Tuesday, December 23, 2014

Merry Christmas, Happy New Year and bring on 2015!

I hope everyone is filled with the Holiday Spirit. My baking is winding down with the last project being a Swedish Christmas bread that I haven't made in quite awhile.  As a matter of fact I should be doing that instead of this but I just thought I better post something before the year ends.
There are a few posts half finished that will be finished but not this year. The muse left me for the better of three months. Weather in our little beach town has been spectacular, thanks to the drought, and I can't seem to sit down and write.

For the first time since Steve passed away I put up a live Christmas tree, a little 3 footer. It is perfect and it benefited the local Elementary school's eighth grade trip.

Christmas cards got out in time and so did the cookies. 
Smells soo good!

I lost my sweet Aunt Mernie and wonderful Uncle George within  3 months of each other. One was almost 97 and the other 93. Good long lives both of them and good family memories.

The holiday spirit is definitely in full swing in my beach town. I actually haven't cooked at home in almost a week. Our local restaurant/bar, Schooner's Wharf, had their Christmas party for employees and locals. Fun, fun. Christmas in Cayucos was the previous weekend. The lighting of the town Christmas tree with Santa coming to town was the weekend before. Getting together with friends to dine out and wrapping and packing pretty much filled up the month.

I made this Cranberry Meringue cake from the Food Network's "the Kitchen" show and it was really, really good. I didn't have a nonstick springform pan so I just buttered mine, lined the bottom with parchment paper and floured the sides. The cake came out of the pan perfectly. The baking time is a little vague so check after 30 min. I worried that mine was too brown after 35 min. I used maple syrup instead of Agave syrup for the cranberries. They were addictive btw.
This would be a great New Years Eve cake!

Well if I don't stop now I will once again have a half finished post!
I am thinking of making some changes in 2015 and switching my blog to Word Press. Blogspot is getting very weird as far as uploading photos. I have to load one, post it, load another which won't load so click refresh to erase the first one and reload. Annoying and there isn't a decent help section.
First, finish up the half finished posts and move on!

I hope you all enjoy Christmas with family and friends, my friends! Thanks for  hanging in here with me.

Sunday, August 3, 2014

Vaporettos and the Glass Island of Venezia

Sunday morning breakfast in the Hotel Principe was a big deal. Everyone was dressed nicely like they had just come from church, which most probably had. It was more like brunch with groups of friends and families speaking Venetian Italian, eating and sipping prosecco. My kind of day but I didn't partake in the bubbly. The buffet was bountiful as there were many people, not all hotel guests, dining this morning and I without my camera. Oh well, you will just have to imagine the large bowls of fresh fruit, many beautiful pasticcini, pane as well as uova cooked to order and proscuitto coto, formaggio, yogurt, cereali. The cappucinos were abundant as well.
We made plans to hop on a Vaporetto (water bus) and do some sightseeing around the Grand Canal and beyond.  After crossing the Rialto Bridge we made our way to what is usually a bustling Farmer's market but today being Sunday was pretty much closed up. There was evidence of vendors so they must have been there at the crack of dawn.
The only way to really get around besides walking is by Vaporettos, Gondolas or Water Taxis. The latter two are pricey. We love local transporation so off we went to find the "bus stop". The Italians are so organized when it comes to purchasing tickets but you have to know the rules or you could end up with a huge fine or worse yet jail time for failing to pay the fares. So we found the ACTV machine and purchased day pass bigliettos and figured out where to stand and waited. But wait, Nate suddenly remembered we had to scan the ticket before going on board or face the above penalties. Whew! Got that mastered. You have to do this each time before you embark on the vaporetto. Here is a good sight explaining the ways to get around and how to in Venice .

Backside of the Vaporetto not a casino

One of the rare Gondolas that we saw with passengers
Water Taxi. Beauty wooden boats, all of them

A Sailor guided us over the plank onto the deck of the boat. It was a little blustery but we opted to stand outside to see as much as we could.
Our first stop was Piazza San Marco and the Basilica di San Marco. As we stood straining our necks upward to view the Campanile di San Marco ( Bell tower) and admire the Italo-Byzantine architecture of the Basilica, a pigeon decided to drop it's load on my only warm black rainproof jacket. What a mess. I found a bathroom and managed to clean it off. I guess that is supposed to be good luck? Don't think so. Anyway we wandered around the square checking out the Doges Palace where various souvenir vendors had set up their stands. We then went into the Basilica and their gift shop and made our way around the huge square. This is the largest and only Piazza of Venezia. All other squares are called "Campi" or camps.
Campanile di San Marco-Bell Tower
St. Mark overlooks the Piazza in all his gilded glory
Quite a few shops were open selling beautiful jewelry and glass art. We ducked into one that sold leather purses, shoes and clothing. I found a really neat purse. Thinking it was going to be super expensive I browsed around some more before asking the sales person how much it was. It turns out that I could afford it and after a bit of haggling, new purse!!
Italian leather, made in Italy and only 35eu

