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

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