The Final Week in Italy, May 2008 – Part 1

Saturday, May 17 – We all got up very early this morning (see what we get for the pleasure of sleeping in yesterday?) to pack the cars completely and head back to Florence to return them. This is probably the most challenging part of our driving trip . . . just the part from the edge of Florence into the city to the EuropCar return office, but we made it with mystifying coordination, and we all arrived at the rental car office within five minutes of one another.

After we had unloaded all our luggage and the things we have purchased along the way (including 17 bottles of wine we expected to drink in the next six days!), our private transportation arrived in the form of a 16-passenger mini-bus, complete with Italian-only speaking driver. We settled in for an hour, arrived in Pisa for a three-hour stay, and walked into the walled city to view the famous Leaning Tower, as well as the other magnificent buildings in the complex . . . the Battistero, the Cathedral, and the Cimiterio – a truly beautiful mausoleum, and the accompanying grassy grounds around each building.

Despite the circus of souvenir hawkers on the walkway, these Pisa sights are worth seeing. The Baptistry has perfect acoustics, and contains sculptures from Nicoli Pisaro and his father (son? . . . I can never get that straight), and after all, how could we drive PAST the Leaning Tower of Pisa, no matter how many tourists surround it?

After our Pisa stop, we had a four-hour drive to Cinque Terre, the area of five little towns on the Italian Riviera, where we would spend the next three nights. Our town is Manarola, and we were staying at a new place for my trips, La Torrrette, owned by a young man named Gabriele Baldini. He was the perfect host, getting us settled in our various rooms scattered all over the rocky mountain side before leaving us for a week of business in London.

But what he left behind for us were lovely rooms, all with sea views, and in each room we found white bathrobes, neatly folded on our beds, a flower on each stack of towels, a bottle of Spumante and some lovely pastries, apples, pears. We unpacked and headed down the windy street to the sea, where everyone enjoyed . . . cappuccino, vino, and a bit of tasty food, of course!

Sunday, May 18 – Today it is rainy again, but we are each on our own to explore the Cinque Terre in any way we please. After a quick e-mail check at the train station in Manarola, and the purchase of our three-day passes, Donna and I head out to walk from Manarola to Riomaggiore, the Via dell’Amore . . . the Walk of Love. The walkway is through the mountain, with occasional glimpses of the Mediterranean and many wonderful drawings on the face of the rock wall. We’re protected by the rain on most of the walk but our umbrellas come in handy.

We check train schedules for our trip to Portofino tomorrow, step into a bar for a cappuccino, and wait out the downpour. Our train is late (what else is new) from La Spezia, but it finally arrives, opening its doors to dozens of passengers who want to disembark and dozens more who are waiting to claim a seat so they can explore like we will do.

We spend much of our afternoon in Vernazza, having lunch and wine at the Gambero Rosso (The Red Shrimp or Prawn), shopping in little stores with interesting presents to take home, getting back on the train for Monterosso al Mare, where the sun has come out! Surprise! So we find another bar on the water and have a glass of wine. It’s now 5:30 or so, and we are hungry, so back on the train, back to Vernazza, to be seated at my regular dinner restaurant in this little village . . . Gianni Franzi. The Moroccan waiter is still there, as he has been for the past four years, and I order fresh sea bass, caprese salad, and we split a bottle of wine!

Donna’s trip to the rest room results in her meeting with the owner . . . Gianni of course, and he wants to buy us a drink. It is now 10:00 and we have to get a train back to Manarola, but one short Grand Marnier and we are on our way. Oops, the train left without us, but there is another one in 45 minutes, so we . . . order a cappuccino at a little bar near the train stop, get on our train and off in Manarola, walk back to La Torretta for a long sleep before tomorrow’s train/bus/boat trip to Portofino and back.

It has been a lovely day and everyone else has hiked or napped or read or stayed in our town or explored in a similar fashion, but we’re all tucked in bed.

