Saturday, May 8, 2010

May - Under the Tuscan Umbrella

31 May - Memorial Day was delightful. Breakfast at Niko's Bistro in Hingham,Mass is a must. The afternoon with wonderful people: Maggie (PBS - the Body beautiful - exercise guru who still is a body beautiful despite a genetic issue of calcium deposits on her spine) and her husband Jerry - psychiatrist and neurologist of some reknown prior to faculty positions at MIT and Rutgers - now ninety - but still the most marvelous and inspiring individual. Their dinner recommendation for the Rustic Kitchen in Derby Mall was quite delicious. Following dinner we drove to Hull, Mass to watch the sunset and enjoy the water views.

30 May - Sun - the Race is on. Sarah ran the marathon in four hours and twenty-three minutes cheered on by a loving family; even granddad was sitting at the finish line; she heard Ron's LOUD EXCLAMATION as she crossed the finish line.
By one-thirty we were on the road to Burlington, MA for dinner with Linda K., son Hamilton and his lovely fiancee Rebecca.

29 May, Sat - We were on the road to Vermont by one PM - exercised and foodified -- and unprepared for the zillions of people in Burlington for the Marathon tomorrow morning. The crowds packed the streets, kids were everywhere, painted cows on parade. We enjoyed dinner at the Three Tomatoes Trattoria (ouch! Italian!) and managed to find something we could eat. The treat was Drew and BD's fraternal twin daughters and their delightful cousin Rayna, daughter of Rick and Sherry - each one cuter, brighter, and more charming than the next. Sarah is a med student; Elizabeth is an MSW student and Rayna is completing her MA in Anthropology.

28 May, Fri - Now that the body weight is so low the doctor has approved sourdough bread into the diet and sent a RX for new labs. Energy is improved, color is better - all systems seem to be "go." The last two Rambo books are now approved for publication. The CD is left to complete along with the transcription of the trail journals tape. We decided that the trip to Maine is too far in too short a time tomorrow because we have to be back in the Boston area by Sunday evening. New Shoes??????? Someone was coerced into buying NEW shoes. ... ?????? Dinner tonight at Buckley's Steak House, Nashua, NH was a delightful treat ... lovely celebration for Drew's and Irja's birthdays. It was a lovely treat.

27 May Thurs - Bedford, NH - Congratulations to Greg and Donna on the arrival of grandson number two: Brandon Andrew! Tues night we had dinner with Drew and BD, breakfast yesterday with Drew, lunch with Irja, Ed, Wall and Drew; flew with Drew to Marshfield for a magnificent fresh seafood dinner at the Fairmont Inn on the water. The flight was spectacular despite noisy command to pilot noise and static. Smooch Smooch took over the controls for the return trip until we were close to landing - insisting, "it's your turn" to Drew. She did a wonderful job of flying straight and level and managed the turns nicely, too, even though it was difficult to not get too captivated by the magnificent sunset. Weekend plans call for more visiting, birthday party for Irja and Drew Fri nite, perhaps a drive to Maine to see Steve's daughter graduate on Sat - return Sun to the Boston area - visit Maggie and Jerry Monday. The MIT reunion is the following weekend - with good news that some alum friends are attending, too. The temperatures have been sizzling but are cooler today. It is seventy degrees in New England breaking the unbearable heat wave of the past few days and beckoning us to take a long walk. We are outta here!

23 May, Sun-Peterborough, New Hampshire - visiting Marjorie and Richard is pure joy. Marjorie teaches HS and Richard is a composer. Yesterday - endless and delightful conversations continued while watching the children's Live Puppet parade - the culmination of children's arts and crafts programs in this very artsy community that gave birth to Wilder's "Our Town", Thoreau, Bette Davis, summer stock - Shakespeare festivals, etc. The "hometown" parade was replete with marching bands, animals and children everywhere. Later we drove to Wapack Mountain for a hike straight up for a mile and one-half to catch an exhilarating vista and helped Marjorie buy flowers for the flower boxes on the house. We had dinner in Jaffrey last night. Today's adventure took us to the Cathedral in the Pines - a touching memorial to a WWII soldier created by his devastated parents - and from there to the Jaffrey Town Meeting Hall that was raised the day of the battle of Bunker Hill. Nearby is an old New England cemetery with the headstone of a minute man from the Rev. War, a black man named Amos Fortune who was "born free in Africa, sold into slavery in America, bought his freedom, lived a life of good repute, became a Christian, died 17 Nov. 1801 - hopefully.." He left a legacy with scholarships for lyceums and became the town hero. A children's book has been written about this man. See photo of Marjorie taken inside the Cathedral in the Pines,

