Friday, July 2, 2010

WOW- I have been playing catch up on the posting of the blog today, but luckily I have had easy access here at the Munich hotel.

Although I have been able to add a few photos now to the blog, I had hoped to add more as each day went by. Lots of factors made this impossible not to mention "my blogging capabilities" so when I return home and get myself oriented again I hope to have a few more photos to share.

Also I have a few more post to add since I left out the posts of the 3 days that I was in Oberammergau, Germany for the Passion Play and I do want to write about that.

Happy Travels,

Another lazy day to the start of my day but that is what vacations are for: to take life slowly and enjoy. After a lazy morning I went to the train station to find out about getting to the airport on Saturday for my return to the States. I decided to take the airport bus instead of changing subway trains with the amount of luggage I have.

I rode the subway to the Palace and the Royal Gardens to enjoy more of Munich. After emerging from the "underground" I started walking toward the Palace. Along the way I passed an outdoor cafe that had a large flat screen TV of course tuned in to the soccer match in South Africa. Shouts and cheers came from the crowd as they drank their German beer, watching TV and cheering on their team.

Inside the Palace Gardens I arrived just in time to snap a few photos at the perfect time of sunset. I walked the gardens and enjoyed seeing families and tourist alike. Next to the gardens and with the perfect view under shade trees was a Beer Garden which in other words is an outdoor restaurant in the garden. I decided to have dinner here and enjoyed fresh bread and cheese and a penne pasta dish. I know-pasta in Germany? But it sounded good and I had already had schnitzel on my first day in Germany. On the walk back to the hotel I stopped in at a local pastry shoppe to have dessert 'take away' to enjoy in my hotel room. Almond cookie dipped in chocolate-my favorite.

One more stop at the souvenir store and then on to a museum to see the photos display of top photo journalists work.

Back in the hotel now and getting ready to repack for the trip home on Saturday.
I wanted to write about the ladies of the cooking school. You may have seen the Tuscan Mommas on Good Morning America or read about them in the New York Times, Chicago Tribune or the London Post. Mimma, her sister, Franca and their cousin Lele along with Elisa -who is a caterer in the states (who lives part of the year in Italy) are the Tuscan Mommas. The cooking school goes something like this: You are usually free during the day and at 4:00 you start chopping tomatoes and basil, etc on the wooden table outside over looking the vineyards of course while drinking wine. Then you move inside the farm house kitchen and you all cook together, while drinking wine, then you all eat together on the terrace, yes, while drinking wine, and then dessert-yum always followed by dessert wine and coffee. The same routine follows the next day. During the free time you can go to a near by village and shop for old linens or pottery.

Mimma is married to Franco and they have had a wonderful life. Franco was a lawyer in Genoa and they also lived in Dubai. They have grown children and 7 grandchildren. Franco is the Italian gentleman and Mimma is the Italian Grandma we all think of. She loves to cook for many and gardens during the day. Her roses and herbs are beautiful and the hydrangeas were starting to bloom. Franco had a horticulturist to come by one day when we were on the terrace and they drove through the olive groves to assess the growth of the trees and where trimming needed to be done. The Olive Grove and Vineyard care is taken very seriously by these farmers. Mimma's house is the main house and they have other buildings of the villa that are rented to cooking school participants and others on holiday. When they bought the property it was in ruin with caved in roofs and crumbling walls but they have lovingly restored the buildings and the grounds and groves. The rock walls terrace the groves and the stone work of the houses lends to the feeling of stepping back in time. However, having fresh coffee from her French Press brings you back to reality along with home made gelato made with fresh cream and farm eggs.

Franca, Mimma's sister lives in another village and we drove to her house 2 nights for dinner and cooking class in her kitchen. Franca has a son who lives in New York and a daughter that works for the International Red Cross. She and her husband (also named Franco) have probably the prettiest view in all of Tuscany. Their vineyard is part of a coalition of the "Small Vineyards" Wine company and their son is a partner in firm in the states. Franca took us on a tour of the vineyard where we saw the barrels in waiting and the process that the wine goes through from the vine to the bottle. We toured the storage vaults where the wine is aged and then shipped to Italy and other parts of Europe and also to the States. We ended in the wine tasting house where we had a beautiful sunset view of the vineyards and the hills over looking Siena. The wine tasting was a sample of the different wines that Franca's vineyard produces along with fresh made bread and olive oil, cheeses and rosemary crackers. Next we had a caprese salad and a main dish of pork with a reduction sauce and finishing with biscotti with dessert wine made from Franca's last white grape vines in her 10 year old stock.

