot of small streets and nice shops, restaurants and bars. We stopped for refreshments. I tried a spritz made of St Germain, Prosecco, ginger ale, ginger and mint. It was refreshing.

We found a lunch spot, Il Patio, and had a tasty lunch. I had spaghetti with vongole, spaghetti with clams. Luther had a fish Ligurian style.

While we were eating a blackbird found a treasure just across from us! A cherry. He had a good time pecking and chasing it and pecking it again. I got a pretty good shot.

Pictures of some of the streets.

They had a pretty and very baroque church.

We returned to Sestri and stopped in the supermarket to buy a picnic for dinner. It would be beautiful to sit on the balcony and watch the evening come. But first we wanted to go to the roof top bar one more time before we left. It is a beautiful place.

We had cocktails. I had a Mojito. Luther a spritz. They always bring a nice plate of munchies to go along with any drinks you order in Italy. It is not done to drink without eating.

We enjoyed our picnic of cold meats, cheeses and fresh sweet cherries. The weather was wonderful.

All in all it was a nice and relaxing trip. I would go back to this area again. It wasn’t my favorite beach but the town itself was nice. The hotel Vis a Vis was not quite the cruise ship it tried to be. It had lots of good things going for it. They just need to up their game on a few easily fixed items in the room.

We left at around 10:30AM and got home by 2PM. It is ungodly hot in Umbertide. Like a blast oven. It makes me want to go RIGHT back to Sestri!

Ciao for now!

It’s official!

Looks like as of today, May 16 Italy is open for normal travelers. No essential reason needed. There are rules still in place that everyone should know about.

  • If you fly one of the “Covid-tested” flights which require testing before and after your flight you do not have to quarantine upon arrival in Italy. Right now Delta is the airline with the most “Covid-tested” flights. From JFK to Rome or Milan. And from Atlanta to Rome. AlItalia has a daily JFK to Rome flight.
  • If you don’t fly a “Covid-tested” flight you will have to quarantine for 10 days and test again. Any non-direct flight not mentioned above is not a “Covid-tested” flight and quarantine rules apply.
  • Italy has restrictions which all tourists will have to abide by just as residents do.
  • As of this writing, most of the country is a Yellow Zone. Except Val d’Osta which is Orange. Yellow zone rules are:
    • Masks mandatory inside and out unless exercising alone.
    • Curfew from 10PM to 5 AM.
    • Restaurants open for lunch and dinner outside only.
    • Museums are only at 50% capacity and tickets are mandatory. Tickets must be purchased at least one day ahead for weekends.
    • Theaters and event spaces have seating limitations.
  • Orange Zone. Same as yellow, plus:
    • No travel into or out of an Orange zone from any other zone.
    • Shops closed.
    • Museums closed.
    • Restaurants are take out only.

One thing to keep in mind. The zones are fluid. The color-coded system means there’s no guarantee that if you book to visit a yellow zone, it’ll be yellow by the time you get there—just look at Sardinia which went from a White Zone (totally open) to a Red Zone (totally closed) in just three weeks.

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Buona domenica a tutti!

V-day

Today we had our first shot of the Corona Virus vaccine. AstraZenica. It was pretty anti-climactic. But it’s done. Next appointment July 13 for second shot.

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An article in The NY Times yesterday, and subsequent news broadcasts have said the EU is opening for tourism from the US and other non-EU countries. Thing is, this is by no means sure and it is misleading. The EU and US are “talking”. Everyone agrees there should be some way to prove you have had the vaccine or have had the disease, like a passport. Thing is no one has one of these yet. So it’s not like the EU is opening up immediately. Another thing is that Italy makes its own rules. It doesn’t have to follow the EU in opening up. And they reassess every couple of weeks. Right now no tourism allowed. In May they will reassess.

Since this is my blog, I get to say how I feel about all this. Italy has vaccinated just 14% of its population, mostly older than 70. Italy opened up its internal borders just YESTERDAY to Italians. There is still a curfew. We have just yesterday been allowed to leave our home town for the first time in FOUR MONTHS. No one who’s been through this wants it all to be for naught. Including me. The arguments I’ve seen mostly range around the vaccinated being not dangerous and should be allowed in. But if you extrapolate that into what goes into taking care of that influx you realize all the younger service workers who will be taking care of them will NOT have been vaccinated. And they will be working together in close quarters and they will inevitably spread the virus among our vulnerable, unvaccinated populace. Then we will have to go back into lockdown.

This, of course, assumes Italy will open up — and no one knows or can predict that. I think they should let us be zone yellow and let the people who live here travel, and let them open up the restaurants and bars and see how it goes…then, as Italy continues to vaccinate and can catch up they can open more fully.

So. That’s how I feel. I realize there is a lot of pent up demand to come. I just think it’s prudent to wait. I’m betting on late summer and fall. And that’s not long!
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Phrase of the day…”domani è il giorno di mercato” English “tomorrow is market day”. Pronounced doe-mah-nee ay gee-oar-no dee mer-cah-toe.
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Stay safe and well…🌈

Travel?

