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Roman Revels

Roman Revels

New Year’s Weekend, December 2016
Rome, Italy
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.

What draws us away from our favorite city of Florence? Our daughter, who awaits us in Rome! A quick train trip south, and we check in to our hotel, then stroll by impressive city mansions and across the river to more down-home Trastevere, where we’ll meet for dinner. As we’re taking in a few favorite sights, who should walk into Piazza Santa Maria de Trastevere but Sunshine and her friend Gabriel! Is there anything more fun than bumping into someone you love in a European square??! Hugs all around, and we walk together to Sette Oche, ready for dinner. Beginning with a platter of crostini to share, we sample several Roman specialties together – their Carbonara and Amatriciana, served on homemade pasta, are outstanding!
After stopping by our hotel to pick up all the Tuscan goodies we bought for dinner tomorrow night, we walk to their quirky and tiny “hobbit house” apartment near Campo dei Fiori and hand off the food.
When we first came to Rome, nearly two decades ago, we  stayed near Piazza Navona, and it’s still one of our favorite squares, so we sidetrack through before heading “home” to bed.
Where to pick up a few more things for dinner? Campo dei Fiori market, of course! In the summer those flowers find their way into the fountain to cool off – not necessary on this chilly winter day!
Can’t do Rome without a stop at Kirk’s favorite coffee bar – Sant’Eustachio, near the Pantheon. We join the throngs (it’s ALWAYS packed!) for a Gran Caffé – their secret recipe.
I can’t resist this gentle fresco on a nearby wall – it always calls my name!
Continuing the rounds of Roman favorites, we linger at the Pantheon, where Kirk does a 30 second loop as a talented guitarist plays, then pause for a rare selfie. Back across the river to Trastevere, we enjoy the faded façades, revisit the gilded mosaics of Santa Maria in Trastevere, and enjoy an al fresco lunch at Cajo e Gajo, an easy choice after seeing Carciofi alla Giudia on the menu – you know how I love my fried artichokes!!
And I’ve never seen gnocchi with seafood before – delicious as well!Another piazza, another church  – this one with hidden depths. Santa Cecilia, the patron saint of music, was a Roman martyr, and the church is built over the ruins of what was her home. We wait for the little gift shop in the rear of the nave to open, and pay our euros to descend the stairs. A warren of ancient stones await us, and peering into the dimly lit rooms, we follow one path after another til we arrive at a gilded chapel honoring the saint. Above ground again, the rosy streaks in the sky lead us to the river, where we just stand  in awe, swiveling from one side to the other, taking in the vivid sunset over the city.
Returning by another way to the hotel, we pass an ancient theater, incorporated into the city how many generations ago?A lovely fountain graces another piazza – we’re enjoying these new-to-us Roman discoveries!
And now it’s time to share our Tuscan goodies with Sunshine and Gabriel for dinner. We start with salumi (cold cuts) and truffled pecorino, with jeweled spicy fruit – mostarda – as a relish, remembering the delicious tastes we sampled at the Mercato Centrale in Florence as we chose.
Then Kirk starts his magic in the tiny kitchen, painstakingly preparing his Famous Pasta – the final touch is crisp-fried garlic and pine nuts, then grated-by-Gabriel parmigiano – yum!We squeeze in a Tuscan dessert, Cantucci and Vin Santo, before bundling up and heading out for New Year’s Eve fireworks, prosecco in hand. Where’s the best place to see fireworks, we had asked….and the answer was by the river. So we head for beautiful Castel Sant’Angelo, and join fellow revelers on the bridge, counting down as midnight nears. Then the fireworks start, all over the city – we circle and ooh and aah with the rest of them, sipping our bubbly, guarded by the angels. Auguri! As the fireworks end and the crowd trickles away, we decide to visit other party piazzas – we’re not ready for the revels to end! Campo dei Fiori is crazy, with music booming from every corner. Piazza Navona’s more our style, and as tunes bop from a nearby restaurant we twirl in the New Year – may it be the best yet!!

 

Festive Florence

Festive Florence

Winter Holidays, December 2016
Florence, Italy

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.

