As With All Good Things . . .

Yes, all good things must come to an end and so we have returned home to our beautiful backyard (thanks for looking after the garden so well Cam!) (even though he told us by text it was half dead). It is 7:30 in the morning and we have both been up for a couple of hours, but oh what’s that a glorious sleep in our own bed, without the 2:00 am mosquito hunt or the 4:00 am wake up call!

For our last day in Florence (when was that now?) we decided to find something new and so walked all the way to the southernmost (and best preserved) gate in the 13th century walls of Florence, the Porte Romana. It is on the “other side” (the Oltrarno) of Florence, meaning you walk over the Ponte Vecchio to the side away from the main area with the Duomo etc. The Pitti Palace and Bobboli Gardens are there, but after that – if you keep going – you find yourself in a relatively quiet part of Florence, complete with working artisans and the odd school. We found a few lovely churches along the way to the gate. It is quite magnificent, but this fact is seemingly lost on the drivers negotiating the intersection that has grown in front of it (and behind it) – a convergence of quite a few busy streets, cross walks, and random double parking jobs.

Usually I try to cut out any people or traffic as much as possible, but now I wish I had taken the full view, just for illustration.

Here are a few of the church interiors along the way:

We are not religious at all, but can’t help popping into any free church to just see the amazing artwork and I really do love the Madonna and child statues – each one is so different.

Vespas are still very popular here in the city, though we have notice a marked increase in larger cars and SUV’s. Considering that the roads haven’t gotten any wider over the years, I think the vespas are till the way to go.

As we wandered back to our place via a different bridge, I got this shot of the Ponte Vecchio, showing our hotel location. Though I wouldn’t really recommend the room, the location was really convenient.

Got everything packed up, had a final glass of wine on the terrace (now that it was dry) and headed out for our last meal in Florence. Here is your last bit of Italian food porn:

The restaurant wasn’t far from our hotel, but on the way back a nice older lady in a long black dress (choir lady) handed us a program and encouraged us to attend a concert in the adjacent church that was to start in a couple of minutes. One of us said no. One of us said let’s go see! It was a group from Paris who were performing once here and once in Sienna. We stayed for about half an hour – they were wonderful and it was amazing to hear them perform a very intimate concert in a lovely old church. Here is just a tiny sample:

Alas, to bed we must go – an early flight (6:30 take off) requires a 4;00 wake up call and a 4:30 taxi. Even so, the airport was crowded and chaotic and we just made it to our gate with a few minutes to spare.

Cam picked us up at the airport and we were whisked to our home sweet home. Sparkling clean, garden coming along very nicely, and dinner cooked by our own wonderful son:

We do love Italy, we really do. But home . . . There’s really no place like it.

Don’s in his morning happy place.

So until next time friends . . . Thanks for coming along with us, we have loved your comments and sharing our adventures with you. Until then:

– make every day count.

xx

Jan and Don

How Can You Not Love Florence!?!

Ok – just a little wobble there yesterday (or was it the day before?) – and now we are having a good time again in Florence. I mean, how can you not? The people watching alone is magnificent. But here is the view from our room (this plus the rain = a wobble):

Possibly the worst view from any room we have ever had – and that is saying something. But anyway, we are over it now – the location of the hotel is great – just we are looking at – well – is it an air conditioner for the whole building or something ? Not at all what I bargained for when I booked this place over the others I was considering, but these things happen I guess. No possibility of changing rooms apparently (believe me, I tried). It’s on the same level as the rooftop terrace (so technically we are in the penthouse), which is nice if it isn’t raining for two of the three days we are here. But we are over it. Really.

Today we finally (after four visits to Florence) made it to the Mercato Centrale. Very interesting food market with all sorts of everything.

Oh the cheese! Oh the bread! Oh the strawberries!

Still too early for lunch, we wandered the streets surrounding the market and ended up in a Medici garden (well, the free part). I must say I appreciate this guy covering up his vienerschnitzel- kind of an overload of naked male statues in downtown Florence.

After lunch Don went back to the hotel for a snooze and I went for some serious shopping time. Two pairs of shoes and a purse later – I am feeling pretty good about our time here! I didn’t buy these, but had to take a pic:

Tomorrow we can do anything we want – pressure is off.

