Sunday, December 20, 2009

Day 10 - A drive through the Chianti Area - Quercegrossa, Radda, Volpaia...

Sunday, July 12,2009

It was so nice sleeping in this morning. The Tuscan sun filtered through the sheer lace curtains of  our bedroom window.  This is paradise....We enjoyed a coffee and some breakfast on our little patio then set off on our driving tour of the Chianti area. Our first stop was Quercegrossa, a little town just out the back way from La Foresta.  The town is very small and has a grocery store! YAY!!! We then headed for Castellina in Chianti and walked around, bought some groceries for dinner at the coop and visited the tourist office to check emails. We used our laptops and one hour cost us 1 euro for the two of us...pretty cheap. We had another coffee at a sidewalk cafe and toured the little village. Castellina is definitely worth a visit. It has a charming old main road and there are Etruscan tombs nearby.

We then set off for Radda in Chianti.

This is a picture of me knitting on a bench in Radda with a little kitten keeping me company.  I like to promote knitting in public.  It is NOT an old lady craft!

Looking through a brochure from the tourist office we found  a picture of a beautiful view of Radda. We agreed that it would be nice to try to find the vantage point that the photo was taken from, so showed the picture to our waitress. She looked at it confused and proceeded to tell me that she didn’t think it was a picture of Radda but to wait while she consulted with two of the young people who lived in the town. They began arguing with each other in Italian and I have no idea what was going on but they were surprised that the book said it was Radda when  they were convinced it was Volpaia.

And so Dan and I decided to head over to Volpaia as we were now curious ourselves. Higgins of course knew the way and guided us there. We travelled up the road to try to get a view of the town from above. Dan parked in an open field and we walked down a path through all kinds of bramble and bushes to discover a beautiful view of the rooftops of Volpaia ...yes this was definitely it! After arguing over whose ankles were scratched more, (no question that mine were...) we found our way back to the car. When we drove back down the road, there was another beautiful view of the town directly in front of us.

We just love having the flexibility to travel off the beaten path and not worry about time. Most of the guidebooks that we bought before we left Canada didn't even mention these towns. Rick Steve’s guide which we really like, only highlights some of just need to find them on your own.

Our next stop after driving through Gaiole in Chianti , was the Brolio Castle. The castle rises in the middle of boundless vineyards with spectacular views. At the beginning of the 12th century, the powerful feudal family of the Ricasoli from Cacchiano took office on it. Still today the castle belongs to their descendants. We took a tour then went for a wine tasting at the store and bought a couple of bottles- one to enjoy while in Italy and another to have at home New Year’s Eve, when we remember how fortunate we have been and begin planning our next year’s vacation.

We made our way from there to San Gusme, a quaint little medieval village. By this time the light was beautiful as it lowered in the sky. Dan took some beautiful pictures.

We started getting hungry for dinner, so headed back to La Foresta. Lucia, always smiling and happy, greeted us. Dan was looking forward to a cold beer after driving these very windy roads. I had put a couple of beers in the freezer and forgot to remove them, so oooops.....they were ruined but Lucia saved the day and presented him with 2 cold Italian beers!

We toasted to tomorrow – Lucca and perhaps dinner at Dan’s barber’s cousin’s restaurant...if we can find it!

Sunday, November 8, 2009

Day 9 - Tuscany - Cortona, Castellina and our move to La Foresta in Chianti

Saturday, July 11, 2009

Off we went at 6:30 to search for the cypress trees in the perfect morning light. I was hoping that this time it would be right...pleeeeease be right! And it WAS this time ...well almost...Because the light was hitting the scene right on, the shadows were directly behind the trees so you couldn’t see the shadows. It makes less of a dramatic effect on the picture.

What is most outstanding about a trip like this, is that it allows you the flexibility to use your time however you desire and in this case return to a very special place. This wasn’t just about a picture. We were able to linger as long as we wanted and drink in this stunning iconic scene of Tuscany. It was perfectly quiet. A shock of color from a poppy here and there...and a calmness that removes the city stress from your body like a vacuum.

With my new camera and extra lense, I am following Dan around like a shadow, copying his pictures a bit, but of course I have an eye of my own (so he says) and have a lot of my own pictures. It is so difficult to take pictures of a landscape which is so vast when seen with the naked eye and convert it to a photo that is so condensed. I have this picture in my head that I want of these 3 wheelers that you see sometimes on the side roads. They are very old little vehicles which hold one driver or two if you really squeeze. Dan has humoured me by following these guys down roads...but I just haven’t captured yet what I want.