As we’re coasting into Italy our pilot announces that we’ll arrive not in Florence, as planned, but Bologna, due to extreme fog in our expected destination. Dreams of a delicious Tuscan lunch forgotten, we watch the hours tick by as we await our luggage (everything’s slowed to a crawl in Bologna due to all the re-routed Florence fights!), then load a couple of very cramped buses for the hour trip to Florence airport. Gasps of astonishment waft through the bus as we approach Florence and see the entire city under a heavy blanket of clouds – and this at nearly 4 pm!
We’ve kept in touch with the owner, Gianni, of the apartment we’ve rented to let him know of our delays (can we rave once again about T-Mobile and their invaluable plans?  No extra charges for texts and data wherever we travel!), and he meets us with a smile and takes us to our spacious home for the next few days. Before we even unpack we find the closest hole-in-the-wall and order a pre-dinner snack – oh those delicious Tuscan sips and tastes!
Then back to settle in to the apartment, located just over the Ponte Vecchio in the Oltrarno district – a superb location! If you’re looking for a comfortable, well-located and well-priced Florence spot, we sure recommend Guicciardini 10! After dinner we stroll across the foggy old bridge and from one favorite piazza to another, enjoying the mysteriously misty Christmas lights.
We wake up to the Florence we are familiar with – bright and sunny! Crossing the city to an old favorite, Teatro del Sale, we renew our annual membership, then stroll the fabulous Mercato Sant’Ambrogio before lunch at the Teatro. There’s something for everyone in the market – fresh fruits and vegetables outside, beautifully prepared meats, creative appetizers and cheeses inside, and out the back door the antiques stalls that used to be set up by the old fish market. Here’s Kirk’s description of a row of intriguing antipasti platters: “Found in a Florentine market: An assortment of ground meaty stuffings wrapped in thin “leaves” of dough. Cook in the oven and serve to admiring guests. Also there are tons of meaty cheesy vegetably things tied in strings with bacon or sewn together with toothpicks to be cooked and presented together. You don’t see this stuff in Italian restaurants in the US. Gotta be here for the real deal. Yum.”
We’re happy to find out that photos are now allowed at Teatro del Sale, where the chef shouts out what’s coming from the oven or stove-top from the kitchen window, dishing out ribollita, a warming stew, from a giant pot.For years the creative owner, Fabio Picchi, honored with a bust and photos above the wood-stoked oven and still cooking up a storm, would gruffly deny any photos, but now allows us to snap to our heart’s content. Baking pans and oval platters of pastas, vegetables, roasted chicken, and my favorite olive-drizzled focaccia (I could fill up on just THAT for lunch!) keep filling the table and our stomachs, with plenty of serve-yourself wine and water.
Fresh clementines, a bowl of rich whipped cream for tall twirly cookies, almond cake, and diamonds of Cibreo’s (Picci’s elegant flagship restaurant, from which all of the others developed) melt-in-your-mouth chocolate cake sate our sweet tooth.
A reviving cup of Illy coffee in the library and we’re ready to hit the streets again.
Creative shop windows catch our eye as we walk to Piazza Santissima Annunziata with it’s unique monkey fountain, then back to Piazza del Duomo, full of so many memories. We had this view when we took Kirk’s dear mother to Florence, and rented an apartment so close we could almost touch the cathedral. And the soaring bell-tower always reminds me of climbing to the top with our grandchildren a few years later. From Kirk: “Here’s 30 seconds from the center of the Roman center of Florence. Romans tended to build near a river or a spring (preferably a hot spring) in a checkerboard pattern. There was usually one main east-west street called a decumanum and a north-south street called the cardo. You can see down all four directions from this point.”
As the sun sets we make it to Piazza Santa Croce, another favorite.F-lights, a holiday celebration of creative lighting on Florence icons, delights with art-class drawings projected on the simple facade of Santo Spirito, and near Palazzo Pitti colored balloons float above the street behind a marble column erected by Medici ruler Cosimo I in 1572 to commemorate his victory over Siena at the Battle of Marciano in 1554.Our time’s gone much too quickly – just enough hours to say hello to favorite spots – but before we go we can’t miss the Mercato Centrale, where we stock up on Tuscan specialties for our New Year’s Eve feast in Rome. And before the train speeds us south we peek into Santa Felicita at a Pontormo Annunciation, walk along the river to Torre San Niccolo, and are surprised by a rhinocerous hanging from the ceiling inside a beautiful palazzo, the city’s science museum.Bye-bye balloons, thanks for the party!

