Chocolate and Red Wine – Who Knew?

12 Oct

Somewhere in my past, I picked up the notion that red wine would make a stuffy nose stuffier, so all week when Len and I had meals, I drank water. 

Two days ago, I decided to check the data, and to my surprise, here’s what I found:

Red Wine: 
Red wine actually helps fight a fight a cold. (Am I the only one that didn’t know this?) Antioxidants contained in red wine, resveratrol and polyphenols, can prevent cold and flu viruses from multiplying once they’ve entered your system. 

Interestingly, a few Italian friends suggested this “before going to bed” remedy: 

Boil a cup of red wine, (thus deleting the alcohol), add a few red pepper flakes (optional), drink down and in the morning, the cold will be gone. 

Len says this is what he plans to do if he catches my cold.

Dark Chocolate:
Dark chocolate (70% or higher cocoa content) is loaded with zinc and like red wine, contains a lot of antioxidants which help fight a cold. While it is advised to not overindulge, small daily portions can help boost the immune system.

So there you have it, two over-the-counter remedies to consider adding to your shopping list should the cold bug strike. But then, why wait for a cold! 

 

And no, the wine doesn’t need to be a Brunello, but when it Italy, why not?

Ciao,
Judy

 

 

 

 

Fighting a Cold (raffreddore)

9 Oct

In October, when the night air turns cooler but the days are still warm, Tuscan colds are a plenty. The locals blame it on the change in weather and I’m becoming a believer. But when the sky is bright blue and the weather is in the 70’s, it’s hard to nurse a cold in bed. 

Still, not wanting to spread my germs, we headed to Lago Trasimeno for a walk and lunch. We were also curious about the lake level due to both the summer drought and more recent rains.

What we found didn’t surprise us as Umbria and Tuscany sustained spring and summer months with virtually no rain and intense heat. The lake had not only receded, it actually uncovered sandy beach areas we had never seen before.

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After our walk, we stopped at a caffé for a light lunch, but more so to sit in the warm sun and be mesmerized by the clouds dancing on the ripples across the lake.

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Walking back to the car, I couldn’t help but stop at this structure for a few more photos.

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Tonight for dinner, we made a red and yellow pepper risotto that turned out quite well. 

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All in all, a perfect way to not have a cold ruin a beautiful day! 

Ciao,
Judy

In Love with Liguria

27 Sep

(hopefully reprinted with full photo views)

Liguria, a four-province region in northwest Italy, lies on the Ligurian sea.

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It is bordered by France to the west, Piedmont to the north, and Emilia-Romana and Tuscany to the east.

Due to its breathtaking coastline, Liguria is also known as the Italian Riveria, as this narrow strip of land lies between the Mediterranean, the Alps and the Apennine mountains.

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While parts of Liguria have familiar names – Cinque Terre, Portofino, and Sanremo, others are much less known.

Liguria is the original source of pesto, and it is easy to understand when driving through some of the towns. Basil is grown in an abundance throughout the year.

Trenette is a traditional form of regional pasta served with pesto alla genovese, which can also include potatoes and green beans boiled in the same water.

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We had never been to Liguria before last week, and now it is one of our favorite places. Town after town graces the Mediterranean, yet each has its own identity. We visited several with friends, one of whom calls Liguria home.

After a literal 2-hour complete shut down of the autostrada near Arezzo, and a 5+ hour drive, we were happy to finally arrive in Loano. My first sight of the sea, albeit cloudy, brought a smile to my face.

Then off to join Daniela’s family who welcomed us with warm hugs and hot soup.

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The next day, we walked along the sea and took in the views from Loano and Verezzi. The photos tell the story best.

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After a beautiful morning of sightseeing, we enjoyed a Tuscan lunch, complete with chianina beef, sausage, and Sangiovese brought from Cortona. And yes, there was even a large collection of pet turtles to entertain us!

Now, one would think this lunch would suffice for the day, but hey, this is Italy, so later that evening, we headed out for seafood, a major staple of Ligurian cuisine, as well as Lumassina, a local white wine.

After dinner, we visited a dear friend’s shop to purchase some fresh pesto.

