God sometimes gives us unexpected gifts. Our gift has been a grandson who enlivens our lives and makes retirement very different than the one we anticipated. He is a special joy. And that's "Casey." In 2006 we fulfilled our dream of living in Italy for a year. It was every bit as wonderful as anticipated. This blog begins in 2005 as we prepared for that experience. Since then we have explored many places together. That's the "Travel." And finally, I am a person of opinions--spiritually, politically, on just about anything and that's the "Other Stuff." Welcome to my blog.

Monday, July 18, 2011

Cortona--Fun Times

When we were beginning the arduous planning for our year in Italy, Cortona was one of the places we considered. We had visited the town twice on previous trips and liked it; plus, I had a friend from SlowTravel who not only lived there but had a son Casey's age which was important to us. Ale, my friend, even scouted out a of couple apartments for us. But...we ended up in Greve instead.

Now, five years later, we finally got our boys together and within minutes of meeting a true friendship formed. Ale and I ended up saying "they're like the same person in two bodies" because their interests and likes seem/are so much alike. Matteo is older than Casey by just two weeks. What a friendship they would have had if we had lived there. Now Cortona will be a prescribed stop on future pilgrimages to Italy.

Matteo for Casey...

and Ale for me.

Alessandra (Ale) is a warm, fun, energetic, engaging woman. Also ...opinionated, out-spoken and multi-faceted. In other words, my kind of person. I would have thoroughly enjoyed her friendship if we had chosen Cortona as our home that year. Maybe we should think of doing an encore.

Ale has just been included in a list of the 100 best cooking schools in Italy --sorry, but I forget which magazine. Considering that there are hundreds of cooking schools in Italy, this is quite an honor. She is good. I spoke with a couple who had taken one of her lessons and they totally raved about her. In their journal they have included The section "things we have learned from Alessandra." I suggested they start a blog and list these so others could benefit.

Alessandra also has a shop in Cortona, Girasole which features jewelry and artifacts fashioned after that in the Etruscan Museum in the palazzo across the street from her shop. Her jewelry is featured in the National Geographic catalogue--pretty impressive.

Her shop also has beautiful linens which are reproductions of that of the renaissance, terracotta articles and items reflective of Tuscsany. It's difficult to peruse her shop and leave empty handed--I can't. Several years ago I bought Etruscan jewelry. This time it was unique Tuscan motif jewelry..and, sale and pepe grinders with bronze tops which will make great conversation pieces at dinner and good menories for us.

All of Alessandra's wares are made in Italy and come from within 200 kms of Cortona. She personally knows and has selected each artisan and manufacturer featured in Girasole. Quality is the trademark.

We had two fun filled dinners and evenings with Ale, Marino and the kids, Matteo and Francesca, who is 9 and, I believe, developed a crush on teenager Casey.

The first night, after dinner, we joined the music and dancing in the piazza. Well, we just listened and watched as mostly college age kids did the dancing part. We were content with our gelato and friends.

YouTube Video

The next night we had a truly one-of-kind unique Tuscan/Italian experience--the American Saloon with an authentic western decor and an equally authentic, traditional Tuscan menu.

Franco, the owner, is enamored of all things cowboy and must surely have been one in a previous life. He also raises owls. Quite a character.

Dinner was fun with a mixture of English and Italian--well, mostly Italian. We were joined by Donatella and Roberto, friends of Ale and Marino.

A fun night.

One more thing to mention. The lovely B&B where we stayed..wonderfully situated on the main street in Cortona Casa Chilenne. Breakfast includes home made pastries, eggs as you like, waffles, meats...just about anything you would want Everything about the place is top quality from fluffy towels to decor to beds to all. It even has chair lifts to all 4 floors for people who would need that service. Amazing place and delightful owners. We will return next time unless we get an apartment for a week or so.

So, you have the highlights of our time in Cortona. There was more but this is long enough. Thank you Ale, friend, for having so much time for us. a presto!

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Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Ryan Air--An Experience

Last week my friend Rita and I went on a three day jaunt to Dublin. I had never been there or any other place in Ireland so among other things this was a new stamp in my passport. But....Dublin did not impress me all that much so hope to get to other parts some day. I talked with two women who had just completed a two week small tour in a 4-wheel drive which sounds very appealing--will check it out when home.

This post, however, is about the the riot of flying Ryan Air, a brand new experience and one which provided some serious amusements. I now believe that it is entirely possible that the rumor of charging to use the bathrooms may well blossom into reality.

Riding (much more appropriate than calling it flying) with Ryan Air is somewhat a cross between the carnival barker section of the county fair and crowding into the local ballpark with venders pushing all kinds of wares.

But first is the packing and preparations--one carry on of 10 kgs. At this point for those of us from the US, the internet comes in handy to find out just what that equates to in pounds--22--and, the one carry on is for real. No additional purse, computer, briefcase etc. All must fit into the one suitcase.

