Friday, April 24, 2015

A Little Drive In The Country

  It started out so nice.

  We wanted to drive way up to the top of a nearby mountain (not giant, but impressive to us…), just to see the views and find out what was there.
  Over the years, many of our pals here have recommended that we do this, and we figured it was about time. We wanted to just go for a drive. No big deal..

  Going up the road, higher and higher, the views just kept getting better. The day could have been clearer, but we had no problem with the drive. It's all paved road, and very well maintained.

  Once there, you can park and hike around, maybe picnic or camp…this day it was just the two of us and a couple of guys who had ridden up on motorcycles.
  The views over the valley, with Panicale and Lago Trasimeno way out there…. really spectacular.

Must go back on a super clear day! 

An area to bring the family and hang out for the day.

 It is a lovely forested area, with drifts of wildflowers under the pine trees.

Violets gone wild!
The scent is just so nice..

  I loved coming across this big area covered in anemone flowers! I had forgotten that they grow wild here, in softest colors of cream and lavender.
  We see them sometimes on our morning walks, but not yet this year, so this was a real treat.

Spring perfection!

  We spent a good bit of time walking around, enjoying the views and such, then headed back to the car to venture on to our next destination, which we hand't really decided on.
  It was that kind of day…just go with the flow, and see where we end up.

  Jeez. It seemed like a good idea…

  Sure, it was kind of fun at first, and we've been down many "strada bianca", or white roads, over the years….


   But after an hour or so, with no end in sight, and the road getting worse and worse, what seemed fun started to get a little frightening. I felt so bad for Johnny, as he drove along, gritting his teeth and swearing under his breath…


  We stopped for a while to enjoy this beautiful scene, and to catch our breath. The sounds of the bells on this herd of sheep helped us to calm down, at least for a few minutes...




  We both needed to get serious and figure out what the hell we were going to do if it got dark, or started raining, which was a definite possibility. The clouds had started coming in fast.

  Thing was, we could see where we needed to go, which was way down there…It's just that the further we drove, the harder it became to turn back, you know? And then the road got steeper and more rocky, and soooo scary!

  I'll admit, I was the one who decided to go this way instead of that way, so Mr. J had every right to be a little peeved at me.
  Which didn't help the situation, I must say. Why, oh why did he hand me the map? He should know better by now that I don't do well in stressful situations!

  How did it all end?
  Well, I'm here in bed, writing this post, so of course we made it back home.
  What happened was sort of perfect.
  We were at our wit's end, really not having a good time, but trying to be brave and not freak each other out even more…and low and behold! We came across a lovely place we recognized! A farmhouse with a beautiful garden, owned by a lovely woman we met and spent time with last year. We had a nice afternoon here, enjoying the country life!
  And..She was home! And...She remembered us!
  Oh, she got a big old kick out of our sad situation…silly tourists, taking the strada bianca…what were we thinking!?!

  Long story now short.
  We got our directions, and were on Terra Firma within about thirty minutes.
  Done. Home. Wine.
  Just don't hand me a map again, ok?


Saturday, April 18, 2015

Lunch In Monticchiello

  A week or two ago, we took a drive over to the Val d'Orcia, an area in Tuscany that is a favorite of many travelers to Italy. We head over this way a couple of times each visit, just to soak in the natural beauty, paint, hike, or stop in for lunch somewhere.
  This time, we were on a search for Vin Santo, a tasty dessert wine, which is found in Tuscany. We had known of a place near Pienza, Castello di Spedaletto, that sells direct... so that was a first stop.
  If you ever wanted to visit or stay in an old castle in Tuscany, I think this would be a pretty good bet. They also produce some good wines and vin santo. 
  There was just one other couple there, so it was great fun. No english spoken, which always makes for a few good laughs…!

  We were pretty shocked to see it gently snowing as we headed on to our next stop! This was a very new experience, but it wasn't really bad, so we just enjoyed the magic of it.


 I love to stop in Monticchiello, a small hill town near Pienza, famous for it's twisty roads lined with Italian Cypress trees. They also have a small but mighty theatre group, some good restaurants, and the best views of the area possible…..

A photo from a year or two ago.

Another older shot. This year, this visit…too cold and wet for photos!
View of Pienza.

  Because we were there for lunch, and with the weather being so wacky, we didn't do our usual walking trip through the town…we headed straight to La Cantina de La Porta.

The charming entrance.

