Saturday, May 29, 2010

Day 14 - San Gimignano and Volterra

Thursday, July 16, 2009

It was a lazy in Castellina di Chianti, checked emails quickly and drove to San Gimignano.

It was market day in San G. and the place was just invaded with people. We arrived at noon and the furthest parking lots had long long  line ups. We headed back down to the lot closest to the city gates and were very lucky. The people who had obviously arrived early in the morning were now leaving and spots became available.

The entire city looked different with hordes of people and markets stalls blanketing the entire square. The market was not very interesting – no local crafts people or artists – mainly clothes and tablecloths....
We did Rick Steve’s walking tour then went to over to the guys selling BBQ chickens to get one for dinner. He told me the chickens would be ready in 15 minutes and I needed a reservation, so I made a reservation.
We walked around and took some pictures then headed back for our chicken. It was chaos! I couldn’t get near the front and everyone was screaming in Italian at the guys that they wanted chickens. One woman just in front of me was demanding a chicken and he said she needed a reservation....I held my hand up and told him I had a reservation! He asked my name, handed me the chicken and the woman beside me was not happy! Too bad....I ran off I went with my chicken! YAYYYY!!!

We headed off for our picnic in Volterra then again took Rick Steve’s walking tour. You can also download some of his tours on your ipod, so you can follow the tour and listen to him along the way. We chose to do it the old fashioned way and read from the guide.
The shops here are filled with Alabaster pieces – from lamps to sculptures. The streets of Volterra are very steep and after walking down to the oldest gate in the city, I was seriously concerned about walking all the way back was hot...but we did and it was fine.

Volterra has a very interesting history and there are fascinating stories about how the locals protected this oldest gate during the Nazi occupation. You can find these stories in the guide books. Volterra also has a very good Etruscan museum.
History is everywhere in these villages and you can choose to visit museums and galleries or simply sit in a square for the afternoon and admire the old buildings and towers – to each his own – there are no rules. We headed back to la Foresta where we had a swim, read a little and ate dinner.  Oh yes...tomorrow is our last day at La Foresta and Lucia is going to make bruschetta and Panzanella and serve her homemade wine from her vineyards. 

We toasted to tomorrow- my pasta lesson with Wilma of “Pasta Fresca” in La Tavernelle, and a very early morning (to catch the early morning light) in Monterrigioni.

Thursday, May 27, 2010

Day 13 - Umbria - My Cooking Class, Deruta and Assisi

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

We left La Foresta at 8:00 to make sure we arrived at my cooking lesson in Deruta on time. We crossed the border of Tuscany and entered Umbria. The directions that Zoila gave to me were to get off the highway at Deruta north and follow the dead end road then continue on to a dirt road until we get to a villa with Iron Gates,   We found it and the Iron Gates slowly slid opened when we approached.

“Italy Loves to Cook” is run by two wonderful women, Zoila and Tiziana. The lessons take place in Tiziana’s villa, Villa Vincara," an elegant, antique villa of the early 1800s. Tiziana speaks a little English while Zoila is fluent after having spent many years in California. We prepared a very very large lunch.

This was our menu:


Mushroom Bruschetta, Zucchini and Bacon (pancetta) Bruschetta, Eggplant , tomato and mozzarella combinations

Primi Piatti: Umbrian Ragu, Gnocchi, Lasagne

Secondi Piatti: Tasty Involtini

Dessert: Rocetti al Vino

First we went out into the garden to pick the herbs and then we began preparing all the dishes.
We started with the Ragout so it would simmer while we prepared some of the other dishes. The gnocchi was fun to make and much easier than I thought it would be. I participated in all the cooking and learned tips about the food and the region along the way. “Italy Loves to Cook” can accommodate up to 12 people for a cooking class and more for lunch if companions don’t participate in the classes. They also can customize the menu or expand it over a few days.
When the cooking was almost done, Dan arrived to have lunch with us and I think it was the largest lunch we ever had. It was served on beautiful Deruta ceramic dishes which we commented on. While Dan was wandering around the town of Deruta, he said he saw the Deruta pieces everywhere. It turns out that Tiziana is friends with the owners at one of the best factories, so on our way to Assisi, we would make a quick stop...just to look. We said our good byes and continued on with our day...very full...but it was a great lesson with very good food.

We drove into Deruta and stopped by the “Ceramiche Artistiche – Gialletti Giulio “ factory where Michele, who spoke excellent English, gave us a tour. Along his side was Antonio one of the owners. Michele went through the entire process, the same process (with maybe some modern equipment), that has been used for centuries to make these renaissance ceramics.

The artists often use some of Michelangelo's techniques when he painted the Sistine chapel, to create the patterns on the ceramics. All the pieces are entirely hand-crafted and decorated and they are even working on a project now for Vatican city.