Leaving from Italy wasn't a problem as the Italian people weren't all that concerned (surprise). All kinds of second pieces were carried on. But...returning from Dublin was an altogether different matter. People were busy trying to cram in all kinds of things before being allowed down the stairs. Then, after packing away the no-no items, they carried down armfuls of displaced clothing which was OK and took up much more bin space. Go figure! My sin was a little cross body bag for my passport and a few euro.

Moving on..
All the bins are covered with advertisements, much like the subway walls.

Rita did see a pair of shoes she thought cute but they wern't sold on-board, which as I write more will surprise you.

The plane is a model of efficiency. There are no seat pockets in front of you which eliminates the need to clean between flights. Seats do not recline, which is something many people would applaud. This way more seats can be installed. The seat in front of you is used as a billboard telling what to do in the event of an emergency. I actually think this is a good idea...chalk one up for Mr. Ryan or whomever.

Within minutes of taking off, the show begins. With a second loudspeaker reminder that smoking is not allowed, whereby rebringing it to the attention of the nicotine club, there is an announcement that for those with a craving the flight attendants will be selling packages of smokeless cigarettes--which one attendent holds up and waves. Rita and I noticed that there must not be a thriving market for these as the attendent, after walking the length of the plane, returned with the same number of boxes in hand.

Next came the food cart with delectable goodies to tempt those with strong stomachs and parents of children who have the "I wants." The people across from us bought €42 worth of Chef Ryan goodies. I neglected to get a picture this time. Sorry.

Following the food cart, came the trash cart; again so that no clean up crew would be needed.

When all that cleared out, came the announcement for Ryanair scratch off lottery tickets--fanned and waved as the attendent sashyed down the aisle. Not sure how many of these were sold or if the pay-out would be immediate.

Somehow in the midst of all this, the ruddy faced, elderly Irish man next to me managed to sleep, after his can of stout. Rita, unsuccessfully, tried to sleep but the loudspeaker wasn't over--ever.

Now was time for another run through with the beverage and trash carts which almost collided with the irrestible merchandise cart. Not sure what all was on it but a lot. I suspect there was a list in the booklet passed out but, truthfully, I neglected to look as I was busy taking pictures.

I think there was another food trolley passby before the magazine pick up and final trash service.

Minutes before landing people are still in the aisle waiting for the toilet. Finally, the man next to me wakes up and I notice he is crossing his fingers as we begin descent. As he flies Ryan frequently, I found this a little alarming.

If Ryanair flight lands on time, there is one final, adorable, flourish. Bugles blare followed by the recording "another on-time flight with Ryan."

The efficiency of the efficiences were very noticeable on our return flight. As we walked down the stairs to board, the arriving passengers were disembarking. Them off--us on. No clean up crew needed. Amazing process!

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Monday, July 04, 2011

Venice--Not a One Night Stand

I love Venice--have since our first time there, which I think was 1999--or perhaps--a past life. So, it is hard when I hear people maligning it; they have missed the magic--the voices of whispered intrigue, the private but not-so-secret liasons of romance, the captains of sea trade and war, quiet whishes of gondola oars-on the way to an extravagant ball, the majesty and unfathomableness of a small republic built on wood pilings who for a while dominated Europe. What an amazing story this lady has to tell.

So, Venice can not be a day-trip or a one night stand. A traveler needs quiet times in La Serenissima. Minutes/hours spent in small campos and calles. It is the land of Vivaldi--music must be heard in the heart if not at the opera house. Time should be spent studying the magificent Tintorettos in the Scuola di San Rocco.

Visiting Venice is more completely a visit to eras and centuries gone by than any other place I know--unless visiting the dead places where life long ago abandoned them.

This time we were there with Casey, going on 13.

Last time we were there with Casey, going on 6.

We had a good time both times. I did miss the wide eyes and wonder of the little boy whose eyes were so fresh and to whom the world was so new, but, walking with a son who is taller than I and who puts an arm around my shoulder, telling me he loves me is a magic of its own.

This time we rented a very lovely apartment Ca Leonessa on a small side canal. The building was old but the apartment was 21st century--with Wii for Casey and wifi for me. Everything about it was top quality from the Le Creuset Cookware to wonderful beds--and, it was quiet at night. Out our window was the famous vegetable boat of Venice which probably has been photographed as many times as San Marco.

We were perfectly situated for getting almost every where.

We ate well, of course. The food of Venice is outstanding; although it is best to avoid the tourist hotspots or the places with pictures of food displayed on the walkway--usually a pretty reliable sign to move on. I was chagrined to overhear a woman on the train from Verona to Venice authoritatively telling a day-tripping family--"a word of warning, Venice is not known for its food." How I wanted to turn around and contradict.

For those foodies reading this, our very best meal and it was outstanding was at
Antiche Carampane. I had the little soft-shelled fried crabs which are a delicacy of Venice. Worth going there just for that meal.

There is much more to write about and maybe I'll do so domani or..maybe not. It may be that lazing at the pool, or driving to Panzano, or..or..or appeals more.

For the time being here are some pictures. These are for the most part random and quite incomplete. Loading from the iPad to flickr tonight was incredibly, super, aggrevatingly frustrating... this is the result.

Some, not many Venice pictures.

Ciao for now.

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