Wednesday was Monaco/Monte Carlo day, about 60 miles from Loano. I had visited both when I was a student in Rome, and while the sights remain beautiful, today the tourists and cars are dense.

On the way back to Italy, we stopped for what turned out to be a rather “rude” lunch in Menton, along the French border, so we were happy to join Italian cousins for dinner later that night.

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Thursday was my very favorite day. We headed to Alassio, a neighboring Ligurian town, for a most relaxed morning of boating and swimming.

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Up next, a moto ride for me around the harbor before a delicious seafood lunch.

Afterward, we strolled through colorful Alassio and learned some of its history.

In the early 1950s, Alassio was a capital of international highlife along the Riveria. The owner of Caffè Roma came up with the idea to create a wall with the autographs he had collected of famous people that came to the bar, including Ernest Hemingway. Hence, the Muretto di Alassio was born and now boasts about 550 tiles.

After our walk, we drove to the top of the cliff to visit Santa Croce Church and take in the marvelous views of the sea and Isola Gallinara.

Now just in case you’re concerned we might not be able to handle this lifestyle, we found our motto early on…

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Our last night was a “typical small Italian family” gathering for pizza. 

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It was hard to leave this beautiful part of Italy, but we know we’ll return. To ease our “sorrow”, we stopped in Portofino for lunch on the way home. 

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Len and I began planning our trip to Liguria a year ago. It ended up being so much more than we had ever expected – the natural beauty, the sea, the people, the food, the colors, and most of all, the incredible hospitality shown to us. 

And now since it is Wednesday, I can finally say:

Buon Compleanno, Dani. Tantissimi Auguri cara amica!

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Grazie per una vacanza che ricorderemo sempre!
Thank you for a holiday we will always remember!

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Ciao,
Judy

 

 

 

The Garbage Caper

5 Sep

Let me begin with this: I’m guilty.

Cortona has gone to great lengths to set out a garbage collection schedule – specific bag colors for various items and specific collection days. Every homeowner pays for this service and we abide by the rules.

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Tuesday is a recyclable plastic day, so this morning we put our small yellow plastic bag on our door stoop. It is usually picked up in the morning, but when we returned after lunch, it was still there. Occasionally ours is missed as we are higher up the street and around a bit of a curve, but I noticed there were still many yellow bags in front of our nearest neighbor about 20 steps below.

Thinking I would save the garbage collectors from climbing up the hill, I added our small bag to the neighbors’ stoop. Theirs is a complex with several units, thus more yellow bags. Little did I know the garbage guards were on duty!

About two hours later, I imagine after they had conferred and devised my punishment, I heard a bang outside our door. What I found was a large red broken plastic bowl with a 5 gallon empty plastic container inside. Thinking this strange, I looked down the street and saw a man standing in front of the complex gate. 

“What is this?” I asked in Italian. “I don’t want your garbage,” I said nicely but firmly. He sort of shrugged and feigned ignorance, so I looked up the hill and asked some kids who did this. They pointed and said “They did!”

Apparently, after “dropping” this on our doorstep, the feisty elderly ladies, yes those with the socks around their ankles who hang out kitchen windows, hurried inside their gate, leaving the man alone to cover for them. One of them emerged and said, “It’s yours!” I answered that it was not, and then she said as she produced my small yellow bag, “Well, this is!”

Yes it is, I acknowledged, and explained that I was merely trying to save the garbage collectors a few steps. (It’s not as if empty water bottles smell!)

As for their reaction, I do think the garbage patrol was a bit surprised at my Italian. Chalk one up for studying! But as my Mom would always say, “No good deed goes unpunished.” And so the story goes.

Looking down at their entrance, I could see that their bags had been picked up but that they had actually kept mine so it would not. I put it back on my stoop.

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As I returned to my door, I gave a thumbs up to the kids up the hill. They smiled and nodded. 

Moral of the story, when you travel, remember to not only mind your Ps and Qs, but be sure you are aware of the garbage rules!

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Ciao,
Judy

 

 

Cortona: Expect the Unexpected

31 Aug

Teatro Signorelli, built in 1854, is an imposing and beautiful theatre gracing the upper part of Piazza Signorelli. Over the years, it has been home to many cultural and theatrical events. Today, in addition to these events, one can see a movie or attend a conference.

