NOVEMBER 9, 2014—We Have Returned!!

We have arrived safely in Indianapolis. We would like to thank all of you who have followed our blog and emailed us while we were traveling. The trip was amazing, but it is good to be back. We are a bit tired after traveling for most of two years. We hope to rest and recuperate and then catch-up with family and friends.

We last posted on October 10th. In the last month, we covered a lot of ground and have many things to share with you. From Geneva, we drove to Beaune, France the wine capital of Burgundy. We spent two days exploring the city and the vineyards around Beaune, which produce some of the world’s best and most expensive, red and white wines. One of the outstanding sights in Beaune is the Hospices de Beaune, which was founded in 1443 as a hospital for the poor. The Northern Renaissance architecture was amazing. It was also one of the first hospitals to admit men and women in the same facility. Today the Hospices de Beaune holds a charity auction of wine that is one of the largest and financially successful wine auctions in the world.

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One of the vineyards we visited near Beaune was the Chateau Meursalt. The Chateau dates to the 11th century and was owned by a lawyer. We toured the tasting rooms and the “caves”, underground tunnels where the wine is aged. The Chateau produces both red and white wines. The Chateau produces grand cru and premier cru red and white wines. As you may recall, grand cru in Burgundy is top of the chart while premier cru is the second best on the chart.

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From Beaune, we drove to Epernay, France, which is the center for the production of Champagne. In Epernay, you will find Moet & Chandom, the maker of Dom Perignon, as well as Pol Roger, Winston Churchill’s favorite Champagne, Perrier-Jouet, Mercier and many others. Some of the houses are located in Reims, which is not far away.

Just a little something we saw along the way to Epernay.

Just a little something we saw along the way to Epernay.

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We did a tour of Veuve Cliquots house and cellars in Reims. The name means the “Widow Cliquot”. She was the only woman to run a Champagne house. We learned a lot about the production of Champagne, which is substantially different from our lessons on Bordeaux and Burgundy wine production.

 

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Most of the bottles are still turned by hand.

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Think Norm will find a wine he likes in the “Wine List”??? Pretty Thick Book, for sure!

After Epernay, we drove to Chantilly France to visit the Chateau Chantilly, which was built in 1560 and is the center of France’s equestrian training. It was also featured in the movie A View to a Kill.

 

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This is how they keep the grounds mowed!

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After Epernay, we drove to Fontainebleau to see the Palace of Fontanbleau, which is one of the largest royal chateaus of France. This Palace was used as a Palace by Louis VII through Napolean I. It is kind of a miniature Versailles, although miniature could not be used to describe anything in the Palace. It is incredibly large, beautiful and full of original antiques including the desk that Napolean used to abdicate his throne.

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The bed Napoleon slept in as a small child.

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From Fontanbleau, we drove to our final destination Paris, France. In Paris, we rented a two-bedroom, two-bathroom apartment for the final two weeks of our trip. The apartment was located on Rue de Cherche du Midi and Boulevard Montparnasse. This was a great location near shops, restaurants, cafes and nightlife. The apartment had a very modern kitchen, living room, dining room, two bedrooms and two baths. We must have said to each other at least 100 times that we could not believe the apartment had two bathrooms but only one toilet. Which would mean that all your guests would have to walk through your master bedroom to use the toilet. Weird, we thought.

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Every window in our apartment had a balcony, very unusual for Paris. We loved the views!

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We did not find the second water closet or toilet for a whole week! We were having toilet issues, (since the only toilet, or so we thought, had a motor in it) and the motor quit working when you pushed the button. Yes, most Europeans push a button to flush. LOL! So we called for a repair and lo and behold, they wanted to know which toilet it was???? Well, behind door number 3 in the foyer….. another water closet!! Yeah!!

Lining up outside to get their daily "French Bread"!

Lining up outside to get their daily “French Bread”!

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Most famous hot chocolate in Paris, Rita had white chocolate, and Norm had Dark Chocolate!

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Watching Roger Federer was awesome!

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Stuffed Chicken breasts wrapped in goat intestines. We about “S@*T”, but it actually melts away, like a casing on a sausage or hot dog.

To start off the final 14 days properly, we took a bateau mouche riverboat cruise on the Seine at night and got to see all the Paris monuments from the river. Of course, the monuments were illuminated since it was evening and the lights were beautiful, especially Notre Dame and the Eiffel Tower. Our days in Paris went very quickly. We took two more French cooking classes. We learned to de-bone an entire chicken, but the French way, which is different than the American way.   We also learned to cook a contemporary French meal. Besides walking a lot and eating a lot, we did manage to visit the re-opening of the Picasso Museum, which had been closed for 5 years for refurbishing.

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We also visited the Louis Vuitton Foundation Museum on its opening day. It was designed by the great contemporary architect, Frank Gehry.

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We tried to get tickets to the BNP Paribis Masters tennis matches, but they were all sold out, so we tried our French language skills at a local ticket broker, and luckily, we were able to snag the last two tickets to the Wednesday matinee tennis matches, which included Andy Murray and Roger Federer.

Of course, we revisited the Desmadryl family for a going away dinner. And, finally, we had our final meal in Paris on the Eiffel Tower. That was a very full two weeks of Paris at its best! Now you know why we need time to rest and recuperate.

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The Smokin’ Dog, at the corner of our street!

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Ceiling in the Galeries Lafayette, the shopping mall.

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The other floors in the Galleries Lafayette Mall.

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Wow, I ordered a sprite and got a bottle of shit!! LOL!

Wow, I ordered a sprite and got a bottle of shit!! LOL!

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This will be our final blog on our three months in France and Italy. It was well worth the time, money, effort and sacrifices, which made it all possible. It has also been rewarding to us to share our trips with you, our followers. Many of you have expressed how much you have enjoyed our blog and its photos. We thank you for following us and if we decide to create future breathtaking moments in our lives, we will certainly share them with you again.

 

 

Geneva, Switzerland

October 10, 2014

We last posted on September 26th. That has been 13 days ago when we were packed and ready to leave Greve for destinations undecided. During the last 13 days, we have been very busy. We have been to Milan, Lake Iseo, Lake Garda, Venice, Lake Como, St. Moritz, Appenzell, Zermatt and this evening we arrived in Geneva, Switzerland. We have been busy, seeing a lot of wonderful places, and enjoying every minute of it. Unfortunately, we have only 22 days left in Europe.

 In Milan, we saw the Cathedral of Milan. Not only did we tour the inside of the Cathedral, we went to the top of it so we could see the beautiful view over Milan and to get a better eye for the structure and how this magnifcent place was actually built.  It is the third largest cathedral in the world, took six centuries to build, and is the greatest example of Gothic architecture in Italy.   As you will remember, Gothic architecture is best known for its pointed arch above the entry door, the ribbed vaulted ceilings and the external flying buttresses for support. The cathedral also has one of the venerated nails from Jesus’s cross.

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We also viewed the Last Supper painting by Leonardo Da Vinci in Santa Maria delle Grazie. Da Vinci started the work in 1495 and completed it in 1598. Unfortunately, he tried a new technique of painting on a dry plaster wall, rather than a wet plaster wall, which would have been a true fresco. Da Vinci new technique did not work and has been painted over several times and little remains of the original work of Da Vinci. Nevertheless, the painting is inspiring. It is the second most recognized painting in the world after the Mona Lisa, another Da Vinci. The third most recognized painting is ceiling of the Sistine Chapel, by Michelangelo.   Rita and I have been fortunate to have been able to see all three of these paintings. We were not allowed to photograph the Last Supper, or anything inside the building where it is viewed.  Sorry about that.  No pics of it.

Our less religious endeavors in Milan included a visit to the Galleria Vittorio Emanuele II where Rita took a spin on the bull’s balls for good luck, which is a local custom in Milan. The Galleria is one of the world’s oldest shopping centers. Today it is filled with luxury shops like Prada, Gucci, etc. The bull’s balls are part of the tiled floor at the Galleria and are part of the symbol of the city of Turin, Italy. Local custom is that if you stand on the bull’s balls and spin around, you will have good luck. I hope Rita has good luck, because the bull’s balls certainly did not!! So many people spinning on them have worn them away. Instead, there is just a hole in the tile where the bull’s balls used to be.

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From Milan, we drove around Lake Iseo and Lake Garda in Italy on our way to Venice to see if any celebrities were still hanging out in Venice after George Clooney’s wedding. The Lakes were beautiful and surrounded by mountains. Unfortunately, there is some pollution in the air that makes them seem a bit smogged in like Los Angeles is at times.

Venice was lovely even though it rained one day. We did not see any celebrities, but we were not disappointed with the sights in Venice including St. Mark’s Square, the Grand Canal, the Bridge of Sighs, the Doge’s Palace, the battle of the orchestra’s, and the Rialto Bridge.

Since we could not find George in Venice, we decided to visit him at his home at Lake Como.   We rented a boat for the afternoon and drove by his “compound” of four homes on Lake Como. They were nice, but not over the top. But, his compound has lovely gardens. He bought his home from Mrs. Heinz (of Ketchup fame), who owns another home on Lake Como, as do the Rockefellers. Unfortunately, George was not at his home.

A short drive from Lake Como over the Italian Alps and into the Swiss Alps is St. Moritz. St. Moritz is a ski resort for the rich and famous of Europe. We were there in October and it was pretty much closed because the summer season was over and the winter season had not started. But, the drive to St. Moritz as through the most beautiful mountains and alongside blue lakes made the visit worthwhile for us.

We spent only one night in St. Moritz and from there we drove North and a little East through Switzerland and even entered the small country of Liechtenstein for part of the drive before we arrived in an area of Switzerland known as Appenzell. Appenzell is farmland nestled into green, rolling hills. It is not just any old green, but the greenest green you will ever see in your life. The cows have bells around their necks and when you stop and get out of your car, all you hear are the cowbells ringing from hillside to hillside. The music of the bells is beautiful to hear. Appenzell is composed of independent Swiss. They did not allow women to vote until 1991. They also defied the Swiss national government by refusing to teach German or Italian in school, but instead teaching English. Their homes are made mostly of wood and all the windows have the most beautiful flower boxes. Most of the homes are painted bright colors. Appenzell looks idyllic to us.

From Appenzell, we drove to Zermatt, Switzerland by way of Lucerne. We only had a couple of hours in Lucerne, but the old city was beautiful. Lucerne is located on the Reuss River, which flows through the city into Lake Lucerne. In the middle of the River and old city, there is a wooden bridge known as the Chapel Bridge, which is the oldest covered bridge in Europe even though a large part of it was destroyed by fire in 1993. The Chapel Bridge is the second most photographed sight in Switzerland after the Matterhorn, which is located in Zermatt. On our drive to Zermatt from Lucerne, Rita drove the Novena della Passo in a blinding fog.   It is the second highest pass in Switzerland. Rita could not see a thing, but that was also very good because there were no guardrails. In places the road was only single lane, and, of course, as we climbed to the 8,130 feet to cross over the pass, there was snow.   Rita was white knuckled and scared SH*TLESS!!!! We didn’t speak during our entire climb up and down the pass, but rather held our breaths and silently prayed. After an hour of driving, we descended from the pass into sunshine and were greatly relieved.

Zermatt is a ski town in the Swiss Alps that border on Italy. It is a small village of 3500 people. Besides skiing, people go to Zermatt to see and photograph the Matterhorn, one of the most beautiful and recognizable mountains, in the world. We spent three days in Zermatt waiting for the weather surrounding the Matterhorn to clear so that we could take a photograph. But, the wait was well worth it. Once the weather broke, we also rode a train to 10,000 feet above sea level to get a better view of the Matterhorn and 29 of Switzerland’s 35 peaks over 13, 135 feet.

Today we drove from Zermatt to Geneva, Switzerland along Lake Geneva and through Montreux and Lausanne, Switzerland. We are spending a couple of days in Geneva to unwind before we enter France for the final leg of our journey. Stay tuned.  We’ll post the rest of the pictures soon, we have to check out now!! Loosing our great wifi connection!

  
Finally the Pictures from our last blog!  Beginning with our drive to Lake Iseo and Lake Garda.  

Just another round-a-bout decoration! Ryka made in Italy.

Just another round-a-bout decoration! RIVA made in Italy.

This is just on one of the winding curvy roads on our way to Lake Iseo. Riva di Solto.

This is just on one of the winding curvy roads on our way to Lake Iseo. Riva di Solto.

This is in Lovere. Such a beautiful drive.

This is in Lovere. Such a beautiful drive.

Toscolano-Maderno from the road.

Toscolano-Maderno from the road.

This is in the little town of Toscolano - Maderno facing the lake.

This is in the little town of Toscolano – Maderno facing the lake.

View of the pool and Lake Garda from Gargnano with all the "haze" that surrounds this part of the area.

View of the pool and Lake Garda from Gargnano with all the “haze” that surrounds this part of the area.

We finally found our hotel in Gargnano, on Lake Garda, after quite awhile without GPS working. It was at the top of a hill, actually 9.2 km up the hill.

We finally found our hotel in Gargnano, on Lake Garda, after quite awhile without GPS working. It was at the top of a hill, actually 9.2 km up the hill.

Took this picture while I was driving out of Gargnano, just such pretty scenery, couldn't resist.

Took this picture while I was driving out of Gargnano, just such pretty scenery, couldn’t resist.

This is on our way back to Venice, we went through a lot of these, this one is short, but some were miles long.

This is on our way back to Venice, we went through a lot of these, this one is short, but some were miles long.

Now we are in Venice!

Not a lot of traffic today on the Grand Canal!

Not a lot of traffic today on the Grand Canal!

Well, you can sure tell that George is gone!! This is the view from our balcony. We found out that CNN had our room while George was in town and they broadcasted from it! Cool!

Well, you can sure tell that George is gone!! This is the view from our balcony. We found out that CNN had our room while George was in town and they broadcasted from it! Cool!

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Nice day for a gondola ride!

Nice day for a gondola ride!

Bridge of Sighs.

Bridge of Sighs.

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Love these "roads" here in Venice!

Love these “roads” here in Venice!

 

And back to Lake Como! 

We stayed here in Tremezzo, on Lake Como.

We stayed here in Tremezzo, on Lake Como.

Here's Norm!! We're wondering why our car gets to be parked right here at the entrance, it's not a Ferrari or a Lamborghini !!!!

Here’s Norm!! We’re wondering why our car gets to be parked right here at the entrance, it’s not a Ferrari or a Lamborghini !!!!

Church along the coast of Lake Como.

Church along the coast of Lake Como.

