Wandering in Florence

Italiano per stranieri. Translation: Italian for foreigners. That is the title of my new book. After hearing Luigi repeat the phrase “Mia moglie non parla Italiano” for the 3 thousandth time, we headed straight for La Feltrinelli Liberie. Italy’s version of Chapters. Book number two is the Collins Italian Phrasebook. I have learned all the important phrases. Quanto costa il vino and un gelato per favore.

We had great plans for our first full day in Florence. Boboli Gardens was at the top of the list but by mid afternoon when jet lag was setting in and we were many footsteps away from Boboli, it dropped off our list. Sigh. What DID we do? We soaked up the sun in Florence, wandered through the San Lorenzo market with the throngs of tourists searching for a deal on leather purses and Italian scarves. Sadly, I wonder if anything sold at the market is genuine Italian. As we walked from booth the booth Luigi would comment “He’s not Italian” and I would keep repeating “You HAVE to quit saying that”. Ahhh…it was time to get the “real” Italian out of there.

We went on a search for some “real” Italian food. Luigi has a mental list of what “looks” authentic. The waiters cannot be wearing bright red or yellow suit jackets with white shirt and ties. The entrance is usually non-descript and sometimes looks more like Mama’s kitchen with a few tables and mismatched chairs. Luigi sniffed out Trattoria Antichi Canucelli and his instincts were rewarded. I rated my ravioli con asparagi 5 stars. Luigi’s Trofi alla carrettiera was a 3 star (the Italian is harder to please !) Looking for authentic “Italian” sometimes backfires when in search of a bagno (bathroom). I have experienced the  porcelain hole in the floor. I am happy to report this “authentic Italian Trattoria” is awarded my “Best Bagno Award”. I pushed the red button on the tank and voila the saran-wrap on the toilet seat moves for a freshly wrapped throne. Enough toilet talk.

Florence, at one time was full of artisans working out of small shops. As we passed a doorway of a shop selling hand painted trays, we noticed an older man working at the back of the shop. He described the labour intensive process in producing the trays and says that it is a dying craft, sadly. Not far from his shop, we stopped at the “Plenty of Wine” store where a lady in a sari was selling Italian wine (buy two – get one three!)

Luigi and I celebrated our anniversary at Francescovini Restorante. The meal was not great but the two Australian couples at our table were fun.

Next stop is Agritourismo Poggio Asciutto where the Vendemmia is starting. We will be helping to harvest the grapes!

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Packing and Unpacking for Italia

I am packing and unpacking for Italy-Trip- Number- Three. Luigi wisely sends me “countdown” notices to remind me that I am NOT ready. Let’s see. It is now 49 hours to the start of our seven weeks of Italian gluttony. I am going through the same dilemma as trip number one and two. What to pack for Italy. The suitcase lies on the bed taunting me with “You think you will wear t-h-a-t?” Damn Italian suitcase. OK. I will leave the baggy travel pants at home this time. Out they go. In goes…hmm. What? Search the closet for something “Italian“. Okay suitcase. Help me out here. So, you see, I am packing and unpacking for Italy. 49 hours to go. tick tick tick.

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Pages from Italy…the beginning

It all began when he said those five magic words “I am taking you to Italy”.  And he did. I would see HIS Italy through my eyes. I had my very own Italian born and raised travel guide. How did I get so lucky? Well…stay tuned…

So…many months after uttering those five words “I am taking you to Italy”…he did and I fell in love…with Italy. I am not sure who came up with the idea of sharing our trip on the internet, but it added to the adventure. Since 2008 we blogged our way through Italy twice and shared it on fuzzytravel.com. Trip number three begins October 4th, 2010!


Nancy and Luigi

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Italy withdrawal !

January 19, 2010 – Ladysmith, Canada

We returned from Italy barely 3 months ago but we are already beginning to show signs of Italy withdrawal. Luigi (aka SaltairDigital) has been torturing me with his newly produced videos of our favourite spot in Tuscany – Agriturismo Poggio Asciutto. It just makes me want to go back…NOW!

Here’s a link to the Poggio Asciutto video:


Oh, while I am at it…here is a link to Luigi’s video of the Cat Sanctuary in Rome:


In the meantime…I am going to post Eva’s Schiacciata con l’uva recipe. I asked Luigi to translate “schiacciate” – he said “squashed bug” or something like that. Don’t ask a wildlife biologist to translate food recipes! MY translation is: a sinfully juicy wine grape cake. Now, beware, this recipe was given to me during my Poggio Asciutto cooking lesson and it is in MY handwriting and MY translation so…no guarantees.