There are many ceramic factories around Deruta, but this one makes everything from the very beginning starting with the blocks of clay.
They are a very respected family and so very proud of their work, which is so beautiful. We just had to buy some plates to take home. I can’t wait to make my Umbrian dinner and serve it on our new plates! I will have to play an Italian opera during dinner – like Tiziana and Zoila did.

Our next stop was Assisi, best known as the birthplace of St. Francis of Assisi.  It wasn't too busy the day we were there but it was very hot indeed!  We followed the winding medieval streets up to the city square, ignored for now while we searched for water to alleviate our thirst.

We had seen the work of an artist in Montepulciano..Massimo Cruciani..... and were told that he had a gallery in Assisi, so we went to the gallery and he happened to be there!  Massimo paints on glass which gives the work a very unique visual quality.  His work is so alive with colour  and is shown around the world.  He had been a photographer for many years before picking up his brushes so Dan chatted with him  for a while about photography. 

We left with a small beautiful painting that will always remind us of our trip to Italy.

It was time to head home...we were tired and hot. We had dinner and toasted to tomorrow...the market in San Gimignano and Volterra!


Sunday, May 23, 2010

Day 12 - The Beautiful City of Florence ...

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

I am writing this in the evening after our day in Florence and all I can say is “my feet are aching!” I think we must have walked 20 the the city...with a trillion people. But Florence is such an amazing place. We drove into Florence which was stressful, as there are traffic limited zones where it seems your car is photographed and if you mistakenly go back and forth - in and out of these zones, you will get tickets in the mail – pretty heavy fines I understand. This is where our dear “Higgins” just didn’t get it... so he was always recalculating! Calling Higgins bad names did not help! We finally settled in at the parking lot at the Porta Romana. It ended up costing us 10 euros for the day which we thought was good.

We took the Renaissance walk from Rick Steve's book and began by crossing the magnificent Ponte Vecchio, the only bridge that was  spared Hitlers bombing. In 1966, when a massive flood wiped out the shops on the bridge, the bridge itself was strong enough to withstand the roaring waters.

The bridge crosses the widest point of the Arno river and embodies the progress of humanity because it has come from carrying soldiers to battle, to open commerce, to a vast gathering place for peoples from all walks of life.
After crossing the bridge we stopped to admire it from the other side...
And now a coffee..Dan and his morning pastry...who am I to argue? Here we experienced the additional charge for doesn’t matter if you are outside or inside – obviously when you are occupying a seat, you take longer and therefore the charge.  The idea is - drink up and move on!

So we stood and had a coffee and pastry then continued our walk. The line up at the Uffuzi and the Academia and were very was the line to go up to the top of the Duomo.  We decided to try the Academia reservation line again for reservations on luck.We will try again later...

 We wandered through the market where you could purchase shawls for 5 Euros and leather goods of all kinds.

We were warned about the quality of leather though, so resisted buying. We sat and people watched at the Piazza Santa Maria then wandered the streets admiring the architecture, sculptures, street performers and local art.

Florence is filled with art – not only in its museums but on its streets and buildings- you only need to keep your eyes open and you will discover it.

Dan went back to the Duomo to take some  pictures with the afternoon light  (and I of course shopped :)) then we walked...hiked...back to the car...we were boiling and tired....

Because we had reservations at the Holiday Inn for Saturday night, the night before we were leaving to return to Canada, we drove over to the hotel to see where it was and ask them if they could reserve the Academia for us for Saturday...YESSSSSSS....we have a reservation for 11:45am !!!!!  I am finally going to see the real David...ok maybe not THE REAL David, but the real Michelangelo’s David!

There is also a photo exposition taking place at the Academia that we were interested in seeing - Robert Maplethorpe.

After the Holiday Inn, we made a stop at the COOP in Florence – this is a GIGANTIC grocery store – with a wine section the size of most of our wine stores back home.

After walking out of the store the wrong way and setting off the alarm (quite embarrassing) I was happy to be going back home to La Foresta. Oh yes, one more stop to ask Wilma, who owns “Pasta Fresca!” in the town of la Tavernelle, if she would consider giving me a pasta lesson on Friday.

When I introduced myself  (Penny- friend of Lucia from La Foresta) she hugged and kissed me and told me to be there at 10:30 Friday morning. After leaving Wilma's place,  they were closing off the street and having some sort of celebration so  Dan was being told to move out by the off we went...home finally for dinner and toasted (with our new rosé “Albia” from Barone Ricasoli) to my cooking class with Zolia tomorrow in Umbria, where Dan will join us for the lunch  I will learn to prepare, then on to Asissi. I have now got to put my feet up...ahhhhhh...more Rosé please....


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