What they used for the James Bond Movie " Casino Royale"!

What they used for the James Bond Movie ” Casino Royale”!

Just another lovely home that you can rent.... probably for a million gazillion dollars!!!

Just another lovely home that you can rent…. probably for a million gazillion dollars!!!

This hotel is for sale... Norm's been pondering this venture.

This hotel is for sale… Norm’s been pondering this venture.

Missoni ( designer ) home.

Missoni ( designer ) home.

First sighting of George's home, on the left, behind the BIG trees. You can't see, but there are two other buildings (large homes) behind this that is also on his compound. One is a studio.

First sighting of George’s home, on the left, behind the BIG trees. You can’t see, but there are two other buildings (large homes) behind the house which is also on his compound. One is a studio.

He does have a lot of "lake frontage and property".

He does have a lot of “lake frontage and property”.

This is his guest house, at the end of the garden area.

This is his guest house, at the end of the garden area.

This was just a beautiful place along the waterfront!

This was just a beautiful place along the waterfront!

We were told that kids jump off the top of this yellow home, there is a terrace up there and they jump directly into the lake! Must be crazy-ass Italians!!

We were told that kids jump off the top of this yellow home, there is a terrace up there and they jump directly into the lake! Must be crazy-ass Italians!!

Bellagio, a very quaint village on Lake Como.

Bellagio, a very quaint village on Lake Como.

This home belongs to the Guinness, still the best selling beer in Ireland.

This home belongs to the Guinness, still the best selling beer in Ireland.

Rockefeller's house is the one in the trees overlooking Bellagio.

Rockefeller’s house is the one in the trees overlooking Bellagio.

Nice corner lot we loved!!

Nice corner lot we loved!!

And the Heinz Palace. This is as close as we could get, the people here in Italy are very respectful of Mrs. Heinz.

And the Heinz Palace. This is as close as we could get, the people here in Italy are very respectful of Mrs. Heinz.

Couldn't get the huge mountain behind this lovely home in the picture, but I think you get the point.

Couldn’t get the huge mountain behind this lovely home in the picture, but I think you get the point.

Could this be a postcard?

Could this be a postcard?

 

Now we are on our way to Switzerland. 

 

Now we're back on the road again to Switzerland. Think this is what they call falling rock? Or a half of a tunnel?

Now we’re back on the road again to Switzerland. Think this is what they call falling rock? Or one half of a tunnel?

I think we just crossed into Switzerland!

I think we just crossed into Switzerland!

And now, the real beauty begins. This is also taken while driving.

And now, the real beauty begins. This is also taken while driving.

And the curvy, winding roads begin, uphill here.

And the curvy, winding roads begin, uphill here.

Imagine if you had this view every day.

Imagine if you had this view every day.

Now this is one of my favorite pictures! Lake Sils, Switzerland.

Now this is one of my favorite pictures! Lake Sils, Switzerland.

St. Moritz, another beautiful place.

St. Moritz, another beautiful place.

They do have modern architecture in St. Moritz.

They do have modern architecture in St. Moritz.

View from the roof of our hotel in St. Moritz.

View from the roof of our hotel in St. Moritz.

View of the Lake of St. Moritz.

View of the Lake of St. Moritz.

 

Here are some views of the countryside. 

 

These views are everywhere, Mamorera Lake, Switzerland.

These views are everywhere, Mamorera Lake, Switzerland.

I've got to stop taking pictures while driving, but I just couldn't stop myself!

I’ve got to stop taking pictures while driving, but I just couldn’t stop myself!

We could not believe the beauty here.

We could not believe the beauty here.

This is the close up....

This is the close up….

This is the countryside photo.

This is the countryside photo.

So.. while Norm is out of the car, chasing these guys along the road for a picture of the cowbell, this guy comes up to my car window and says hello! I got the good picture!! LOL !

So.. while Norm is out of the car, chasing these guys along the road for a picture of the cowbell, this guy comes up to my car window and says hello! I got the good picture!! LOL !

 

Appenzell, Switzerland - known for their "Painted Houses".

Appenzell, Switzerland – known for their “Painted Houses”.

We were amazed at how the gravesites were all in a perfect row and decorated!

We were amazed at how the gravesites were all in a perfect row and decorated!

Another view of Appenzell.

Another view of Appenzell.

Train station in Appenzell.

Train station in Appenzell.

This countryside just goes on forever! Such beauty.

This countryside just goes on forever! Such beauty.

WAIT!!!! We have a little roadblock ahead of us!

WAIT!!!! We have a little roadblock ahead of us!

 

Then, on to Lucerne!

 

The bridge in Lucerne. Oldest wooden bridge in Europe. Second most photographed sight in Switzerland.

The bridge in Lucerne. Oldest wooden bridge in Europe. Second most photographed sight in Switzerland.

Little guy in Lucerne.

Little guy in Lucerne.

View of Lucerne from the bridge.

View of Lucerne from the bridge.

YEP!! Heidi is from here!

YEP!! Heidi is from here!

And…. Zermatt!

 

View of Zermatt from our bedroom.

View of Zermatt Village from our bedroom.

Chandelier in our apartment in Zermatt!

Chandelier in our apartment in Zermatt!

O.K. what do you call this kind of building?

O.K. what do you call this kind of building?

These types of homes are all over the place.

These types of homes are all over the place.

One of the many streets in Zermatt.

One of the many streets in Zermatt.

Nice use of old shoes!

Nice use of old shoes!

Sunrise view from our room! Yes, I do get up early, I actually had to show this to Norm.

Sunrise view from our room! Yes, I do get up early, I actually had to show this to Norm.

Nice view from Zermatt of the Matterhorn.

Nice view from Zermatt of the Matterhorn.

On our way up to the top view!

On our way up to the top view!

 

Almost there!

Almost there!

We're here! Now lets get off this train and look around!

We’re here! Now lets get off this train and look around!

 

Beautiful view from the top!

Beautiful view from the top!

We made it!

We made it!

Another nice view from the train on the way down!

Another nice view from the train on the way down!

Close train tracks all the way up and down (when there are two sets)!

Close train tracks all the way up and down (when there are two sets)!

Now these people have this view every day! WOW!!

Now these people have this view every day! WOW!!

Another postcard in the making!

Another postcard in the making!

September 26, 2014—Arrividerci Greve in Chianti!

It has been three weeks since we have posted; and we have been very busy. The biggest event of the year in Greve is the Chianti Wine Festival. This year was the 44th year for the festival. The triangular shaped main Piazza Matteotti in Greve is closed to car traffic and booths are set up on the Piazza for approximately 50 Wineries/Vineyards that produce Chianti wine in the vicinity of Greve. You buy a wine glass for $26 and it entitles you to taste the wines of 7 Wineries/Vineyards. The festival starts on Thursday and runs until Sunday. This year the opening days were marred by rain.But, on Sunday evening there was a record crowd on hand.We went to the festival on Friday to kind of check it out and had a good time!

Then, on Saturday, Rita had friends from Ft. Wayne, Louise, Kevin, Bonnie and David stopped by Greve on a drive through Chianti. They stayed with us at the villa for 4 days and we had a nice visit and caught up on all the news from back home.

Kevin and Louise

Kevin and Louise

Louise, Norm, Rita, Bonnie and Dave, (Kevin took pic)

Louise, Norm, Kevin, Bonnie and Dave, (Rita took pic)

Dave, Bonnie, Louise, Norm and Rita

Dave, Bonnie, Louise, Norm and Rita

On Sunday night, we took the Ft. Wayne group to the Festival thinking that the last day would be quiet and winding down the event. When we got to the Piazza, however, we could not believe the crowds. They had sold out of the engraved wine glasses with the Chianti logo on them and were using last minute substitutes. There were so many people in the Piazza that it was difficult to walk around and taste the wines. There were marching bands, lots of people were “decked” out in their fancy clothes and everyone was having a great time. We did enjoy a lot of wine tasting though; nothing hindered us from butting in and getting our tastes!

The guy we met from Michigan!

The guy we met from Holton, Michigan!

The crowded piazza!

The crowded piazza!

The marching band coming on through!

The marching band coming on through!

Oh, yeah, and we met some hungarians!  They told us the better wine is in Hungary...

Oh, yeah, and we met some hungarians! They told us the better wine is in Hungary…

Thanks Louise, Dave, Bonnie and Kevin for visiting us!  And special Thank you to Kevin for taking some great pictures!!

Thanks Louise, Dave, Bonnie and Kevin for visiting us! And special Thank you to Kevin for taking some great pictures!!

Rita and I were able to squeeze in two private cooking classes at the villa with Elisa. We are more impressed with Elisa every time she visits us. Of course, we knew that she teaches cooking at the University in Florence and from our other classes we knew that she was very good at cooking. But, we have learned so much about the history of food, the cuisine of Italy, nuances of using different spices, herbs and techniques from Elisa. She is a real jewel and we were lucky to have her. At our lessons, we learned to make asparagus risotto, lemon crème chicken, and yellow pepper soup. We have practiced several of Elisa’s recipes on our own, and they have been very good and not that difficult to make. We can’t wait to try them out on friends, family and neighbors in Indiana.

Lemon Chicken Fricasse ! Wonderful!

Lemon Chicken Fricasse ! Wonderful!

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After saying good-bye to the Ft. Wayne group who headed off to Venice, we set off on a short weekend road trip. We visited, what else, mountain top villages, medieval towns, and walled cities. Our first stop was Colle di Val D’Elsa. Today Colle is known for the production of glassware, some 15% of the world’s production, but we were there for the “centro historico”, which sits behind a wall on a mountaintop and has narrow paved streets and many old palazzos.

We had to go through this tunnel to get to the elevator that was drilled inside the mountain to get to the city.

We had to go through this tunnel to get to the elevator that was drilled inside the mountain to get to the city.

But, this was one of the first sights we came upon as we walked through the city.

But, this was one of the first sights we came upon as we walked through the city.

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From Colle, we drove through St. Galgano, which is a church and old abbey. We kind of stumbled upon St. Galgano. But, we were delighted to have found it. Apparently, the Italians claim the sword in the stone story to take it from the English. Three hundred years before King Arthur, Merlin (and the English version of the sword in the stone), there was St. Galgano and his sword in the stone. When he gave up his worldly life to become a hermit, he drove his sword into a stone that was described as “parting like butter”. The sword in the stone is still there and we visited it.

The church built on top of St. Galgano's grave in his honor.

The church built on top of St. Galgano’s grave in his honor.

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The domed ceiling of the church.

The domed ceiling of the church.

AND.... the sword!

AND…. the sword!

This is the abbey at the bottom of the hill from St. Galgano's church.

This is the abbey at the bottom of the hill from St. Galgano’s church.

From St. Galgano, we drove through Montemassi, a small village with a fort on top of a mountain,

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and then onto Porto Ercole, which is a small fishing village resort on the Mediterranean Sea and spent the night.

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We had a lovely visit to the harbor, a fish dinner, which has been rare, and a stroll around the boutiques with the required gelato for dessert.

One thing about Italy, these are everywhere!

One thing about Italy, these are everywhere! This was right along the port.

Rita was able to find a T-Shirt that she liked.

I could NOT resist!!

I could NOT resist!!

On our return trip to Greve, we stopped by the Panzano wine festival, which is a smaller but equally as good wine festival as the one in Greve. I think we have now tasted about every red wine in Chianti!   Chianti does produce some rose wine that is also very tasty and a tiny quantity of white wine, which has kept Rita happy.

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We’re not sure what the statue in the middle of the fountain represents, but we liked the grapes above her head!

All of the wine we have tasted is from previous year harvests. But, when we returned to Greve we found the Wineries/Vineyards beginning to start the harvest of grapes for next year’s wine. The leaves on the vines have started to turn brown, all the excess grape bunches have been cut away to fall on the ground and what remains are huge bunches of low hanging grapes on the bottom of the vines. Of course, the grapes have turned a brilliant purple or in some cases almost black. It is an exciting time here in Greve and you can feel it in the air.

Small tractor and people hand picking the grapes.

Small tractor and people hand picking the grapes.

 

 

 

We have made a couple of quick trips to Florence in the last three weeks. We love “KOKO”, a Japanese restaurant. It provides us a change of tastes from pasta and beef or pork. The Fusion Bar continues to be a great place for a cosmopolitan or two before heading off to dinner.

Caught a great sunset in FLorence this evening!

Caught a great sunset in FLorence this evening!

With our stay in Greve winding down, we revisited Lamole in the daytime to see the view. You will remember that the last time we visited Lamole for a dinner, I got lost, thanks to GPS, and Rita has not let me drive since because I raced to make our dinner reservations 45 minutes late. The daytime drive to Lamole was beautiful, and slower, we had great views to Panzano and we thought we could even make out San Gimignano in the distance some 27 kilometers or 16.777 miles away.

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Lovely little building, wonder if anyone lives here.

Lovely little building, wonder if anyone lives here.

This one is for sale.  We stopped and pondered.....

This one is for sale. We stopped and pondered…..

Back yard of the house for sale. Looking good!

Back yard of the house for sale. Looking good!

We also returned to Panzano yesterday, to eat at Dario’s Officina Della Bistecca. Wow!!!! He is a showman. The meal starts with appetizers in the butcher shop, blaring rock music and Dario, himself, holding court. Then, the group of about 20 plus moved upstairs to a dining room which has a wood burning grill. Once seated, the king of BEEF, starts the meal that consists of, what else, beef! There are 5 courses including beef tartare, rump steak, panzanese steak, rib-eye steak and T-bone steak. Everything, except the tartare, is grilled before your eyes. The beef was cooked as huge chunks of beef. The largest I have ever seen. As they take each course off the grill to serve, a guy comes out of the kitchen, holds the meat high over his head and chants something in Italian at the top of his lungs, I assume blessed is the king of meats, BEEF, and “TO BEEF OR NOT TO BEEF” and may all enjoy our cooking!!! Bon appetit!

Dario, cranking it up for us to rock out!

Dario, cranking it up for us to rock out!

Table for ?????

Table for ?????

Yep, the fire is ready for the BEEF?

Yep, the fire is ready for the BEEF?

Enrique.... ahh.. yes... Enrique...great cook!

Enrique…. ahh.. yes… Enrique…great cook!

Got BEEF?

Got BEEF?

Ready to chop!

Ready to chop!

Whoah... Enrique is great with a knife!

Whoah… Enrique is great with a knife!