It was Sunday and I wanted a Prosecco. It didn't take much to convince the others what a great idea that was. The famous Harry's Bar where Ernest Hemingway supposedly hung out was somewhere in the vicinity but it eluded us. Finally we settled on a little bar and got comfortable before ordering. ( translation: we used the bagnos).
Our next stop was Murano, "the Glass Island" of Venice. It was out in the Lagoon.  We walked toward the Vaporetto stop and lo and behold there I was standing right in front of Harry's Bar. It certainly is inconspicuous! I popped inside to look at the $25. drinks people were imbibing in plus the decor and other touristy things. It looked like a place I could be very comfortable in if I ever win the lottery.
Easy to miss this landmark- Harry's Bar
The doors are etched with the name.
The vaporetto took us out of the Grand Canal and around the tip of Comune di Venezia into the large Venetian Lagoon. We passed Burano whose claim to fame is the Lace Museum and brightly colored homes. At last we arrived at our destination, Murano Island the famous Glass Island.
There are many artists throughout Venice but the glass blowers were sent to this island many years ago so they wouldn't burn down the mainland's wooden structures. Once on the island the craftsman weren't allowed to leave. So, for instance, if glass blower extraordinaire Giovanni wanted to take his craft elsewhere he could have his hands cut off or be assassinated by secret police. On the bright side they were held in very high regard and free from prosecution. Heck they were even allowed to carry swords and their offspring could marry into noble families. Needless to say they generated much income for Venice with demand for glass mirrors and delicate beautiful objects from around the world.

Our first impression after disembarking was one of solitude. It was Sunday for sure.
Lazy chilly Sunday afternoon, waiting for the laundry to dry
Sunday must be Laundry day and we were looking for glass shops!

Only a handful of shops were open, the museum was closed because it was Sunday and Winter time. No problem. It was hard to choose what to buy that we could afford and carry home. For my girlfriends I found beautiful little fish, a glass fish wine stopper, strings of glass beads and for me a cool glass lamp shade that looked so beachy that everyone agreed it belonged over my kitchen sink. The shop owner packed it up securely as I had to carry it home.

My Murano glass shade with typical "milleflore"embedded

On the way back to the water bus stop I found the equivalent of "seaglass" on the terracotta tiled streets. Free souvenirs!

Now we were hungry.  There weren't many restaurants open but we found Trattoria al Corallo. The sign said " Specialita Pesce" and there was an array of fresh fish and shellfish on display as we walked in. Plus it smelled so good, always a good sign. (The website I linked is in Italian but look at the pictures if you feel like it).  Trattoria al Corallo alludes to a family owned "corral" and the dining room is decorated like a western saloon. There were pictures of the wild west days of California as depicted in movies with popular stars, John Wayne, Ronald Regan, Audie Murphy, Roy Rogers and Trigger and other cowboy pictures also on the walls. It felt like home!
I ordered the seafood antipasti of fresh scallops in their shells, gamboroni ( which are large shrimp sort of like little lobsters), mussels, periwinkles, fresh anchovies, clams and what I think was sea urchin roe. Heavenly!!! Of course we had our requisite bottle of vino. I barely remembered to take this pic so didn't capture the other plates but I am pretty sure Vilia had a really good soup, Mike had prawns, which he loved and soup and Nate a seafood pasta.
Each component was well seasoned and very fresh

Time to head back to the Comune di Venezia.   We had quite a bit of time to kill so we stepped inside a little osteria and had more wine that came with one of their "spizziccare", little snacks. The one that stood out was a slice of bread shaped like an inverted pyramid stuffed with a hard boiled egg. Mike was alll over that one being a big fan of hard boiled eggs.
As we hopped onto the vaporetto all we could say is "I wish we had more time to spend here".
Arrivederci! Murano

That evening we wandered around and found a funky trattoria that featured hamburgers. It was run by an Asian couple and very busy. This is a word of advice. Do not order hamburgers in Venice period.
Looked okay, tasted horrible.

Tuesday, July 1, 2014

The Magic of Venezia!

