Archive | July, 2011

Bramasole

6 Jul

We often walk through the gardens and take a different road each time we get to the end. One time, we came upon a Bed and Breakfast called Villa Valenza. We met the manager, Giancarlo,  who told us about the villa and then asked if we were looking for Bramasole. No, we were just walking, but was it close? Not far, he said, so, why not?

I think many of the Cortonesi think Americans come here just to see the house made famous by the movie, Under the Tuscan Sun. Although I read much of her latest book before this trip, finding the Mayes’ house wasn’t really on our agenda. But if we were that close, might as well. We walked a bit more and there it was, on the hill, perfectly lovely. The movie and real life adventures of Frances Mayes are quite different, we are told. But that’s what makes a movie sell. Suffice it to say that she was pretty gutsy to have purchased and restored a 250+ year old major fixer upper almost 20 years ago in this lovely town.

What you might recognize from the film is the little grotto where the man left flowers every day. I must admit, I was happy to see the house after all. She might have been home as a window on the second floor was open, but we were respectful.

For the trivia minded, Bramasole actually means “yearns for the sun” as this house is on the shady side of the mountain. Nonetheless, the setting and landscaping are beautiful and the house appears to have been restored to its old charm.

Ciao!

Judy

Beautiful Children

6 Jul

Whether home or abroad, children’s faces bring a smile to my face. Their expressions and innocence always capture a moment in its truest sense.

Meet my beautiful great niece,  Maven Grace, pictured in pink hat; Graziella’s grandsons (Lorenzo kissing Andrea); and others whose parents kindly agreed to the photos. Finally, father and son sporting Borsellinos… never too young to learn!

Ciao,

Judy

Maestro Einstein at Last!

5 Jul

Here he is! I actually have a video of him playing but adding it will take some time. He has resorted to playing in the afternoon as it has been raining each night. We spoke to him briefly…he appears to speak some English but not understand it, or at least chooses not to. No matter –  he is always entertaining!!!

Santa Margherita and the Medici Fortezza

5 Jul

Santa Margherita is considered the patron saint of Cortona. The church in her honor sits atop the city, just under the Medici Fortress. We climbed to the top today, the highest point of Cortona. Not sure we could have reached it when we first got here, but we now have hiking legs, and even so, it’s quite a climb. But make it we did, and of course, the Church was closed, but beautiful from the outside.

Since we have been here, we have seen posters announcing an exhibit called Life in Valdichiana (the valley). Little did we know that the exhibit was in the Fortress… a wonderful surprise. It’s a completely high tech, multi room, multi screen exhibit on the history of the valley and the towns which surround it. Enjoy!

Judy

Fireworks

4 Jul

OK, had to let you know that there were fireworks tonight near our house. We could hear them but had no idea who set them off. Now of course, you are thinking, this is just dialogue between some of our neighbors, but NO, not that kind! Actual fireworks. So, one can assume the Cortonese want  the Americans to know we are welcome, or that there are some college students who have had too much vino. Take your pick, but we’ll assume the first.

Till tomorrow,

Judy and Len

Trattoria Gingerella

4 Jul

Has a nice ring to it, don’t you agree? After two weeks of eating out, we decided it was time to cook for ourselves. We bought fresh pasta at Bottega della Pasta Fresca, as well as garlic, mozzarella, tomatoes, and divine parmigiano from the market. Voila, a delicious dinner in the comfort of home! Wish I could capture the smells…

PS. Len is available on a per hour basis for fresh grating! Parmigiano e incluso.

Ciao,

Judy

Happy 4th!

4 Jul

Knowing that we won’t be seeing fireworks and flags waving in the wind, we set out today looking for an American flag. The Italians did not disappoint…we found several.

Being here in Italy and appreciating all that it has to offer, Len made the observation that were it not for our young country helping to liberate Italy and consequently helping to rebuild many parts of the destroyed country, we probably would not be here today. His accurate observation ( he has many great ones!) is most gratifying to us as we freely explore and enjoy so much of this ancient land and its culture. Thanks, America!

Wishing you, our family and friends, a most patriotic and peaceful 4th of July. Let the fireworks begin!

Ciao,

Judy and Len

Palio

3 Jul

This weekend, the Italians may not be celebrating July 4th, but they are certainly celebrating Palio in Siena. The winning horse’s name was Mississippi, but there was also a call for the sport to end as a result of the death of a horse in the warm up race. One horse fell during the race and three riders were thrown in this semi-annual event. Ten horses and riders, from various neighborhoods of Siena, compete, without saddle….just man, his costume, and his horse. The August event is held in honor of the Assumption of Mary feast.  There is great pageantry before the race, which circles Piazza del Campo and is filled with spectators. Like many smart Italians, we watched the race, which dates back to the 16th century, from the comfort of home. The photos are courtesy of Siena TV. By the way, all of the horses are mixed breed…no pure breds allowed!