  When you mention eating in Monticchiello, everyone assumes you will be going to Osteria La Porta, which is owned by the same folks. We have eaten at La Porta several times, and wanted to try this newer version. 
  I love the traditional trattorias, osterias, etc, but it's always interesting to see what a different, maybe younger chef can do with the same basic seasonal ingredients, and there are more and more of these types of kitchens popping up. 
  Again, LOVE the traditional…!  We just can't resist trying out a place with purple walls and super clear plastic furnishings. 

Where's my lunch?

…we are ready to "mangia."

  We were the first to arrive on this snowy, blustery day, and it was nice to have the sweet server all to ourselves for awhile. She was so helpful with the menu and wine selection. The chef even came out to chat while we made our choices.
  While waiting, we enjoyed the exhibition of B&W photographs by Mauro Guerrini on display. Nice.

  This is also an enoteca, or wine shop, so there is a wonderful range of wines here, both in varieties and prices. I tend to lean towards white wines, especially at lunch. I love the Vernaccia wines from the area around San Gimignano, and they offer a good one here.

  Wine choice-Done.

Vernaccia di San Gimignano is a favorite wine choice of mine.

  A more "modern" menu often means some interesting vegetarian options, especially in the antipasti course. Since we always share everything, I will order whatever two dishes sound the tastiest. It was an easy choice in this case...

Described as a "Deconstructed Eggplant Parmesan", this dish was excellent.
Simple, and very sophisticated tastes.
I love the presentation.

Artichoke soufflĂ© in a pecorino cream…did not disappoint!
The artichoke flavor was right there, and I so enjoyed the cream sauce.
Not heavy at all

  The two antipasti were a great match. We passed our plates back and forth a bunch of times, really enjoying the roasted flavors of the eggplant and the springtime flavors of the artichoke dish. A very good combo.

  We moved on to our pasta course next. 

  As I know I've mentioned many times in this blog, we almost always order just an antipasti and pasta course. We will sometimes add a contorno, or vegetable side dish…but even when there is a vegetarian option available on the menu in the third course, we just don't eat that much. 
  On this day, we did order two contorni dishes, and it was perfect. We were in no hurry to go, we knew we were here to enjoy a nice, long lunch…and we did.

  I choice two pasta dishes that were very different. 
  I was in the mood for a  simple pasta with a tomato based sauce. This area is known for "pici" pasta, which is so basic. Flour (really good flour) and water. That's it. I've made it many times. It's fun, because you just play with the dough like Playdough…Cut small amounts, and roll between your palms to make long "worms"…
  Anyway, here it was served with a slightly spicy sauce...


  The second pasta was ravioli stuffed with ricotta and broccoli rabe, a filling we hadn't seen before. The cream sauce was very delicate, with shaved truffle and ricotta salata on top.

The truffle was really mild, considering the amount here.
This was a beautiful dish.


  When we do order two contorni, we sometimes have them served as a third course. It's a nice way to stretch the afternoon out, and this is what the day was all about. Especially with the weather being so crazy. So nice to be inside, warm and just slightly buzzed…good food, nice surroundings.

  We had our always favorite grilled vegetables:

Oooohh…bad shot…sorry!
Nothing groundbreaking, but warm and a bit garlic-y.

  The other thing I ordered was ceci (chickpeas) in a rosemary broth.
  Oh. My. God. 
  This was such a mind blowing bowl of heavenly goodness!

  This simple bowl of ceci had so much going for it. I guess it's the product…the beans themselves, garlic, a gentle touch of herb…Is it the olive oil? 
  Beyond delicate…just amazing in it's simplicity of flavors.

I do not know what or how..but this was one of the best things
we have ever tasted here. So subtle and's a very Zen dish.

  We passed on dessert, but did have espresso… we were brought a few little cookies, just a tiny sweet treat to go alongside our espresso…
  By the time we left, several tables were full of happy customers. The chef came out to thank us…we bowed to him in honor of his artistic vision..gave our server hugs and kisses…and promised to return soon!

  I know we will!

That's a happy and content Artist!
Thanks, Daria!  

  Want a fabulous meal in the Val d'Orcia?
  Here you go:

  Osteria La Porta

Saturday, April 11, 2015

Searching For The Light

  Every year we try to find a sweet little something to bring back home from Italy. The last few years we've found some old and funky outdoor lights. At night, when these lights illuminate the garden, we think of Panicale and smile.

  The big item on the "to find" list this year is a small chandelier for the bathroom that's being remodeled while we are here. Our contractor/pal is so great to work with, and understands our boho esthetic. We have the perfect guy for the job.
  Now to find the light.

