Tuscany 2019- Trip Report Day One

November22

The four of us met up at the airport in plenty of time for a flight to Toronto. The four being D and I and our good friends D2 and J3. We enjoyed a leisurely wait for our flight.

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That evening we took pleasure in having dinner together at the Ipad Cafe in Toronto. Egads the prices were stupid for beer and wine! Our wait in TO was quite lengthy but we weren’t taking any chances on anyone missing a flight as had occurred the prior year when we had hoped to travel to Portugal together.

I must have slept on the way over because I put my ear plugs in, covered my face with a mask and took a sleeping pill. I willed myself to sleep and I was conscious of being in a dream-like space but not sure how long it lasted. I was woken rather abruptly to the flight crew delivering our “breakfast”- a piece of spice cake in a cello wrapper.

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The wait for our luggage, car, etc. was not bad at all especially when compared to the hours we spent on our first sojourn to Tuscany. We stopped for the drivers to pick up espressos to make the 3 1/2 hour drive ahead. Unfortunately, we did have some trouble fitting all our luggage into an upgraded rent-a-car. As a result D2 and I drove the miles to Sienna from Milan with a piece of luggage between us in the back seat.

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In truth it wasn’t so bad. I was able to make a safe cradle for the little bottle of airplane wine that we shared en route.

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About halfway there we stopped to pick up some lunch. The place right on an overpass of the highway was called Eataly Bologna Ambasciatori! I had no idea that it was the same concept as Chicago, New York and most recently Toronto.

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D and I shared a couple of delicious flat-breads the one above exploding with prosciutto.

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As we drove closer to Sienna the landscape became more beautiful. There came a time as the sun started its descent that I spied “God” clouds out the window and then when I caught sight of

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this heart lying on its side in the sky I knew our trip would be blessed. And is was.

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By the time we arrived at our Air BnB it was dark out. We met our host in one of the little towns close to his home. Marco was so gracious that we immediately felt that it was our home, if only for a week. He told us the tale of the house as he showed us around.

The house was built in 1769 making it the 3rd oldest private home in Sienna.

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Our modern kitchen was built where the pigs were kept, actually we think what Marco was trying to tell us was that white bearded boars lived there. Marco explained that the ancient house which is now attached to the barn underground was the home of the “watchman” who tipped off the Ghibelline troupes in the story below.

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Perhaps he was pulling my leg but he said that the watchman’s bed was still in the house today!

The name Costaberci, in Sienese, is composed of two very distinct words, “costa”, meaning costa, collina and “berci”, or screams.

 This singular name derives from the historic battle of Montaperti in 1260 which saw the Ghibelline troops clashing, led by Siena, against the Guelph troops, headed by Florence. During the Battle of Montaperti, from that “coast”, the peasants “traded” to the inhabitants of Montaperti announcing to them the arrival of the Guelph troops; and it is precisely at that historical event that the name “Costaberci”, hill of screams, is due.

The Costaberci farm, built in 1902, stands near the Napoleonic column at the intersection of the roads that unite Siena, Asciano and Montaperti, or the three routes that lead to the Crete Senesi, the Chianti and the city of the Palio, Siena, which is only 5 Km.

The farm is surrounded by nature, surrounded by a fertile countryside that faces south on the Crete Senesi cultivated with fields of cereals, sunflowers and wheat;  to the north-east we can see instead the green color of the vineyards and the olive trees, then there is also a luxuriant fauna as a completion of a typically Tuscan frame.To the west, on beautiful sunny and clear days, the marvelous and historic Torre del Mangia can be admired in the hills.

I am going to have to continue in a second blog post, stay tuned.

Kath’s quote: There is an unspoken bond you create with the friends you travel with.” – Kristen Sarah

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Love never fails.

 

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Chicago-Day Three

November21

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Our last day in Chicago was pretty special. The day had finally come for us to see “Hamilton”-the much celebrated story of a American Founding Father. D had gotten our tickets eons ago.

We all got packed up at the Air BnB for an early departure the next morning. Thank goodness we did because we awoke to a blizzard. D who is a skilled driver got us all the way to Minneapolis with the snow keeping up until the Wisconsin Dels. The storm added an hour to our already long road trip.

We ate bagels and emptied the fridge of the weekend’s leftovers for breakfast. Boo and the Frenchman dropped us off at the theatre and they continued on their way to the Navy Pier and then a gangster bus tour.

