Captain Velocity

Florence at dusk. © Carl Amoth

Before we left Scottsdale, some new friends of ours happened to mention that another couple that are members of our club own a winery in Chianti. As a result, they coordinated a tasting and tour for us during our visit. We scheduled this for the day we left Gaiole in Chianti.

We were met by Monica and treated to a wonderfully in-depth tour of Riecine Winery. They are in midst of harvesting the Sangiovese grapes, which is early because they are anticipating very cold weather next week and our concerned about damage to the grapes. Furthermore, Monica advised that it has not been a particularly good year due to too much rain and a lack of sun this summer. So, fellow wine drinkers, watch out for Chianti vintage 2010 which should be released in about 3 years…

We had the privilege of tasting six different wines including a 2005 Reserva and an absolutely fantastic dessert wine. We ended up buying a bottle of each (we are now up to five bottles out of our six limit—although I don’t think we can fit one more bottle into our suitcase).

Montepulciano, Italy

From there we continued on toward Cortona with a side trip to Montepulciano. Carl’s last visit to Montepulciano lasted a mere 15 minutes, and I had never been, so we were both looking forward to visiting the town that creates one of our favorites wines. An expected uphill hike brought us to the center of town and, once again, some absolutely beautiful architecture. The Duomo, the Museo, and the Piazza were very inviting.

After a quick lunch and a nice Montepulciano wine, we found the Palazzo Comunale that appeared to have a terrace that offered a nice view of the town and surrounding areas. So, as is our way, up we climbed.

Unfortunately, it was a fairly hazy day and Carl wasn’t particularly thrilled or interested in any of the photos he captured. By then we were both ready to get to Cortona, a new location for both of us.

Now for a detour from the travel blog for a side story about Capitano di Velocità (Captain Velocity). That’s right, that is Carl’s new nickname. Why, you might inquire? Because he has turned into Mario Fricking Andretti! Once we hit the Autostrada, he is absolutely in the zone, driving like every other crazy Italian on the road. He’s weaving in and out and passing anyone that get’s in his way. Now, I will admit, he is not the fastest of the drivers on the road—please note we’re driving a Volkwagon Passat—but let’s just say he’s probably in the top 5%.

At one point I realize we are going extremely fast, even faster than we had up to that point, and Carl tells me we are going 160 KPH! That converts to 99.4 MPH!!! He has this almost manic glint in his eye and a grin on his face. I looked over at him and said: You. Are. Out. Of. Control. Now understand, I have to try to navigate and watch for exits and street signs in order to direct us to every last place we visit, all the while at a 100 MPH with signs virtually whizzing by. By time we got to Cortona I was sick to my stomach.

Fortunately, that was quickly eliminated by the lovely Julia. Julia is the resident hostess, greeter and concierge at Villa Marsili in Cortona, our home for the next three nights.

The moment we walked into the hotel (after Captain Velocity expertly parked the car in reverse on a hilltop parking lot the size of our driveway in Scottsdale), Julia smiles, opens her arms wide and says:”Hello! We are so glad you are here! We’ve been waiting for you!”

I have been traveling extensively for well over 20 years, and never in my life have I been greeted so affectionately and enthusiastically when checking into a hotel. Julia told us not to worry about our bags or the car, the staff would take care of everything for us including “kidnapping your car and parking it for you for free.” She then directed us to the evening happy hour which included complimentary hors d’oeuvres and a cocktail of the day, which on this day was a tasty little number with OJ, grapefruit juice, vodka and several other lovely ingredients.

Julia then gave us several options for dinner in town and also gave Carl some ideas for getting some great city photos the next day. Additionally, I asked her if she could arrange a cooking class for me. She put out some calls, but said most everything is already booked well in advance, however she would try to call some other options the next day.

We headed UP to town—we are really used to this hiking uphill on cobblestones by now—and located Ristorante La Bucaccia, one of Julia’s recommendations. We were pretty exhausted after dinner (we didn’t eat until 9:30) and finished the day with a little bit of Internet work and planning for the next adventure.

We decided to stay in Cortona the following day since we hadn’t seen much of it the night before. We stayed together for the first part of the day exploring, uploading our blog and trying to find a cooking class for me (Julia wasn’t having much luck). All the cooking classes we could find from the Tourismo office required a two person minimum, and Carl had little interest in taking the class.

Lucignano, Italy. © Carl Amoth

We split up again so Carl could locate his shots while I toured town and did some window shopping. There really isn’t much in the way of shopping in Cortona other than the obligatory souvenir shops and Enotecas, but again, I don’t have room for more wine and shipping 3 bottles costs 80 Euro, or about $110. That significantly increases the per bottle price, and all of the sudden that reasonably priced wine is out of sight.