The picture I was thinking of had a driver in the vehicle travelling down a perfect old road. We finally found the vehicle without a driver so I had Dan stand in front of the vehicle so it looked like he was driving!

Higgins has been a very good navigator and once we find a destination and set the coordinates, he is able to lead us back there over and over again. His pronunciation of some of the highways and streets are hilarious and sometimes we actually are entertained by him. I had downloaded a scary voice, Dr. Nightmare, that could be substituted for the regular GPS voice. (Dan didn’t know this) Dr. Nightmare has a very loud deep dark voice and every once in a while adds a comment, like “DON’T MIND THE NOISE IN THE TRUNK HA HA HA.” One day I plugged his voice in and scared Dan when he was driving...maybe it wasn’t such a good idea...I thought it was verrryyy funny. Well it didn’t last long before our regular Higgins was called upon. I also sometimes change the vehicle that appears on the display. Yesterday we drove a little car with a dog hanging out the window. Most of the time we have had a little pink one...what shall I put today???

Our drive around the countryside was fun and the market in Cortona was ok but not great- mostly clothes. We picked up some tomatoes, basil and buffalo mozzarella for a caprese salad tonight to go with a roasted chicken.

Off we went to La Foresta, an agriturismo property which was going to be our new home for the next week. Agriturismo isn’t about working on a farm, it’s about experiencing rural Italian life and a slower-paced holiday. The idea is that you rent a room in a farmhouse in the countryside where you can enjoy unparalleled views and where your most difficult task each day will be deciding where you want to go or if you simply want to relax there.  La Foresta  was hidden away in a vineyard. Higgins took us to the little Church in San Leonino, but then he ran out of road and our instructions were to take the little path and follow it way into the vineyard. Paolo was there fixing a lawn mower. “La Foresta?” “Si” he replied and very jovially told us with hand signals to leave the car and follow him. He did not speak English at all but showed us what we needed to know about our apartment. A message on the door from Lucia said that she would be back around 5:00 pm and would see us then. Paolo was obviously the “everything guy” as he was watering, fixing things etc. Our apartment was definitely rustic but very charming, with very large windows covered with white lace and big antique wardrobes, mirrors, dining room table etc. It was not for the person who is not comfortable with a variety of bugs. Some of the windows didn’t have screens and even if they did, they didn’t really meet the edges of the frame. I watched a little gecko run from inside to outside of the room and mosquitos were a plenty. Hunter Dan chased down a bee and closed the inside shutter and trapped the bee, convinced that he would find his way outside through one of those gaps. The only problem was that we needed air in the room...

The dining room was equipped with a small gas stove, refrigerator, sink and some utensils (plates, forks etc). We also had some old tall candle holders. Our bathroom was down a few steps from the dining room with a little arched door. It was cute with a bidet , a toilet, sink and shower. The shower was a shower head pointing down with a rough curtain around it. There was no ridge around the shower so the water simply ran all over the floor until find the drain....a little wet...but this was country life in Italy. We had a little outdoor eating place with some old vines dripping with grapes hanging overhead and there was even a swimming pool.

Lucia arrived! She apologized for being late and greeted us very warmly with hugs and proceeded to fly through our apartment telling us everything we needed to know from turning on the gas to the restaurants nearby and the pasta lessons that she would tell me about tomorrow when she would bring the information. She showed us the map and suggested towns we should visit...she circled every town in the region!

We drove over to Castellina in Chianti to explore the village as this was our closest town. It was very charming with many cafes and little shops as well as a coop grocery store. It seems that most visitors to this area are from Belgium and Germany and we really didn’t hear English at all.

We returned home to toast to our new place and tomorrow’s drive through the Chianti region.

There were sunflowers everywhere!

Stay tuned for day 10 and our drive through the Chianti region.

Saturday, October 24, 2009

Day 8 - Pienza, Montepulciano and Cypress Trees

Friday, July 10, 2009
Yes we did indeed wake up at 6:00 am (to catch the beautiful morning light) and Dan was sure he would find the setting with the Cypress trees.  So we drove and drove...until we gave up and went to Pienza.  We visited the market, where I think we were the only tourists and bought one tablecloth - a mixture of cotton and linen for our dining room table  (12 Euros), the one for our table on the deck (5 Euros) and oh yes one more...lucky we don’t have more tables.... We stopped at a cafe for a morning coffee and treat and I bought this cool little rolling pin which cuts pasta. Then we headed over to the tourist information centre where Dan was convinced that if he described what he was looking for or found a picture of a scene that was in his head, then maybe...she would point us in the right direction.  And yes she did...but it wasn’t easy to find...and guess what?  By that time the light wasn’t right, so it looks like we will be going back there another morning.  I made sure that before Dan moved the car, I set Higgins, our GPS,  to register exactly where we were, so we would find our way back to this dirt road in the middle of one of the most picturesque landscapes in Tuscany.

