#5 Italy (final) June 27, 2017

#5 Italy (final) June 27, 2017

What a drive over the mountains! We were on our way to Verona and went on the highway north of Partina, which I haven’t driven for probably 10 years. The scenery is spectacular, but scary to drive.

We found our B & B in Verona using our GPS (they’re MAGIC!) which was well located within walking distance to all the historic sights and to the Verona Arena, the venue for the opera. It was built by the Romans in 30 AD.

Our first evening there we took a long walk, looking at many historic sights, and ending up for dinner at the Torcolo restaurant. We had a delightful meal—-sharing three courses starting with an antipasto of carpaccio of veal with homemade mayo and caper berries; a secondo of rack of lamb; and a plate of grilled veggies; a Wonderful bottle of Valpolicello Ripassa red wine from the area, 2013 (not to put too fine a point on it!), all of which we enjoyed. We were slightly disappointed, though, as the specialty of Verona is bollito misto, which is ‘boiled meats.’ On Torcolo’s website, they showed bringing a big cart of many kinds of meats for you to choose from—apparently gone the way of progress.

After all that, we got a little lost walking home, but eventually made it back to our B & B. I forgot I could have used my iPhone—-next time!

The next day we set out to look at the ‘sights.’ Just around the corner we came upon an interesting building—- don’t know the story, but certainly looks old!

While the B&B said they included breakfast, and we did try their tiny cappuccini out of a machine, it seemed it called for a REAL cappuccino and corneto from a REAL coffee bar, so this we did.

We pushed on to Juliet’s house and balcony—- have you ever seen a better looking Romeo? With hat in hand, no less! The tourist brochures imply that the story is real, and that Capulets really did live in the house——in any case, it is a 13th century house.

We were fairly frustrated looking for Romeo’s house, which we finally located. The reason it was hard to find is there is nothing much to see!

After that we had to give up and go back to the B & B to rehydrate and cool off. The temps were 90 mid-day, going to 96 degrees around 5:00 PM.

Dinner, later that day was at the Ristorante Arche, which has been in business since 1879. Again, we shared three courses: Sarde in Saor (a way they packed sardines in Venice for the sailors); a Charcuterie (prociutto, two salamis, speck and lettuce); then a main course of traditional horse stew with polenta. Verona certainly does have its traditional ways of cooking!

Friday evening we went to the opera in the Verona Arena. What a spectacle! The production of Nabucco was enormous with a 180 piece orchestra, at least 300 people on stage, wonderful singers, fun costumes, 12 horses, lots of ‘gunfire’ and ‘cannon fire.’
I think I bought the second to cheapest seats and thought we would be sitting up high where there are just stone seats, but no, we were taken to the second row from the stage on the side. We had bought seat cushions from a vendor outside at the suggestion of a woman who had been here before. But our seats were ordinary plastic auditorium seats, so no problem! We also thought that the voices would be amplified but they were not. I wonder if the people way up high at the end could hear them well—-we certainly could. Originally in Roman
times this arena held 30,000 people, but now they say it holds 15,000, and it did seem full!

The sets were marvelous, especially the ‘opera’ scene. The orchestra was wonderful (4 harps!), the director was totally animated and fun to watch, and the gunfire was terrific! It was scheduled to start at 9:00 PM (long security lines ahead of that) and it did start, Italian style at 9:20. Intermissions were loooong, and so it ended at 12:50 AM. During one of the intermissions we shared a Pepsi to keep going!

We had a nasty surprise after we walked back to our B & B. We had been given a key fob to use to open the outside door, which you hold up to a spot, it buzzes and you can open the door. Well, it wouldn’t open! We had used it many times with no problem. By now it’s 1:20 AM! My phone doesn’t work to call here—-I’m sure it does, but I don’t know how (somebody TELL ME) so we walked back to a sandwich shop and the man called Stephano. Luckily he answered, said he was at the Arena and would be along shortly. In the meantime two other women that we had met earlier arrived home from the opera and their fob didn’t work, either. Finally Stephano came and unlocked it with a key. Apparently somebody had locked it from the inside—-what a system!

After our morning cappuccino and corneto at a coffee bar, as usual, we just went back to our room (with A/C) and rested until lunchtime. Verona has several museums, art galleries of interest, but with the opera lasting until 1:00 AM, and the weather so hot (95 degrees and humid) we felt we had to conserve our strength and not sightsee all day.