2 cups chopped walnuts

1/4 cup fresh rosemary (stripped stems)

1 cup canola oil (not olive oil)

pinch salt

Combine above ingredients and bring to boil…Note the nice aroma of rosemary as it boils. (oh this is torture) Remove from stove and let cool.

Combine 400 gms sugar & 2 eggs. Beat with mixer until sugar is dissolved.

Add 1 1/2 cup milk

Allora (I learned this Italian word in our class so thought I should use it here – it sort of means “and now….” – I didn’t ask the biologist to translate this time)

In separate bowl combine:

500 gms flour

2 1/2 pkgs yeast

2 1/2 pkgs Oetker vanilla sugar

Combine oil/rosemary, milk/eggs with flour. Beat until silky like a cake batter.

Fold in 1 – 1 1/5 kilo freshly picked Sangiovese grapes (now this is a good reason to be in Chianti in the fall !)

Butter & flour a large oblong pan

Put in oblong cake pan. Bake for 27 minutes at ? 350. Let cool in oven.

Cut into large squares and devour.

Good luck with the recipe…

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(Insert a tear) Last Days in Rome

October 17, 2009 – Rome, Italy

Hello Canada…hello soft bed; familiar language; wide roads…

Sadly, this post is about our last days in Rome and the end of our “fuzzy travels” for 2009.

What did we do on our last full day in Rome? ROAM…from morning til late in the evening, speed walking at times to get to the next destination. I refused to let painful, cobblestoned feet slow us down.

First stop…the Roman Forum. Wait…no…the first stop had to be a cafe’ for our last Italian breakfast of Cafe’latte and a chocolate brioche. I insisted. It had to be chocolate…so before ordering anything liquid, Luigi had to ensure my brioche was “in stock”.

My chocolate brioche cravings sated, we were off to the Forum…the centre of ancient Rome. As we walked through the “ruins”, listenting to our audio guides, I tried to do my time-travel thing, but it was malfunctioning (too little morning espresso?). There is just too much history, too many important “Romans” for me to comprehend. I have enough trouble “comprehending” my one “Roman”, never mind a many centuries of them. I found myself hanging around the english speaking tour guides to hear interesting bits and pieces (I would pretend to be taking lots of pics while I listened ~ I learn my tricks from guess who). I think a repeat visit to the forum is in my future…at least I sure hope so.

In the same “neighbourhood” as the Forum lies a building you may have heard about. It’s huge. The Romans did things in a big way. The Colosseum had my imagination or rather my “time-travel” back in high gear. After all, we were able to talk to real gladiators right outside the entrance plus we had a real tour guide (this time we paid so I could listen instead of taking phoney pictures). The tour guide was worth using our last few “shackles” as he mixed humour in with the history of the site (sometimes at the expense of the “Roman turned Canadian”).

There was no time to waste…speed walk back “home” to pick up the video camera and tripod and off to the Cat Sanctuary (http://www.romancats.com/index_eng.php). The site is known as Torre Argentina and is home to about 250 feral cats, fed and cared for by voluneers. The cat’s “home” are the ruins of several temples as well as part of the famous Pompei’s theatre, where in 44 BC Caesar was betrayed and killed on the theatre steps. Luigi, being a lover of all animals, but especially cats, wanted to capture Torre Argentina Cat Sanctuary on film and, hopefully, in some small way help. (Added on Nov 29th: The video is done.  Check it out at http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=l8I1zsd578o).

The volunteers work in small, cramped, low ceilinged rooms located beside the ruins and directly below the busy road. While Luigi “worked”, I was very happy to “visit” with the cats, petting those that would allow me. I admit, it was a heart wrenching experience. At times, I had to blink back tears. Especially when I “visited” with the cat who had lost its ears to cancer. Many cats have “battle scars” from their previous “lives”, many were abused and neglected, but the wonderful cat-lover volunteers at the sanctuary treat them with respect and lots of love.

Holy…time flies when you’re having fun! Sheesh…time to race back “home” to drop off the tripod and camera…and do some last minute souvenir shopping.  We went to visit a small souvenir shop near our little apartment. We had first stopped there on our last trip to Rome and, at the time Luigi had a nice conversation with the owner. Well, guess what…Signora Speranza remembered us and had again a long conversation with Luigi (complimenting him about his wife – added by Luigi), while I was making all the important decisions (what to buy grandkids),…as we were leaving she gave each of us a hug and kiss and a wish to see us again in the future (“God willing” were her words). I learned via Luigi that she was 79 yrs young and has had that store for 51 years!