I read the following in the newspaper a couple days ago. About vaccine “passports”. They are also going to create a similar thing in the EU. I remember there always have been requirements for people to get certain vaccinations for travel in some countries in Africa and South America. Exotic places with exotic diseases. I guess this is the same. I hope it doesn’t get politicized. That would be unfortunate. I guess if a person decided not to get vaccinated s/he wouldn’t be able to travel as freely, at least not on ships and airplanes. And also into countries that require proof of vaccine.

This from the Washington Post…
”Expect to show some sort of proof — either of a negative test or of vaccination — when traveling. “You should be planning on showing your negative test or staying home if you don’t have one,” Tariro says.

The European Union, for example, has announced plans for the Digital Green Certificate, a so-called vaccine passport that countries can use to verify a person’s health status and allow free travel across the bloc.

The concept of a vaccine passport isn’t new: To travel to certain countries, for example, you already need inoculations against yellow fever and other diseases.

The travel industry and tech companies have been working on ways to streamline digital credentials for years, and during the pandemic some have started to repurpose that technology to show proof of vaccination. “It isn’t far off in the future,” Tariro says.”

Of course, to travel here, you’d still need have the borders of Italy open to travelers…and that’s not looking positive unless we can get vaccines here. All the expected vaccines in Umbria have dried up…never been delivered…it is disgusting and enraging…but I don’t know who to be enraged at! I just know — no vaccines are being administered in Umbria now. 😔
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This Pasqua eve I decided to do a composed salad. I saw a picture of one in a newspaper and it looked pretty and good so I decided to make my own. I used my own ideas for what should go in it. It has a lettuce base. I bought lettuce a few days ago at the Carrefour. My own creamy dressing. Two small fresh goat cheeses, a sliced avocado, sliced hard-boiled eggs, steamed green beans, and a sliced pork tenderloin tonnato. I made the pork sous vide yesterday and had left over. It could easily go without the meat for non carnivores.

Stay safe everyone 🌈

Regional dinner and a recommendation

I just finished doing a virtual tour. Someone told me about the site virtualtrips.io. It has tours worldwide that you can sign up for — for free! It is a way for the poor out-of-work tour guides to make a little money through tips you leave. I decided to try one of Umbria of a town I’ve never visited, Corciano. The guide was Patrizia and she was quite good. I even see in the list of tours there will be two tours in — wait for it — UMBERTIDE!! I’m shocked! Dates not announced but I’ll post when I hear. There are also other cool looking tours all over the world. This could be a fun way to see some of the world while stuck at home.
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Today is Friday. And you know what that means!? Yes it’s Regional food day from Calagrana. Today we will be in Lombardia. The dish is the perennial crowd pleaser, Ossobuco.

And here it is! It was one of the best things we’ve had on the Regional tour.

Italian sentence.”Domani sto facendo commissioni”. English. “Tomorrow I am doing errands” pronounced… doh-mah-nee stow fah-chee-end-oh com-miss-ee-owe-nee.

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Stay safe! 🌈

Covid

A little thing I just realized…this is the first time in my adult life that I don’t know who is playing in the Super Bowl. And I just read that this coming Sunday is Super Bowl Sunday 😏. It is also the next super-spreader event…some advice, Don’t organize a party at home. Don’t go to a Super Bowl party.
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It’s time to update on our Covid situation and also talk about the future of travel to and from Italy. The emergency declaration which allows the government to make quick decisions about Covid issues has been extended until mid-April and it will probably be extended again.

Most of Italy has been rated Zone Yellow. Unfortunately we here in Umbria are Zone Orange, threatening to tip over into Zone Red. We have a steady increase of cases. This morning I read two cases of the new Brazilian strain of the virus were found here. I also heard the worst numbers are in the Perugia province of Umbria. In Umbertide we have a very famous rehabilitation center, Prosperious. Turns out there are 26 cases just in that center alone! It has necessitated the close of our hospital.

Speaking of hospitals, the big medical center university hospital in Perugia, Sibillini, is being hammered. There was a photo with a line of ambulances waiting at the Pronto Socorso (emergency). They have closed it except for Covid and emergencies. They are not allowing any visitors. This is particularly hard on Italians as they expect to practically live in the hospital with their family or friends.

Vaccines. We have heard our age group has been pushed to no sooner than April. They are still vaccinating over 80 year olds and health workers. We visited our doctor today and she says they have no idea what is happening with the vaccine. So we wait. I read an interesting article in the Washington Post about what people who HAVE been vaccinated should be able to do, and not do. The biggest issue seems to be the new strains which are loose practically everywhere now. The UK, South African, and Brazilian strains. No one knows if the vaccine people are getting now, will be protection against the new strains. And no one knows if a person who has been vaccinated can still carry the virus and infect others. This means people who are vaccinated can feel a bit safer themselves against catching it or getting very ill if they do, but they still need to wear masks etc to protect others. Because of the uncertainty I think they still recommend against traveling even if you’ve been vaccinated.