Dan reached in the back seat and pulled out a large plastic bag and asked what I bought??? I told him that I bought the rolling pin. No, he meant the bag of light bulbs...hmmmm I didn’t buy a large bag of light bulbs...I  put the rolling pin in my bag with the tablecloths and must have picked up another bag in the store.  OMG...I was a shoplifter!!!!!  We need to go back to Pienza to return the stolen goods!  When we returned, the shop owner laughed at ( with) me and waved me good-bye with a Grazie and arrivederci and off we went to Montepulciano.

Wow, it was a very steep climb to the top!  We enjoyed a stroll through the square and  the many wine shops and stopped for a refreshing drink.

For the first time, we found wireless and Dan ran back to the car and got his computer where we each sent a couple of emails.

We found our way to Foiana del Ca....where I heard there was a great shop for eye glasses.  Actually, I was admiring the glasses that a girl in an art gallery was wearing and asked her where she bought them.   Since my glasses were broken, I thought this would be fantastic.  I would get a beautiful pair of Italian glasses.  When I suggested this little side trip, I could see the look in Dan’s eyes...Where are we going????  For what?????  So it was a little town kind of out of the way...but isn't that the beauty of a trip like this?  Flexibility?   We arrived in this town and were pointed in various directions until one  man knew exactly where we wanted to go and led me through the town...she didn't speak English at all and the glasses were just too expensive for my budget right now...oh well it was fun anyhow! 

I need to share with you a little superstition that my parents told to me when I was very young.  It is simple  – when you see bales of hay in a field when driving through the countryside, you make a wish.   When my family would go on driving trips, my mom and dad would point out bales of hay in the fields and would tell us to make a wish.   You would hear “Hay!... Hay!.... Hay!... I am not quite sure of the origin of this superstition or ritual...maybe they created it to keep us distracted ....I must say that I have very eagerly passed this on to every person who travels with me and I’m sure Dan , Elliot and Joanne – even if you don’t like to admit it – you are silently making wishes on those bales of hay.  By the way, it works...but let’s be reasonable now and unselfish  (those are my rules!).   
And so I am always requesting pictures of hay...special memories of my mom....

We headed back to Gli Archi where Emanuela greeted us warmly.  Dan decided to do some laundry.  I’m not sure what happened with Dan and the washing machine, but it had something to do with plugs matching the machine then him mistaking 90 for temperature but it was minutes.  He kept returning to the machines every 15 minutes to see how it was going.  He was gone for quite a while and a thunderstorm rolled in and then he returned very wet hugging very wet laundry.  We draped them around our apartment. No...he was not a happy camper.
We had a nice dinner with wine (Vernaccia di San Gimignano) and toasted to tomorrow – The Cortona Market day and our move to our new home for the next week – La Foresta.  Oh yes, and another morning visit to the scene with the cypress could I forget?


Stay tuned for Day 9

Saturday, October 10, 2009

Day 7 – Back to Tuscany

Thursday, July 9, 2009

It took us five hours to drive back from Sorrento to Gli Archi. We felt like we had taken a mini vacation on the Amalfi coast. We made it to the grocery store in Carmuccia in time to pick up a few things for our picnic the next day.

The owners of Gli Archi put on a pizza night every Thursday and for 10 Euros per person we decided to join them for dinner. All the women including the grandmother, who talked to me nonstop in Italian, even though the daughters kept telling her I didn’t understand, were involved and busy chopping and frying toppings.

Onions were fried for the toppings of a focaccia appetizer and we had a choice of four different pizzas, all created in the little kitchen beside the outdoor brick oven. One of the women was assigned to oven duty and would point the paddle which was at least 10 feet long, into the kitchen while another woman slipped the pizza on it. She would have to then back up and start manoeuvring forward like she was jouster and march towards the oven and slip it off the paddle right onto the oven’s stone floor. You wouldn’t want to get in this woman’s way!