When I got back to the hotel at about 3:30 p.m. Julia greeted me with just a magnificent smile and said, “I have good news for you!” She had located a cooking class for me after all. It was with a local woman, Donatella and it was that night—I would need to leave in a couple of ours and would be done by 10:00 p.m. or so.  I was so thrilled because this is one of the main activities I really wanted to do in Italy. I made arrangements for a Taxi ride to Donatella’s as Carl was driving to a nearby town for evening shots and needed to leave before me. However, Julia gave him the address to Donatella’s so he could pick me up after class.

Bev making dough for pasta

Bev making dough for pasta

There were three women from DC in my class along with two sisters and their mother (originally from Cuba) from Miami. Lastly, there was a woman from New Zealand and the eight of us made for a diverse and interesting group. Donatella is the personification of what you would expect from a talented, female, Italian Cook. She didn’t speak English particularly well, but she had a translator—Nancy—who welcomed us and poured some wine and proceeded to tell us how much she couldn’t stand living in Cortona. She had been there seven years—originally from Irvine, CA—that it seemed much longer than seven years, blah, blah, blah. She also seemed to be under the influence of something other than the big glass of white wine she was chugging. Her voice became more odd and her eyes glassy as she continued her rant. All of us felt very uncomfortable with her behavior and conversation, yet, as we didn’t know each other, none of us said anything, until later.

Donatella teaching the cooking class

At one point I wanted to ask her if she hated it so much, why didn’t she just go back to Irvine? We heard about all of her boyfriends, the “close mindedness of Italians,” it was relentless.

We were all so pleased when the class started and Donatella took over. However, it wasn’t long until Nancy told Donatella she needed a chair to sit on—in the kitchen! It was ridiculous.

Onion dish

Finally she told Donatella she was too sick to continue (sick? Is that what they call it these days?).  Then, one of the sisters from Miami took over with a pretty good Spanish/Italian translation until Donatella’s daughter showed up to take over. We had such a good time together making a most magnificent meal. We made cabbage rolls stuffed with amazing beef and veal; baked onions stuffed with Parmesan cheese, which I was sure I wouldn’t like, yet loved; bread salad (an Italian tradition) which includes soaked bread, cucumbers, celery, tomato and onion; hand made pasta with tomato sauce; and finally for dessert, biscotti-like (but better) Cantucci di Pratos.

Dining on our cooking creations.

We all sat for dinner, including Donatella’s future son in law, and feasted. I had asked Carl to leave the hotel at 9:00 so that he could get there early enough to take pictures and meet everyone, but somehow our wires got crossed and he didn’t leave the hotel until 9:30 and then he got very lost (inaccurate navigation system) and didn’t get there until after 10:00. The good news was that all of my classmates were more than eager to help me out with a ride in the event I got stranded. It was a fabulous night and I left with countless memories and great recipes.

The Duomo, Florence. © Carl Amoth

The next day we decided to alter our itinerary and, instead of heading out to see more hill towns, we chose Firenze (Florence) instead. This suited both of us because I really hadn’t been anywhere with enough time for good shopping (the elusive “deal shoes”) and Carl had some specific locations in mind for photographic opportunities—namely from Piazzale Michelangelo, which we had seen on one of Rick Steve’s Italian travel shows. We decided to drive so we could be on our own time schedule. That turned out to be a good idea on one hand and a frustrating one on the other since we got stuck in a traffic jam for about an hour going into town. Out of town was a breeze though, so all in all a good trade off.

By this time of our journey I was really ready to modify the menu for the day. I love Italian food, it is right up there with my all time favorites, however, after 10 days, I really don’t want anymore pasta. On the coast, we ate fish because it was local, and usually with an accompanying pasta dish. Once we hit Tuscany, it is full-on pasta, with beef choices and the occasional pork dish.

Ponte Vecchio, Florence. © Carl Amoth

In Florence we had no sooner sat down to lunch than a server walked by with this sizzling piece of grilled steak. It look and smelled SO delicious AND so plain. I didn’t even have to look at the menu. That was what I was going to order, with a side of fries. It WAS delicious (although WAY too much to eat). It was a great break and it was a good thing we had a substantial lunch, because we weren’t to have dinner that night (unknown at that time).

Bev transfixed by beautiful shoes

Bev transfixed by beautiful shoes.

As we were heading towards the Duomo, a shoe store caught my eye (shocking, I know). Finally, an opportunity to try on shoes—lovely, lovely, shoes. I found several pairs that I thought were contenders, but the minute I put on this pair, I knew they were the ones. I absolutely loved them, the fit was perfect AND they were comfortable (for four inch heels).