Elisa is a caterer where she lives with her husband in Milwaukee. She also has a house in Italy and cooks twice a year with the Tuscan Mommas in Italy and when they go abroad to Australia once or twice a year.
Elisa led us on the market trip. We drove about 40 minutes to the local town where they buy their spices and produce. Stall after stall were ladened with fresh mushrooms dug in the local woods, seafood brought in from the coast of Italy, salt made from Salt mines in Sicily, and cheeses from local farmers. Elisa knew the venders who were glad to share sample tasting with us. We also sampled fried polenta and roasted peppered pork. After seeing the food section we were on our own to shop the other stalls of which I did until the market shut down at 1:00. After this the stall merchants started packing up their goods to be home in time for the customary afternoon nap.

Le Lee cooked with us one night in Mimma's kitchen. She is a lovely woman and very funny. She led us in the class to make grilled yellow and red peppers and a standing rib roast. Le Lee also has an Olive grove and bottles and produces Olive Oil for sale too. Her villa is near the town of Radda. During dinner she told us of other cooking classes and also about the villages that are near by. After dinner a couple joined us for dessert and coffee. They were leasing one of the villa houses for 2 weeks and were from England. We enjoyed hearing of their adventures during the week and their walks and hikes about the farm.
This dinner was the last night of the cooking class and we all shared good bye hugs and exchanged addresses among the participants from the States.

A nice big corner room with a view at my hotel in Munich.

Today was a sleep in day. In the afternoon I walked to the city center.
Soooo many tourists. Every block you see cameras posed for photos. I saw lots of Muslim women- maybe 2 or 3 per block in the black long burqa and face veil. Some were with other women as well as their children in tow and some were with their family as on holiday. I saw many tour groups and a lot of them were student groups. Again, when I hear English (without the British accent) I have to ask where are you from. I met people from Pennsylvania, Chicago and Louisiana. There were several city fountains that the children played in. I did see lots of trash, something I hadn't seen a lot before on this trip. I saw lots of trash divers. One lady passed by a group of teens who were sitting on a bench under a tree. One of the young girls had in her hand a plastic bottle of juice that she had just about drained. The women (probably 60 yrs old) stopped and asked the girl for the empty bottle. The woman carried a plastic sack that she used to collect the plastic bottles and cans that she got from digging through the trash cans.

I found the statue of the Wild Boar. You are suppose to rub his snout to bring good luck.
It is located in the same block as the Church of our Lady a masterpiece of German Gothic art. As I found a place to sit and eat I heard the bells of the church. The ring on the hour for about ten minutes. What a joy to hear!
My lunch was bread and cheese. The breads and pretzels here are wonderful. The bread stores are located about every 2 or 3 blocks. They are small about the size of a small ice cream store but with no place to sit down. The sell pretzels and all kinds of bread: sour dough, Italian, bread with grains, bread rolled in sunflower seeds, round loaves, small individual size loaves and also sweet breads. These are like cinnamon rolls but are covered in maple icing, almond cookies half dipped in chocolate. I haven't seen anything with colored icing like the decorated cookies and cakes we see at bakeries and no doughnuts.

The buildings are old near city center and more modern further out. There is lots of gang graffiti on the buildings along the train track. But the buildings are not shacks but nice high rise office buildings and the graffiti is written in colored paints on the lower floors of the outside brick walls. The police and ambulance sirens are more of a sing song sound than the sirens we are used to hearing. They have a street car that runs down the middle of the streets along the power lines that are draped above the streets. Every restaurant has outdoor seating on the sidewalks-even Kentucky Fried Chicken has seating at patio tables on the sidewalk.
Every shop has the soccer souvenirs. The cars are decorated too. Some have the flags out the windows like we see at a Bama game but many others have mirror covers that look like little socks on the side door mirrors. The covers are the colors of the German Flag. I shopped at the Galareia yesterday. I bought hand towels and oven mitts with kitchen words written in German like salt and pepper or Zout and Peper.

At the end of the day I came back to my hotel. I turned on the TV and watched (spoken in German) Who Wants to be a Millionaire...until I found CNN in English.

Happy travels,

Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Today was a touring day. Of all of the places I have traveled I think Siena has to be one of my favorite cities and now I add to that list the little medieval village of Castellina in Chianti Italy. Castellina is the small village that is only 5 minutes away from Mimma's. This little gem of a place has one main church in the city center. I went inside today and it was lit by candles and a the sunlight coming through a few keyhole windows. In other words, no electricity. The floor was made of old terra cotta tiles and the benches where made of wood smoothly worn with time. It was a quiet cool place to sit and reflect and pray.

I did a little shopping at the Tabacci. This is an inexpensive place for general supplies and attached to it was also a nice kitchen store with quality products. At our cooking class we used a knife called a Mezzo Luna. I bought one at the kitchen store as well as a grater and wooden chopping block stand. I found a nice painted ceramic plate for olive oil when served with bread. Lots of little other things but those were the finds. Then on to a few more stores. On the cobblestone streets I made my steps a little more carefully back to the car. Before leaving Castellina I bought a Caprese salad for a take away lunch.