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The Teatro’s grand portico also serves several functions, from a place for coffee, lunch or dinner to hosting a wedding reception. Last night it was host to us, a large gathering of friends coming together for dinner. And while the group size was a bit larger than normal last night, these gatherings are a familiar and wonderful way of life in Cortona.

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And while we expected the evening would invariably be fun, little did we know there would be a DJ in  the piazza. As we sat for dinner, the DJ began with some Italian classical music, including Andrea Bocelli singing Nessus Dorma.

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After our first course, however, the tempo changed to disco and we were out of our seats dancing to such classics as I Will Survive, sung by Gloria Gaynor. 

After our second course, many in our group formed a human chain and invaded the piazza below to join others near the DJ.

Even the canines were enjoying the entertainment.

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My favorite moment of the evening was our rendition of Village People’s Y.M.C.A. Every local Italian I know is familiar with the arm moves – Y-M-C-A– and we didn’t miss a beat. Unfortunately, I was too involved myself to get a photo – che pecato!

I did, however, manage to get a great group photo. 

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Thanks to our “organizers” and Caffe del Teatro Signorelli for such a fun and memorable evening filled with good friends, good food, and some unexpected and much appreciated good music!

Ciao,
Judy

 

How Does My Orto (Garden) Grow?

26 Aug

Many have asked me that question, especially due to the unrelenting heat wave and lack of rain in Tuscany. In Italian, the saying goes, “non c’è male” or not bad, and that’s my answer. Not great, and not poorly, simply not bad, especially compared to what I’ve seen.

Usually in late summer, sunflowers look like this…

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This year, they look like this.

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As for the orto, since it is small, it has been watered and has some shade. While not nearly producing the quantity of last year,

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it’s not barren either.

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And although small, the tomatoes still taste delicious.

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So while I enjoy them,

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I’ll dream of sunflowers and hope they return healthier than ever next year.

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Ciao,
Judy

 

 

Reconnecting

23 Aug

Ever since we arrived in Cortona, lyrics of Andrew Lloyd Webber keep playing in my head:

Yes, everything’s as if we never said goodbye

When people ask how long we are on vacation, we reply that Cortona is truly our second home.

I know my way around here
The cardboard trees, the painted scenes, the sound here
Yes a world to rediscover
But I’m not in any hurry  (I know my way around here)

But first our trip.

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We departed Chicago on a new 777-200 at 5 p.m. The pilot said we’d make great time – less than 9 hours non-stop. But around two hours into the flight, he advised us that a light was on, our plane was unable to fly across the ocean, and we’d be landing in NY to change planes. It was 5 hours before we took off again. If there was any good news, it was that we were upgraded and actually slept a few hours before landing in Rome. 

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Three hours later we were home in Cortona.

Although the tourists change, the wonderful sights, sounds, and smells remain familiar and constant. And best of all, so do the people. We are quickly immersed in this wonderful town, greeted with genuine smiles, warm embraces and greetings of ben tornato  – welcome back!

With deference to Mr Weber, I’d like to modify a few of his words in parens:

The lively (whispered)  conversations in overcrowded piazzas (hallways)
The atmosphere as thrilling here as always
Feel the early morning happiness (madness)
Feel the magic in the making
Why everything’s as if we never said goodbye

It took just two nights to be back in a familiar Italian setting – a large dinner with some friends.

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And while most things remain the same, the weather has taken a toll. From a 0° freeze last April to scorching summer heat with no rain, all vegetation has been severely affected.

When we left in June, our views of the hills were lush and a deep verdant green.

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Today, sadly, they are scorched.

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How much this will affect the grapes is not clear, but the olive oil harvest will definitely suffer. Many people we know will not be picking olives this year.

But neither rain nor sun will deter the Cortonese, who pack much into the summer months.

Cortona on the Move International Photography Festival is in full swing, occupying 8 historic buildings, some rarely open, as well as a photo exhibit in the parterre (park). More on these as we visit the exhibits. 

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The Cortonantiquaria, a national antiques exhibition market, is in the lovely 18th century Palazzo Vagnotti.

Various food festivals, called sagra, are held weekends through the summer. The Porcini Sagra was last weekend in Cortona’s parterre.

