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A Savory Ciao to Florence

A Savory Ciao to Florence

Interested in a Music and Markets Tour? We’d love to hear from you!
We’re looking ahead to Spring – Aix en Provence for the Easter Festival.

Thursday, 2 January 2015
Florence, Italy

On the road again – back to Florence, where we dropped the car, checked into welcoming Hotel Rivoli once again, then headed out for lunch. After checking out the offerings at the Mercato Centrale, we suggested an old favorite nearby, Da Mario. At slightly before noon we should be able to get in line for a table. Unlike on previous visits, though, they’re already open and going strong, every table filled. Recognizing us, the waiter asked if we’d mind sitting downstairs. Downstairs? Didn’t even know they served downstairs! 01031501 da marioWell, since demand has only gotten stronger for Mario’s simple but delicious Cucina Povera (poor folk’s cooking – the essence of Tuscan cuisine) they’ve cleared out space in the basement storage area for a few tables. So here we are, among the hams and wine, enjoying a great lunch.
After our tastings at Conti in the Mercato at the beginning of the tour, we all had a list of items to purchase now that we’re ready to pack our bags for returning home. Stefano’s smile will go with us until we come back – he makes shopping such a pleasure!01031501 back to conti before packing casesAnd one more before-packing stop, the ever- glorious Farmacia Santa Maria Novella, where Lorri stocks up on fragrant gifts for her lucky friends and family. 01031501 back to smn before packingLorri and I stayed at the hotel, packing up for our departures tomorrow, and the gents went exploring, Kirk sharing tales of Florence as they walked. They found what Kirk described as a “men’s Santa Maria Novella”  – but came home without any treasures of their own. 01031501 du guys exploreWith enough packing done, we sought out some more Florentine favorites to share, such as Ghirlandaio’s intimate Nativity, in a side chapel of Santa Trinita.01031501 ghirlandaioOutside, the streets glow in the evening light, making it hard to say goodbye to this beautiful city.01031501 evening stroll and ghirlandaioOne more delicious meal, which we began with an unusual appetizer, artichokes draped in lardo. 01031501 dinner artichokes with lardoYes, that’s lard, but not like any lard you’ll taste in the States. Delicate and tasting of superior bacon, every bite was superb. And of course we included everyone’s favorite 4 Leoni pasta, “purses” filled with pear blanketed in creamy taleggio, walnut and asparagus sauce.01031501 dinner everyones fave at 4 leoni

None of the desserts tempted us that much, so we stopped for gelato, 01031501 gelato for dessertand finished up with a Ponte Vecchio photo-op.01031501 on ponte v It’s been a pleasure to share this jazzy, tasty and beautiful week with Russ and Lorri. Ciao til next time, Italia.

Tuscan Treasures

Tuscan Treasures

Interested in a Music and Markets Tour? We’d love to hear from you!
We’re looking ahead to Spring – Aix en Provence for the Easter Festival.

Friday, 2 January 2015
Tuscany

How pleasant to be able to enjoy both sunset and sunrise views from our Monte San Savino perch in elegant Logge dei Mercanti! The garden to the right, behind the town hall, is filled with vibrant roses of every color when we stop here for our Taste of Tuscany after the Amalfi Coast Arts Festival Tour in July. Today it’s just resting quietly, awaiting its season of glory.01021501 a, rose garden in summerBefore we head out for today’s explorations Lorri and I stop by the pharmacy to pick up a few necessities. Isn’t it a vintage gem? I’m so glad they’ve kept the historic charm in this thriving enterprise – it’s as busy as ever, with a knowledgeable and helpful pharmacist,as  patient with our English medical requests as with the aches and pains of the locals lined up with us.01021501 pharmacyPienza is our first stop, with angels above the portal ushering us into the village,01021501 pienza angel welcomefragrant from the get-go with the scent of pecorino. This sheep cheese is a local specialty, and one shop after another is piled high with every imaginable iteration – fresh, semi-aged, robed in pepper or grape must or ashes, truffled, long-aged – take your pick!01021501 pienza pecorinoA lovely arched ceiling of a little chapel invites a moment of contemplation,01021502 chapel ceilingbefore a walk in the sun along the edge of the village, with views across iconic Tuscan countryside. 01021502 edge sunny strollVia del Amore is the perfect spot for an anniversary photo -op. Congrats, Russ & Lorri!01021502 corner for anniversaryThere’s our lunch destination – tiny hilltop Monticchiello.01021502 lunch spotAnd on the way we stop for a look back at Pienza, with Pope Pius I loggia-ed palazzo beside the church, tilting off the  edge of town. 01021502 stop for this vista on the wayIf we’re anywhere near Monticchiello, we won’t miss a meal at La Porta,01021504 always a delicious delight