Monday, May 19 – Today promised to be a bit less wet, and six of us boarded the little train going north/northwest, on our way to the beautiful village of Portofino. We changed trains in Sestre Levante and disembarked in Santa Margherita, another lovely town on the Italian Riviera. From train to bus in 10 minutes, and in another 15 minutes we were dropped off in the middle of Portofino, to spend the day wandering past VERY expensive clothing stores (one lovely scarf caught my eye . . . 450 Euro (that’s about $720 with our ugly exchange rate!) and I settled for a good salad for lunch and a nice glass of Barbera right next to the water, where I could gaze out at all the luxury sailboats, the tourists getting around the large piazza, and talk with my friend Barbara L in the sun.

After a few hours, we took a boat back to Santa Margherita, boarded the train to Manarola and walked back to our hotel in the pouring rain. Somehow we didn’t carry the sunshine back with us on the tracks! We met our whole group at 7:15, in time to walk to “Dal Billy Ristorante” for our last meal together in Cinque Terre.

Since it was raining, we were seated in one of the rooms “inside” his restaurant. Billy’s is built on the cliffside, and is on four levels, all of them appearing to hang off the side of the rocks. Windows on two sides give us a view to the sea, and make us feel like we are suspended in the air. Billy himself greets us, takes our orders, and provides all the entertainment we need for a memorable evening. His sidekick, Eduardo, was quite taken with our Donna, and mournfully told me, “Tell her to come back to Manarola soon . . without all of you . . . “

After a feast of caprese, antipasti al mare, Billy’s pasta, pesto, fresh fish of three types (Orato, Branzini, and some sort of sea bass, I think), we were presented with an after dinner wine and a tray of delicious desserts. Then we wandered back to our rooms to prepare for our departure the next morning to Lago d’Orta.

Buona notte!


The Villa Week, continued . . .

Remember, I’m writing this after the fact, and am trying to catch up and finish before it’s NEXT YEAR!

Wednesday, May 14 – Today’s visit is to the eastern reaches of Tuscany and beyond. First we drove just over the border into Umbria to visit the lovely little Lake Trasimeno, specifically the town of Passignano, where we hopped on a ferry boat over to Isola Maggiore, a small island with about 100 people, five churches, a few restaurants, bars, and post-card shops, an abandoned monastery and a couple of small beaches. You can walk around this island in about an hour or a bit more, with some craggy paths on the back side.

After wandering around the right side of the only little street on the island, taking photos of all the doorways I had photographed each year I’ve visited in the past, I found my usual restaurant spot at Sauro, owned by a family at whose hotel we stayed on our first trip to Italy in 1996. The birds were everywhere, audacious enough to pluck bread right out of the basket sitting in front of me on the table . . . and I encouraged every bit of it!

Some of the women joined me after awhile, we had wine and some dessert, and slowly made our way back to the boat dock to return to our cars in Passignano. Once settled, after bathroom breaks and more gelato and water, we headed to Cortona, the site of Under The Tuscan Sun. It is a walled hill-town high high up on a hilltop, and I like it better each time I visit there. Neil and I spent one night in October right in the old town and I’d like to do that again some time, but not today. Today we wander through the main streets, onto some back roads, and into a favorite coffee bar, where we get bellinis and lovely appetizers.

Then it’s back to the villa for the evening, through beautiful countryside, mist hovering over the Tuscan hills, and the sunlight streaming through distant rainclouds. We were fed at the villa with delicious leftovers and wine grown, made and bottled right on our villa property. Who could ask for more?

Oh yeah, and I drove through a little town I’ve never heard of, Bettole, that looks like a good candidate for a future purchase, if my lottery ticket comes up some year!

Thursday, May 15 – Today’s road trip is to Chianti country, and there are six of us, the other four opting not to venture into this most famous wine country. Castellina in Chianti is our first stop, and I haven’t been here for a dozen years. We found an Enoteca where we tasted some wine, discovered a beautiful small hotel right next door to the wine shop, complete with spa and stone swimming pool. A spectacular view out to the Chianti vineyards that make up 90% of this area of Tuscany, and the purchase of postcards and a few bottles of wine . . . then off to our lunch destination . . . Badia a Coltibuono, owned by Lorenza di Medici and her cooking school.