The meal also included a baked potato on which you were expected to slather lardon, which I think is pure beef fat. There was plenty of red wine during the meal and grappa, 43% alcohol, to finish up the meal. We sat next to a nice guy from Texas, Ben, about 35 who quit work and is taking 45 days off to travel around Europe. When he gets done with this, he is going to do another trip to the Asia’s. He is set for life, if he wants to travel for quite awhile (as he has many years ahead of him at his young age), and has no intention of going back to work. He said he is enjoying “young retirement” and wants to do so many things, like skydiving in Lugano, (which he already did last week). Norm REALLY LOVED this, of course, and told him we were doing the same, ha ha … except we were a tad bit older, and probably not up for the skydiving!! Ben gave the steaks his TEXAS blessing, as we were greatly entertained and enjoyed the food. We also met a really nice couple from Canada that were on their honeymoon, funny thing, they told us, is…. They couldn’t decide where to go on their honeymoon; it was a hard choice, either Italy or TEXAS!!???? We assured them they chose the right place… LOL!!! After this 3-hour lunch, we could not eat again for about 8 hours.

Today is our last day in Greve. We have been content here. We have accomplished our two goals of immersing ourselves in the Italian culture and Italian food.   Unlike France, we did not have a third goal of immersing ourselves in the Italian language. That has prevented us from forming personal relationships with the everyday Italians we come across in our daily lives. While it is sad, it is a reality for us.

Tomorrow, we get up early, get in the car and head north. No, we did not get our invitations to George Clooney and Amul Alamuddin’s wedding in Venice this weekend so we are heading to Milan for a few days and after Milan, it will be destinations determined by serendipity. We will continue to include you in our travels, as hotel Internet permits us to do so.

We know we will be returning to Paris on October 18 where we have rented an apartment for two weeks to say a proper good-bye to the city I (NORM) truly love and have since my first visit there over 48 years ago. And, of course, we have a date with Delta airlines to return to Indianapolis on November 1, God willing, the creek don’t rise and Rita and I get on the plane.

The Sacred Belt of the Virgin Mary

On September the 8th, Norm and I were privileged to be able to witness the display of one of the most sacred relics in the Catholic tradition, the “Sacred Belt” (Sacra Cintola) of the Virgin Mary in Prato, Italy. The display or “ostensione” takes place only five times a year, on Christmas, Easter, May 1st, August 15th (The Assumption of the Virgin Mary), and September 8th (Nativity of the Virgin Mary). This last date is the most important of the displays, with large crowds gathering in conjunction with further festivities that lasts three days. The festivities for this particular evening started with a procession beginning at 8:00PM, and the display of the belt to follow at 10:30 PM. We thought, ok, we could hang out that long and see what this was all about.

Here’s a little history of the belt: (taken from our brochure)

The Sacred Belt of the Prato Cathedral is a thin strip of green fabric with gold brocades and a green tassel and band at the ends. As told in an ancient oriental apocryphal text after the Blessed Virgin’s death St. Thomas was carried by angels to the Mount of Olives; there he contemplated the Virgin while she was taken up into the Heaven, and received the gift of the belt in proof of the event. According to Prato medieval tradition the sacred belt was then entrusted to a priest and preserved by his descendants. After the first crusade, a Prato pilgrim of modest origins called Michele (Michael), fell in love with Maria, the daughter of an oriental priest and married her in secret, against her father’s wish and received as dowry the “Sacred Cincture” in a small basket made of rushes. After returning to Prato around 1141, Michele spoke to no one about the holy relic and only on his death bed (1172), he donated it to the provost of the nearby church of St. Stephen (The Duomo is the Cathedral of St. Stephen). The sacred Belt furthermore was considered the most valuable treasure of the entire city, so much so that its public display was established by the bylaws of Commune, which still today has in custody a set of the keys required to take it out of the altar.

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The belt of green camel hair material is displayed inside a gold and glass reliquary container from the Donatello pulpit on the exterior of the Cathedral during a special mass, the rest of which takes place inside the Duomo. The Bishop holds it up for public view in three directions, three times. The belt has both civic and religious importance to the commune of Prato, therefore the ceremony requires the participation of two authorities, and their numerous representatives; one civic (the Mayor) and one religious (the Bishop). While the religious authorities perform a mass inside the Duomo, there is a civic procession (Parade, as we Americans call it) with drummers, many, many, flag throwers, and trumpets that walk throughout the city to the Duomo. Once they arrive in front of the Duomo, they perform their specialty.

Here are a few pictures of what they do.

The first of the procession is arriving right behind this police motorcycle escort!

The first of the procession is arriving right behind this police motorcycle escort!

Lovely costumes worn by everyone!

Lovely costumes worn by everyone!

Another area represented!

Another area represented!

This is just ONE of the many performances of "flag throwers"! These are classical throwers!

This is just ONE of the many performances of “flag throwers”! These are classical throwers!

And, this is the space between each group!! Norm said he could organize this "parade" a whole lot better!

And, this is the space between each group!! Norm said he could organize this “parade” a whole lot better!

This was a group of younger flag throwers. And one of them was acrobatical! (one of the two kinds of throwers!)

This was a group of younger flag throwers. And one of them was acrobatical! (one of the two kinds of throwers!)

And yes, another group with flag throwers! But some are drummers, here!

And yes, another group with flag throwers! But some are drummers, here!

Midieval costumes.

Midieval costumes.

Oh, and guess what???? The Germans came to sing and dance for the Italians!

Oh, and guess what???? The Germans came to sing and dance for the Italians!

And then there were mimes!

And then there were mimes!

And this is our favorite act!!! A ballerina dancing on top of a grand piano while spinning and the piano is be driven by the the guy playing the piano!! This was AMAZING!

And this is our favorite act!!! A ballerina dancing on top of a grand piano while spinning and the piano is be driven by the the guy playing the piano!! This was AMAZING!

And this is our favorite act!!! A ballerina dancing on top of a grand piano while spinning and the piano is be driven by the the guy playing the piano!! This was AMAZING!

And this is our favorite act!!! A ballerina dancing on top of a grand piano while spinning and the piano is be driven by the the guy playing the piano!! This was AMAZING!

Another view, a little blurry, b/c they were moving!

Another view, a little blurry, b/c they were moving!

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She was awesome!

She was awesome!

Then the things on stilts came out!

Then the things on stilts came out! They performed with fireworks!

Since we didn’t arrive two hours early to get a seat in the temporary grandstands, we walked around for quite awhile, and decided to try to snag a seat. We could only find a place to stand on the stairs the led up to the grandstand, so we took our place. Believe us, it was very hard to “keep our place” the entire night, as people walked by and tried to force their way in and on us. It was jammed to the max with people. We of course thought standing for about two hours would be nothing…… little did we know that this “procession” was REALLY going to take four hours!!!!

After Norm announced to me, let’s say about 75 times, that “Hey Rita!! I can see just two more groups coming up the street”, (and about 75 ACTUAL groups later), we finally got to see what we came for.   It was 12:35 AM!!!!!

 We anxiously watched as the reliquary box that holds the belt was unlocked by the Bishop through the use of two separate keys and then displayed inside the Duomo to the people attending the special mass, and then outside on the Donatello pulpit. After it was displayed three times, we decided to leave our perch and head home for the night!

Here are the trumpet players, right after they opened the Piazza Duomo to the public.

Here are the trumpet players, right after they opened the Piazza Duomo to the public.

Here are the trumpet players, right after they opened the Piazza Duomo to the public.

Here are the trumpet players, right after they opened the Piazza Duomo to the public.

Here's our first sighting!  Hard to see with the reflection of the glass.

Here’s our first sighting! Hard to see with the reflection of the glass.

Another view of the Sacred Belt.

Another view of the Sacred Belt.

This is more of a close up than before, but still hard to photograph without an expensive lens.

This is more of a close up than before, but still hard to photograph without an expensive lens.

This one is one of our best shots we got!

This one is one of our best shots we got!

Yeah, this was our latest evening out for us the entire time we’ve been gone! We didn’t get home until 1:45AM, so we were definitely night owls this night! But, it was all worth it even to Norm, who now thinks that all Catholics can’t tell time and are always LATE!!

September 7, 2014… Almost Feels like Home!!

We have completed our fifth week in Greti/Greve/Chianti/Italy. It has started to feel like home. We are getting used to the store hours and restaurants. We feel comfortable with the villa, pool, and tennis court. We have not met any Italians, but that is the result of our language inadequacies. The Italians we come in daily contact with our friendly and interested in us and are a pleasure to deal with. There are minor frustrations still, but even those are becoming less. For example, we needed gas the other day to go on a road trip and learned that the gas stations, like other shops, also close between 2 and 4 PM. It is also hard to get used to no grocery shopping on Sundays or Wednesday afternoons. But, we have adjusted.

Next, are a few of our “Impressions on Italy and the Italians.” First, almost every restaurant gives you something free. It may be a glass of Prosecco, as an aperitif to start the meal, or a lemoncello to complete the meal, or it might be a small appetizer as you start your meal or some chocolate or other type of small dessert at the end of your meal. It is a pleasant gesture that we would like to see more of in the U.S. restaurants. Second, Rita is not used to seeing rabbit on the menus and in the grocery store. The rabbits stare back at you with big bulging eyes in the meat case at the grocery store. It is a little unnerving.

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Third, the Italians, like the French, always serve the shell on their lobster, mussels, oysters, shrimp and langoustine. They do this in order to show the customer that the shellfish is fresh. But, it is pretty darn hard to cut those shells off. Usually, the restaurant is NOT willing to remove the shells in the kitchen. So, we have eaten very little shellfish. Fourth, the daily diet of the Italians seems more restricted than other countries we have visited. Dinner always starts with salami or ham, or fried zucchini flowers or some other appetizer, followed by a pasta, followed by meat, (very little chicken and no fish), and dessert. The Italians seem to pass on the cheese course that is so common in France. And… there is no such thing as a “Caesar salad” or garlic bread, or cheesy garlic bread or any garlic bread for that matter and last…. this is for all of you white sauce lovers… there is NO ALFREDO sauce in Italy… that is all American.

The pharmacies in Italy are wonderful. The Pharmacist is very highly regarded here, seems to be just as highly regarded as a doctor. Not only are drugs subsidized and therefore less expensive than in the U.S., but also, there are always two or three clerks in white jackets, referred to as Pharmacist/Doctors, willing to give you medical advice for free. And, they will sell you a prescription drug with out having to have a script, if you tell them what ails you and what you’ve used before.

The season in Greve is changing from summer to fall. The weather is slightly cooler, the nights are pleasant and most importantly the green, scrawny grapes we have been watching for five weeks have now turned a beautiful purple and the grapes are large, round and bountiful. The extra upper grapes have been cut away so that lower grapes can become larger. In fact, 6 kilos of grapes may be cut away to make the remaining 2 kilos of grapes better. This coming week, from the 11th to the 14th is the big 4-day wine festival in Greve. One of the biggest festivals held in Chianti. We are excited about attending the festival and tasting the Chianti wines. In addition to the red wine, we have found a few white wine grapes in Chianti.

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We ate a great dinner at “il ristoro de lamole” in Lamole. It is on a mountaintop near Greve and is the Number 1 restaurant in Chianti, if not for its food, certainly for its view. You have to drive up the mountain with numerous hairpin turns on skinny-ass roads with NO guardrails to get to the restaurant. But, once there you can see for miles across the beautiful Chianti valley all the way to San Gimignano.   The presentations were as lovely as the food tasted.   We (meaning I) relied on GPS to get us there. That was a mistake. She (GPS is a she when it’s wrong!) took us to the wrong side of the mountain. To make up for loss time, I drove like a mad man, and not only did I make Rita sick to her stomach, she could barely unclench her white knuckled hands from hanging on to get out of the car, so we had to wait for her stomach to return to normal before she could eat. That was the first and only time I drove, and haven’t driven since!!! Rita drove home, to say the least.

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This week we took a 4-day road trip. This time we went south to Siena, by way of San Gimignano.

Badia a Passignano, a very pretty little town on the way to San Gimignano.

Badia a Passignano, a very pretty little town on the way to San Gimignano.

San Gimignano

San Gimignano

Siena is a beautiful city which hosts a horse race every year called the Pallio. There are no rules except the rider must finish. Although the race had been run for this year, we visited the square where the race is run and could not believe a horse race could be held at such a small location. It is a very small venue, particularly when it is packed with spectators.

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From Siena, we drove to four mountain top villages. The first was Montalcino, which is known for the famous Brunello di Montalcino red wines. These are first class Italian wines.

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Faux Painting on this building.

Faux Painting on this building.

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From Montalcino, we drove to Pienza. Pienza produced two popes, Pope Pius the II and his nephew Pope Pius the III.   It also was used for a few scenes as a “location” in the movie “Under the Tuscan Sun” starring Diane Lane. Diane Lane gets divorced, moves to Cortona, Italy and rehabilitates an old villa looking for the answers to life and love. So, we took some photos of the locations used in the movie.

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Church Pope Pius II built.

Church Pope Pius II built.

Church built by  Pope Pius III

Church built by
Pope Pius III

 

From Pienza, we drove to Montalpulciano. The scenery between these two towns is like a postcard. Unlike northern Tuscany, which is green rolling hills and vineyards; southern Tuscany is brown and green rolling hills with mostly crops of wheat, corn, hay and some scattered vineyards and olive orchards.

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This is the well from the movie "Under the Tuscan Sun" (UTS)

This is the well from the movie “Under the Tuscan Sun” (UTS)

The Flag waving scene from UTS took place in front of this church.

The Flag waving scene from UTS took place in front of this church.

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Finally, we drove to Cortona to spend the night, but ended up spending two nights.   The villa used by Hollywood in the Under the Tuscan Sun movie is located in Cortona and of course we had to take photos of it.

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This spread was waiting for us when we returned home in the evening! Cognac!

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This is what we call a “Green Bar”!!

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UTS villa (house used in movie)

UTS villa (house used in movie)

Our last day in Cortona, we visited Santa Margherita, a church and convent on top of the mountain overlooking Cortona. The original church was sacked during a war and then a “new” church built in 1288. The church’s simple beauty and the statues, which we found inside, surprised us. The body of Santa Margherita can be seen in a glass casket which is on the alter at all times. She died in 1297! It was very impressive, but a little ghoulish. Rita wouldn’t take a photo of it, said it was sacrilegious.

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While we were in Cortona, we stayed at Villa Marsili. One morning we were having a late breakfast, around 10:30 AM, and Rita looked at the clock on the wall and asked me if it showed the right time. I looked at it and said it only shows the right time, twice a day. She looked at me puzzled and asked, “What did you mean?” So, I responded that the clock was not real; it was only painted on the wall, (in 3D, though). Rita really does not wake up until after breakfast!