 

A Frescoed Lakeside Village

A Frescoed Lakeside Village

Saturday May 28, 2016, continued
Lake Orta, Italy

Interested in a Music and Markets Tour? We’d love to hear from you!
Why not join us on our newest tour in September – Bordeaux and Dordogne

We fell in love with petite Lake Orta, especially the alluring hamlet of Orta San Giulio, when we first saw it, so it’s definitely on our must-return list on this lake journey! Our journey from the Verbania side of Lake Maggiore gets us quickly to the top of Lake Orta, and the village of Omegna, where Alessi has been headquartered since the 1920s. 05281603 alessi hq top of ortaBright primary colors, flowing canals, and abundant greenery make up the compound, and we check out all of the marvelous design items in the factory store, crowned with an iconic teapot.
Orta San Giulio has become more tourist-friendly since we were last here…and a nice addition is a multi-story covered parking garage, where we find a spot and walk down to the enchanting village, looking up as we stroll to see all of the beautiful frescoes that we remember.05281603 fresco filled orta san giulioWe pause in the garden of the Palazzo Communale,05281603 from gardens of palazzo communale taking in the view of Isola San Giulio offshore,05281603 from gardens to island view went there last time link blog then meander through the portico on the side 05281603 gracious frescoes porchand out into the narrow lanes.
There’s that delightful balcony where we enjoyed an anniversary dinner 8 years ago! 05281603 memories diff resto same balconyThe restaurant name has changed – wonder if it’s even better than Antico Agnello?
Someone’s peeking out a window 05281603 peeking out a trompeloiel windowas we enter the main square, lakeside. And in front of this arcaded building, ancient heraldic shields fading in the sun,  05281603 uplook as we walka stage is being set up for an evening performance – wish we could stay longer!
The view from this rainbow row is terrific – 05281603 view of homes as pretty as view of lakeand we walk closer to shore to gaze out at the islet. 05281604 can taxi to monastery island link to previous blogWe boated out last time, today we’ll just look, perhaps with a bit of envy at those sailors. 05281604 enjoy perfect size of lake for a sail or driveUp the cobbled hill we go,05281604 hill up past more frescoes to seek out  some more frescoed beauties – a trio on this façade. 05281604 revisit trio of beautiesFrom a swooping Annunciation05281605 annunciation to a tender Madonna and Child, 05281605 sweet little madonnait must be a tale of Mary.
Aaah Lake Orta, you’re a fitting finish to our lake-ramble week. Back in our hillside apartment, a final sunset toast05281606 home in time for sunset to the beautiful Lake District of Italy!

Across the Lake

Across the Lake

Saturday May 28, 2016
Lake Maggiore, Italy

Interested in a Music and Markets Tour? We’d love to hear from you!
Why not join us on our newest tour in September – Bordeaux and Dordogne

That twinkly town we viewed across the lake last night? Verbania – and today we edge round the lake to explore it in person. Narrow streets are lined with vintage shop-fronts or colorful homes, elegant symmetry decked with blooms, 05281601 cute shops and pretty homesand the church opens out on to the sparkling lake.05281601 across the lake twinkling is verbaniaFrom the lakeside promenade (a string of lights along the shore from our perch on the hillside opposite) we figure out which is our apartment complex – above the large white building and to the right. 05281601 find our apartment acrossWe zigzagged up and up to get there yesterday, then from the parking lot climbed a couple of flights of stairs with our luggage to the first level of apartments – which seem miraculously attached to a rocky vertical hillside. You have to WORK for a view like that!
Does Italy have a Village Fleurie (flowery village) contest like France does?05281601 lakeside flower bedecked balconies If so, Verbania would be in the running!
Around the curve of this lakeside we continue, on to Intra, finding more elegant and flowery homes, 05281601 on to Intraand gazing in awe at men at work far above.05281602 at work menAs we look for a likely lunch spot, wanting to be outside, Kirk notes a sign for La Tavernetta, touting their giardino (garden)  – the menu looks great, and the leafy terrace very inviting – we’ll take it!05281602 kirk spies signs to la tavernetta giardino and its a winnerYes, it’s a winner – I could eat this gnocchi with gorgonzola and pears cooked in red wine every day!05281602 lunch could eat gnocchi with gorgonzola and pears cooked in red wine every dayWell-fed, we’re ready to continue our explorations –05281602 stroll back to car on to another lake on to another lake!

 

The Beautiful Island

The Beautiful Island

Friday May 27, 2016
Lake Maggiore, Italy

Interested in a Music and Markets Tour? We’d love to hear from you!
Why not join us on our newest tour in September – Bordeaux and Dordogne?