21 May, Fri- It is good to be stateside, rested and back to a normal (??) schedule of arising early to work on various computer projects. We had a nice lunch at a Marriott Courtyard Japanese restaurant - stocked up on fat free protein items - picked up new pants at REI using dividend dollars and gift card money before heading to Richard and Cynthia's for dinner and to meet their new puppy Jasper. From there we will continue on to New Hampshire this evening to visit Marjorie and Richard for the weekend.

A Portofino rose.....

and a Pompeii Version of the Outdoor Kitchen although photos taken with a Blackberry are not the best quality

View of Mt Vesuvius from Pompeii Forum

19 May - Wed - ZZZZZZZZZZZZZ and Rush! Despite oversleeping we did make the shuttle to the airport terminal at seven AM and with breakfast. Security and passport control were not problematic although Smooch Smooch had to endure a body pat down for some reason. Does she look dangerous?? Our flight departed timely and the flight with champagne accompanying our dinner was very pleasant. Not so in Newark: the flight to Boston flight was delayed a couple of hours due to storms in Boston. The car was right where we left it - intact - at the Hampton Inn Logan where it has been parked during the three week duration for the small sum of fifty dollars; this is called park and fly; by booking one night before departure and one upon arrival we saved oodles on airport parking fees plus having a room waiting so we could be in bed by eight PM for a welcome long ZZZZZZ. com

18 May - Tues - Arising all too early, early, early we had to take a taxi back to the main rail station for the trip to the Amalfi Coast. We managed to get to Napoli and onto the Circumvenetia line after the big surprise that our Eurail pass did not work on this little local train leaving us with four euros and another surprise because we were not on the right train. When the train schedule says the train will leave at 11:04... you need to believe it. It is NOT the train that leaves at 10: 55 silly goose. Again good fortune was ours because a woman going to Sorrento (at the end of the line) had to change trains. She told us to follow her and we boarded the right train arriving right on time to meet Gino our guide who informed us we needed twenty-two euros for tickets. We had four. Fortunately he was able tonge our US one hundred for seventy four euros. He made money because the rate of exchange dropped once again. Pompeii is being reconstucted and excavated. Pictures will be posted. it was the Las Vegas of the era with a red light district that fascinates the tourists wanting to get a glimpse of the mosaics in the brothels. The Roman baths were very ingenius - steam baths, massage tables, exercise areas in beautiful settings. Standing on a Pompeii street Mt. Vesuvius is clearly visible. The architectural artifacts included plaster casts of some of the people who lost their lives in the volcanic eruption by asphyxiation. The bodies were covered with ash that created concrete. As the corpse decayed it left a negative space that the archaeologists filled with plaster - creating plaster casts that showed the manner of death and exactly what the people were doing at that moment. Ghastly sight. The train trip back to Napoli and change to Roma went nicely with a delightful happenstance: we were in process of exiting the Rome rail terminal - crossing the street to meet the arranged taxi driver - he arrived at that same moement allowing us to hop in and get whisked back to the airport hotel. We had a great dinner - and the cab that took credit cards took us back to the hotel with twenty euros left to be spent tomorrow.

17 May Mon - The taxi delivered us to Rapello to catch the fast train to Rome where we were met by a guide to be hand delivered to the door of the Hilton Garden Inn Aeroport. Almost out of euros - we ordered a cab that takes credit cards to go out to dinner in Fiumiciano. But we got into the wrong cab who offered to do the trip for only fifteen euros. And then one of us realized that the other one should have thought about how we were going to get back to the hotel! Fortunately the restaurant had an English speaking waiter who phoned a cab that took credit cards.