We did have a terrific pranso, though at Ristorante Locanda Castelvechio, which did have the bollito misto (boiled meats). While they didn’t bring them on a cart, the waiter made a plate of them to bring to us with four sauces, all of which were wonderful.

Preliminary to that we shared an antipasto of beef carpaccio and a primi of gnocchi with shrimp and zucchini, both of which were excellent. The waiter had brought an anti-antipasto of cold grapes and warm hard- cooked egg with olive oil and he brought a bowl of pitted cherries at the end.

Again, back to the B & B to rest and rehydrate before going to the Arena that evening for our second opera, Aida.
And again we walked to the Arena (30 minutes) in 95 degree weather.

While the security lines were 25 minutes long the previous night, this night we were able to walk right in. The Arena, itself, is very interesting, having been built so long ago by the Romans.

The inside was fun to see, too. And again, it appeared to be completely full. People around us were speaking many languages—-our next-seat neighbors were from Norway—-and the announcements were made in four languages, including English. The supra titles were in Italian and in English—-lucky us!

And again, the production was marvelous, using the whole arena to advantage with huge sets.

The orchestra was big and wonderful, the singers were very fine, filling the Arena with their big voices.

 

One very engaging thing was that during the second act, they built a huge structure while the opera was in progress. There were high-wire construction people with ropes and pulleys on their bodies doing this ‘construction.’ Unfortunately I was so nervous for them falling, or for the parts in the construction falling on the
singers that I couldn’t concentrate on the singing. Eventually it was ‘built’ and portrayed the tomb in the last act.

Instead of live animals as are often staged in Aida the animals
 were ‘mechanical.’
The opera ended at 1:15 AM (!) and we arrived home at 1:45 and dropped into bed. Fatiguing but enjoyable!

The next day we drove back to Partina, using my iPhone to guide us on the ‘fastest route.’ This took us past Florence and then routed us over the ‘Consuma,’ which is the way the bus goes to Florence over the ‘spine’ of the mountain. It is a beautiful, if challenging, drive. However, there was a race in progress and so we were detoured to Valimbrosia, which went on a tiny road through a mountainous natural park. It took us a long time to travel those 15 miles!

The next day we drove to Rome, turned in our car and stayed overnight in the airport hotel, leaving for home today, Tuesday, June 27th. It was a wonderful month, as you can see from these emails (if you’re still with me!) and we hope to return again.

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#4 Italy, June 22, 2017

Dear Everybody,

A nice rest/relaxation day following our trip home from Urbino was the thing on Friday. Burt did some serious cooking—-first a pigeon to get ready for a sauce for pasta for another day. The pigeon turned out to not be cleaned—-the guts were still in it! Luckily I

am farm girl, and saw my mother clean chickens many times. I saved the liver, heart, and kidney for Burt’s sauce, and he took over from there. Then we bought two oratas (sea bream) fish to grill for our dinner that night. In the meantime, Burt fixed a puntanelle salad (chicory, anchovies and other stuff) to go with the fish and made a nice sauce, too. That and a nice bottle of Bianchello wine mellowed us out that evening.

The neighbor cat came over to finish off the fish skins left on the grill. She reminded me so much of a painting that I had seen in the Ducal Palace that I took her picture to compare. Apparently not much has changed regarding cats from the 14th century!

Saturday night was a big ‘fest’ night in Partina. Some of the local women, including Roberta, cooked lots of good food and served it to a couple hundred of the Partina residents, including us! Tables were all lined up on the street on which Roberta and Paolo live. It started at 8:00; however, the first course was served at 9:00 and there were many courses. There was also entertainment—-but really, the whole thing
was ‘entertainment.’ What a chance to get in on that local event. As things Italian go, they were making a night of it, and we were asleep on our feet by 11:00 when they were just getting ready to serve the 
main course. We had had antipasto, and two pasta courses plus wine and Prosecco by then. So we old folks ducked out before the duck was served! Sorry about that—-we just can’t keep up with these Italians!

A couple of lazy days with Burt cooking pigeon sauce for pasta and fried squash blossoms and sage leaves. We’re organizing our remaining meals at home, now, to make things ‘come out even.’

And just to sit in the back yard under the umbrella, or look out the front to our beautiful view is pleasant.

When we ate at Arezzo a couple of weeks ago, we noticed from the label from the half- bottle of wine we drank said the wine was made in the town of Laterina, a small town very near Arezzo. We followed up on this and discovered it was a beautiful little town and so we decided to visit it.