Travel. The EU, and Italy, have no plans to loosen the travel restrictions. In fact things are tightening up even more. The Italian government updates its rules and restrictions about every 2 weeks. And they don’t try to predict any farther into the future than that. So there’s no way to tell when the travel ban will be lifted. My guess is not until most Italians have gotten the vaccine and we have gotten the disease under control here. We are far from that right now. They don’t predict the third group of people (under 60) to be vaccinated until October or November at the earliest. I don’t think 2021 will be the year tourists return to Italy. 🙁
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Flatbread!
Today I decided to make a old recipe I’ve been making for years. Rosemary flatbread. I ordered some dry yeast on Amazon because the stuff you get here is very unpredictable. This is just like the Fleischmans I used to get in the States. So to try it out, I made…flatbread! It was thicker than my previous loaves because I don’t have my big cast iron pan here. Still it was tasty.

Sentence in Italian “Il tempo non è freddo questa settimana” in English, “The weather is not cold this week”. Pronounced – eel temp-o non A fred-doh quest-ah set-tee-mahn-ah.

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Stay safe. Don’t go to a super bowl party! Andrà tutto bene 🌈

Senigallia on the Adriatic

We had a nice overnight with friends to Senigallia. It is an easy drive. About 1.5 hours if you don’t stop anywhere. We planned some visits to wineries along the way so it took longer. Most of the trip, outside Umbria, was in Le Marche. A pretty region similar in landscape to Umbria except for the proximity to the Adriatic.

Our first target was Matelica. The landscapes and views are beautiful. It’s agricultural and also pretty mountainous. They’re are lots of wineries. They make primarily Verdicchio which is a nice white wine. If you find a good producer, it can be very complex. We chose ColleStefano. A nice property. All the wineries are in the middle of the harvest and the crush so we had a bit of trouble visiting them. We bought a case of the Verdicchio and a few Rosati (Rosé).

View from the tasting room.

Our next goal was finding a place to have the picnic we brought. We visited another winery. We could purchase, but not taste because the family was busy with the harvest. No place to picnic.

Pretty view from the second winery.

Off we went towards Senigallia. No picnic tables to be found. Finally along the Lungomare, the sea coast, we found a small park with a table. The town is quite empty. Quiet. We checked into our hotel, TerrazzoMarconi. Our view.

The Pavillion

The evening was a fancy dinner at a Michelin 3 star restaurant Uliassi. Seafood. It sits right on the beach. It was sprinkling as we walked to dinner. We had to wait a bit for the doors to open. Here are a few pictures.

Cuttlefish with quinoa and nori seaweed pesto.
Shrimp in a citrus sauce.
Pasta with oyster sauce.
Sea bass in squid ink.

A nice evening.

Thursday morning. We had a nice if surprising breakfast. Buffets have disappeared since the advent of Covid. We had seen none until today when they had a completely open buffet. No glass covers over the food or anything. No restaurants in the Marche took our temperature or contact info. I suppose all the regions have their own rules. We even had a mini-bar, also a thing of the past since Covid.

Luther and I took a walk on the beach. It was hot!

We got underway and headed for another winery for a tasting and to purchase. This one was near Jesi.

Winery entrance.
Fall is coming.
First Verdicchio.
2nd
The house of the property.

After our nice tasting we headed for Fabriano and lunch. There is good news. And there is bad news. We arrived and parked and walked to our intended restaurant. They were closed. So we went to a small piazza not far away where there was a nice bar. So we settled in and ordered lunch. The bad news was, the food was awful. I can’t remember when I’ve gotten such bad food in Italy.

The town of Fabriano is known since the 1300s as a primo paper making city. They are even a UNESCO heritage site for this to this day. I love this city. Here are some pictures.

It was a fun little giro. I must keep in mind that the sea is very accessible and go more often.

Trip report. Naples and Positano

Here’s a trip report. The trip was short but the report has plenty of pictures. If you are not interested, as always, just skip!

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We took the train to Rome. It was a FrecciaBianca. One of the high speed trains but the slowest of the three kinds. We booked first class. There weren’t many people in our car. The seats were staggered anyway so no one sits near anyone else. We all were wearing masks. This was the longest stretch that I will have worn a mask non-stop. I put it on at 9:15am and it will come off around 3pm. (Except for eating)
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Then we boarded the FrecciaRossa to Napoli. This is the fastest train. We got up to 298 kph. We can get from Umbria to Naples in just over three hours, including a change of trains. We were in the business class car called “Area Silenzio” the silence area. Nice in there. Big cushy seats. Only one other passenger. Took just over an hour to get to Napoli from Roma. Before we boarded they passed out little bags with: a mask, gloves, antiseptic wipes, a cover for your seat back, water, cups and napkins, nice.