where Daria’s welcome is as delicious as the meal that awaits us. 01021502 warm welcome from DariaOur feast begins with a truffle-topped parmiggiano flan,01021503 and feast beginsand continues with truffled pasta – fragrant and delicious.01021503 and more trufflesVino Nobile di Montepulciano, from Daria’s twin brother, Dario’s vineyard, is the perfect accompaniment. 01021503 darios wineWe’ve been telling Russ and Lorri that Bisteca Fiorentina is something you “gotta try at least once” so they and Kirk share a platter sized hunk of Chianina beef. 01021503 gotta try bistecaMy fried lamb chops are fabulous (of course EVERYTHING we’ve ever had here, over the years, is superb!) 01021503 lamb for meand the three meat-eaters have no trouble cleaning their plate. 01021503want to gnawLa Porta is right inside of the porta, gate, of Monticchiello,01021504 from la porta of villageand beyond is a view we could enjoy for hours…01021504 gaze for hoursbut Siena awaits – we’re filling the day with Tuscan treasures! By the time we arrive the passeggiata is in full swing, entire families strolling the city streets, stopping to chat with friends, greeting acquaintances, peeking in the shop windows. 01021504 walk slowThe majestic Duomo impresses with its size – even though it has never been finished. 01021504 majestic duomoWe pass elegant piazzas,01021504 piazza eleganttempting gelato,01021504 tempting gelatoand enter the Campo, where Kirk tells tales of the twice annual Palio, a no-holds-barred horse race around the fan-shaped piazza.01021505 campoAn hours drive, and we’re entering “our” porta, back to the Logge dei Mercanti in Monte San Savino. 01021505 porta of our hilltownWhat a bevy of Tuscan beauties we’ve packed into the day!

A Barcelona Tapas Tour

A Barcelona Tapas Tour

Spring in Spain – – Wednesday, May 9, 2012, continued

Interested in a Music and Markets Tour? We’d love to hear from you!  Join us on a summer tour in Provence or our featured (and expanded!) 2012 Amsterdam/Belgium tour!

Barcelona is packed with intriguing delights: architecture from gothic to modernista, tastes from traditional to nouveau, neighborhoods from up-all-night to quiet lanes.

Tonight we’ll sample some of the many tapas bars … beginning with always-packed Xampanyet. Although tapas are not a typically Catalan culinary staple, they’ve become super popular in Barcelona, and Xampanyet (pronounced chahmpahnyet – it’s the champagne of Spain!) pours their own brand of the local bubbly, usually known as cava.

Its a madhouse, as always – elbow your way up to the bar and point at what you’d like. Noticing that we’re a group of 7, they find an empty corner for us and ask us what we want.
In a few minutes a bottle of Xampanyet is plopped on the marble counter, along with a couple of platters of jamon and peppers.

We chuckle at the “Degrees of Love” Thermometer on the wall – can you make it to red fever?

Now for someplace a bit calmer… and a different style of tapas: pintxos from the Basque region.  Euskal Etxea boasts a terrific spread of toothpick speared goodies – each one a mere €1.80 and REALLY good.

Help yourself to a plate, a glass of bubbly or wine, and graze down the bar, picking up your choice of pintxos.
Keep the toothpicks and pay up by counting how many when you’re done,
after standing inside or out chatting with friends as you munch.

And last of all, let’s sit down for a bit in Bar del Pla….and enjoy a platter of artichokes and a few other goodies in the quiet back room. A nice contrast to the busy stand-up bars.

Something chocolate and sweet sounds good… we make one more stop at the best gelateria in Barcelona, La Auténtica Gelatería on Placeta Montcada. The owner tells us about his training in Italy and hands out samples – yes, this is the real thing – a sweet finale to our evening tour.