We had tickets on the 11:30am train from Florence to Venice. Vilia and I made a quick dash to the leather market so she could pick up something she saw the day before while I took pictures.  Train stations in Italy are not at ground level for the most part.  You have to hike up steep steps hauling your rollies and carrying heavy bags/purses. Poor Mike was like the sherpa lugging many bags. I was managing to struggle up the steps of the Firenze S M. Novella when a nice man grabbed my bag and took it to the top. I was worried as we had had an incident with Gypsies when we left Rome. They swooped down and carried our bags onto the train which I thought was part of the service the trains offered. The woman then demanded 30 EU!!! We had given them all of the coins we had but that wasn't enough apparently. Fortunately they had to get off the train before it left the station so they disappeared as quickly as they had appeared, without our luggage thankfully. This man looked like a Gypsy but did not demand any money. I was like, "prego, grazie, grazie mille" and off he went with a quick wave.
When the train departed it was dreary, cold and drizzling rain. Soon after we left the station we were hit by a blizzard. I couldn't believe my eyes! By the time we got to the Bologna Stazione everything was covered with snow. Vilia and I were trying to snap pictures as fast as we could while the train zipped by the snow covered fields and hillsides. Just as I pushed the shutter button we would enter a tunnel. Between the two of us we did pretty good at capturing a few wintery scenes though.
The trains are really nice in Italy. Vilia on the lookout for snow!

Bologna train station

This all changed as we saw a vast body of water ahead and headed over a long train bridge. It was exciting entering a city that was built entirely on a marshy lagoon. I couldn't wait to see the canals with the Gondolas which was about all I knew about Venezia. What adventures awaited us in this magical city as we stepped off that train I wondered.
Leaving the FF.SS. S. Lucia Stazione we walk to that bridge to cross

We found our way to our hotel, "Principe" by crossing a bridge over the Grand Canal. As we entered the luxurious lobby I decided that I could get used to these 4 star Italian hotels. It was beautiful with delicate hand blown glass sconces and chandeliers and richly upholstered furniture but strangely soggy carpeting. As we later found out the Grand Canal rises and falls with the tides which results in flooding in all that sit on the Canal. No worries the guest rooms were above canal level. Our rooms were charming. The bathroom in Nate's and my room was a postage stamp however. You had to practically step over the toilet to enter the tiny shower stall. We were only going to be there barely 2 1/2 days so we decided not to upgrade as was suggested by the concierge. Let me say this, every 5- 10 year old little girl I know would have gone nuts for this fairy tale like room. The hand painted walls and ceilings with sweet glass vases, lamps and ornately framed pictures was like well a fairy tale room. As long as you didn't open the window. The restaurant dumpsters were located below and there was a strong odor of fish. I found out later that all of Venice has that fishy sea salty smell. We were lucky to be here in chilly weather as it wasn't too bad. I hear that it is unbearable at times in the heat of the summer. After we settled in ( deciding which bed was whose) we met Vilia and Mike in their room which was really darling too. They had a nice bathroom with a tub and Mike was in heaven because they had real ice machines. What a concept.
Sweet room

Nate' had visited here before so she was familiar with the winding labrynth of streets and alleys with no street signs ( our map was useless) and some of the popular sites that we had to see.  Today was Saturday and as we crossed the Ponte di Rialto to Campo San Polo, one of the districts, we were soon surrounded by shops, street vendors and crowds of tourists. My first impression was that I was in the New Orleans French Quarter. The shops were filled with ornate masks, beads, dolls and costumes. Actually they weren't costumes but beautiful scarves, hats, blouses etc. that I would associate with Carnivale. All of the food stands made us hungry. there were gelato stands, crepes filled with chocolate you could even get little plastic cups of wine.  We walked on through the unmarked twisty streets in search of a lunch spot. I wondered how on earth we would find our way back but Nate' pointed out that there is always a sign pointing to the Stazione FF.SS. S. Lucia. Just follow those. We followed her instead.
Beautiful Gondola just waiting for us....

We found a cozy restaurant that was still open for lunch and we settled in.
Ostaria Al Garanghelo was a find. They specialize in seafood, have friendly waiters and a beautiful atmosphere of an old tavern in Italy, with brick walls, a collection of old Italian telephones, wine bottles, carafes and other antique artifacts. A beauty bakers table is the focal point. If you have time check out the link, they even provide a few recipes in the menu section and it is written just like an Italian with broken English speaks.

First off they brought us a huge jug of house Valpolicella. This region is home to the Soave whites and Valpolicella, Amarone and Bardollino reds..all of my favs.
Everyone ordered "normal things off the menu" Pizza for Vilia, Minestrone for Nate' and Pasta Bolognese for Mike. I, however, heard they had fresh crab for Antipasti so I ordered them grilled. Oh my! What a treat these were. They came three to an order for 10EU, all sizzling with herbs and olive oil.  I rolled up my sleeves and dug in with the heavy duty crackers they provided. It was a daunting task as I had to crack everything so I turned the crackers upside down and started tapping the shells until they cracked. It was so worth it. The crab was juicy and sweet! Everyone was finished before I tackled the last one. I passed tastes out and the concensus was it was delish but they were glad I was the one covered in crab juices. The waiters were standing around just staring at my bizarre attack on their crabs and finally offered more napkins. When you eat whole crab you can't hold back or you will starve. Satisfied with the pile of shells and stuff we paid the tab and were out on the streets again.
Fresh crab all for 10 EU!!