FrecciaRossa
Our speed.
party pack! Masks, wipes, gloves, etc.
I booked the Area Silenzio. It is so tranquil.

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I brought a picnic. Egg salad sandwiches with tomatoes, and peanut butter cookies courtesy of my friend Jen (yum – thanks Jen). And a bottle of white wine. Livin’ large on the FrecciaRossa.
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We had, for the first time, hired private transport from the Naples train station, to Positano – two hour drive.

Cliffs of the Amalfi coast.
COVID portrait. Our driver insisted.

The other two times we’ve visited, Luther drove rental cars. This time, our driver was waiting for us and he drove us expertly to our destination. All we had to do was walk down the hill to our hotel. It was pleasurable experience. If we ever again have guests who manage to come, we will do this again.

Our hotel is called Palazzo Murat. Our first visit to Positano was in 1994 when we lived in Germany. This is the hotel we stayed in then. So, kind of for old times sake, I chose this one again. It is much more luxurious than before. Might be the best place in town. They have a pretty patio bar. Our room has views of the sea and the duomo. There is also a large garden beneath our window. 

Across from us.
Breakfast terrace from our balcony.

The entire building is wrapped by a bougainvillea that is more than a century old. It’s main trunk is as big as a tree. For a plant enthusiast it is incredible. Along the balconies, and above the walkways there is a Genus Bignonia. There are also a banana plant, and tropical plants. My friend Doug would love it. There is even an entire trellised lemon, orange and tangerine grove. To one side there is the restaurant’s garden full of beautiful ripe tomatoes, and herbs and salad greens used by the chefs. All of this in the center of Positano. 

Vegetable garden.
Pool
Centennial bougainvillea

I was intrigued by the history of the Palazzo. It is 17th century and was the summer home of the King of Napoli. He was the brother of Napoleon Bonaparte. In 1808 he visited Positano and fell in love with the house. He spent summers with his lovers away from the politics in Napoli. 

Now the house is the home of the Attanasio family. Several generations have lived here and made the hospitality of the hotel their careers. Each member of the family looks after a specific department. 
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After we arrived we rested and showered and met our friends Gary and Bill for drinks in the pretty bar as the sun set behind the cliffs. They had taken the boat from Salerno, where they live. I met Gary, virtually, a few years ago through my blog. We had met in person in Rome for lunch back in December, what seems worlds away now. I was happy to try an interesting drink so Gary and I tried a Bellini. Peach juice (fresh) in Prosecco. One of us tried the Fresh Breeze, a cucumber based drink. And one got a white wine.

Bellini.
Fresh breeze.

After drinks we wandered down to the beach. Gary and Bill had already made reservations for us at Chez Black. This restaurant has been there since 1949. We even ate there in 1994. The food was good. And the servers were nice. We started early. By the time we left the place was packed. That had been a surprise. Positano is positively packed with tourists. Mostly young people. They have mandatory masks inside but not on the street. I admit to not feeling comfortable with this.

Octopus carpaccio. Oh my. So good.
Spaghetti al mare…seafood pasta. Also very good.
Luther had the grilled fish plate.

After dinner we sat in the patio bar where Luther could smoke his cigar. Pretty at night.

Cigar man
The beautiful patio at night.

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Our one full day in Positano I wanted to do some shopping. We rose and took our time going down to breakfast around 9:30. I thoroughly enjoyed it. They brought a plate of pastries and jam. And we ordered OJ (fresh squeezed – no surprise being in the citrus capital of Italy) and cappuccini. Then we ordered a la carte the smoked salmon Insalata dressed with a mustard, honey vinegrette. Very yum and light. 

My delicious smoked salmon salad breakfast.

After breakfast we walked all over Positano. The shopping was not what I had hoped. Maybe when I get to Napoli. Or maybe not. I was looking for some interesting necklaces. Not expensive but kind of large with interesting colors and stones or shells or … But I found only one store with interesting things like that and they are an expensive store. I wasn’t sure if I wanted to spring for that amount of money. Maybe tomorrow morning, before we leave I will go back. Or not…

Park bench pal.

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Dinner in the restaurant at our hotel with Gary and Bill. First drinks on the patio. Such a pretty place. We just had to walk down a set of steps to the restaurant. I’m afraid I wasn’t impressed with the food. We had a bruschetta gift from the chef. I had tuna with a Bloody Mary sauce. It was not notable. The squash blossoms looked good. It was still an enjoyable dinner with good conversation and companions. 

Squash blossoms
Tuna bloody mary
Polpette aka meatballs
Bye Bye Positano.

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We breakfasted and left our pretty hotel to meet our driver Vincenzo. He whisked us straight to the Grand Hotel Excelsior.