One place we were looking at to stay was the Hotel Guelfa. By the time we made our decision on dates, they only had availability for some of them, so we picked the place we are now at. Anyway – part of the draw for the Guelfa was the rooftop terrace, where even non-guests can go for a drink (if they know about it), so we decided to go there for happy hour today. A bit of a treasure hunt, but definitely worth it for the 360 degree view from the top.

This is the staircase to get up there from the last floor of rooms:

So that’s a wrap for today – I will leave you with a few pizza pics, and yes – those are french fries on that one:

This Might Make You Feel Better

So . . . I just thought I would share with you some of the frustrations of travelling, since there has been a lot of sharing the great parts up until now. Now, the weather has been sucky – you already know that – and that is something you cannot plan for, other than to bring some appropriate clothing, just in case. So that has been a bit of a damper on our mood at times, but we actually have enjoyed not being sweltering hot and have been pretty lucky overall, that the rain has mostly come when we were somewhere we could find shelter.

However, when you plan the entire trip up to the nuts from your cozy home in Vancouver, you don’t leave any room for leaving a place a few days early or staying a few days longer. Gotta stay – gotta go. Take Rufina for example. There is nothing here. Almost literally. Our place is really nice, and our lady is really nice. There is a pool – Don is down there right now toughing it out – but that is it. We took our lives in our hands and walked the 2 km into the village yesterday – not only no sidewalks, but the walls or homes or vacant buildings are about six inches from the roadway. Spent the rest of the afternoon, reading, snoozing, and binge watching Good Girls on Netflix. Then of course, we couldn’t get to sleep because we had done virtually nothing all afternoon (though we did walk over 8 km in total in the morning.

The only good thing was the dinner I made, trying to duplicate those wonderful bruschetta from Manarola.

Today we just had to get out of the house – despite the dire weather warning – so headed to the winery Don wanted to check out, Nippozzano Frescobaldi. Followed the signs down some dirt road to what appears to be a mostly deserted castle. No wine, no people. Got a few nice shots though, so all was not lost.

Never did find a place to do a tasting or anything else. So on to a place called Pontassieve- looked bigger on the map – hopefully big enough to have a restaurant!

Found parking ok near the train station, but after what seemed like hours of wandering around, found nothing else of interest other than the “ponte” (bridge) – over the river Sieve. Hence the name. Almost no restaurants and the “bars” we did see were mostly closed. Finally, after passing it 3 times, we decided to go to the little one that appeared open but with no one in it other than the two workers. My accent must be really terrible, because the guy behind the counter needed to tries to understand “panini”. But, we were starved by then and washed them down with a couple of beers, just to stave off the hangries.

Pretty much done with this area of Tuscany – can’t say we recommend it. The village names that come to mind when you talk about traveling in Tuscany are the ones to stick to – they are famous for a reason.

Tonight we are eating here again (cuz there isn’t anywhere else!) and will be joined by two guests from South Korea who have just arrived, so that will be interesting. And our Alessandra is a wonderful cook, so hopefully after a nap and some tasty Tuscan home cooking, our spirits will be restored. This is just one of those days I guess. Though it has really been two and a half days, so the nerves are wearing a little thin. Can you tell? (Haha)

Tomorrow we leave (early) for Florence. We will drive directly to the airport and ditch the rental car (hallelujah), take a cab to our hotel, dump our bags and enjoy the rest of the day just wandering around. This is our fourth or fifth time there, so we can just relax and enjoy the sights and sounds of that amazing city. Then home to Vancouver on Friday. Looking forward to seeing my other son, sleeping in my own bed, and having some alone time once in awhile!!

Rufina Not So Much

We said good-bye to Stew and Laurie early yesterday morning. They were headed to Florence for one night before heading home on the same 6:30 am flight that we will be taking next Friday. Might just have to stay up and party all night the night before. Or go to bed at 7. Whichever.

Turns out Saturday is market day in Greve, so we hit up the market before carrying on to Rufina.

I’m not sure who decides what speed limit goes where here, but on the windiest, hilliest, bumpiest, scariest roads – roads where you can’t possibly go more than about 40 km, the posted limit is 90 km/h. Then, where there is a nice, newly paved straightaway, the limit is 40 or 50. Or less. Or, there will be a sign for 90 km/h, but only for about 200 metres, then back to 50. Maybe we should stay here until we figure this out. Of course, at all times, there are at least 3 local drivers right on your tail. At one point, I had a driver pass me on the outside while I was passing a biker on the inside. On a curve.