The restaurant is on a hill past a grazing pasture full of huge white cows. At the front of the restaurant are wisteria and the strangest rose bushes, full of small pink roses with petals almost carnation-like. On the same branches, sprinkled throughout, are huge yellow roses with pink edges! How do they do that???

Our four-course lunch, paired with appropriate wines, was exquisite as usual, and we spent half the afternoon gazing out to the views beyond the restaurant grounds. Then to our last Chianti stop, Greve in Chianti, with its wide piazza, little flower shops, and an excellent ceramics shop. Not the tourist fare, but actual artisan art. There is a ceramic mask hanging in my studio, purchased from this shop in Greve.

It rained on and off all afternoon, but we were undeterred. We made our way back through the outskirts of Siena during rush hour traffic, just barely arriving at the villa in time to sit down to Maria’s delicious meal.

Friday, May 16 – Today is the day we all sleep in, sit around the lovely villa, and pack up for tomorrow’s departure from the villa. But mid-afternoon, Donna, Jane, Barbara Due and I took off for Montalcino wine country . . . that’s Brunello wine country, and the roads are full of invitations to visit one vineyard or another to taste the wine that has made this area famous! My goal was to get to Castello Banfi, a well-known name, even in the U.S., and as I suspected, the grounds were beautiful, the tasting room was like a castle, and we spent quite a bit of time with our two tasting hosts before reluctantly returning to our villa.

We packed up the cars before going to bed, so we would be ready to head back to Florence the next morning, to return the rental cars and get our private transportation to Cinque Terre. It’s been a good week, and I think I will see this villa again soon.

The Villa Week in Tuscany, May 10-17, 2008

Okay, I am now realizing that the date at the top of this post is the day I’m WRITING, not the days I’m writing ABOUT! So . . . while the date for this post says Monday, May 26, our Villa week in Tuscany was May 10-17. Last episode found us settled in, well fed on the first night.
So . . .

Sunday, May 11 . . . Carol and Kay opted to hang around the villa and relax, while the other eight of us got into two cars and went in search of the Giardino Tarocchi, a Tarot garden near Capalbio in southwestern Tuscany, very near the sea. Our first stop, though, prompted by our host’s recommendation, was to head for Monte Argentario and Porto San Stefano, just off the western coast of Tuscany south of Grosseto. It was beautiful and seemed less polished than most of the tourist driven Tuscan towns, and we found a lovely little restaurant on the water that served fish fresh from the nets.

We tried to drive around the island, but found ourselves in very rough countryside, with the locals urging us to turn back . . . “Bruto, bruto!”, so we took their advice, headed back the way we came, and down the coastline about 45 minutes to the Tarot Garden ( This unique site was designed and constructed (for decades, mind you) by artist Niki de Saint Phalle, whose Major Arcana figures, brought nearly to life in gigantic mosaic figures, were inspired by the Spanish-born architect Antoni Gaudi. (See his Park Guell in Barcelona on the site

Words cannot express the surreal majesty of Niki’s creation, her life’s work, and I had to buy a book to take home with me, so people would better understand my poor attempt at describing the figures in this Disney/Gaudi-on-psychedelics wilderness park. Half of our group was overwhelmed and headed off to the parking lot early, and the other half of us just wanted to stay for another day! I will definitely return to that haunting place . . .

At closing time, we piled back into our cars and found our way to our villa again. A new experience for me, and perhaps I’ll work it into the next Italy Women trip in 2010.