In the meantime, Burt had bought an “Arezzo” cookbook, as he is wont to do. This cookbook listed 37 villages in the Arezzo area and gave recipes for their native dishes. One of these villages was Laterina. It was pretty far off the beaten track, so luckily my iPhone GPS guided us there.

On the way we came to a very old bridge——built in 1277 and they say it is featured in the Mona Lisa by Leonardo DaVinci. It was called the Buriano bridge over the Arno River (the same river that runs through Florence) so we stopped to take a look. How lovely!

Continuing on, we came to another of the 37 villages from the cookbook, called Castiglion Fibocchi. It was so pretty that we had to stop there, too! The view from the highway was gorgeous. After spending a little time walking that town, we continued on our way to Laterina, walking up, up, up to the town.

Laterina was really beautiful and fun to walk around. Three men sat in front of a church with a sword thrust in a stone! There were beautiful streets and gorgeous views from the town walls.

Soon it was lunch time. We chose a cute little Osteria that had a sign saying the proprietors were Laura and Claire. We must have had one DSC01474.jpgof them, but I don’t know which. There was a little grocery store connected to the tiny restaurant.

I had pici (like thick spaghetti) with duck sauce; Burt had pici with a beef sauce. She brought wonderful salami and sheep cheese antipasto——we bought some of the cheese to take with us, it was so good.  Our GPS got us home again, what a wonderful outing we had!

The next day we did chores most of the day except for when Burt did some serious cooking. The pigeon sauce was now ready to have on pasta, which he saved for the evening meal. He made a panzanella salad with bread, cucumbers, basil, garlic and onion plus the olive oil and vinegar. This sits around awhile, letting the flavors ‘get acquainted.’

I did a bunch of laundry and Burt did some ironing outside in the perfect sunshiny day. He LIKES to iron! Roberta has several hand-embroided sheets and pillow cases that were in her grandmother’s hope chest. Of course they take ironing——something that puts most of us off from using them. Roberta encouraged me to use them, but it took taking them to the laundry afterwards, so made a bit of a hassle. So it has been years since I have used them, or anybody else, for that matter. Along came Burt——who likes antique linens and is perfectly willing to iron them!

We had a lovely buffet lunch, with prosciutto and melon, tomato bruschetti, salami, the panzanella salad, and some Orvieto white wine that we bought there last year.

I did just a bit of cleaning as we are getting ready to leave tomorrow to go to Verona We will be attending a couple of operas there in a Roman amphitheater. Shortly after we will be going to Rome and then home.

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#3 Italy, June 16, 2017

#3 Italy, June 16, 2017

Dear Everybody,

After doing our morning email at the Coop Coffee Shop on Friday, (we come here every morning now, as Burt’s computer doesn’t work well at Big Ben Coffee Shop) we shopped and shopped for our party. We also bought four kinds of fish for cacciucco (a fish soup, which really takes five kinds), which Burt made for our pranso on Saturday. He had worked hard on making things for Sunday, but still found energy and time to make the cacciucco, (sounds like a sneeze) which, as usual, we ate outside on the picnic table in perfect weather. It was really good, with a nice white wine.

 

 

I did a little vacuuming and dusting to ready the house for our party on Sunday. Burt prepared the cold salmon with three sauces; also chicken liver/heart pate for one of three bruschette.

 

 

We really enjoyed our group——Roberto’s two sisters, Roberta and Luigina and their husbands, Paolo and Giovanni; Mateo, Roberta’s son, along with Francesca, his girlfriend and her mother, Rosa. Mateo can speak a little English and I can speak a (very) little Italian, so we managed.

I had gotten a parking ticket a few days earlier when we went to Florence on the bus and parked the car where I always do! I did look for any restrictions but didn’t see any. Well, apparently they were there! Roberta explained that I had to pay it at a post office, and it had to be paid the next day.

Everybody seemed to enjoy the food, including the American potato salad. Roberta and Luigina each brought some Italian wine, and Rosa brought a platter of sweets.

So the next day we found the Post Office in Bibbiena (Partina’s PO is only open on Tuesdays and Fridays!) by using the iPhone GPS. I paid the parking ticket (28 euro, about $31) and also paid a couple of bills that came to the house for Roberto—-electric, and something else. They can be paid at the PO!