  I knew from past visits that there are a couple of good antique markets in the area..the two we wanted to check out are on the first weekend of the month, so we went to the market in Arezzo on Easter Sunday to see what we could find. We still have the Pissignano market to visit on the first weekend in May, before we have to leave.

  The day was cold and a little drizzly, but there were loads of people around, even on Easter day.

Chilly and Easter, but still crowded.

  There is something so "site -appropriate" about looking for old things in an old town center...

Arezzo is really beautiful...

  This market is fun. It's prices are high, though. We both decided if we did find something we liked, we would go totally out of our comfort zone…and haggle. Not a thing we normally are good at. 
  Walking the many streets and piazzas, we got a real kick out of the huge variety of things on offer...

Not my thing, but fun to see...

When we finally live here full time (stop laughing, it could happen…),
it will be such a blast to go hunting for furniture.

  There's old stuff, semi-old stuff, and even Star Wars and Smurf stuff. It's all big fun to see what these Italians have to sell. 
  I assume they are collectors, like our many friends back home, who just get so into it, they start selling, just to feed the habit of buying. 

  We liked this booth of mid-century modern type items, but it's not our thing, either. 

Maybe they watch "Mad Men" here?

  Early in the day, we came across a guy with a bunch of chandeliers…this one really caught my eye. The shape is right, the size is smaller, and it was all hand done glasswork. 
  Could be a contender? The price was more than we were planning to spend, so we kept going.

I like it. 

  The lights below were hard to pass up, let me tell you…but we just don't know where we would put them. And…it's hard to get stuff home, though we have decided to start shipping things, if need be.


Lots of linens, always.
For "the girls"...

This booth was for "the boys"...

  We see so much we want, but we know we just can't go there. So, we are generally good, and pass lots of things right by. It's all for fun, and a very entertaining day.
  I have bought small items, like tiny plates with sweet decorations, or little garden gems to stash here and there.
  I love the tables with colored glass…

I would put tea lights in them all.
And have a party, of course.

I'm pretty sure these are all pieces to be used on
those chandeliers that look like a garden..
Super cool, and also hard to resist..What would I do with them?

  The doors…I love the old doors…Again, a big ticket item to ship home. Must wait until we have our house here (stop laughing).

Beautiful old doors..yes, I like.

  I have fallen hard for Foosball. We only play it here in Italy, and we play it often. Every town bar/cafe seems to have one or two tables, and it's a blast as well as addictive. So, I just had to get a shot of this vintage, small scale and all female model!
  Two small for us, we play vigorously, and would break it in a minute…cute though!

Would be a nice touch in Johnny's studio, me thinks...

Another favorite group of stuff…these old oil cans.
I would love a bunch of these babies.

  We decided it was time to head back down the hill, and after having seen way too many chandeliers, mostly too big or just too over the top, we figured we make an offer on the very first one we had seen.
  Of course, the seller spoke no english, but I have gotten just good enough to haggle.

  And haggle I did!

Ours! All ours!

Packing it ever so carefully into a plastic bag…ahem.
Done deal. Now to get it shipped carefully home!

  This was a very good day.
  And we can not wait to see how it works in the bathroom. Woo-Hoo!

Tuesday, April 7, 2015

Who Tossed The Cheese? Ruzzolone 2015…Panicale

  The day after Easter is a holiday here in Italy. It's called "Pasquetta", the "Little Easter", I think…
  All over Italy, in all the various towns and regions, there are celebrations of some sort.  
  Maybe the festa is all about food, or antiques, or cheese rolling…it's a pretty big deal. 

  I guess that the main thing is that families come back to their home towns for the weekend of Easter, and why not extend the getaway through Monday…so let's have some sort of festival. It makes total sense to me.
  In Panicale, the week leading up to Easter Sunday is quite interesting…all these new people come into town and all of a sudden Bar Gallo is full, as well as all the restaurants and apartments. 
  We watch all week as the apartments that have been empty are suddenly being aired out and cleaned..and then all the parking spaces are full.

  There are the Religious events…A somber procession late Friday night, followed by Easter Sunday and the big Mass…Bells are ringing from all the villages and their church towers. It brings me right back to my early days…

  But I must say, the one thing missing from those early days was a good old cheese rolling tournament.
I've written about it before in this blog, and I will again, no doubt..
  I thought that this year I would just let a few pictures and videos tell the story…They say a picture is worth a thousand words, and in this case…I'm letting the photos and videos do the talking….so to speak….

The Dudes.
These guys are really serious about this cheese rolling thing...

The Easter Bunny.
 He has the megaphone.

The Artist.
He's just along for the wine.