Here's the clock! LOL!

Here’s the clock! LOL!

I have been riding my bike every morning. I have not been able to pass even one Italian bicyclist until today because they are so fast! I saw him up ahead. I pulled out to pass him. I blew right by him as I heard someone shout out to him in Italian: “Time to come in Mario. Pre-school starts in 30 minutes!”   Yes, he must have been three years old! By the way, I have noticed that Italian bicyclist approaching you from behind do NOT give you a heads up they are going to pass you. In the US, at least on the Monon Trail, everyone always gives you a heads-up by saying something like: “On your left”.   I have almost been run into several times by other bicyclists. It could be that my hearing is just sooooo bad that I can’t hear them pedaling right by me!

We have been getting a lot of use out of the tennis courts. Rita finally won a set from me after, what… 5 weeks? It was only one, and of course, she hasn’t won again since. LOL!!!

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This weekend we are resting up. We have the 4-day Chianti Wine Festival to train for. Then, on Saturday, we have some guests visiting from Fort Wayne and are looking forward to seeing and talking to someone other than ourselves!!!

My daughter Angela, and granddaughter Jada, have completed their move from Indy, with their 8-day road trip with two dogs, and are now settling into Portland, OR. A wedding is already being planned for June 2015. Congratulations to Angela and Jada, and, of course, “Fuzz” McPherson, her fiancée.

Birthdays this month include my niece Meredith, and Rita’s daughters Melissa and Stephanie and Melissa’s husband Bob Weaver. Stephanie and her husband Ben are also undertaking a move from Austin to Connecticut where Ben will be continuing with ESPN after receiving a promotion. They are house hunting this weekend. We wish all happy birthdays and a good move and good luck finding a house in Connecticut.

That is all the news we have for now. More later as we are going to Prato, Italy for the unveiling of “Mary’s Girdle”, the name for Mary’s Sacred Belt, the city’s most revered relic,which is only displayed 5 times a year. Should be quite interesting!

 

Love you all and miss you. –Norm & Rita.

Settling in and getting to know our surroundings!

August 24, 2014

Well, we have been in Europe for 113 days; in Chianti for 23 days; we have 35 days left in Chianti; and we have 70 days left in Europe. But, who is counting!

During the past two weeks, we have been exploring Chianti, trying to get to know the people, the food and the culture of Italy. The people seem more reserved than the French to Rita and me, but in fairness to the Italians, it may be nothing more than we know some French and we do not know any Italian. We were in a restaurant the other day and asked if we could order a small quantity of food. The waiter immediately asked us if we were American? When we advised him we were, he said the Americans eat smaller portions of food than the Italians. When the Italians go out to eat, they want large portions and they eat for a really long time.

One of the fish meals we found at Il Portico in Greve.  This one is the John Dory with potatoes and tomatoes.  Delicious.

One of the fish meals we found at Il Portico in Greve. This one is the John Dory with potatoes and tomatoes. Delicious. (And this is the “Second” plate, after the appetizer and “Primi” plate!)

 

Driving has been more hectic here in Italy. The Italians honk their horns a lot more than the French and make gestures with their hands and fingers. We can’t tell if we are driving worse, or the Italians are less patient, or if they just don’t like the French because our car has a French plate.

The Italians eat a lot of pasta, beef and pork. We have looked everywhere for fish, but were unsuccessful in finding a fish restaurant until this week. In Greve, we found Ristorante Il Portico that serves wonderful swordfish and John Dory, (see above picture) both white fishes. The swordfish is grilled and the John Dory comes with white wine, capers, and olives. Both fishplates were to die for. We will definitely be spending more time there.

We have been trying to adjust to the Italian clock. It has been really hard. The Italians start the workday around 10:00AM, but not exactly, they work until 1:30 PM, but not exactly, and then EVERYTHING closes until 4:00PM, but not exactly. At 4:00PM, but not exactly, every thing opens again and stays open until 7:30PM, but not exactly. There is also no rhyme or reason to the days that the stores and shops are closed. Some are closed on Monday, but as we try to go to the grocery store, cleaners, greens market and pharmacy, we find that each has its own day for closing and some close a full day while others close a half day. We like to get up at 7, ride bikes, play tennis, eat breakfast, clean up, and then plan our day. But, it is usually 11:00 or 11:30 before we are cleaned up and ready to go. But, this only gives us an hour and a half to do our shopping which is usually not enough time to go to several shops. So, if we don’t go in the morning, we have to wait until 4:00PM!

Since we have been in Greti/Greve, we have made one road trip to San Gimignano. We visited San Gimignano a couple of years ago and loved it so we wanted to make a return trip. It is an ancient walled city with numerous towers that were used in time of war.

On our way to San Gimignano.

On our way to San Gimignano.

 

We also had a wonderful tour of Castello di Verrazzano Winery. The Verrazano Family came to Chianti in 700AD. They built a castle/fort on a mountaintop and their descendants owned the original property until 1958 when the last of them died. The winery produces Chianti wine and balsamic vinegar. There are still plenty of woods on the property, which also still has wild boars roaming about in the woods.

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On Tuesday, August 19th, we took our first Italian cooking class in the village of Certaldo, which is a walled village that sits on top of a mountain. We had trouble finding the place, even with GPS, but soon re-read the instructions, and it said to either walk up or take the funicular… Yeah, we took the easy route, of course.  The class was taught by Giuseppe and her future daughter-in-law. We made a four-course meal consisting of fried zucchini blossoms, chicken cacciatore, homemade pasta with pomodoro sauce, and panna cotta with fresh fruit. Of course, we had white wine, red wine and lemoncello as a digestive.

This is the funicular ride to Certaldo where we took our first Italian cooking lessson.

This is the funicular ride to Certaldo where we took our first Italian cooking lessson.

Now this is the real way you start the dough for the homemade pasta.

Now this is the real way you start the dough for the homemade pasta.

Our zucchini flowerettes with fried sage leaves!! Loved them!

Our zucchini flowerettes with fried sage leaves!!          Loved them!

Rita getting the hang of making homemade pasta while I get the hang of photographing Rita making homemade pasta.

Rita getting the hang of making homemade pasta while I get the hang of photographing Rita making homemade pasta.

Our instructor putting the finishing touches on tagliatelle with pomodoro sauce.  None of that American marinara sauce allowed.

Our instructor putting the finishing touches on tagliatelle with pomodoro sauce. None of that American marinara sauce allowed.

This is Rita, our group and our instructor in the white t-shirt at our Certaldo Italian cooking class.  Class included English, Danes, and Australians.

This is Rita, our group and our instructor in the white t-shirt at our Certaldo Italian cooking class. Class included English, Danes, and Australians.

This is the start of our chicken cacciatore.  The chicken was bright yellow in color because it was only fed corn. Yummy!

This is the start of our chicken cacciatore. The chicken was bright yellow in color because it was only fed corn. Yummy!

Now this is beautiful!! Ours at home, will never look like this!

Now this is beautiful!! Ours at home, will never look like this!

Here is the single portion.

Here is the single portion.

On Thursday, August 21st, we took a private Italian cooking lesson at our villa. We made a homemade tagliatelle pasta with a meat sauce (family recipe), homemade gnocchi with a pesto sauce, a salad and a dessert of biscotti. In addition to the food, and how to cook it, we also learned that we have fresh herbs growing in our garden and we didn’t even know it!! Our instructor, Elisa, asked us if we had any thyme or sage and of course, we said “no, sorry”… She was soooo puzzled by that. Then later on when it came time to eating our meal, we decided to eat outside on our lovely patio and loah and behold…. Right before our eyes… yes, fresh herbs. The rosemary was so big and high that we both thought it was just a landscaping bush of some kind!! We have another one growing right outside our kitchen window that hangs over the brick wall, and it is huge, too! Then Elisa pointed out the thyme, sage and oregano. Thanks Elisa!!

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This is the Rosemary hanging off our kitchen balcony… amazing how big it is!!

Our rosemary in the garden.

Our rosemary in the garden.

Sage... Glad Elisa pointed this out to us! We made tempura fried sage leaves!! Ummmm They were great!

Sage… Glad Elisa pointed this out to us! We made tempura fried sage leaves!! Ummmm They were great!

Oregano... won't need to buy this anymore!

Oregano… won’t need to buy this anymore!

This weekend we went to Florence on a road trip of 25 kilometers, which might be 20 miles. We are continually amazed, in awe and wonderment at the beautiful Tuscan/Chianti countryside of rolling hills, vineyards, olive groves, and woods. We thought “WOW LOOK AT THAT” moments might have a diminishing return as we have read in the travel books, but that has not been true for Rita and me. Every morning when we go out or in the evenings when we come home the light has changed on the vistas and we see another wondrous sight. It must be a real blessing to be able to live in this area and witness these wonders on a daily basis throughout your life. Look at our “Gallery” on our photos page.

In Florence, we stayed in the center of town with a room overlooking the Arno River and the Ponte Vecchio Bridge.

This, we believe, should be in a magazine for an advertisement for Florence!!

This, we believe, should be in a magazine for an advertisement for Florence!!

We walked a lot, shopped a little, went out to eat some great fish, visited the Uffizi Museum where we saw works by Botticelli, DaVinci and Michelangelo, and of course, we ate lots of great gelato.   We also visited the church of Santa Croce and saw the tombs of Galileo, Michelangelo, Marconi and Machiavelli. On our way home today, we drove to the Piazza de Michelangelo on a hill overlooking all of Florence. The view of Florence, the Arno River and its bridges were impressive.

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Well, we will report more to you in a ten to fourteen days. Until then, we bid you: “Arrivederci.”

Rita and Norm

Sunday, August 10, 2014. Greti, Italy—Moving In

Well, when we last left you we were in Portofino. Although we hated to leave Portofino, it was time to move on to our next villa in Greti, Italy. Greti is an even smaller village than St. Leon sur-Vezere. The population of Greti is 357. It is 2.5 kilometers from Greve in Chianti and is under its jurisdiction. Both are in the province of Florence, Tuscany, Italy. The only photo I have of Greti is the wine shop for the Castello di Verranzano, which is located at a cross-road in Greti.

Our only photo of Greti because it really does not have any commercial or retail activity.  It is just a crossroads.  But, at least we have a famous vineyard in our back yard.  Castello di Verranzano.  And, we love the size of the bottles as you can imagine from the size of the cork!!

Our only photo of Greti because it really does not have any commercial or retail activity. It is just a crossroads. But, at least we have a famous vineyard in our back yard. Castello di Verranzano. And, we love the size of the bottles as you can imagine from the size of the cork!!

The Castello belongs to the Verranzano Family. Verranzano was an Italian sea explorer who discovered the Bay of New York and New York later named the Verranzano Bridge after him.

Our villa is nice. It is not a Tuscan farm-house, but rather a contemporary home in a subdivision with two other similar homes, (if you can call three houses in a row a subdivision). We have three floors, 4 bedrooms and 4 baths. For one reasonable price, the villa includes a large swimming pool, not heated, and a tennis court that is only heated when Rita and I get into a dispute over a close line call. The villa has a patio where we can take our meals over looking the pool and tennis court. From our patio, we can see the Tuscan hillsides, vineyards and, occasionally, a beautiful sunset.

This is the front of our villa in Greti. We are being greeted by Litizia, a friend of the owner who helped with translations.

This is the front of our villa in Greti. We are being greeted by Litizia, a friend of the owner who helped with translations.

Large pool in back yard.  The villa has three levels.  Ugh!  We have to walk up steps! :-)

Large pool in back yard. The villa has three levels. Ugh! We have to walk up steps! 🙂

We are thrilled to have a tennis court so we can try to balance our calorie intake to our exercise!  NNNOOOTTT!

We are thrilled to have a tennis court so we can try to balance our calorie intake to our exercise! NNNOOOTTT!

Getting the table ready for our first "alfresco" meal on our patio overlooking our pool.

Getting the table ready for our first “alfresco” meal on our patio overlooking our pool.

A beautiful Chianti (Tuscan) sunset from our patio in Greti.

A beautiful Chianti (Tuscan) sunset from our patio in Greti.

We have been to Greve, in Chianti. That is where we do our grocery shopping. It is small, but has a town square and 76 restaurants. The population of Greve in Chianti is 15,000. In the town square, which is actually triangular, there is a statute of Verranzano in one corner.

 

The Italian sea explorer Giovanni Veranzzano anchors the third point on the triangular main square in Greve.

The Italian sea explorer Giovanni Veranzzano anchors the third point on the triangular main square in Greve.

 

In the other corner, there is a statute that gives new meaning to the word “mooning”.

This sculpture anchors one point on the Greve triangular main square.  We caught him "mooning" on this evening stroll with our gelato.

This sculpture anchors one point on the Greve triangular main square. We caught him “mooning” on this evening stroll with our gelato.

Almost every night, when we go into Greve in Chianti to buy gelato, a rich creamy ice cream which Italy is famous for, we found an operatic performance being done on the steps of St. Croce church at one end of the town square. I think every resident of Greve in Chianti was present for the outdoor, free performance, which we thought was lovely, but solely in Italian.

Opera singers from around the world serenading an audience of Italians and tourists from the steps of St. Croce at one end of Greve's main square.

Opera singers from around the world serenading an audience of Italians and tourists from the steps of St. Croce at one end of Greve’s main square.

 

Gelato is a soft ice cream made up of at least 3.5% butterfat.

This is the way Rita and I feel after eating pasta!  Of course, only she is wearing the bra right now.

This is the way Rita and I feel after eating pasta! Of course, only she is wearing the bra right now.

The photo above of the Italian woman dressing will give you some idea of the effect that gelato has on the human form!

Shopping has been a challenge. The one grocery store is not as large as what we were used to in France. All the brands have changed as well as the way the Italians eat compared to the French. And, of course, we have to shop with an Italian dictionary since neither of us “speak” ANY Italian except for ordering gelato. First impression is that the Italians are not bread lovers like the French. The breads are limited, tasteless and hard. The bread is tasteless because it has no salt. It has no salt because the Italians consider bread to be an accompaniment to salty food like salami, pesto and lardon. The Italians even call their bread pane sciocco, which means “stupid bread”. In addition to the bread being tasteless, it can only be eaten within hours of baking or it turns as hard as stone.

Looks good, tastes bad.

Looks good, tastes bad.

Secondly, the Italians eat a lot of cold, but cooked, vegetables like eggplant, artichokes, red and green peppers. We have also not found simple things like garlic salt, crushed dry basil and mozzarella cheese.