We had Pasta Alfredo for pranso one day, and the next day had pork liver wrapped in caul (some fatty, stringy stuff) that I thought was very good, but Burt didn’t like, so I ate both pieces! Burt had also made a Roman bread with olive oil, rosemary and salt.

We’re planning, now, with paper and pencil, to figure the number of times we’ll be at home for Burt to make a fairly elaborate pranso, and to figure how many towns we will be visiting, which means we’ll have pranso there. Burt will not get to cook all the things that he wanted to (we’ll have to return next year!) so we’re prioritizing.

Wednesday we drove to Urbino, quite a ways east of Partina, over some pretty rugged mountain roads. We had a lovely hotel with a beautiful view for the night that we stayed over, and visited gorgeous artistic things.

 

The Oratoria di San Giovanni, and the Oratoria
di San Giuseppe had marvelous frescos and other things to see. These are very old—-from the early 15th century! Urbino was a very important town in its heyday (15-16th centuries) and still has 24,000 students in 10 universities in a town with a population of 15,000. The town, itself, is so medievally beautiful—- everywhere you look is a picture.

The Cathedral was closed—-maybe still as a result of the earthquake near here that occurred last year when we were in Partina.

We ate our pranso at a garden restaurant that we had discovered last year when we were here. We 
also became acquainted with a 
wonderful white wine from the area, called Bianchello del Metauro. We drank a whole bottle with pranso. We split an antipasto of carpaccio of beef (terrific), heads of porcini mushrooms (good) and a roasted pheasant (pretty good.)

All this required going back to the hotel for a nap. When we took the bus back to our hotel, we got acquainted with a young American woman named Lisa. We asked her where the Casa della Poesia was, as we had seen a flyer about an opera concert there this evening. It turned out that she was singing in this concert!

That evening we took the bus back to centro and, after asking a bookseller, got directions to the site of the concert and found it! It started at 9:00 (pretty late for us) and we left at 10:00 at the intermission as we wanted to catch the 10:30 bus back to our hotel. When the bus finally came, it was going a different route, so wouldn’t be going to our hotel. The bus driver was very nice and let us ride along. After he finished his route in about an hour, he took us to our hotel!

We enjoyed this student (free) concert which, Burt learned from talking to one of the ‘managers,’ is a product of a program organized in Dalles, TX. These students from many colleges study the Italian language for four hours in the morning, then study opera singing all afternoon. Urbino has many colleges and universities so the town is brimming with students.  And, of course it was fun to see ‘our’ Lisa Bloom perform!

The next morning in Urbino, we checked out of our hotel and moved our car to a downtown parking lot. We visited the Ducal Palace and all its riches of art and architecture. We had seen it last year, but wanted to visit it more in depth this year.

There were a myriad of art treasures to enjoy. Raphael, the Renaissance painter, was born in this town. His father, Giovanni Santi, was also a well- regarded painter in the early 15th C. Several of his paintings were displayed, as well as Raphael’s very well- known painting of 
a woman called 
‘La Muta.’

We also revisited Piero della Francesca’s two
paintings.

There are many, many other 14th and 15th century painters exhibited here, such as Bellini, and Titian.

 

 

 

Additionally, the town of Urbino is so beautiful. There are many scenes that call out for photography. It’s hard to stop taking pictures!

 

When our energy and feet wore out, we went back to our car and, with the help of the GPS system on my iPhone, headed toward home.

On the way we stopped, as we did last year, in a small town with a supermarket to buy some Bianchello del Matauro wine, which we can only find in this area, and it’s sooooo good! Unfortunately this year the supermarket was out of their upscale-priced product, so we bought four bottles of their same brand, but their cheaper version. We stopped at another small town to eat pranso—-tortellini and tagliatelle, both very good.

The drive back home over the mountains——two hours of hairpin turns—-was arduous. Then we ran into a huge rainstorm as we got near home. We almost had to stop as vision was poor, but then it lightened up a bit and we made it home. Later the sun came out again.

We shall have some rest/cook days now, before going to Verona to hear opera before coming home.

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#2 Italy, June 8, 2017

#2 Italy, June 8, 2017

Dear Everybody,

What a nice day we had in Anghiari, a wonderful medieval town, practically unchanged from those times. We walked on the walls and all over the town, admiring Tuscan views and the beautiful buildings. We capped it off with pranso, (main meal at 12:30). We shared three courses—-you’ll see why—here’s the ‘starter,’ meant to be for one person!