Where to next? A nightime visit to the Trevi Fountain to say properly a good-bye to Rome. On the way there, I spotted a mini 2 euro bottle of wine and thought it fitting to “toast” to our trip as we sat at the fountain which we did.

Our last evening or rather “last supper” was perfect. Signora Speranza had told Luigi about the small restaurant/trattoria called Nonna Betta (run by, who else, but her son with recipes, of course from his Nonna). Delicious, fresh pasta and to-die-for fried zucchini flowers and much more. Perfect. We then “waddled” home to do the dreaded packing.

We have arrived home after 21 hours of travel (Rome-Frankfurt-Calgary-Vancouver-Nanaimo) and are trying to burn off the “fog” of jet lag with strong Italian espresso (lost count). We have to thank our good friends Robin and Gerda who looked after the home front while we were traipsing through Europe.

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Ahh…. ROME!

October 15, 2009 – Rome, Italy

We are back on familiar ground. As we arrived in Rome via the “Red Arrow” train from Naples/Sorrento, I heard a huge happy sigh coming from my travel partner. Luigi is happy to be back in Rome, where he no longer needs a GPS or maps and can rely on visual memory. I am, however, still the “newcomer” and still finding this multi-layered city the most interesting in Italy so far. My time-travel here is almost three dimentional…the present, seeing the city through Luigi’s eyes, the extreme past as we walk by buildings built centuries BC and as it was during Luigi’s childhood. I see uniformed school children here (seen also in other parts of Italy) and I am taken back in time.

Sunday evening, our first in Rome, we were invited to Marco Musiani’s parents for a delicious home cooked meal of interesting recipes originating from southern Italy. Olives, peppers, fava beans and more.

Since Sunday, we have revisited many of the sights that I remember loving on my first trip to Rome 16 months ago.

The Trevi Fountain…it appears, the most photographed fountain in Rome. Luigi even took pictures of all the picture takers…but then the rain gods blessed us with a (almost) tourist free zone, at least for a few minutes. No time to waste…waterlogged shoes and all, and with only 3 full days in Rome, Luigi led me through narrow back streets, across busy intersections (weaving through the cars racing past) and down streets famous for either gelato, pizza or the stars that have eaten there. Past the Pantheon, the Spanish Steps, Piazza this and Piazza that…so much to see in so little time.

Tuesday was Borghese Gallery day. At the end of our previously booked allotted two hours, walking the two floors of famous works of art, statues and the opulent interior of the gallery which composed only part of the collection of Cardinal Borghese, I could not help feeling amazed. The polished white marble sculpture of Paulina Boneparte lounging on a comfy looking mattress and staring at me with her white marble eyes was my favourite.

After the gallery we lunched near a small lake, also belonging to the Borgheses’ and rented a small rowboat so we could get a 20 minute water fix. Luigi sang to me as he rowed while onlookers took pictures….soooo romantic. We then walked down Via Veneto, a street mostly reserved for the wealthy and the odd “star”. I didn’t see anyone remotely resembling a “star”…(On a side note: did I tell you that a man on the train told Luigi he looked like George Clooney?)

It is getting very near the end of our trip to Italy so we are busy getting our last gelato, pizza, pasta and overall “Rome” fix so I must end this post, put on my walking shoes and hit the cobblestone streets for our last day in Italia.

Next post….final day in Rome…..

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Hiking, more hiking and.. narrow roads

October 13, 2009 – Sorrento, Italy

Hello Journal…it has been a few days and many crazy, curvy miles, or, rather kilometers since our last post.

Where’d we leave you? Capri? Oh yes…Capri, where, before we left, we did another long hike, this one on a more “civilized” trail. No strong arms needed, but another set of legs would have helped! The hike was worth it as the destination was Villa Jovis or what was left of the “villa” that was built in the first century by Octavius Augustus and where Tiberius, the second emperor of Rome resided for 13 years (Marlies, we had to check out where Luigi’s ancestors lived).

The villa is built on one of the highest peaks in Capri. The walls extend to the cliff with a descent of some 1000 feet. Sleepwalking would be deadly! That is where we enjoyed our 2nd anniversary wine and cheese lunch in the Emperor’s quarters overlooking the blue Mediterranean sea. Thank you Tiberius!

We carried on our hike to the Natural Arch which was also so awe inspiring that this writer had to rest her head on the “strong arm” before hiking down to Capri and our anniversary supper at sunset.