Luther’s eggs.
My own personal frittata in a cute pan.
The Amalfi coastal drive from the van.
The Amalfi coastal drive from the van.

For this, our first trip to Naples, I chose the seafront. There is a row of big hotels. They sit directly across from the Castello Ovo. All around the castle are seafood restaurants. It is a quiet area compared to in the city center. Next time we come we decided it would be more fun to be in the city.

Our hotel is described as the Grand Dame of hotels. It was nice enough, if a little dated. Very large room with olive flocked wallpaper. High ceilings and a decent bath. Two big windows looked out on the sea. The room had a seal across the door indicating it had been sanitized. The hotel takes all the Covid precautions. The top floor is a roof terrace. Pretty flowers and trees around and among the tables. They serve breakfast here as well as drinks at night. The breakfasts were good.

Sidney the seagull was our assigned gull during our stay. Always on duty.

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The first night we decided to have dinner at La Scialuppa. Right beside the water. Outside tables. They took our temperature and then we had to fill out a form with our contact info – document number telephone etc. everywhere we went they took our temperature. Food was good enough. I had the Caprese salad and a pasta – big tubes with a pistachio cream sauce and prawns. Very rich. I was glad I had ordered the Caprese. And we could actually see the island of Capri where the Caprese is said to originate

Couple of guys entertaining us. They were fun and serenaded me with “that’s Amore”
Our hotel from our table. Hotel Excelsior is on the right.
Luther’s appetizer
My pasta.

We returned to the hotel and went up to the roof terrace for Luther to have a cigar and an after dinner drink. It was very pleasant.
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After a good breakfast of scrambled eggs fruit and toast we grabbed a cab and went to the Museo Archeologico. The cab ride was beyond exciting. The traffic in Naples is legendary and our taxi driver was expert.

We have two full days here and today was the Museo Archeologico Nazionale di Napoli. We’ve wanted to visit here for years. They’ve got all the original Pompeii art, frescos, mosaics etc. Also Greek, Roman, Etruscan, and all the prehistoric societies in southern Italy. We toured for almost 3 hours.

The museum was really great. In it they have all the bits of Pompeii and Herculaneum that they removed. Entire walls from houses with their frescoes. Mosaics. All kinds of ceramics and pottery. There was an Egyptian section. A Roman section. An Etruscan section. A Greek section. Even a prehistoric exhibit. Lots of carved statuary. The focus is on the bottom of Italy. The heel and toe of the boot up to about Rome and also Sicily and the islands like Capri and Ischia. Excellent museum. We spent about 3 hours there.

Roman sculptures

They had a cute photo installation with some of the sculptures juxtaposed into photographs. Here are just two of them.

Decoration from a Pompeii villa
Portrait of a Roman intellectual woman.
Map of the early settlements at the base of the peninsula.
One of the beautiful floors. We had to wear shoe covers.
I don’t know why I liked this, but I did. Until he removes her helmet, he doesn’t realize he killed a beautiful woman warrior.
Greek drinking cup.

We left the museum and headed down Via Toledo. It is one of the main drags in Naples. Very busy street. We were looking for a place to stop for refreshments and to rest our feet. We found a place in Piazza Dante. It didn’t have food though and we were hungry. We used the phone to find nearby restaurants and went to one called Cisterna. It was close. I ordered a wonderful ceviche with lime. Cool, light and refreshing. We were planning an outing later in the afternoon so took a taxi back to the hotel.

My ceviche.

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After resting we headed out to find the cigar store that Luther had heard of to see if he could buy some cigars. It was about a 15 minute walk but the sidewalks were very hard to walk on. Hard stones and uneven surfaces. And lots of traffic and crosswalks. Very chaotic. Not liking it. We found the store and Luther got his cigars. Then we headed to a wine bar he had found. We had a glass of wine and walked back to our chosen restaurant, 28 Posti Bistro con Gusto. I was sorry to see it was inside dining but the tables were far apart. After a temperature check and document filing as usual, we sat down and ordered. I had bruschetta with colorful tomatoes and peppers. And then a spaghetti con Vongole. Both tasty. We walked back to our hotel and I turned in. I was bushed after a very full day.

Thursday. Our other full day in Naples. The weather has been hot. And no rain. We left after breakfast. I had downloaded an app called GPSmyCity. You can pick any of eight or ten walking itineraries or custom make one. We took a taxi to the starting point at the Duomo of Napoli. The duomo is enormous. And very pretty. We started following the tour. It was nice. It told you where to go and then had nice write-ups of the sights. The second stop was the Naples Underground. I really was enjoying this neighborhood. Skinny streets, lots of shops. Lots of people shopping for their groceries at the individual food shops. One for fish, one for pasta, one for bread, one for fresh vegetables. Lots of life. This is where I’d like to stay next time.

Duomo.
One of the cool little streets near the Duomo.
Fish monger.