The primi was pappardelle (pasta) with venison sauce; the secondo was sformato di selvaggina, a ‘custard’ with pheasant, two kinds of partridge and wood pigeon in it topped with shavings of black truffle! The drive over and back was challenging, going over the mountains on skinny roads, but I think I’ve got my Italian driving mojo back now.

Saturday was Burt’s birthday. First thing was to open his daughter, Caddy’s birthday card. She knew he would be lonesome for his little dog, Anthony!

We did errands, then walked over to Roberta’s house to greet the family. We invited them for pranso for next Sunday. It looks like we’ll be 10 at table—-Roberta’s family plus Mateo’s girlfriend and her mother, and Luigina and Giovanni. Burt is busy planning the menu.

Of course Burt made his own birthday dinner—-lots of things including breaded lamb chops with lemon.

Sunday we drove over the mountains to Caprese Michelangelo, the town where Michelangelo was born in 1475 (the name of the town was just Caprese until Michelangelo became famous). We visited his house and the castle before joining many other diners at the Buca di Michelangelo Restaurant for a 12-course pranso to celebrate Burt’s day-after birthday. The menu; (well there wasn’t any printed menu, but here is what we were served—-from 1:00 to 4:00 PM:)

Red Wine from Umbria, Still and Sparkling Water
Melon with Prosciutto and Tuscan Salami
Salad of Cabbage/Pine Nuts/Onion
Four Bruschette—Liver Pate, Tomato, Cream Cheese/Anchovies and Porcini/Melted Cheese
Acquacotta (Dry Soup with Leftover Bread and Many Veggies)
Crespelle (Pasta Crepe with Cheese, Pureed Potatoes/Bechamel)
Ravioli (Spinach and Ricotta Filling; Sauce with Mushrooms and Tomatoes)
Bistecchine in Taglia (Beef Tenderloin Strips) and Green Salad
Batter-Fried Mushrooms
Roast Meats—Lamb, Pork, Chicken and Pigeon with Oven Fried Potatoes
Semifreddo di Ricotta (light desert)
Espresso
Cordials: Grappa, Lemoncello, Fernet Branca

Our table:

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

And Our View:

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Beef Tenderloin with Salad, and the Roast Meats:

 

We drove to Poppi and took the bus to
Florence on Tuesday. That is a most beautiful bus ride over the ‘spina’ (spine) of the mountains, although this day was cloudy—-it even rained a bit while we were in Florence.

We spent most of our time in the Mercato Centrale, which is the ‘new’ market, built in 1872. We bought three ‘meats,’ a prepared rabbit roast, some cinghiale (wild boar), and a Florentine Steak to make on the grill. Burt carried an insulated picnic box with frozen bottles of water in it, which kept our meat cool until we got home about 5:00 PM.

The main event was eating lunch there. One of the specialties is lampredotto, (the dark part in the picture) which is made from the lining of a cow’s 4th stomach (not the 1st—-that’s tripe (the white part), not the 2nd or the 3rd!). We wanted to try their sandwiches as Burt wanted to compare them with what he had been cooking at home for a couple of days. This is a very old, traditional working-man’s lunch in Florence.

We bought our sandwiches, with a glass of red wine from the Nerbone kiosk that has been there since 1872. Yes, it was delicious—-and Burt’s lampredotto compared well with this expert’s.

 

 

 

 

 

Our Arezzo trip on Wednesday was a repeat of things we’ve done in the past, but love to do
again.

We saw the 15th C. murals by Piero della Francesca in the San Francisco Church, which are stunning. Here you see the meeting of the Queen of Sheba and King Solomon.

There are many other very old murals, or fragments of them, in this church. “Pentecost” is a 14th C. mural by Spinello Arentino.

 

 

Afterwards we saw a special movie made with sterioptic pictures (3D) from the 1890s. They were about the ‘Grand Tour’ made by wealthy people at the time. Interestingly, I had seen most of the cities/places on my back-packing trips!

Lunchtime found us under the portales overlooking the main Piazza, designed by Georgio Vasari in the 16th C. Burt had ‘chest’ of veal, sweetbreads and beans; I had grilled vegetables and some bites of his——I’ve been eating too much for lunch lately so I’m not hungry for Burt’s wonderful dinner meals, so I’m trying to correct that.

