Saturday, August 29, 2015

Side Trip: San Gimignano

    In a matter of moments (ok, not exactly moments...), we will once again be boarding that big flying tin can and zooming off to Italy. 
  I gotta say, this never gets old. And I mean NEVER. As long as we can pull this off, we plan to Just Do It, as the expression goes. 
  As time ticks down to takeoff, I get so excited, I just can't help but dig into my photos from the past visit. I didn't post near as much as I had hoped to, so if I don't write now, it's just going to slip away…so many great experiences, so little time to share.

  So….get ready for an onslaught, dear readers…

  Our one overnight getaway this last trip was to San Gimignano, in Tuscany. We had been there in 2004 with my Mom & Dad, but only for a few hours. It was lovely, and we've always wanted to return to really explore this popular hill town.  
  I booked a room for a stay early in the trip, in March, hoping it wouldn't be too crowded. It wasn't. It was just right. There were plenty of day trippers, but once they left, the town was really quiet.

  The trip there wasn't bad at all, and the time was spent drooling over the gorgeous landscape out the windows of the car. We took the slow way…always a good bet.
  Once we found our hotel and parked the car for the duration, we headed out to explore.

 While driving, we had noticed some clouds in the distance, which became not so distant as we got into town. It made for some high drama photos…..

Late morning…Scary clouds!
Our hotel is just there, behind the umbrellas.

Great color contrast, though…

  As many of you know, I am a big old scary cat when it comes to thunder and lightening. I've been working on this, but jeez…there is nothing like big loud thunder going off in these hill towns. It just amplifies the hell out of it all!
  We figured it was a fine time indeed to scout out somewhere for lunch.

We ducked in just as the skies opened and all hell broke loose.
Where's my wine?!?

Thank you so much.
All kidding aside, Vernaccia di San Gimignano is a favorite of mine.
This was a good one.

  Lunch was at Quattro Gatti, a small osteria we came upon just in time. The menu looked interesting, so we went for it.
  I hadn't done much (read none) research on where to eat, so we were really up for whatever looked good.
  After ordering wine to calm my thunder-rattled nerves, we ordered a few tasty dishes to share.

Always…we order the mixed bruschetta antipasto, vegetarian.
This was so-so...

I had a weather appropriate risotto with saffron.

Johnny chose pici pasta con cacio-pepe.
This is made with a creamy cows milk cheese and lots of black pepper in the sauce.

We each had a salad to end the meal...

Oh, wait- this espresso ended the meal!

  Not the best lunch we've had, but it was ok, and we really enjoyed the service. The place was full of Italians, many seemed like regulars, so this is good.

  After lunch, we headed out to find a gallery that we had read about before coming. It was exhibiting a major installation work and paintings by Daniel Buren. Johnny and I wrote about it in our gallery blog, which you should check into. It was sensational.

  After the gallery visit, it was time to just stroll, sit and sip wine, and enjoy the views from the town walls….

The storm came and went…just like that.

Perfect landscape.

On the outskirts of town….
I love this.

Some of the remaining towers San Gimignano is so famous for.

  We had a very minimal 'dinner' that night, as we had eaten lunch later in the day and just weren't that hungry. We picked up a few tasty treats from a local alimentari, and just snacked a bit. Between the treats we bought and the goodies that always accompany glasses of wine at any bar, we were good.

  Next morning we were up and out early to do more wandering. Johnny wanted to visit the local museum, which we did, and I wanted to climb another terrifying tower. I had already conquered one, earlier that month…Why not go for the gold?

  We killed some time, since nothing had opened yet, by taking a rather extreme hike way the hell down, down, down the hill to see these Medieval wash houses. 
  It was a great idea, just a super steep hike down, which meant up, too…
  I was really glad we did it, though…the wash houses, where townspeople did their laundry, were quite stunning...

So hard to imagine what it must have taken to construct these.

The reflective nature of the clear water was stunning.
There are several large goldfish swimming through, too.

It was a perfect spot to see on what was a very warm morning.
We were the only ones there, of course.

  Man, this is turning into a really long post…I'm enjoying writing it…I hope you are enjoying reading it…

  So, I was ready and willing to tackle another tower. What better place than the town of towers?  Plus, it was a crisp and super clear day, so I just knew the views were going to be fantastic.

  First though, the climb up, Girly.

Looking down the stairwell from about 2/3 the way up.

  It wasn't bad at all, really. Only at the very top, when it got really narrow and you had these tiny stairs and such. It seems that you always have to sort of squeeze up through that last opening, and hang on for dear life because the bloody stairs become almost non existent.
  But, hey…if it was easy, there would be no glory, right?

It's true.
I am a Super Woman.
Where's my wine?

  Some gratuitous mega-view shots…...

  From here on out, if there's a tower, I'm climbing up it, baby!
  Fear of heights be damned!!

  Ok. This astounding feat of bravery and all around moxie deserved a reward. Figuring we weren't going to receive a gold key to the city, we decided a nice dinner would be in order.

  I had spotted this sweet trattoria earlier, and the place seemed right up our alley, so we figured out where it was again, and luckily got a table. 
  This trattoria is so tiny!

Seriously. SIX tables. Kitchen is to the right.
That's it.

This place has the best vibe…the owners are there, making you feel as though you are in their home. This is stated often in reviews, but not by me. This is the real deal.
  The gentleman in the photo above, on the left and fuzzy, is the main guy. He is also the only waiter. I'm pretty sure there was no menu, he just told us what was available. His English was good enough, my Italian was good enough... Being vegetarian was no problem. We made our choices, sat back and had one of the best meals ever.

Wow…my hair was so short …..I need a cut.