16 May Sun- The internet works sporadically - just long enough to answer some email and work on the Craig Collection. The day is sunny and warm; the walk to downtown took new twists and turns with an astounding view from the highest point of Portofino. From there it was easy to spot a shortcut into town to buy soestme good breatd and lit cokes without paying a small fortune. The trip to Italy provided ample time for mending undershirts, a favorite blue shirt, a very, very old wrist band, but the socks are beyond repair. Plans are to mail them to Walt. This also means that there are no more socks. Would someone please send old socks without holes because there is no more dark blue thread either. Oh. Send dark blue thread, too. Unfortunately the khaki cargo pants ripped out in the rear because they are also very, very old and brittle. That mending project will have to wait until we are back in civilization. But we are getting closer: in the morning a taxi will deliver us to the Orient Express in Rapello for the super train to Rome to be met by Giovanni's guide and delivered to the Hilton Garden Inn at the airport. The 18th (woe is usn's we are back on trains to Naples and onto Pompeii where we will hopefully be met by our guide. The 19th we have an early morning flight back across the pond to Boston. That is only 72 hours away from a little airplane trip.

15 May Sat - We were hungry! Too late for breakfast and too early for lunch- the maitre d' arranged for a small breakfast served in the lounge. Tom in SC tells us not to be jealous: 85 degree sunny days and 65 nighttime temp. Too late, Tom! The sun is hiding once again. Note the Castello on the top of the hill in the photo which was taken from the outdoor dining room of the Splendido hotel. We hiked from the hotel ... down through the city and up to the top of the hill and back last night. Lots of villas are hidden among the trees.

14 May Fri - Portofino, Italy - The sun is finally shining while cool temperatures prevail. The hotel Splendido is indeed so. Breakfast was a two hour feast over the USA today (small version delivered to the room) - a five star Sudoku - accomplished! The International Herald has one also with different restrictions. The half hour hike to Castello Brown and the Lighthouse was simply marvelous on flagstone and old cobblestone paths flanked on both sides with jasmine, honeysuckle and lush plantings. Downtown Portofino boasts a town clock by Rolex and trendy shops with familiar names like Dior, Zegna, and Cartier. Sailboats fill the port awaiting races this weekend. Wonderful seafood dinner and wine on the terrace of the Splendido.

13 May, Thurs- View of our apartment from across the Manorola hillside yesterday. Rising early we packed up we enjoyed a last breakfast at Aristide's and watched the view of the water from the train station. Good news and bad news: Amazingly we made the right train in this tiny two track station. Unfortunately when we arrived in Sestri we should have stayed ON the train to S. Margaretta's - only the train NUMBER changed. And good news followed the disappointment for there was another train thirty minutes later. We arrived in S. M. in a downpour and tried to find out how to get to the bus station from the ticket agent who could not speak English or comprehend Google Translator's script. She pointed to a taxi driver who smiled and scratched his head when asked the fare to the bus station for transportation to Portofino. In fair English he said he could taxi us for thirtyfive euros - about ten dollars a mile - but who is going to argue with a ride in a rain? We would have had to take a taxi to the hotel from the bus station anyway. Hated to lose nephew Eric's cap on the train. At least good news should be ours for the next few days in Portofino. We have a terrific hotel room with a view... fantastic food... internet in our room... and EGG WHITE VEGETABLE OMELETTAS in the AM. Ahh. Champagne in the room - champagne for dinner which was simply marvelous. What love is this that a man take his love to Europe where they don't speak any kind of English????

Cynthia celebrating Ron...

12 May-Wednesday - A happy birthday celebration Italia style. The sun was warm and beautiful on the Cote d' Azur hiking to and from Manorola to Riomaggio. AFTER... the waiter mistook our request for a glass of champagne with a whole bottle of the bubbly we walked it off with another long, lovely hike in the winding hills above the city. The day was great - lots of lively conversations with folks from Iowa, Australia and Minnesota - including one lovely couple who were married four weeks ago and whispered, "Isn't it incredible to find love at this age?" Another young couple received a round of applause at their beaming faces and the glitter of a new diamond on her finger. The sunset was lovely.


Smooch Sunbathing on the Cote d' Azur

11 May - Tuesday - a Fun Day with great food and nominal hiking.

10 May -Monday - Congratulating ourselves today for traversing the Trenitalia from Florence to Cinque Terre (Manorola). It took a train change but we made it for some hiking on the Cote d' Azur weather permitting. The apartment is nice - with a little view of the water. Eating at Trattoria Dal Billy's (because he was called Billy the Kid as a youngster toting toy six shooters) is a great treat - and conveniently located a few feet from our door high above the city. We walked about an hour today.