Then, there was this sign. Translates as — Top signs says, they are awarding degrees immediately. The second sign says they are hiring housekeepers who have the measurements of 90-60-90 with offers of food, accommodation, washing, rinsing, drying, ironing, massage and sex at will. Okay then….

We kept going, seeing Piazze, and churches, statues, and landmarks. The tour actually ended at our hotel. We decided to stop for lunch. We couldn’t find anything with outside tables. Eventually we found a cute trattoria. It didn’t have outside tables but it didn’t feel too cramped. They took our temperatures and we filled out the forms. They are required to keep the forms for two weeks. If anyone gets infected they can use them for contact tracing. I had Caprese insalata again. It is just so good because we are in the land of Mozzarella di Buffala. It is much creamier than what we got in the US or even in Umbria. We also noticed it is spelled Muzzarella here. From the dialect of Naples. Which is getting closer to the Muzzadell’ you’ll hear in NJ and NY Italian communities. After the Caprese I had another pasta with seafood dish. It had Pecorino cheese in it. It was sort of a cross between Caccio e Pepe Roman specialty and pasta with seafood. Strange. But good. 


Since we had a big lunch we decided to stop by the grocery on the way back and put together a picnic. We got ham, mortadella, and two cheeses. Along with a loaf of bread and a bottle of wine. The end of a nice day.

The following morning we breakfasted and packed and checked out. We grabbed a taxi to the station and found our train was delayed 25 minutes. It meant we’d miss our connection. But we grabbed the next one so not terribly inconvenient. The downside was the train was a Regional and it was packed. Everyone put their bags and backpacks in the seat next to them, taking up 2 seats each. They had no seats marked restricted which would have helped with the distancing. But this meant that a family who got on couldn’t find seats. No one wanted to sit right next to, or across from anyone. Including me!
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Final thoughts. I always love Positano. Taking the private transport from the Naples station there was seamless, relaxing and painless. The town was packed on the Sunday afternoon when we arrived. I was surprised. Monday was not as bad. But still a lot of people. Masks are required indoors but not outside. The hotel Palazzo Murat is amazing. The food in Positano was not at all notable. Chez Black was the best.

Naples was as I expected. Busy chaotic Italian city in the south. Lots of horns honking. Millions of Vespas and motorcycles. Crazy drivers. But they did let you cross in the crosswalks. The neighborhood up near the Duomo was the most interesting. There are many places we didn’t see of course.  They don’t seem to use the word Ciao as often in Naples as they do further north. The food in Naples was not notable. Not bad but not great. We didn’t get any pizza. Maybe next time.

Road trip! Abruzzo!

This is a mini trip report. We decided to do an overnight to one of our favorite areas, Abruzzo. We also traversed Le Marche on the way. The motivation was to revisit a restaurant we had visited a couple years ago that we really liked then, and also to arrange a winery visit and tasting. To get away for a while. Change of scenery.

We were just coming off of a bad heat spell that had broken with storms. We left on a Tuesday morning with fresh air and sunshine. Perfect top down weather. We drove south through Spoleto and headed east along the river and through the gorge that cuts through the mountains to Norcia. Then over the mountain pass and down into the flats near the Adriatic sea.

Our winery, called Tenuta Torretta, was up in the hills just into Abruzzo. We had an appointment at 2:30. We were having some pretty spectacular thunderstorms. The winery had amazing views to the Gran Sasso mountains and the sea. And a ringside seat to the lightening show as the storm moved up the coast.

Here is the storm over the Adriatic. Lightening streaked from clouds to ground as we watched.

Later, after the storm passed. The sea is a pretty aqua.

Here is the view towards the Gran Sasso – I’m sure it’s spectacular when the storms aren’t around.

The view out over the olives and through the vineyards is gorgeous.

We were met by Cinzia (the Italian version of Cynthia, my sisters name). And afterwards her sister-in-law and her father. It became a real family affair. I think they have missed having visitors during the Corona lockdowns. Anyway we sat outside at plastic tables and tasted three whites, a Vermentino, a Pecorino, a Chardonnay. The big surprise was the Cerasuola, a wine made from Montepulciano d’Abruzzo grapes which they allowed to sit with the skins for only half a day. Then the skins removed. But in that short time the wine becomes quite red, redder then a Rose but served chilled just the same. And more full flavored. Then we had two reds. Along with the wine we had good bread and sausages.

I liked all the family. The two sisters were super friendly. And the Dad mostly talked to Luther about the winery. He was probably our age. We bought three cases (of six). It was WAY more than a tasting and I think it lasted almost 2 hours! This is the kind of experience I enjoy most here.

Cinzia.
Dad.
The brother is missing. They missed having visitors I think!

Here are pictures of the wines we tried and the sausage nibbles we had along with bread.

Cerasuolo. Interesting cross. Not quite red, not quite rose, and served chilled
Cerasuolo – see the color?
Chardonnay. Vines were very old.
Montepulciano d’Abruzzo – the big red of this region.

