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Tuscany 2019 Trip Report-Day 3

December6

When D and I were in Tuscany in 2015, I missed what I had dreamed most about. Staying in Montecatini and really being uncertain of the geography of the region, we missed out on the Val D’orcia, which I now know is my favourite part (I might say the heart) of Tuscany. This piece of advice had been given to my by my friend Linda-The Tuscan Muse but of course you never know until you experience something for yourself.

D was kind enough to suggest Pienza for our first day of touring. The breathtaking drive was over hilly and windy roads with breathtaking  scenery.

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When we arrived, the parking spot for our car was just a few steps from the edge of the town.

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The vantage point of the valley from the wall was my re-occurring dream of Tuscany. I was finally there!

The day was a hot one: 25 degrees (October 20th) and as lovely as standing in the sun overlooking the valley was, we needed shade and a cold one!

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Someone spotted Ristorante el Prato (Garden Restaurant) and it looked like the perfect place to stop.

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The beer was frosty cold and the food fabulous.

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We knew that “pici” was the designated pasta of the region. The mouth feel was somewhere in between spaghetti and macaroni. I personally prefer spaghetti or even spaghettini, but when in Rome… This Pici was Ragu Toscano.

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and this pici “All Aglione” with tomatoes and garlic.

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This must have been the special that day as I couldn’t find it on the menu that photographed that day. It too was glorious.

I was in the mood for veggies and ordered two starters as my lunch.

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This Veddue di Stagione (Seasonal Vegetables) and

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Zucchinotte a Carpaccio crude con Agreste Ricotta (Zucchini Carpaccio with Rustic Ricotta). I scooped up little potions of both with their delectable bread and was in heaven!

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I spied the inside of the bar on my way to the WC,

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and these interiors of the restaurant used when the weather wasn’t quite so fair.

After being refreshed in all ways, we took a stroll around town. Stay Tuned.

Kath’s quote: “I’m in love with places I’ve never been to.” -Authour Unknown

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Love never fails.

 

 

 

Tuscany 2019- Trip Report Day 1, Part 2

November25

We had a single hour to decide who would have which bedroom and bathroom, lug in and unpack our luggage and freshen up. Marco had kindly made a reservation that evening at a restaurant of his recommendation. D chose it from a short list for me because Marco called it The Truffle House and I am crazy about the earthy, pungent smell and taste of truffles!

We were back in the car and found ourselves on very dark, windy, and steep, rural roads. When we found our destination we realized why there were no light along the way. We had been driving through Chianti vineyards so of course there was no need to light the fields!

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We had no way of knowing if this was the “Truffle House” until we saw the menu below:

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Everything on the menu was fashioned around “tartufo”-truffles!

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The “menu a prezzo fisso” (fixed price menu) offered up four courses and unlimited house wine. This was my idea of heaven!

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The aromas emanating from the kitchen were divine.

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I could have happily stopped after this delectable anitpasto, each combining truffles with different textures and tastes. As I savoured each one in turn, I could not decide which version was my favourite. I loved them all.

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The pasta course was this lasagna-like dish. Layers of silky broad noodles were separated by a light cream and then topped with…truffles! I lingered a long time over this, taking wee bites and making the tastes last a very long time.

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To be frank, I do not recall if this entree had a name. Salad was served family style along with these terrific roasted potatoes. The meat, whether chicken or pork, didn’t really matter as it was simply a cradle for….truffles.

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I am sure that D1, D2 and J3 were all relieved that there was no essence of truffle in the desserts- a panna cotta and light chocolate cake.

With the exception of one table, the entire restaurant was full of travelers like us, and once they started chatting between tables the noise level immediately increased. I thought that the local table might be a family celebration of some kind. They too were jubilant but not to the extent of our fellow travelers.

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We were ready to cry “uncle” and call it a night when the owner of the restaurant brought out a family pet for all to see. He/she were very well behaved but I must admit I had never seen an owl in a restaurant before, in fact the only bird I had ever seen was a parrot in an Isla Mujeres restaurant. It occurred to me that back home, health regulations would never permit such an occurrence. But, while in Rome….

Our first dinner out was a success. Little did we know at that time that it would be one of only a couple of times we dined outside of our Air BnB home. The kitchen was so well appointed, the grocery store so convenient and the house wine so drinkable that we rarely ventured out. But I will leave that tale for another day.

Kath’s quote: Life was meant for good friends and great adventures.” – Author Unknown

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Love never fails.

 

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.

 

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.

 

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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