We understand that the Italians use the grocery store for their basic staples. Anything worth eating is purchased from the bakery, butcher shop or fish-monger. Since we have only been here a week, we have not located these specialty stores. It takes us awhile because of the language. Bakery is “panificio”; butcher shop is “macelleria” and fish-monger is “pescivendolo”.

We have been on one road trip since our arrival. Chianti is known for Chianti Wine. Chianti wine dates back to at least 1716. Chianti wine must contain at least 70% Sangiovese grapes. They are mostly red wines. So, we took a tour of some red wine vineyards and visited Panzano, Radda, Gaiole, Castelnuovo Berardeng, and Castillina in Chianti. It sounds like a lot of driving, but all these towns are quite close to each other usually within 10 to 15 miles. We tried red and rose wine at Castello di Radda a vineyard that just completed a $35 million expansion project near Radda.   We also tasted, and bought some white and red wine, from the Volpaia Vineyards near Radda. There are hundreds of wineries and olive oil farms located in Chianti. No matter how long we are here, we would never be able to visit them all.

We bought red wine and a wonderful rose wine from this Castellini di Radda vineyard in Radda in Chianti.

We bought red wine and a wonderful rose wine from this Castellini di Radda vineyard in Radda in Chianti.

We bought some red wine from this vineyard in Volpaia, near Radda in Chianti.  We ran into three gals from New York on a wine tasting tour and shared some travel thoughts with them.  It is always nice to run into other Americans when you are traveling abroad.

We bought some red wine from this vineyard in Volpaia, near Radda in Chianti. We ran into three gals from New York on a wine tasting tour and shared some travel thoughts with them. It is always nice to run into other Americans when you are traveling abroad.

Saint Maria in Radda

Saint Maria in Radda

A little street in Radda.

A little street in Radda.

So many nice inviting doorways in this part of the world!

So many nice inviting doorways in this part of the world!

Panzano is an interesting little town. When we first arrived in Chianti we stayed our first night in Panzano until our villa was ready. We stayed in a tower room at La Villa Barone. Rita and I couldn’t sleep thinking about all those women locked away in tower rooms in those castles in France we visited.   Panzano is dominated by Dario Cecchini, who runs a butcher shop, extraordinare. He also has two restaurants specializing in, naturally……. beef.   And, he has been declared by himself to be the “best butcher in the world”, a humble title, as well as the “mad butcher of Panzano”, perhaps a more accurate title. In any event, he is a great marketer. You walk into his butcher shop and you are immediately offered wine and appetizers. In the evenings, the shoppers spill out into the pedestrian street and drink wine, eat appetizers and share travel stories while shopping for meat at the butcher shop.

 

Hotel Villa La Barone in Panzano where we spent our first night in Chianti locked in the Tower Room!

Hotel Villa La Barone in Panzano where we spent our first night in Chianti locked in the Tower Room!

Villa La Barone patio and entrance to "honor" bar.  We made our own drinks and and wrote it down in the "honor" bar.  I think we did not lose count!

Villa La Barone patio and entrance to “honor” bar. We made our own drinks and and wrote it down in the “honor” bar. I think we did not lose count!

Villa La Barone pool.  A nice place to cool off!

Villa La Barone pool. A nice place to cool off!

Loved the "Honor Bar"!

Loved the “Honor Bar” at the pool!

A view of "old" Panzano from Villa La Barone. Vineyards and olive groves everywhere.

A view of “old” Panzano from Villa La Barone. Vineyards and olive groves everywhere.

 

See the little door??? This is at the top of the tower and Norm had to duck to get inside.

See the little door??? This is at the top of the tower and Norm had to duck to get inside.

Great view whil driving around Panzano!

Great view whil driving around Panzano!

Rita getting wine, appetizers and information from the "host" at the Cecchini butcher shop.  They have wine and appetizers out all day for any one who chooses to drop in.

Rita getting wine, appetizers and information from the “host” at the Cecchini butcher shop. They have wine and appetizers out all day for any one who chooses to drop in.

The butcher shop of Dario Cecchini in Panzano.  The Italian name for butcher shop sounds much better:  "Antica Macelleria Cecchini".

The butcher shop of Dario Cecchini in Panzano. The Italian name for butcher shop sounds much better: “Antica Macelleria Cecchini”.

Here he is.... DARIO the butcher!

Here he is…. DARIO the butcher!

 

Back to Greve in Chianti, the town square is lined with many shops. They sell art, products from Chianti, which include wine, olive oil and balsamic vinegar. One such shop specializes in ham and pork and takes up three storefronts. There are hundreds of hams hanging from the ceiling waiting to be purchased by carnivores.

 

Tiny butcher shop on Greve main square, run by a woman. She cuts the meat for her customers.

Tiny butcher shop on Greve main square, run by a woman. She cuts the meat for her customers.

Art shop on Greve main square with beautiful frames although the one Rita liked was 2500 Euro.  The owner's daughter told us it was so expensive because her father did not want to sell it!

Art shop on Greve main square with beautiful frames although the one Rita liked was 2500 Euro. The owner’s daughter told us it was so expensive because her father did not want to sell it!

IMG_2045

This is the butcher shop that covers three store fronts on the Greve main square.  It has been doing so since 1806.  It specializes in pork and the hanging hams you see in the photo.

This is the butcher shop that covers three store fronts on the Greve main square. It has been doing so since 1806. It specializes in pork and the hanging hams you see in the photo.

This is part of the same store.

This is part of the same store.

Really?? How many can he need?

Really?? How many can he need?

A shop just off the Greve main square specializing in wines and products of Chianti including olive oil and balsamic vinegar.

A shop just off the Greve main square specializing in wines and products of Chianti including olive oil and balsamic vinegar.

In the grocery store, they require you to wear a plastic glove when fondling the fruits and vegetables while making your selection.

Rita demonstrating her compliance with local rules regarding the wearing of plastic gloves when squeezing the melons and handling other fruits and vegetables.  All the fashionable women are wearing plastic gloves this season in Italy.

Rita demonstrating her compliance with local rules regarding the wearing of plastic gloves when squeezing the melons and handling other fruits and vegetables. All the fashionable women are wearing plastic gloves this season in Italy.

 

See Rita obeying the local rules.  We understand they yell at foreigners who do not get it.

 

We also found a make of motorbikes known as NRG, which caught my eye since those are my initials.

 

Motorbike with my initials on it.

Motorbike with my initials on it.

 

Rita and I tried our hands at making a pizza over a wood fire at the villa. I built a great fire. Rita made a great pizza. We placed it on the hearth and voila a beautiful pizza emerged. Well, we actually only got the pizza half right. The bottom was not so beautiful. See our photos. Do you think more practice is needed? Yesterday the landlord stopped by and we told him about our pizza. He took at look at our method and said something in Italian like “Dumbasses! You tried to make the pizza on the grill not in the pizza oven!” Apparently, we used the outdoor grill, which looks like a pizza oven, instead of the actual pizza oven, which is located in the lower level kitchen. (Yes, we have two kitchens. I call them “his” and “hers”). It is a nice compromise.

This is the fire I built to make a wood pizza. I later learned from our landlord that this was not a pizza oven, BUT A GRILL.  I am sure he thought "dumbass" when he explained it to me.

This is the fire I built to make a wood pizza. I later learned from our landlord that this was not a pizza oven, BUT A GRILL. I am sure he thought “dumbass” when he explained it to me.

Voila!!  Our very first wood grilled pizza!  How did we do?

Voila!! Our very first wood grilled pizza! How did we do?

Well, we got it half right.  Does that count?  Next time, we plan to use the pizza oven instead of the grill and see if we can get the bottom of the pizza to turn out like the top of the pizza.

Well, we got it half right. Does that count? Next time, we plan to use the pizza oven instead of the grill and see if we can get the bottom of the pizza to turn out like the top of the pizza.

We have only eaten out twice since we arrived in Greve. It has been a bit of a shock. There is no macaroni, spaghetti and meatballs, or baked ziti on the menus. We have not heard of a lot of the pastas and those we have heard of come with strange things on them that we do not like. Our first outing was not good at all. Our second outing at Gallo Nero was much better. We recognized the pasta and its wild boar sauce. We also had a nice salad with toasted bread, tomatoes and greens. The main course was grilled beef. (They did not recommend the fish or the “baby chicken”. We were surprised to find so much beef in Tuscany because we have not seen the first beef farm.

It is our understanding that only the Americans think there is Italian food. The Italians do not believe there is any Italian food. They think all Italian food is regional food. So, when they think of food, they think of Umbria, Tuscany, Piedmont, etc.

 

Last night, we made another gelato run. When we walked to the town square, there was a beautiful full moon illuminating Greve. We had to take a photo for you.

Another gelato run and another full moon over the Greve main square with St. Croce in the background and the Statue of Veranzzano faintly visible on the right.

Another gelato run and another full moon over the Greve main square with St. Croce in the background and the Statue of Veranzzano faintly visible on the right.

 

In addition to playing tennis, we have been riding bikes. The first day I rode to Greve in Chianti and I took a spill on the main street, during rush hour, and really hurt my ego as crowds gathered to see the idiot 66 year old American without a helmet pick up his bike and ride off into the sunset…. Actually it was sunrise…busy time of the day there. Of course, it also happened when there was a bike tour of 8 riders in full bike gear, clothes, gloves and helmets riding by me at the time of the incident.   I was not hurt, but my ego was bruised severely. Thankfully, I was alone on this ride and no photos exist to record my humiliation.

 

Yesterday we went to the town market. It is not at all like the French town markets. It was mostly clothes and shoes and kitchen items. Although we think one merchant was selling his dog,

 

Greve market day.  Mostly clothes and non-food items.

Greve market day. Mostly clothes and non-food items.

I don't read Italian, but I think the sign says the dog is for sale at the Greve market.

I don’t read Italian, but I think the sign says the dog is for sale at the Greve market.

 

There were a few vegetable stands. Fruit is really hard to find because, unlike the French, the Italians only eat what is in season. They do not believe in shipping in fruit from other countries. One stand sold roast pig so we bought and tried it. It was delicious.

Happy roast pig at one of the few food vendors at the Greve market.

Happy roast pig at one of the few food vendors at the Greve market.

Rita tried to buy this beautiful frame, thought it would look great above her fireplace, the gal said it was $2500 Euros, she thinks.... Her dad sometimes doesn't put prices on b/c he might NOT want to sell the item..... Way over budget anyway!  LOL

Rita tried to buy this beautiful frame, thought it would look great above her fireplace, the gal said it was $2500 Euros, she thinks…. Her dad sometimes doesn’t put prices on b/c he might NOT want to sell the item….. Way over budget anyway! LOL!!!

We hope to visit the market at Panzano today.

 

Over all, the first week has not been too difficult. We have struggled a bit with getting acquainted with our new house, village, language, shopping, customs and culture, but what the heck. That is why we are here!!

 

Such a pretty place in this little square.

Such a pretty place in this little square.

 

 

Love and miss you all!

Norm and Rita

July 31, 2014 – We are in Portofino, Italy…

Where has the time gone? We last posted two weeks ago. You are probably wondering if we are still alive. We are alive and well. But, we have been busy with visitors, packing up our house in St. Leon sur-Vezere and changing countries. Let us explain.

When we last left you, we were preparing for a visit by Yann, Peggy, Cheyenne and Tinael Desmadryls. They arrived on the 19th. We had a great visit. The kids loved playing in the pool.   Cheyenne is 10 and Tinael is 6. We were amazed that a brother and sister could get along so well and play together for four days without any problems. What great kids and a lot of fun. We visited St. Christophe Rock where the Troglodytes lived. Over 1000 of Troglodytes built homes in the rocks above the Vezere River. The homes were carved out of 1.5 kilometers of rock. Next, we visited the Prehistoric Park to see how the Troglodytes lived and hunted 40,000 years ago. Then, we visited the Chateau de Losse. On our last day, we visited the Chateau Clerans, which is next door to our Maison Clerans and owned by the same English couple. Cheyenne showed us her gymnastic skills at the pool and her artistic side by making a computer out of paper. Tinaeal is into soccer and practiced in the court- yard kicking the soccer ball. Yann and Peggy were a lot of fun and we enjoyed eating out and cooking in with them.   Yann does not eat cheese or drink wine. Can he really be French???   Peggy puts Camembert cheese on a baguette with butter and dunks it in her coffee for breakfast. Now, that is very French.   Yann, Peggy and the children left on the 22nd for three weeks on the Mediterranean Sea.

As soon as Desmadryls departed for the coast, Rita and I started packing for our move from the Maison Clerans to Italy. It took us longer than we thought because we had accumulated a bunch of kitchen items and food that we planned to take with us. We also had to say goodbye to all our acquaintances in St. Leon sur-Vezere. We will miss Nadine at the grocery store, Lyon at the Auberge du Pont and Marie at the Le Petit Leon. We will also miss the Thursday night market in St. Leon sur-Vezere where they play French music, eat, drink and shop for fresh produce. Finally, we checked on our neighbors Blanchette, Mon Ami, Lydia and the fourth cow whose name I have forgotten. One of the cows is pregnant and is due any day, but she did not have her calf by the time we left. We will miss St. Leon sur-Vezere. It is a small, quaint, quiet village of 400 inhabitants, but we have grown very fond of it and the way we were welcomed into the community.

On July 24th, we loaded the car and headed for the Mediterranean Coast, like all the other French. We worked our way to Eze Village, a stone city on top of a mountain on the French Riviera next to Monaco. From our perch on top of the mountain at the Chateau Chevre d’Or, we had a spectacular view of Cap St. Jean Ferrat and Cap d’Ail. It was amazingly quiet on the mountaintop. Yet, we could watch all of the yachts, and there were too many to count, come and go up and down the Mediterranean Coast from Monte Carlo to Nice and Cannes.

On July 30th, we said goodbye to France and drove from Eze Village to Portofino, Italy where we are staying at the Hotel Splendido Mare. Rita did the driving. As you know, she hates tunnels. So, as we left Eze Village I suggested we count the tunnels we had to pass through on our way to Portofino. I guessed there might be 20 such tunnels. Well, three hours later and 218 kilometers later, we arrived in Portofino after Rita had driven through, DRUM ROLL……….. 140 tunnels!!!!     We could not believe it. We averaged a tunnel every 1.5 kilometers.