Somehow, we arrived at our next destination in Rufina. With no help from our GPS who led us in the complete opposite direction of the signs actually pointing to Rufina. After ignoring the third sign we decided to give up on her, did a u-turn and started to follow the signs, which led us directly into the little village. Our place Agriturismo Pezzatini, luckily, was on the way there.

It feels like it is in the middle of absolutely nowhere, set back from the road and surrounded by their own grape vines and olive trees.

Since the sun was actually shining, we decided we didn’t want to leave the property and asked our lovely lady if she would possibly be able to rustle us up some lunch. I think this is what I will eat for lunch forever after:

We had pre-booked a dinner here and it was served family style with the only other travellers at the moment, a lovely couple from Germany. We had a great chat and headed to our room for the night just as the skies opened and a big storm rolled in. Good thing Don got in the pool on day one, because the rest of our days here look to be very unsettled.

Today after breakfast, the owner’s dog – Willy – took us for a walk up into the grapevine fields behind the house. Though when he slipped under the fence, he did seem pretty disappointed that we didn’t follow and reluctantly came back and showed us another way.

I have never seen the little, tiny beginnings of grapes before – it’s kind of exciting!

There are roses and poppies everywhere.

We took our life in our hands as we walked in to Rufina along the main road that has no side walks. I walked facing the traffic and some of them really didn’t want to give any room at all. Don let me walk in front. What a gent.

Not much happening on a Sunday in tiny Rufina. They have a very nice little soccer stadium, which we went inside because I needed to find a washroom and they are in very short supply over here. Then wandered around looking for a place to buy some supplies for dinner (and lunch as it turns out). Found one guy open and got meat, cheese, pesto, tomatoes and bread. That should hold us until tomorrow! We were going to check out the Nippozano winery and castle, but they want 42 euros each for that, so probably not going to happen. It sounds like most people go in to Florence from here, but since we are staying there for 3 nights already, we don’t really want to do that. Our lady suggested a drive, but she said not to go if it’s raining because it is “sad”. And it’s windy and raining, so . . . I guess we’ll just have to wait and see what tomorrow brings.

Just Another Lovely Day in Paradise

So if you think all we’re doing is drinking and eating, you are pretty much right. Ah, ya seen ten hill top towns, ya pretty much seen em all!

The sun came out yesterday so we ate outside with this amazing view:

The food was pretty good too . . .

Today we headed to the little village of Panzano, just up the hill from Greve. The church is pretty much the main sight.Laurie and I have subjected the guys to quite a lot of purse browsing in our short time together. When they spotted these wine bags, Stew said, “Finally! Some purses I like!”

There is a famous butcher in Panzano – we saw him on Rick Steves. Apparently he is quite the character and even sings. But today, AC/DC was blaring from the speakers, which I took to be a clear message NOT to ask him to sing. Just look at that meat!

But the nice lady inside offered me a free glass of wine, so all was not lost.

Laurie and I hit up the Co-op store and bought us a magnificent lunch picnic for less than 17 euros. We had a feast. The sun was shining, so afterwards we all headed down to enjoy the pool – at last.

While Laurie and I were waiting for the guys to arrive, a gardener came over and handed us two beautiful roses. Sorry guys, I think you’ve been replaced . . .

Limoncello Day

The weather in the morning has been quite nice for the last few days, but the afternoons have been an assortment of showers, pounding rain, thunder and lightning. All in a days travels!!

The consensus was that we had all seen enough wine barrels and budding vines to skip any sort of tour (for 15 to 30 euros each), so we headed straight for the tasting part of the deal. Makes sense, right? Ok, so it was only 11:15, but there are lots of quaint sayings to justify that. Castello Verrazzano is on top of a hill (of course) and we found ourself a little table outside and decided to each order a full glass of something different and then play a sort of musical chairs so we could all taste them all. The flights just included things we didn’t necessarily need to taste (having had a full bottle at dinner last night), so this seemed the most prudent course of action. Had to go around several times to get the full effect of aeration. Stew’s choice was the clear winner. Unfortunately, that meant that there wasn’t much left in Stew’s glass by the time it got back to him the second time. Almost all of my Supertuscan pick was left in my glass, so I was the loser I guess, because most of it came back to me. Wait . . .

From there we went up the hill on the other side of the valley to Vignamaggio, where they produce wine and extra virgin olive oil.