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We headed down to our destination for dinner, Villa Maiella in Guardiagrele. The hotel is mostly empty. From the breakfast tables there were five rooms occupied. It is also a very basic place. It sorely needs an upgrade. The bed was comfortable enough and the AC was great.

The claim of this place is its restaurant. It does not have an a la carte menu. Just tasting menus. Differing sizes. We didn’t feel up to a 12 course dinner so we chose the smaller menu. It was good-ish. Not as good as I remembered from last time. The biggest downside was the dining was inside. Widely spaced tables but still, I am not comfortable in an enclosed, interior space. And most tables were full.

Good bread.
Stuzzichino – gift from the chef.
Gift from the chef. Mousse.
Chitarra di patate – literally, Guitar of potatoes. The circle is pasta made from potatoes. The type (shape) of the pasta is Chitarra. Loved this course!
Bianco di tacchino con finocchi, arancia, nocciola – Turkey 3 ways.
Ravioli di burrata allo Zafferano deL’Aquila e Lenticchie di Caprafico – mmm mmm good.
Stinko d’Agnello – Shin of lamb
Nettarine e bavarese bianca
Our wine. Montepulciano d’Abruzzo.
The terrace where people had drinks and got the menu.
The dining room. Pretty well spaced tables but I’ve been reading a lot about ventilation carrying the air hither and yon.

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The morning dawned very cool and partly cloudy. Someone said, we went from August to October overnight! We had a nice view of the Gran Sasso mountains, the biggest in Italy and they are now a large park. We had a nice breakfast in the basement. The hotel, after reopening from the lockdown, moved the reception into the basement.

We set off for home, deciding not to visit another winery. We drove through almost continuous thunderstorms all the way up the coast super strata. This highway is very nice. It runs from Bari all the way to Ancona. We turned inland and passed through some of the pretty Marche countryside. The rain finally let up just after we arrived in Umbria. All in all a nice short getaway and change of scenery.

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Stay safe everyone and be vigilant. 🌈 andrà bene.

Our first trip since Lockdown

Sunday, June 28
It was a birthday celebration. The plan was simple. We were driving on our first road trip from our house in Umbria to a hotel on the Mediterranean coast to a town called Castiglione della Pescaia. It would not be a long drive, only 2-3 hours.

We drove the Angelo Giallo for the first time since lockdown. We had taken it to the dealer for it’s annual servicing and it had a coolant leak. So we were all set. We left at 1:30 and drove from our house to Siena on the decent four lane road and then went south and slightly west to our destination. A pretty and interesting route.

We arrived at about 5pm, just after our friends Susan and Gary. It was Susan’s birthday trip and Luthers birthday is July 5 so kind of a piggyback. Hotel L’Andana is a few kilometers from the coast. From certain parts of the property you can see the sea. It is over 500 acres of land. They have hundreds of olive trees, all regimented and perfectly shaved. They look like they have all had the exact same flat-top haircut.

This is the driveway and gate. It was 900 meters long.
Maremmana cattle. Amazing horns. Nearly went extinct. Mussolini drained the swamps where they were adapted to live and work.
Our room. Great AC!

The next two are pictures of the property.

We rested and changed for dinner at the hotel. They have two restaurants, only one of which was open. The more casual of the two. Nice spot outdoors. Lots of spacing between tables. Everyone wore a mask. Unfortunately for me my main course was inedible. Grilled octopus on mashed potatoes. The octopus was a Goodyear retread tire. Almost impossible to chew. I rarely have an experience like this, and never in Italy. So I sent it back and got chicken. Susan and Gary got the Branzino cooked in a pouch which they loved. So, it was a mixed result. I might also mention, this restaurant was EXPENSIVE. 

Monday, Susan’s birthday. And today was to be her day. Beautiful sunny weather but would be hot. We had breakfast outside under the trees. Near our dinner spot from last night. They’ve got loads of help here, so service was great. Not always experienced, but always someone there. I had scrambled eggs. There was a big buffet but they had to serve us. Buffets aren’t allowed since Covid. Luther had smoked salmon. There were croissants and bread and butter, yogurt, freshly squeezed OJ. Eggs, any way. Just fine.

Outside dining area. Breakfast and dinner.
Outside dining area. Breakfast and dinner.

We left after breakfast and headed for the beach. Castiglione della Pescaia is the pretty town nearby. We drove through, turned towards the beach and ended at a dead end. Finally extricated ourselves and headed down the main highway that parallels the coast. We drove through a big park. It was a huge forest of umbrella pines. Quite amazing. Campgrounds were in and among the trees. At the end, I saw there was a town called Marina di Grosseto. I peered down the first road we came to and I saw umbrellas and a big parking area under the pines. Not looking a gift horse in the mouth we parked and walked to the beach. Tre Stelle, a little Bagno, or beach restaurant with its own umbrellas out front. We rented two, and four chairs and even finagled towels. The beach was beautiful. Maybe 40% full. Lots of empty chairs. And all the umbrellas were well spaced with at least six feet between them. Felt very safe. Nice breeze. Susan got her birthday wish to sit on the beach, go in the water. I did too but since I had no suit I got my pants good and wet but didn’t swim. The water was a perfect temperature.

