Wednesday, September 24, 2014

End of the road

Trip of a Lifetime

Twelve to thirteen hours on the train system moving from Cortona, Italy to Frankfurt, Germany gives you lots of time to reflect back on the last three weeks. Experiencing a world outside of your own effects you in a positive way and adding exercise and the quiet backcountry is icing on the cake. Everyone agrees this has been the trip of a lifetime and I think everyone would come back if given the opportunity. We have noticed so many differences between countries but the people are really all the same, friendly, helpful and proud of their towns. The differences are small like, the foods eaten, passports are used for identification primarily, they don't seem to be worried about being sued, people still smoke a lot but the elderly seem to be in much better health, everyone is very conservative with electricity. No ice, no clothes dryers, lights go on and off automatically, etc. we didn't see a lot of surveillance cameras and all the cars are small, probably for fuel consumption as much as the tiny streets they have to drive. Family and friends take priority at dinner, you never see cell phones at the tables, they take hours in the restaurants just eating and enjoying each other's company and the restaurants are not in a hurry to boot you out. We Americans usually end up asking for the bill. 
A big thank you goes to Tammy for spending all her time organizing and making arrangements for us all. Without Joanne and Renee, our map and trail leaders extraordinaire, who knows where we might have ended up. And my heart felt love to my roommate, Melissa, who keeps me laughing and is the easiest person in the world to have as a roomy. I will follow you anywhere!  
Thanks to Sue who stayed in the lead, we learned early on that we all had our own pace for hiking and no matter how many times we stopped or got out of line we always fell back in our place of comfort. 
We have been on trains all day and it is almost 10 pm and hopefully will arrive soon, we came through Northern Italy with it's chalet type homes, thru Austria, which looks like a good country to check out sometime and we are now in Germany. 
We are all ready to return home to our families but I will miss the commraderie and shared adventure we have experienced the last three weeks

Until we meet again!!
Oktoberfest in Germany

Tuesday, September 23, 2014

Arrivederci Italiano

Our last day in Italy has been nothing short of amazing. I can only speak on behalf of Melissa, Tammy, Joanne and myself as Renee and Sue left early this morning for Rome and won't be back until very late tonight. I am sure their time in Rome will be amazing as well.
We had no schedules to meet and only a few shopping items we wanted to look for so we started to just stroll around the city. We came across a very unusual looking church and just happened to notice a unique flower growing on a vine on the side of the church. We asked a man passing by if he knew what it was, although he did not speak English he did get across it was called "the passion of Christ". Wow, how cool is that! Here it is growing on a church, he indicated through gestures that it had something to do with nailing Christ to the cross. 
The town of Cortona is the home of Frances Mayes, the author of Under The Tuscan Sun and the location of the movie, so we went to the visitor center to see where the house, called Bramasole, is located. She showed us on the map so we started walking. We walked on the most beautiful road to get there, when we arrived at the house there were a lot of workers around cutting trees and working on the yard. We asked one of the workers if this was the right house and a man stepped out from behind a truck and said "yes, this is my house." Tammy said, "you must be Ed" and he responded, "yes I am." I then recognized him as a person Shirley, our cooking instructor, had talked to in the piazza the day before. When I brought that to his attention he remembered us, he told us they have lived in the house for 25 years but travel back and forth between North Carolina and here. He told us of the Italian cooking book he and his wife wrote together, The Tuscan Cookbook. After chatting for a bit and taking a picture with him he told of another route to take to get back to the village and of a little cafe to stop for a cappuccino. We took his advice and followed the route found the cafe and had a cappuccino then walked another beautiful road. Back in the village we went into some shops and finished buying the last items on our list. 
Each day in Cortona we have walked the same street passing a cafe with a waiter who stands in the doorway when he is not busy. Each time he comments to us about seeing us again so today went there for lunch. 
After lunch we went back to our rooms to rest and do some reading then about 5pm we headed out again just to check things out. We had our last Italian gelato bought a bottle of wine and some cheese  to finish out our time in Italy. 
Unusual church
Passion of Christ flower and fruit
Road to Bramasole 
The girls with Ed Mayes, husband of author Frances Mayes