Enjoy!

Judy

Saturday in Cortona

2 Jul

Saturday is market day in Cortona, so we just spent the day here shopping and exploring. The selection of fresh fish, cheese, meat, fruit and vegetables is wonderful, so we bought enough food to cook a few meals at home. We ordered our roasted chicken this morning at about 9, and will pick it up in time for lunch. And yes, he is cutting the parmigiano just for us…nothing prepackaged here!

After shopping, we decided to find the fairly new community pool. We were told to walk through the gardens, then head up the hill on the left when we got to the tennis courts. There is a beautiful war memorial statue of an angel holding a fallen soldier at the garden entrance. If you click on the picture, it should enlarge so you can see it better. I also like the cherub statue and thought of how long she has been there for people to admire.

The lovely gardens, we discovered, are quite long and mostly empty, and provide an excellent view of the valley and lake below. We really felt like we were on the road less travelled and we were right in Cortona! Along the way, we did encounter a few kids playing soccer, and as always, happy to pose for a photo. There was also another group of kids wanting to jump in and help the fountain cleaner. A lot of city cleaning happens on Saturday…must be time and a half!

After walking for about 30 minutes, we finally discovered the tennis club. A pro was giving a group lesson…go, go, vai, vai, he kept shouting at the teens. Signs for the pool pointed to a pebbled road up above, so we continued our climb. There was some local controversy about building this pool – those who favored and those opposed, but in the end, it was built. Based on what we saw, those opposed need not have worried too much…it was entirely empty! Granted, today it is only about 73, the coolest since we have been here, but one does wonder about the choice of location. At any rate, it’s a large and beautiful pool, with amazing vistas all around, and we were glad to have found it.

We had fun reading the pool rules. #5 reads: “The stuff can send away the people who don’t follow the rules.”…funny what a vowel can do! Finally, I had to include a picture of this tree. It reminds me of the one in the Wizard of Oz that threw apples at Dorothy. We didn’t dare climb the inviting limbs!

Ciao,

Judy

Montalcino

1 Jul

Where do I begin? Perhaps with some history… In 1999, while in Firenze, we first learned about Brunello wine, a wine produced in the Montalcino region and made of 100% Sangiovese grape, with strict laws related to its aging. We purchased a few bottles and brought them to our friends, the Feo’s, who had rented a villa in Massa Lubrense near Sorrento. We liked the wine so much that upon return to the states, we ordered several cases. Getting the wine through customs is a story of its own, as we did not know wine couldn’t be shipped to Texas. But persistence paid off…we finally rescued the wine from customs, and if you were at our house in Austin, you may have had a chance to enjoy some Pietranera with us. Several years later, try as we might, we could never find anything about Pietranera online or elsewhere.

Fast forward to 2007. On a trip to Italy for Benita’s graduation, we went on a tour of Poggio Antico, a Brunello winery. The wine was wonderful and the factory amazingly modern. (I posted a brief story about our lunch there and want to mention again that their Brunello is available in the U.S. and it’s wonderful.) But back to 2007….at the Poggio winery, Len was given a large brochure that listed all the Brunello wineries as well as a year by year star rating of Brunello wines. Of the 200 wineries listed, however, there was no Pietranera. We kept asking, but no one knew of them. “There are many wineries,” we were told.

Finally, something caught Len’s eye…Pietranera was part of a group called Tenuta Friggiali…he had found it! Once back in the U.S., he googled the name and voila, their website. How fun it would be to visit it someday and enjoy another bottle of Pietranera Brunello. Was it the best wine ever or perhaps just so special to us as it was our introduction to Brunello and the area of Montalcino. It didn’t really matter…we had found them after all these years and visiting their winery was on our bucket list.

Fast, fast forward to June, 2011. We drove through curvy hills and valleys of olive trees, vineyards, and fields of wheat and sunflowers to the beautiful town of Montalcino, home of Brunello wine. We had an appointment with Emanuela at Friggiali/Pietranera for  a tour and wine tasting and drove with the anticipation of two kids going to their favorite amusement park. We had written and asked to spend the night as we wanted to enjoy the evening in Montalcino.

Emanuela was patiently waiting for us, as we got a little lost, and she graciously showed us our room. Our room was in a house on the property, but since no one else was staying there, she said it was basically ours to use. We learned that they only rent rooms on an exception basis, and we were certainly honored to be an exception.

Our tour would begin when we returned from lunch (they don’t have eating facilities), and would end with a wine tasting in “our” villa. Imagine, after all these years, we would be having a Pietranera wine tasting in our own villa!

Still to come: The Tour, The Tasting, The Villa, Dinner on the Hill, and a most unexpected time with The Owner.  For now, enjoy some pictures of the setting and our villa!

Ciao,

Judy

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