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Re-entry!

11 Apr

We returned to Cortona over two weeks ago, and we’ve been busy.  While sometimes it seems as though we have the town to ourselves, 

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the weekends remind us that Cortona is a “happening” place.

Occasionally, however, there are “happenings” we’d rather avoid.

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We managed to get “fined” on a 10 minute bus ride from Camucia to Cortona. Longer story shortened, our to-and-from rides were all on one ticket, which we validated each way. However, we didn’t realize, or frankly just forgot, that we had to validate the single ticket twice each way, and consequently, we were fined by the very occasional inspectors who boarded our bus one stop from Piazza Garibaldi, our final destination. Yes, we paid for both of us, and yes, we thought we had correctly validated the ticket, but none of that mattered. Word to the wise: validate, validate, validate, or pay 60 euros!!!

But as always, our days and nights are filled with great friends and great food, some  shown here.

During our second week, we spent several days in Lucca. Although it rained each day, we were able to walk the wall, do some sight seeing, visit with a friend, and find some great restaurants.

On the way back, we stopped in Firenze as we had been invited to visit the Carabinieri Training School. Len just couldn’t resist.

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A few days ago, we drove with friends to a medieval town in Umbria called Narni. There are hundreds of towns like this in Italy, each with its own history and legends, and usually an interesting fact for which they are known. For Narni, it is being very close to the geographic center of Italy.

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On Monday of this week, we picked up our car, this time a Fiat Panda.

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The weather has not been great, but mostly I feel like her… I’m here and I’m happy!

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And today, before the rains fell, we drove through the Tuscan countryside, as if driving through a painting, and witnessed, once again, the stunning landscape and the ever-spectacular views that always bring a smile to my face. 

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Ciao,
Judy

2018 in Review

31 Dec

A great way to look back at 2018 is through my photos. For me, they paint a picture of wonderful times spent with family and friends. Each picture brings a smile to my face and each memory reminds me of how lucky I am to have these people in my life.

A look back at 2018…

Florida in winter

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Summer in Chicago

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Thanksgiving

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Key West Destination Wedding

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Christmastime

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Cortona and all around Italy

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As we end another year, many thanks to family and friends, pictured here and not, who continue to enrich our lives as we create the future together.

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From Chicago to Cortona, from our hearts to yours,
our very best wishes
for a healthy and happy 2019!

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Happy New Year! Buon Anno!!

Ciao,
Judy

Our Montalbano Tour

18 Dec

Although many people visit Taormina to get close to Mount Etna, Len and I had a different plan. Our goal was to visit many of the shooting locations of one of our favorite Italian detective stories, Il Commissario Montalbano. The episodes are based on novels by author Andrea Camilleri. They are set in the imaginary town of Vigàta but many shooting locations are in the province of Ragusa. Montalbano is played by the Italian actor Luca Zingaretti.

We got hooked on watching Italian shows many years ago as part of our never-ending quest to speak and understand Italian better, and also to learn about parts of Italy we had yet to visit.

Taormina is certainly not the best base to begin this excursion as the sites are hours away, but that didn’t deter us. I found an excellent driver, Alessio Patanè, (info@sicilygrandtour.com), who met us at 8 AM in Taormina.

Our first stop, and the opening shots of the episodes, are overlooking Modica. We were stumped on the significance of this view – the open center being the shooting location for Livia’s bus stop.

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We did, however, recognize the Cathedral of San Giorgio, aka the Church of Vigàta.

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Next stop, (not Montalbano related), the oldest chocolate factory in Sicily. Need you ask if I bought some?

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From there on to Scicli, aka Vigàta.

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The show’s police headquarters and commissioner’s office are both housed in the local town hall.

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Filming for the episodes happens on location during many months of the year, but the office set ups are often broken down and moved to Cinecittà, a large film studio in Rome. We were fortunate as they had recently been shooting scenes, so the offices were completely in tact when we visited.

Stepping inside, one immediately recognizes the staircase Montalbano climbs to visit his boss, the commissioner,

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as well as the commissioner’s office.

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After hearing about the some of the artifacts in the office, we headed downstairs to Montalbano’s office.

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Immediately on the right is Catarella’s office.

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then Fazio’s office leading to Montalbano’s.

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Enrico, our wonderful tour guide, was so knowledgeable and entertaining.

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He was also eager to show us a filming stunt. Below is the familiar door to Mimi’s office, which is actually not an office at all but a wall. Mimi’s only office exists in the studios in Rome.

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One highlight not visible in the series is the incredible ceilings in the eighteenth century building.

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After thanking Enrico, we walked the familiar streets of Vigàta before heading to lunch.

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Then time for Len’s one request – to eat along the sea at the place Montalbano frequents, and so we did. Picture perfect.

