Hilltowns and Fireworks

Hilltowns and Fireworks

Saturday, December 31, 2011
Orvieto, Lucignano & Florence, Italy

Interested in a Music and Markets Tour? We’d love to hear from you!
Next on the itinerary: Visions of Venice

Piazza del Popolo looks quite different this morning. Rather than cars, jazz and revelers, it’s filled with market booths and shoppers. Plans today are for a special lunch on the way to Florence, where we’ve rented an apartment, and a delicious dinner chez nous (can I use that phrase in Italy??) So we’ve got a simple menu planned and are on the prowl for fresh and tasty Italian ingredients…. some 2011 olive oil, just pressed in November, arugula, artichokes in olive oil and some smoked goose breast and aged balsamic vinegar so we can recreate last night’s salad. A chunk of aged Parmiggiano from the cheese man, fresh pasta filled with zucca (pumpkin) from the pasta shop, a slab of butter and a few sage leaves to dress the pasta.
We get a few staples at the little grocery shop, where Kirk waits in line for at least half an hour – EVERYBODY’S shopping before places are closed for the holiday. I return to the pasta shop to pick up the tortelli which they’ve prepared for us… and on the way run into smiling Marlena de Blasi and Fernando and we chat a bit. Kirk and I so enjoyed reading “The Lady in the Palazzo” together – describing the ups and downs of their life in Orvieto.
We’ve already got some Vin Santo (sweet “holy wine”) from Siena, so we add some ricciarelli (almond cookies) and hazelnut cookies from the pastry shop and we’re set for dinner – it’ll keep cold in the car on this chilly day.
Arrivederci, Orvieto – that Italian goodbye actually means we’ll see you again, and it’s easy to depart when we WILL be back soon – for a Wine Tourism Workshop in early February. We’ve chosen the Umbria post-tour, and our last night of the trip will be in our own favorite Palazzo Piccolomini in Orvieto! It will be fun to be led around the city on a tour – we’re hoping to learn some new secrets!
Now we’re off to Lucignano, which is rather off the international tourist track, but is an Italian favorite, and has easily become one of ours too.

Tucked into the wall is little Oste Matto (Crazy Host), a highly rated restaurant that we’re eager to try. And what a treat it is! Quirky design – such as this web of light fixtures, some bulbs brighter than others, emerging from a twist on the wall,

mismatched water glasses, and fragments of ’20’s ads peeking through the distressed paint on the walls.

The cuisine carries on the playful theme, with new twists on typical Italian flavors, such as tempura battered balls of parmiggiano with pear conserve and dried fruits and nuts ( a don’t- miss appetizer for sure!) , or a sunny side up egg on melted peccorino cheese topped with shaved black truffle.

This pear/ gorgonzola/ walnut risotto was superb – hmmmm, can I make this at home?

We control ourselves today, sharing a main course of duck breast with fennel and orange, and just one dessert – a fabulous gianduja mousse garnished with caramel créme.

Loved these cool little coffee cups – they’re ceramic, but look like old-fashioned tinware.

We ask if we can take the rest of our bottle of wine with us – “Certo!” (certainly!) and the waiter whisks the bottle away, corks it, and brings it back in a little shoulder sling – cool!

We take a few minutes to walk around the hamlet, which circles like a snail, rising to the church-topped center, where people are arriving for a wedding

in the white rose adorned sanctuary.

This has got to be one of the most gorgeous 31 December’s we’ve ever experienced – can you believe this sky??

It’s an easy drive to the Florence airport, where we’ve arranged to drop off the car since it’s so very difficult to avoid any ZTL (limited traffic zone) fine in Florence city… there have been WAY too many times that we’ve gotten a multi-100 euro bill from the car rental company as much as a year after a rental, much as we try to avoid any “forbidden” street. Well this rental return turns out to be a fiasco …. the car drop off is no longer at the airport, but off site. Did anyone tell us that this just changed earlier this month? When we arranged the rental or picked up the car? No. So we drive around and around, calling Europcar to find out where to go, calling the apartment owner to let her know why we’re late. We have to get there soon to check in since she has a New Year’s Eve party of her own to attend! Finally we find the off site lot, poorly signposted and not official looking at all, gladly hand off the car, and taxi to the apartment – whew!
Rachel of Florentine Flats smilingly greets us and shows us around her darling one bedroom flat close to the Uffizzi – we love it! We’re eager to get out and see where the celebrations are tonight – just around the corner at Piazza Signoria is one.

Florence has gotten creative with the lights this year – love these fleur-de- lis on Corso

and these old- fashioned lanterns on Calzaiuoli. These shop- filled streets are more enticing than ever!

We whip up our yummy dinner at the apartment – here’s our version of the smoked goose breast/ arugula salad – and it’s as good as the restaurant’s!

And now it’s time to party!
We dance to the tunes of a jazz band on Piazza Republica,

sway to a Viennese waltz by the Ukranian Symphony on Piazza Signoria,

then stop by the apartment to pick up our bottle of Prosecco and join the crowds by the Arno to toast the New Year while fireworks shoot up from Piazzale Michelangelo.

Lots of families have brought their own – we’re surrounded by booms and sparkles!

Welcome, Duemilladodici – 2012 is so much fun to say in Italian!