Enough hiking! We caught the ferry to Sorrento and checked into our B&B Marina Piccola…with views of a small marina at Sorrento. More time-travel as the exterior of the B&B has not changed much since being built in the 1800’s. I loved Sorrento…less tourists than Capri, LESS hiking, the BEST gelato EVER (called La Dolce Sorrento), elegant palm trees throughout the city and, the best part, Luigi being mistaken for a salesperson/guide at a small souvenir shop. Picture him standing in the doorway…as an older English speaking couple tried to get information out of the (apparently fed-up with tourists) Italian saleslady who refused to speak english. Luigi began translating and soon he had a whole throng of lost tourists asking him for information and even prices on the souvenirs! He finally replied (loudly) “I don’t work here!” and we escaped.

We could not be in Sorrento without experiencing the (harrowing) bus ride along the Amalfi Coast. OH MY. More cliffs, more heights, more narrow roads, at times only wide enough for one bus, never mind two plus the brave locals that walk on the side of the road (or sometimes sit on chairs watching traffic pass by).

The views from the bus were amazing, I can tell from the pictures Luigi took out the bus window. I was too busy being a back seat driver…looking straight ahead, right foot firmly on the floor in case I needed to “brake”…The harrowing (for me) bus ride was worth it as we took a quick tour of Amalfi and Positano, both beautiful coastal towns…

I cannot end this post without mentioning our visit to Pompeii. On second thought…I will leave Pompeii for the next post.

Next stop….AHHHHH Rome…

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From Orvieto to Capri: a first day of wonders…

October 5, 2009 – Capri, Italy

We have arrived in Anacapri and it is a lazy afternoon (plus it is a loooong hike to get anywhere from our B&B, some 287 steps plus another 200 meters walk straight up). So I am sitting here with a panoramic view of the Mediterranean sea, the Island of Ischia and various terracotta pots of red and pink geraniums…and the laptop.

I must tell you about the “sausage convention” in Orvieto. At least that is what we called them…the “sausage guys”. They were everywhere in packs of 6 or 7, strolling the streets in their “going-to-town” suits and ties. Luigi, the Italian linguist, said that their dialect was definitely from the “south”…but, no, they were not, or could not be associated with the “M” word (I can’t even bring myself to type that five letter word…I am now in…errrr…almost southern Italy). Their not-so-great-fitting suits and fake silk ties gave them away (and I think they bought their sunglasses from one of those street vendors). They strutted around like a pack (or would that be flock?) of roosters. We asked a waiter at a small caffe’ if they were locals…after he recovered from laughing, he said that they had been around for a week and no one knew who they were and why they were there (and that they all spent hrs on their cells!). We decided that they must be in town for a sausage convention and nicknamed them “the sausage guys”. So…who do we see at the train station waiting for the train to Naples? The “Sausage Guys”!…still wearing the same attire, with NO luggage! Who goes to Orvieto for a whole week with nothing but one suit and one tie?  Just imagine…smell……

Forgot to mention, the night at the Opera in a 150  year theatre was quite an experience.  These are theatres where operas were first performed….  warm, small, intimate and elegant surroundings…

….much later

It is the evening of our first full day in Anacapri, Capri, the Blue Grotto and managed to go to the highest point of the Island via the chair lift (I was a white-knuckled chair lift-er), then back down to sea level via our two (or would that be four?) feet. The blue grotto is one of the main tourist attractions here…but worth the wait in line to see. What an amazing range of colours of irridescent blue.

After the blue grotto, we did the 2nd most touristy thing to do, the chair lift to Monte Solaro which is the highest point on the Island (589 metres or 1931 feet!). The chair lift up the mountain felt like an eternity for me (the height-challenged)…I think there were amazing views of the Mediterranean sea and Capri below, but I kept my gaze focused on the camera guy in the chair ahead of me (who was, of course, taking pics of his white-knuckled wife).

We made it to the top, took an abundance of photos and videos and decided to hike down…not the easy way either…I should have known not to follow an ex-mountain-man down from the highest point of the Island. The “trail” was called Passetiello, but I call it the “Oh my god…what I have I gotten myself into” trail. I must admit that the mountain-man kept on waiting for me at the most treacherous parts, extending his (in his words – as it sits here beside me) extremely strong arms to help me from stumbling down the rocks and into the sea.

Not surprisingly, there were NO tourists on this “trail”…just the mountain man and me (and the ghost of Augustus, the first roman emperor, and of his guards). I forgot to mention that the “strong armed” man leading the way had also been stung by a wasp at the top of Monte Solaro (I think our picnic lunch of Gorgonzola excited the resident wasps into attack mode!)…so here I am, in the middle of…or rather to top of the Island wondering if my leader may become my patient. Thankfully not (Italians are indeed “strong”, his words).