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After lunch, we walked along the beach in Punta Secca (aka Marinella)

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until we came upon this sign…

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and then the very familiar home of Montalbano.

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It was easy to see why this house was selected as Montalbano’s home and equally funny to see a pizzeria a few doors away – oh what fame can due to a town!

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In reality, it doesn’t appear that fame has spoiled this quiet beach town at all. No one was even home when I knocked.

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From here, on to our final stop, the incredible vistas of Ragusa and Ragusa Ibla, which we learned about from episodes. As Camilleri once said:

….there is a literary Vigàta, which is based on my hometown, and then a Vigàta used as the set for the TV series, which is based on beautiful places such as Scicli, Modica and so on. Now that happens to me when I’m writing a new Montalbano story: I’m influenced not so much by the Montalbano TV character but the scenery seen on television..   Andrea Camilleri

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Whether or not you are a fan of the Montalbano books/tv series, these sights in many remote parts of Sicily are enticing and beautiful. At first we had wondered why so many widely dispersed and remote filming locations were used, but seeing them made it all so clear. Camilleri truly wanted to share lesser known parts of Sicily with his audience, and indeed he did. Clearly, his intention is what brought us to areas we might never have known, and given us another great adventure on a road less travelled.

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Ciao,
Judy

 

 

 

Taormina Sicily

12 Dec

Our first visit to Sicily was in the spring of 2016. Len and I had planned a month stay, from west to east coasts. However, as we learned, March is not the ideal month as the winter winds nearly knocked us over.

Fast forward to last October. We met Benita and her friend Christina in Rome, flew to Catania, and headed to Taormina, a resort town Len and I had skipped on our last trip.

We arrived on a Sunday night to views from our room that were painted by the sunset.

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After a bit of unpacking, our first stop was one of Benita’s favorites: Pasticceria D’Amore, or pastry of love.

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On the menu – fresh to order cannoli, “filled at the moment”

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and then dipped in freshly ground pistachios. They certainly lived up to their reputation!

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Taormina is a hilltop town on the east coast of Sicily, flanked by Mt. Etna, an active volcano with trails leading to the summit. The town is a heavily visited tourist location, but fortunately the monster cruise ships seem to depart late afternoon, leaving plenty of space to stroll leisurely and visit attractions.

The streets are filled with restaurants, bars and lovely stores of every kind;

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and the piazzas are filled with artists and musicians.

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Perhaps the best known attraction, and truly my favorite, is the Teatro Antico di Taormina. This ancient Greco-­Roman theater, built in the 3rd century BC and modified by the Romans, is still used today for concerts and live performances. (Click on any photo to enlarge.)

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Near the theater, cliffs drop to the sea forming coves with sandy beaches and always providing spectacular views.

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Checking online, we were able to find the less crowded times to visit the theater, and it seemed as thought we nearly had it to ourselves.

Another lovely and peaceful attraction, away from the crowded streets, is The Public Gardens of Taormina. The vast property was originally settled by Lady Florence Trevelyan, an English noblewoman and animal and nature lover, who married the Italian mayor, Salvatore Cacciola, and settled forever in Taormina.

The park and its views are peaceful and beautiful and provide welcome space away from the often crowded streets.

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Late one morning, we took the tram from the main town to the beach to visit Isola Bella,  also owned by Lady Florence Trevelya until 1990, and now a nature preserve.

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As it was very hot, we concluded our walking tour in a short time and returned to main town for lunch and gelato.

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As for food, Sicilian pistachio is king. You can get pistachio on, in, or over just about anything you can eat or drink…steak, pasta, cheese, seafood, coffee, liquors, etc.,  and we loved trying almost anything that included pistachios.

Pistachio liquor, creme, and spreads

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Pistacchio Gelato (their spelling!)

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Pasta with Pistachio Sauce

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Another favorite of ours was the homemade caponata, an eggplant dish, made a bit differently at each location, but always good.

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Our last night, we decided on dinner at a restaurant named Ferrara, that being my mother’s maiden name. No relation, of course, but the dinner and service were both great and a fun place to take a final photo of our time in Taormina.

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Ciao,
Judy

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Friuli-Venezia Giulia

19 Sep

Of the 20 regions of Italy, there are only a few we have not visited, and now we can check Friuli-Venezia Giulia off that list. This region, not to be confused with Veneto (home of Venice), is Italy’s north-easternmost region.

Our trip began in Trieste, the regional capital.

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As an important seaport lying between the Adriatic Sea and Slovenia, its history has been influenced by Latin, Slavic and Germanic cultures. It was one of the oldest parts of the Habsburg Monarchy, dating from 1382 until 1918. The world wars brought various occupations, and in 1947, the area was divided into two zones, A and B. Finally in 1954, in accordance with the Memorandum of London, the vast majority of what had been Zone A – including the city of Trieste – joined Italy.