Monday, September 22, 2014

Bon Appetito

We Americans are known for consuming large portions of food at a sitting but today we were all crying uncle!! 
Our Italian cooking school started when we met Shirley Ofria of, at a little cafe in Cortona. Shirley was born in California but moved to Italy when her husband relocated his work here in 2005. They own an agriturismo and she holds cooking classes three or four times a week. She took us to four different markets to buy the ingredients for today's meals. We started at a market that let you touch and examine the fruits and vegetables, then we went to a vegetable market where you were not allowed to touch anything. We then went to a bread and cheese market and lastly a meat market. Everything Shirley purchased was fresh. She then drove us to her house which was even higher on the mountain than Cortona. It was beautiful and so quiet. She has chickens which she uses for the eggs but even they did not make much noise. 
She put us all to work right away making dough for focaccia bread, then she had us start making Tiramisu so it could set up in the refridgerator. We made fennel salad with orange slices, stuffed zucchini blossoms, rice stuffed tomatoes, a meat tray with five different meats including meat from the cheeks of a pig, various cheeses, a melon with balsamic and oil served on arugula, and that was just for lunch. After lunch it was time to start making pasta but we really just wanted to take a nap. As you might guess, that was out of the question, so we did the dishes and started in again. We hand made three different types of pasta and four different sauces. We learned that north of Rome there is not a lot of garlic used in cooking but south of Rome there is a lot used. We also learned that coffee prices in Italy are regulated by the government and that measuring cups are based on the British measure which is 10oz to our 8oz. 
The pastas were done by 7 which was only about three or four hours after we had all that lunch but we managed to eat some of all four dishes, but wait we weren't done yet. There was also a chicken and mushroom dish, as well as, a kale vegetable dish and boiled onions to eat. When Shirley, who is very tiny, saw that we hadn't finished all the food she seemed disappointed, doesn't she know the human stomach only holds about one liter?
We made some delicious food and had some great wine with it but the best part of course was the tiramisu, funny we all seemed to have a little room left for that.
Hands on market
Hands off market
Breads and cheese
Shirley's kitchen
Making tiramisu 
Stuffed tomatoes
Making focaccia bread

Stuffed zucchini blossoms
The girls as Shirley calls them
Handmade noodles
Noodle rolls
Beautiful handmade noodles
Four pastas
View from Shirley's house

Sunday, September 21, 2014

And our Adventure Continues!!

This morning we all got up early as we had a 10am train to catch to Cortona and the taxi to the train station was picking us up at 9:15am. After the cabs dropped us off (we had to take two because there are six of us) we are checking on the train schedule and find out all the trains and busses for the day are cancelled due to a strike. We figured our only alternative is to call Beppe, he is our contact with Via del Sole, the company with which we were just hiking through Italy. Beppe was so helpful and said he would send Nicolo right over to pick us up. Nicolo then arranged for his Mother's husband to also come and help transfer us to Cortona. We were so grateful as it is Sunday and we know we are taking up their personal time. We cannot say enough good things about the company, Via del Sole and Macs Adventures, they have done an outstanding job with their route instructions and map getting us safely to each destination. The routes have all been challenging and beautiful, full of adventure. 
When we got to Cortona we went exploring, had lunch and then back to our hotel. The desk clerk at our Hotel Sabrina offered to take Melissa and Tammy to a youth hostel where he also works and let them do laundry. He would not take any compensation for doing such a kind gesture. The hostel was in an old monestary and was spotlessly clean.  They are expecting 65 youths from Switzerland to arrive  tomorrow. The desk clerk also recommended a pasta dish called Pici de Fuma so off we went for dinner to find this dish. Well we found it and we all agree, it is the best pasta we have EVER had!!


You have to have the bad to be able to recognize the good

Yesterday was our last day of hiking in Italy and it was bittersweet. We are so grateful for the beautiful weather we have had every day, although, yesterday the sun was pretty intense but then every shaded area provided a gentle breeze to cool us off. It has been suggested that maybe we are losing weight as we cross all the miles of France and Italy. That would be wonderful if it were the case but unfortunately, a staple of breakfast is croissants and a reward for reaching our destinations is gelato so the best we can hope for is that we are ridding our bodies of toxins through all the sweating. 
We started our day with Nicolo and his mother, Roberta, transferring us to a specific spot to start our hike. We passed horse farms, we were attacked by a gaggle of geese that were almost more ferocious than the dogs and a turkey that looked like he had been drinking radiated water as his head sort of glowed blue. We passed by beautiful country homes on the outskirts of Siena. Siena is famous for several things, one is the Palio which is a horse race held several times a year in the Piazza del Campo. This piazza is shaped like a bowl, during the race the people stand down in the center and the horses race around the upper edge. Siena has Roman origins which accounts for the town symbol of a she-wolf suckling the young twins Romulus and Remus of Roman legends. We saw this statue in several places through the city. The families of Siena belong to different contradas with each of 21 contrada having their own flag. 
We were at the right place at the right time and saw a parade of old antique race cars go by. In the evening as we were walking about we came on a dance troup that was performing modern dance in the square in front of the duomo, by then it had turned dark and we walked another couple miles just trying to find our historic hotel, the Chiusarelli.
Roberta and Nicolo
My size horse
Magnolia bud