Monday, May 12 – San Gimignano
San Gimignano is a Tuscan hill town whose spectacular skyline is formed by fourteen remaining towers of the seventy-two original medieval spires. Half of the group ventured a bit west to the Etruscan town of Volterra and the rest of us spent a day wandering in and out of shops, churches, and cappucino bars. The light rain didn’t dampen (ha!) our spirits too much, and I visited my favorite potter, my favorite pasticcheria, and my favorite quiet little piazza tucked away at the back end of the main road.

Though we wandered individually through much of the day, six of us ended up at the same cafe in the middle of the town, sipping wine and espresso by 5:30 or so. And then the return to our lovely little villa for dinner.

Tuesday, May 13 – Montepulciano/Pienza
Pienza is one of my favorite towns in all of Tuscany, perhaps in all of Italy so far, and I love this little day trip. Montepulciano is one of those walled cities up on the hill, with churches, shops and restaurants, as well as the ever more popular internet cafes. There’s also a leather shop there, where I’ve bought lovely journals in the past visits.

We ate lunch together at Caffe Poliziano, actually a recommendation from a friend of one of the 2004 participants, and it was such a good suggestion, I incorporated it into my bi-annual plans. Mid-afternoon we made our way to Pienza, just a few kilometres down the road, where the little piazza and the church were the sites of two scenes from The English Patient.

Pope Pius II (I think he’s the one) was born here, he was baptized in the Pienza church, and there’s a lot of historic hoopla sround him and this claim to fame! But that matters not a whit to me. What I love is to just stand on those broad stone steps leading down to the second tier of the town, where I gaze out on the Tuscan countryside below. It is a spectacular view, sweeping, green and glittering, with the staccatto and explamation points of the cypress trees lining long driveways up to farmhouses on the hillsides.

A cappuccino in the corner bar on a chilly day, a chance meeting with some people from London, Ontario, and the chatter of Italians in the area . . . all remind me that my “win the lottery” place is here in this area.

Ciao . . . to be continued . . .

A week in a Tuscan villa . . .

Saturday, May 10, 2008: We spent most of the day in Siena, some of the group opting to stay at our hotel to sleep, wander the grounds, read, whatever we wanted. The birds and flowers are everywhere, and Carol had her binocs and Birds of Europe with her much of our trip. Colleen, Calla and I had a bit of a picnic in the sitting room of the Palazzo, and by about 3:30 we were ready to head out to find our private villa, nestled in the hills about 45 minutes southeast of Siena.

My plan was to make sure I stopped at a grocery store before arriving at the villa so we would have coffee, fruit, juice, eggs, and some other basics for food on Sunday. But of course our timing in the town closest to the villa was not great, and the grocery store, the InCoop, was closed for mid-afternoon naps. Gee . . . that meant that Barbara L, Kay and I just HAD to find a little bar that sold gelato . . . you know, just to kill the time until we could buy our groceries. And every little town, even those withOUT grocery stores have bars that sell gelato.

After all that, we drove up a dirt road toward Podere Camera, our half-of-a-villa on an agriturismo, a working farm that offers hospitality to travelers. This was a new villa for my groups, and I must say I was very pleased with the sight-unseen choice. Five bedrooms, five bathrooms, a kitchen, living room, dining room, several patios and terraces, a swimming pool, and all on the property of a winery!

We had arranged that Maria, one of the owners, would cook our dinner tonight, and were treated to a typically sumptuous Italian meal, complete with the true vino della casa, the wine of the house. Insalate Caprese, pasta, mixed meat dish, cheese, and a delicious fruit torte before the evening was over. With enough left to feed us the following night, we fell into our “new” beds with thoughts of the daily adventures ahead of us for the next week.

Italia and Week Two . . .

Friday, May 9, 2008: We packed up all our luggage and after checking out of the Hotel Pendini, we went down to the street level to get our three taxis. The ride is short to the EuropCar office, but with luggage and ten women it is impossible to walk to the rental car section of Borgo Ognissante. Once settled at the EuropCar counter, we secured our three cars, registered the drivers (me, Colleen and Jane) and the three alternate drivers (Libby, Donna and Kay), and made sure the navigators (Carol, Donna and Kay) had their maps marked for the route to Siena, we began the most treacherous part of our journey . . . driving OUT OF FLORENCE!