A visit to Castello di San Giusto provided interesting history,

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as well as incredible views.

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I call this Regatta between the Branches.

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After lunch in a small fishing village, we headed to Grado, an island town situated between Trieste and Venice, and one of the nearly 120 islands in the Marano-Grado Lagoon. Once mainly a fishing center, today it is a popular tourist destination, known commonly as L’Isola del Sole (“The Sunny Island”).

The old town is filled with restaurants, bars and – for one’s viewing pleasure, a harbor right in the center of town.

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Although it was hard to leave, our next destination was Aquileia to see the Basilica started around 313 AD. Because the Edict of Milan had ended religious persecution, the Christian community was able to build its first place of public worship.

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Over the centuries, and after the destruction of the first church, the locals rebuilt it four times, each time using the previous structures. Today it is in Romanesque-Gothic style.

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One of the most significant aspects is the floor, a 4th century colorful mosaic refurbished between 1909-12.

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Another is the history of the altar and crypt below.

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As we headed back to Trieste, the shadows were long as the sun was just beginning to set over the Basilica of Aquileia.

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Our final “to do” after dinner and a wonderful day was to see Trieste at night, and it did not disappoint.

Piazza Unità d’Italia is the main square of Trieste, often said to be Europe’s largest square located next to the sea. It was built when Trieste was part of the Austrian-Hungarian Empire and includes palaces and the city’s municipal buildings. Waiting patiently, I was able to get a few almost people-free photos!

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Another beautiful sight was the Grand Canal, built between 1754-66 as part of an urban renewal plan, right in the heart of Trieste. This is the view to the sea…

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and this the view toward the city.

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How did we accomplish so much in one day? Lucky for us, we have friends who live in Udine, about an hour away, and they were excellent tour guides. In fact, our next two days of the trip would be based in Udine. Stay tuned.

For a person who loves the sea, our visit to Trieste and surrounding areas provided new insights, wonderful memories and incredible views. In the future, when we see shows that have been filmed in Trieste, (Len and I watch several), I’m quite sure I’ll smile as I recall the beauty of the city and the tranquil, peaceful, and simply spectacular sunsets over the harbor.

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Ciao,
Judy

 

 

 

 

BOCCE Cortona

24 Aug

When we lived in Austin, we actually had a bocce set. As I recall, non of us knew the rules, so we made them up depending on who and how many were playing. And that held true until yesterday, when we learned to play bocce at the hand of a champion!

Many years ago, we are told, Cortona had a bocce court in/near Porta Colonna, before it became a parking lot. Today, however, bocce is played just outside of Cortona in Tavernelle.

There we found  BOCCIODROMO Communal, or the community bocce dome. Not just any dome mind you, but a semi professional one that held the special olympics some years ago. And according to the Special Olympics website: Next to soccer and golf, bocce is the third most participated sport in the world.

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Inside are three bocce lanes made of cement and covered with a special resin. Championship banners and trophies of all sizes adorn the walls.

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We were graciously met by Lidio, a local champion, who proceeded to demonstrate several methods of tossing the bocce.

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We divided ourselves into two teams and learned basic rules as we played. First team to 12 points would win.

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I must admit, I was hooked. Although the basic principle of the sport is to roll a bocce ball closest to the pallina or target ball, there are so many styles and strategies as well as a great deal of competitiveness at play.

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And the more we learned, the more competitive we became.

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Lidio even helped with measuring who was closest to the pallina.

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Unfortunately, I was not on the winning team, but it was such great fun for all that these two characters decided to play one more time while Lidio gave some of us more advanced instruction.

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Many thanks to Lidio for his time, instruction, and most of all, patience,

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from his new BOCCE fans!

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Ciao,
Judy

How Does our Orto (Garden) Grow?

17 Aug

With warm sunny days, sufficient rainfall, and tender loving care, “our” garden grew from this at the end of April…

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to this in August!

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After giving a thumbs up to the garden’s success, Len decided to take in some sun and enjoy a Toscano, a small Italian cigar (that actually doesn’t smell bad),

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while Fernanda and I were ready to pick, baskets in hand.

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We filled our baskets with three of the four varieties we had planted…

Ciliegino (Cherry)

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San Marzano

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Camone

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and the not quite ready, Cuore di Bue (Beef Steak)

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We also picked susine (plums) from the brimming trees that not only keep the orto from scorching in the summer sun,

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but also provide fruit for delicious marmellata.

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Then it was time for our “casual” county lunch ~

Our Al Fresco Menu included:
freshly cut prosciutto and sliced melon;
hand-picked tomatoes, fresh mozzarella and garden basil;
just cooked porchetta from the market;
cannelloni beans sautéed in fresh tomatoes;
Toscana Rosso di Montalcino

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Talk about farm to table –  and so much more rewarding since we are the planters, pickers and very fortunate eaters!