Hours later we “arrived” in Capri, but not before taking a break to dust ourselves off so we could walk among the tourists and (sort of) blend in among the very well to do people here.  A gelato gave us the energy to continue all the way down to Marina Grande to find a pizzeria for supper.  Ahhhh….wine, pizza, a chair (on the ground) and the ability to untie the hiking shoes (without being seen!)…felt like heaven. The waiter said Luigi was lucky to have such a beautiful wife (Luigi typing…)….

We are now back at the B&B, sitting outside, on the patio enjoying a glass of wine (Luigi is having a very long conversation in Italian with the manager…it’s all Greek to me). My feet have almost recovered thanks to a soak in the Bidet (I don’t think that is what it is supposed to be used for)….

The bed is calling my name. The mountain man says that tomorrow is another “exploration day” (his words, whatever that means…).. too late to post pictures… tomorrow ….


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October 3, 2009 – Orvieto, Italy

Buonasera from Orvieto,

It is Saturday evening here in Orvieto and we are off to the opening night of the opera to see Rigoletto at Teatro Mancinelli, a 19th century classic italian theater.

After a sad goodbye to Eva and Massimo at Poggio Asciutto in Chianti yesterday, we headed south on the autostrada (I think that translates to “Italian raceway”). We had a brief stop in Montepulciano, hoping to do some wine tasting but, instead sampled cheeses and toured an Etruscan crypt including an Etruscan olive oil press, now used as a wine/cheese cellar.

On to Orvieto. In my mind, it was just a “place to drop off the rental car” BUT it turned out to be much more than I had expected. Much of the city traces it’s history back to Etruscan times (800 BC). Built on a huge cliff of tufa (a soft vulcanic rock), it dominates the surrounding hills and plains.  It has seen millenia of history and civilizations. We took the “underground tour” today to see just two (out of 1200 known) of the Etruscan underground caves and tunnels. The underground is only a small part of the charm of Orvieto. We could wander through the narrow, cobblestone streets, sit outside a small bar/cafe’ and feel like a local. The buildings in our “neighbourhood” date back to around the 1300’s…an amazing feeling of time travel.

We are staying at Casaveraorvieto, a B&B, which is really an appartment with living room/umbrian kitchen, a large bedroom and a smaller one with a single bed.  It is quite a discovery and wish we had more time to stay here, just a few meters from the heart of the city.

After the visit to the underground Orvieto, we had a short lunch break in “our” apartment and then headed back to climb the Torre del Moro, a 13-14th centuries tower overlooking the entire region.  A good way to burn a few calories….

I would love to tell you more…but I must dig the dress out of the luggage and get ready for the opera, my very first one in Italy.

…..much later

Sunday morning…and we are off to catch the train and ferry to the Island of Capri. We loved our short stay here in Orvieto!

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Last day at Poggio Asciutto

October 2, 2009 – Greve in Chianti, Italy

Our final day at Poggio Asciutto…sigh

Can you hear the big sigh? It is our last full day at Poggio Asciutto. We will be sad to say goodbye to Eva, Massimo, and little Olivia (I want to put Olivia in my suitcase and take her home…most people take the soap and shampoo…not me…I just want Olivia J).

We have been here at the agritourismo for almost two weeks and will miss the view from our apartment of the vineyards, olive grove and cypress trees. We will also miss the fresh herbs (rosemary, sage and Italian names we cannot translate) that chef Luigi has used to “create” our meals. We will miss the horses…yes, we will definitely miss the horses. Today, Luigi and I went riding with Eva…more about that later.

AHHH…don’t forget the siestas (il riposo pomeridiano)…zzzzzzz…we have become accustomed to the “Italian way of life”…an afternoon “recharge time” is mandatory…as I write these words, Luigi is sitting, or rather lounging across from me, sound asleep. The only sounds I hear are the birds and the occasional…hmmm…what is that noise? Distant thunder? Listen…ahhh…just Luigi “recharging”.

A lot of visitors to Italy have a mission…a mission and a “checklist” of things to see and do. Well, we threw the checklist out of the rental car window days ago. Not that we haven’t seen a lot of interesting, memorable sights, but Luigi has taught me the “Italian way”…enjoy the day as it unfolds.

We did just that, this, our last full morning at Poggio Asciutto. Luigi is a “one horse man”, meaning he had his own horse for about 30 years and has never wanted to ride another one…but, on my urging he joined Eva and I on a horseback ride through the vineyards, olive groves, across the roman bridge, and back home. I loved it and I think Luigi loved it even more.

(Added on January 18, 2010.  The video on Poggio Asciutto is done!  Check it out at:http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=TOnXbr0vJZM).

Now to Orvieto, a short one day stop on our way to the Island of Capri.

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