Archive | June, 2011

Well oiled shoes and lessons learned

30 Jun

While wandering through a few of the stores in Castiglione d. Lago, the town above Lake Trasimeno, I, well my purse anyway, knocked over a bottle of homemade olive oil. It shattered, and most of the oil splattered on my right foot and shoe. Fortunately, all of the glass stayed on the floor. Anyway, the leather on the shoes was originally two toned…light and dark brown leather. Now the top of the right one, on left of picture, is mostly dark brown. I take this spill as a sign of good luck and figure I’ll just rub olive oil on the other shoe, just like Len used to do to his baseball mitt as a kid. (His grandmother wasn’t so pleased as olive oil was a luxury then.) And actually, the oiled shoe looks better! So, lessons learned:

  • buy a smaller Italian leather purse, which I did today…(great excuse!)
  • buy Clarke shoes, especially two-toned, because they are so comfortable and can accommodate color modifications
  • buy new Italian leather shoes  (another great excuse, but who needs an excuse!)
  • be grateful…it’s better to knock over olive oil than red wine!



IL Cacio Brillo

30 Jun

I have mentioned this enoteca before, but it is certainly worthy of its own page. Roberto and Lucia are the owners and are here daily to serve and satisfy. The name, loosely translated, means drunken cheese. Apparently, their invitation is to enjoy cheese, drink some vino or birra, and thus feel good… and that’s exactly what happens at this lovely place on Piaza Signorelli.

Caccio Brillo is the first place Len and I lunched at in Cortona. We shared a plate of mixed cheeses and salumis, all locally produced and freshly cut. The main cheeses we eat are a variety of Pecorino, while the salumis (salami and sausages) are boar…all very delicious, even though I am not a big salami eater. To wash it down, we often drink a delicious and very reasonably priced glass of brunello,  but there are many wines and beers to satisfy any palate.

There is a small lovely room inside, but the best part is sitting outside observing all the people and events happening in the piazza, and meeting people. This is definitely a local gathering place, which we love. Meet Oreste, pictured below, who is often here with his buddies. He has never been outside of Italy, never been on a plane, and only been to Firenze because his in-laws live there. It is also from here that we observe the local children play soccer some evenings.

We have also met some lovely American and UK travelers, and today met the Hilder family from the UK. Even though they had their own tour guide, we had fun sharing some of our experiences and knowledge about Cortona with them. After all, we have lived here now for 11 days!  Many people from the UK tell us they visit Italy to get away from the rain. Although Mrs. Hilder was a tad worried they had brought it with them, the threat today cleared. Happy travels to the Hilder family!



11th day, Hail Storm

29 Jun

After 11 days of perfect weather, we had a hail storm this afternoon. As it was blowing away from our house, and we (and our laundry) were safely inside, it was fun to watch. Our poor neighbors across the street, however, were running for cover.The white in the picture is actually hail in front of their door. I am taking the photo from above the green plant beneath our window. The brownish color down the middle is a stream of sand rushing down the street.


After the rain stopped, we headed for a quick dinner around the corner at a Spagetteria we had yet to try. Penne with oil, fresh raw tomatoes and basil…simple yet delicious. Since the weather was so iffy, I left home without camera or purse. Nothing else to record tonight, right?

Well, after dinner, the sky turned a deep blue as the storms vanished, so we walked the town. When we entered the piazza, who else but Maestro Einstein playing the flute again. And again, no camera…only the second time. We sat on the tall stairs of the Commune and listened to him play Swan Lake and other pieces. The photos are of the Commune, just not from tonight. One of the best parts tonight was watching a young girl, about 18 months, pointing at the maestro while dancing around him. Of course, I was thinking of Maven, my beautiful 6 month old great niece. After dropping coins in his box, I asked Einstein when he might return, but he wasn’t sure. Hopefully, hopefully, I will be able to capture him on camera before we leave.

As for the trip to Montalcino, there is sooo much to write it will take several posts, but they will start soon!