  We both had appetites, so we went for it.
  Starting with…..

A selection of local cheeses served with local honey, house made fig preserves,
grilled polenta spears and good breads…
I think Johnny actually passed out for a second from excitement.

My starter was a pea and leek soup to die for.
That's all I'm saying.
Well, that…and this: Why is it so bad to lick your plate in public?
Can we come to our senses, people? GET OVER IT!
That's all I'm saying.

  So…after the humiliating plate licking incident, we sat back to take in the wonderful ambiance of this magical little bit of heaven. 
  Since there are only a few tables, the owner can actually chat with everyone, and it was clear that he knew most of the clients that evening. It was cool to sip our house wine (great) and enjoy the scene.
  I was totally kidding about actually licking the plate, btw…not that I didn't want to.

  Then came our pasta...

Johnny had this pasta, a house made tagliatella with a sauce
of "the perfume of the forest", which included wild mushrooms.
It was very good. And forest-y.

I know this looks fairly unappetizing, but it was delicious.
One big raviolo, stuffed with winter squash and smothered in a creamy leek sauce.
 I was on a bit of a leek kick. 

A fuzzy shot, but you get the idea…the sweetness of the squash with that
luxuriously rich leek sauce…oh, it was perfect.

  Dessert? Why yes, thank you...

Vin Santo and cantucci for Mr.

Apple torta for Mrs.

  Thanks, San Gimignano, you were so good on so many levels, and I have a feeling we'll be heading your way next year….

A truly beautiful hill town….


Trattoria Chiribiri….You should go.

Monday, August 10, 2015

Always On Our Mind

  Boy, time seems to be flying by. 
  Not fast enough for me, though.

  What can I say? I am in a state that is not quite the "Be Here Now" I've been trying so hard to embrace.
  Waiting and wanting…wanting and waiting. 

  It's been some time since I've posted anything. Good news is we've been busy. Bad news, I miss going over the photos and moments I so enjoy sharing. Sharing with pals... and folks I've yet to meet.. that have a yearning for all things Italia.

  Since I've already booked the 2016 trip, I guess I have some catching up to do from this year's visit. I don't mind. I'm so ready.

  We look forward to being back in our little corner of Umbria each year. Arriving early in Spring is a bonus, as we get to watch the season change, big time, and there aren't many folks around yet. It gives us a chance to settle in and breathe.

  At one of our favorite watering holes, we watch the trees go through a major transformation...

Early March...

….mid May.

  The first evening possible, we are out at the walls of town enjoying the beauty of the sun coloring the old buildings, as well as the landscape….


I'd say we're happy.

  It can be down right chilly, but the weather also makes for some enchanting photo opportunities.

Fields below the walls of town.

A break in the storm.
Looking towards Cortona from Castiglione del Lago.

  The fields are filled with contrasts this time of year…colors, textures, sounds.
  As Johnny works, I walk. I find that I am strongly drawn to the working landscape. The shocking green of the durham wheat, the chocolate brown of the recently tilled soil…It speaks to me. Loud and clear.
  Is it in my genes? My Grandpa Dottie was a dairy farmer. I feel I was born with dirt under my finger nails...

Abstraction, naturally.
I feel a kinship with this landscape.

  I know I'm no longer on the Central Coast of California. 
  Though somewhat similar, I think it might be the bell towers, umbrella pines and centuries old olive trees…The light and sound...
  Whatever it is, I have fallen very hard for it.


Again with the contrasts of color and texture..

 Moments I come upon and must capture...

A peek into a local chapel...

Subtle, yet profoundly beautiful color inside a ruin...

A gift from nature...

Gentleness at the farm...

The perfect spot to nap...

At the end of a big hike….

A day at the lake...

A color combination I love….

  Sometimes we find ourselves at just the right place, and at just the right time..

  We have met some really great people, and look forward to seeing them all again.
  I'm pretty shy about taking photos of people. I don't really like having my picture taken…But I'm glad to have a few shots of some friends from "Our other life"…..

  It's just a matter of time, Amici!

  It's wonderful having the luxury of time to just take random strolls. Sometimes in the countryside, sometimes several times a day around the walls of town. I especially enjoy the wisteria as it goes from stark branches to full bloom. 


Walking on a beautiful evening….What could be better?

  The wisteria seems to bloom at a different time each year. Of course, this has everything to do with the weather…and over the years we've seen it all! From really warm, way too early…to "when the hell is it going to warm up a little?" And snow!
  I always keep my fingers crossed that we get at least a couple of weeks of warm sunshine, but there is no guarantee! So far, we have seen the wisteria in all it's glory every year, but year one. Year two I made certain to push the trip longer…it's so worth it.

Seriously fragrant.

  So, anyway, this past trip had zillions of magical moments. Every trip does, right?

  Here are some last shots of moments I like remember.
  We can't wait to be heading back.

The taste of fresh fava beans with fresh pecorino and good Umbrian olive oil.
Oh…AND red wine, of course.

The sublime lakeside park we love to spend time at.

Stalking Colin Firth & Stanley Tucci to get a "backside" shot.
What can I say…I was too embarrassed to ask them to pose…
I love Mr. Firth's striped bag…so on trend!

The most stunning cloud reflections.

My "home away from home" garden.

Our favorite view at the best time of day.

Colors and shapes of our little town.

  We are a couple of fortunate characters. 
  People say "You guys are so lucky"….Yes, there is some luck, BUT…we have a vision and a purpose that we are working our tails off to achieve. 
  I think we've been doing a pretty good job of it, too. 
  Right, Baby?

 We'll be back in a few, Umbria! Keep a bottle of Grechetto chilled, ok?