#2 Italy/Croatia, Sept. 29, 2009

Dear Everybody,

Donna and I continued our siteseeing—roaming a little farther outside of Tuscany to Ravenna. This involved driving a very hairpin-turn road through the mountains north of Partina, then freeway for the remainder of the drive. Ravenna is known for its 5th and 6th century mosaics in five different sites, which remain bright and beautiful. I had a crick in my neck the next day from gazing up at them!

That evening we sampled Roberta’s outstanding pizza. Roberto’s sister opened a take-out pizza shop in Partina about a year ago, which has been a nice (and successful) addition to this little village.

More churches—Prattevechio, 11th century—and one in Socanna, the town where Roberto’s older sister, Luigina, lives with her family. This church has Roman stones and a 2600 year old Etruscan altar behind it. On to Talla to see the house where Guido Monaco (do re mi) was born and to eat at L’Orchello, a favorite restaurant of Roberto’s.

The next day Donna cooked a kilo of mussels in wine sauce for us while I prepared the crostini and a caprese salad (tomatoes and bufalo mozzarella).

Then a day in Florence was richly satisfying, emphasizing frescoes by Fra Angelico from the early 1400’s. Of course we took a look at the Duomo and Baptistry with its “Gates of Paradise” doorways that were finished after 27 years of work in 1452. Many important Florentines, including Dante Alighari, were baptized in this building. The ceiling of the Baptistry has 13th century mosaics showing what will happen to you if you aren’t good!

On an outing to Santa Maria del Sasso convent, we noticed a poster advertising a Renaisance Choral concert that would take place the next evening. So we drove back there in the dark—it’s out in the country off some narrow winding roads, and were treated to some great singing! The convent was established in 1367 so we thought of this music coming into existence after that time, over 600 years ago.

Florence required two trips as there is so much to see. We focused on Fra Angelico frescos in San Marco’s Monastery which took quite awhile since he painted a fresco in each of the 44 monk-cells, as well as many other paintings. The church of Santa Maria Novella and the Opera del Duomo were also marvelous and so were the cappucini and cornetos with which we revived ourselves from time to time.

Monday evening the next ‘batch’ of visitors began arriving—Nancy and Greg are one of three couples that spent the last week in September here.

Donna left on Wednesday and the second couple, Judy and Jim, arrived the same day. I met them in Rome; Jim rented a car and we drove back to Partina. The weather has been A-1 with highs of 83 degrees and golden sunshine illuminating beautiful Tuscany.

Neighborhood siteseeing with these two couples at Camaldoli and Poppi Castle along with enjoying sunshine, wine and bruschetta on the terrace in the backyard gave everyone lots of opportunity for photography and visiting.

Jim had arranged for us five folks to participate in a Tuscan cooking class in Lucca so on Friday we drove a long way across Tuscany, thinking about the extensive menu on the agenda. The chef demonstrated and we participated in preparing black cabbage bruschetta, squash and ricotta filled ravioli with homemade pasta, another pasta, fillet of beef wrapped in homemade bread dough, salad and chocolate mousse. The house was formerly a mill and so straddled a small river. We ate our handiwork accompanied by good Tuscan red wine, sitting in their beautiful garden in the full September sunshine.

That evening Jim’s sister, Robin, and husband Jaime arrived from Spain to join us.

The day in Florence was hectic, site-packed, tiring (as we climbed the 438 steps to the top of the dome of the Cathedral), colorful, and delicious as we ate and drank our way through lunch.

The following day we drove to La Verna and repeated the Sunday dinner (all six courses) at Caprese Michelangelo that Donna and I had enjoyed the Sunday before. The ride across the Tuscan hills brought as much ooohing and aaahing as the big Sunday dinner!

Monday morning Robin and Jaime got the early bus to move on to Rome and we five visited Cortona and Arezzo. Jim and Judy bought an original painting of a Tuscan scene and Nancy found some lovely leather purses for her three sisters; we all ate lunch in Arezzo under the Georgio Vasari-designed portales. The evening spent eating (bruschetta), drinking (Tuscan wine and beer), and talking on the terrace rounded out our lovely week together.

Now after seeing the two couples off this morning, I’m in Partina for a few more days enjoying the village and putting the house to rights before I move on to Croatia.

As ever,

Carol

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