Vilia found a neat shop that made Murano glass pendants in all colors with the signature Millefiori (thousand flowers). She stocked up for future gifts, one of which came into my possesion at Christmas! We wandered into a beauty stationery store, "Rivoaltus" that featured marbled papers, glass pens for calligraphy, postcards with cats dressed in fancy costumes, leather bound journals and wax seals among other things. Venice was built in the 1500's and is home to many artists so everywhere we turned we were in awe of the beauty ( have I used that word enough yet?). I bought a set of postcards that featured cats dressed in Victorian costumes and blue sealing wax with two brass seals, one seahorse and one shell. I framed the postcards for my cat loving friend, Bonnie and rarely use the wax and seals but love looking at them. The lady had wrapped the set in marbled paper and tied it up like a little gift.
The problem with shopping in Venice is you have about a 20% chance of ever finding the shop you liked again, unless you drop breadcrumbs like Hansel and Gretel, the trail ends the minute you turn a corner. We found that out when we passed an old wine bar (bacari) and vowed to return. Just purchase what looks interesting when you see it.
Nate' and I tried to remember where the bacari was and wandered around a few twists and turns and were about to give up when there it was! Cantina Do Mori . It has been around since 1462 according to this link. The place looks like it with copper pots hanging from the ceiling and old dusty bottles of wine in the wine racks along the wood walls. The bartender told us they used to store the wines that they offer for sale on the racks but they kept disappearing so they found ancient cases of wine somewhere and use those for ambience. They list wine specials on a blackboard. Everyone stands around old wine barrels and sips their wine and nibbles on "cichetti" or little snacks. The kitchen was pretty backed and we were lucky to be able to order a few glasses of wine. A few local wineries back in California source Refosco, a red varietal, so when I spotted it on the blackboard it was a chance to try the real deal. Big, bold on the dry side. I liked it as well as the Bardolino and Amarone tastes we had. Unfortunately they weren't open on Sunday and we were leaving Monday morning or we would have spent more time there. I highly recommend this place even though it is small and crowded. If you google it there is a site that shows pictures of the interior and you can just feel the history surrounding you.
It was dark by the time we got back to the Hotel and it was cocktail time! Somehow a bottle of wine appeared in Mike and Vilia's room. Mike grabbed the ice bucket and off we went in search of that precious ice. This place is huge! We tried to remember how to get back upstairs and ended up walking around in circles but it was wonderful looking at the decor.The hotel's restaurant was very formal and pricey so we walked down the sidewalk to a  Tratorria that looked inviting and got us out of the rain that had started to pour down.  It was good with reasonably priced wines but must not have been that great as I didn't take notes on it. Actually we were freezing cold in Venice so to take pictures meant taking off the gloves, digging out the camera and at best shooting gray drizzly pictures.
It stopped raining so we decided to walk about a little. Wandering around at night is a challenge. If you don't watch out you could walk right off the curb and end up in a canal. It is so weird to see people's doors facing the canals with boats tied up. All of the commerce and shopping and deliveries and construction materials and even the trash pick up is done on the water. Taxis are Water Taxis with designated stops. We loved it!!
The next day, Sunday, we planned to explore more and go out to Murano the glass island.
The Bridge of Sighs, worth taking the gloves off to snap this.

Sunday, June 1, 2014

Kissing the Boar in Firenze

We all woke up in Rome ready for our next adventure. Mine started out a little rough, a queasy stomach. I passed on going up to the roof for breakfast and brewed a cup of chamomile tea in the room. Nate brought me a yogurt but by then I couldn't keep anything down. We had to make our way to the train station to catch the train to Florence (Firenze) the capital of Tuscany. No one else got sick so I had to assume it was that nice cold glass of water from the tap in our bathroom that I drank last night.  Luckily I was packed so I made my way to the "farmacia". After much gestulating to my stomach and it's contents coming out of my mouth the woman figured out what to give me. Another woman who worked there spoke English and assured me that the Diosmectal powders would work. She said just keep taking them until you stop vomiting. How was I going to make it onto that train I wondered? Well I mixed the first packet with some "bottled" water and kept it down until I was settled in my seat near the bathroom. That came up. I decided to forgo taking anymore until we arrived.
In Florence, our hotel, the Ambasciatori was directly across from the station but it may well have been 10 miles away the way I was dragging. The lobby was like Alice in Wonderland meets hi Tech. Our rooms were very modern and crisp. The view out of our window was of rooftops and the bus station across the street.  No matter all I needed was another little packet of that powder and some sleep. It was a rainy cold day when my friends set out to explore the city. 