Dinner that night was the rolled roast of rabbit that we bought at the Mercato Centrale. When we bought it, the lady selling it kept saying (in Italian) “40 minutes.” I asked if we were to come back in 40 minutes—-would she be making another roast for us??? We traded this stuff a few times until I finally figured out she was saying to roast it for no more than 40 minutes! Burt roasted it for 40 minutes, and made carrots and batter-fried porcini mushrooms to go with it——um, good!

In the meantime, we’re preparing for our party on Sunday, which will be pranso with Roberto’s family. We’ve got a very long shopping list for today, and Burt will cook up a storm on Saturday and Sunday.

Thursday night we grilled a big Florentine streak, which we enjoyed with grilled radicchio and salad, with a good Nobile Montepulciano wine. 

Hope you’re all fine—-we’re really enjoying Italy and its perfect weather.

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#1 Italy, June 1, 2017

#1 Italy, June 1, 2017

Dear Everybody,

Once again Burt and I have flown across the pond to stay in Partina, the village where my son- in-law grew up. This time, in deference to our age, we spent the first night in thehotel connected to the airport in Rome. Having slept well, we drove to Partina (3-hour drive) the next day in perfect weather, Tuscany showing off beautifully!

We stopped at Bibbiena to stock up on some groceries, then finished the drive here and opened the house. The fig tree in the backyard and the olive tree inthe front yard have been trimmed back; the sage and rosemary that we planted last year are thriving. We had to have a little help from a neighbor to get the electricity and water turned on, and the hot water heater lit. Now all is well.

Our first night Burt cooked monkfish, that he had bought in Bibbiena, along with zucchini with blossoms and a potato. Of course it all went with a good bottle of Orvieto wine, which we had bought last year when we visited Orvieto.

Burt wound up with a cold from traveling, so the first few days we took it pretty easy. Luckily he finds cooking relaxing, so that went ahead full steam. The second day Burt bought an ensemble of pork products and made delicious pork chops, cooking them with pancetta and a little pork sausage. This, with juices, was served over a slice of Toscana bread, along with fennel and some good wine.

The next day we had veal with a tuna sauce and globe artichokes. And yes, the roses are from the front yard. Burt thinks they are “Beverly Sills” roses. How lucky we are to have access to all this good food. We were listing all the meats/dishes that we want to make while we’re here—-I’m not sure we’ll have time to eat in a restaurant.

Each morning we go to Soci (2 km away) to have a cappuccino and croissant at the ‘Big Ben Coffee Shop.’ They have wifi, which we used all the time last year, but for some reason Burt’s computer isn’t able to connect with this year, although mine works. Weird! Then I have a new debit card from my new bank account which wouldn’t give any money from the first four ATMs I tried. Luckily on the 5th one, it worked. I remember once a friend of mine who came here with me had an ATM card from another credit union and she had the same story—-it finally worked after she tried several.

We have had some ‘wildlife’ vignettes! When I swept the stairs going down to the basement from the terrace, there was what I thought was a big rock there. Not so——it was a huge green frog or toad! I was pretty surprised when it moved! Then in the middle of the night Burt saw a firefly light up against a window. Also when we look out at the streetlight at night, many insects are reflected buzzing about there, and occasionally a bat darts through them all and scoops up a few!

Burt calls our car the ‘Mafia Car,’ as it is kind of funny- looking and has very dark back windows. As usual, yesterday, we drove it to the Coop (Supermarket) in Bibbiena, where we ran into Roberto’s sister and brother-in-law. We told them we would be inviting them over for pranso 
(lunch) the weekend after next.

 

 

In the Coop we tasted some ‘pig head’ that they were selling, all cooked.  Then we made a stop at our favorite cheese shop in Bibbiena, too.

 

 

We bought 65 euro ($70) worth of cheese, salumi, and a few other specialty items. They gave us a half- kilo of penne (pasta) as a gift. How nice!

 

 

We’re both feeling just fine, now, although traveling is kind of
 hard work! I hope you’re all fine——we’re having lots of fun!

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#4 (final) Oaxaca, Mexico, March 21, 2017

Dear Everybody,

SOME SCENES FROM OAXACA:

 

 

Our local music academy where whenever we walked by, students were learning stringed instruments.

 

 

 

Our local tortillaria, where we got fresh, warm tortillas just before many of our meals.

 

The local barbershop, where the barber had two motorcycles.

 

 

 

 

The local lavanderia (laundromat) where we took our clothes——they did the washing and we got them back beautifully folded.