Siena was only a short drive away but I made it longer by stopping at the pull over areas on the side of the road to take pictures. The scenery was so beautiful in every direction. The countryside changed from lots of vineyards and olive groves to open fields of hay and still some vineyards-Tuscany wouldn't be Tuscany without vineyards. Along the drive between all of the towns there are vineyards that have aperto signs that means open for wine tastings. And speaking of the drive between towns, I have never seen so many curves and winding roads. In this part of Tuscany there are only 2 lane roads. The curves and the hills make the drive between the towns a little longer because of the stops and turns and slower traffic-although I must say they do drive fast here and take the curves at a fast pace. You can certainly tell the locals from the tourist by the way they drive. (A few days ago on our way to Montevari a car pass 4 cars at a time on a 2 lane road.) When driving from village to village or hamlet to hamlet you really have to watch the road signs. Sometimes the road is more or less turning between buildings rather than turning at intersections.

Finally arrived in Siena. Mimma told me to park at the stadio (stadium) and to get there she said to look for the sign of the football she said You know? then she drew a soccer ball. Oh, yea, that's what they call soccer here. After getting a little lost trying to find the city center, I arrived and parked just inside the city walls. When I say walls, I mean Walls! The old city is surrounded by brick and stone walls that are the height of a 4 or 5 story building. I started walking toward the Piazza del Campo or city center. Streets that are sloped downhill lead to the Piazza but along both sides of the narrow streets are shops and shops and shops.
The Piazza is grand in every way. It is horseshoe shaped and speaking of horses that is what this town is known for. Two times a year they have a horse race in the middle of the city in the stone courtyard and the race is called ll Palio. Jockeys are from each of the different areas of the city so it is a claim to fame if the horse wins from your Contrada. The title is proudly held and vied for by all the towns people year by year.
In the Piazza today I found a seat in the shaded portion of the 6 row wooden grandstand that surrounds the Piazza. Outdoor cafes are all along the courtyard as well as souvenir shops and Gelato shops too. And yes I had Gelato while I sat and did a little people watching. Tour groups with their director holding above her head an umbrella so as to be seen weaving through the crowds and families on holiday and the locals filled the walkways around the Piazza. Mostly I heard voices that were Italian, German, or French but also there were quiet a few English speaking tourist. I met people from Virginia, California, Washington State, Missouri, Texas and Tennessee.
One of the most interesting sights was a young woman beggar. She was a gypsy and that is something familiar to several areas of Italy. We have been warned to be leery of them because they are expert at being a pick pocket. On the seated area above the crowds I was far enough away from her yet close enough to watch her "work" the crowd. She was dressed in a long brown skirt with a band of silver sequins along the hem. She had on an orange and green shirt and a necklace of plastic snap together beads in bright colors. She had long brown hair that looked like it could use a good wash. She was a young girls but it was hard to judge her age. Maybe late 20's. She was holding a baby that was dressed in a pair of footed pajamas in soft yellow and the baby had a white thin blanket draped over it's head and down the length of the body. I couldn't tell if it was a baby boy or girl. She had the baby in her arms supported by a sling made of fabric that was tied around her neck. She would walk among the tourist as they were in the center square and hold a paper cup and ask for coins. Many people looked at her and instantly shook their head and turned away. I know this is a scam but it was still hard to watch the disappointed look on her face. She was a good actress. She moved quickly from tourist to tourist asking young students, men, women young and old. One local she asked was pushing a baby stroller and she said No! and strolled her baby on by. She walked around with the baby on her hip, left the square and in 15 minutes or so she was back again. Later when she left another gypsy lady came by with 2 children, maybe 3 and 5 years old. She had a paper cup and was dress similar to the other gypsy girl. This beggar went up to 2 different sets of tourists who were having lunch at the outdoor cafe and both of these gave her a coin. Then the waiter walked over and stood near by with a look but not saying a word as that may look bad on the restaurant and the gypsy and her children left without confrontation.(I don't know if this is the case in Italy but years ago when I was on a trip throughout India we saw beggars everyday, several times a day- from old men, to families begging as a group, to orphaned young children who were standing on the corner beside the traffic lights. The young kids, 8, 9 or 10 yrs old would come up and tap on the window of the car and plead for money. One time it was an old man and our terrific guide and friend Sara (through our "rolled up and locked" car window) she pointed out that the man had leprosy. Another time a young girl holding a sleeping baby approached us near a park and pleaded for money for food for her baby. This sounds harsh to turn away, but Sara explained it to me that these beggars are part of a "ring" or gang of sorts. They have a boss to report to and are paid very little but they have very little in life so it is $$$. They are then "assigned" a corner or territory from where they are to beg. It is life threatening to the person or the "boss man" if the beggar goes to a different street or city corner. Those that look the worst, the youngest, the saddest, or have a baby usually bring in more $$. However, in some cases they give the baby drugs to make it sleep or look less alert and lifeless so the tourist will feel sorrow and give money. But again, the money does not go to the sad looking individuals but rather to the "beggar boss and his ring". Ah... sad indeed. This is a day to day life existence for a few for the food and for some to buy drugs,or other vises. This makes us realize that we are fortunate Americans.
Now on to another topic.