We negotiated this assignment with varying degrees of success and timeliness, and all eventually found our way to the Palazzo di Valli in Siena, our home for one night. After parking cars, checking out our rooms and bring in just a bit of luggage, we caught the shuttle bus into the walled old city of Siena and met our guide, my friend Viviana Girola, who gave us a warm and informative tour of old Siena, including the Duomo, the side church which houses beautiful illuminated manuscripts, and the Church of San Domenico where I again was able to view the head of St. Catherine of Siena. I know . . . it’s ghoulish, but it is truly her head encased in a glass compartment in that side altar. She was the saint of the people, no doubt about it!

Our dinner at Antica Osteria da Divo was exquisite as usual, and we walked happily through the Campo to our late night shuttle stop, finally returning to the Palazzo again for a good night’s sleep.

Il Latine and beyond . . .

Please note: I can’t post pictures on these foreign computers so the photos will have to wait. And I must say I have taken fewer photos this time than ever before. More watching, less documenting, I guess. The other women will make sure I have plenty of their photo CDs to add to my trip files.

Okay, now where was I . . . ? Oh, yes . . . food, Wednesday night, Il Latine. How could I forget?

When I told Franco (manager at Il Porcospino) that we were going to Il Latine for dinner, he said, “Molto turistico . . . nothing special.” But then our language teacher, Leonardo, said, “Well, it is touristy (remember, he doesn’t talk with us in ANY English, but still, I could understand him . . . ) but it is an adventure, an experience, something special all on its own.”

And it is . . . they now take reservations, but even at that, people line up in the little picturesque alleyway for an hour before the restaurant opens, trying to make sure there is room for them to come in for the 7:30 seating for dinner. We had our reservations for 10, and the manager led us up to one of the many rooms here and there, to a table for ten. I asked if we could please have dinner for SIX, not ten, because in the past, there is SO much food left over, the price per person is getting higher, the dollar sinking in value, and I thought I’d try it this way. To my happy surprise, they agreed to bring out food for six. So . . . first the antipasti . . . prosciuto, cheese, breads, bruschetta, then the soups, then the pastas, four different kinds, then huge plates of meat . . . chicken, pork, rabbit, lamb, beef in two types of cuts . . . and then the spinach and salad and potatoes, asparagus. And at the end, cantucci con vin santo (basically biscotti dipped in a sweet “holy wine”) and two platters of mixed desserts.

This is not to mention the liquids. Prosecco to begin with (sort of an Italian champagne), then all the wine we wanted from their house jugs, lots of water (still and sparkling), and moscato at the end, a sweeter dessert wine. The amount of food for six people was PLENTY for ten of us, except for adding two extra orders of spinach for those of us who love it.

After dinner some of the women went back to the hotel, but I love to walk near the Arno River after dark. Several of the group joined me, and we crossed the Trinita bridge over to the Oltrarno district, walked up Via San Jacopo to point out to Donna the little yarn store I love, Beatrice Galli. A stop for bottled water and a bathroom, crossing the Ponte Vecchio lined on both sides with beautiful jewelry stores during the day, closed up at night, and back to the Piazza della Repubblica, where we almost went into our hotel, but were tempted by the music at a nearby restaurant with a large outdoor seating area.

There was a piano bar with a singer, and enough room to dance. We watched two or three older gentlemen do their steps with several younger women seated around the area, and we talked until after 1:00 a.m.!

THAT was the rest of Wednesday!

Thursday, May 8 – We began after breakfast by walking to the Uffizi Galleria, where we had reservations at 9:45 a.m. This is an enormous art gallery with old old masters’ works in it, and it makes my eyes glaze over, but it is a must for any group trip. After I got everyone in and lugged my tired butt up the two LONG sets of stairs to the “first floor”, I walked around for 10 minutes and decided my time needed to be alone and wandering. So I claimed my small backpack from the security area and exited.