 

 

When we walked through downtown on Saturday, there was a huge political rally going on in front of the Cathedral for the Morena party. This is a new leftist party that has been quite successful.

 

 

 

There were quite a few women dressed in similar style participating—-maybe all from one village? And Voter Registration, too!

Saturday afternoon at 4:00 we went to a mescal place where we had inquired earlier if they had tastings. It was closed. Thinking it would open at 5:00, we went across the street to our Santo Domingo Church, as there were many beautifully long-gowned women and men in suits heading that way. It turned out to be a wedding, with the bride and her father lining up outside of the church. As she walked to the church door, there seemed to be a problem. It turned out that the strap on her shoe had broken (high wedge with strap to hold it on) and repair was needed. The wedding planner came to her rescue (I don’t know what the solution was) and they proceeded to the door of the church. Burt and I ducked in the back pew. The two priests came to greet the wedding party, and they all marched down the long aisle.

The guests kept arriving late to the ceremony—-up to 40 minutes late! A full choir sang an anthem from the balcony. It was wonderful to see the beautiful church all lit up—-I never have seen that before, even during Mass.

Burt and I slipped out and went back to the mescal tasting place at 5:00——still not open.

On the way home we encountered the Zandunka restaurant that seemed to feature mescal. We inquired and learned that yes, we could have a tasting.

We had two flights of three mescals each, and wrote down the names of the ones we liked so we can buy some bottles to bring home. The mescal industry is such a cottage industry with dozens of different methods and additives (like chicken breast!) to make different flavors, that trying to buy a particular one in the USA would be impossible.

Having had tiny tastes of six mescals, we proceeded home for Burt to finish cooking our dinner, which was a two-kg Red Snapper, or Huanchinango. It had been fun to buy it that morning in the market. It appeared to be fresh caught (according to Burt) and he asked the boy to scale and clean it. He marinated in a bunch of stuff, then roasted it in the oven.

We feasted on fish, black beans (flavored with avocado leaf), and rice. Burt also took care to preserve various parts for fish stock to make soup for the next day.

The day came to make our investment in four bottles of mescal to bring home. Having taken notes from our tasting, we found a shop—-actually it was a puzzle to find: the address was 528B Reforma. When we got on the 500 block of Reforma, the house numbers started at 526 on the corner; proceeding down the street, they went to 524, 522, etc, down to 514. Thinking we didn’t have the right address, we continued walking and the next number was 528, and there was the shop! That’s Mexico!

The shopkeeper was cordial and very helpful. We bought mescal from four varieties of Agave cactus; there are many,
many, apparently. Then they had tiny tasting cups which Burt and I both bought. Mescal is supposed to be sipped (they say kissed) very sparingly—-in fact, the waiter at our tasting said one is supposed to take a sip and ‘blow out’ immediately. I had trouble making this work—-so it goes.

Meals that day that were poached eggs with huitlacoche (corn smut) and crema over rice for brunch; and fish soup with aioli for dinner.

 

That evening we attended a concert by the Oaxaca Symphony at the Macedonia Alcala Theatre.  That theatre is spectacular—-to think that it was built in Oaxaca in 1903! How many people could there have been there then?

The orchestra strings played Elgar and Grieg (21 players with four women, including the concertmaster); then the full orchestra played Beethoven and Mozart (34 players). It wasn’t up to the level of the SPCO but enjoyable, especially in that thrilling theatre.

 

Luckily it started at 6:00 PM so it was more on our schedule. We were home by 8:15 and tucked in bed soon after.

 

 

Monday, our last night we had martinis on the patio along with wonderful buttery guacamole and chips. The gin isn’t so good, or so strong, so we filled our glasses with ice and olives.

 

 

We’re home now, and all is well! Thanks for reading all this——we had a wonderful time!

Posted in 2017, Oaxaca, Mexico | 2 Comments

#3 Oaxaca, Mexico, March 18, 2017

Dear Everybody,

Wednesday afternoon we had a nice rain, which the Oaxaquenos loved, as they are very short of water at the moment. Burt was bringing home our clean clothes from the lavandaria and so got pretty well soaked. Luckily the clothes were in a plastic bag.