Today is July 31st, and we are resting another day in Portofino. It is a lovely Italian city on a small port. Although the port is small, the yachts are not. Some of the yachts are over 300 feet in length and have helipads for landing helicopters. One of the yachts, which is tied up in the harbor, is owned by a former partner at Goldman Sachs. He was involved in a $1. 6 billion buy out. I guess that is how you get a yacht. I thought it was interesting that his nickname is Captain Magic! In contrast to Captain Magic, you can also find a gentleman feeding the pigeons on the harbor early in the morning. The world takes all kinds of people.

Tomorrow we head for a destination unknown. We will decide in the morning where we are going when we get in the car. Love the freedom.

We do know where we will be on August 2nd. We will move into our new villa in Greti, Italy. It is 2.5 kilometers from Greve in Chianti, virtually the center of Tuscany. Until then, keep smiling.

Peace and Love.

Norm & Rita.

P.S.  We’ll post pictures soon, our internet has not been quite strong enough to download all the pics!

 

Here are our pictures from Yann and Peggy’s visit and then our road trip to Italy!

Looks like the kids had a great time in the pool! They could have stayed in it all day!

Looks like the kids had a great time in the pool! They could have stayed in it all day!

This is the river in St. Leon sur Vezere.... Tons of people come here to camp along this river, and the English actually swim in it!

This is the river in St. Leon sur Vezere…. Tons of people come here to camp along this river, and the English actually swim in it!

This was an adversitement we saw on our way to St. Cyprien's market day!

This was an adversitement we saw on our way to St. Cyprien’s market day!

St. Christophe's Rock... Thousands of people lived up here in houses built into the rocks, here is Tinael as we enter the rock village.

St. Christophe’s Rock… Thousands of people lived up here in houses built into the rocks, here is Tinael as we enter the rock village.

This is where they would hang their meat after it was caught! I guess this is the butcher shop. LOL!

This is where they would hang their meat after it was caught! I guess this is the butcher shop. LOL!

Cheyanne and Tinael coming through a Troglodytes doorway! They were small??

Cheyanne and Tinael coming through a Troglodytes doorway! They were small??

Troglodyte church

Troglodyte church

IMG_1412

He must have been a baaaaddddd Troglodyte!!

He must have been a baaaaddddd Troglodyte!!

This is a medieval kitchen for sure!

This is a medieval kitchen for sure!

One of their cave homes.

One of their cave homes.

This is in the Prehistoric Parc!!! Mary and Angela... bet you wished you would have gone to see this!!

This is in the Prehistoric Parc!!! Mary and Angela… bet you wished you would have gone to see this!!

Now they are skinnin' it???

Now they are skinnin’ it???

This is a tee pee they lived in, uhmmm seems just like the ones we see in the U.S.

This is a tee pee they lived in, uhmmm seems just like the ones we see in the U.S.

IMG_1463

Apparently, Rock Climbing isn't a new sport!

Apparently, Rock Climbing isn’t a new sport!

Pay no attention to that bush, moving around over there by that tree, it's just a bush. Nothing to look twice at. Nothing to be alarmed about. This looks like it could be gravy. I smell varmint poontang, and the only good varmint poontang is dead varmint poontang. FREEZE GOPHER!!!

Pay no attention to that bush, moving around over there by that tree, it’s just a bush. Nothing to look twice at. Nothing to be alarmed about. This looks like it could be gravy. I smell varmint poontang, and the only good varmint poontang is dead varmint poontang.
FREEZE GOPHER!!!

A sudden downpour, and yes, the red wine is still great!

A sudden downpour, and yes, the red wine is still great!

Norm keeps trying to steal Tinael's hat.

Norm keeps trying to steal Tinael’s hat.

Of course, we had to take Tinael an Cheyanne to Sarlat...

Of course, we had to take Tinael an Cheyanne to Sarlat…

Cool balloons!

Cool balloons!

Another little harbour along our way to Italy.

Another little harbour along our way to Italy.

Here is our first view as we "START" walking toward the Hotel lobby. LOL!

Here is our first view as we “START” walking toward the Hotel lobby. LOL!

Game of chess, anyone?

Game of chess, anyone??

 

Yeah, so this pool will do.

Yeah, so this pool will do.

OK, we can see ourselves eating on this great terrace, along the way to the hotel entrance, still....

OK, we can see ourselves eating on this great terrace, along the way to the hotel entrance, still….

Hey Stephanie... This one's for you!! She must have been a gymnast!

Hey Stephanie… This one’s for you!! She must have been a gymnast!

One more bend in the road, and soon....

One more bend in the road, and soon….

Finally, the entrance door to the hotel!

Finally, the entrance door to the hotel!

OK, so now we have to walk to our room, which is the highest room they have, so that means a long way, and a lot of climbing!

OK, so now we have to walk to our room, which is the highest room they have, so that means a long way, and a lot of climbing!

And now we go down just a little bit, only to .......

And now we go down just a little bit, only to …….

Go back up again, Uh oh, a fork in the road, guess which one we took? The one going up!

Go back up again, Uh oh, a fork in the road, guess which one we took? The one going up!

Then through this nice little path...

Then through this nice little path…

Past this cool little archway...

Past this cool little archway…

 

And finally we make it to our room! Oh, yeah, we have to climb one more set of stairs!!!

And finally we make it to our room! Oh, yeah, we have to climb one more set of stairs!!!

I guess the hike, all that way, was worth it. This is our view from our room! Lovely!

I guess the hike, all that way, was worth it. This is our view from our room! Lovely!

Entrance to the church gardens.

Entrance to the church gardens.

And, when we came out of the church, and turned left, this is what was on the rock wall! It made NO SENSE to us... Does it to any of you???

And, when we came out of the church, and turned left, this is what was on the rock wall! It made NO SENSE to us… Does it to any of you???

Our last evening dinner was here, in this quaint little restaurant!

Our last evening dinner was here, in this quaint little restaurant!

Breakfast on the patio was special!

Breakfast on the patio was special!

And then we ended up here, in this quaint little port, "Portofino, Italy". Very small harbour, but lots going on!

And then we ended up here, in this quaint little port, “Portofino, Italy”. Very small harbour, but lots going on!

This is the symbol of Portofino.... we've searched quite a while, but cannot find out why?

This is the symbol of Portofino…. we’ve searched quite a while, but cannot find out why?

View from the port side.

View from the port side.

View from the starboard side.

View from the starboard side.

This view is from the center.

This view is from the center.

We're thinking.... will this big yacht fit betweeen these to other ones???

We’re thinking…. will this big yacht fit betweeen these to other ones???

Oh, yeah, it did! Man, I can't even back up my car straight!

Oh, yeah, it did! Man, I can’t even back up my car straight!

 

Here's a job for Norm in retirement!!

Here’s a job for Norm in retirement!

And now we are off to get settled into our villa in Greve, Italy!!

Visitors, Visitors, Visitors

July 18, 2014- St. Leon-sur-Vezere

It has been 2 weeks since we have posted. During those two weeks, we have been very busy. On Wednesday July 9th, we got up at 4:30 AM and Rita and I drove the 5 hours to Paris so that Rita could meet with French Immigration to complete her requirements for a long-term visa. We had enlisted Alain and Dominique Desmadryl to assist us with some of the more burdensome paperwork required. They were very gracious and helpful to us. After having breakfast with Dominque, (Alain was in the hospital recovering from hip replacement surgery), we drove to French Immigration to take our place in line with many others seeking immigration to France. If you remember, I flunked my first attempt to get my visa a couple of weeks ago. So, we used what we learned from my experience for Rita, and Rita sailed right through French Immigration without any problems and got her long-term visa approved. While I was waiting on Rita to get through French Immigration, I talked my way into the office and convinced them to consider my second application at the same time they were considering Rita’s first application. (I had my second appointment next week, but did not want to make the 5-hour drive back to Paris.) Surprisingly, French Immigration was accommodating to my request, considered my additional paperwork and also issued my long-term visa at the same time as Rita. Whew!!!!! What a relief. We were afraid that we would have to leave France after 90 days if we did not get our visas. Without visas we could not go to Italy for 90 days after our visit in France. That night, we stayed in Paris on the Left Bank at the Hotel du Seine and went to dinner at Au Bourguignon Marais to celebrate. Rita had bouef bourguignon and I had white, red and rose wine from Bourgogne. I also had some great avocado, crayfish and fish along with my wine. The dessert was Berthillon ice cream, the best ice cream in Paris.

On July 10th, my daughter Angela and Rita’s friend Mary Thompson arrived in Paris on the same flight, took the train and the metro to Paris and met up with us at our hotel. We did some Paris sightseeing, which included Notre Dame, Eiffel Tower, Champs Elysees and Arc de Triomphe. We had great cocktails at Fouquets Barriere and dinner at a place Rita found called Chez Toinette in the seedier area of Paris. After dinner, we walked the streets of Paris and ended the night with cognac. My daughter had come to Paris to see us because she has recently become engaged and was excited to share her thoughts and feelings with me. Mary had come to Paris because she had always wanted to see Paris and have dinner in a French restaurant.

Norm saying "It's just a little rain, come on, lets get going!"

Norm saying “It’s just a little rain, come on, lets get going!”

Mary's first sighting of the Eiffel Tower.

Mary’s first sighting of the Eiffel Tower.

Sure, we'll go out sightseeing after an 18 hour trip from the U.S.!! Nothing will stop us!

Sure, we’ll go out sightseeing after an 18 hour trip from the U.S.!! Nothing will stop us!

Waiting on our drinks at Cafe Fouquet's!

Waiting on our drinks at Cafe Fouquet’s!

Of course, we usually drink Cosmo's (where we can get them) but Mary chose this one, that is passion fruit on the top!

Of course, we usually drink Cosmo’s (where we can get them) but Mary chose this one, that is passion fruit on the top!

See, we love our Cosmo's!

See, we love our Cosmo’s!

On July 11th, we drove Angela and Mary to St. Leon-sur-Vezere, a long 5-hour drive made easier by having company and knowledge that we had our visas and did not have to return to French Immigration in Paris next week. We celebrated our guests’ arrival in St. Leon with dinner at Le Petit Leon, a nice restaurant in St. Leon. While the food was excellent, including foie gras, pork, fish and quail, all we truly remember is the wonderful ice cold cava and socializing.

Quail with pea puree! Tasty!

Quail with pea puree! Tasty!

 Rita got the pork with cauliflower polenta!  The pork reminded her of Hungarian Szallona!! AWESOME!!

Rita got the pork with cauliflower polenta! The pork reminded her of Hungarian Szallona!! AWESOME!!

Beet Salad at Le Petit Leon

Beet Salad at Le Petit Leon

After dinner cognac at Le Petit Leon our first night in St. Leon.... after a lot of cava.... a/k/a Champagne! We need to take Norms iPhone from him so he can't take discriminating photos...

Angie laying on table with our after dinner cognac at Le Petit Leon, our first night in St. Leon…. after a lot of cava…. a/k/a Champagne! We need to take Norms iPhone from him so he can’t take discriminating photos…

On July 12th, we took our guests to the BIG market held every Saturday in Sarlat. We bought fresh vegetables and spent the rest of the day cooking a wonderful dinner. It was a scene from the Big Chill.

On July 13th, we drove our guests to St. Emilion to see the wine country. We arrived in time to take a tour of the village before a thunderstorm cut the tour short. We did do some wine tastings in shops and at a winery. The La Rose Cotes Roi was our favorite winery tour because they told us things about wine making we did not know, says Norm. The girls thought is was the BEST because the owner of the winery was soooo handsomely FRENCH!!…

Pretty countryside as we head to St. Emilion!

Pretty countryside as we head to St. Emilion!

Does your wine taste any different recently ???

Does your wine taste any different recently ???

Franc Mayne Winery and Chateau..

Franc Mayne Winery and Chateau..

Here we are, getting yet another tasting of a different year!

Here we are, getting yet another tasting of a different year!

Didn't we tell you he was a French Hottie!!

Didn’t we tell you he was a French Hottie!!

 

They would have stayed there all day!
It was a great day in spite of the rain.

That evening we returned from St. Emilion and had dinner at La Chevrefeuille, where we had taken our cooking classes with Ian and Sara.

Angela trying to de-stress, Mary and Rita coaxing her to chug the wine!! We are at La Chevrefeuille for dinner with Ian and Sara!

Angela trying to de-stress, Mary and Rita coaxing her to chug the wine!! We are at La Chevrefeuille for dinner with Ian and Sara!

Of course, we had a LOVELY dinner there and again, met new people!! We met a gal named Joyce, who was traveling alone……. with her three children!!! She is from Vancouver, flew to Ireland, met up with some friends, and now is hanging in the south of France for awhile! We couldn’t belive she would undertake such a hard task of traveling with three little ones, but she is doing it just fine! And she is also blogging!

On July 14th, we played at the pool and in the evening we went to see the fireworks in Montignac because it was Bastille Day in France. The impressions of the celebration were that they did not have a lot of “junk” to sell the children, there were no fireworks for sale and no one says “ooooh and awe” after the fireworks go off. But, they do all applaud at the end of each set of fireworks. For dinner, Rita cooked foie gras for dinner. It was the first time we had cooked foie gras. It is not too hard, just sauté it in a pan. But, it was really tasty.

Our Home Made Foie Gras!! It was awesome!

Our Home Made Foie Gras!! It was awesome! Maybe we should have taken the picture after serving this at the table!

On July 15th, we played at the pool and visited La Source Restaurant in Tursac for dinner. We considered this our farewell dinner since Mary was leaving the next day before dinnertime! Angela and I had plenty of time to discuss her engagement, wedding plans and other things going on in her life.

Angela and Norm at La Source, Tursac dinner!

Angela and Norm at La Source, Tursac dinner!

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The owner is in the background, he pours drinks, cooks the food, and tells great stories of his past life cooking on a yacht and for Whitney Houston!

The owner is in the background, he pours drinks, cooks the food, and tells great stories of his past life cooking on a yacht and for Whitney Houston!

Angela getting instructions on how to cut her beef the french way!

Angela getting instructions on how to cut her beef the french way!

Dessert???                Armagnac Anyone?

Dessert??? Armagnac Anyone?

Or would you prefer chocolate mouse with carmel sauce?

Or would you prefer chocolate mouse with carmel sauce?

All in all, it was a wonderful visit. Mary went home on July 16th , so we drove to Brive for her to catch the train to Paris and Rita, Angela and I had a great meal at La Toupine in Brive La Gaillarde. Angela went home the 17th.

So, Rita and I have two days to get reacquainted before we have new visitors on July 19th. Yann Desmadryl, his wife Peggy and their children Cheyenne and Tinael are visiting us for a few days on their way to the Mediterranean Sea for the MONTH LONG FRENCH VACATION OF AUGUST. Did everyone get that!!!!