After lunch, it was time for some serious relaxation.

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Little did we know two years ago how incredibly rewarding this small garden would be. How does our garden grow? Well, we may not be experts, and the local farmers still offer much advice, but for us, everything about the orto is perfectly wonderful, perfectly delicious, and so proudly our own doing. We just can’t help but smile!

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Ciao,
Judy

 

 

Egg-ceptional!

25 May

Ok, I am ruined. We have all heard of farm to table. Wonderfully fresh food from local farms delivered to nearby restaurants. Delicious!

But have you ever tasted warm fresh eggs, right from the hen?? Nothing compares. As you might expect, they are “nonconformists”, with differences in size, color, speckling, etc. And those golden yokes – just delicious. You truly can taste the difference.

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Fortunately for us, we have Italian friends who are happy to share their fresh eggs, and we are most happy to cook them in a variety of ways.

Baked potato, topped with fresh ricotta, covered with fried eggs.

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Scrambled eggs with potatoes, onions, and cherry tomatoes.

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Fried eggs on toast with sliced tomatoes.

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So, I’m ruined. It’s hard to imagine that I can ever purchase a dozen “matching” eggs at a large supermarket again.

But farm fresh eggs – any way we cook them, they are egg-ceptional!

Ciao,
Judy

Celebrating with Friends

23 May


My most heartfelt thanks for all the birthday wishes I received yesterday via hugs, phone and video calls, emails, messages and social media. The best part for me was seeing the names of special people in my life –  family members, relatives, dear friends I’ve known forever and new friends I’ve made along the way.

One of my brothers-in-law suggested that whatever I do, I should share the day in photos, so here are some of the wonderful highlights.

Breakfast at Tuscher:

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Hair Cut at AF:

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Lunch with a few friends (they brought the party items!) at Cafe Braceria Chianina:

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The chef, server and the piping hot grill:

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Shared antipasto:

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Various menu items ordered –  Pasta with fresh tomatoes and basil,

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Filet topped with bacon,

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Stuffed rolled turkey breast,

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and my favorite – grilled chicken breast!

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Dessert was self-select, and I managed to only get a photo of the tiramisu.

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After a most leisurely lunch, we headed to Fernanda’s for caffè and sambuca,

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and then Len engaged in his new favorite pastime – small Tuscan cigaros!

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Later in the evening, with no one hungry, we had an impromptu toast or “brindisi” at Tuscher.

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What a perfectly wonderful way to spend my birthday, being utterly relaxed, showered with gifts and loving wishes, including an upcoming CUBS night game from Benita, and sharing it all with dear friends in Cortona. Len said he wishes my next birthday could come sooner, but I’m quite happy to wait another year!

Till then, many many thanks to all who helped make my day so very special, and most especially, this guy.

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Ciao,
Judy

 

Mille Miglia Cortona 2018

17 May

Cortona was ready…the Mille Miglia was passing through the town for the first time ever and the spectators eagerly awaited their arrival. Although the main viewing area was Piazza Repubblica, where each car was announced as it arrived,

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each car first had to pass through the adjacent Piazza Signorelli, my first vantage point. I was in place as the first car arrived in this three-day Italy event from Brescia – Roma – Brescia.

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Other cars soon followed. Given that I took nearly 200 photos today, I leaned on Len to help choose a good sampling.

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As the cars passed from one piazza to the next, the delighted crowds cheered and waved flags. I love that some drivers seemed as taken with Cortona as the spectators were with them (see driver in the red sweater!).

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And then the parade continued, sometimes in single file 

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and sometimes in clusters.

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Stopping isn’t as easy as one might think – these cars have mechanical, not power brakes.

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An exception, of course, is this Ferrari pace car which Len said was too beautiful to leave out. Ok, ok.

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I decided to head toward the area where the cars were entering Cortona. On the way, I passed this vintage car on Via Dardano.

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Entering Porta Colonia is a rather tight turn, and I was interested in seeing how the drivers were maneuvering. This driver made it look pretty easy as these cars also have no power steering. 

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However, when I passed through Porta Colonia to Piazza Mazzini, I discovered the answer. The usual parking lot had been turned into a wide turning radius, greatly minimizing not only the tight turn but also the chance for scratches and scrapes.

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And then the cars kept coming and coming and coming. Whatever the final count, the original estimate was around 600 – with such an impressive array of makes, styles, colors, and sizes. 

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Not quite sure I could spend three days/1000 miles in this!

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Kudos to Cortona for making its debut in the 2018 Mille Miglia circuit and for a job well done! 

Arrivederci, Mille Miglia, hopefully we meet again.

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Ciao,
Judy

 

 

 

 

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