The Estate is really gorgeous and was owned by wealthy family (obviously). The girl who sat for the Mona Lisa was a part of this same family, but never lived here, although Leonardo apparently was a friend of the family. He likely met her in Florence where she lived with her family at the time. Tuscany was sort of the vacation area for the wealthy Florentines.

We drank some straight olive oil – not too sure about that, though you really can taste a difference.

Lunch was our favourite restaurant in the whole world – Ristoro di Lamole – which is way up in the boonies of the hills. Don and I stayed there about ten years ago at a place that was so out of the way, the only restaurant within walking distance was this one and it turned out to be a beauty. We have been back to the area two more times now and have made a point of eating here every time. And this time did not disappoint. Sorry – here comes some food pics:

At the end of the meal they present you with a frosty bottle of lemoncello – direct from the freezer – which you can sip to your heart’s content. This is bliss:

Last time we were here, Don asked the waiter to tell me there wasn’t any more lemoncello – almost had a riot on his hands and/or me taking a half used one from an empty table.

There is some serious artwork here too:

All in all – another great day. After a siesta, we had a picnic dinner in our garden, consisting mostly of our leftover meat from lunch and some cheese and bread from the local Co-op. Our hostess then came out with a bottle of her homemade limoncello and 4 tiny glasses. Yes – this is the good life.

The Least Soupy-est Soup Ever

Yesterday we headed to Castellina in Chianti. Even though we had been there on a previous trip, I seemed to have no memory of ever having been there, except for the dead guy relic in the church.

But once we got there I realized that I did remember, I just thought it was Radda, so mystery solved.

Don tried on a bike racing shirt so Stew could see if it would fit.a friend – I think he looked pretty good in it. Might have to finally get on his bike (like he has been saying he was going to for the past 20 years!).

We wanted to take Stew and Laurie to a restaurant we had enjoyed on one of our trips in this area. I remembered that there was a reservation thing, so went online the night before and made us a rezzo. So we get there and are behind a party of two older couples in the lineup to get in. The waiter lead them to a table, then turned to us. “We have a rezzo” – oh yes! He ticks us off and leads us to a table with a “Reserved for Jan Currie” card right on it. As we arrive at the table, the previous two couples are standing up and trying to move to the table – our table – which is in a much better position than theirs (I.e. not right beside the bathroom door). They can’t understand why the waiter insists he can’t move them, when they were ahead of us in the line. So we were all smug smiles, settling in to our wonderful table, ready to enjoy the rest of the afternoon! I felt a few daggers – and patted myself on the back. A few times.

So Stew ordered the broccoli soup. We think. This is what came:

Hence the title of this blog: the least soupy-est soup ever.

My pork belly was amazing, even though at first glance, it looks like it is going to be gross:

Today, the sun was trying to shine, so we headed to San Gimignano, which is about an hour’s drive from here. Probably the most other tourists we have encountered, including someone we all know – Marnie Armstrong (and her husband and another couple they are traveling with). Small world. Stew and I went to high school with her, she taught David at Dorothy Lynas Elementary, and at least two of Stew and Laurie’s boys.

This is the ice cream guy – won the world’s champion ice cream competition in 2007 and 2008 and has been capitalizing on it ever since – even comes out for selfies with the folks in the endless lineup:

We had remembered a restaurant here too – one that had a terrace with an amazing panoramic view of the Tuscan countryside, but it is closed until 2020 for renovations. So we picked a place on the main square, for a little people watching. And who should show up but the disgruntled man from the two couples at lunch yesterday!! I don’t know if they decided to go there because we were there or if they even noticed us. But we were there first. Bested. Again.

So we had had enough of “other” tourists – looks like they come to San Gimignano no matter what the weather – and decided to head home. On the way we saw our poppy field again – this time in the sunshine!

Standing in that field is a moment I will never forget.

Lucky Us! A Wine Festival Within Walking Distance!

Straight up a hill of course, but still. In the tiny hilltop village of Montefioralle, just a couple of kilometres from Greve, they were having their annual wine fest – they actually have two: one in May and the other, bigger one, in September. There is a free shuttle, but we decided to walk up instead.

Montefioralle is very picturesque and they were just starting to set up, so we did a once around first, just to get an idea of the layout of the winery tasting stations.

One guy is already set up so we get to taste his homemade sun dried tomatoes (to die for), and olives, as well as his Chianti Classico. As he hands us a plastic glass though, he says that after this, we should go buy a real glass at the booth and then we can taste everything. So of course we did – and they come with handy little holders and all:

Let the wine tasting begin!! Look Aunt Jan – there’s a real smile on the old codger!!