9 May Sun- Happy Mother's Day from Firenze (Florence). Our hotel is located conveniently within five minutes of the Uffizi and the Academia Gallery - easy walking for this mornings early tours. See the view OUT side of the Uffizi Gallery which was the offices for the Medici family. It has always used the top floor for a gallery which holds priceless Michelangelo, Botticelli, and DaVincis. We had a whole lot written about the tours but cannot find a way to copy and paste into the blog on this new Acer computer. The important part of the morning was seeing the fifteen foot tall statue of David at the Academia Gallery. Overwhelming to think that a young Michelangelo created this masterpiece at age 26 years old - three years after he sculpted the Pieta which sent his fame soaring. David was carved from one piece of flawed marble. Walking back to the hotel we happened upon good food in a charming sidewalk cafe complete with accordian nearby. Dinner tonight was once again at the Oystera Trattoria - terrific champagne and a seabass served in rock salt. MMMMM

8 May, Sat - Dear Virginia, Yes there really is a Tuscan Sun. After raining the entire week, the sun appeared in all its glory for our final day in Cortona. We hiked the Via St. Marghereta and onto the Via Crusces (The Way of the Cross lined with 14 mosaics depicting the stations of the cross. This is a steep ascent and took but one most enjoyable hour. The sound of bells tolling and the scent of lilac and jasmine is indescribable. Thanks to the German couple who took our photo (left below) and to another kind couple who took the photo on the left. We bid good-bye to Max and Daniela, packed the gear in the car managing to maneuver the narrow cobblestone streets with the rental car that has been parked in the SAME SPOT since we arrived. One of us did a magnificent job of driving while the other one shrieked going around turns. Finally we reached the A-1 Autostradde for the return trip to the aeroporta and Dollar Rental Car all accomplished marvelously and with great finesse. The shrieker is finally silent. A taxicab transported us to the Best Western Hotel near the Uffizi Museum for our tours tomorrow morning.

Smooch Smooch's Movie Star Coiffure

View from the top floor of Medici Fortress. We met a delightful family from Wisconsin while touring and enjoyed the visit back down to the city immensely.

7 May, Fri - Ron's Movie Star Coiffure! Breakfast at Tuscher's and good conversations. Not only is the breakfast good but the evening last stops for a liquer or apertif are memorable. The rain stopped long enough for us to make the hour and a half hike to Medici Fortress (built in the 16th century by a relative of one of the popes to safeguard Cortona). The fortress is undergoing renovation ... we thought the doors under the scaffolding were locked but a huge push and we were in the fortress which houses contemporary art (not very good). Tonight is the Celebration of the Candles of St. Margherita with a reenactment of the medieval presentation of wax by every rural household. The wax had to weigh a certain amount and the collector was fined if it did not measure up. Band, drums, violins and speeches filled the air.

6 May, Thurs –Another rainy day under the Tuscan sun that isn't. We explored the palace/hotel and enjoyed breakfast in the dining room of coffee, yogurt and fruit before checking out and going to Tuscher's for omelettas. Meeting two Americans, Peter and Charles, was a delightful treat for the extroverted half of us who is moribund and withdrawn, lacking understanding and conversation. This brought laughter from Smooch Smooch – and gaggles of giggles upon reading, “Ron had a great time after he committed suicide.” From them we learned that it has rained daily for seven months and Michele is pronounced "Migalla" We loaded up on fruit and vegetables for today’s lunch. Twice we walked the winding cobblestone streets discovering new alleyways. It is pretty amazing that cars drive on the narrow streets barely wide enough for one car – and manage to park within an inch of the stone wall along the route. They maneuver around outdoor tables at the cafes and streets filled with pedestrians. Lots of fenders have scratches and dents. We put our wet umbrella outside in the stand – only to discover that it was missing an hour later but the woman across the hall was walking down the steps with an exact match. After twice leaving a note on the umbrella stand and twice discovering the envelope discarded at our door Ron attached the envelope TO her door… asking that the umbrella be returned. Fortunately we saw the umbrella in the hands of the neighbor and reported it to the owner of the apartment. No telling what she will do in retaliation to the envelope hanging on the hook of her door! Dinner tonight is at Dardano’s known for its outstanding soups and wild game. Perhaps our blog should be devoted to food????? We are forever on the prowl for great food – and eat heartily. Ron is most likely below high school graduation weight which is a good thing from the cardio perspective..