28 Jun

We are in Montalcino for one night…Brunello country, our very favorite vino.  So much to tell but limited internet, so for now, we had lunch at Poggio Antico, a winery we toured a few years ago and just happened to find. Both the wine and the food were  wonderful…Len had lamb chops and I had ravioli, and of course, we each had a glass of Poggio Brunello. Tonight we are staying at Tenuta Friggiali/Pietranera and have our own villa, although we only rented a room. So much more about that later, but for now, enjoy the pictures from Poggio, which you can buy in the US….well, the wine anyway. What a day!











27 Jun

Picking up from where we left off yesterday, we did drive back to Terontola this morning and boarded a train for Firenze, which left right on time. Our surprise came when the first stop was Camucia/Cortona, our home station! We had been told that trains for places like Roma and Firenze were most often available from Terontala, so another lesson learned. The train to Firenze is about 80 minutes, and the scenery is always worth watching.

From Stazione SMN, we headed to a few of our favorite places, but I must admit, the heat and crowds in Firenze made us long for Cortona. We have been fortunate to be in Firenze many times in the past, and experience all the wonder. If you have never been, it is a must of course. But if at all possible, avoid the summer months so you can truly absorb the art, culture, style, history and all that is so amazing about Firenze.

We had lunch at a favorite little restaurant, walked with everyone else on the shady sides of the streets, saw the duomo, hung out at Piazza Repubblica, where we celebrated my parents 50th anniversary in 1997, shopped a little (it is Firenze, after all!), then headed back to Cortona where breezes are blowing.

A long, hot, but great day in Tuscany. And oh, by the way, I couldn’t resist taking this picture from the train of a man in drag at one of the regional train stops…notice the focus of the young girl! Hot here? Yes. Dull? Never!



Beware of SOP!

26 Jun

On a whim, we drove to the  train station in Terontola to take a train to Firenze for the day…why not? We bought our tickets and sat waiting for the train. Although my Italian has served me well, a word I did not understand is sciopero.

Apparently, over this weekend, train operators are randomly striking regional trains. Once we understood, we were told the strike did not affect our route…hmmm. After continuous delay updates, they finally announced the train was cancelled…SOP! Unfortunately, we had already punched our tickets, which by law you must do, so the tickets are considered used. Fortunately, I found someone who looked official and she stamped and wrote a note on our tickets. Supposedly we can use them tomorrow morning…will let you know.

In the meantime, we decided to head over to Castiglione Fiorentino, about 16 km away. One the way, we spontaneously followed a sign to an etruscan tomb…can you imagine how old this is??? Puts a new perspective on the word old!

And since I’m talking about Etruscans, we just discovered that there was an Etruscan evacuation right next door to our house. There’s a sign on the building next door, but I only found the site when a tour group came walking along the side of our house. Now we may have nice clothes, but our laundry hardly ranks on the “Things to see in Cortona” list. Look over Len’s right shoulder in the photo at the top of the stairs. I assumed that was someone’s front door. It’s actually the entrance to the excavation site, which is gated and locked. If you click on the description with the blue and yellow banner, it should enlarge so you can read about it.  Amazing!

And to think we live right next door to and probably above some Etruscans.

Finally, grabbed some pasta pomodoro and salad for dinner. So simple, so good. Just wanted to be sure I had a photo for the foodie followers.



Lunch anyone?

25 Jun

Wish you could have joined us for a simple yet wonderful lunch at Casa Gingerella. As mentioned earlier, we ordered the chicken at the market this morning and picked it up a few hours later, roasted and cut.  In the meantime, we shopped for the bread, tomatoes, pecorina and Orvieto. Ah, life’s simple pleasures, especially since I didn’t have to clean the chicken!

Buon Appetito!


Grazie! And other things….