We all were seated at picnic tables – There were about 30 people, a mixture of adults and children from all over the world. We joined a couple and their son, originally from Belgium who now live in Abu Dhabi. We exchanged stories while enjoying our focaccia, pizzas and homemade wine. Then came watermelon and Vino Santo. She plopped a biscotti into it and smiled. Of course there were other desserts as well...a meringue, chocolate cake and cookies.
We toasted with homemade limoncello to tomorrow.... market day in Pienza, a visit to Montepulciano and a hunt for a particular setting with cypress trees that Dan was determined to find in the very early morning light.

Stay tuned for Day 8... ...

Sunday, September 27, 2009

Day 6: The Amalfi Coast - Sorrento, Positano, Ravello and more

Day 6
Wednesday, July 8, 2009

Waking up on the Amalfi coast with the view of Mount Vesuvius was fantastic. We headed down for breakfast which consisted of fruit, toast and coffee - 40 Euros – YIKES!!!! Our dinner last night with wine was 60 Euros – but there were no other choices there for breakfast...oh well...we were in an expensive hotel (booked on Dan’s Priority Club points) so couldn’t really complain.
The very handsome Francesco picked us up at 9:00 am speaking excellent English. How did he learn? U2, Michael Jackson etc. These were his English teachers and inspiration to learn more about the language. A soccer fanatic, he lives in Sorrento and plays soccer about five times a week. He even took time off to attend every single Italy game at the last World Cup - won by Italy he boasted.

Every square inch of land seems to be cultivated in this region. The hillsides are terraced with Olive trees, lemon groves, walnuts, chestnuts, fig trees and vineyards.

The Olive trees had nets tied up around them , soon to be released to catch the ripened olives during harvest time. The olive oil is graded by the acidity, and bruises greatly affect the acidity levels. The nets provide a soft landing for the olives and avoid bruising. The olive oil must pass the acidity test to be classified as extra virgin olive oil.

Francesco drove us through Sorrento to Positano – where we walked down to the water and wound our way back up through paths of beautiful boutiques.

 A stop at the Sireneuse hotel (a five star with exquisite views) gave us a moment to regroup and take some photos from a new perspective. The Sireneuse sits on a high point of the town and overlooks the Duomo and beaches below.

Francesco pointed out several of the locations where the movies “Under the Tuscan Sun” and “Beautiful Women” were filmed. We travelled through a variety of other villages until we made our way to Ravello for lunch.

We ate on a terrace overlooking the breathtaking Amalfi coast. The meal was good but I will mention the dessert (as usual ). Homemade lemon gelato frozen in the actual lemon skins...sooo delicious. Actually there were two other fruits on the plate. We think they were peaches or nectarines also frozen filled with their matching gelato.

We continued to the town of Amalfi for more photos before looping back to our hotel.

The excursion took about seven hours and we saw quite a bit without feeling rushed. We said our goodbyes to Francesco and returned back to the hotel for a short rest. We decided to go back to Sorrento that night for dinner.

The traffic was horrible as everyone was coming back from the beach and merging onto the main road to Sorrento. What would take 20 minutes took about one and a half hours, most of it spent inching through a tunnel! We headed down to the Marina Grande and had dinner at a recommended restaurant Il Delphina, a 20 minute walk down to the water. I removed my high sandals and slipped on my flip flops... (I wouldn’t have made it otherwise!) The meal was good but the service wasn’t. We waited a long time until we were even served our wine, and the waiter, although funny was impossible to track down.
We huffed and puffed our way back up the hill and then enjoyed the walk through the streets , all lit with decorative lights.
Our free shuttle returned us back to the hotel where we toasted to la Dolce Vita!
Arrivederci....Stay tuned for Day 7 when we head back to Tuscany!

Tuesday, September 8, 2009

Day 5 The Amalfi Coast ... Sorrento

Day 5

Tuesday, July 7, 2009

We left at 6:00 for the long drive to Sorrento. This time we programmed Higgins to use the toll roads so we could get there quickly...well it still took us 5 hours..... The cars moved fast on this autostrada and although we were not the slowest –we were not in the same league as most of the other cars. We were faster than the trucks though! We did scoot out briefly to pass some trucks, and then before we knew it, a car would appear behind us out of nowhere and was tailing us. They flashed by us like lightning – we were going about 120 kms hr ...they were going about 180 kms hr.

Day 5_501

Along the way we stopped for coffee at the Autogrille, a favourite roadside stop where had coffee shooters, espressos, not the Tim Horton’s extra large that you nurse for 200 kms. No, these are consumed at the counter/bar and even though this is a roadside stop, each coffee is individually made with care.