Found the youngest wine seller in Italy manning the booth while Gramps took a pee break (I’m guessing):

And he looked to be doing an admirable job, too.

So the return trip was all downhill – yay!! Checked out the meat shop and got some sausage to augment our little wine snack lunch, but by the time we got home we were too tired to make anything up. So Laurie and I headed to our rooms for much needed siestas and Don and Stew found a covered outside area to sit out the ensuing cloudburst and drink some of the multiple bottles of wine we have that are needing to be consumed before we leave.

Today, we are headed for Castellina in Chianti and lunch at a place we really liked the last time we were in the area, Osteria di Fonterutoli. Which just happens to be associated with another winery . . . The forecast is dismal, but as I am looking out the window right now, there is blue sky and puffy white clouds, so. . . fingers crossed for a dry day.

Breaking News: The Pizza, Pasta and Red Wine Diet Really Works!!

So I have been doing a little research (ahem), and it appears that one can eat all of the above with impunity! We have cut out most North American time savers, such as pre-prepared foods, snack foods (okay – there have been a few chips), fried foods, and hard alcohol (though the gin is definitely coming back when we get home), and – dare I say – vegetables (other than tomatoes – we are eating lots of tomatoes). And guess what – after four weeks of determinedly sticking to the pizza, pasta and red wine diet, we have not had to loosen our belts and, in fact, my coat fits just a little bit looser! No kidding. Of course, we have been walking a lot (mostly straight up), but we do walk at home and plan to do more of the straight up the mountain type of trail hikes when we get home. Finally a diet that really works!!!!!!

Anyway, after two lovely days of sunshine, we are back into the clouds and rain. Here is that glorious view out or window yesterday morning, just before we left:

But the night before, we had the most glorious sunset:

So it’s adios Montepulciano, and on to Greve to meet up with Stew and Laurie.

On the way, we encountered a wonderful field of poppies. So far, we have only seen them from a distance, so had to pull over and get some close ups of this one. The last time we were in Europe for poppy season, it was also the worst spring they had ever had, so consequently all the poppy photos I have are of them dripping wet.

Found our place – no thanks to the GPS, who lead us up into the boonies in the hills above Greve. Beautiful, no doubt, but not the 10 minute walk into town that we were anticipating! Turns out the name of the street is actually “dirt road” and there are lots of dirt roads around here. But, we did find it in the end and it is really cute.

Another gorgeous pool we probably aren’t going to get into. Still wearing my puffy jacket under my raincoat, with a scarf.

We have been to Greve before (twice), so it was a relief to recognize a few things and kind of know where we were going.

Which – as you can see – was straight to the wine store. There’s Don – in heaven again.

Today there is a wine and culture festival in the tiny village of Montefioralle, which is just a couple of kilometres away from here. Stew and Laurie got in late last night due to Ryan Air being the last airline you want to fly apparently (haven’t gotten the story yet), so we will see if they have the energy for a festival or if they are ready for a “do nothing” day after their two weeks of barging and biking in Northern Europe.

I am typing this blog while sitting at the window with the most glorious view. And I could be mistaken, but I am pretty sure I am hearing a cuckoo, cuckoo calling my name.

Cheese, cheese, cheese, cheese . . .

I’m sure Joan is already saying “they’re in Pienza!” And she is right. Pecorino di Pienza – now that’s worth coming back to Italy for! Not to mention that the sun came out today and made everyone so happy.

Having been to Pienza before (twice in the same trip actually – way back in 2009), we knew that we should make a reservation at the restaurant we wanted to revisit for lunch. Boom. That done, we spent a happy hour and a half wandering the Via dell’Amore and just soaking in the countryside.

Pienza is very small and very quaint, and there are many little vicolos (small alleyways) that will take you away from the crowds.

Was lucky enough to see this ceramic artist in action. But she was holding an entire group of western tourists captive, so I left them to their oohing and ahhing, knowing there would be some sales for her.

And the flowers didn’t disappoint either – those red and white mottled ones smelled just like the ones did in my Grandma’s garden.

By then it was time for lunch – back to our little restaurant where we were shown to a little table in the shade, surrounded by flowers. This is heaven. By the time we left, there was a lineup of eager people, just waiting to get a table here. Probably should have made a rezzo,