#1 Italy/Greece, Sept. 15, 2010

Dear Everybody,

I arrived at the Rome airport on Sept. 2nd and took three trains and a bus to Partina. The next day, my friends, Nancy and Greg (who visited last year) arrived with their cousin and husband, Peg and Ed. We ate the usual things starting with Roberta’s pizza from her “Speedy Pizza” take-out restaurant, also my roast rabbit and different kinds of pasta. For dessert we picked figs off the fig tree and plums off the plum tree.

We made the usual visits to Bibbiena, Camaldoli, Poppi Castle, the Soci cemetery, La Verna, Caprese Michangelo, Arezzo and Florence. Additional sites (to last year) included Pisa and its Leaning Tower, which has been stabilized and opened again a couple of years ago after having been closed for some years. It was over 15 meters off center and there were big cables keeping it up a few years ago. Now it still leans but is stable without the cables. We also went to Vinci where Leonardo daVinci was born and where there are many models (bicycle, airplane, scuba diving gear) of his inventions, made from his drawings. This had all been seriously remodeled from years past with some high tech additions and with a couple of reproductions of his paintings to show the full scope of his talents. While it had rained a bit on the way to Pisa, the day turned sunny and clear and the September Tuscan countryside gleamed to perfection on the way home.

We ate the “excessive” pranzo of the day at Buca di Michaelangelo, which is the seven-course extravaganza that I manage at least once, each time I’m in Tuscany. It is served on Sundays only, and the restaurant has the most beautiful view of the Tuscan Countryside. Let’s see—-there were two antipasta courses with procciuto and several kinds of bruschette, a salad, two pasta courses, fried mushrooms, then four kinds of roast meats—beef, pigeon, chicken and lamb (I had a bit of all four) plus unlimited wine followed by a large serving of tiramasu and then our choice of lemoncello or grappa plus coffee. You know, I think I’m missing one more meat course with potatoes. Anyway, it was a tour d’force and Nancy, who didn’t have any wine, drove us safely home over a very scenic but challenging mountain road!

One lazy day we cooked an elaborate dinner—two kinds of bruschette—tomato/basil and goat cheese; mussels; spaghetti pesto; Anatra Al L’Arancia (duck with orange sauce) with carrots and roasted potatoes; and Vin Santo with cantucci (biscotti) for dessert. What a lovely day!

On Saturday we went to pretty little Stia. We drove up, up, up to the 10th century Porciano Castle and upon looking around, were approached by Martha, the owner. An ancestor of hers had bought the castle at auction in 1738. Her mother had eventually inherited it and had married an American soldier after World War II, who was from Springfield, Minnesota and had graduated from Carlton College! Her parents, who had spent years and all their money rehabilitating the castle were now dead, and Martha, with her husband, Francesco, was carrying on the tradition. She gave us a tour, not only of the two lower museum floors, but, because we were from Minnesota, of the two floors that are their living quarters and guest rooms. Then she signed and gave us copies of a cookbook on Tuscan food that she had authored. While I had seen the outside of the castle and the grounds before, I had never been there when it was open. It was just our lucky day!

A similar thing happened when we visited Bibbiena. A dozen times I have peered in the window of the 17th century St. Francis Oratorio with its gilt baroque interior but it had never been open. This time the caretaker was there and most graciously invited us in to tour it. He showed us a relic with a tiny piece of St. Francis’ cloak, among other things.

A trip to Cortona gave the guests a chance to shop for souvenirs and for me to use the internet to reserve a hostel for my night in Rome as well as to make contact with my family.

 

 

 

 

 

Cortona is such a picturesque town—the weather was perfect and we happened upon a lovely restaurant for lunch. We sat in a little courtyard in front of a fountain and dined on exquisite pasta and beef/porcini mushrooms. Fresh porcini are not prevalent yet—it must be a little early, but we did see a few in restaurants.

 

 

Later in September they will appear for sale at roadside stands. How I love them!

 

 

The last day for the four friends was spent with all five of us taking the nine o’clock train from Bibbiena to Arezzo, which took about 50 minutes. Ed had never ridden on a train before! The plan was for the women to do some serious shopping but for some reason, most of the stores were closed. On the way home, while driving from Bibbiena, Soci was having a ‘fair’ so Nancy and Peggy dropped us off in Partina and drove back to Soci to finish off their shopping.

Our last evening we drank Sangria and ate bruschette and pasta. We had intended to have some more of Roberta’s pizza, but I forgot she is closed on Mondays.

The four friends drove to Rome on Tuesday bound for home. Roberta and Paolo took me to Arezzo today where I caught the train to Rome. I’m staying overnight at a hostel that turned out to have an age limit of 35 (!) which is something I’ve never run into before, anyplace in the world! They are letting me stay, but I’ll have to find another hostel in which to stay in Rome for the night on the way home.

I just had a pizza and beer at a neighborhood restaurant and will send this off before flying to Athens, Greece tomorrow morning to start my seven-weeks travel in Greece.

Best wishes,

Carol

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