The Canadians.
They are making major points by pouring the wine.
Always good to make friends with The Dudes!

The videos….
Need I say more?

Welcome to the Panicale Ruzzolone, 2015!!

No Cheese was injured during the filming of
The Ruzzolone….
Well, many just a little bit.
Plus, it was eaten and enjoyed by all in attendance,
after the fact.

Grazie, Panicale!
It was Big Fun!!

Saturday, April 4, 2015

Getting High In Spoleto

  Each year we come to Umbria and stay for two months, more or less. This is our fifth time, and we feel pretty damn lucky to be here.
  Well, it isn't really luck, is it? It's a lot of hard work, planning, and prioritizing. 

  Anyway, we try and find some new places to visit each time, which is a fun chore for me. I am always searching out new blogs, as well as checking into my favorites. This is a great way to find places to eat, things to do, art to see, etc.

  It's fun to drive to new areas around Umbria, at least for me…Johnny, the actual driver may have a different view on this…but he's usually game to go just about anywhere.

  Our latest little adventure was a drive down south to Spoleto. I have been wanting to see the beautiful aqueduct there, "Il Ponte Delle Torri", the bridge of two towers. There is some very fine art to see here, too. So we picked a day that looked like sun, and went for it.

  Parking was not too bad…there are three main parking lots, all are pay-to-park. Once we had that settled, we headed into town. 
  It's a beautiful place...

It's a bit of a slog, all uphill, but we were ready for it...

A lovely little corner in Spoleto...

  We headed up into the main part of town, and sat down with a map and espressos to plan our attack.

  We decided to visit the Galleria Civica d'Arte Moderna first. We'd read that it had a great collection, including Sol LeWitt, Alexander Calder, David Smith, Henry Moore and modern Italian Masters from the 60's & 70's.

  There was also an exhibition of contemporary murals featured..I think it was called "On The Wall". I wasn't able to take any photos inside the gallery, but I did get a few shots of the murals outside...

Stairs leading into the upper galleries..

I loved the colors here.

There were several places with these wonderful murals.
I wish I could have taken more photos inside..

  I would recommend this Museum for anyone who is interested in Modern Art..there is so much to view here. The Sol LeWitt rooms are fabulous, and there is some really interesting ceramic work, too.
  We were the only visitors there, I'm pretty sure. We spent a good hour and a half. 
  Afterwards, we stopped right across the piazza for a glass of proseco, and to just enjoy the warm weather.

Happy art lovers.

  We stopped and had a very nice lunch, too. I'll do a post later on this. It featured some unusual vegetarian and vegan options, and leaned towards Indian flavors. A nice change.

  After lunch, Johnny wanted to stop into the Cathedral of Santa Maria dell'Asunta. The Romanesque  facade features a wonderful mosaic and there are important frescoes by Filippo Lippi and his pupils. These were on Johnny's list of "must see", after talking to other artist pals who stay in Panicale, James and Elizabeth.

  I sat back, enjoying the sounds of the bells, and the coolness of the interior. 
  It's a special place, really.

The Cathedral, and it's grand entrance..

A happy Artist, content with seeing Art...

I just love this view of the Cathedral from the back side.

  Next, we strolled around the back side of the Cathedral, and around the bottom of the very impressive Rocca. 
  No Rocca climbing this time, though…I was hell bent on walking across the Ponte dell Torri…So we headed that way.
  It's so wild just outside the town.

Little did I know I would be way over there, on the path
above this very old ruin…Wheeeee!

  Wow, this was so spectacular…a road as well as an aqueduct, probably built in the thirteenth century, and built over the remains of an older Roman structure.

  I just think it's pretty.

And yes, I did walk it.

  Though really high up, it wasn't scary. The walking area is wide and very safe, but looking over the edge, well, that was a little stomach-turning. So I stopped doing that.

A nice stroll, actually.

I think this light fixture would be so gorgeous in my garden.

  When we got to the opposite side, I continued up, up, up…while Mr. J sat on a bench in the shade. Bless his overheated heart….

See? Those little people way down there, crossing the bridge?
Aren't I brave?

I just really wanted to get this shot.
We started way over on the path across the canyon…
Totally worth the effort, which was not bad at all.

As always, my reward. A nice aperitivo.
With a view.

  What a nice day….all around fab day trip. We only got lost once, and even made it home just at sunset. Walking back down, down, down…to the car park, we felt very fine, indeed.

  In fact, I felt just like this bit of street art I saw along the way…..

  Thanks, Spoleto! It was fun!!