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D had splurged on amazing balcony seats and we were so impressed by the beauty of the theatre and the set. That was until a wall of 3 people sat in the first row of the balcony and blocked almost everyone’s sight-lines. We had come such a long way and had spent so much money; at least we had a better view than some.

When the performance was over, we just sat still in our seats. We had been so overwhelmed by the story, the performances and the music. We didn’t want the afternoon to end. We hopped a “Lift” (an alternate to Uber) and was at the former John Hancock Center in no time after D and the driver had a great NFL chat.

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There was a line up for the elevators and another line up outside the door of The Signature Room on the 95th. But luckily, Boo and the Frenchman met us just before we were seated at a table.

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We saluted another great trip together and our good fortune in loving to be together so much and being able to afford to travel.

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You are looking at some very expensive cocktails here. But, no matter. There was no cover charge and even though the view from our table wasn’t great

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this was the view from the ladies’ washroom!

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The last item on our must see checklist was Wrigleyville to drive by the ball park

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and feast on Chicago style hotdogs!

We thought we packed a lot into our time in Chicago and would love to go again (but perhaps not in winter storm season).

Kath’s quote: A hot dog at the ballgame beats roast beef at the Ritz.” -Humphrey Bogart

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Love never fails.

 

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Chicago-Day Two

November20

We woke bright and early, at least D and the Frenchman did. They ventured out to find us coffee as Boo and I moved a wee bit more slowly. We were surprised that the downtown place we had chosen for brunch had an hour and a half wait. We decided it must be worth waiting for if so many people were willing to do so. Luckily we were across the street from Millennium Park so we wandered around there.

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Right after I took this photo, there was a round of cheering and applause. I just missed capturing an marriage proposal!

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The bean was a perfect place to enjoy the fall sun and people watch.

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My guy joined me for a while our lovely companions stood in line to get me a ticket for the afternoon at the Chicago Art Institute. By the time we returned to the restaurant we were very hungry indeed.

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The skillets were chuck full of savoury treats. Portions in Chicago are very large. Once again I couldn’t finish what I ordered.

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A special treat were these cinnamon and brown sugar pancakes. The Frenchman had chocolate chips in his.

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While the rest of my gang walked the entire Riverwalk, I was appreciative that I was able to walk right past the line up to one of my favourite galleries. I had visited the Chicago Art Institute a couple of years ago and knew exactly what galleries I wanted to revisit.

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I am a lover of Degas and especially appreciate his ballerina studies. I would have liked to be a ballerina but God had other things in mind. When I tested the water one year, the ballet teacher would say “pull that butt in” and I would reply “I am, I am”!

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I admired other Impressionist works

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and then accidentally happened upon these masterpieces. This first one by Vincent van Goh of course

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and this second one by an artist I had to look up.-Sebastino del Piombo of the High Renaissance.

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We reconvened again and headed home for a little rest before we went to check out the brew pub of Revolution beer (the beer being well known by my craft beer-loving family). D was wise enough to order this delicious wedge salad.

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I opted for these decadent hand-cut fries and a delicious burger that tasted like homemade.

Once again we ventured home at a reasonable time to be refreshed for the piece de resistance the next day.

Kath’s quote: “Non cooks think it’s silly to invest two hours’ work in two minutes’ enjoyment; but if cooking is evanescent, well, so is the ballet.” – Julia Child

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Love never fails.

 

 

 

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Remembrance Day 2019 Road Trip-Chicago

November19

Here I am apologizing again for my tardiness in posting. The good news is that I have been so busy traveling (and working to offset those traveling bills) that I have not found enough hours in the day. But here it is a cozy Monday afternoon, my clients are all taken care of and I feel like writing!

We took our annual November weekend away with Boo and the Frenchman. They were aware of all the plans that D had made but until our anniversary on the September long weekend, I didn’t know a thing. D got it into his head that we should go see the renowned “Hamilton” in Chicago before their run was done. I had thought that we might wait until it was in Toronto but I understand that tickets there are already going very fast. So D made all the plans and I just had to sit back and enjoy.

I got picked up at work on the Thursday evening of our trip. Since we were almost at Bishop Grandin, we were out of the city in no time. We stopped for a quick supper at a new chicken place in Grand Forks and other than that it was full speed ahead.

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D made all the Air BnB arrangements for us and of course we arrived in St. Cloud in the dark. We were surprised as we looked through our kitchen window the next morning to see our neighbours-the cows! The only other real thing of note that was while trying to find a Panera for lunch we discovered Wisconsin Dells! We have heard all about it, but never been. Of course it was completely deserted in November.