So much more to come, but for me, Cortona is always about the people, both local and international friends, who make this wonderful town home. 

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With gratitude to Andrew Lloyd Weber for helping me share what’s in my heart:

Yes, everything’s as if we never said goodbye

Ciao,
Judy

The Rest of a Good Story…

11 Aug

In my last post, I described the unexpected but fun and interesting day we spent in Fiumicino when our return flight to the U.S. was cancelled.

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When I spoke to American Airlines about rescheduling our return, I was told to keep the expense receipts related to the delay and apply for compensation after our return.

And so I did. On their website is a place to enter compliments or complaints, and a pull down menu offers information for cancelled or delayed flights. I sent an email asking where to submit my expenses and the response was quite a surprise:

As you may know, (I didn’t!) European Union Regulation (EC) No. 261/2004 of the European Parliament and Council has established common rules on compensation and assistance to passengers in the event of cancellations or long delays of flights. Under this regulation, passengers are entitled to established levels of compensation, depending on the length of delay.

Our records indicate flight 111 was canceled which resulted in arrival 4+ hours later than planned. Therefore, we offer you one of the following forms of compensation.

A. Monetary payment of 600EUR – or –

B. Transportation voucher in the amount of 800USD which may be used to purchase travel on American Airlines for you, a friend, or relative.

Len and I chose the €600, completed a few forms, and each received a check converted to U.S. currency. In addition, a small paragraph at the bottom of the letter told me they would be happy to review our unexpected expenses in Rome. Only the bottle of wine was not covered.

So now you know the rest of the story – a good thing to tuck away just in case you have a delay!

And a very Happy Birthday to my soul mate Len, may our lives together continue to be filled with adventure and unexpected surprises! 

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Ciao,
Judy

For more specifics related to the Regulation, see

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Flight_Compensation_Regulation_261/2004

 

 

 

Do You Really Know FCO?

25 Jun

Looking back over the years, since my junior year of college in Rome, I’ve probably landed or taken off from FCO more than 40 times. The formal name of Rome’s largest airport is the Leonardo da Vinci International Airport, but to many, the Rome Fiumicino Airport is simply known as FCO, short for Fiumicino.

Like most travelers, the less time spent at an airport the better, so at the end of each Cortona stay, we would leave in the wee hours of the morning to catch a late morning flight home. But last year, when the traffic stress got to be too much, we joined the ranks of those spending the night before departure near FCO.

Not wanting to stay at the airport, we did some research and much to our surprise, we discovered that Fiumicino is much more than an airport. Fiumicino is a town/comune in Metropolitan Rome, with a population over 77,000. And based on its location, the northern side of the mouth of the Tiber river, it’s also an important source of fresh fish for Rome.  Best of all for us, it offers travelers a place to walk, relax, and eat well prior to an international flight.

A stroll along the Tiber is filled with colorful fishing boats,

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fishing nets,

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fishermen,

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fisher “birds”,

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and fishing apparatus of every kind.

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The long walk, adjacent to the river, is also filled with a variety of shops, tabacchi, restaurants, bars, gelato shops, etc.

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This June was our third stay in Fiumicino, and our custom is to take a long walk to the end of the pier and enjoy the incredible sunset before stopping for dinner.

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Wanting to eat light, we discovered this gem last year – Uniti nel Gusto (United in Taste).

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This year, upon returning, we got to know the owners who, by the way, are not nearly as stern as the photo suggests. Trust me, it’s an Italian thing.

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We chose a wonderful array of appetizers to go with the best bread we have ever had in Italy –

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really, the BEST!

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On the way back to the hotel, I mentioned to Len that it would be interesting to spend a day here, seeing the fishing boats head out to sea and return with their hauls. Besides, we had so many questions about it all.

The next morning, we awoke to emails telling us our flight was delayed, then rebooked, then ultimately cancelled. Hmm. I guess we get that day in Fiumicino after all.

After a long walk including other parts of town, we put aside some slight concerns we had about eating fish before a flight and headed to the end of the “pier” to Al Molo Bastianelle for lunch. Our waiter assured us that the fish had just arrived, so why not try?

We began with insalata di mare, a freshly made seafood salad,

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followed by sautéed sole and roasted potatoes.