Hotel Ambasciatori lobby

Nate went to school there for 6 months so she knew her way around. We had tickets to see David at 4pm in the Galleria dell 'Accademia. I was hoping to be able to rally for that.
I dozed off and my stomach settled down. Sometime in the early afternoon I heard a key turning in our room's door. The door burst open and a woman entered, she saw me and apologized, scurried out and closed the door. Was it a maid that had to use the bathroom or was just checking the room? Strangeness. We used the room safe just to be safe.
The next time the door opened Nate came in. She was very damp from walking around in the rain. I told her I felt better and was ready to go to the Galleria. We bundled up and headed out to meet Mike and Vilia who were huddled in a doorway with their umbrella. Fortunately we were able to catch a taxi. They filled me in on their afternoon walking around and about the wonderful lunch they had of a cornmeal like focaccia and paninis. I was bummed.

Vilia saw this while walking around as I slept.
I would have loved to have tasted that Spaghetti w. artichokes and pork belly

Can't believe I missed this too!
We arrived at the Galleria dell'Accademia. What a magnificent place! First of all Michelangelo's David is a jaw dropping sculpture displayed in the Tribune section of the museum. It was carved from a huge piece of marble that had been rejected by two other sculpturers due to the many imperfections. The marble was forgotten for 25 years until Michelangelo took on the project originally slated for the Cathederal of Florence.  Once it was finished a committee made up of other local artists like Leonardo da Vinci, Sandro Bottocelli and a few other pals that Michelangelo hung out with decided to give the statue a special place to be viewed by all. It was actually displayed outside on the Piazza della Signoria from 1504 to 1873 when it was moved into the Galleria dell'Accademia to protect it from further weathering.
There were many more wings and rooms to explore with more of his sculptures, many unfinished, plus busts, Renaissance paintings and musical instruments by other 14th-16th century artists. It was fascinating. I can see why so many students choose to study at the University of Florence.  Here is a good link for more information on the Galleira . We were not allowed to take pictures.

The drizzle had stopped so we took a walk around the neighborhood. Nate pointed out the Duomo (which is the focal point of all of Florence), Florence Cathedral and this magnificent Carousel in the Piazza della Rebublica. We spent alot of time in this Piazza as this is where the outdoor vendors are located. We quickly walked through the huge leather markets vowing to return the next day.
Carousel of the Picci Family in Piazza della Republica

We wrapped up this day dining at a restaurant recommended by our hotel which happened to be right around the corner, Trattoria dall'Oste . It served "Cucina Tipica Toscana specialita Bistecca Alla Fiorentina". Florentine steak is like none other so I am told. It is from young Tuscan Chianina beef cattle. The beautiful white beasts are stand 6 ft tall and are fed corn, barley and of course beans, the starch of choice in Tuscany. Steaks from them are not wimpy Porterhouse steaks these are huge thick steaks usually 1 1/2-2lbs ea. meant to be shared by a small army. They are usually served on a bed of Arugula which is in itself funny being the most delicate of greens but I guess the peppery flavors complement the beef. We were not up to it, me especially. Mike did have a formidable pork chop, I had a wonderful Tuscan Minestrone and Vilia and Nate had pasta. The restaurant was filled with locals but our waiter was wonderfully entertaining and helpful.
This was the first and only meal that I did not drink wine with. Shocking. I stuck to San Pellegrino instead.

Tratorria dall'Oste's enticing butcher case
We had a private walking tour planned for the next morning. I was feeling much better and looked forward to a good night's sleep.