As we got closer to Chicago the traffic got worse and worse. We stood completely still on a number of occasions. The good news was that our Chicago Air BnB was just off the freeway. We did have a tricky time finding it as the neighbourhood was a mashup of one ways and it looked like they were replacing sewers in the area. But we did eventually find our co-ordinates, lugged our bags in and then almost immediately headed out to find Chicago deep dish pizza.

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D and I had tasted the sensation at Giordano’s Deep Dish a number of years prior. When we had a stopover in Chicago en route from Paris to Winnipeg, we checked our luggage and hopped into a cab to enjoy the one closest to O’Hare. Our Air BnB host recommended Lou Manalti’s as her top choice so we were happy to compare notes. As I searched on line for their menu, I had a chance to read their colourful history including the fact that a car had crashed into their dining room on their opening night in the 1970’s!

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I liked everything about the family restaurant right from their colourful menus, to their wall of living plants to their family sized cesar salad with a refreshing addition of diced tomatoes and huge shards of Parmesan.

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As our server sliced up the pizza pie, ooey goeey strings of cheese stretched from the pizza to our plates. There are very few varieties of deep dish on their menu and that is because the ingredients must provide natural layers that can be stacked one on top of each other (more like lasagna). Ours was assembled with the bottom layer being pizza crust (you could eliminate this layer if you wished), cheese, an entire disc of sausage meat and then a delectable sauce. I ate one delicious, decadent piece and was done for the evening. We kept the rest in our fridge at the Air BnB and I think the guys enjoyed it on other occasions.

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We took this selfie as we departed and headed out for beer from a local brewery, groceries and wine. All were conveniently located across the street  from each other.

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I took this turquoise woodcut shot at one of our stops. By that time, we were tired out from the early start that morning and ventured home to ensure an early start the next day.

Kath’s quote: “Life is mostly pain and struggle; the rest is love and deep dish pizza”.  Authour unknown

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Love never fails.

 

 

 

 

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Community Barbeque

October1

As you know if you frequent this space, D and I are very busy with family, the lake, church and travel. Last winter, we really felt as if we had lost touch with our neighbours so we tried to rectify that. The Saturday after new year’s eve we invited our immediate neighbours over for a cup of good cheer and some nibbles. We had such a good time all together that we pledged to extend the invite to a larger circle in the summer. It is decidedly not the summer here in the middle of the Canadian prairies, so we almost missed the opportunity. Or should I say D did because the community barbeque that we held this past Saturday was entirely his vision.

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He found out at our winter gathering that the family across the street were from Argentina. D and the gentleman of the house started chatting about meat grilling and it turned out to be both their favourite topics. So the two conspired to get out their barbeques and treat the neighbours to the resulting fare. Both had live charcoal barbeques so when the coals were lit there was a pleasant waft drift over the neighbourhood.

The invite said 3 o’clock for kids activities and our enthusiastic young neighbour was in charge. She had made a hop scotch on the sidewalk, set up face paints, bubbles, had freezies available for the kids and the piece de resistance-a bouncer! Some of the kids wanted their parents to go and see what the offerings were but soon the kids started to interact with encouragement from our enthusiastic young neighbour. When it was time to depart there were tears of resistance but I am getting ahead of myself.

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We had asked for pot luck contributions of side dishes and dessert and the resulting array was a thing of beauty.

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So too, the barbeque offerings-slow roasted chicken drumsticks and pork loin in a bun. Both were prepared with patience and love and the results were nothing less than sensational.

D received many thanks for putting the event together but without the other barbeque master, the child whisperer, all the food and the muscle offered for take down, it wouldn’t have been such a success.

D and I often sit in our front yard in the evening with a glass of wine. In truth our back garden is even nicer but we intentionally sit out front to engage with the neighbours. We are blessed to live in a part of town where there still are sidewalks and front yards and we don’t immediately enter our house from an attached garage (actually-we don’t even have a garage!) In 2019 North Americans seem to spend too much time indoors watching Netflix and on our tablets. This has got to change or we won’t know our neighbours! So the next balmy day, pull out the lawn chairs, or park the barbeque in the front yard and see what develops.

Kath’s quotes: “We make our friends; we make our enemies; but God makes our next door neighbour”.-Gilbert K. Chesterton

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERALove never fails.

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