Have a great day. We miss you all.
 

She's a beauty, even in the rain!

She’s a beauty, even in the rain!

Swarovski Crystal staircase... only in Paris...

Swarovski Crystal staircase… only in Paris…

No caption needed, just sayin..

No caption needed, just sayin..

Cafe Fouquet's... as we are walking inside for a special drink!

Cafe Fouquet’s… as we are walking inside for a special drink!

Awww, Norm and Angela standing in the middle of the Champs Elysees!!

Awww, Norm and Angela standing in the middle of the Champs Elysees!!

Rita, Angela, Norm and Mary stopping for a Kodak moment with one of the great Paris monuments in the background!

Rita, Angela, Norm and Mary stopping for a Kodak moment with one of the great Paris monuments in the background!

Mary and Rita.. fun times in Paris!

Mary and Rita.. fun times in Paris!

Arc de Triomphe...

Arc de Triomphe…

Franc Mayne Winery and Chateau..

Franc Mayne Winery and Chateau..

Uphill is common in St. Emilion!

Uphill is common in St. Emilion!

Mary and Rita, WOW.. how things don't ever change with them!!

Mary and Rita, WOW.. how things don’t ever change with them!!

How nice of Norm to pull up the car for Mary, as we were leaving St. Emilion!

How nice of Norm to pull up the car for Mary, as we were leaving St. Emilion!

Here we are, getting yet another tasting of a different year!

Here we are, getting yet another tasting of a different year!

NO 4th of July fireworks here!!!

July 5, 2014 – No 4th of July Fireworks in France….

Today is our 63rd day in France. Having a great time. Yesterday was July 4th in the U.S. with hotdogs, barbeques, and fireworks.   In St. Leon, well actually Thursday, was the first night market of the season, which starts in July.   There was lots of beer, French music, vendors of foie gras, fresh legumes, French creole food and other food and drinks. The population of St. Leon probably had an additional 200 visitors for the night market.   The “tourist season” is in high swing here right now. Tourists are starting to flock to St. Leon. We get new campers every night. This Sunday, there is a festival in our little town and it is rumored to have a lot of activity that day. We were warned to move our car to the entrance of the city if we want to drive it that day, as the streets are blocked off and no cars can get in or out.

Of course, France has a 4th of July also. It is called Bastille Day and will be held on Monday, July 14th. Everything closes down. There is dancing in the streets, lots of food music and fireworks. We are looking for to celebrating Bastille Day in France.

We are also looking forward to new visitors. My daughter, Angela, and Rita’s sister-in-law, Mary Adams Thompson, will be coming in the week of July 10th and staying until July 18th. We are soooo excited to see them.

The past week has been busy. No new births to report this week. But, we did take a road trip. We left on Monday to avoid some rainy weather and drove 4 hours south to the coastal city of Biarritz, which is on the Atlantic Ocean about a half hour from Spain. The weather on the coast was lovely the first day. But, the second day it turned on us and became rainy and foggy. Nevertheless, it was a good visit. Biarritz has a wonderful sand beach that is rare as far as we can tell for France. The entire beach stretches out before a beautiful lighthouse. It also has the Hotel du Palais that was built by Napoleon for his wife Eugenie around 1854. We did not stay there. It was a little rich for my blood. But, we did stay next door to it. The sunset the first night was beautiful.

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But by the next morning, there was roaring surf pounding the rocks in front of our hotel. The first night we got a chance to catch up on Cosmopolitans at the hotel bar. Then, we dressed up and went out to dinner. After dinner we watched the world cup football matches in a bar full of French and German spectators. They are really rabid fans. I guess similar to our Colts’ fans.

Biaritz reminded us of an old beach town in Florida or California. It was rather small, with nice neighborhoods, beautiful churches, narrow streets, markets and lots of outdoor dining choices.

 

Eglise Alexandre Newsky - Russian Orthoodox Church in Biarritz.

Eglise Alexandre Newsky – Russian Orthoodox Church in Biarritz.

 

From Biarritz, we headed toward home and away from the rain and stormy weather in Biarritz. But, when we arrived in Bordeaux, two hours later, the sun was shining so we decided to head north to the Margaux, Pauillac, and the St. Estephe wine region of Bordeaux. We took the La Route des Chateaux and photographed all of the best Vineyards along the Route. We saw Chateau Margaux, Chateau Lafite Rothschild, Chateau Mouton Rothschild, Chateau LaTour and Chateau Haut-Brion. All of these Chateaux are known for producing the best red wines since 1855. Of course, the prices of these wines are astronomical and beyond the reach of most mortals. We saw many of bottles of wines priced at $1,500.00 to $18,000.00! We are pleased with our photos as our souvenirs instead of bottles of wine.

From Bordeaux, we turned east and headed toward St. Leon, but, not without stopping for the night at St. Emilion. We went to St. Emilion last year and loved it. Like Bordeaux, St. Emilion is another wine producing area of France. It is a lovely village of 2000 people and dates back to pre-historic times. It is much smaller than the vineyards we visited in Bordeaux. But, it does have some fantastic red wines.   Some of them are also priced above the reach of mere mortals, but there are some that are quite reasonable. For example, the Chateau Ausone and Chateau Cheval Blanc, which sell for an average price of $837 and $689 respectively per bottle, fall into the best of the best. But, good everyday St. Emilion red wines can be had for under $10 per bottle although good ones go for $30 to $50 a bottle.

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While walking around St. Emilion taking photographs, we saw lots of people touring the wine country by bicycle. They average about 80 kilometers a day and ride in groups of 10 to 20. We also take photos by accident whenever we travel. A perfect example is the photo of my leg accidently taken while removing my iPhone from my pocket.

One of numerous selfies I have taken while retrieving my Iphone from my pocket.

One of numerous selfies I have taken while retrieving my iphone from my pocket.

On the final leg of our return trip to St. Leon, we stumbled upon Chateau Monbazillac, just south of Bergerac in the Dordogne, near to where we are staying. It produces all “sweet” dessert wines. So, we have to stop, taste, take photos and buy some wine to take home.

Chateau Monbazillac in the Dordogne area of France where we are staying specializes in sweet dessert wines. So, you start a meal with champagne, move to white wine with your shrimp appetizer, and proceed tothe main course of red wine with your steak, and you can finish off your creme brulee with sweet dessert wine. Did I mention that you cannot drink and drive in France. Don't know how you would get home from the restaurant

Chateau Monbazillac in the Dordogne area of France where we are staying specializes in sweet dessert wines. So, you start a meal with champagne, move to white wine with your shrimp appetizer, and proceed tothe main course of red wine with your steak, and you can finish off your creme brulee with sweet dessert wine. Did I mention that you cannot drink and drive in France. Don’t know how you would get home from the restaurant

In closing, the final photograph on our website should come as no surprise to those of you who know us well. We have decided to stay in France and have started a meal on wheels business. It will be called “Norm’s Cuisine”. Our first delivery truck has been purchased and our logo placed on it. We are checking out French law to see if our truck needs any operating authority. If it does, I will be calling Andy Light for authority advice and Greg Feary for insurance advice. International transportation law is really exciting!

Ah, yes, I have found a new business to keep me busy in St. Emilion. Meal on wheels by Norm Cuisines.

Ah, yes, I have found a new business to keep me busy in St. Emilion. Meals on wheels by Norm Cuisines.

Have a safe week. Next week, we will report on our two visitors Angela and Mary, Bastille Day, Rita’s “first” trip to Paris for her visa interview and my second “trip” to Paris for my interview. Stay tuned. (She’s not going to like the weighing in and eye exam either!!! How do you explain (a/ka/a translate) mono-vision lasik surgery to the French!!)

 

Dinner the night before we left on our adventure to Biarritz.

Dinner the night before we left on our adventure to Biarritz.

Fish?

Fish?

Lamb with truffles

Lamb with truffles

Dessert...

Dessert…

 

And the "After Dessert" !! Who knew??

And the “After Dessert” !! Who knew??

 

I'm not sure I can get this into my mouth!!! It's a really big bite!

I’m not sure I can get this into my mouth!!! It’s a really big bite!

 

 

Our hotel in Biarritz is the one that looks like a ship jutting out at the beach.

Our hotel in Biarritz is the one that looks like a ship jutting out at the beach.

First view of the lighthouse

First view of the lighthouse

Lighthouse overlooking Biarritz Beach.

Lighthouse overlooking Biarritz Beach.

 

 

Hotel de Palais built by Napoleon for his wife Eugenie. Now a very expensive hotel on the beach at Biarritz.

Hotel de Palais built by Napoleon for his wife Eugenie. Now a very expensive hotel on the beach at Biarritz.

Rocky shoreline in Biarritz with St. Eugenie church in background.

Rocky shoreline in Biarritz with St. Eugenie church in background.

St. Eugenie gothic church Biarritz.

St. Eugenie gothic church Biarritz.

The old port in Biarritz, now lined with seafood restaurants.

The old port in Biarritz, now lined with seafood restaurants.

Craggy archway with Atlantic Ocean underneath in Biarritz.

Craggy archway with Atlantic Ocean underneath in Biarritz.

Statute of the Virgin Mary at the entrance to the harbor at Biarritz.

Statute of the Virgin Mary at the entrance to the harbor at Biarritz.

Outdoor cafe/restaurant in Biarritz in the market area.

Outdoor cafe/restaurant in Biarritz in the market area.

Biarritz casino from outdoor cafe on La Grande Plage.

Biarritz casino from outdoor cafe on La Grande Plage.

Eglise Alexandre Newsky - Russian Orthoodox Church in Biarritz.

Eglise Alexandre Newsky – Russian Orthoodox Church in Biarritz.

Nice little swim cove in Biarritz.

Nice little swim cove in Biarritz.

 

Happy hour or so..... at the Sofitel in Biarritz! Let's get this evening started!

Happy hour or so….. at the Sofitel in Biarritz! Let’s get this evening started!

Chateau Pichon-Longueville

Chateau Pichon-Longueville

 

Wow!

Wow! Chateau Pichon Longueville Comtesse de Lalande

 

Chateau Pichon-Longueville

Chateau Pichon-Longueville Comtesse de Lalande

The other Pichon Longueville Chateau...on the opposite side of the street.

Chateau Pichon Baron Longueville                                   Grand Cru Classe en 1855

Chateau Margaux in the Medoc area of Bordeaux. One of five premier grand cru vineyards recognized since 1855.

Chateau Margaux in the Medoc area of Bordeaux. One of five premier grand cru vineyards recognized since 1855.

Sauvignon grapes in the Medoc. We were impressed with the quantity of grapes on the vines and the rocky soil in which they grow.

Cabernet Sauvignon grapes in the Medoc. We were impressed with the quantity of grapes on the vines and the rocky soil in which they grow.

 

A small little church in the middle of Margaux's winery.

A small little church in the middle of Margaux’s winery.

Entrance way to Chateau Mouton Rothschild

Entrance way to Chateau Mouton Rothschild

A lot of work was done here for this.

A lot of work was done here for this.

Grapes from Chateau Mouton Rothschild. Don't look any different to us from the last Chateau... uhm...

Grapes from Chateau Mouton Rothschild. Don’t look any different to us from the last Chateau… uhm…

 

Chateau Latour

Chateau Latour

What a beautiful site driving up to Chateau Latour

What a beautiful site driving up to Chateau Latour

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The central "place" in St. Emilion, another wine area of Bordeaux is dotted with outdoor restaurants serving good food and wine.

The central “place” in St. Emilion, another wine area of Bordeaux is dotted with outdoor restaurants serving good food and wine.

Monolithic Church of St. Emilion from the 11th century.

Monolithic Church of St. Emilion from the 11th century.

Cute store front of one of many wine merchants in St. Emilion willing to trade wine for your money.

Cute store front of one of many wine merchants in St. Emilion willing to trade wine for your money.

View beyond St. Emilion

View beyond St. Emilion

Bicyclists at their morning briefing in St. Emilion before taking off on their 49.709 mile ride. My partners Craig Helmreich and David Robinson should check this out for future vacation plans.

Bicyclists at their morning briefing in St. Emilion before taking off on their 49.709 mile ride. My partners Craig Helmreich and David Robinson should check this out for future vacation plans.

Another great dinner Rita ordered, at least they cut the head off!!

Another great dinner Rita ordered, at least they cut the head off!!

 A photo of the Church of St. Emilion from the town "place".

A photo of the Church of St. Emilion from the town “place”.

Whoah... we took a wrong turn, (not using GPS) and stumbled upon this...

Whoah… we took a wrong turn, (not using GPS) and stumbled upon this…

 

We discovered Chateau Monbazillac. Cool place!

We discovered Chateau Monbazillac. Cool place!

Angle View

Angle View

 

Close up back view!

Close up back view!

And look at their back yard view!

And look at their back yard view!

I know you can see Bergerac from here! Gorgeous Views!

I know you can see Bergerac from here! Gorgeous Views!

Up close and personal.

Up close and personal.

Side building where they store the wine.

Side building where they store the wine.

 

And, we see a crucifix on every road, no matter where we are, as you enter or leave a city, in a vineyard, out on an old road that is only one lane, and in cemeteries, as you see here.

 

Is this solid silver?

Is this solid silver?

 

Chateau Lafite Rothschild vineyards in the Medoc. Another one of the premier grand cru red wines recognized since 1855.

Chateau Lafite Rothschild vineyards in the Medoc. Another one of the premier grand cru red wines recognized since 1855.

 

Again, just driving home and saw this one. Probably privately owned, but it didn't stop Rita from driving right into the driveway close enough to take this picture!!

Again, just driving home and saw this one. Probably privately owned, but it didn’t stop Rita from driving right into the driveway close enough to take this picture!!

June 28th, 2014 -A BUSY WEEK AND A HALF IN FRANCE!!!

Bonjour!   Well, you can tell my French classes are working out very well. I am progressing slowly. We have been told by some native English-speaking people who are used to speaking fluent French, that even after 10 years, it is still a struggle to speak in French and think in English. Most of them have plans to retire in a country where English is the native language. They are just plain tired of translating everything. (Especially the jokes!)