All of us were up early for breakfast in the Asian inspired dining room named "Harmony". We were sure it had recently been renovated due to the odd smell of glue or paint. The fare was really good. Gallon size jars of Nutella, good breads, fruit, yogurt, fluffy eggs, sliced meats, pastries and more. The only hang up was the line to get your warm beverage IE coffee, tea. The machines were fantastic but slow as they doled out tiny espressos with one button and frothy milk with another and hot water for tea (me) with yet another. I can't believe I never took pictures of these buffet breakfasts.
We bundled up for the chilly walk around tour. Our guide was charming. He was a professor at the University and did this on the side. I had to look twice to make sure it wasn't my friend Bob Duffy, they look so similar. Off we went to look at the statues that graced the sides of many buildings. He explained that the posture of the statues represented different eras, Renaissance, Modern, Middle ages etc. It was intense and we were freezing. Vilia was the star pupil as she studied art and could actually figure out what he was explaining and answer his questions, yes, we were quizzed. We walked by the Brunelleschis Dome, Piazza della Signoria (where the David statute stood for all of those decades) and over the Pontevecchio Bridge, which spans the Arno river, to the local farmer's market.
It wasn't much of a market due to the weather but there was a very pretty flower booth that was manned by our guide's sister. They laughed and kissed each other and introduced us to her. He then led us into an ancient church to warm up a bit.  It was obviously a neighborhood church, not ornately adorned as most are but so so old! We went back through the Vasari Corridor past all of the Goldsmiths and Jewelry shops which have been there since the 1500's.
Vasari Corridor in forefront, Pontevecchio Bridge in background( the tallest bridge)
Two and a half hours later we ended our tour at the offices of  Walk and Talk Tours. We collected our refrigerator magnets, said our "Grazies and Ciaos and headed for the nearest Bar which happened to be Bar Condotta. I didn't care if they charged us more to sit at the little bistro tables we just sat down and ordered pannini and wine. As it turned out they did not charge extra if you ordered food. Okay, bathroom time. Now we were back in the Middle Ages, hole in the floor, lean back against a porcelain concave thing and try to concentrate. No toilet paper because there wasn't a toilet!
The hand washing sink was the same faucet used to fill the floor washing buckets and there were no towels. I guess we are spoiled. No problem Vilia and I carried hand sanitizers.
We felt compelled to explore more of  Florence's history so off to the Galleria degli Uffizi we went.
The Medici family ruled Florence in the 14th century and built this museum to house many works of art. And many there were. We saw so many beautiful paintings and other artifacts that we were dizzy. Check out this link to learn more about Uffizi (which means "offices" as it originally housed the offices of the Medici businesses), especially the paintings of which my favorite was "The Birth of Venus" by Sandro Bottecelli. I happen to have a similar rendition in my bathroom from a local artist.
Birth of the Surfer Venus
Next stop was back to the leather markets and the infamous Boar. Florence is one of the Fashion capitals of Italy for the rich and famous but for us poor tourists the outdoor markets are our meccas. This particularly famous one has a huge statute of a Boar (cianghale). Tradition has it that if you kiss the boar you are guaranteed to return to Florence. My question is would you live to return knowing that 1.5 million people give or take a few kiss that thing per year? It was fun to watch but I did not partake seeing that I just got over a little setback and too many little kids were slobbering on it.
Would you kiss that? Thousands do.

We retreated deeper into the market. I hadn't seen this much leather since Tijuana! The purses, luggage, belts, jackets and whatever else they could craft from a tanned animal skin were represented. All I knew is that I wasn't going home without a jacket. It was agonizing work. The shop keepers dragged you in to try on these little beauties but to decide almost brought me to tears. I lost Vilia, Mike and Nate and knew I would not make a purchase without some one's help. What I thought was pretty cool, Vilia, for instance put the kabosh on when I finally found her. A decision was made for a pretty soft brownish short jacket that was wayyy too tight when zipped up. The Italian scoffed and said "You Americans wear your clothes too loose. Just wait, this look will be all the rage soon". I believed him and bought the jacket. Vilia approved. I wear it alot and love the fit. All of my other jackets are too loose. We knew we had half a day tomorrow to come back and continue shopping so we left to find a place for wine and a cocktail for Mike. He did keep up his tradition of Vodka at 5pm. I don't remember the place we found but it was perfect. You can't get a bad glass of wine here. It is against the law.
Now we were hungry. You can catch cabs at certain designated stops at the base of the Pontevecchio bridge. It was raining pretty hard but we got lucky and snagged one. Nate was in charge as she was the "local ist" one of us all. The driver suggested two places and one stuck out that she used to go to when she was living here. Acqua AL2 or, Acqua due as it is called, was our choice. It was a very pretty place and very big. Nate particularly remembered the "samplers" they had of pasta and salad. She ordered pasta and we ordered the salads for the table. I was determined to get a "tipica Firenze bistec" since they offered smaller steaks on the menu. Mike got a really good Filet with blueberry sauce, Vilia ordered Tagliatelle with mushrooms which as it turned out was one of the sampler pastas. Of course we had a great bottle of Tuscan wine sporting the black rooster. The pasta sampler was amazing! Three little plates of pastas all tasting fantastic. Fusilli with spicy tomato sauce, little shells with broccoli pesto and the very beauty presentation of Tagliatelle with mushrooms and fava beans. Nate had no trouble polishing them off! A man walked through the dining room and Nate said " I think that is the owner, "so and so". She called the waiter over and he confirmed it was indeed the owner. He called "so and so" over and Nate was bursting at seeing him again. She mentioned her visits to this place and hanging out with friends while she was in school and he seemed to remember her. They talked about mutual friends and one thing led to another and they were old friends again. He sent out complimentary desserts.
Come to find out this restaurant has two locations in the U.S.A. Washington DC and San Diego.