So . . . first across the Arno to the yarn store, where I bought just a very few balls of yarn, enough to make a scarf while I am here. She had no circular needles and directed me to a shop I was going to visit anyway . . . Samba Mercale, a fabulous button and trim shop. An hour later, with my circular knitting needles and 80 Euro worth of wonderful buttons, I wandered to a Palazzo recommended by our language teacher, realized as I went through it that I had seen it before, and made my way slowly to an internet cafe on the way to Santa Croce. Checked my e-mail, posted the first entry on this blog-trip, and tried to find a favorite little alimentari (sort of a wonderful little Italian deli market) near the Piazza Santa Croce, where I’ve been before.

After several turns into tiny streets that were NOT the right ones, I did discover a sign that said “Via Torta”. That sounded familiar and I took a chance. There were the places I was looking for, as well as a street market with wonderful cherries and cherry tomatoes. I added several items to my picnic bag . . . cheese, bread, salami, a half bottle of wine with paper cup, several tiny cookies, and a sumptuous slice of vegetable quiche (frittata, here) and headed for the Piazza.

There in the bright sun in front of a magnificent church, I sat on a stone bench, opened my picnic, and watched the people while I ate my little meal. THIS is what I love in Florence! When I was finished watching and eating and sitting, perhaps two hours after I arrived, I again wandered the streets until I found a restaurant I had passed two nights before. Trattoria Alfredo, which I had remembered from 9 years ago when Neil and I were here because Ashley went to school in Florence that year. We had eaten in this restaurant and it was here I had tasted my first risotto con funghi porchini. I asked the waiter for a card, he did the typical flirtation, handed me a card and said, “For you, madame, no reservation is necessary . . . “.

Ah, the charm of the Italian cities and towns! Later I returned to the hotel, met up with a few of the women, and we decided when to have our dinner . . . see, food food food, walking walking walking, food food wine wine food.

So we headed out for our dinner, walked again past the button shop so Donna would know where it was. They were closed, with their rolled down metal curtain almost to the street level, and we peered in. They recognized me, saw me with six other women, and were smart enough to invite us all in to look and shop. I was afraid I’d be tempted to repeat my performance, and with the metal barricade nearly down, it was hot in the shop so I ducked out and walked around the tiny piazza down the street until the rest of the women returned to me, Donna with HER 100 Euro purchase in hand. See . . . smart shop owners!

So dinner at 7:45 with seven of us at Trattoria Alfredo. LOTS of food, too much, actually, but it was delicious. Risotto funghi porcini, of course, risotto gorgonzola, ravioli gorgonzola, some fish, appetizers, green salads, and dolce, a mixed plate of desserts. Wine, water and conversation . . . again. Back to the hotel and to my room, facing the Piazza. Because my 4th floor windows were open, I soon heard someone down on the square calling my name. Looking down, I saw four of my group beckoning me to return with them to the restaurant with the music and dancing.

No way tonight, I thought. I’m EXHAUSTED! They were there until midnight, while I tried to organize all my maps, directions, etc. for tomorrow’s journey to Siena.

Bed later than I had hoped, past midnight, and the sense that all was ready for the morning. Tomorrow, off to Siena for an afternoon walking tour, another delicious meal at the Antiche Osteria da Divo, a night in beautiful Palazzo di Valli, and Saturday back in the old Centro of Siena until time to head out for our villa in the Tuscan countryside.

Buona Notte!


Siamo arrivate in Italia!

Monday, May 5, 2008

Well, our 2008 adventure began even before we boarded the plane this time, because of course we were on Alitalia Airlines. Though their phone agents are wonderful and helpful and charming, their e-mail notification system (when the schedules change or the planes are broken or the flights are canceled . . . which is OFTEN) sucks! I won’t bother to fill you in on the gory details, but suffice it to say that instead of leaving by limo (HUMMER, NO LESS!) at 4:30 AM on Sunday, we left an hour earlier than that, groggy from barely a half-nights sleep, and headed for DIA.