Last Friday, we drove 5 hours to Paris so that I could meet with the French Immigration office to complete my Visa Application. We need Visas because we are going to stay in France for over 90 days. I took a medical exam and passed except they said I was too fat. Then, I took an eye exam and they said that I needed glasses, but they didn’t ask me if I wore contacts! I did pass the eye examination. At the end of the day, they asked for my passport photo and proof of accommodations to prove that I have been living in France. They rejected my passport photo even though it is the one in my passport and the identical one accepted by the French Consulate in Chicago when I applied for my Visa. Apparently, they have official photo “cabines” called “Photomation” in France and that is the only photo they will accept. They are similar to our photo booth. In addition, my proof of accommodation was in English and they wanted it to be in French. So, it was rejected also. They rescheduled me for another appointment on July 18th to bring them a new passport photo and proof of accommodation. We spent one night in Paris and drove home the next day dejected for being rejected!

The French Immigration office also finally found Rita’s paperwork this week. They had lost it for over 6 weeks. Technically, she did not exist and was not in France according to their records. But, they could kick her out of France after 90 days if she did not get their approval to be here! Her records were paper clipped to my records and surfaced when I had my meeting with them. So, Rita has to complete her Visa requirements on July 9th.   Assuming we both pass this time, it will have taken us three trips to Paris to get approval. It is frustrating to experience all this bureaucracy, but I understand that the US is even worse!

We at least took a few pictures after dinner!

Notre Dame at night

Notre Dame at night

We have had two exciting events this week.

Preparing for our visit with family.

Preparing for our visit with family.

First, Rita’s family from Lille in the north of France, came to visit on Saturday and are staying until Friday. We have Isabelle, her daughter Jasmine (4), her mother Lina and their cousin Yoran (12) in our home. We have been swimming, playing cards, visiting castles, specifically Chateau Puymartin and Chateau Milandes, and enjoying touring small beautiful villages.

Chateau Puymartin and the legend of the lady in white. (Madame Blanc)

Chateau Puymartin and the legend of the lady in white. (Madame Blanc)

 

The Chateau Puymartin has a roof of stone. The stones cost 700 Euros ($955.00) per square meter and each square meter weighs over a ton.   They are laid by hand and are not held in by mortar or cement, but merely by laying one stone against another. It was built in the 12th century. The roof was repaired once with cement in between the stones and it had to be re-done as it did not allow for ventilation and was not good. The owner of the castle caught his wife in an affair and locked her in a tower for 15 years. She never left the tower before she died. He even buried her in this room behind a eucre colored block, which you can see in our pictures. You can rent a room here at this castle as a bed and breakfast place, but they say that if you do, you will see a lady in white, Madamme Blanc…. She comes out only at night. Later, in the 18th century, there was a 40-year fight over the ownership of the castle between a brother and sister and eventually the sister won out. The property is still owned by the original descendant’s.

View of Chateau Milandes from the parking lot across the street.

View of Chateau Milandes from the parking lot across the street.

The other castle, Chateau Milandes was the home of Josphine Baker, an American black woman, who went to Paris in 1925 and became a showgirl, singer, dancer, and a comedic star at the Folies Bergere (being topless probably didn’t hurt her career!) She was the only woman to march beside Martin Luther King at the March on Washington and to give a speech. She was a great humanitarian, got involved with the Red Cross, set up an organized resistance network where she hid arms in the cellar and installed a radio for communications and she carried secret information on sheet music that had been inserted with invisible ink!! She also traveled with Captain Abtey as part of the counter-intelligence services to Marrakesh, Africa, Maghreb, Libya, Egypt, Beirut, Syria, Palestine and Lebanon to spread the word of Free France. She was awarded a second lieutenant in the Women’s Auxiliary of the French Air Force, a Medal of Resistance, and was given the Legion of Honour award and the Croix de Guerre as she had worked risking her life for 5 years during World War II.

We received our cooking lessons this week from Lina. She is a really good French cook. We had wonderful salad dressing, polenta with gruyere cheese, rice salad and a vegetable tarte and a tuna/broccoli tarte; All of which we will be making again, soon. Hope they turn out!

 Secondly, our neighbors had a baby!!! We were all awakened by our neighbor’s cows that live next door by loud, continuous mooing. Rita thought that I had gotten up and went out side to talk to them, as I do everyday by mooing to them. After an hour of this annoying mooing, we decided to check it out and we learned that one of my cows that I say Bonjour to every day her had a baby calf “en plain air” as the owner/farmer told me in French. Now we know why this particular cow had a purple hair band on, we thought it was the hippie of the group! It was really funny because the birth was met with such excitement by the entire village of 400 residents and day visitors. They would line up across the street from our Maison to take photos of the new calf. Rita was surprised that the calf was standing and walking within a few hours of birth. “Neither Stephanie nor Missy did that” she said! But, then she was also surprised that the birthing mother went about her normal daily routine of walking and grazing immediately after giving birth with the little calf nursing on her as she walked and grazed.

Standing, walking and eating within the first 24 hours!

Standing, walking and eating within the first 24 hours!

Well, I think I have caught you up on most of the things that have been going on at Green Acres in France. We are having fun. Experiencing the language, food and culture. So, all in all, it is a good trip. Check out our photos to see the things discussed above.

Paris Skyline including Eiffel Tower from the rooftop restaurant of the Holiday Inn St. Germain de Pres.

Paris Skyline including Eiffel Tower from the rooftop restaurant of the Holiday Inn St. Germain de Pres.

Notre Dame at night

Notre Dame at night

We think this is what the French do when there is no water in the fountain and sunny skies above!

We think this is what the French do when there is no water in the fountain and sunny skies above!

The Dordogne countryside from the top of Chateau Puymartin.

The Dordogne countryside from the top of Chateau Puymartin.

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The hand-laid stone roof of Chateau Puymartin.

The hand-laid stone roof of Chateau Puymartin.

The Chateau Milandes, the former home of Josephine Baker.

The Chateau Milandes, the former home of Josephine Baker.

Chateau Milandes from the front.

Chateau Milandes from the front.

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Beautiful palm trees at Chateau Milandes.

Beautiful palm trees at Chateau Milandes.

They had a bird show after our tour, (had NOTHING to do with the castle) but we decided to watch it! Here is an eagle coming towards us! Look out!

They had a bird show after our tour, (had NOTHING to do with the castle) but we decided to watch it! Here is an eagle coming towards us! Look out!

Isn't is amazing how close he is?

Isn’t is amazing how close he is?

Another view

Another view

 

Yohan handling this big creature!

Yohan handling this big creature!

Hey Mary (Mary R) .... Is this my Owl????

Hey Mary (Mary R) …. Is this my Owl????

Or is it this one?

Or is it this one?

Or is this my Owl???? We yelled his name, "Owl" and he turned around for me to take this picture!

Or is this my Owl???? We yelled his name, “Owl” and he turned around for me to take this picture!

View of another castle nearbyPuymartin in the background. They are everywhere!

View of another castle nearby Puymartin in the background. They are everywhere!

Norm trying to hold her back, yeah right, that's not going to work!

Norm trying to hold her back, yeah right, that’s not going to work!

Jasmine playing with her new duck friends!

Jasmine playing with her new duck friends!

Fresh Paella at the market in Sarlat!

Fresh Paella at the market in Sarlat!

Mother and calf are doing fine! The population of St. Leon-sur-Vezere has just increased by one.

Mother and calf are doing fine! The population of St. Leon-sur-Vezere has just increased by one.

Standing, walking and eating within the first 24 hours!

Standing, walking and eating within the first 24 hours!

 

Norm and Lina in the Le Source Garden.

Norm and Lina in the Le Source Garden.

Le Source ( the restaurant) has a new friend for Jasmine... Meet Anna Sophia!! Yeah, I'd say she has a princess name too!

Le Source ( the restaurant) has a new friend for Jasmine… Meet Anna Sophia!! Yeah, I’d say she has a princess name too!

The most beautiful garden setting for our dinner!

The most beautiful garden setting for our dinner!

At our last celebratory dinner with Lina, Jasmine, Isabel and Yoran!

At our last celebratory dinner with Lina, Jasmine, Isabel and Yoran!

Whitefish dinner topped with crayfish! AMAZING!!!

Whitefish dinner topped with crayfish! AMAZING!!!

Free Range Pork dinner!

Free Range Pork dinner!

Here's how you say it Rita.... TROIS!

Here’s how you say it Rita…. TROIS!

Here is Jasmine's facial expression trying to show me how you pronounce "trois"! TWA!! I still can't do it right!

Here is Jasmine’s facial expression trying to show me how you pronounce “trois”! TWA!! I still can’t do it right!

Dessert!! So Pretty! and Yummy!

Dessert!! So Pretty! and Yummy!

Anna Sophia telling us goodnight! Bedtime calls.

Anna Sophia telling us goodnight! Bedtime calls.

Lina, Isabel, Jasmine, Rita and Norm... Bye Bye!!

Lina, Isabel, Jasmine, Rita and Norm… Bye Bye!!

Saying good bye to Yoran, Lina, and Jasmine!

Saying good bye to Yoran, Lina, and Jasmine!

June 15, 2014. French Impressions—Week #6

Six weeks, or forty-two days, we have been in France. This week we got to see the Chateau Clarens, which is next door to our maison, up close and personal, but only from the outside. It has been beautifully restored, with formal gardens, a swimming pool and a view of the river Vezere.   The owners were away this week and their property manager invited us to do a walk around. It is 5 stories. The rumor in the village of St. Leon-sur-Vezere is that the Chateau is for sale, but no one knows how much the owners are asking for it.

Chateau Clerens

Chateau Clerens

On Tuesday, we took a cooking class at Le Chevrefeuille, which is a hotel and restaurant (more like a bed and breakfast or what they call a “Gite” here in France) which is about 7 km away from St. Cyprien, a small village nearby. The class was taught by Ian, who is English, but started the hotel a few years ago with his English wife Sara. Le Chevrefeuille means honeysuckle in French. The hotel is small, lovely, well maintained and looked after by Ian and Sarah. We only had one other couple in our class. They were Matt and Amanda, a very nice young couple from Australia, but have lived all over the world in the last 12 years.

The class started with a visit to the fresh market at La Bugue, another small village, nearby us. Each of the villages has a fresh market day. At the market, we bought goat cheese, “fromage de chevre”, which was only one day old from the farmer who raises the goats. We also bought mushrooms, “champignons”, from the vendor who searches the woods for them, finds them and then sells them in the market. Next, we bought fresh vegetables including cauliflower, “chou-fleur”, flat beans or broad beans, “feve”, and peas, “petit pois”. Ian knows all the vendors, speaks fluent French and, of course, the whole shopping experience is a social event, more than a shopping trip.

The last thing we bought was foie gras. The foie gras was 36 euro or about $50 US dollars per kilo, which is 2 ½ pounds. Thus, foie gras is about $20 a pound. Foie gras is goose liver. But, it is a liver from a goose that has been forced fed corn until its liver is six to ten times its normal size. France is the largest producer and consumer of foie gras, where it is considered a delicacy. The procedure of force feeding the geese is very controversial and many countries, and most noticeably the state of California recently, have banned the sale of foie gras. When the foie gras vendor was explaining to us the procedures for force feeding the geese, she said in very broken English that the geese were “force fed” and then changed her sales pitch to just “fed” to be more politically correct.

After shopping for about two hours, we returned to the hotel kitchen and began preparation of our dinner. We started by making a dessert of individual chocolate molten lava cake using lots of fresh vanilla. Then, we made a tri-colored salad of avocado, which is “avocat” in French, peculiarly the same word as “lawyer” in English, fresh tomatoes and the fresh goat cheese we bought in the market.

Our Green Salad

Our Green Salad

See the rest of our cooking class photos. After completing the salad, we made mini-cups of “veloute de chou-fleur”. This is a deliciously, thick cauliflower soup made of chicken stock and liquefied cauliflower, rather than cream, butter and flour. Next, we made green olive tapenade by blending capers, anchovies, olive oil, garlic, and green olives. For the next course, we quickly fried the foie gras in its own duck fat. Finally, we prepared “confit du canard” which is the leg and thigh of the duck broiled and then shredded. Of course, Ian had prepared a wonderful sauce made out of the mushrooms, stock, wine, and some chestnuts and we used the broad beans and the pois as the healthy sides. To accompany the food we prepared for dinner, we had white and red wine. The class lasted for 7 and a half hours and was a wonderful introduction to French cooking.

On Wednesday, we went to Les-Ezyies, another small village close to us for lunch. The restaurant had a beautiful garden. Les Ezyies is built into the limestone rocks and around the caves where those pesky little Troglodytes lived. We are looking for trolls, but have not seen any yet. On the way home, we drove by beautiful castles like the Chateau de Marzac in our photo section. Finally, as we approached our village of St. Leon-sur-Vezere, we watched the beautiful sunset.

The rest of the week was spent on personal maintenance, meaning cooking, cleaning, shopping, and eating. We also take turns at the pool, pretending we are Zonker Harris, the Doonesbury character, who was a professional tanner. The pool has been wonderful since the temperature had climbed to 30 degrees Celsius, which is about 86 degrees Farenheit.

On Friday, we returned to Le Chevrefeuille for fish night, invited by our new-found friends Matt and Amanda from our cooking class. A lot of the restaurants around here don’t have a set menu, they just prepare whatever they get at the market that day.  So Matt and Amanda pried the secret menu out of Ian and let us know that is would be a Friday fish fry!  Rita, being the Catholic that she is, has been to many lenten fish fry’s in her days, was all excited about fried fish, like lake perch or cod, in bread crumbs, hush puppies, French fries and maybe a little slaw on the side. But, the meal was a little more French than that. We had salmon, and some wonderful appetizers, vegetables, cheese, dessert and wine.  It could have been a Michelin Star resaurant meal!! We ate on the patio and had a wonderful evening with good food and good conversation. If you want to know how small the world is, anouther couple sitting at the table next to us  – met and attended school at DePauw in Greencastle.

Imagine that!

Well, that is all for now. We have found an old movie channel on our TV that shows movies from the 80’s and movies based on true stories, so we are getting ready to watch “The Outsiders”.   Rob Lowe, Diane Lane, Patrick Swayze, Matt Dillon, Tom Cruise, Ralph Macchio, and Emilio Estevez.

OH BOY! How do you say “popcorn” in French???   ….

 

P.S. Happy Birthday Bella!! Wow, 15 !! Soon you’ll be driving!

 

Week Six of French Impressions

Here we are with Ian putting on the finshing touches to our green salad we all made in class! Thank goodness Ian didn't ban our iPhones!

Here we are with Ian putting on the finshing touches to our green salad we all made in class! Thank goodness Ian didn’t ban our iPhones!

Here we are with Matt and Amanda on the left and Ian on the right side of Rita looking over the fois gras stand at the La Bugue market.

Here we are with Matt and Amanda on the left and Ian on the right side of Rita looking over the fois gras stand at the La Bugue market.