Bev's "deal shoes"

Bev's "deal shoes"

Off we went to the Duomo, which was magnificent. After touring inside, we went around the back to get in line for the entrance to go up to the top for pictures. Little did we know just how challenging the climb would be. It put every other climb to shame. There were 463 narrow, extremely steep, dark steps, and there were many other tourists who, let’s say, had decided not to bath for a few days. Here I am with a heavy backpack (not nearly as heavy as Carl’s, I’m just back up gear) and my shoe bag trying to navigate the twisty turns of this cavernous stairwell. It was exhausting and although we are all huffing, puffing and sweating by time we reached the top, the feel of the cool wind and the sights that assaulted our senses was well worth it.

View of Florence from the dome (note the immense shadow) of the Duomo. © Carl Amoth

The Duomo, Florence. © Carl Amoth

Carl wanted to head to Piazzale Michelangelo to get there in time for pre-sunset and post-sunset pictures. I knew this would mean about 2 hours of photo taking, or in my case, watching the photo taking. I wasn’t so inclined to join him, and instead, elected to stay in Firenze for some more shopping. This routine of going our separate ways on occasion has really facilitated a more relaxed atmosphere for both of us. Carl doesn’t have to worry about my getting too bored and I don’t have to worry about him getting antsy to go take pictures. Va Bene!

The Duomo, Florence. © Carl Amoth

We were supposed to meet at the gold doors of the Duomo’s baptistry at 7:30 and although I got there 10 minutes early, I had a hunch Carl wouldn’t be able to get there by 7:30. He had taken a taxi up, and he was confident he could get one for the return (I wasn’t so sure that would happen as it isn’t a “hot spot” tourist location). Sure enough, by time he was done all the taxi’s had gone in to town for dinner rides and Carl ended up having to walk all the way back to town! He was half running and it still took him a full ½ hour. He got to the doors at 8:00, completely out of breath and sweating, but safe and sound nonetheless.

We stopped for a snack and a cold drink before heading back to Cortona. Mr. Velocity took off at usual pace, but it is still a long drive and we arrived at the hotel shortly after 11:00 p.m.

Tomorrow: return the car, grab a train and head south to Amalfi!

Ponte Vecchio, Florence. © Carl Amoth

 

 

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6 Comments

  1. Beverly Chase
    Posted October 11, 2010 at 7:37 am | Permalink | Reply

    Bev, I can’t wait to talk to you about the cooking class. It sounds just wonderful and very interesting. So glad you found the deal shoes at last. Carl, Captain Velocity, I am surprised about you, that does not sound like you at all. I am sure you have been around the Italians just too much:) I just love the pictures, especially the one of Ponte Vecchio, Florence. Just so beautiful, I could look at it for ever. I am so glad you both are having so much fun and meeting such wonder people. Love,
    Mom

    • Posted October 13, 2010 at 9:52 am | Permalink | Reply

      Me too Mom! It was delightful and delicious. Thanks for following and welcome home yourself!

  2. Dad
    Posted October 12, 2010 at 7:19 am | Permalink | Reply

    I thought, several times, that I had found my favorite picture only to find the next one just as wonderful. I believe the person behind the camera has made the sites even more beautiful.

    As for all of the information on sights and food, I really would like to make such a trip. I confess, to be ignorant of wines, but am sure I would find many to enjoy. You may recall, I look to price, than taste, and sometimes I find a winner.

    Bev, you need to find a way to regulate the speeds, I like to drive fast and get criticized for it, but when you and my son are at risk, well I wish cars had ejection seats.

    • Posted October 13, 2010 at 9:55 am | Permalink | Reply

      Pete – that is exactly how I feel about Carl’s pictures! It was a daily dose of beauty for me. As for the wine, I often ordered the Vino Rosso Della Cassa, which is the house red wine. Very economical and then I knew I was getting a real local flavor. I am glad to be back in Scottsdale as to the driving because Carl tends to stay within the limits in the states….

      Thanks so much for following our blog. Can’t wait to see you next week!

  3. trisha
    Posted October 13, 2010 at 11:08 am | Permalink | Reply

    Greetings from DC! It’s so great to read about your Italy adventures, including our shared Tuscan cooking class and the craziness surrounding it. Beautiful pictures Carl. It was great meeting you both!

  4. Doris
    Posted October 14, 2010 at 8:17 pm | Permalink | Reply

    Bev,

    I love, love the deal shoes, however I think I love the Blog even more. You guys should do a book together……. I have a feeling this blog is just you practice ground for what will probably become best selling travel books with glorious pictures. This will then finance what you guys clearly love to do. Enjoy the world. Awesome!

    Doris

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