Goodbye Lake Garda – it’s been a pleasure! We’re on our way west to another of northern Italy’s string of beautiful lakes, Lake Maggiore, where we’ll spend our remaining days. From there it’ll be an easy less-than-an-hour drive to Milan’s airport when we have to leave.
We searched long and hard for a lake-view spot and oh did we find it! Clinging to a steep hill over the village of Baveno, Fausta’s holiday apartment gives us what we’re looking for…05271601 bavenoand the view’s so enticing we don’t want to stop and unpack!  But those suitcases can wait – we’ve arrived as early as possible since it looks like today will be the only rain-free day to enjoy the lake.
Next stop, Stresa, from where we ferry to Isola Bella, the beautiful island. 05271601 easy to get to milan drive to stresa ferry to isola bellaWe stayed in Stresa a few years ago, but didn’t get to the island and today’s our chance! It’s the perfect time of year to enjoy the gardens, terracing down the islet.05271601 enter palace on one side of island gardens spread to otherThe entrance to the gardens is through the palace at the far end…05271601 entrybut it’s the Italianate garden that’s the draw, covering nearly half of the island. 05271601 lush gardens most popular tourist draw in areaThe stretch of tacky souvenir stands from the garden exit to the ferry stop detracts from the beauty of the island – look up and enjoy the architecture to avoid them! 05271601 look up to avoid disconcerting abundance of tacky souvenir standsAnd be sure to wind through the narrow cobbled lanes of the old village – 05271601 tiny island wander arounda riot of color and creativity! 05271602 adorableFrom the terrace of the palace take in the view of Isola Pescatori, with a larger town and a couple of hotels. 05271602 beyond is another islandFerrying back to Stresa, we admire the pull-up-and-eat restaurant, 05271602 boat up for lunchwhich was doing a brisk business as we strolled by, and wave farewell to Isola Bella,05271602 farewell bella indeed! 05271602 isola bella indeedRemembering the flower-lined lakeside path of Stresa from our previous stay, we enjoy it once again,05271602 stresa stroll reference previous visit blogthen return to our own bella spot for an evening apero.05271602 time for aperoThe view is as intriguing as our delicious dinner…as the lights twinkle on across the lake. 05271603 lights twinkle on intriquing funicularKirk wants to head up that funicular on the right tomorrow!
Still watching as the night darkens…05271604 enjoy the showenjoy the show!

 

Along Lake Garda

Along Lake Garda

Thursday May 26, 2016
Lake Garda, Italy

Interested in a Music and Markets Tour? We’d love to hear from you!
Why not join us on our newest tour in September – Bordeaux and Dordogne?

We’ve taken tour clients to superb Sirmione and up along the eastern side of Lake Garda in the past, but have not seen the western shore, so that’s where we’ll explore today. At the coffee shop, we ask the friendly barista for his suggestions, and he jots down a few for us. First we wind around and up to Castello di Moniga del Garda, and find a walled citadel atop the hill.05261601 asked coffee shop guy first stop castello moniga di garda houses inside Parking outside, we walk through the towered gate and discover an entire little village inside the ancient walls!
Beside the gate, a touching sculpture on a balcony makes us wonder – who wants to remember this young girl staring up at the tower?05261601 balcony girlWell-kept homes line the trio of lanes running from the entry to the opposite wall…05261601 from one side to the otherfor how many centuries have people lived inside this hilltop fortress?
Next on the scribbled list is a tiny port, San Felice Porto, and we bring out the sandwiches and fruit we purchased in Desenzano, buy a drink from a beachside kiosk, and enjoy the view while we munch our lunch.05261601 lakeside tiny port for picnicCurving further along the shore, we pull off at a long parking lot to take in the view of Salo, across the water, 05261601 saloand although it’s intriguing, decide to climb up into the hills and return via the inland route to Desenzano. A brilliant field of red pulls us off the road, 05261601 up in hills poppies all pull overand we’re not the only ones finding a spot to stop and grab a photo of this eye-catcher! A nearby goatherd is used to all this beauty, and just relaxes in the shade as the poppies shimmer beside him.05261602 beside field goatherdAfter dinner on our terrace we take one last stroll around this lakeside beauty – 05261602 desenzano dinner and strollwe’ll gladly return to show it off to Music and Markets guests!
As we turn to walk home we hear singing, and as we watch, a parade of worshipers pass through the center of town, 05261602 hear chantingcelebrating Corpus Christi. For how many centuries, we wonder, have the faithful marked this date on these cobbled lanes?