We walked around and found the place Nate lived when she was here. I took pics but my camera did does not take good night shots. Anyway it was so neat that she could show her parents this place.
Piazza in Nate's old neighborhood

Back at the hotel we decided to go up to the bar and check it out. That smell... but we perservered with more wine and good laughs at our days adventures.
Next morning we packed up and took a last walk around our area of Firenze. It is a very large city with so many Piazza's, Cathedrals, shops and so little time. We managed to get back to the markets and buy a few souveniors before embarking on the train to Venezia.
Mike needed to be prepared for the train ride. Couldn't believe he bought that in Italy!

Tuesday, April 15, 2014

Ciao Roma! We'll be back soon.

It is our last day in Rome, for now, ( we return to fly home). We had alot of things to cram into this day.  Sistine Chapel, Colosseo, eating, drinking and whatever else we stumbled upon. Our energetic guide, Nate (Nah tay) had pre-purchased tickets for our visit to the Musei Vaticani and the Sistine Chapel. We hopped on the crowded metro and headed out.  Once in the general vicinity we encountered numerous "helpful" Italians all wanting to sell us something, be it tickets, guided tours, taxi rides etc. Finally we made it to the entrance.
It was certainly more crowded than the previous days' visit to the Vatican. There were large tour groups speaking all sorts of foreign languages predominately Asian. Up to the front of the line we went with tickets in hand. I purchased the self guided tour headsets in English. There was alot ground to cover.

Let me say this, traveling through the Musei Vaticani was one of the most amazing voyages I have ever been on. The Sistine Chapel is just one of the many galleries, halls and courtyards that we traversed. Michelangelo's frescoes are the most famous probably because there are so many and he was the lucky one to be on his back for so many years painting the story on the ceiling. Every Pope who occupied the papal throne is represented in the frescoes that line the walls from about 296 to 1534. Basically they tell stories from the Old and New Testaments. Some of the artists are Sandro Botticelli, Biagio de Antonia Tucci, Cosimo Roselli and of course Michelangelo. I have only heard of two of them and that was because I saw paintings in other museums like the Louvre in Paris and de Young Museum in San Francisco. These were not simple paintings friends, we are talking huge beautiful murals full of color and gold paint.  I started taking pictures until it was announced that none were allowed in the Sistine Chapel.  This "Chapel" is where all of the Cardinals were to convene in a Papal Conclave to choose a successor to Pope Benedict XVI who had announced his resignation recently. We were lucky as this news had just broken and the Conclave had not convened yet or else it would have been closed to the public.

Moving on through the depth of these halls one encounters  priceless collections from Egyptian mummies, Etruscan urns, artifacts of Australian Aboriginals ( really?) as well as frescoes, tapestries, glassware, ivory carvings, and many statues. It was mind boggling looking at all of these large and small items.  My favorite hall was the Gallery of Maps. It was planned by Pope Gregory XIII Boncampagni and carried out  by a group of painters and stucco artists. Included in this collection are Papal possession's of the time, Avignon in France being one of them as well as Ancient and Contemporary Italy. Contemporary being the 1500's and Ancient being way before that I guess. They all looked ancient to me. I loved the maps of the four smaller islands, Elba, Malta, Corfu and Tremiti and four great Italian ports, Genoa, Venice, Ancona and Civitavecchia. Venice looked like it had alot more land back in the day but was still a maze of lagoons and canals. Italy at the time of the Roman Empire was portrayed along with 16th century Italia Nova. Sicily was represented with accompanying plans for yet to be built cities of Palermo, Messina and Syracuse. The cartographer for all of these maps was Ignazio Danti. The colors and reliefs were really mind blowing. I took pictures that for the most part came out blurry. Luckily I bought postcards and failed to send them to anyone.
Great Ports
We staggered out of there and Nate decided to herd us into a taxi and go to a very untouristy working class neighborhood called Trastevere of which there is, of course, a church, Santa Maria Trastervere and a piazza, Piazza Trilussa. It was a dreary cold afternoon and all we wanted was wine and lunch. The taxi dropped us off on a small square filled with very old crumbly buildings sporting laundry hanging out of alot of the windows. Most of the Italians were eating their midday meal I suspected but there were a few trattoria and pizzerias open.
It was very pretty laundry however
 We chose Osteria Pizzeria Margherita. How could we go wrong?! They posted rave reviews outside alongside their menus. Happiness ensued. It was a small family place run by two brothers. The smells were amazing coming from the wood fired pizza oven, so we got right to work ordering pizzas and wine. We each had a different pizza except Mike who ordered french fries and ketchup. Gotta love that guy. I have to say they did make good fries and I was shocked at how every place offered ketchup alongside being as Mike ate more than a few orders while we traveled. My choice was a porcini mushroom pizza with truffle oil, Vilia had vegetarian and Nate had, I think, margherita but it may have been pesto.  Anyway the best pizza, in Rome, to me. I studied the Italians as to how they eat their pizza. Most used knife and fork but a few just picked up the slices and folded them in half to take a bite. I did both, using knife and fork for the first third and picking up the rest.
 There were many other things on the menu and it was great to see a large family ordering traditional fare, Antipasti, "primo piatto" ( pasta/soup) followed by "secondi" or main dishes. Take a look at the menu offerings if you get a chance and be sure to click on the British Flag for English then go to the sidebar on the left and choose the category otherwise it reverts to Italian.

