Sunday, February 20, 2011

Towers over Tuscany

Our trip to Italy was not ALL ABOUT FOOD...we also climbed a few towers! I tell you, keeping up with Sandra Eddy is not easy!
Our first tower was in Lucca- Torre Guinigi- once the home of an influential Lucchese family. This battlemented tower house is topped by living oak trees whose roots have grown into the room below the roof. We climbed the 144 ft. tower for the best views over the city....and the next day the tower was closed for renovations.

"Tim, are you down there Mate?"

Our driver, Rickardo, drove us to Siena in thick fog trying to describe the views we could not see of the incredible countryside to our "Siena newbies". After our delightful lunch in the Campo we decided to take the climb. This is the first time we have bought the complete Duoma package ticket including the Baptistery, the Cripta, and the Museo Dell 'Opera Del Duoma. In the Museum there is a narrow passage and steep stairway at the end of the top floor which lead us to a high lookout point. Thankfully the fog cleared and we had a glorious view of the city and the countryside below.

"Hey Tim, we can see OZ from up here!"

Our last day was a rainy one but we had already purchased tickets to climb the Leaning Tower of Pisa. Work on this bell tower started in 1173 and by the time three of the eight floors were in place there was already a tilt. We climbed the 294 steps to the top, 177 ft. It was like one of those carnival rides where your equilibrium does weird things to your balance. It is not surprising that Galileo is said to have conducted his experiments on the force of gravity from this tower. Tim stayed below with all of our "stuff" and took pictures... well he took pictures of people waving from the top!

Thursday, February 17, 2011

....Flavours of the Cucina Italiana

You can't think of Italy without thinking of food....
During our recent visit to Lucca, Italy the six of us spent the day with Chef Paolo Monti at his cooking school at the Hotel Carignano just over the river from the beautiful walled city. We chose a menu of Cucina Lucchese - Lucca Specialties. Get ready to drool....Panzanella (Tuscan Bread Salad); Crostini ai Fegatini (toasted bread with chicken liver and capers pate'); Crostini alle Melanzane (toasted bread with eggplant); Tordelli alla Lucchese (vegetable ravioli with sauce); Ragu' di carne alla Lucchese (aromatic meat sauce from Lucca); Costata di Maiale Bardato (Roast rack of pork with panceta, rosemary and sage); Patate arrosto (roasted herb potatoes); and "Cantucci" Biscotti di Prato (the famous almond biscotti). Delicious!

We started the day early with a shopping trip to the local wholesale market where Chef Paulo walked and talked us through the vegetable, cheese, meat, olive oil and finally the wine section. It was only at the end of his tour that he told us we could buy a few things to take my case- one olive oil, aged balsamic vinegar, and someones favorite limoncello.

After a shot of caffe macchiato we strapped on the aprons and pulled on the rubber gloves....everyone had a job. Chef Paola is a fantastic instructor and although he kept us entertained with his jokes (some of which Papa Hall would have been proud) he ran a tight ship and kept the kitchen meticulous with the help of an assistant who scurried around us constantly cleaning up our "stations".
The final product was a delicious Lucchese meal served with local wine in his restaurant. We sat around the table and laughed and shared stories with Chef was a wonderful day in Lucca!

Thursday, February 3, 2011

While in Provence...

One of the things that stands out the most about our trip to Provence were the frequent displays of Santons....small handpainted, terracotta nativity scene figurines. Most of the Cathedrals we went in had elaborate scenes representing the Christmas story including the landscape, figures, and animals of the village.

A maker of Santons is a Santonnier and the creations are essentially a family craft handed down. We visited Santons Fouque in Aix-en-Provence to see the craftsmen at work. This particular shop is famous for the creation of the "Blast of Mistral" where the movement of the cape of the shepherd is caused by the famous winds of Mistral.

The other sight that left an impression on me was the Roman aqueduct of Pont du Guard (1st century AD). It is one of the most impressive examples of Roman civil engineering and stand 50 meters above the River Gard. We were the only people walking across it but I can imagine that in the summer it is filled with tourists.