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.

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