Once we checked in, all was uneventful, and we arrived at the lovely Hotel Pendini at about 1:00 on Monday afternoon. Ten women, a reasonable number of bags, and not one was lost in the flight pattern, Denver, JFK, Milan, Firenze!

A bit of an orientation walk for some, a nap for others, and then dinner at Il Porcospino, where Franco was charming as usual, the dinner was delicious, and we all fell into bed soon after returning to the Hotel.

Tuesday, May 7, 2008 – a very busy day. The Pendini serves a wonderful and varied breakfast and we all gobbled ham, cheese, yogurt, cereal, croissants, espresso, etc. Then we headed over to the Duomo and Battistero to meet our guide, Elena, from Tours by Roberto. We listened to her extensive history explanations, which included answers to our varied questions, for three hours as we walked together on a beautiful morning.

She finished her tour at the Palazzo Strozzi, just a block or two from the Cantinetta Antinori, where we indulged in a delicious lunch before walking to my language school (see last September’s entries), where the staff had graciously invited us to two one-hour language lessons with my privato, Leonardo. He is delightful, an excellent teacher, and remembered everyone’s names after only one introduction!

When our lesson was completed and the second fiasco (finding the right bus stop after asking five Italians who “didn’t know” . . . (non lo so), we eventually got on Bus #12 to visit the Piazzale Michelangelo and the Church of San Mineota. Mass with the chanting monks, views over the entire city of Florence, a gelato on the way from one to another, and weather we would have paid big money to get, but which was free of charge . . . what could be better!

Dinner on our own, and six of us wandered to an old haunt of Barbara Leyendecker’s art-study days, Il Pennello. Low key, small ristorante, delicious! Of course . . . remember, we’re in ITALY!

Wednesday, May 7 – another breakfast and out to the museums day. Our first appointment was at the Accadamia to see the spectacular David, Michelangelo’s masterpiece. I never tire of looking at this magnificent statue, and sat for awhile on a stone bench directly in front of him, writing about his presence in front of me.
Below: Ponte Vecchio on a brilliant day!

We were able to make our way slowly and separately to the market at San Lorenzo and the area around the Capelle Medici before our appointment at the chapel at 12:30, so I bought the tickets for the group and walked across the cobblestone street to Il Porcospino again. It was 11:00 a.m. and the restaurant wasn’t open yet, but Franco was there in a t-shirt and baseball cap and he made me a cappucino, guided me to an outdoor table, and kissed my cheeks in appropriate Italian style! One by one the rest of the group wandered in, got a bit to eat, and took their tickets to the Medici Chapel while I checked my e-mail, returned to Il Porcospino and ordered some lunch.

I said, “Pasta con ragu” and Franco shook his head. “You can get that anywhere. Let me make you something special, dear.” So out came three large homemade ravioli with ricotta and artichoke, covered lightly with a bit of meat sauce. My usual Caprese salad (see photo right here . . . makes you HUNGRY, yes?)
and a glass of wine, plenty of still water, and I was set. I sat there until 2:30, waited for the rest of the group, and headed back to the language school for our second language lesson.

This time three of the women didn’t attend, and Leonardo amazingly named everyone who was around the table, and the two who didn’t come! We all had great laughs, attempting to communicate in Italian, some people not ever having studied a word of Italian, I with my meager language lessons.

I was pleased to find that more of my Italian knowledge surfaced than I had thought possible, and we again had a wonderful experience. This time, we had leisure time to walk back to the hotel or stop in shops or have a quick cappuccino/espresso, etc. We all met back at the hotel at 6:00 to prepare for our dinner at Il Latine (do you get the picture . . . fun, food, museums, food, lessons, food, food, food), a truly unique dining experience. I’ll save the description of THAT for tomorrow.

At least now I have caught you up to more than the first three days of our travels.