After people watching for about 2 hours or more, I started my walk around the city Piazza. The outdoor cafes lined the sidewalks with large umbrellas to shade it's patrons. The souvenir shops set as many wares as possible out on the sidewalk to lure in the tourists. Dress shops hung blouses and dresses and hats from their doorways. Expensive shops had lavish window displays to catch your eye. Prices marked in euro trick me into buying but then I remember the added price once it is put on my credit card for the difference in the dollar and euro. Thank goodness it is not as bad as it was a few years ago when I was in London feeling "American poor" to their rich Euro. However, along with a few souvenirs I did buy a nice an antique silver spoon to add to my collection.

As I was nearing the top of the hill I saw a young priest in his robes standing at the side door of the church. I took his photo from afar but I think he saw me anyway. He started slowly strolling the length of the side portico and I still couldn't resist snapping a few more photos.
Many other kind of photos later on my walk back to the stadio to get my little strawberry car and I am on my way leaving Siena...Ciao.

I stopped at Tre Porte which means 3 doors in the center of Castellina just as the last of the sunset time and was seated at a table by the window overlooking the valley. The stone wall and open window with oak shutters were just what I needed to end a long day.
For dinner I ordered and antipasti-starter of "Il percorino al forna col meile" which is a fried percorino cheese with honey. For Primi Piatii-first course I ordered
"Gli spaghetti alla chitarra con pesto fatto in casa" which is spaghetti chitarra style with basil parmesan cheese and pine-nuts. Claudio Ravinetto is the chef that I talked to after dinner to tell him it was a delicious meal. He told me he also has a one day cooking class that he does here at the restaurant and at hotels in other parts of Italy particular for Americans tourists. The meal was wonderful!

I am late in returning to the villa as it is now 11:15 at night.

What a fantastico day,

Thursday, June 24, 2010

Sorry for the confusion. This is the post from yesterday. I had trouble connecting to the internet the first few days and it has come to my blog by way of me in bits and pieces. Maybe by the end of the trip I will have mastered this "blog thing". My photos are not loading to the blog through my laptop connection by way of Mimma's computer so that will have to be later.
Soooooo here is a little of my "yesterday"......

A day of rest. Guess the travel has caught up with me today and although we are free all day from cooking school activities and you would think I would drive somewhere to visit/tour/shop/ instead I stayed the day in my room. A little bit of sitting outside on the terrace and a little walk to the pool for photos but really just resting until late afternoon when I got in my Strawberry car and headed to an evening of cooking!

This afternoon we gathered at Mimma's sister's house. Franca has a lovely villa and a large vineyard that she calls small. Because I arrived early, I was able to take a few photos before we started to cook. The grounds are beautiful with rosemary shrubs that are huge landscape bushes in Italy. Franca had so many rose bushes I lost count and so much lavender and rosemary no one could keep count if they tried. Along the rock wall below their deck was Jasmine in full bloom and Mock Orange below that. So to stand on her deck in the late afternoon sunshine and breath deeply was just a memory in my mind forever.
As you look out over the vineyard the tops of the lush grape vines show lots of new growth so the color of the vine near the ground is rich deep green graduating to the top where it is chartreuse green. Franca says this new growth will soon be cut off to allow for more of the nutrients to go to the grapes instead of the vine. This trimming of the grape vines is done by hand.
Franca welcomed us into her cooking kitchen and we adorned our Cooking School aprons. We made an appetizer that I will have to look up the name but it was very good with red and yellow peppers prosciutto etc etc. Also we made chicken in wine sauce with carrot souffle and we also made egg plant lasagna with b├ęchamel sauce.
For dessert we made GELATO. Vanilla with Lemon Cello sauce.

Wine was served from Franca's stock of her vineyard from table wine to dessert wine to the wine we cooked with in the chicken and the lemon sauce. Wine Wine Wine
Franca signed one of her Vineyard bottles for my bottle tree. I hope it makes it back in one piece inside my luggage.

Tomorrow is an early morning with a trip with the Tuscan Momma's as we drive to the market in Montevarchi, Italy.

Check back later for reallllllll photos of me cooking!