Both the setting and the food turned out to be great choices!

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After lunch, the boats began to return.

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Fortunately, we stopped to talk to the one person who could easily answer our questions.

Massimo was born in Sicily, raised in Gloucester, MA, and now worked in Fiumicino on a large fishing boat. When I approached him with my best Italian, he turned and said with a Boston accent and his best smile, “Do you speak English?” …He had us at Hello.

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Massimo explained that they prepare the boats each afternoon and head out to sea at 11:30 pm. They sweep, or drop the nets, usually three times, then return home the following day at 3:30 in the afternoon. When they return, they stop at the end of the pier to unload the day’s catch. The fish is weighed and immediately taken to auction. Len had some other fishing questions, including how often. “Five days a week.” Obviously, fishing is not a hobby here.

Before saying our goodbyes, Massimo said, “Follow the sign and you’ll find the auction.”

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Follow we did and came across this serious and immaculate setting, which we were not allowed to enter. Seeing how clean it was made us feel even better about what we had just eaten.

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On the right side behind the railing, the buyers are bidding as the auction takes place. If I understand correctly, there is even a doctor on site monitoring the quality. Fish auctioned here remains in Rome.

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Massimo also explained that undersized fish cannot be sold at the auction, hence the vendors on the pier.

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Satisfied that our questions were answered, we walked more, until the sun set once again.

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Eventually, we ended the evening back with our new friends at Uniti Nel Gusto.

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As it turned out, exploring Fiumicino was the perfect way to spend a flight delay. And now you know FCO – so very much more than an airport!

Ciao,
Judy

A Beautiful Birthday!

23 May

Many, many thanks to all for the thoughtful birthday wishes, calls, emails, FB posts, etc., I’ve received. Since the most common theme was “Hope you have a great day!”, I wanted to share my day with you.

Some dear friends treated me to a grand lunch at Fischio del Merlo (whistle of the Merlo bird) in Passignano, another new restaurant for me.

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The setting, overlooking Lake Trasimeno, is so peaceful, especially on a Monday afternoon.

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The idea to come here was Loreno’s, as the restaurant is owned and operated by his sister Lorena. She started with a pizzeria on the lake, then built this entire place over the last 20 years.

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As Fischio del Merlo is so much more than a restaurant, a tour of the grounds was our first line of business.

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There are so many places to eat, whether around the glistening pool;

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under one of the sun drenched canopies filled with hand painted ceramic tables from Deruta;

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inside one of the many inviting and interesting rooms;

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or surrounded by a wonderful wine collection in the cantina.

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The attention to detail is amazing as Lorena is a collector of many things, including antique cars and this vespa.

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Len and I gave our best version of Roman Holiday…

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Then it was time for lunch. Our al fresco table was ready and so were we. And since the large weekend crowds were gone, Lorena could spend time with us.

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We asked Lorena to choose the meal, and in traditional Italian style, the plates kept coming and coming, in between many toasts with delicious wines.

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We asked to see the chef and gave him a hearty applause! Lorena hired him 20 years ago and taught him well…I know, he hardly even looks 20. And that’s Bruno in the back.

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When I thought we couldn’t eat another thing, out came this delicious light white cake covered in chocolate, fresh raspberries, rose petals, mint, and a flower made from melon – served with one’s choice of digestivo.

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Following a chorus of Tanti Auguri, it was time for me to make a wish, blow out the candle, and thank my wonderful hosts.

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To Len, …”like birds of a feather we stick together… “(My Guy)

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and to our dear friends and fellow orto planters, (L-R) Carlo, Bruna, Loreno, and Fernanda,

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thank you so very much for a beautiful birthday filled with wonderful food, laughter and smiles, and best of all, your friendship.

Ai nostri cari amici e colleghi di orto, vi ringrazio molto per un bel compleanno pieno di cibo meraviglioso, risate e sorrisi, e, soprattutto, la vostra amicizia!

And a final note, you can have a simple meal here as well, and if seafood isn’t your thing, no problem. The restaurant is located just off the Passignano est exit, or just a short drive after you pass through the town.

So, did I have a great day? INDEED I DID!   Will I be back? Indeed I will!

Ciao,
Judy

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