It still dripped a bit as we walked to a restaurant for dinner that evening. We went to the Hosteria de Alcala, in a pretty courtyard of an old house. We had the Botana Oaxaquena for Two, which was wonderful. It had: cecina (the pork thin-cut meat), tasajo (the beef thin-cut meat) chiles rellenos, tacos with negro mole, chicharrones, guacamole, queso fresco, string cheese, and a ‘tart’ of bugs. We even had flan for dessert. It was still dripping a tiny bit as we walked home.

Breakfast the next morning was ala Burt—-starting with papaya and yoghurt; then a scrambled egg dish containing eggs, chorizo (Mexican sausage), strips of tortillas, tomatillos, and onion. We had a little Clamato (plain) to drink—-we’ve been using this to make Micheladas in the afternoons, which is clamato and beer, with a little other stuff thrown in—-kind of like an odd Bloody Mary and very refreshing.

One morning we spent some time at the huge Santo Domingo Museum, which is in the old convent of the church. We looked at the things from Tomb 7 in Monte Alban (from about the 8th C) which are gorgeous. A skull covered with turquoise and beautiful gold necklaces showed off the level of art in those ancient cultures.

A highlight was the Jardin Botanico (Botany Garden) out in back of the convent, which was viewable from many corridors. It is totally of cactus—-hundreds of kinds, and beautiful. They planted it first in 1993, but are adding to it all the time. With the mountains in the background, it is stunning.

On one of our trips to our Mercado Sanchez Pascuas, Burt bought Huitlapoche or Corn Smut! This is a fungus that grows on corn ears, and is considered quite a delicacy in Oaxaca. It looks strange——some here call it ‘Raven’s Poop,’ which gives you some idea of it’s ‘beauty.’ That night Burt cooked pork with Green Mole and the Huitlapoche, which he put inside a tortilla, frying it lightly like a quesadilla. It tastes quite mushroomy, and was good, as was the Green Mole and Pork. At the market Burt had also bought the most wonderful huge orange. It was so pretty and orangy smelling that he made candied orange peel for dessert. The next morning we had segments of the orange with yoghurt for breakfast.

For cocktail hour, we have been mostly having our usual gin martinis; however, I mistakenly bought olives with pits and they are very tiny olives. So it goes.

Friday evening we went to the hotel Quinta Real for their buffet and show. They mount a mini-Guelaguetza, which is the summer festival when all the surrounding villages put on their traditional dances. It was considerably different from when I saw it three years ago, and not as good. However, the costumes were brilliant (actually their native clothes) but it did take us out until 10:00, which is late for us! At home we only go to the daytime performances. And of course, eating at 7:00 is late for us, also. Still, it was a nice outing.

As we were walking up to the hotel, in a little park a dozen or so young men and women were dancing in this style——just a ‘pick-up’ game, I think. Yet, it was sort of organized, with some recorded music and the girls
wearing full colorful skirts over their tee- or sweat-shirts. (You need to swish the full skirts to do the dances) This one was almost more fun than the ‘real’ one.

As you know, we rented a house for two weeks and, except for the Mexican plumbing frailties,which we soon became acclimated to, we like it very much. It is on a pedestrian street, although locals can drive their cars through a gate to park them, which makes it nice and quiet and private.

The front door opens into the biggest room which is the dining room, where we ‘live,’ eat and talk.

There is also a small living room with a desk,
which I use to do my pictures and blogs.

The kitchen is fine—-at least Burt’s results are wonderful. I am the dishwasher, which requires heating water as there is no hot water in the kitchen. That’s ok, all the good food is well worth it!

We can hear some dogs bark, which makes Burt happy (a dog lover!) and we can hear the trucks that come around on neighboring streets to deliver gas and water, since they make some loud special noises to let people know they are available. Otherwise it’s very quiet.

There are three bedrooms and three bathrooms. There is a dearth of electrical outlets, as one would expect, and we make use of the third bedroom largely for the accessible electrical outlet to charge my iphone. Burt has brought lots of music on his computer and a speaker system, so we have lots of music of all kinds.

The lady came to clean and change linens on Wednesday. They also got a water delivery (not the drinking kind) which was quite an operation. They filled several big tanks on the property with huge hoses. Laura said that right now Oaxaca hasn’t much water. I’m glad it rained the other day! Laura lives in the next house, and she and I can text on our iphones (we each have translation) so that it’s not too hard to be understood. Yes, I know a little Spanish, but Not Enough!

I’ll get this off to you all—-hope you’re all fine!

Posted in 2017, Oaxaca, Mexico | Leave a comment