5 May, Wed- It is not possible to find a guide to drive us from here to Siena tomorrow and to Pisa Friday – albeit guides are available in each city upon arrival. But the rain is a deterrent because we are not interested in driving on slick roads on such steep hillsides. It is such a treat to eat omelettas at LaTuscher's once again – a feast! Dinner at Preludio’s provided yet another fine meal. We asked to see a room with a view at Hotel San Michele’s (Migalli or St. Michael); the suites have a private veranda overlooking tile rooftops and farming fields to the distant lake and mountains - we opted to spend one night there. The breeze is wonderful too. The hotel is a lovely 17th century palace. Smooch Smooch discovered a hairdresser who gave her a movie star coiffure and came home to find that the hotel management delivered a bottle of white Cortona wine to us gratis. Minimal internet is available.

4 May, Tues – The Tuscan Sun teased us with an all too brief appearance while walking for an hour and a half up to St. Margarette’s chapel and convent. Preludio’s restaurant is truly a fine dining experience: wonderful risotta, Norwegian salmon, grilled eggplant and zucchini.

3 May, Mon- It is still raining this morning and Truchera’s, our new favorite restaurant, is closed for the day. It was very sad walking into so many little pizzerias or pastry shops to find food but no luck. The Tourista office indicated the Mercado might be necessary. Good advice: We bought a loaf of Italian bread, turkey slices and then stopped at the fruit and vegetable market for luscious fresh looking strawberries, grapes, cherry tomatoes, apricots. The incredible Italian bread with no fat, sugar or salt is so fine, with turkey slices (that taste like ham but are clearly turkey) and strawberries, grapes, with a little wine took care of the morning’s hunger. We thought about going to the museum but slept for two hours instead and dined at the charming Antiqua Trattoria sidewalk cafĂ©.

2 May, Sun- AND WE SLEPT! Finally … a wonderful Trattoria is discovered that makes frittatas: Truchera’s. YUM. Cortona is called, “City of Art.” At its peak Cortona rivaled Arezzo, Perugia and almost Florence in power and prestige. Memories of its heyday linger in its art collections and medieval architecture, making it one of Tuscany’s most romantic hilltowns. It is here that they filmed “Under the Tuscan Sun.” We are standing under umbrellas waiting for the Tuscan Sun. Oh well. The rain makes it easy to stay inside and sleep.

1 May, Sat – A DAY TO REMEMBER OR FORGET??? OUCH! We were prepared with first class tickets on the fast train from Rome to Firenze (Florence), arriving at the train station well in time. But the display monitor at the train station said the train to Firenze would not depart until an hour later than the ticket read. Well. This is May first…the Italian workers holiday! No tourista information booth to be found. Huge long lines are at the ticket counters. We wait patiently for the train that departs for Firenze only to discover that we should have taken the train to Venice (which stops at Firenze). This later train is the slow train – and we definitely do not have first class seats. Feeling fortunate to have a seat at all – and then being seated next to someone with the Olympics who speaks limited English and could explain to the man taking tickets WHY we did not have a stamped ticket we sat back and rested for a four hour instead of two hour trip. Firenze did have a tourista office with an English speaking staff person who assisted in finding a taxi we could trust to take us to the airport car rental. Oh no. They did not want to give us the car because we were late. AUUUUUGGGHH. Finally we reached agreement and located the car - ONLY to learn that we had to learn how to drive again with a clutch and shift. Isn’t that like riding a bicycle? How could we forget that??? After lots of jumps and jolts and bumps we were out of there and onto the A1 Autostradde (Italy’s version of the Indy 500 – a high speed highway). Once on the road we maneuvered successfully to Cortona with one of us reading the map and praying that we could see the turn sign in time to exit while the other one drove fearlessly on at last. we arrived in Cortona starved but also feeling disgruntled and confused because of the language barrier. Finally after an arduous, circular drive around tight curves with heavy traffic in narrow streets up the steep hill side into the commune of Cortona we just PARKED the car and sent an email to the owner to meet us because we were lost. Francesca walked to our location and guided us the five minute walk to our apartment for this week: La Grotta. She also walked us to a couple of restaurants and explained our dietary restrictions; we ATE and we SLEPT AND WE SLEPT!

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