When we exited the highway at Castelamare, according to Higgins, but not the right exit, we were assaulted with traffic coming at us in all directions. Scooters were driving on the wrong side of the road and cars were honking everywhere. I suppose it didn’t help when I kept on shouting out to Dan ”Watch out!!!” Yes it was stressful and even “Higgins” was getting confused. We pulled over at a gas station where I showed the address of the hotel to the two guys working there and they proceeded to argue, in very animated Italian , about the directions to get to our hotel. We vaguely understood...did he say 200 metres turn left or 2 kms....hmmmm.... and started off again. Finally we arrived at the Crowne Plaza, a very imposing hotel perched on the side of the mountain.

The room was very modern and airy. The bed was positioned in front of a very large picture window. The magnificent view in front of us was Mount Vesuvius!


We spent some time on the beach and it felt like we were having a couple of days vacation from our vacation!!!


In the evening, we took advantage of the free shuttle bus to Sorrento – Dan was not too eager to face more of the chaos of the roads here.


We walked around, admired the dramatic views and had a beautiful candlelit dinner with a lovely white wine from the region. Candlelight was important at the restaurant (and the surrounding square) as the power would go off frequently. The view from our little table, perched on the edge of the sidewalk, provided added entertainment. When a beautiful woman walked by, the waiter winked at Dan and commented “good table!” And then there was the horse and buggy parked in the square – the driver arguing with the horse...we are not sure what the argument was about. Delicacie de limona, a favourite of the area was the finale and was light and refreshing. What a very international destination – the people at the tables around us were visitors from Germany, England, Australia, Scotland and Spain. One of the common elements we all had was enjoying food with friends and family!

Day 5_575

We ended the evening with a toast with Fiagre to tomorrow on the Amalfi coast... our day with Francesco.



Stay tuned for Day 6....

Thursday, August 27, 2009

Day 4 From Carmuccia to Siena...

Day 4 - Monday, July 6, 2009

We set the GPS to avoid toll roads and travelled on side roads from Carmuccia to Montalcino.
This is the hilly area south of Siena know as the “Sienese Crests”a land of incredible panoramic vistas of the Tuscan countryside.

Day 4

Rolling hills dotted with cypress trees and topped with medieval towns.  Olive groves and rustic farmhouses...the classic Tuscan countryside...a photographers dream.  There weren’t many vineyards in this area.  When we started out, the weather was dreary with thick fog.  As we wound our way through the countryside through San Giovanni d’Asso and Asciano the fog slowly disappeared and the sun cast its magical spell on this majestic landscape.

Day 4, San Giovanni d'Asso
Dan was repeatedly pulling off to the side of the road and saying “I think this is a picture” or waiting for the the sun to come creeping out from under a cloud: “the sun is almost out...just another minute... don’t you see it starting to come out of the clouds?" Honestly, I would look up and wonder where he was seeing the sun. It was a mystery to me. And, so we waited and after 20 minutes sometimes, it would finally reveal itself like a tidal wave of light slowly flowing along the land and as its grand finale projecting the light on the one lonely farmhouse on a hill....yes, it was beautiful and worth waiting for. The challenge is how you capture that magic in a photograph.

Day 4, near Montalcino

We enjoyed coffee and biscotti in Montalcino as well as a very whimsical parade of tourists – big umbrellas shielding them from the sun as well as very big colourful floppy hats and full length gloves of all styles – from lace, fingerless to long black elegant – and a multitude of styles and colors of running shoes to match. They were having a blast, posing for pictures and enjoying each others company.

Day 4, Montalcino
We planned on having lunch in quaint Asciano, but when we arrived, around 1:00, all restaurants were closed.  We walked around the sleepy town and decided to drive to Siena for lunch. Central Siena is off limits to traffic so we parked outside the city walls and walked to the Campo, fresh from the Palio a few days prior.  We enjoyed a leisurely lunch at one of the many restaurants, a great place to people watch. We walked around the old city, visited the Duomo, which looks like a wedding cake with its very ornate facade and spent a lot of time admiring this medieval town.

Day 4, Siena
I bought some panna forte and with tired feet, we made our way back to the car and returned to Gli Archi for dinner.  We had fresh pasta and sauce with some added spices we bought along the way.  A bottle of local Chianti accompanied our simple meal and we toasted to tomorrow’s trip to the Amalfi coast where we will spend 2 days and meet up with Francesco!


Stay tuned for Day 5!


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