Our beach.
Our beach.
Our beach.

After a few hours enjoying the beauty. We headed back to Castiglione della Pescaia. We had reservations at Bagno Tito. Right on the beach. We found a free on-street parking place and walked to the beach. Just 3 blocks. It was a really nice little beachy place. We sat under umbrellas on the beach. The food was good enough. Not great but fine. We had nice local wine. A nice breeze. What else could you wish for.

Lunch. Bagno Tito.
The view from our table, right on the beach.
Luther got Alici…fresh anchovies. Cracked pink pepper cornes perked it up.


We visited the local Coop grocery store where we bought food for a picnic in the room. Then, back to the hotel for showers and a nap. The picnic was fun. Nice conversation. Later, Luther and I sat outside while he smoked a cigar. I listened to the night noises. Owls maybe? Or small creatures? Horses neighing. Long soft sunset like we get during the longest days of summer. 

Tuesday — We met for breakfast at nine. More scrambled eggs with salmon. A good breakfast. We had to get out by ten because we had an appointment to taste Bolgheri wines an hour away, up the coast. A place called Fornacelle.  As always it was a wild goose chase to find it but we persevered and with the help of google maps finally found it. These wineries are all on the flat lowland between the beach and the bluff rising to the mountains. And the area is networked with little one lane roads. 

Our hostess, Sylvia, was a member of the family which owned the winery. A small operation. She showed us the cellaring room with the oak barrels. And an art installation along with art upstairs in a gallery. They use this on their labels. We finally settled on a pretty patio outside to taste. We had a 100% Vermentino Zizzolo white, a 100% Semillion white (aged in oak), a Rosso Zizzolo blend of Merlot and Cabernet Sauvignon. These two are named for a small fruit tree which produces an apple-like fruit. They had a tree next to the patio. Next we tried a Red made from Merlot, Cabernet Franc and Cabernet Sauvignon. And finally a 100% Cabernet Franc called Erminia. This last one was a beautiful wine. My favorite. She brought crostade with their good oil. A very fun tasting which lasted longer than expected. We had a second appointment but couldn’t keep it and make our lunch reservation.

The cellar.
Zizzolo tree and fruit.

Next few are of the patio where we tasted the wine and some of the wine bottles we tried.


Off we went to Agriristoro La Cesarina. Another exciting adventure in tiny one lane roads, eventually going up the bluff to the top where the restaurant was situated. What a view. Small, casual, place. Obviously their home as we interrupted their lunch. The whole family was there. Turns out Nonna was the cook. Very traditional Tuscan cuisine. But all good. We had antipasto for all four of us plates of meats with melon, cheeses with figs and fig jam. Bruschette – red pepper and liver. All good. Then we had main courses. All the choices were very long cooked meats. A roast pork with carmelized onions. Roast cinghiale, roast beef. Everyone liked theirs. The wines were Bolgheri wines and good.

La Cesarina dining area.
La Cesarina dining area.
The view.
After lunch digestivo. Anise and something else I couldn’t place.

Driving home was another hoot. Up and down the mountains through the valleys. But we got home in time for Susan’s conference call.  
We again gathered for snacks. Watermelon, a little cheese was left and some mortadella.

I rose a bit early and tried to sit outside but the humidity has risen and there are millions of gnats and tiny bugs. So I had to retreat. I did take a shot of the long morning shadows which I thought was pretty.

We breakfasted and got on the road. Home in 2 hours 10 minutes.
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Impressions for our first trip. Restaurants were generally doing well with good distancing. Bagno Tito, the beach restaurant had no paper towels. That was bad because after you wash your hands you don’t want to touch handles etc. All other places had immaculate and fully equipped bathrooms. The hotel was very nice, clean and had great beds and linen. No worries there. The two beaches were sparsely populated and all umbrellas and chairs widely spaced. Unless in the great out of doors, everyone wears masks. So I’d give Italy an A.

During the trip we saw 2 German tags, 3 Swiss, 1 UK, 2 Monaco, 1 Lichtenstein, 1 Netherlands, and one Austrian. Every other tag was Italian, so Italians far out numbered everyone else, very few crossing the borders.

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I see things aren’t going so well in the US. The EU decided not to let travelers from the US into Europe. The benchmark scientific metric used was new cases over the past two weeks per 100,000 people. The average among the 27 European Union countries was 16 in mid-June; in the United States, it was 107.
Please everyone, wear your masks when not in open countryside. It would slow the virus to a crawl and the economy could come back without drastic shutdowns. It’s really not hard…I hate the masks, but I wear them.🌈