25 Jun

Thanks to all of you who are following along and adding comments to the site. It is great fun for us to get up each morning,  read comments and know people are actually reading and enjoying. Please know that while we don’t expect the comments, they are wonderful fun for us as we always appreciate hearing from you. We are having a  wonderful time and love sharing our experiences.  Sandy, hope your Italian dinner was a great success! And Vince, Buon Compleanno!

Although most pictures of us show us eating, rest assured that we have actually each lost a pound or two walking and climbing and climbing and climbing! As Len said, no need for pilates or yoga classes here!!!

Went to the market this morning and ordered a roasted chicken off the rotisserie…still roasting as I write. Then bought some amazing tomatoes, pecorino cheese and foccacio. When we go back to get the chicken, we’ll get a bottle of wine, and then we are all set for lunch at home today. Two photos here of two women we encountered going and returning from market. Elderly, yes, yet sufficiently strong to carry a large half watermelon back up the street.

Len decided to tackle the washing machine today…he loves the idea of hanging our clean clothes in the fresh air. Speaking of which, the weather has been perfect…sunny and warm with breezes and rarely a cloud in the sky.

Also, just a word about technology. Besides being able to communicate and share photos with so many relatives and friends, we are also able to see and talk face to face with Benita in our living room almost everyday through Skype and Face Time…it’s not only amazing but great fun! Benita, looking forward to hearing about last night’s concerts!

At the market today, besides food for lunch, we bought this table cloth for Len’s next pizza dinner….bella, non?

12:16 here…almost time to prepare lunch!



Tacconi Trattoria and a Surprise

24 Jun

A few mornings ago, we happened into a very small trattoria just down the street from us for cappuccino. I noticed a sign that said they were only open for lunch. I introduced myself, and asked the lady for a menu. In Italian, Graziella said there was no menu, just what she was cooking each day.

This morning after coffee, I told her we’d be back for lunch. She took me in the small kitchen to see what she was making…the scents were already divine. As  you can see in the pictures, there was tomato sauce with meat already simmering and another pan heating on the flame with olive oil, garlic, sage, and just added cannelini beans.

We returned later for lunch and had the best pasta with meat sauce ever! And I don’t even like meat sauce! Before the pasta, she surprised us with just fried zucchini blossoms. And of course, the Florentine Bistecca, which they cook over an open flame and fan the charcoals to obtain the perfect heat and flame height. (That’s two steaks more than I have had in a long time!)

And here’s the surprise. As I took pictures, Graziella asked if I was a writer. I explained that I had a blog and would feature her restaurant. She then told me she had a friend that’s a writer, and then she went to a glass cabinet to pull out some books. Three books in Italian… all autographed to Graziella by none other than Frances Mays.

I have mentioned in an earlier post that I have read Under the Tuscan Sun and Every Day in Tuscany. Frances Mays clearly put Cortona on the radar of many a traveler to Italy. That said, however, we did not come here looking for her nor have we ascended the hill to find Bramasole. In fact, unlike the real Julia Childs in Julie and Julia, most people don’t even know what Frances Mays looks like…They often imagine her as Diane Lane, from the movie, as shown in many posters around Cortona.

Graziella and her husband Angelino have a collage of pictures hanging on the wall. She took me over and pointed to one of her and Frances Mays. She then told us we were sitting at the table where Frances somtimes comes to write. A fortunate stroke of serendipity for me! And now you and I know what she actually looks like!

Ciao, Ciao,


Some Cortona Photos

24 Jun

Went back to the two Cortona Piazzas to take some photos. Also, the street cleaner went by this morning…a pretty interesting vehicle!

We took a bus ride to Arezzo yesterday and really had an opportunity to see small towns along the way. Perhaps the best part was being with the natives, especially the very friendly bus drivers. It is obvious that for them, maneuvering through the hills of the Cortona region is a profession they take seriously. They are proud of their skills and it shows! We sat in the front seat and were wide eyed as we wound around the curves with ease. We also were able to pick their more than friendly brains!

Ended the night with an interesting dinner…but for now, off to a very special lunch!



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