After that large lunch and a bottle of wine we were fortified, luckily, for our next trek. You don't take leftovers home btw so we had to eat our whole pizza. The next stop was the Colosseo. Mike had been looking forward to this since our night viewing on our first evening in Rome. Little did he know how far of a walk it would be or did any of us for that matter.  Piazza Trilussa is situated on the Fiume Tevere, The Tiber River. To cross the river you walk over bridges called "Pontes". We wandered through the small village taking pictures of cool alleys. Vilia spotted a very friendly woman cleaning her Osteria after the lunch crowd. With sign language, Vilia convinced her to pose for a picture at which she blushed and smiled. Priceless.

Not sure which way to go to get to the Colosseo, we wandered around a little with Mike assuring us that we were going the wrong way. Of course we were although Nate had been in this neighborhood before so there were a few options for crossing the river. Whatever.. she picked a beautiful spot to cross, the Isola Tiberina. As we looked over at the flowing river and falls I wondered how many executed criminals were thrown into it, as history points out, including one Pope from 67ad.

We walked and walked and walked and complained until we finally saw the Colosseo looming in the distance. I was amazed at the casual ruins that we passed everywhere, until I looked on a map and realized it was a whole section called Palatino that was adjacent to Colosseo. Wow! That real estate would have been razed and rebuilt in a New York second over here. We strolled through a nice park down the Via del Cerchi, I picked up a little heart stone, plus some worn green glass shards. Roman sea glass.
Just your neighborhood ruins

It was getting late and we just made it before the closing of Colosseo. It is truly a sight to behold.  Mike was so happy to have finally made it there. We were thrilled with the kitty cat that was hanging around knowing that it's larger ancestors were mauling and eating those unlucky enough to be thrown into the arenas. The architecture seemed so current probably because our sports stadiums are designed in a similar way.  I will just post some pictures and you can let your imaginations run wild.
The entrance. I don't think this guy fared very well
On the other hand this kitty was loving the attention

Main arena. Below is where the animals were stored before battle

Metro trip back was a trip. Rush hour and we were packed like Italian anchovies in a can. We were so glad to be back in our warm and cozy hotel sipping wine (and vodka for one of us) contemplating where we would go for dinner. We changed and met in the lobby bar beforehand. When you order drinks you are automatically served a little "sputini" or tapas which tonight were potato chips, freshly fried of course. Mike made friends with the bartender as he had supplied the ice for the vodka and orange each night. He served us a delicious Sangiovese in huge glasses. I wanted to live right there in that hotel. 
Enjoying the Mecanate Palace Hotel bar
 Our concierge recommended a Trattoria close by called Trattoria Cecio MMVII. No website but good reviews from Yelp and Tripadvisor but I honestly don't remember what we each had as the pictures were pretty out of focus as were we. I can tell you there was manicotti, fettucine, meat for Mike and most likely a plate of greens if the fuzzy pictures are correct.
 On our way back to the hotel we stopped in a Gelato store and got our induction into Italian Gelato etiquette. You get three "pallina" or scoops in a little cup with a plastic spoon. Man o Man were those flavors intense and creamy..whoa. I had pistachio, hazelnut and chocolate. The choices were mind boggling and so beautifully displayed. By the time we finished those we were saturated and ready for bed.  We had to organize our suitcases for the trip to Firenze(Florence) in the morning.  A nice cold glass of water from our bathroom faucet tasted soooo good.

Lights out and sweet dreams.